“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” John 8:32
Growing up going to church every Sunday and being homeschooled with a very religious mother seems like the type of childhood that would naturally lead a person to trust in Christ. In my life, that was not the case.
That is how I grew up. My family was blue collar, Christian and conservative. We always had good vehicles, a nice house, full refrigerator and good shoes on our feet. All of my material needs were met, and to the outside observer it would have made sense to assume that my spiritual needs were met as well.
Our family was not what it appeared to be on the outside. My father was physically abusive and emotionally and financially controlling. My mother eventually began to have the same temper as my father and became abusive as well.
My mother had the best intentions when she chose to homeschool us. She believed that her children needed to be taught only about things that either she or the bible agreed with. That meant I did not learn about evolution, global warming, physical education and sexual education.
It is safe to say I grew up with very few “worldy” influences. The discussion of sexuality in my home was not allowed, all I knew was that it was dirty and wrong. I believe my brothers all had the same experience as well.
When I was eleven I found out that my youngest brother was being molested by my older brother and I made him tell my mother. My whole family blew up after that incident, my father mercilessly beat the brother who had molested my younger brother and I remember very little from that time.
I was questioning my younger brother about the molestation because I had been molested by the same brother when I was younger and I had been worried that it was happening to him. When I asked him, I think I already knew he was going to say yes.
I never had the courage to tell anybody about my abuse when I was young, I knew it was wrong but I thought if it was just me it did not hurt anybody else. My parents were always fighting and I did not want to be the reason they fought. I did not understand what was being done to me, but I knew it was at least somewhat sexual and in my nine year old mind I thought that would upset them. When the abuse stopped, I always suspected my brother would be abused as well but I was too scared to say anything. Failing to do something and allowing my younger brother to be abused was the greatest cause of guilt in my life for many years.
After the story of my younger brothers abuse began to take shape I was asked once about it, but again I was too scared to admit I was abused because I thought I would get beaten for not protecting that brother. I was young at the time and more than a little scared and confused.
Not very long after the abuse of my younger brother was found out my parents split up for the last time. My father had moved out from time to time before the final split up, but one night he took things a little too far.
When my parents would fight, my dad would frequently get out his Guns and clean them on the counter in the kitchen as a way to intimidate us. He would tell us that he could kill all of us and get rid of the bodies, and nobody would ever know. They would think we just moved back to my parent’s home state.
The last night my father stayed at my house he had his guns out again, he took a gun out onto the deck and fired two shots at my oldest brothers in the back yard and then tried to get my mother to go to the bedroom with him. He went to wait for her, and passed out. One of my brothers called the police and they brought an ambulance and took him away.
After that night I had much less reason to fear my father. He did not live with us anymore; sometimes he would stop by and be crazy still. But there was a restraining order and the police responded quickly when they were called.
The fear of my father was replaced by another fear. I had still never talked to anybody about the sexual abuse, I assumed my mother knew and I knew my older brother knew. We never discussed the abuse, I remember my mom telling me that it happens in some families and it is not that big of a deal. I knew that it was sexual, and I was trained to be ashamed of sexuality so I never brought it up again.
The fear that replaced the fear of my father was the fear of somebody finding out about the abuse. Before I learned much about sex I was worried that I was not a virgin because I wanted to be a virgin when I was married. After I learned about homosexuality I became afraid that perhaps I was gay and since I was taught that homosexuality was a sin that made me a sinner. Then I began to worry what people would think about me, maybe they would think I was gay, or a wimp who couldn’t stand up for himself.
Fear of somebody finding out about “something” quickly turns that “something” into shame. I was so ashamed of what had happened, I was so afraid of anybody finding out that I hid it deep down inside.
The pain of my abuse was unbearable. The pain caused by the secrets I kept was unbearable. I began to sabotage my own life in order to feel pain for another reason. I felt constant pain from the secret of the abuse, from the shame of the abuse, from the neglect that I felt from my mother.
