[UPDATE: I realize this is a really long post, so if you don’t have time to read but are still curious, here’s an audio recording of the same thing. If you have kids around, you may want to browse through this post first to decide if it’s something appropriate for them to hear.]
I’ve decided to share something very personal, something I’ve never shared publicly before. I’m not one to dwell on the past—I’m not there anymore—but, there are some wounds from the past that carry into the present, and I have a few.
You’ve probably noticed many of my songs seem to stem from deep pain. I’ve found great comfort and healing in some dark places, and sharing it in my music has helped me move on.
But there’s something that’s eaten at me for years that I’ve never before had courage to share on such a grand scale.
I struggled immensely writing this. Why do I have to say something? Why can’t I just heal quietly about something that has—quite frankly—embarrassed me most of my adult life?
I don’t fully know why I need to speak up, only that I do.
Every time I try to heal on my own without being completely honest about my story and the real pain behind some of my songs, I can tell I’m holding back. I feel completely restrained. People have noticed, too.
I’ve wanted to scream so many times and just let the truth ring out, but each time fear presses its hands deep on my shoulder and I’m silenced once again. Shame cozies up to me there too.
It’s time to put fear and shame back in their place.
So here it goes…
I’ve struggled with depression throughout much of my life, the culmination of which seemed to take place in my teenage years. I didn’t know whom to confide in with those emotions, so I kept many of them to myself.
The summer going into my freshman year of high school, I decided to try self-harm as a means of expressing my pain. The very first time I hurt myself at fourteen, someone knew within days.
That someone was an adult, someone I looked up to, a leader at church and high school, and a friend of my family. She suspected I’d hurt myself and it was confirmed. After promising I’d never do it again, I begged her not to tell anyone. So she didn’t.
I look back at that single act of silence as a turning point for me. I’ll forever wonder what would’ve happened if I’d gotten help sooner, if that person had acted as a responsible adult in the role she was given instead of the one she wanted. For a year and a half I hurt myself regularly, this young woman knew within days, and she never told anyone. Instead, she tried to help me herself. It quickly grew into a codependent child-adult “friendship.”
But that’s only part of a very complicated puzzle which transformed into a number of blows to my heart. The really difficult truth is…
I was sexually abused through most of my high school years, and I didn’t even know it.
My sexual abuser was this same adult “friend” I had begun confiding in about my depression and self-harm at fourteen. But since the majority of our friendship revolved around God and the Bible, I genuinely believed everything else was part of that “spiritual friendship.” Besides, it took years before the friendship developed into something physical.
All abuse is complicated; my story is no exception. But even for sex abuse, this story doesn’t get told too often. I know my circumstances have happened to other people—I’ve met at least two girls who can relate. But we usually stay quiet because our stories don’t fit the mold of “sexual abuse.”
In fact, until I was a high school leader with the exact age difference (in reverse) with some of the girls in my small group, I had always taken responsibility for the events which took place during my adolescence.
I realized as a youth leader that as much as I loved those girls and would die for them to be healthy and happy, I would NEVER do some of the things that were done to me in the name of “love” or “Christianity.” I also realized that if anyone in my position did those things to my high school girls, I’d have the police throw them in jail as quickly as possible, and I would spend the rest of my life reminding those sweet girls that the adult was 100% responsible—not a 15 to 17-year-old high school student.
Yet for some reason it was difficult for me to process I wasn’t at fault when it was me who was the “victim.” I always felt like the exception to that rule and felt an unbearable amount of shame. I guess that’s just the nature of sexual abuse, because I’ve heard similar feelings from every other survivor I’ve spoken with.
There are SO many reasons why I’ve felt shamed into silence, I can’t list them all here. But I don’t want to protect this person anymore by being quiet, nor do I want her actions to define me.
I want people who enjoy my songs to know why I’ve held back, and to know I’m not holding back anymore. I want those who see my passion for organizations like Fighting For Me to know why I’m so deeply moved into action. I want some of my friends and family—who had to watch me go from free and bubbly to chained and timid—to finally get some insight as to why, and to be a part of my journey as I explore this new freedom. Mostly, I would love for people who have experienced similar situations to know they weren’t at fault, they’re not alone, and their story isn’t so unique nobody could understand.
What I’m about to do is something I never could’ve done without the strength, comfort, and healing I’ve found through Jesus. It is the last thing I’d “want” to do if it weren’t for the hope of freedom not just for me but for someone else who has Googled terms tirelessly to see if ANYONE has a story like this. This will likely be uncomfortable for the reader. I’m hopeful it’s at least educational, and at best a tool towards healing for someone who needs to hear this.
