‘One day at school, there was an awareness poster with the word ‘molested’ on it. I lost all the feeling in my body.’: Child sexual abuse survivor finds healing in finally sharing her truth

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Disclaimer: This story contains details of child sexual abuse which may be triggering for some. 

Child Sexual Abuse

“I was a victim of childhood sexual abuse, yet I never dared to talk about it to anyone as an adult. The few who knew, only knew a sugar coated version of my story. It would be decades before I would speak my truth.

My birth father was a mostly absent, deadbeat dad. Even during the short time I did spend with him, it felt like he wasn’t there at all. My last visitation with him was when I was 5. After a heated argument between my mother and him, he would leave without giving me a hug or telling me he loved me. He just turned on his heel and left. I never saw him again.

In less than two years a new ‘daddy’ came into my life and would change my entire world. He promised to be a ‘good daddy,’ and would tell me I was his ‘special little girl.’ He didn’t buy me trinkets, but instead gave me affection and attention. He was kind, loving, and very charismatic. He had a certain charm about him, and it was his charm he used to groom me. He went on to groom not just me but anyone around me who’d get in his way. Prior to their marriage, I really liked him; actually, I loved him. Touching, awkward moments of long hugs, or straight-up inappropriate behavior was already going on. However, at the time I was 6 and didn’t know better.

young girl
Courtesy of Jennifer Michelle

At age 7, he and my mother married. The three of us moved away from everything I ever knew or loved into another state where we knew no one. I cried most of the drive to our new home, now far away from my loving grandparents.  Before the boxes were all unpacked, the abuse quickly progressed. When Mom was away he would insist I take showers with him. He’d tell me I was ‘dirty’ and he wanted to show me how to bathe ‘like grown ups do.’ To this day, the smell of ivory soap sickens me.

Water splattering in my face also gives me anxiety, reminding me of those awful showers. I still can’t stand with my face directly in the shower stream. This connection didn’t happen until starting therapy. Unfortunately, this soon progressed into the unspeakable, and he stole my virginity before I knew what it was. He didn’t use violence or threats of violence to my family if I told. He instead used fear and guilt, manipulation, and eventually gaslighting.

However, he did build fear in me by watching him beat my mother. He convinced me if my grandparents found out, they would have a heart attack and die. To a little girl who loved her grandparents so deeply, this worked. He would also convince me I would go to foster care, and never see my family again. I wasn’t sure what foster care was, but he made sure it sounded awful. This all made me his perfect little victim for years to come.

young girl
Courtesy of Jennifer Michelle

A Painful Realization

One day at school, there was an awareness poster with the word ‘molested’ on it. I asked my friend what it meant. As soon as she defined this word, I lost all the feeling in my body. I could no longer hear the clattering of the lunch trays, and everything around me turned white. All I could see was this poster, and all I could hear was the mumbling of my friend.

I felt completely betrayed by my stepfather. At that moment, I knew he was lying to me. This wasn’t how daddies love their daughters. The discomfort I felt wasn’t normal. He convinced me I liked it, and wanted him to do those things. He lied to me!

I spent several weeks contemplating how I would tell my mom. ‘Will I be in trouble? Will I be taken away from my family? Will my grandparents have a heart attack and die?’ My thoughts were heavy, deep, and dreadful. I finally got the courage on Mother’s Day coming back from church. I just blurted it out, ‘Daddy’s been molesting me…’ She turned and looked at me with such anger.

She pulled the car into the nearest parking lot and threw it into park. She thrust her balled up fist in front of me, ‘Show me how he touches you!’ she shrieked. My thoughts were, ‘How do I do that on her hand?’ I was scared to death. I just placed a finger on her fist with a quick back and forth, and instantly looked away, placing my hands back in my lap.

girl with grandparents
Courtesy of Jennifer Michelle

When we got home she burst through the door, unloading her fury. Soon her fury turned to yelling. Then, soon after, I was sent to my room and they were talking it out. The next sounds I heard were of them back to their room, making the sounds married couples make. I was sick inside and now more scared than ever.

