We are grateful for the many survivors who have reached out to us. We decided it would be beneficial for our readers to hear multiple perspectives in order to gain a broader idea of the impact that sexual abuse has on victims. The following is our first survivor guest post. She requested to remain anonymous.
LDS Religion Buzzwords:
- Ward – A geographically organized congregation in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
- Bishop – The unpaid leader of a ward with duties similar to those of a pastor, priest or rabbi
- Stake President – The unpaid leader of a stake (a geographic area composed of individual wards)
For most of my life there has been a heavy, dark secret I tried to bury. It has been very painful to carry. I have since learned in the last few years how much speaking out about the secret actually helps me heal and perhaps will help others who have been in similar situations to have the courage to speak out and be healed as well.
I was sexually abused in my own home from when I was 4 until I was 7 years old. My older brother’s friend, who lived in our ward, was my abuser. He was 16 when it started and it didn’t stop until he left on a church mission when he was 19 years old. Then I was finally free of him. Luckily when he returned “with honor” from his mission my older brother had moved out so he didn’t have access to me any more though he did stop by to visit the family and talk to me a couple times. He wanted to make sure I hadn’t told anyone, and that I wouldn’t tell anyone. I told him I wouldn’t. I can’t remember everything that happened. Some things I’m sure are blocked from my memory for my own good. And for a couple years while he was gone I usually didn’t think about it except for from time to time in the middle of the night. When he came home, many of the memories came flooding back, but not all.
For years I felt like it was all my fault. That I was a bad person, dirty, broken, and worthless. I felt like I would be better off dead and was in so much pain that I would often pray to Heavenly Father to just let me die so I could be with Him and be at peace. I did often feel my Savior’s comfort and love, but I still believed that I was worthless. I sometimes even would try to kill myself in the 5th grade by suffocating myself with a pillow or staying under water in the bath tub as long as I could. I withdrew from all my friends and became silent. I literally did not talk. I felt that even the sound of my voice would hurt others’ ears.
When I was 8 and ready to be baptized into my church I was so excited that I would be washed clean of my sins. However when my dad baptized me he said something in the prayer about me not having any sins under his breath. I was convinced this meant that it probably didn’t work and I was still dirty.
When I was 12 years old in the 6th grade I had made a couple of close friends again. One night one of my friends and I did some prank calling teasing one of my neighbor boys in an unkind way. My dad found out and told me how disappointed he was in me and how he had always thought that I was perfect. I went to my room and cried and started reading the scriptures to comfort myself. I knew I wasn’t perfect. I knew I was dirty, bad, worthless, used up,with no divine worth, and that everything was all my fault. As I was reading the scriptures I came across a verse in Alma (A book in the Book of Mormon) 37 about counseling with your elders about sins and also counseling with the lord:
37 Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.
I prayed and felt that I needed to tell my parents about my shameful secret. Then they would know their daughter was not perfect, and was in fact a girl to be ashamed of, but I felt so guilty I wanted them to know. I felt like I was confessing my sins. I practiced in front of my stuffed animals and dolls a few times and in front of the mirror and then decided I was ready.
So I went into their bedroom just before they were going to go to sleep. I said, “I have something I need to tell you. Do you remember so and so?” They said yes. I went on to tell them what I remembered him doing to me and us doing together in very childlike terms. They were pretty serious acts but I won’t go into it here. My parents were obviously in shock. They asked how many times did it happen? Once, twice, several times? Not being sure exactly what several meant, I knew it meant more than once or twice so I chose that answer when in reality the answer should have been countless times. They asked me a couple more questions and then sent me off to bed. I went to bed feeling a little lighter and happier that my secret was out.
A few days later they took me to see the Bishop and Stake President. I knew that going to the Bishop was part of the process of repentance. I knew that I was a sinner so this was what I had to do. I sat there silently in the office while the adults talked. They asked me if I wanted to talk to the police. I said no. I didn’t want to get into any more trouble. There was discussion about not wanting to ruin his life. That drove home the belief that it was my fault. The bishop asked me if I needed counseling. I said no, I didn’t want to see anybody. Wasn’t that what crazy people did? So it was decided to do nothing about it.
My parents never talked to me about it. It was a dirty secret swept under the rug. I was still left filled with shame, guilt, and depression. My parents were hoping that I would just forget about it. They didn’t want to bring it up and cause me pain or upset me. They were at a loss as what to do and who can blame them? Meanwhile my wounds festered and the pain went on. Luckily I had music as an outlet and other activities and I loved to read and write so that was a nice escape from reality.
When I went to Girls Camp my first year it was only a month or so after I had aired my secret with my parents. Late one night while were were laying in our tent the girls started talking about some neighborhood gossip and boys. My abuser’s name came up (he had since moved but everyone remembered him) and they started telling stories about him. I was shaking uncontrollably, my heart like an icy rock in my chest. I had to get out of there. I left the tent and ran to the bathroom to try to calm down. One of the older girls was worried about me and came after me. She saw me shaking and asked what was wrong. I just blurted it out about how he had abused me. I made her promise not to ever say anything. To this day I haven’t ever talked to her about it again. I wonder if she even remembers?
When I was in 8th grade I developed Anorexia. I lost 40 lbs. in a month. And I was normal sized to begin with so ended up very bony and sickly at about 80 lbs. I lost my period for about a year after having them regularly for 2 years before that. My mom freaked out and took me to the family doctor who scared me by saying if I kept it up I might not be able to have kids. I finally saw a counselor. He was not very nice. The first meeting he asked me if I thought I looked good the way I was. He said I didn’t. Victoria Secret models have some meat on their bones. Men like a little meat and I had none. Needless to say, I never had a connection with that counselor. We did talk about the abuse and that helped. He helped me finally see that I was the victim. He helped me write a letter to my abuser. I got one back from my abuser saying he was sorry and he hoped that I would have forgotten about it. Getting the letter really validated to me that it really did happen.
I was also seeing a nutritionist. I remember getting weighed backwards and not being able to look and it was the hardest thing in the world for me not to look. I heard them tsk tsking and I imagined they were thinking “This girl is fat, why is she here?” I would look in the mirror and see a girl much larger than I really was, but then I would look at my starved legs with bruises from when they touched each other when I slept and would think, “Maybe I am skinny?” I think it may also have been a way for me to commit suicide very slowly. My parents said I wouldn’t be able to do karate or dance unless I weighed at least 100 lbs. I put my ankle weights in my bra but I still didn’t come close. Eventually, I decided I needed to eat so that I would be able to be a mother someday, something I have always desired. I ate a jar of peanut butter every day and a box of Frosted Mini Wheats in addition to my meals. I got back to a healthy weight eventually. I stopped seeing the counselor after only a few sessions though. I felt guilty about how expensive it was and I didn’t like the guy anyway so I told my parents I was fine and could stop.
Not long after I got back to a healthy weight I became bulimic. I didn’t lose much weight but was in a dangerous cycle of binging and purging. It was all about emotions and control. I would feel depressed and anxious so I would eat a lot, then feel guilty and ashamed so I would throw it all up to get some relief. My friends suspected what I was doing and told my mom behind my back. I was sent to a different counselor. A girl this time. She was nice, but I still didn’t feel much of a connection. She blamed the whole situation on my Dad and one of my best friends saying they were too controlling. I continued to throw up until I went to a week long church youth-oriented seminar and was unable to do so. There is very little privacy there and not very much access to food for private binging. Also the spirit there really helped. One of the counselors encouraged us to pray to our Heavenly Father and simply ask him if we were His daughter and if He loved us. I did so and I was overwhelmed with a feeling of warmth, comfort and his undeniable love for me. I was able to kick the habit of binging and purging that week for the most part. I had a few setbacks when stressful events happened but was mostly cured of it by the time I was a Jr. in High School.
Then my bad habit of eating disorders gave way to a bad habit with boys. I had a hard time saying “no”. I was often used by boys for their own pleasure, and I often felt that it didn’t matter too much since I had been there done that as a child. Luckily I met my husband to be when I was at the end of my senior year in high school. He was respectful and kind and gentle.
I got married young at 19. He has been a wonderful and very understanding husband. He knew all about my secret. I felt I had to tell him because I still felt it was such a shameful thing and that I was carrying all this dirty laundry around. Maybe he wouldn’t want to be with someone who went through that and had been broken. I knew I had a lot of baggage. He has been so supportive, loving, and understanding, especially these last few years when it has gotten ugly, stressful, and also money and time consuming.
When I was 21 I started my internship teaching 3rd grade in a school that looked very much like my old elementary school. Then I found out one of the students had been sexually abused and it triggered my own pain. I sank into depression again. The stress of my last year of college combined with my first year of teaching didn’t help either. Every day on the way to work and on the way home I would fervently wish that I would get in a car accident and die. But that nobody else would get hurt and it wouldn’t be my fault so my husband could get money for the car and life insurance, I honestly thought he would be better off without me. I stopped being able to sleep so I started taking Ambien. I was miserable. I felt all those evil emotions again: worthlessness, self-doubt, guilt, shame, depression, anger, sadness, loneliness. I gained weight which didn’t help my self-esteem. I felt like I was doing more harm than good being alive and everyone would be better off without me so why not end the pain. I finished out the school year. A month into summer I tried to commit suicide. I went to a Cemetery and took a whole bottle of ibuprofen, about 500 pills and then laid on a bench there to die. It didn’t do anything. I had sent my husband a mysterious text earlier, something about I’ll miss you but you deserve better. He called me and I told him what I had done, by then feeling pretty stupid. My husband was in complete shock at what I had attempted to do and worried sick. He took me to the ER and they observed me for awhile but I was physically fine. They were more worried about my mental state. I talked to a therapist while I was there and I told him about the abuse and the pain it still caused. He said he thought a lot of the pain was that it was a big, dark secret. He thought I should have a family meeting and get it out in the open with the adults in my family so I could have their support. My poor husband had to watch over me on “suicide watch” for 72 hours, dispensing my pills one at a time and hiding all the razors. When he did have to go to work he had my parents babysit me. I finally convinced everyone, including myself that I really didn’t want to die. It was more of a “cry for help”…
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