In my young mind, I knew that I was going to feel pain no matter what so I began to inflict pain on my own so at least I had a reason to be sad that I could admit to.
I have spent almost 20 years of my life on a self-destructive rampage. I have done nearly everything I could to destroy my life. I barely graduated high school and was eventually kicked out of college. For almost eight years, through high school, college and my first two years working I was a drunk. I spent as much time drunk as possible, I would lose days and weeks at a time. I would skip classes, sports practices, family events, anything I could not drink at I skipped.
I loved alcohol because it allowed me to lose time and when I was not drunk I was hung over. I loved hangovers because it was pain, but it was pain that I caused. The same thought process applied to school or athletics, I would fail on purpose in order to have something to be upset about. I would be furious that I failed a test that I had not studied for, or lost at a sporting event I had not trained for because it allowed me to be the cause of my pain.
This whole time I was running from the secret of my abuse, I did not know it at the time but God has made it very clear to me now.
Several years ago I stopped drinking out of control when I realized I needed to be able to take care of myself. This took some work, but I was able to focus my energy on my career. Before I quit drinking, I put all of my energy and time into either drinking, or planning on drinking.
I have heard people define alcoholism by saying it is what happens when your drinking affects your personal life. For me, it affected my personal life but it was not an addiction to the alcohol that made me drink, it was an addiction to the pain that it caused. When I quit drinking I needed to create some sort of pain in my life in order to keep ignoring the secret of the abuse. Work became that pain. I worked long hours, spent months on the road, months without a day off. I would work over 1000 hours of overtime a year almost every year. I was as miserable, in as much pain, and just as depressed as I had been from drinking.
Just like alcohol had in the past, my work allowed me to hide the pain of my past and not admit it to anybody, including God.
I dated from time to time when I was in college and when I was working; most of the relationships fizzled out rather quickly, normally it because of my drinking or my working.
Then a year ago a young woman and I began dating, she was wonderful. She was smart, beautiful, driven to succeed, adventurous and a strong Christian. She also came from a healthy Christian family, which was something I had always been drawn to.
She introduced me to her family, her friends and shared her life with me. For quite some time we grew closer and closer together. We went to church together, read devotional books together, prayed before our meals and we tried to put God first. Most of the effort was on her part, I was willing to go along with whatever she wanted but I rarely offered my own ideas.
As we grew closer together I felt myself starting to withdraw and become more and more afraid. I was afraid of her leaving, I was afraid of her not being satisfied with me, I was afraid of being my father, I was afraid of mistreating her and I was afraid of her ever finding out about my secret shame. All of these fears made me become somebody else and withdraw. I was scared to have fun, scared to have a meaningful conversation, scared to be myself.
It took several months for us to grow completely apart, but it was inevitable. Although I just mentioned what my fear was doing to me, I did not realize it at all. I was aware of the fear, but I thought I was being perfect. So when our relationship ended I took it very hard, I could not understand what I did wrong and focused all of my energy on getting back together.
Nothing I did seemed to work. I was praying several times a day, going to counseling, reading tons of books and every night I set apart time to spend with God. The time I spent with God was not wasted, but it was not spent seeking his will. I pleaded with God to bring us back together. I bargained with him, I tried to promise him things. Nothing I did was working.
One night, I pleaded with God to just show me what I was supposed to do. Jesus spoke to me, I could see him sitting across from me and he told me that I needed to tell the truth. I tried to deny what he was pushing me to admit, I tried to think of ways around it but he was so clear. He told me I needed to deal with that secret in my life because no matter what I did in life, if I did not get rid of the shame and guilt I felt from the abuse it would continue to pollute my life.
That night I wept uncontrollably in the chapel. I told God everything, all of my deepest darkest secrets. He told me he did not think any less of me, he knew everything before I said it but admitting it to him was the first step in my healing.