Soon enough while she was away, he showed me what happens when we tell secrets. This time, he wasn’t gentle, and made sure I understood I would keep my mouth shut or I would be sent away. I did tell her again when I was 12. She had no reaction, other than to tell me she would get me some help, as if I was crazy. I knew I wasn’t crazy, but I sure felt crazier the longer I lived in that house.

Marriage And Family Life

At 16 my boyfriend/fiancé pulled me out of the house because I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. We married a week later, dropped out of school, and started our new life. Eight months later, just after getting my cosmetology license, I would be pregnant with our first child. Due to complications, I was bedridden for 8 weeks, prompting my mom to reach out to me. I regrettably started speaking with her again. This communication was very short lived. Only a few months after my son was born, we got into an argument on the phone because I refused to bring the baby to their house.

woman and boyfriend
Courtesy of Jennifer Michelle

She was angry because he (my abuser) hadn’t met his grandson yet. She started scolding me, saying I needed to let it go. ‘It’s water under the bridge,’ she spewed, never coming up for air long enough for me to speak. She then described to me an event when I was 8. ‘You were hugging him high up on his leg; squirming and just hanging there. You were always sitting on his lap too much too and you….’ she spat, but I stopped her mid-sentence. I exploded screaming back, ‘Are you saying I seduced him? He was a grown ass man and I was only 8!’ She didn’t deny this, but instead tried to change the subject.

At this point, it didn’t matter what she said because now I knew she didn’t really care, or think about the damage it had done to me. In her eyes, I was the problem. This was unacceptable, and I knew I couldn’t continue a relationship with her. She was so toxic with her defense of his unspeakable abuse. She never accepted her role in enabling his sexual abuse to continue, even after I told her on at least three occasions.

I spent my twenties and thirties in my own shame, guilt, and toxic silence as the flashbacks and night terrors continued and became the norm. My husband knew I was molested as a child, but I never dared tell him about my repeat flashbacks and nightmares of rape. In the beginning, he would lovingly hold me till I fell back asleep. Then, I learned to quietly cry myself back to sleep, because I felt like a burden to him. This is when my walls grew taller, and my masks were many. I learned the art of being ‘fine’ as a child. I had mastered it as an adult. I was living a façade to my family and myself. I was living a double life.

mother and children
Courtesy of Jennifer Michelle

I was honestly in my own denial CSA (child sexual abuse) was still haunting me. I would blame those flashbacks and nightmares on a movie or an article I read. The problem was, it was the same images over and over. Still, I’d push those memories away and busy myself with anything I could find to do.

I found myself scrolling through online shopping sites or anything to distract me from facing my past. I was again spiraling, but this time I couldn’t explain why. I didn’t even realize what I was doing to myself. I poured everything into my salon and my family as a way to avoid my pain. My clients would compliment me on my ‘beautiful smile.’ My thoughts were, ‘If they only knew what was inside my head.’ Those smiles were there even through my darkest thoughts crawling through my brain.

woman standing up at hair salon
Courtesy of Jennifer Michelle

Getting Help

By my mid-thirties, my coping habits of shopping and constant self-created projects had again escalated to an all time high. My sons were teens and less dependent on me. I found myself with idle time again, which is no way to avoid intrusive flashbacks. I already felt like I was living a double life. Now I felt like I was living a lie. Yet, I still didn’t dare talk about these horrendous memories flooding back again. I couldn’t speak of them to my husband and especially not my teenagers.

By my early forties, my husband got a call about an unpaid bill. My house of cards again came crumbling down. He then found out I had maxed out the credit cards, leaving mounds of debt, yet again. I was given the ultimatum to get help. Since there’s no counselor listed to treat ‘shopping addictions,’ I chose an addiction counselor. I mean, after all, I was hooked on swiping my credit card and the boxes showing up at my doorstep. It had gotten so bad there were times I would open these packages with no idea (sometimes no memory) of why or when I ordered them.