Without disclosing too much, here are a few “unique” aspects of my story people don’t typically expect when they think about sexual abuse:
1. MY ABUSER WAS MY BEST FRIEND. I wanted this person in my life. Anyone who knew me then knows how close I was to this woman, how much I wanted her to be around. I was a very unhealthy teen—desperately looking for love and comfort, some sort of nurturing. I found it in her, so I did everything I could to protect what I believed was the best thing that had ever happened to me.
As a young teen who already struggled with depression, I was SO blind; I could not see that my self-harm and suicidal tendencies were amplified and even spurred on at times as a result of this codependent “friendship.” All I knew was she was my best friend, and she happened to be an adult. Or, rather, that I unfortunately happened to be a teenager. I hated that my age made people dislike our friendship and couldn’t wait to grow up so people would stop talking about it.
2. NOTHING VIOLENT EVER TOOK PLACE. I didn’t know why certain things happened, but I have very few memories of saying “no” out loud. Some of the events were guised as medical help, so it wasn’t even obviously “sexual” to me. I sometimes refer to my story as “the mildest case of sexual abuse” because it honestly doesn’t compare to so many horrific stories I’ve heard. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t legally or emotionally sexual abuse.
Did you know an adult making out with a minor is sexual abuse? I didn’t learn that til I started working with Fighting For Me. Until then, all I knew was the moment I got home after the first time it happened at 15, I made myself a concoction of poison and started chugging. I felt disgusting, betrayed, and such intense shame I didn’t want to live. My abuser drove down to my neighborhood, met me in a park so my parents wouldn’t know we were seeing each other, and tried to diffuse it on her own. She apologized and promised it wouldn’t happen again, but of course it did—almost immediately. And it got worse.
Eventually I became numb to all those alarms going off in my head.
3. I WAS SEXUALLY ABUSED BY A YOUNG WOMAN. Aren’t sexual predators supposed to be creepy old men? Not young women in youth leadership! But my own experience has taught me females of all ages can hurt children, too.
This isn’t an official statistic, but of the closest people in my life who have opened up to me about being sexually abused, almost all of them have been abused by both men AND women.
4. MY SEXUAL ABUSER WAS THE SAME SEX AS I AM. Oh the stigma that comes with that—especially in Christian circles. When I was being sexually abused, I was 100% convinced it was out of friendship. (More on that later.) I genuinely believed other friends just weren’t as close as we were. (In hindsight, that’s probably pretty accurate. We were alarmingly close to the point where even people my age were concerned.)
When I finally ditched the friendship completely, I was too scared to tell anyone what had happened in case they’d think I was a lesbian and blame me for what happened. I stayed trapped in my mind for years to avoid that suspicion. When I finally did open up, most people were kind and supportive, but you better believe some people asked! Never mind the trembling voice, shaking legs, or sweaty palms as I disclose the scariest secret of my life—let’s discuss how this may or may not have affected my sexual preferences. (I survived, but please don’t do that to anyone!) Sexual abuse where perpetrator and victim are of the same sex is more common than you may think. As with any sexual abuse scenario, any and all shame belongs to the abuser, NEVER the victim.
5. THE WHOLE THING WAS SUCH A MIND GAME. This person was in my head so strongly. I wasn’t really given an explanation as to why things happened, but I came to understand through subtle cues that much was done out of “friendship” or “concern” for my health. It was never mentioned again. I was never told to keep what we did quiet; I chose silence to protect my best friend.
In her own way, she made sure I knew to pretend nothing ever happened, either out of denial or manipulation. For example, when she got a boyfriend she told me she was nervous because she’d never kissed anyone before…🤔 You can imagine my confusion, but I could tell by the way she said it I needed to play along. And when the song “I kissed a girl” came out I took it as a lesson that other straight girls had also kissed their friends, so maybe this wasn’t so weird. I told her I thought it was catchy. She got a disgusted look on her face and asked, “Why would you want to sing about kissing a girl?” I knew I had to pretend nothing had happened, and I was left as a child to try to figure out WHY it happened.
But it wasn’t just crazy confusing that way. I was emotionally unhealthy and immature paired with someone perfectly willing to manipulate my trust in many ways. My abuser honestly controlled or strongly influenced just about everything else I did or believed. We talked almost incessantly every single day via e-mail, instant messaging, phone calls, and text throughout my entire adolescent years. She helped convince me that nobody else loved me like she did, that my family was always wrong, that most of my friends my age were weird and immature.