I was still seeing a counselor, and several days after my breakdown with God I told her about the abuse. She helped greatly with the human side and gave me the support and understanding that I needed to sort my mind out. Right after the abuse my mother had told my brothers and I that what happened was not a big deal and it happened in a lot of families. That was the wrong message at the time, the “not a big deal” hurt to hear. However, as a grown man it helped when my counselor told me that what happened to me was not uncommon, there are many people that go through that and survive. She did tell me that it “was” a big deal though.
After spending about a week thinking and praying about the abuse and what to do I started feel that God was pushing me to address the abuse with the other people in my family.
My mother and I have had a very rocky relationship at best. More than a decade had passed since I last said I loved her, since I called her by her first name, and I refused to show her any affection. The past week that I had spent thinking about my relationships and how they had been affected I realized that I hated my mom. I felt that she had failed to protect me and I felt that she had neglected me and refused to acknowledge the abuse that I had suffered.
She was the first person I wanted to talk to. I did not want to hate her anymore; I wanted to confront her then forgive her and tell her that I loved her.
When I called her and told her what I wanted to talk about she said “you mean the thing that happened between your two older brothers and your younger brother. This was shocking to me for two reasons, she did not know about my abuse and I did not know that my oldest brother was involved.
After we talked for a long time I realized how scared she had been too. She told me that she took the three brothers to counseling and the counselor had told her it was “not a big deal” and actually helped keep the secret. I also realized that what I had wanted from my mom, she was not able to give me. I was not the only one who needed to be saved; we all needed to be saved. My mom did not know many details about what happened or how it all started, she said she realized it had never been dealt with and encouraged me to do whatever I needed to do in order to heal.
I had planned on having my oldest brother as an ally in all that I was going to have to do in order to bring my family together, but after I learned he was somehow involved I was not sure how to proceed. When I first mentioned it to him, he was quite upset. He said “you mean the thing between me and my other brother and my younger brother”. This made me mad, because although I understood my mom not knowing that I had been molested, I knew my oldest brother did because he had been seen fights between my older brother and I when I had used that against him when I insulted him. I felt as if he was denying my abuse, and I was not able to talk to him anymore at that time.
The most important family member I discussed this with was my younger brother, the one who had been abused as well. I was scared to talk to him, but I heard the Lord telling me that if the abuse bothered me still, it certainly bothered him.
We went to dinner I asked the dumbest question he may have ever heard. “Do you remember when we were talking in the back yard and I found out what was going on between you and our older brother?”
Of course he did, he just looked down at his plate while I talked. He did not know I had been abused as well. He told me it still bothered him every day, but he had never done anything about it. I told him I was in counseling and it was a relief to start working through everything. I also apologized to him for failing to do anything as child to protect him and for never addressing it before that night, I had failed him in the same way that I felt my mother failed me.
I am thankful to God that our conversation went well and that he has agreed to work towards healing.
I needed to talk to my oldest brother again, because I was so mad at him about our first conversation it felt like a weight around my neck. When we talked again I asked him to please tell me the truth about what happened and to let go of the secret.
What I learned was that the day we found out about my younger brother’s abuse, my oldest brother told my parents that the whole cycle of abuse had started with him. The details I have are few, my oldest brother carries a great sense of guilt and although he accepts responsibility for his actions he is very reluctant to be involved in any conversation.
My oldest brother found pornography inside of an abandoned house as a child and he was very curious, but my mom would not discuss sex with him so he did not understand. The pornography awoke a desire to explore and figure out what the exciting images were all about. He was homeschooled, had few friends and knew nothing about sex.
He still wanted to explore, so he started his sexual exploration with his younger brother.
The brother who abused me, who abused my younger brother had been abused by his older brother. It broke my heart to learn the details, but it was the truth and it was finally being revealed.
My oldest brother apologized to me and I forgave him.
The brother who abused me was the last family member that I needed to talk to and he was also the brother I was most hesitant to confront, not because of what would happen to me but what would happen to him. I also did not want to ruin our relationship we had grown close over the past few years. When I had been drinking most of the people in my family had given up on me and quit talking to me, but he had not.
