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“I want to die, I want to die! I can’t take it anymore!!” I remember screaming that as loud as I could in the middle of the woods while punching a tree until my fists bled and I slumped down on the ground from exhaustion. I was 10 years old and felt so hopeless I wanted to end my life.
My difficult journey really began when I was adopted at age two into a Christian family who were deeply entrenched in the teachings of Bill Gothard, the founder of ATI (The Advanced Training Institute) and IBLP (The Institute in Basic Life Principles). Both of my biological parents were drug addicts and alcoholics, and I was told from a very young age that I was just like my biological mother and that the odds were against me.
From the outside, my family looked like an ideal role model family. I was the youngest of five kids (all but the oldest child were adopted). All of us were home schooled, involved in music lessons, and the older kids were involved in different opportunities within ATI. My Dad started a church, and my parents were the ones everyone came to for counseling and help. There was a very dark part of my family that no one knew about though: I was being sexually abused by my 3rd oldest brother who was 12 years older than myself.
The abuse began shortly after I was adopted at age two and happened as often as once a week to several times a day. When I was about 5 or 6 years old, my mother found my then 17- to 18-year-old brother undressed and on top of me. She told him to go downstairs, and then told me I wasn’t allowed to be alone with him anymore. I remember very clearly the look on my mother’s face and the way she told me that we couldn’t be alone together. It felt like she was blaming me and thought I was responsible for it. I remember feeling very confused and hurt that she didn’t even ask if I was alright, or give me a hug and tell me that everything would be okay. Instead I remember being scared and wondering how my dad would react when he got home, and if I’d be in trouble. But nothing was ever said. It was never even talked about.
My parents did their best not to let us be alone, but where there’s a will there’s a way, and he always found a way. He would sneak into my bedroom in the middle of the night, and I would wake up to him undressing me. He used every manipulative move in the book to get what he wanted. We lived on a huge farm with a lot of animals, so he used that to his advantage. Once in the middle of winter during a bad ice storm he told me he had let my favorite dog go, and my dog would die if someone didn’t find him. He volunteered to go find him as long as I did what he wanted when he got back. He would let other animals go and tell my mom about it to keep her busy catching them long enough to do what he wanted. He threatened to tell the few friends I had at church that I had a learning disability (between having a learning disability and being home schooled using Bill Gothard’s Wisdom Booklets as our only material, I was horribly behind and could barely read, let alone be at a 6th grade level where I should be, so this threat was effective to say the least!). He even went so far as to hold a gun to my head and tell me he would blow my brains out if I put up a fight or ever told anyone. There were times when he went away that the abuse would stop for a short time–like when he lived at the Indianapolis Training Center, or joined the Army and went through Basic Training, or moved in with his girlfriend.
When I would ask my brother why he was doing this to me, he told me it was because he loved me and that’s how you show someone you love them. He told me it didn’t really matter anyways because we weren’t blood related. He also told me he wanted me to know what “to do” when I got a boyfriend. I was boy crazy, yes, but when it came to anything physical I panicked and froze because of him abusing me.
Everyone deals with long-term abuse differently, and thankfully we were designed with mental self-defense mechanisms that save us from completely cracking. Mine was an ongoing story in my head–kind of like a movie that I picked up every morning when I woke up until I went to sleep. This made concentrating very difficult, and I would get yelled at, punished, and excessively spanked for being “rebellious” by not focusing.
By the time I was age 11 or so, we had two foster girls move in with us who were six months older than me and a year younger. Around this same time my brother met a girl who later became his first wife. I loved her like a sister, and we were really close. Being young, I thought there was still hope for him to change, and for us to have a normal brother and sister relationship. Plus I thought that his relationship with her would be the thing to make him change. My parents loved and adored her as well, and we trusted her. Even though she was not aware of what my mom had caught my brother doing to me, my parents thought that if she were around it would be safe for me to be at her house overnight, even if there was a possibility of my brother being there. And because my parents bought into Bill Gothard’s teachings hook, line, and sinker, and were overly strict with me, I took any chance I had to get away from home.
