A Powerful Letter
Being a public figure who has published two books, appeared on numerous talk shows, and travels the country speaking I hear from a lot of people. If you could only see my inbox somedays. I recently talked about balancing a public life with my personal life because of all the people reaching out to me. In a post I posted last Tuesday talking about letters from survivors, having healthy boundaries with those who do contact me, and what I have learned along the way. A few hours after I posted that my inbox showed a new message from a young lady. The hairs on my back went up as I continued reading. First when I discovered how old she was, then feeling like I was reading words out of one of my diaries and listening to her pain and remembering the days of self-injury as she describes in her letter and wondering if the pain will ever go away. Then as I continued to read to see what a powerful impact my words had on her in my 2nd book to break her silence. She broke her silence as I lay in a hospital bed in Chicago. She wrote things that I felt God was using her to get through to me. This young woman was moved by my story to break her own silence and at the same time she had no idea what her letter did to me. I finished reading it and looked up and said, “I hear you God.” I am not going to get into anymore detail on what it is God was telling me through the words of this young woman but if you ever felt like you heard a whisper from God this was one of those times for me. If you have been following my posts lately especially the poem I wrote in my last post there are some things on my heart and reading this letter was like God using one of his children to reach me. It is a letter that will inspire you I promise. The only editing I did was take out her name and my sister’s name. She gave me permission to post this.
No doubt, you have read many letters thanking you for encouraging them and explaining just how much your books meant to them. So, in a way, I suppose this won’t really mean much — but I wanted to tell you that after reading your books, I finally found the strength to speak up about what had happened long ago. I was sexually abused by one of my mom’s boyfriends when I was seven years old. Before this, my biological father gave up his parental rights and responsibilities — basically I was rejected when I was young by someone who is supposed to be your source of strength and encouragement. Following that event, my mom started drifting away from God, and, because it was right around this time that I had first accepted Christ as my Savior, I associated loving God with getting rejected. I had no idea that the Heavenly Father could love me far more adequately and eloquently than my biological father ever had. Because of this, I was very alone, and already did not trust/like people. I don’t like thinking of my family this way (because I know I have it far better than most) but I also grew up and continue to live in a home where we don’t talk very much, and basically never show affection to one another. Additionally, my faith became so real to me, and I have now come to understand/love God is such huge ways, while my parents aren’t believers and don’t agree with my beliefs. I have had to become silenced about my faith, and almost every other emotion that I feel. My mom, right after her divorce with my father, began dating many different boyfriends. I remember, for the years from age five to age ten (when she got married to my current step-dad) living in lots of different homes, and having lots of people come into our home — people I didn’t know and did not trust. Some of them stayed for a long time, and others came and went quickly. How I wish that my perpetrator would have been one of the ones that were in and out within a couple weeks . . . but that’s not how it work. I am still very uncertain about how long I was around this man, but it wasn’t a short amount of time. For most of the time they were together, I was being sexually abused. The first time it happened, it wasn’t anything too serious, and I remember feeling glad that I was finally getting attention. Though it was not a pleasant experience, I wanted so deeply to feel loved, that it didn’t matter how that happened. However, the next times it occurred, it was painful — emotionally and physically — and I knew it was wrong. Despite this, I was told that if anyone found out my mom wouldn’t want me anymore, because she thought I was her “little angel”. Little did this man know that I was rejected before. Those words, along with threats and putdowns, kept me silence. I never shared this with anyone while it was going on, and eventually, this man was out of my life. After my mom no longer saw him, I felt confident that I could, and would always keep this a secret.
