From Tracie: Tracie's Survivor Story

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Tracie's Survivor Story

In a lot of ways my story starts before I was born. The man who would be my uncle, Swift, was a child molester. Not only have I been told this by some of his other victims, but he was convicted of it three times in the seventies and eighties. I know the first thing you might think after reading that is, "He must have gotten a lot of jail time by that third conviction." It would make sense. But you know what? You would be wrong. He did not get a lot of jail time. Not the first time. Not the second time. And not the third time. In fact, he did not get any jail time. Zero days of jail. 

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.


  1. I'm so glad that you have found others to help you be happy in life now. Be strong for your child and never let the bastards win again. So glad to know you and glad to be part of the Army of Angels with you.

  2. Wow Tracie. Amazing.
    I am so glad you found the army.
    Thank you for sharing and living in joy in the face of so much pain and adversity.

  3. So glad you have found support, and healing, and joy!

  4. This is a beautifully written testimony. Thank you for the link to Army of Angels, and also for being honest about your abuser being your best friend--this is SO common. They groom you just so. Everything you felt was very normal. And I am so, so, so sorry you had to feel it at all. That you had to experience this monstrosity, and that your family members were not there for you when you needed them most.

    Thank you for being brave and strong today, for speaking out. In doing so you help others the way Angela helped you.

  5. Wow! Simply WOW!

    I am glad you are not being abused anymore.
    You endured it until you were 9??
    You are so courageous for telling your story!
    I'm sure it will help others!!

    Wow, I am glad i know you Tracie!
    Well, virtually anyway..:) I think it counts!

  6. Tracie, I am so glad you left a link to this post. I'm a mess of tears right now. Thank you for sharing this.

  7. It's amazing how much denial, secrecy, minimization and cover-up one family can be so embroiled in, isn't it? Safe hugs, (((((((((Tracie)))))))) Thanks for your courage and strength in sharing this deeply moving story of your own survival. I'm glad that you were helped through the Angela Shelton website and forum. I think a lot of survivors have started on their road to healing in that way.

    Thanks, too, for letting us use this amazing post for THE BLOG CARNIVAL AGAINST CHILD ABUSE. I finally got the edition up at my blog. I'm so glad you are participating (even hosting-Yay!) in the carnival. I consider you a very valuable contributor!

  8. I am so glad you have been able to start healing. I say start because in my experience it may take a lifetime. There are those remnants that pop up.

    But learning to see the truth and helping others is so important.

    I love the line about letting go of the shame that wasn't yours. I feel that. I remember trying to do the same thing. So hard.

    Every once in a while it still creeps up on me. Sometimes I buy it longer than I should. Other times I know enough to know that it's just a leftover from someone else.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  9. I am at work right now and maybe it wasn't the best idea to read this post now because I want to cry and I also want to go back in time and sock your grandmother in the face. I am angry for you and so unbelievably proud of you.

    I was molested as a child. Not at the same level as you and I always have a hard time claiming it because maybe "it wasn't that bad". It was by a family member and I am not the only one, but for some reason it has always been the perpetrator that was protected. I somehow felt that it was my fault, that I allowed it, that I encouraged it. I am conflicted because at the time I like him, I thought he was cool.

    When I was pregnant with my daughter, I lost it. I became so angry and even though I had told people, they decided to ignore my truth for so many years, but I decided I was done protecting him. Now I speak my truth even though I'm not totally comfortable owning it.

    Anyway, I didn't mean to leave such a long comment. I just wanted to thank you for sharing your truth.

  10. OH.MY.GOD. Tracie, this is unbelievable. She yelled at you and left the room? I want to throw up and then beat them all for you.

    I hope posting a comment on this old post doesn't bring things up for you, but I wanted to give you major props for sharing this story and working through the grief it caused.

  11. I cannot even begin to understand what you went through. I just feel really sick to my stomach that your grandparents would protect him like that and to blame you, a 4yo! That is just horrible. I'm glad you're healing and have found the support you need to continue to heal. You are a strong woman. I'm also glad to know that you live your life with joy now and want the best for your child. You are inspirational.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving me a comment.

