For the first 27 years of my life, I rarely felt like I “belonged” anywhere or to anyone. My mother and birth father were married for about a year and a half and split up when I was about six months old. I didn’t see or hear from him again until I was 26 and that reunion only lasted one weekend.
My mother met her third husband shortly after leaving my birth father. Almost immediately, Mom decided that we should live with this new boyfriend. They eventually married and had another child. This man adopted me when I was eight years old and started sexually abusing me around that same time. The abuse lasted for a short time before I told my mother. She confronted him and the abuse stopped for a while, but eventually restarted. They stayed together for another three years – divorcing at the end of my 6th grade year.
During those three years that they remained married, I hated myself. I felt like I was weird, like I had to keep big secrets from all my friends and like I was trash. There were times I even felt like a prostitute – and I was too young to even know what that meant. I wanted more than anything to be changed into a boy. I ran around with all the neighbor boys and started causing trouble in school. I didn’t want anything to do with femininity – I hated when Mom would make me curl my hair or wear a dress. I don’t remember ever having a doll or a Barbie.
When their divorce was final, Mom and I celebrated together. I thought she believed me and was finally putting my needs first. I thought she would protect me. However, when I was in my mid-20’s (years after their divorce), my mom confessed to having never believed me. She thought I was crazy, a trouble-maker, a girl trying to seduce her step father. When I asked her why she divorced him then, she said that she felt she had to before I ruined the entire family.
In the years following the divorce, my mom and my abuser continued to date. My mother insisted that I go with my sister on all visitations with him. She told me that it was to protect my sister, sending me the message that I was the sacrificial lamb. My abuse continued until I was 15 ½ years old. At that time, I was the one who had to stand up to him myself – confronting him one night when he came to me – and refusing to go on anymore overnights. I didn’t bother telling my mother that he was abusing me again, as I knew she would not protect me and she would likely even accuse me of seducing him again. Eventually she did find out, but it wasn’t because I’d asked for her help.
As a child, I wasn't aware of everything going on around me, but I don't believe the authorities were notified of the abuse until I was 15 ½. It is unclear to me who required (or why) that I see a counselor and participate in group therapy when I was just 12. A state social worker would pick me up from school once a week, during class, and take me to the county mental health office. In front of the class, my teacher frequently commented on my having to leave early. I said I had doctor’s appointments and hoped they all just thought I had cancer or something. The car had a state license plate on it, making me feel like I was riding around in a car with a huge neon sign on it that advertised my damaged state. The girls in my group all lived in foster care. My mother would tell me that if I told them about her dating my abuser that they would take me away too. The unknown could be far worse than the known, so I didn’t share the depths of abuse and neglect going on in my homelife..
Another problem I had at the time was that we had moved. We left our modest house in a nice neighborhood and moved into a low-income town home in a far less desirable part of town. The kids in the new neighborhood hated me on sight… I was very quiet and shy and rather bookish, so they made fun of me, called me names and chased me home from school threatening to beat me up. Those kids made it painfully clear that I did not belong there! I transferred schools the following year. Changing schools meant no longer running home from the school bullies, but now I was in classrooms with kids I believed had families that loved them and weren’t poor. I was very quiet in class, always certain that if I opened my mouth I’d say something stupid. I had very few friends. I constantly feared that if people knew the truth about me, knew about the abuse, where I lived, or how I lived, that they wouldn’t like me. Now, some of this is normal teenage angst, but I’m certain that the abuse played a substantial role in my non-existent self-esteem.
Most of the happy childhood memories I have involve church. My parents attendance was very sporadic. Most of the time I rode to church with my friend's family. Her mother took me to church, Vacation Bible School and even arranged for me to go to church camp every summer. At church camp, when I was nine years old, I accepted Christ (but really had no idea what that meant). After my family moved, she wasn’t able to give me a ride anymore. I cannot remember a single Bible lesson I was taught over those ten years, but I remember that church was the one place I felt loved and cared for. It was the only place I laughed with abandon, acted like a kid and felt like I belonged. That ended when I was 15 years old.
My life was pretty much in a downward spiral after that… I started running with a partying crowd and dated a boy for a couple of years who’d cheated on me, was incredibly disrespectful and even beat me once. I stayed because he said he loved me. He showed me more affection and concern than my parents, so I felt like I’d found a place where I belonged. During our three-year on-again-off-again relationship, I was constantly talking to him about marriage. He wasn’t interested.
After that relationship ended, I bounced around from one short-term relationship to the next. I felt the only way I could interest a guy was to flirt a lot and morph into whatever he wanted in a girl. I also turned to drinking a lot. I have never been addicted to alcohol, but I have never once had a drink without the intention of getting drunk. I was so uncomfortable in my own skin, and being drunk either made me feel like I was someone else or took me to a place where I no longer cared about who I was.