I remember one Saturday spending the night at her house and praying he would stay upstairs on the couch. He didn’t. As soon as she was asleep he came downstairs. I had matured early, and that night, at 11 years of age, was the first time I remember worrying about getting pregnant. The next morning I went to church with them. After the sermon, the pastor opened it up to an altar call while the worship team played. My brother went up to the altar and returned in tears, asking me to go up there with him to the pastor. My brother and I knelt down at the altar and he began praying and asking God to forgive him for what he had done. The pastor was very close by the whole time and prayed over us. I remember thinking, “If the pastor knows my brother is in his 20’s and I’m only 11, won’t he contact my parents or get the law involved?” But evidently he didn’t. My brother hugged me and asked me to forgive him for what had happened between us and promised it would never happen again.
Less than a week later it happened again.
Skip forward a couple of months to the day of his wedding. It was a beautiful June day. I’ll never forget it. I woke up excited! I thought the abuse was FINALLY going to end for good! I went downstairs, and my mom had a very somber look on her face. She told me that my favorite dog had died in the night. This was the dog I’d had since I was four years old. He was my best and only friend, the only one I felt was on my side. After burying him, I came in to take a shower. There was an outside door to the cellar, and the bathroom was the only way of getting to the cellar from the inside of the house. As soon as I started the shower the cellar door opened and there was my brother. I remember being mad for the very first time ever and finally putting up a fight. He pushed me up against the wall and put his hand over my mouth and promised it would be the last time and this could be my wedding present to him. To this day I’m not sure what clicked in my head, but I’d had enough. I couldn’t take it anymore. That was the first time I felt like I was going to snap and go crazy. But I was only 11. I couldn’t stop him.
A few months later, I was sitting with my older sister and the two foster girls in our van. All of a sudden I blurted out that he had been doing things to me for years and it hadn’t stopped. I didn’t cry, and I don’t really remember being emotionally upset as I said it. My older sister also revealed that he had tried to mess around with her and she had wondered if something was going on. A few days later I was outside with both of the foster girls when the older one said that he had kissed her and tried touching her. The younger one said he had tried taking her shirt off a few days before. This was months after his wedding! I was filled with rage. I remember starting to shake uncontrollably and cry because I was so furious. It was one thing he was doing this to me. After all, I was already “damaged” at birth, or so I’d been told. I was conceived out of an affair, given up at age two, and constantly reminded I was just like my mother and a disappointment to everyone. I must have somehow “deserved it,” but how dare he try and screw anyone else up!
The next day my oldest brother and his wife came over, and I got up the courage to tell them what was happening. Although I’d never had any long conversations with my parents, the few times my mom and I had discussed it she made comments like, “You must have liked it or encouraged it,” or “It couldn’t have happened more then that one time because you two were never alone,” so I knew they wouldn’t listen to me. Walking outside to tell my oldest brother felt like the longest walk of my life–like I was walking to my death. Would he believe me or brush me off too? I told them both the truth and that I wanted them to tell mom and dad because it had to stop. My brother looked very serious and didn’t say anything other than it would be taken care of. My sister-in-law gave me a hug and let me cry on her shoulder. It felt good to cry, because I had gotten so good at pretending it wasn’t happening.
The next day I waited for my parents to say something about it, but they didn’t. About a week later, my mom and I were driving, and I finally asked if anything had been said to them. She didn’t say anything for what seemed like an eternity, then told me, yes, but that she didn’t see how it could have been going on for all this time if I was just now saying something. If it had really been happening, then I must have enjoyed it or encouraged it. She then told me that my birth mother had made up something like this for attention. I was speechless and felt so betrayed!
People always told me that I had been adopted because God had special plans for me. I knew my parents would help anyone else who asked for it, so why not me? At this point I changed drastically. I became very depressed, slept all the time, started cutting myself, and dressing in all black. I didn’t cry for the next three years. I was hateful to everyone. My parents immediately suspected I was doing drugs and drinking, although we lived in the middle of nowhere and I had very few friends. I was so angry that they didn’t believe me or do anything about it, I played into them thinking I was on the wrong path.
When I was around the age of 13, my dad told me one Wednesday that we were making a trip up to Mr. Gothard’s Headquarters in Oak Brook, IL. My sister was working up there at the time, so I figured we were going to see her. When we got there, my dad told me we were having a meeting with Mr. Gothard. I remember laughing at the thought of being such a “bad” kid that I had to go see Mr. Gothard.