I didn’t just want to be her friend—I wanted to be like her in every way. My identity was washed over with hers and nothing about her actions discouraged that wildly unhealthy pattern. When I couldn’t be exactly like her, my insecurity flared even more. Eventually I turned into a controlling psycho, equally impulsive and manipulative. We fought all the time.
6. I MADE RIDICULOUS EXCUSES FOR WHY THIS BEHAVIOR OCCURRED. My abuser was in college while I was in high school and she had ALL the power. I really was just a kid trying to sort through it all. I justified EVERYTHING she did that was wrong because I couldn’t possibly believe she would hurt me on purpose. I blamed and condemned myself because I could never blame the “only person who loved me.” What would that mean for me?
Since no explanation was given to me and I couldn’t possibly believe it was because my best friend was an unhealthy person who was “used by the devil” as she once told me after I confronted her—I came to bizarre conclusions:
- “Maybe she’s never seen a body other then her own and she needs to practice for athletic training.”
- “Well, I guess this is better than a doctor examining me because I wouldn’t want them to touch me this closely—but I can trust her.”
- “Maybe the high testosterone levels that cause her hair to be dark and thick on her face and other areas makes her do this.”
- “Maybe it’s my fault she kissed me because I had talked about kissing my Jr. High boyfriend.” (Never mind the fact that I said “no” as I pulled away crying, and was then “comforted” by more of the same behavior.)
- “Maybe I accidentally spurred this on by asking [this] question.”
- “Maybe this is because we are such good friends, and other good friends don’t have mature friendships like us.”
Nothing about my reasoning made much sense—It was the thought process of a manipulated child.
7. MY ABUSER WAS WELL-LIKED IN SOCIAL CIRCLES. This woman was highly involved in both my school and church communities. At first nobody suspected anything. She served in ministry with her friends, some of whom she’d known since childhood. Her mom worked at my high school, the same school my abuser had graduated from years previously, and where her brothers were also students the years I attended.
I remember her pulling me out of church youth group to talk one-on-one. She would visit me at my high school campus without having to sign in and out like every other adult. She even wrote me a “late excuse” note when we had talked past the lunch bell (probably her trying to encourage me in my depression, as this was a constant part of our conversations.) She was NOT authorized to sign for me but that teacher accepted her note, probably because both of our families had notoriety in this school.
8. VISIBLE RED FLAGS WERE JUST THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG. As our mismatched friendship grew closer and closer, adults in position of power DID see red flags; some even suspected the worst. I found out recently my abuser was asked to step down from church ministry as a result of our weird attachment. The youth pastor even felt compelled to ask her if she’d ever touched me, which she denied. My parents were never notified of this information, nor was I questioned about our friendship.
Meanwhile I was reserved, quiet, extremely timid, insecure, and emotional. We were constantly talking or together; she’d even come to the homes of friends my age when I was hanging out with them. And because I felt incomplete without her (textbook codependency), I was glad when she came. Many noticed she was “weirdly possessive of me.” These and other eery clues I refer to as the “tip of the iceberg” rubbed some people the wrong way. Even my high school peers were creeped out and would warn me about her.
If what you see is odd or suspicious, you don’t want to know what goes on behind closed doors. I don’t hold grudges for the many parties who failed to protect me, but I do wish more people felt empowered to go with their gut, especially when it comes to protecting children.
9. “SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES” WERE NOT COINCIDENTAL. For so long I attributed what happened between me and this person as a “special circumstance.” I truly believed that I was mutually responsible, that “one thing accidentally led to another” because we were particularly loving and close. But looking back, I realize that every “one thing” was placed there and initiated by a person with significantly more age, power, and control than I had. It didn’t seem that way at the time because I was a teenager and quite naïve, but now it’s startlingly obvious.
I don’t know why a college athlete planning her career was interested in hanging out with a 13-year-old girl going through a Jr. High breakup, but the grooming process began there. She could drive, work, and enjoy a life without parental curfew while I was battling acne and getting braces. There was incredible manipulation and building of trust before it was finally betrayed again and again. She began the process of long hugs, holding hands, cuddling, holding me and then telling me it’s what close friends do when I had questions—for over a year before it became blatantly wrong.
While I don’t believe she intended to abuse me, her lack of healthy boundaries, perverted view of what it means to love, warped understanding of mentorship, and confusion as to who the real Savior is ultimately led her to cross one line after another. Eventually it crossed over into codependency and sexual abuse.
10. THE SCRIPT EVENTUALLY FLIPPED. At first I was uncomfortable with things, but I got to the point where I needed it to feel close. I felt desired when she’d hold me, and when she didn’t, I felt worthless. I learned to rely on that touch to feel like I had some sort of value. I was always confused by it, but I trusted that, nonetheless, this was love.