Barely 21, I married a guy that I’d been introduced to by a friend. He had big professional aspirations, I had emotional needs and secrets that I couldn't begin to verbalize. I was needy for security, physical touch, quality time and verbal affirmation. I was so unfulfilled and hurting... I flirted non-stop with any man who seemed to notice. I did not want to flirt with other men, but I didn’t feel whole without the attention. And the attention still left me empty, but it was a momentary high that I enjoyed. Eventually we saw a marriage counselor. One day the counselor referred to me as an “abandoner” (having such a deep tendency to reject before being rejected). I strongly disagreed, and never went back – I abandoned counseling because I didn’t care much for the truth. We’d tried a lot of superficial things to make the marriage work. We spent a lot of money, built a house, took elaborate vacations, bought designer everything, had brand new cars and joined a country club. After six years, I quietly left him. I’d abandoned my old life and began a new one back home.
Around this same time, I received an email from a guy that I went to high school with. We met for dinner one night and married just ten months later. From the very beginning, I was honest with him about where I’d been in my life and what I needed. He was up for the challenge – and boy was it a challenge in the first couple of years! While I was functioning well compared to my parents, I was still quite wounded and frequently acted on it. Marrying into a “family” was very hard for me. I was suspicious and jealous of my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. I analyzed their every move and had come to the conclusion that they were needy and relied on my husband in an unhealthy way. I developed an ugly attitude towards them and found myself on a website “venting” my frustrations about them. My postings were eventually discovered, and they were wounded in a way that I can never take back. With all my heart, I wish I hadn’t done the things that I did.
I am sharing this with you because I want you to know not only the way people have sinned against me, but also the ways I have hurt others as a result of my unbearable pain, hopelessness and unhealthy defense mechanisms. There are so many things I regret having done – so many people in the wake of my despair.
A year and a half into our marriage, my husband and I were expecting our first child. We both felt the need to raise our kids in church, but for very different reasons. He wanted to raise our kids in a Christian home; whereas, I simply wanted our kids to experience the little bit of childhood happiness I’d had.
Eight months pregnant, we found a church we both loved. And, of course, the church was in the middle of a “love your family” kind of series! After two sermons, I emailed the pastor a brief summary of my relationship with my parents, ending with the question “how am I supposed to honor my mother and father when they’ve never done anything honorable?” This was pretty much the reason I’d avoided church for the last 10 years or so… The pastor responded with some sermon notes that changed my life! What stood out to me the most was a bullet that said, “forgiveness does not require reconciliation”. To which I said, “Okay, I can live with that!” What I needed at that time was to be able to forgive my mother while also keeping my distance. She is still the same person she’s always been, so for me to buy into the whole forgiveness idea, it had to be okay to not spend any time with her.
That was 5 ½ years ago and I have learned and grown a great deal. Attending church regularly, being involved in ministry, reading the Bible, and spending time talking through life with godly people has completely changed my husband and me and our marriage. We have learned so much about God, his sovereignty, his strength, his holiness, his provision, his forgiveness, his love and his faithfulness. But even with all of that growth and transformation, I knew I was still missing something. I had to deal with my childhood before I’d have the peace I so desperately wanted. I’d finally admitted to myself that I’d completely lived up to the pastor’s comment about not reconciling with my mother, but I hadn’t gotten far with the forgiveness bit. So, I did something I swore I’d never do… I let my mother send me back into therapy! I’d forgiven my step-father years earlier (I haven’t spoken to him since I was 15 ½, so being out of sight helped), but just couldn’t get there with my mom. She is my mother – the person who was supposed to protect me and choose me over all others! Instead, she chose him, and she chose herself and her needs. She did not protect me, and that hurt more than anything physical my abuser could have done. I needed a counselor to help walk me through this forgiveness bit! At our first meeting, my counselor gave me the book “Dorie, The Girl Nobody Loved”. I was immediately drawn to it simply because of its title – boy could I relate! Dorie had a much tougher upbringing than any I could imagine and she was able to forgive. She allowed God’s love to transform her life. He grew her into a remarkable woman, so I began praying that God would do that kind of work in my life.
For the first couple of years, I had to be very intentional with my prayer time, Bible reading and overall attitude towards my mother. Many prayers started with, “There is nothing in me that wants to pray for her, but you love her and I need to forgive her. Help me to do that…”. In time, I was filled with the grace and mercy needed for me to forgive my mom. The peace and comfort I’ve found in God is quite overwhelming – truly a feeling that is only made possible by Him.
And as I look back over my life, I can clearly see God’s hand in it. It wasn’t luck that planted my childhood friend and her mom in my life. That was God’s doing. That woman, along with many others at that church, loved me and invested in me. And as I was about to become a mother, it was their love that I remembered and wanted to replicate for my children. While I truly believed for many years that I was all alone and utterly unloved, God was loving me and just waiting for me to love Him back.