I still have her email her words went like this.
Erin, you are my hero. I just had to tell you that. After reading your book I began counseling and I can honestly say that you were apart of my decision to go back to therapy. Your story brought me so much hope and courage. What you have done for other survivors is absolutely amazing. You have given us a voice. I can’t even describe the effect that you had on me. For that I thank you
– 17 year old teen March 2005-
I have received thousands of letters just like the one above from women and men of all ages from teens to people in their sixties. Pouring their hearts out of how my books have impacted them, gave them a voice, forgive, heal, inspire, wanting advice, sharing their story, and wanting to meet me. I have always made it a point to at least write back every person that has contacted me. That in itself is a job especially after I have appeared on national television, magazine, newspaper, and people reach out to me. For some of the people I have heard from over the past 6 1/2 years I have eventually met. When they hear I am going to be in their state speaking I have had survivors show up and meet me. The teen who wrote the above letter is now a woman in her 20’s who I am friends with now. Many times I have people asking me to call them. I also have to set boundaries up with people because my life is so public. I have had many people asking me to call them. Early on when I was just beginning this mission of shattering the silence I did call people. I learned quickly though that wasn’t the best decision and have actually had some people who once they got my number would call me constantly. I even had to once block a number because this woman was calling me at all hours of the night and I really encouraged her to call places like RAINN
that has a 24 hour hotline.
I’ve learned a lot over the years of how to handle this very public crusade I am on. I listen to my intuition and every now and then I will call a survivor or parent reaching out to me. It’s not often only when I feel like I get a tap on the shoulder from God that I need to call this person. It happened over the weekend I spoke to a mother who is so concerned about her daughter. This mother was encouraged by someone to read my books and then her daughter who is 14 was recommended by her therapist last week to read my books which they went and picked up this weekend. It is interesting because every time someone contacts me I ask them how they heard about my books and it is amazing to hear how many people tell me “my therapist told me to read them.” This mother went on explaining how worried she is about her daughter and the destructive path she has gone down and how much she hides from her mother.
This mother went out this weekend to the bookstores and bought both my books which her daughter has started to read. I don’t know what impact they will have on her if any the unique thing about this contact is this teen went to the same Children’s Advocacy Center I did. The mother emailed me telling me her daughter would love to meet me if I am willing. Once again I felt God telling me to do it. So I told this mother I would after Thanksgiving. A part of me feels if I can give any hope to this teen to keep her from going down the destructive path she is on and help her get on a healthier path it is worth my time.
That leads me into the topic of this post. How do I balance a life that is so public? I have been blessed to turn my pain into a purpose and stand on stages and put a face and voice on sexual abuse. I have such passion behind what I am saying that I know I am making a difference when I have a businessman in his 40’s approach me in Houston, Tx in 2007 and break down and tell me I gave him his voice back and he was breaking his silence to me for the first time. To the woman in South Carolina in 2008 who came up behind the stage after I spoke tears streaming down her face and saying thank you for giving me my voice back. I thought working in a CAC would help me get over my own abuse and the truth was I needed to break my silence. Last month I was in Maryland and after I spoke I was signing copies of both my books Stolen Innocence
& Living For Today
at a table when a woman approached me and said, “Erin you said exactly what I needed to hear today. You told us you know there are days where you just want to walk away from this kind of work because of the frustration, long hours, underpaid, and painful stories your dealing with, but don’t give up on the kids they need you and one day a little Erin will walk back in as an adult to thank you for what you did so many years ago.” She explained to me that she had been talking to her fiance and mother about leaving this type of work but hearing me made her realize she needs to stick with it for the kids. No matter where I go I have someone break their silence to me. I told Senator Tim Bivins that in May right before I testified at the capital. Moments after testifying a woman crying approaches me sharing how moved she was by my story as she is a survivor. Tim Bivins stood back in awe and said, “You weren’t kidding.”
While I have written two books, passed a law that is about to be signed by the governor of Illinois, earned two degrees, travel the country speaking on a topic most won’t tell their best friend, and somethings I can’t even mention yet, there are areas of my life that need more of my attention that I have been neglecting or have put on the back burner. I start to address this towards the very end of my 2nd book Living For Today. The issues I have with men and trust. I keep thinking I just need to find the right guy and this will all go away. I have realized after several failed relationships this doesn’t have to do with finding the right guy this has to do with me and the only walls left from my past I need to take down but don’t know how.