Eventually I started initiating things to feel loved again—a detail that haunted me for years after I terminated the friendship. (I’ve had to remind myself again and again that it’s always the adult’s job to say no even if a teen or child initiates something. I also remember that I wouldn’t have ever initiated anything if the groundwork hadn’t already been laid that this was an acceptable way to show love.)
It’s been a battle not to judge myself for parts of my story, or minimize the events and resulting pain. So many younger children were completely helpless in their sexual abuse. There are people who hated their abusers and tried to avoid them as much as possible. But that wasn’t my story. Convinced this was the only person who really cared about me, I would’ve put up with ANYTHING in order to keep my EVERYTHING. I did whatever I could to make sure I was “special” to her.
11. IT STOPPED INEXPLICABLY. Just before I turned 18, all the physical stuff mysteriously stopped—a detail that can haunt me if I start questioning why. Shortly after that, I was finally convinced by another church leader that our friendship was emotionally and spiritually unhealthy. When I took a step back from the constant communication and began listening to God’s voice over hers, the friendship completely unraveled and I experienced what was to this day the most excruciating season of my life. The manipulation and games that were played with my heart during this “breakup” of sorts was enough to make me feel God hated me. In reality, God loved me; but the person who had replaced Him in my heart all those years was acting cruel.
When it was all said and done, I had no idea I had been sexually abused. But the events which took place throughout my teen years haunted me every single day. I would get waves of shame that would debilitate me. I remember thinking, “I can’t believe it’s been [6, 7, 8] years and not a single day has passed when I haven’t remembered.” Flashbacks and nightmares were routine. I even begged God to let me get into a traumatic accident that would wipe out that part of my memory.
I gradually cut off all my friends and teachers from high school, anyone who had ties to my abuser in an attempt to avoid news of what she was doing, or people asking if we still hung out, and why not? Her name became an instant trigger, sending every nerve in my body on full alert. There are places I’ve refused to set foot as a grown adult in case—by some random chance—we’d both be there.
Time passed, life moved on, but I was held hostage by a person I hadn’t spoken to in years.
For much of my adult life, I’ve lived with a seatbelt grabbing me whenever I’d get too crazy or free. I’ve tried to fly with shackles on my ankles and could only rise so high before being jerked back down. It’s time to let that all go.
Healing from wounds this severe doesn’t come from a public announcement. What you won’t understand from this post is that I have done the vulnerable, painful, and deep work to allow mending in this area, most of which came from going to God with the mess. This post is just the next step in my journey towards healing, and I’m taking it.
I want to be me, to be honest, to be FREE as the person I was created to be.
When I initially wrote this blog over a year and a half ago, I was just starting to believe I’m worth that kind of life. Now I know it to be true.
I’m sharing this post for many reasons, but I think most of all I wrote it for me. To rediscover a voice that was silenced at fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, and every year after the abuse stopped… and to take the next step toward being the person God intended me to be. I believe sharing this post will be healing for me as I renounce fear and shame, and I believe there are more survivors out there who will connect with my story to find another layer of freedom in their own journeys.
I am a work in progress but also a walking testimony that God never leaves anyone in their broken state. He has provided the right people to talk to, the best friends to support me, and the constant truth of His Word through all of this. I have never been forsaken, and I have come to know a compassion and kindness in Him I didn’t know existed.
If you want to hear more about the incredible healing I’ve discovered, I’m happy to share that part of my story with you. If you’re uncomfortable reaching out but are still curious, browse through the songs I’ve shared on this site and on Youtube–they’re about hope and healing. I have more blog posts to come, and a debut album set to release later this year filled with all original songs (subscribe for updates on that project). Many of the songs on the album stem directly from healing these and other deep wounds. Better yet, crack open a Bible and see for yourself the beautiful ways God heals. He offers that same freedom to everyone.
If you were sexually abused, or if any person ever made you feel uncomfortable and you’re unsure if it was abuse–it’s NOT your fault. You have every right to be angered and hurt by this injustice. And thankfully, there IS healing available.
If you’ve been sexually abused and need a community to help you through this fight, please check out Fighting For Me, a non-profit organization which provides FREE professional counseling to men, women, and children (and their families) affected by sexual abuse. I am on the board of directors, but I do not handle patients. Your email/phone call will be completely confidential. If you want to get better informed about the INSANELY prevalent crime of sexual abuse, Fighting For Me and RAINN are excellent resources.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you for reading this.