Even though I wanted to protect whatever we had, I knew the Lord was telling me that I needed to forgive him. I arranged to meet him in a mall parking lot and asked him to come alone. He got in my car and I told him that I did not want to hurt him, but that we needed to talk.
During the whole time when I told him about how the abuse affected me and how I did not want to live that way anymore he just sat there and looked at his hands with a somber look on his face.
What was most important to me was being able to say “I forgive you.” I did not need an apology, an acknowledgement, but I needed to get the wait of the anger I still held for him off of my shoulders.
He acknowledged the abuse, he acknowledged the damage that it did to our family. He even agreed that we needed to heal as a family.
During this whole process I had a growing sense of resentment for the man who had been the counselor for my brothers. I felt hatred brewing in my heart as I learned more and more about how he had not done his job. I felt like he was the person who was sent to save me, and he didn’t. An image that I kept seeing in my head was myself as a little boy, stranded on an island and this man was a ship that saw me standing there waving and yelling for help and did stop to save me.
God wanted my heart to be filled with love and peace, not hatred for this man. His plan for my healing did not leave any room in my heart for hatred. The Lord told me that I needed to talk to him too.
He was the pastor at the Church my mom and brothers went to, so he knew my family but I had never met him. When I called, I introduced myself and asked if he remembered seeing my brothers. He hesitated, but said yes. Then I told him the story about what had happened, I told him about the fear that I felt that kept me from coming forward until now.
What had made me start to hate this man was that he knew that my parents were violent towards one another and the children. He knew that there was sexual abuse going on that involved three of the four boys in the family. Yet, he did nothing. I learned that he had been required by law to investigate and find out the truth. He was required to do his best to keep us safe.
I told him everything that was on my heart, that he failed me, that I had tried to ruin my own life, that I had been to jail, that I had tried to kill myself, that my life had been filled with pain because of the abuse and the secret. Then I told him that the reason I called was because God wanted me to forgive him and to not hate him.
This man was gracious; he apologized profusely for his failure. My parents had asked him to keep it a secret, and he said that he made a mistake in helping them hide the shame. He continued to apologize, and never denied his failure. He was the last person that I needed to forgive.
The lord has shown me many things since I finally allowed him to begin the healing in my life. He has shown me how fear and shame controlled my life, he has shown me the hatred I had in my heart for other people, he has shown me the hatred I held for myself.
I am now free from the prison of my past, free from hatred of others and myself, I am free from the shame of my secret and free from the prison I built around myself. I am free because the Lord helped me to tell the truth, accept it and begin to heal.
Since I have turned the reins over to the Lord my life has slowly begun to make more sense. There are still moments of confusion. There are still times when I try to take the reins back from God. I still doubt him from time to time, but he has given me a hunger to do his will. When I start to drift away from him my heart thirsts for his instruction.
The lord took me and all of my walls, all of my secrets, all of my shame, everything that was important to me and broke everything into little pieces and swept away the debris. Right now, I feel like I am standing next to God looking at my life and knowing that he has taken me from the path of self-destruction and placed me on the path to him. The new faith in the Lord that he has blessed me with is the foundation that I will build my new life on.
For many years my faith in God was something I said, not something I lived. I always believed that God could forgive our sins and he was the way, the truth and the light. But I did not know what that meant. Now I know, now I want to do the Lords will and not my own. I want his path to be mine.
In the past I have told the story of my parent’s abuse or the neglect I suffered and the rough road I went down in order for people to understand me and forgive my poor behavior because they felt sorry for me. I have wanted to use the past as an excuse or an explanation for my failures as a student, as an athlete, as a person and as a partner. When I first admitted the sexual abuse I felt the same way, I wanted my story to be an explanation for the way I was. However, I believe that God does not want my story to be an explanation for why I was lost for the first 28 years of my life. The lord wants my story to show the power of his redeeming love.
When I struggle I am reminded of Philippians 1:6 “he who began a good work in you will carry it on into completion until the day of Jesus Christ.
I thank God for never giving up on me.
Thank you for reading this.