[dropcap]I[/dropcap] was nine years old the night that I told my mother, for the second time, what my stepfather had been doing to me when she wasn’t home. The next day, I sat in an office with a tape recorder and a police officer, describing everything I could remember of the past five years and how it had started and when the last time he’d touched me had been. That night, I cried as they took my stepfather away to jail. Whether the tears were for me or for him, or perhaps for both, or for the fate of my family, I don’t know.
I learned the most important lesson of my life in the months that would follow, and some of the most painful. I learned that when you are doing what is right, and what needs to be done, especially if it is something that nobody else had the courage to do, you can expect that no one will thank you for it. Friends and family alike may turn on you, blaming you for the results of the evil that was done by someone else’s hands. It had to be done, it needed to be done, but nobody thanks the knife for cutting out the cancer while the pain can still be felt.
My sister and brother both turned on me, blaming me for the breakup of our family. Without my stepfather’s income, my mother turned to food stamps and government assistance to get us by. My mother’s tremendous guilt at her failure to protect her children gave way to an obsessive pursuit of every book ever made on the subject of abuse and abusers. In a few of the things she read, there were statements that it might be possible to cure my stepfather of his problems. I clung to that slim hope that our family could be whole and normal because at nine normal is something you want to be, especially when you have never been that. As a result of the hope of curing my stepfather of his ills, we were treated like criminals in our counseling sessions with social services. Surrounded by children who had been abandoned by mothers after telling about the deeds of fathers and grandfathers and uncles, hounded by counselors who felt it was unnatural for me to want my stepfather back home and instead pushed for me to reject him, betrayed by my siblings, I suddenly found myself utterly alone with no one I could talk to.
All human beings are weak and frail. We all need one another, and this is as God intended. One of the most horrific things an abuser does is to separate the abused from others by teaching them to hold in their pain and pretend it does not exist. Any sign of weakness on the part of the abused is an invitation for the abuser to hurt them all the more. It is a vicious thing, and I was a fast learner.
Furthermore, despite the fact that I was not to blame for the abuse, I felt tremendous shame and guilt. To cover my shame, I clothed myself with pride. I felt it was all I had. That pride, however, prevented me from being able to turn to the one friend and confidante I truly needed: God. As I grew older, the untreated wounds endured at my stepfather’s hands manifested themselves. The abuse I had endured at his hands was primarily sexual. Thus, I learned to equate sex with love. I did not know how to relate to men in any other fashion. I was emotionally shattered and broken. I did not think myself lovable, and so I became a chameleon.
I was very good at reading people. I could, within a short period of time after having met someone, identify what it was that they liked to see in other people. Then I would become that for them. I was confused, lonely, and isolated. I grew angry with God. I felt that if he had loved me, He would have saved me. He was almighty and powerful, but He had failed me. I couldn’t understand why. I thought it meant He must not want me, that I must somehow be flawed. I never stopped believing in God, but I did not often believe that He truly loved me. Yet God knew me, and knew my heart, and never stopped pursuing me.
I was following paths of self-destruction, but periodically God’s calls would reach me and I would turn to Him for a brief time. My heart would heal just a little bit during these periods, even though I did not see it. At twenty-two, God answered me as to why he had allowed my stepfather to do such terrible things to me. It was not a lack of love for me, but a love of my stepfather and of all humanity.
One of the first of his many gifts to humankind was the gift of free will. That gift is wonderful and terrible at the same time. For God to allow it to be given, means that He must allow us to not only conceive of a horrible deed but then go through with it, even though that deed hurts others. Were He to prevent the action, He also prevents the doer from being able to reconsider before the deed is done and perhaps choose not to do it at all. However, God also promised me that if I would only give Him my pain, He would transform it and return it to me as a special gift to benefit me and all those I touched. I wish I could say truthfully that this meant I transformed my life at twenty-two and saved myself more years of grief, but this would be a lie. I was not yet ready to let go of my pain. I had nurtured it, fed it, and kept it close to me for too long. I had worn it like a badge of honor and wielded it as a weapon. I was so close to it that I thought my pain was me.
At twenty-five, though, I looked out at the destruction and devastation my pain had wrought. I was sickened by it, and ready to give it up. I began to work to put back the pieces of my life, to reconstruct myself and find who I was.
I began to draw closer to God, and my healing began in earnest. I became more forgiving, for I learned to see myself and my own sins in the sins of others. I am now in my mid 30’s, and a long way from the saints. I still stray sometimes from the path God wants me to follow, and I struggle to put aside my tendency to try to be strong and instead admit my weakness. I have a hard time reaching out to others, and a hard time accepting that others might genuinely wish to help me. But I am learning, and in learning I am growing again.
Brandy M. Miller is an author and artist who lives in Elko, Nevada with her husband. It is Christ who led them to Elko and Christ who has encouraged them to begin taking in the homeless in an effort to change the world, One Life at a Time. You can learn more or support their ministry by visiting http://www.gofundme.com/9fkhmk.