Sexual abuse is a trauma that is difficult to overcome no matter how much support you have, but thankfully, it’s still possible. I know this unfortunately from firsthand experience. I can’t remember my age when it first started, I was young, still in elementary school and had my first experience completely losing trust in one of the people I should have been able to trust the most. I mean, who would have thought that when my stepfather chose to adopt me he would later entertain himself by sneaking into my room in the dead of night to molest me. Of course I didn’t understand what was happening or why, I just knew that these actions were extremely wrong. It was wrong that I went to bed every night afraid of waking up in the dark to inappropriate touches. It was wrong that I had to try to find a way to stop him from picking the lock on my bedroom door. Everything about it was wrong, but I was too afraid to tell anyone, I didn’t want to destroy my family. I kept quiet and lived with this fear, until my senior year of high school.
Keeping quiet seemed to be the natural thing to do. Of course now I realize how foolish that was, but at the time I felt like I couldn’t say anything. How was I supposed to tell my mom that her husband was sneaking into my room at night, lurking around me and touching me in a way I shouldn’t ever have been touched? That this man forced me to rip pages from my journals when I wrote about what he did. A man that got jealous of my boyfriends and mad when I stayed the night at friends’ houses. This is a man that took advantage of me—body and soul—for his own pleasures, yet I still stayed silent for far too long. Even when I was asked outright if something was going on, I was still too afraid to say anything.
It was a blessing the day my mom told me her and my stepfather were getting a divorce. I felt for the first time that it might be possible to finally tell her what had been happening all of these years; now I could tell her without their separating being my fault. Alternatively, I felt that I had received a death sentence when the judge ordered joint custody, and nothing could be done unless there was a strong enough reason for me to not have to see my stepfather. I knew it was time for me to step up, take matters into my own hands and free myself from this situation.
The first person I told was my (then) boyfriend. He knew that something was wrong and managed to pry it out of me. Still, I was so ashamed to admit what I had been living with that I couldn’t even say the words out loud, I had to write it down for him to read, “He’s molesting me,” and as terrifying as it was to share, I gained power in that moment. I felt just a little stronger, strong enough to leave my stepfather’s house forever. And when he tried to stop me, asking me why I was going, I screamed right in his face that he knew what he did, gaining even more strength. I told my mom and, with the help of my boyfriend, they whisked me away to safety.
What followed was chaos, doctors’ appointments, police interviews and therapy sessions, but that process and amazingly helped me to move forward in my life. I gained a little more strength every day, even during the ensuing harassment in the form of notes and letters, sometimes the physical presence of my stepfather showing up at my place of work. And while all of that was extremely hard, I just remembered the moment of leaving his house forever.
I found that the key to my survival was believing in myself, believing in my own strength, and that is the key for you as well. If you’re going through what I went through or have gone through it in the past, do me a favor and believe in yourself. Surround yourself with the right people, people that will lift you up and not pity you or treat you differently because of your trauma. Don’t let yourself be a victim, be a survivor. Find someone safe you can talk to, look forward to what your future can be—it’s bright and shining if that is what you make of it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my dark days, but I have stayed strong and now I have a wonderful life to show for it. I’m very fortunate, I have a husband that loves and respects me, two beautiful children and now I’m getting to share this story with you.
Some of the best advice I ever got was that one day, no matter how horrible things seemed in that moment, that my story would be able to help someone else. So now I’ll pass that on to you. Remember that you can help save someone else, share your story and your strength and help heal yourself. You and I are both strong. We are survivors.