I grew up in a small town, and am the youngest of four children. We had a ‘regular’ home, and my parents had regular, blue-collar jobs. Although we appeared to be a perfectly normal family, my home life was actually quite dysfunctional. My mother did not intend on getting pregnant with me, and I knew this all my life. She was on medication for depression for years, and was a pretty heavy drinker, which my parents fought about a lot. She didn’t cope very well with us four kids, and would often threaten, “One day you’re going to wake up and I’m going to be gone.” I believed her. She never did leave, but I lived with that fear. My brothers used to torment me to the point where I threatened to either run away or kill myself, and mom’s only reply was, “Oh, don’t be so stupid.”
My father was emotionally very distant. There was NO verbal affirmation or expressions of approval or love; I was over 30 years old before I heard him say that he loved me. He also was explosively angry, and prone to fits of rage – which were very often while he was driving. The entire family would be completely terrified.
In addition to all this, there was a complete lack of boundaries in my home. Pornography was prevalent and not secret, crude jokes abounded, and I knew things at a very young age that I should not have known. Once my brothers were older, my mother would buy them and my father a Playboy calendar every year for their Christmas stocking. My eldest brother was addicted to porn; he had literally STACKS of magazines in his room, three to four feet deep, and this brother, who was seven years older than me, sexually abused me. I’ve never really been able to remember exactly when it happened, but I believe I was possibly as young as 9 or 10 and as old as 13 or 14. One of the incidents involved a friend of his. They came into my room after a night of drinking and I awoke to being molested. When I was around 16 years old, I was also fondled by an uncle, and when I told my dad, his only response was to tell me to “kick him in the balls”.
My mom had an aneurysm in her brain when I was 14. After spending six months in hospital she returned home but was brain damaged, and although her recovery was quite remarkable physically, she ceased functioning emotionally as a wife and mother. My dad didn’t handle mom’s health issues very well, and their marriage basically disintegrated to one that was in name only. Mom’s drinking escalated to significant proportions, and over this time period she had some serious medical issues which culminated in her death when I was 19.
Ten months before Mom died, when I was almost 19, I moved to a nearby city, and was attending a church there. There was someone else new in town and to the church; a 35-year-old divorced former pastor who played the guitar and had an amazing voice. The church was very excited to have someone with his talents around and really, he was a pastor – well, except for the ‘technicality’ of his credentials having been revoked when his marriage dissolved. He very soon was handed the high-teen Sunday school class, and over the next 18 months or so I was groomed and ultimately molested by this charming wolf in shepherd’s clothing. He could’ve had any woman he wanted, but he was more interested in developing a friendship with me – a naïve 19-year-old girl with a huge, neon ‘needy’ sign on my forehead. I just wanted someone to love me and to make me feel worth something, so I was a very easy target. Two people that I know of complained to the pastor about this man’s behaviour specifically related to me, but nothing was said or done. At first I sought him out because of how special he made me feel, but as things progressed to the physical, then he was the pursuer, and I was powerless. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t even know what to say, let alone how to say it. And there was way too much at stake; without him I had no one.
For over 25 years I carried shame and embarrassment over what I have always described as “an inappropriate relationship with a man 17 years older than me”. However, in December 2010 through a sequence of events, I came to the full and awful realization that it was no “relationship”. I had been sexually molested by my Sunday school teacher. He sought out the most vulnerable, emotionally needy person that he could find, and he used his position of authority, trust, and endorsement by the church to manipulate me and to exploit my emotional vulnerability. Because of the age difference, his position of power, and my neediness, it was not at all a relationship of equals. I was completely undone and beyond broken… an open, bleeding wound.
I have been on a long journey of healing with many stages. However, the last stage that started in December of 2010 was by far the hardest, but also the most complete. Through a skilled therapist, a counselling pastor, many books, and much prayer and support from close friends, I have experienced healing of deep wounded areas that I never even realized I had, let alone thought could actually be fixed. My therapist and I over a 13-month period dealt with the impacts of my mother’s disregard and promotion of the sexual environment in our home, and my father’s rage and his emotional distance. We dealt with the incest, as it was foundational, and THEN we were able to start working on the clergy abuse damage. The counselling pastor and I met five times and dealt with the spiritual aspects of the abuse and also some of my mother and father issues. Each meeting was SO significant.
I have so very much to be thankful for. My therapist remarked a couple of times how resilient I am, and also how he expected the effects of the abuse to have been so much more significant than they actually were, that I was protected somehow from the worst of it. I am also grateful that as weird and unhealthy things were, I was never abused to the point of rape. This is not to minimize in any way those things that I DID experience, but I feel that I was able to maintain at least a shred of dignity in this area.
I have a new, deeper understanding of God’s love for me, and how something so very difficult – a raw, gaping, open wound – can be healed until all that remains is a scar. However, I never want to forget what has happened, what I’ve been through, and how difficult it was, because my story is what can be used to heal another, to give them strength to hold on for their healing, to help them to know that they are not alone, and that I believe them.