MAYA ANGELOU, “I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS”

Ask someone who has been able to tell their abuse story to others and how they felt after doing it. Almost always, they will tell you how relieved they were that they could do it and survive and feel really great afterwards.   Bearing the harsh burden of keeping your story a secret is painful and punishing in ways you do not deserve.  As victims, we have all created many reasons why we can’t, or won’t, tell our story and we know how powerful the resistance is.    I had the Maya Angelou quote in my room for years before I was able to finally stand up among a group of survivors from the Men’s Story Project and tell all of my story for the first time.   Maya Angelou wrote “I know why the Caged Bird Sings” to symbolize the long and cruel history of African American oppression, and that of all oppressed peoples.  I always felt the words fit my tiny personal version of being oppressed by a story that kept me a prisoner within myself until I could claim my life back.   Afterwards, I wondered what took me so long!


My wife and I were in marriage counseling when the first signs of emotional disruption occurred.   During one of the sessions I curled up on the floor and started saying “I can’t tell until I die, I can’t tell until I die.”  My voice was that of a scared little boy!   The marriage counselor recognized what was happening, that I was experiencing a flash back to what was likely sex abuse.  He immediately directed me to a pioneer trauma therapist and after much hesitation, my wife convinced me that the therapist would see me if I called.  I thought, ”Why would a good therapist ever want to see me?”  I called with much trepidation and to my great surprise, she agreed to see me.

I didn’t even know I had an abuse story to tell until my memories started to tumble out one day at work at the age of 55!   They were profoundly scary because I didn’t know where they were coming from and why I was having them.  At first, I was totally confused because I could not make any sense of the fragments that were emerging  Literally each day there was something new.

After about 3-4 years of my version of “therapy” I came into a session one day and declared to the therapist, “I’m all out of bullshit!”  It had taken that long for me to build the  necessary courage to try to start telling my truth.   Around that time my therapist decided I was ready for a men’s group of sexually abused men. 

 My therapist and another trauma therapist led a small group of men who had been sexually abused.  Over time I was able to tell parts of my history (which included family and stranger abuse) and as I did, the next part slowly became easier. All of us struggled with telling our story.  I was convinced for a very long time that no one, including the therapists and the other men, would believe the parts, much less the whole story.  They did.


It can be like a forced march by choice, like you are alone in the middle of three lines of people. You have food and water but it may not be enough for you to get to your goal, which isn’t clear to you.  The other lines of people stand apart from you at a distance and have plenty of supplies.  You know they are there but you have no intention of asking for their help should you run out of supplies.   You’re the tough guy who will make it on your own regardless of the pain.   You all start out and it is a very rough, rougher than you thought it would be. You’re soon out of food and water but you have no intention of asking for the help you need, it would be embarrassing and you would look weak.  You keep going until the only energy you have left is just enough to scream for help.  The people from each of the other columns rush to help you with food and water and a place to rest.   Instead of harsh words and insults, they stand by you, until you have regained your strength.   And then they ask you to join them and together you will all reach your goals.

You don’t know why they have helped so generously, asking nothing in return.  Without being pressured you finally tell them why you thought you had to do the march by yourself, that no one would want you or help you or understand.   They listen with compassion and empathy.  You finally ask why they are so generous and their answer is so simple, “because each of us have walked in your shoes ourselves.”

Keeping your story a secret is always painful in so many different ways.  And almost always it comes with a cost to you.   There are so many of us who have walked the walk already and are ready to help.  As Maya Angelou says, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside us.”


Do you have an untold story you’d like to share? You can tell your story through narrative, painting, song, arts, dance, poetry. If you have a story to share with us let me know, and we can talk about it. Remember, your voice matters! You matter!

You can support the work of MenHealing giving voice to male survivors by contributing to the 90k in 90 Days Campaign. Your contribution will make a difference.

Be well. Stay safe. Take good care.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *