I’m very honored to share this guest blogger post with you! It comes from Barbara Joy Hansen, and she shares her incredible story of being a survivor of sexual abuse.
Barbara contacted me and wanted to share her story here on Surviving My Past, and I jumped at the chance to be able to put it out here for you to read. She is a published author, speaker, advocate, and has shared her story on national radio and television shows including being a guest with 20 other survivors of sexual abuse and harassment on the Dr. Oz show.
Trigger Warning – this post talks about childhood sexual abuse, so please be kind to yourself as you read.
As a pastor’s daughter I was given deep spiritual roots by my parents. The incest began when I was two as grandpa molested me while treating me to ice cream. Unprotected and vulnerable he entered my bath time without the knowledge of anyone in my family. Taking me in his car, he exposed himself to me numerous times asking for sexual favors. One time, I tried to jump out of the car when I was about four or five. He told me not to tell so I didn’t. I found out when I was about seven that he was sexually assaulting my female cousins too. Their dad, my uncle was also a sex offender but when I heard behind he garage at their house when I was about eight, I avoided him.
As a child, I was intensely shy, quiet, very trusting, sad, withdrawn and extremely vulnerable. Like a deaf mute, I became silent about it for decades, desperately wanting to tell someone what was happening in my silent world of memories. Like the silent falling snowflakes, no words came out; no voice was heard. There were only tears late at night when no one but God was listening.
At age five, I woke my mother up in the middle of the night screaming hysterically! She knew I had a nightmare and assured me, “Mommy’s here. You’re OK.” Sobbing and frightened, I kicked her while hysterically screaming, “You’re not my mommy!” She recalls that I looked so very scared that it frightened her terribly! She would hold me close and pat me for about half an hour until I went back to sleep. I also walked in my sleep & bit my nails. Sometimes she would find me in the closet.
The second abuse began at age eleven. “Shhh! Don’t tell!” This is what the stocky and balding twenty-seven year-old youth pastor told me as he gave in to his uncontrollable urge to molest me. He singled me out, as if picking the sweetest, ripest, freshest, undefiled oranges at the supermarket. The details of those events are as vivid in my memory as if they happened yesterday. He fondled me underneath my bathing suit while he laughed and joked at the swimming hole.
He whispered in my ear, “This is our little secret; keep it to yourself; don’t tell” so I didn’t for forty years. My parents trusted everyone at the camp, thinking I was safe from predators, not realizing that these child molesters who they knew were hurting me and others, luring us all into their deceitful web!
As I grew into pre adolescence, I looked undernourished and anorexic. The signs are all there in my pictures. I drank milkshakes to gain weight and didn’t understand why I was so skinny. I never gained weight and I never liked the way I looked. I thought I was ugly & didn’t trust anyone except my father. I didn’t go through puberty when my friends did. I was underdeveloped & stuffed my bra with toilet paper & was mortified at the age of sixteen when I hadn’t started my monthly cycle my mother had to take me to the doctor for hormone shots to make my body begin doing something that should normally have started by then. Victims of sexual abuse – male and female – become stuck in both an emotional and physical time frame. The body shuts down physically and emotionally, and actually becomes unable to function as it should. Only recently have I told my OB/GYN that I was sexually assaulted.
As a teenager, I felt lifeless inside, was filled with shame and scared that my smile became forced. I had few close friends and my schoolwork suffered. I studied so hard for tests, but because of the post traumatic stress disorder and memory blocks it forced me to blank out. Testing was very difficult so I resorted to cheating just to pass. I never dreamed I would become an author, but it shows that God can make something out of what appeared to be nothing.
I didn’t go to college after I graduated from high school but was happy to get a job at a college & worked for two professors. But the college boys wanted to date me & being extremely shy & introverted I remember one time I made the young man take me home just because I had to go to the bathroom & was afraid to ask. At age seventeen, one of the college age students I liked took advantage of me & raped me. Until recently, I’ve never told anyone that secret because it was so shameful to me.
As I grew into young adulthood, I felt as if a wrecking ball had come down on my head and shattered my life like a mirror, into a million pieces all over the road of life. Just like all the king’s men in “Humpty Dumpty,” I had no idea how to put myself together again. This huge puzzle with its scattered pieces created in the image of God, but in my shattered state, it was impossible to realize that image.
I had been betrayed over & over and because of that betrayal and the thirst the perpetrators had to “feel good,” I will never be the same!
My freedom day was October 1998. That day was a huge step of courage and freeing my soul from shame. After our son’s wedding I was finally able to relax. Everyone except my parents had left our home. Dad was in a different room while my mother and I watched television. The Oprah Winfrey Show was on. I remember it was about confronting your past. I admired the courage and boldness it must have taken on the part of those who were speaking. My 83 year old mother and I were agreeing with Oprah and her guests about the importance of coming clean from whatever harm had been done to them. I felt as if I were living a lie.
I remember thinking to myself, I wish I could do that! How I wish I could openly tell my mother about being molested by her father. But the secret of that hideous humiliation had been locked inside me by tremendous shame. Years of doubts and fear had bound me for decades! How come I don’t have that kind of courage? What is it going to take for me to tell? Questions I had asked myself over and over again.
Just that summer I had mustered all the courage I had and finally told both of my parents about the youth pastor who had sexually assaulted me when I was a preteen at a youth camp years ago. But this deeper secret plaguing me was too close to home because it involved a grandpa. The secret, buried for decades was now creeping to the surface. What energy it took to keep it under wraps. Would my mother believe me anyway? I lived with the fear my father had impressed on me when I told him about Ba Pa just three years earlier. “Don’t tell! It might kill her!” That’s exactly what grandpa told me after he molested me. I felt victimized all over again by my own father
“Daddy,” I said at the time, “I know without a doubt that she was also a victim!” Two of my cousins had already told me that they too had been molested. I knew from what I had read that child molesters don’t stop at one victim. This dirty secret lying just beneath the surface was killing me! An abuse victim suffers in silence and by remaining silent, the effects of the abuse on my adult life was more devastating than the actual abuse.
I turned off the TV when my father came into the family room and he began to chide me about my ministry to those “crushed in spirit” – drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, ex-cons that the world sees as throw aways. They were invited into our home out of prison and drug treatment programs because of my brokenness & gift of mercy. My husband and I had gone into a minimum-security prison and crack houses to minister to drug dealers. I didn’t know that I was as locked up inside as they were & couldn’t really help them. All I was doing was rescuing them for years bringing them into our home & trying to get them into treatment. We had started to mentor those steeped in their addictive lifestyles. In climbing out of the pit, I was leading others out as I taught a trauma support group, Beauty Out of Ashes. No doubt my daddy was afraid for my safety.
Suddenly on that day in the room with my father, all the suppressed venom, like a poison from a viper, came out with an over flow of tears and sobs that I didn’t even realize were coming from me. I didn’t think I was an angry person, but what I failed to see is unless anger is dealt
with, it eventually destroys you! When anger is released, it doesn’t mean that those horrific memories are forgotten, it means that you are released from the hatred that has settled inside your soul.
I had never acted this way before. “Daddy, you don’t understand! The pain the people I work with aren’t any different from me!’ Why can’t I tell my mother? Ba Pa is dead but I did nothing wrong to deserve my being so dead inside my soul! Then I heard my father say, “Maybe you should tell her now?” Words I never thought I would hear that would free my spirit forever. Running to the basement where my husband was working, I grabbed his arm and told him, “Pandora’s box has been opened! You’d better come upstairs quick because I’m about to tell mother the dark, dirty secret of my past!”
Weeping for the loss of my childhood innocence, I realized the importance of what was about to happen in relation to healing my family. I began telling my mother that I was a victim of sexual abuse, not only by a clergy but by my grandfather and that he had also molested her! Nodding, my father looked at her with disbelief as my dear eighty three year old mother asked me, “Why of why didn’t you tell me years ago?”
Fear chokes the soul just as weeds choke the flowers in the garden. As my fear was released, this garden of my life could now bloom. When fear comes uninvited, it needs to become an offering to work through those fears in order to free your soul to live!
If you would like to be a guest blogger here on Surviving My Past, just contact me anytime.
Post images courtesy of Barbara Joy Hansen. Feature image courtesy of Pixabay.