• Incest AWARE

Dear Smile

Updated: Feb 19

One day in elementary school, the man at the front desk said to me, “You’re always smiling.” I instantly felt humiliated. I didn’t realize I’d been smiling, but as soon as he said it, I knew that I was doing it, that it was a mask, and that he’d seen through it. From then on, I took the back stairs to avoid being seen by him.


The smile is still with me – especially when I feel seen. I recently decided to have a conversation with it.


Self: Dear smile, what are you feeling?


Smile: Exhausted, strained, tense, tired of holding in my breath.


Self: Dear permanent smile, what are you feeling?


Smile: Embarrassed and angry that you found me. I’m going to hide in the back staircase now. Go away.


Self: Dear smile, what are you feeling?


Smile: Are you trying to humiliate me? Go away. This is painful. I don’t want to talk, that’s why I’m smiling.


Self: Dear smile, what are you feeling?


Smile: Like a failure. The fact that you found me means that I failed at hiding. It’s humiliating.


Self: I love you, smile, and I’m going to sit with you til we both feel safe. I’m scared too. We are part of each other, and I love you.


Smile: Dear self, I don’t feel good. I really don’t feel good and I don’t know what to do about it. And I don’t want to fall apart.

Self: I know. I can relate. I’m just going to sit here with you on the back staircase because I feel the same. But we’re not alone now, we have each other.


Smile: Dear self, why did you come find me here?


Self: Because I’m tired of holding it together and I wanted some companionship.


Smile: Thank you for joining me here in the back staircase. We can rest and be alone together.


Self: Dear smile, I love you and I feel like I understand you, because you’re part of me, and I’m part of you. You don’t feel safe, I can see that. And you’re smiling for protection from people that are hurting you when they should be keeping you safe, and it hurts so bad and it’s so humiliating. You have to hide it, because it would make you vulnerable to show the world that your parents aren’t protecting you. That you feel unloved, like a piece of shit being kicked down the street. If people knew that, they would know that they could treat you like garbage too. They would smell it on you.


Like that little boy who showed you his penis. Or the little boy who shoved your head in the toilet. Or the little boy who threw his shit-covered toilet paper at you. It always happened in the bathroom.


They did that and that was their anger, it was not me. And he shamed and humiliated me in the bathroom. And that was him doing that with his anger, that was not me.


I am not and was never a piece of shit. I am a child of this EARTH. I LOVE myself and am LOVED. None of that stuff that happened to me was EVER because of me.


It was never because of me. It was never because of me.


It was never ever ever ever ever because of me.


I love me.


- Anna Holtzman


Anna Holtzman is a writer and mind-body psychotherapist who helps clients heal from trauma and chronic pain. Her writing includes a history of the so-called “false memory” movement that attempted to silence incest survivors. She enjoys learning, long walks, and lazing around with her partner and their three orange cats. Her website is www.annaholtzman.com.



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