  12. Hi Tracie,
    I always met you at Amy's place.
    WOW! Yes! WOW! I agreed with One Cluttered Brain. You're brave and strong. You simply don't allow any of those 'creepy' memories to ruin you.
    I'm happy for you.
    You've set a great example for many others. Glad to know you.

  13. I am so glad that I stumbled upon your blog & this post by way of a WW meme. My heart aches for you and the pain you have suffered. I am also a victim, but have not yet been able to commit myself to the healing process yet. Reading this gives me hope that I can find the courage like you did. Thank you for sharing!

  14. Mine wasn't childhood abuse but teens & early 20's (not family). I've found, for me, that without God, I would be incapable of forgiveness or going forward in my life. How positive and uplifting you are after what you've been through. That is exactly what people need - someone to BE the light at the end of the tunnel. You told your story (something so ugly) so beautifully.

  15. Inability to connect, that sort of struggle relates to trust-failures of such boundary-crossers too. So many puzzle pieces. Helps to piece it together in an open supportive community.

    I've never heard the term covert abuse. Always good to discover "there's a word for it". Head games, crazy-making, don't cover it as well.

    Wonder if your grandmother was abused too. There's no denial life lifetime denial.

  16. I'm so thankful you are able to tell your story. I'm inspired by your drive to live on and live better. My heart aches when I think about precious children suffering in such disgusting situations. To be so innocent and needing nothing more than preotection and shelter from adults who should naturally want to care for them and provide safety. Tracie, I praise God for you and others who are surviving alongside you!

  17. <3 I'd never read this before. Thank you for sharing and for your strength. You are so worth it.

  18. I have a family member who went through something similar. It's unbelievable to me how eager people are to protect the predator and how many lies and cover-ups there are. How about someone protecting the 4-year-old who can't protect herself? So sorry you went through this.

  19. Hi Tracie,
    Just found your blog at Saturday Sharefest. I am a new follower. I am a survivor as well. Maybe that's why I blog about happiness. Stop by sometime.

    Sincerely, Darlene

  20. Hi Tracie....Found you on Twitter, guess we were both watching Super Soul Sunday! #Daring Greatly Good to meet you and blessings on your journey....Your story is heartbreakingly familiar. We must all hold hands together as we take this issue into the light.....

  21. I'm a survivor and a follower of Jesus. Your post reminded me of a book, hard to read, but really worth it. It is a theology book, so parts of it are more academic instead of personal, but the personal story of Rebecca (one of the co-authors) is about her abuser being her best friend, how she retrieved her memories, wrestled with God, and made it. She was also very very young. Check out "Proverbs of Ashes" by Rebecca Parker & Rita Brock.

    I'm a new mom and finding your blog has prompted me to start thinking about what I still need to heal for myself in order to be a good mom to my daughter. Thank you! Blessings to you!

  22. You are amazing! What a well written and extremely hard to story to write. You are one of the courageous few who are willing to share their story to help others. Your emotional maturity is obvious, I hope that others can find strength from your level of insight-fullness.

  23. I am so happy you are a survivor. What great evidence that there is a mighty God who can heal and restore.

  24. Tracy: I'm crying as I read your story. You are an amazing, strong woman and I thank you for opening up and sharing your story with the world.

  25. Thank you for showing your brave by sharing your story. You are so strong. xoxo

  26. "I have learned that I can't control other people, only myself. I choose to forgive him, and keep moving forward with my life." Me too.

  27. I am horrified that the abuser was protected by your dad and grandmother and that you, a child, were left with your abuser. I am also very disappointed with the court system. How many abusers have been shielded from truly facing the evil of their actions?

    I am glad you found a great network of support and that your story can uplift and console others. God bless you, Tracie.

  28. I just read this for the first time. I almost really have no words. I think what you are doing (in healing and sharing and connecting) is so vital, so healthy, so important. I have a few people in mind I may approach to see if reading this could help them. They are in the beginning stages of getting in touch with this. God bless you. I'm so glad you are taking this wretched crime against your very person and letting God make something beautiful from your yielded pain and sorrow. May this help so many others. Much love! You are one courageous woman! Popping by from Christian Women Bloggers Unite! :)