The sexual abuse started at age five and lasted until I was 14. It was by my step-father, who I had lived with since age four. He made it sound like this happened to everyone. I told my mom when I was about 11, and all she said was, “Oh, well, my dad did that to me also.”
We had a very authoritative house, a very strict household, a legalistic household. We couldn’t watch TV, couldn’t wear pants, couldn’t cut our hair, couldn’t wear makeup, couldn’t go to the movies, couldn’t play cards, couldn’t go swimming. It was very, very strict. In a way, it cut us off from a normal world. I joked that all we could do was eat and talk about people. Along with the legalism and the abuse, it was very confusing. It made me feel kind of crippled that I didn’t have the experiences that most people had.
I married when I was 20. The shame that went with that abuse caused me to be untrusting and guarded. When the effects of the abuse starting surfacing, I had to deal with it. Different things would trigger it, so I had no choice. It was too tormenting.
I decided I needed counseling. The counselor had told me that forgiveness is about not wanting to retaliate. So I worked through those emotions, knowing that I didn’t want to retaliate; I didn’t want to get even; and that I could forgive. It helped that I lived on the east coast, and he was on the west coast. This time living apart gave me the chance to work through my feelings. I had to remind myself that you don’t go by feelings, but forgiveness is a decision you make over and over. It was about a year later when it became more of a distant thing; it wasn’t constantly on my mind, and I could let that go. As it would crop up again over the years, I’d remind myself that it’s a choice; I already dealt with that; and I’m OK with that.
When it was time to move back to the area my parents lived, I had to make another choice not to be mean, but yet still have my boundaries. At that point I was able to go to family functions. I was able to hug him, which really sounds kind of crazy, but that’s just to attest to the healing. I was just kind to him, but still kept my boundaries.
Eventually, I did confront him after my mom passed away. I was probably in my 40s when I did speak to him. I felt like the time had come to address it with him. He was hesitant and wanted to protect himself. I had decided ahead of time it made no difference whether he agreed, acknowledged, or disagreed. I knew what the truth was. I was solid in that his response didn’t matter, but it needed to be spoken out. He first tried to say that it was happening in everybody’s home back then. He wanted to use his past of being abused as an excuse, but in the end, he acknowledged it and apologized.
In talking with other people that have been through the same thing I had, I understand that people don’t want to acknowledge it. Like my mother, she did not want to acknowledge what was happening because it would cause her life to change, and she didn’t have enough strength for that to happen.
As I think about the effects the abuse had on me and my emotions, I can share that there were feelings of shame, anger, guilt, confusion, fear, isolation. All of those emotions led me to having trust issues, being guarded, feeling unconnected, making some bad choices, and questioning my beliefs.
I didn’t feel shame because of my actions but because of what was done to me. I didn’t acknowledge it was shame for quite a few years and I still, to some degree, deal with shameful feelings. It’s not connected to the abuse, just the stigma of being abused, of being in that household, and mom not acknowledging it. It made me question if something was wrong with me. Was I not important enough? Why wasn’t it important for somebody to do something about it?
I did have some anger toward my mother, but I also saw and understood that she was not able to even stand up for herself, much less for me. We lived in such a legalistic household that in many ways we were cut off from the normal world, so there was some anger related to that.
The legalization and abuse was very confusing. At one point when I was about 11, I just wanted to leave, but where would I go? I knew I was on my own; no one was looking out for me. I felt crippled! I never felt a connection to my parents or loved and protected by my parents. I ask myself why didn’t I say something to a teacher? Because of the isolation, I was afraid that no one would believe me. I thought the family I knew would be destroyed, turned upside down, and I would be blamed for it.
Probably because of what happened, I didn’t make good choices when I married. I was so thankful that anyone would want me. Abuse makes you feel like you are damaged goods. That’s sad because really it’s the abusers who are damaged, and they are the ones who the shame should fall on. It’s their character that is flawed not the innocent person who was abused. I took it on myself because I didn’t know any differently.
At some point I questioned if God loved me, then why? You can drive yourself crazy with that question. I came to understand that my step dad made those choices. We aren’t like robots; we have free will. He made the choices that affected innocent people.
What are some things that helped me to get through that and be healed?
I had to recognize and associate what was going on. So many of my friends that had been abused just went from one man to another man. I could see when and why that was happening, so I went to counseling.
Counseling taught me I had to learn to forgive. At first it was just too big, but eventually I understood that it was not about forgetting what happened or him getting off the hook. I had to be released from those feelings. If I continued to be angry, I would keep punishing myself. I had to understand and forgive so I could be healed.
I learned not to go by feelings. Over time I made the decision that I could claim, by the word of God and by faith, what was true about me and not go by feelings.
When issues would surface again, I had to remind myself of my decisions to forgive and let go.
Some very close friends were there for me and listened; they were my support team.
Telling someone else was one thing that helped me to heal. It is one thing to be healed, but being abused is not something you really want to talk about. I am compelled to tell what happened to me in order to help others.
Don’t look too far back or too far forward. People go through tons of tragedies at times, but if you try to go back, it leads to despair. Live in the here and now.
Believe in yourself! I finished my Bachelor’s degree when I was a single mom. I’m currently teaching math and will finish my Master’s in another year!
Leading a young moms’ group is my ministry now. These women are all in their 20s and abuse is prevalent. As I tell my journey, they begin to feel hope for their own lives.
Now I co-lead a Life group of single women from church. That is my support group, my encouragers, and my extended family.
My message is that we all have hurts; no one is better than someone else; abuse does not have to be a sentence; you can be healed. The abuse itself I am completely healed of, and I don’t have the torment of that or the flashbacks anymore! I am very, very thankful to God for that. God just gave me the strength!
OF SEXUAL ABUSE