In a relationship you want to love, trust, enjoy, and be happy. That is what most people would want. It is what I want but I come in with fear, anxiety, guilt, and feel like I can’t relax in a relationship. I bring into a relationship my traumatic past where trust was taken and my innocence killed. I also bring my Christian morals and values of saving myself for marriage. There are things I have done in relationships where guilt has consumed me not because of my christian morals and values but because when this was done before as a child it was wrong. There is the fear that I will get into a relationship with a man that says he respects my morals and values and then tries forcing sex on me. It’s already happened and so now when I am in relationships and guys tell me they respect that I say, “I’ve heard that before.”
I’ve spent the past 10 years since I was 15 getting together with friends in high school and in college and the conversation “Who was your first, how far have you gone with a guy, etc?” I hated those conversations and still do to this day because what would flood my mind was being 6 years old with a man raping me or 12 years old with a cousin on top of me. So as friends would sit around laughing about their first experiences I am remembering screaming about mine. I’ve had freinds tell me how much they love sex, how amazing it is, and ask me questions like, “Well what if you end up marrying someone that isn’t good in bed? As I listen to friends say things like this all I think about is how awful sex was when I didn’t even know what it was and the awful fears I have that “If” I were to one day get married and the most exciting day of my life my wedding ends in the wedding bed experiencing sex for the first time since my childhood and instead of being a new beginning in my life I am screaming for my now husband to get off me because I am being brought back to those horrible memories. I don’t know what is going to happen but the fear that is there that it might. I want to be one of those women that when she is proposed to I am stressing out about the usual wedding stuff and not worrying that I am one day closer to experiencing sex and all the anxiety and fear. I don’t want that to be a worry of mine and I keep telling myself that by then I will be at a place in my life where I trust this person so there won’t be fear, but I can’t be certain I only hope that is the case. I pray that when that day comes and I do get married I say, “I was really missing out.”
I do have friends that admire me for saving myself for marriage and tell me how much sex can mess things up in your life once you break up with someone. I have friends that have quiet a list they can name off of how many men they slept with that they are not proud of and encourage me to stick to my morals and values. At the same time when I think of my list I am brought back to my childhood where it was horrible.
While I am a very confident strong woman who can offer so much hope, courage, and strength to survivors of abuse, forgive my abusers, and accomplish what I set my mind to. There is this entire area of my life that is so complicated because of the abuse I went through. I find myself when men show interest in me trying to give them reasons to look the other way and not be interested in me. I start with my morals and values and let them know sex doesn’t come until their is a ring on this finger. If that doesn’t get rid of them I fill them in on all my baggage I come with that I have been used and abused and you can do better. Now I can use the excuse of my medical problems and you don’t want to take that on. I know people are reading this thinking why am I so hard on myself and beat myself up. I do it to protect myself from men because if I am scared of them and don’t trust them I need to scare them off. None of this would be like this if it were not for the abuse I suffered.
I wish there was a set of directions out there that could lead me to the answers of taking this one wall surrounding me down and open this door. The door that doesn’t allow men in or allows them in but not far past the door. I use to pray there was this man that would come into my life and knock this wall down and show me I can trust, let my guard down, and have nothing to be afraid of. I now wonder is that guy is still out there or do the answers lie within myself. I am still trying to figure that all out. Balancing a life that is an open book in the public eye that so many look up to and learning to take care of myself at the same time. Where many dream of accomplish what I have accomplished in my 25 years of life. I dream of a man I can trust and a family of my own. For now I continue forward not knowing as I say in my books what tomorrow will bring but always ready to read another letter from a survivor.
I write you this letter today to thank you for having the courage to share your story. I will no longer fear to let my voice be heard. I am a survivor! There is nothing I can’t do! Erin, I am truly grateful for your story. You have such an amazing heart to forgive all that has happened to you. You are such a strong person, and from reading your diary even I can get the sense there is nothing you can’t do. Thank you for giving me the courage to heal, and to let me know that I am not alone in my struggles. Reading your story has changed my outlook about myself and about the world. I now know I am a survivor, I can accomplish anything!
I wish you the best in the future and to keep living your life with such a strong heart. Thank you for helping me so much, you will never know how grateful I am for your book. Bless your heart and soul Erin!