The following is a true story from a real abuse survivor. However, details of her story have been altered to protect her identity and the privacy of her family. Any similarities between people or situations are coincidental.
My name is Andra. When I was a little girl, I was something of a tomboy. I tagged along with my dad, helping him out with chores, eager to make him happy. In the early days, you could say I was wrapped around his little finger. But a series of difficult situations lead to neglect. And a series of terrible choices lead to abuse.
My mom was schizophrenic, incapable of being mentally or emotionally there for me. In and out of mental institutions, she often wasn’t there at all. It was a tough way to grow up. It was a tough way to live. My dad didn’t cope well. Instead, he began drinking more and more. Sometimes, he drove home drunk. Sometimes, he drank until he passed out. When he wasn’t passed out, he could become sexually abusive. He’d get grabby and try to kiss me, and I’d have to fight him off. It was horrible.
But I was the good and responsible daughter. I didn’t want to get him in trouble. I didn’t even understand that what he was doing was abuse. I wanted to be mature and strong. I wanted my faithfulness and patience to help make up for all his suffering. I wanted to be the glue that held our family together. I didn’t want to be the grenade who tore us all apart. I brushed off his offences and never told anyone. I thought that’s what was best for us all.
Even though I was the youngest child, I learned quickly to be the responsible one. My big sister was disabled, both cognitively and physically. She was born with birth defects and various other health challenges. Her special needs necessitated many surgeries, and my parents had their hands full.
They focused on her to the neglected of me. They indulged her every whim while expecting me to behave like a tiny adult. Some of it was understandable. Some of it was poor parenting choices. But the disparity between how they treated us inflicted lasting damage on us both.
When I was 10 years old, my parents got divorced. Although I’d kept his secrets, helped out around the house, and done my best to keep things running smoothly, everything fell apart. My mom and sister grew more and more distant, and my dad and I were on our own.
By the time I was 11, I was locking my bedroom door at night to keep him out. By the time I was 12, he’d already gotten my friends and I drunk. I remember, it was a Friday night. Us girls had planned a sleepover. He’d been drinking bourbon and it wasn’t long before he got us kids drinking too.
I vaguely remember seeing my dad and my young friend making out. I was just a kid. I didn’t understand how wrong this was. In fact, I think I blocked it out of my memory for a while. Or maybe the alcohol made me forget. I don’t remember much else from that night. I woke up the next morning, horribly hung over. All three of us kids were throwing up and feeling terrible.
Throughout my childhood, I remember feeling afraid or sad almost constantly. But I grew up this way. I didn’t know it wasn’t normal. I certainly didn’t understand that crimes were being committed. But the trauma of my upbringing was inflicting damage whether I understood or not.
Self-conscious and insecure, I became anorexic. Within about a year, my weight plummeted from 130 pounds to 99 pounds. I was always a tall kid so that was severely underweight. One of my friends made the connection that my weight loss was related to my dad’s abuse. She confronted me about it, but I was too young and scared to admit what was happening. Plus, he was my dad. How do you process that, especially as a kid?
I wrongly blamed myself for my dad’s actions. I’d invited my friends over. I’d known my dad was an alcoholic. I’d known he could get inappropriate when he drank. I felt responsible that he’d assaulted her. Even though I didn’t yet understand it as a crime or abnormal, I was heartbroken for her. The guilt and grief ate away at me. My self-confidence plummeted even lower than my weight, and I had a constant sense of shame.
Eventually, my dad remarried. My step-mom and I struggled to adjust to one another, most of which I think was normal. She was from a broken home too, and had been abused by family members. She did the best she could with the skills she had, but sometimes she said things that further crushed my already fragile emotional state.
During my teens, I began dating. I made a lot of poor choices. I didn’t know how to pick a boyfriend who would treat me well or respect me. I married young, before either of us were ready. That fell apart. I married again, but that turned out to be another poor choice.
We had children. We fought. We got divorced.
Then I married a third time. I was sure this marriage would last. I thought I’d finally gotten everything right. But everything went wrong, again. I struggled through yet another divorce, filed for bankruptcy, and moved to love closer to my daughter, who was now a teenager.
Adding to my shame and guilt, she had become pregnant. I felt that, had she had a secure family and more stable role models as parents, maybe she wouldn’t be going through this. I was very proud of her though for deciding to keep her baby.
I dedicated myself to putting my life back together. But I still hadn’t yet reached for the right Source. I knew I needed to get better, but no matter how hard I tried or how sincere my motives, I couldn’t seem to DIY my recovery.
Damaged and broken, feeling worthless and ashamed, I once again became involved with a man. This time he was a good man, but of course, everyone has issues. The next eight years were rocky. We lived together off and on. Without realizing it, I was stuck in a loop, repeating a cycle of alcohol abuse, shame, depression, and anxiety. Without realizing it, his words often reinforced my self-loathing and sense of hopelessness.
During all this time, I knew about God. I knew God was love. I knew God forgave. But I also knew many of my life choices displeased Him. One Sunday, hungover and desperate, I dragged myself to a church. That Lord’s Day, I began a new process of repentance, forgiveness, love, and grace. There was a spiritual shift. A change in the trajectory of my life. Sure, I stumbled a lot along the way. I won’t lie, it hasn’t been an easy journey. But I can tell God is working. I can tell he’s changing me.
After being saved, I decided to address my drinking problem. I went to see a Christian counselor. To my surprise, I was diagnosed – not with alcoholism – but with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD). After starting medication to manage my depression and anxiety, I was able to regain a healthy weight. After decades of disordered eating, I slowly learned to eat right and exercise.
Eventually, I was able to forgive my father, my ex-husbands, and all the people who had hurt me. I was able to forgive myself for all the poor choices I’d made and the people I’d hurt in the process. I learned to be responsible for my behavior, but also to have grace for myself, realizing that many of my choices had been resultant from trauma and the dysfunction of my childhood.
It’s been a long and often sad journey. But, because I know what it’s like to endure such hardship, I have grace and love for others who are hurt and struggling. I know what it’s like. And I know Jesus can save us. By the grace of God, I’ve made it to a happy, healthy place in my life. I have love. I have peace. My life has never been easy. Even now I have my struggles. But my life is a story of redemption.
Survivor Story is a blog series by Jennifer Greenberg, in which she helps survivors of abuse tell their stories in a safe and anonymous way. Names, locations, and other details may be changed to protect the survivor’s identity. If you would like to contribute your story, please email us. All emails are considered confidential.