During his last trial, my grandmother got a doctor to exaggerate the disability he had in order to get leniency from the judge. The third conviction came with a sentence of 5 years probation. By the time I was four years old, he should have been four years through his probation time, but instead my grandparents had moved him across the country, and talked the officials in the new state to drop the probation all together. It was like it had never happened.
When I was four years old, my family moved to Pensacola. It was quickly set up that my grandparents (who lived with, and cared for, my uncle) would do after school childcare while my parents worked. A nice arrangement - except for the part where they left their kid with a child molester every day for several hours.
The sexual abuse started the first day. I am not going to share specific details, so as not to be triggering, but I do want to share one very clear memory that will give you insight into how things worked in my father's family: One time my grandmother walked in on the abuse. I was four years old, and it was one of the first times my uncle had touched me inappropriately. She came in the bedroom where we were, and caught him right in the act. That is when the yelling started. The yelling was directed at me. My grandmother told me I had done a very bad thing, and if I told my mother (who did not know the whole story about Swift - they worked very hard to keep that from her) I would be in big trouble. I was to keep my mouth shut.
After I tearfully agreed to do what she said, she left the room. She closed the door, and left me in the room with a child molester. He never had to threaten me after that day, because his mother had done it for him. I had been silenced.
The abuse continued very day for the next five years, only stopping upon Swift's death. I have written recently about the confliction I experienced having my abuser also be the person in my childhood who was my best friend, the person who spent lots of time with me. After he died, I held on to the good memories, and I pushed those abuse memories down as far as I could.
I have lots of back holes where memories should be, and lots of snippets of what was. Those snippets are brutal - not being able to fill in the whole picture. The desire to know the entire story, and the fear of the entire story intertwined with each other in my heart and mind. For many years, when those snippets pushed their way to the front of my mind, I pushed them back. I thought denial was my friend. I was too confused, hurt, shamed, and scared to try to deal with it.
I lived my life in that denial. There was self-abuse and fear. I spent a lot of time inside my own mind, unsure of the world around me. Forming connections and relationships with other people was hard. I was wrapped up in secrecy and confusion.
I did not find out about Swift's convictions for sexual abuse and molestation until I was an adult. Learning about his past pushed all of those snippets up to the front of my mind. This time, they would not be denied. I acknowledged the memories, but I did not know what to do with them.
My abuser was dead; I could not confront him or try to press charges, but I thought that I could confront the people who had enabled him to abuse me. I was going to start with my grandmother, but while I was pregnant with my daughter, my grandmother died. I was heartbroken. It was not her death that broke me, but the fact I had not worked up the courage to confront her. I wanted to look her in the eye, and ask her how she could put an innocent 4 year old little girl in a room with a child molester, scare her into silence, and walk way.
My daughter was born, and it was the best day of my life. As she grew, I couldn't get past one thing: the absolute revulsion I felt every time I saw her with my father. I wasn't savvy enough then to know about covert abuse, or what that meant, but I did clearly remember the lies he told. The lies he taught me to tell my mother, and others, to cover up for him and what he did. Your father should teach you about truth, not how to lie. I cut off all contact with him until I could decide what to do.
On the night I had my miracle encounter with Angela Shelton on 48 Hours, I had no idea that my life would forever be changed in an incredible way. I went to her website, and found a forum for survivors. I started talking to these women and men, and reading their stories. It was amazing. There were people who actually understood me. They got me. There were all these things I did, that even I didn't understand, and they totally got it. This was the beginning of a change for me.
I had a desire to know what exactly Swift had done. If I couldn't fill in the blanks of my own childhood, I was going to fill in the blanks from before I was born. What was it that my father's family knew about this man, what was it that my father knew about Swift? How much was he aware? I had a dear friend go to the courthouse in Arizona to look for any piece of public record that involved my uncle and his crimes.
The trial transcripts arrived in a large manila envelope. Hundreds of pages. I read each page. That is when I found the letter. While my mother was pregnant with me, totally unaware that there was a trial going on for her brother-in-law, the child molester; my father wrote a letter to the judge. I stared at the copy of the letter, written in his very distinctive handwriting. He asked the judge to give Swift leniency, to not give him jail time. Then he promised that if something happened to my grandparents, preventing them from caring for Swift, he would take Swift into his home, and would be responsible for him. His wife was pregnant with his first child, and he wrote wrote a letter to a judge offering to take a child molester into his home to live.
Sick does not begin to cover how I felt. I threw up, I cried, and I yelled. I repeated that process many times over the next few days. I read the transcripts all the way through one last time, and then placed them in a drawer. It was time to take the next step. I could not go back and right the wrongs committed against those other children. I could not prosecute or confront my uncle, but I had to find a way to do something.
I became inspired. I was a woman on a mission to find healing, determined to never lie for my family again, to never cover up for them or their sins. I was going to shed the shame that didn't belong to me, to hold onto it no longer.
Therapy was first on my list. I made an appointment with my pastor and his wife. That was a scary call to make. It was one thing to tell my story to people on the internet, in anonymity, with an implied understanding because they had been through it - this was totally different. I was going to sit in person with people who were not only my pastor and his wife, but also my friends, and tell them this thing that I had hidden for so long. It was a huge step! But it was worth it. They poured out love on me. It was worth it to brave those fears and speak the truth. There were more counseling sessions, and then they set me up with another woman who was a survivor. I told my story again, and she told hers. We cried and prayed, and it was wonderful. I was healing. I was thankful for every breath I breathed. I set aside fear, and learned that I could speak this truth in boldness.
I had a meeting where I confronted my father. It did not go very well. There was lots of denial on his part, and he walked away. I have learned that I can't control other people, only myself. I choose to forgive him, and keep moving forward with my life.
It was not always easy, and there were many hard days. When I felt the darkness closing in I pulled out Searching for Angela Shelton. I sang Be Wise Be Strong Be You to myself over and over again. I prayed, sang worship songs, read, and played with my daughter. I spent time on the forum each day. I started a blog. I poured out my fears, and dreams, and hurts, and joys...and I thrived on the support I found.
I hung on for dear life, because I realized that my life was dear. My life was a precious gift, and I wanted to live it. I wanted to be free, no longer shackled by the abuse, no longer chained by the behavior and coping techniques that came from the abuse. There were times when I fell back into old patterns, retreating far into myself. There are times even now, that I fight against that darkness, but I have learned to fight it, to pull myself out of it.
Eventually the forum closed down. We moved several times, and I lost contact with all the supportive people I had met online. Life changed; I changed. I continued to work on healing.
Last year I gave into my husband's cajoling, and joined facebook. It was one of the best ideas he ever shared. I found some of those old friends from the forum and reconnected. I found new people, too. Survivors doing the hard work of healing and living.
I can remember the moment when I wanted to connect with them, but felt afraid. When I recognized that fear for what it was, I stepped over it, and got to know people these people. They welcomed me into the family. In the last few months, I have learned a lot about asking and being open to receiving. I have learned about getting control of negative thought patterns and getting control of my life. The healing journey continues, and with it, so does life. I can honestly say that I live my life in JOY now. It isn't always perfect and it isn't always pretty...but I am still thankful for every breath, and I am free.