I felt ashamed, and dirty, and guilty. Somehow, I made it my fault that I was being abused. So, this became a secret that no one but God, my abuser, and I would know. I then entered a place where all I wanted to do was bury the memories, so I would never feel sick thinking about them again. I hid them from my family, and worked extremely hard to get them out of my mind — never again did I want to revisit them. For a long while, that worked. I developed two types of anxiety disorders, and because I was in a place of denial and basically had no recollection of what occurred, I would blame every out of the ordinary behavior on anxiety. I would make weird fears to explain the way I acted — because it was all the justification that I, and anyone else, needed. It wasn’t until this past year that any memories have come back up. (I am fourteen, by the way) I began to have these dreams where I would see a man trying to abuse me, and throughout the day I would get random images of a man in my head. I wrote in my prayer journal asking God who this was, and why I was thinking about him. I had buried the memories so much, that I didn’t remember them myself. Soon after, I wrote that I did, in fact, know who I was seeing — I knew him, and he knew my body quite well. I immediately felt ashamed and guilty once again. So I told God that I was not going to say anything — ever. I was in denial for the majority of this last year, because that was my way of keeping memories from coming back. Within this past month, memories came back so rapidly. I was scared and felt so confused — there was no way I was ready to deal with the emotions of uncovering this mess — but I knew God wanted me to. I specifically told Him, “God, I am not saying anything about this. I am just not going to. So whatever you think I need to say, you are going to have to say it for me, because I am not speaking.” I was really getting overwhelmed and consumed in this now — I was having more frequent panic attacks, flash backs, and nightmares. I had watched you on Oprah, and I was amazed by your story and your courage. I could never imagine sharing my story with that many people. Because I was so inspired, I decided to read your books. Let me just say, reading them was the second most life changing event for me (after asking Jesus into my heart) so far. They were so inspiring and I felt a new hope — something I had never felt before. There wasn’t as much guilt, and I didn’t feel so alone; rather I felt empowered and comforted knowing that God can, and does, redeem. I still had no intention of breaking my silence, however. God had different plans, I guess. I do a Bible study with your sister. She was reading over my prayer requests — one of which was just about God giving me peace with repressed memories that had been surfacing lately. I had written it that vague, because I didn’t want to share. However, she knew, and began asking questions. When she asked me if I had been abused when I was younger, I was very tempted to say no — I wanted my secret to be mine still, and wasn’t ready for anyone to know. Despite this, I remembered something I had read in Living For Today, it said, “I do not need to be the one in control. Instead, I need to give my trust to God, recognize that He is in control at all times, no matter what circumstances life throws at me, and He will not leave my side.” It was then that I was convicted to tell her the truth. Your words helped me realize that it’s not about being in control, or having it all figured out; but trusting that God does, and He will lead us through any situation, no matter how dark it may seem. So, I broke my silence, on November 11th, 2010, to your sister, because of your words. I was so astonished that God used both you and your sister to lead me to the first step of healing. From there, I opened up to a couple of other woman and I am now going in for my first counseling session this Friday. Thank you so much for being a light and a testimony of God’s healing grace to everyone around you. Erin, you are such an amazing woman, and I am so blown away by all that you have accomplished. God has used you, and your story to inspire many, including myself, and encourage them to stop living in silence. I know that if it weren’t for your book, I would have lied that day. I would have said that I had never been abused, and for all I know, would never share what had happened to me — I would still be held captive by the secrets I kept, and have no idea when I would have spoken up. There aren’t really words to describe how much of a blessing you have been in my life. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being bold and courageous and helping me find the strength to open up about abuse. I feel like now is the first time that I can confidently share that I am a sexual abuse survivor. For a while I felt as if I would always be defined by that, but your story showed me otherwise. I have come to a place where I realize, that it is not always about where you have been or how much you’ve hurt; but where your brokenness brings you.
God can use that brokenness for His glory, and He has a distinct purpose through it all. Even though I feel relived not to be walking in silence anymore, this is such a hard thing. When it was my secret, the pain didn’t feel real, and it was easy to cover up all the emotions that I felt. However, now that people know, I can’t hide it — now it is real. And everything seems to be falling apart. I can’t sleep at night, or focus in school — the pain is so overwhelming, that I am consumed in it. I am emotionally numb, and don’t have the words or courage to express myself. I have turned to unhealthy ways of coping with pain and the emotions. At one point in the last year, I was very suicidal. It was a scary time, especially when I remember begging God to kill me that night, or thinking of how I might be able to die. I don’t know if I ever would have actually gone through with it (or at least I hope I wouldn’t), but all of those feelings rush back, anytime I remember what was done to me. I am afraid of my own power to abuse my body — not just through self mutilation, but through unhealthy eating habits (overeating, and not eating), and through extremely negative self talk. So, in addition to not being able to trust men and being afraid anytime a boy even puts his arm around me, I am terrified of becoming too overwhelmed with fear, and hurting myself. Even though, through all I do I want the control taken from me back, I feel so out of control right now. Maybe that’s a place I need to get — learning to let God control my destiny and being alright with wherever it is He brings me — but that is frightening.
How do you find the strength to remain strong through all that you have been through, and then, in addition, offer your help and insight to others? How do you overcome everything you have gone through and find healing/hope? My biggest question for you is; Do the emotions and the pain ever go away? Right now, I am worried that I will never feel hope — that I will never again be happy and normal. Now that I can’t hide behind denial, I don’t think that I will ever be happy again — because all I will ever feel is numbness and pain. Additionally, what is the legal process like? Your sister has been encouraging me to bring this case to the police because this man has children and could quite possibly be abusing others. I am not sure I am ready yet, but I know I will get there. She is waiting for me to reach that place, and when God gives me the strength, I want to bring it to the authorities, but I don’t know what that process is like. Thanks again for everything you have done, and continue to do, to keep children safe. Thank you for being a voice for those who have been abused, and for giving me strength to open up about my own situation. Again, I cannot fully describe to you how much your story/work means to me. I am so completely inspired and encouraged by you, Erin. You are truly amazing. May God bless all that you do. You are in my prayers, and will forever be embedded in my heart as a hero and role model. Thanks for taking the time to read this letter. I hope that someday I can inspire others with my story in similar ways that you have inspired me.
14 year old