I went into the meeting wearing a baggy sweatshirt, jeans, dark heavy eyeliner, with my fingernails painted black. The first words out of Mr. Gothard’s mouth was, “Young lady, do you listen to rock music? I can tell because you have a dark countenance.” He went on to tell me that by listening to rock music I was not under my father’s umbrella of protection and was wide open for the devil to take ground. He asked me why I was being rebellious, so I told him exactly why I was being “rebellious”–I was being sexually abused by my older brother. He paused for a minute, and then he asked if perhaps I had given ground to Satan through my bitterness. I think it was at that moment that I gave up. I really wasn’t a bad kid, but I was being treated like a criminal!
Mr. Gothard advised my parents to send me to the Eagle Springs log cabin program in Oklahoma, which was an extension of the LIT program (Leaders In Training program for court-appointed troubled youth at the Indianapolis Training Center). Mr. Gothard then told them them that taking legal action against my adult brother wouldn’t do him any good–in fact, they would probably lose him for good. I was flabbergasted at what he said! At the end, he told me to pray for my brother. He said he hoped I would make a change, but he really thought it would take a miracle.
The months went by and my relationship with my parents got worse and worse. After I tried committing suicide (which of course my parents said was just for attention), I was sent to Eagle Springs. I was 14 years old and spent the next three to four years of my life there, coming home for two weeks at Christmas and a couple of weeks during each summer. I have both good and bad memories from there. I made some life-long friends, brought my grades up, and graduated a year early. On the other hand, I still felt totally hopeless and unlovable. My biological parents gave me up, and then the parents who supposedly loved me unconditionally sent me away for something that was not my fault. I felt that they were punishing me for speaking up about the abuse! Why would a God who is supposed to be a God of love let this happen to me? How could my parents not kick him out of the family instead of me? How could they handle the whole situation like they did?
My parents decided they didn’t want me to come home until I was 18. I was done at Eagle Springs, but it was still six months before I turned 18. I came home for Christmas and was told I’d be going to Mexico to help with the team that was down there going around doing Children’s Institutes and showing the Basic Seminar. During that Christmas, I decided to see my biological mom for the first time in years. She was “sober” at the time and married to a “recovering” alcoholic. I spent the night at her place, even though my mom had to work that night. I was asleep on the couch when her husband came in drunk around 2 a.m. He went back to their bedroom and started yelling for me. Thinking he was hurt, I went back there. He raped me. He told me I’d better not EVER say a word about it or I’d regret it. I told him not to worry, because everyone would say I was making it up anyways. I didn’t tell anyone for years. I thought it was my fault. I shouldn’t have gone back there, so I must have set myself up for that to happen.
I went to Mexico for six months and came back just before my 18th birthday. I was finally going to be free to do what I wanted and wouldn’t have to depend on anyone! I got a job and made friends very quickly. But I also started drinking quite a bit and sneaking into bars because all of my friends were old enough. I never brought up the sexual abuse or ever really thought about it. It was just a fact. Couldn’t change what happened, and being upset wouldn’t help. I didn’t think it affected me anymore. I was told growing up it was wrong to be angry or mad at anyone. You must forgive and move on. Don’t let your emotions get in the way of logic.
After six months of running wild and partying, I met my husband and we’ve been together ever since. But it wasn’t until a year ago that I realized the abuse was still affecting me. I had developed an addiction to prescription pain medicine following the birth of my third child, and my husband finally told me he would leave and take our four kids if I didn’t get help. So I took my addiction seriously and went into counseling. I’d always thought all of my issues stemmed from being adopted. But during intense counseling over the past year I’ve learned a few things:
Up until about six months ago I still talked to my brother. I wanted to see some good in him and have some sort of a normal relationship with him. I really thought that maybe he had changed. I wanted to believe I was his only victim. Sadly, he gave me the proof I needed to realize this was not the case and to make an important decision to not only cut him out of my life completely but to try and press charges against him. Making that decision was very hard. I was terrified! I’ve come to realize that silence is one of the biggest tools abusers use with their victims. They terrorize and brainwash their victims into shame and silence.
Since the abuse was so long ago and there is no tangible evidence now, no charges could be pressed against my brother for what he did to me. In a way I was relieved I didn’t have to go through a trial and face him, but on the other hand, knowing he is free to do it again makes me sick to my stomach. But I’ve come to accept it and feel I’ve done everything I could. The next step in my journey is to continue my own healing, maintain sobriety, and try to be the best wife and mother I can be.
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