I started counseling to help me fix this addiction and I never intended to say a word about my CSA. Well, that’s exactly where my therapist went. As much as I tried to avoid the subject, he’d go right back to it. I hated this man for doing this, but soon I realized I was still in a lot of pain. I would leave the office every week numb and wanting to cry, but the tears never came. My whole life I could cry easily for other’s pain, but never my own.

Several weeks later, I would have the assignment to write letters to my mom, and my abuser. This was a pivotal moment for me. There was no pressure to mail them. I had to write how I honestly felt and the ways they’d hurt me.  When it came time to read my letter to mom during the session, was when I realized how awful my story was. To hear my own words out loud with all the pain and betrayal sent me into a puddle of tears. The next letter was to my stepfather, which was a whole different level of reality for me. These letters were 8 to 10 pages long. By the time I finished this, my birthday was approaching. I then got inspiration to send them as a gift to myself, to finally be heard!

woman with grandmother
Courtesy of Jennifer Michelle

I mailed them certified so they would arrive before my birthday. Standing in the post office line that day, with a nauseous stomach and trembling hands, I gave the clerk my letters. When I got back to my car, I was frozen in fear. ‘What the hell did I just do?’ Soon enough pride came over me. I didn’t let fear win. They were sent and I finally got to speak my truth. I can’t say those letters went exactly how I planned. They were returned to sender. Then I turned around and emailed them, still determined for my words to be read. My mother responded with scathing emails, which continued for weeks.

It didn’t matter to me anymore what she thought, or what she said. I said what I needed to say, and how she felt or reacted was no longer my concern. To be honest, I only opened the emails to print them for my therapist. I didn’t read the emails, as her words were meaningless to me. I never heard back from my abuser. To this day, I still don’t know if he got the email. That no longer matters either, because I did the unthinkable. I finally allowed my voice to be heard.

Empowered To Share

I didn’t stop there with my story. I broke my silence, and finally told my grown sons and their wives. I explained vulnerably about being sexually abused as a child by my stepfather. I cried like a baby as I read the letter I had written to my stepfather. Eventually, my daughter-in-law had to finish reading it out loud, because I could no longer see the words through my tears. I never wanted to tell my family about my past, but after doing so I realized how freeing it was. I felt like a thousand pound boulder had been lifted off my shoulders.

mother with two sons
Courtesy of Jennifer Michelle

Then came bravery to start my Facebook page, Lil Jens Voice for CSA survivors. Soon I posted my story there, knowing it was available for viewing by all my friends and family. I deleted the post at least three times before leaving it posted. Exposure was hard for me, and going public was as exposed as I could be. I’m still amazed when I go back to read that post, with how open I was so soon after starting my healing journey. The reason I had the courage to go public was due to inspiration I received from a friend’s daughter after she went public with her CSA story.

When one survivor speaks up, it paves the way for others to do the same. I spent decades hiding my pain and pretending I was fine. To finally be open and honest about it felt euphoric. The love and support I got after posting my story was so validating. All of his lies and her excuses for what he did were debunked. I don’t talk about CSA or my healing journey for attention. I speak of it to inspire others to speak up. It’s not ‘my dirty secret.’ It’s the abuser’s ‘dirty secret!’ If I was to only use one word to describe how it feels to finally be open about my past, it would be empowering!

drawing of a girl with tape over mouth
Courtesy of Jennifer Michelle

This is my mantra on social media and my blog. If someone would’ve told me 35 years ago I would be so open with my story, I would’ve said they were crazy. Yet, here I am. I keep pushing myself to expose my past with the knowledge it’s not my fault. I’ve been on NAASCA, National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse, podcast twice to talk about my story and healing journey, and now I’m in progress of writing my memoir.

I’m halfway through this book and the processing has been a cleansing like no other. I find with every opportunity I speak up or write about my journey, my voice gets a little louder and a lot stronger. I was a victim, but now I’m a survivor! My voice has power, and my stepfather knew all along.

CSA survivors were forced to join a club they never asked to join. The number of members who belong will never be truly known, other than its way to damned many of us!’”

man and woman together
Courtesy of Jennifer Michelle

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jennifer Michelle of French Settlement, LA. You can follow her journey on Facebook and her blog. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribeto our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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