Photo: Fabrizio Ferri
The first time it happened to me, I took to my bed and cried for three days. A member of my family who has since passed away had gone to Florida, headquarters for The National Enquirer, sat in a room, told them the story of my hidden shame—and left their offices $19,000 richer.
Only my family and closest friends knew. Even Gayle, who knew everything about me, wasn't aware of my secret until several years into our friendship. The same is true for Stedman. I would tell no one until I felt safe enough to share my dark past: the years I was sexually abused, from age 10 to 14, my resulting promiscuity as a teenager, and finally, at 14, my becoming pregnant. I was so ashamed, I hid the pregnancy until my swollen ankles and belly gave me away. The baby died in the hospital weeks later.
I went back to school and told no one. My fear was that if I were found out, I would be expelled. So I carried the secret into my future, always afraid that if anyone discovered what had happened, they, too, would expel me from their lives. Even when I found the courage to publicly reveal the abuse, I still carried the shame and kept the pregnancy a secret.
The visit to the tabloids changed all that.
I felt devastated. Wounded. Betrayed. "How could this person do this to me?"
I cried and cried. I remember Stedman coming into the bedroom that Sunday afternoon, the room darkened from the closed curtains. Standing before me, looking like he, too, had shed tears, he handed me the tabloid. And said, "I'm so sorry. You don't deserve this."
When I dragged myself from bed for work on Monday morning (no matter what, the show rules), I felt beaten and scared. I imagined that every person on the street was going to point their finger at me and scream, "Pregnant at 14, you wicked girl...expelled!" No one said a word, though—not strangers, not the people I knew. I was shocked.
Nobody treated me differently.
For 20 years, I had been expecting a reaction that never came. And I soon realized that having the secret out was liberating. Not until then could I begin the repair work on my spirit for the sexual abuse and damage done to me as a young girl.
I realized that all those years, I had been blaming myself. What I learned for sure was that holding the shame was the greatest burden of all. That, even more than the betrayal, is what had kept me in bed from Friday to Monday.
I've since been betrayed by others, most often by disgruntled employees trying to gain an extra buck. But although it's a kick in the gut, it doesn't make me cry or take to my bed anymore. What I learned from that first betrayal is that when you have nothing to be ashamed of, when you know who you are and what you stand for, you stand in wisdom. Insight. Strength and protection. You stand in peace.
No weapon formed against you shall prosper. Isaiah 54:17.
What Oprah Knows for Sure
From the February 2007 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!