Story by Andrea Hensler
“From the outside looking in, I grew up in a great family. I had an older brother and two younger sisters. Both of my parents were teachers, so we traveled a lot during the summer. My grandparents lived in Florida, so we visited them at least once a year. We had the opportunity to vacation to places like Disney, Sea World, and Bush Gardens several times.
Our house was large and we each had our own bedroom. We were never without anything. I came from a Christian home. We went to church every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday nights. My mom was the choir director and Sunday school superintendent. My dad taught adult Sunday school classes. I think people thought we had it all together. But there were so many dark secrets.
Both of my parents had severe anger issues. We were not just spanked, but physically abused at times. I remember my dad kicking down a door one time because he was so angry with my brother. I remember him throwing my cousin across the yard because he stepped on a flower. I think as children we are so adaptable. I didn’t know any different. I would say I had a good childhood.
But my world fell apart when I was 13 years old.
Up until that point, my brother was my best friend. We did everything together. It was me and him against the world. Then, he shattered that trust. It was awful. It was already a very sensitive time in my life where I felt awkward and uncomfortable in my own body. And then when he started sexually abusing me, I lost every ounce of self-esteem I had left.
The first time my brother attempted to molest me, I was asleep. I rustled awake and he ran out of my room. A few minutes later he poked his head in my room and asked if I was okay. I felt confused because I thought he had just been in there. But I wasn’t completely awake to know for sure.
Within the next few days, I received a note from him. In it, he asked if I had ever wanted to see a naked man. I was disgusted and appalled. I told him, ‘No! Why would you ask me that?!’ He never really responded and just said that was good.
And then the abuse began on a nightly basis. I felt panicked. I didn’t want to fall asleep because that was when he came. I didn’t know what to do. He never said a word. And I would try to wiggle away, but he was bigger and would just touch me in another area. It makes my stomach sick even thinking about it. I hated it. I dreaded the night.
This went on for the better part of a year. Pretending every day that everything was fine, but dying a little bit inside every minute. The betrayal and violation cut so deep. And then I thought I would try to let him know that I wasn’t stupid and I knew it was him and I wasn’t asleep ever! So, I sent him an email. It simply said, ‘I was awake last night.’ And that was it. He never did it again.
I never told anyone about it. I remember sitting at supper with him and just feeling so disgusted. But I couldn’t share it with my parents. They just weren’t kind and understanding. We did not have a close relationship.
Years passed and I lived with the burden and heaviness of this trauma. I can honestly say without religion in my life, I would not have made it through. Although my parents seemed to be hypocrites, I had fully surrendered my life to it. God gave me hope and strength when I needed it most.
I met my husband when I was 16 years old. It was no coincidence that God brought us together. Seth was and has been the most understanding and supportive human I have ever met. I tease him sometimes and ask if he’s actually an angel. We dated a few years and I knew I was going to marry him, so I told him about my abuse. You can imagine his frustration and anger. He had sort of been friends with my brother, but he was quickly beginning to realize this wasn’t someone he wanted to associate with. That sealed the deal and they didn’t really have a friendship after that.
Meanwhile, guess what profession my brother chose? A youth pastor. I thought I would be sick when he picked that. I refused to go to his graduation. But I didn’t have the boldness to tell anyone yet. I kept telling myself, if someone else steps forward, then I will back them up. I couldn’t step out on my own.
Trouble came when we started planning our wedding. My mom was very particular and insisted that things go her way. She wanted my brother to stand on Seth’s side. We tried dancing our way around the issue because she still didn’t know about the abuse. But nothing we tried worked and finally I had to tell my parents what my brother did to me.
My parents asked me to come and sit down with them so we could talk about it. A family meeting of sorts. I thought they would tell me how sorry they were. I thought they would hold me and give me comfort. But they didn’t.
Do you know what my dad said to me? He said, ‘You should have told us when it happened. There’s nothing we can do about it now.’ And my mom’s response? ‘That was such a long time ago, get over it!’ I remember sitting on the couch sobbing, totally alone. They wanted to sweep this under the rug as fast as they could. And that’s what we did. I felt no support from them, so I didn’t want to talk to them about it again!
Seth and I had what I thought was a strong marriage. We had two precious, healthy babies and we were busy with life. But there was always an underlying problem.
Being intimate was not always easy for me because of the abuse. Seth was kind and understanding, but it was difficult. However, we struggled most with family gatherings. It was hard to be around my brother. It made us sick when he would play with our kids. Seth really started feeling like he had enough.
He told me he would no longer go to events if my brother was there.
I truly struggled with that because I felt, as a Christian, I was supposed to forgive my brother. Yet, I felt so awful around him. I knew that it was damaging our marriage to not agree on this subject. And I desperately wanted to heal from this trauma that had been buried for so many years. So, I spoke to my mom and told her that we were going to ‘take a break’ from seeing my brother and his family.
She knew why, but she could not have been less supportive. She screamed at me through the phone. Those words still ring through my mind ‘How could you do this to them? You are tearing our family apart. I thought you were a Christian. You don’t know what love is.’
It was extremely hurtful, for me, the victim, to be accused of doing anything wrong. I was trying to navigate through this deep dark pit and find my way out into the light. And it was as if she was just throwing dirt back on me and knocking me down further.
Seth encouraged me to get some counseling. We went together and it was the best thing we ever did. My sweet, kind counselor helped me learn that forgiveness does not mean I have to have a relationship with my abuser. She helped me reconcile my feelings with each of my ‘old’ family members. You see, it wasn’t just my mom who was harsh. My dad and sisters had been very cruel as well.
Seth and I tried for over 3 years to explain our side of things and how we felt to my parents and siblings. But they never budged on their stance. They were never willing to look at things from our perspective. They only put blame on me. They said it was all my fault. In fact, those years became torturous as they began harassing us on a daily basis. So, we had to let them go. We felt they were too toxic for our family. It was such a stressful, dark time to go through. And I wanted the best for my sweet little family of four.
It’s been about 7 years since we’ve talked to any of them. We still live in the same town, which can be very difficult sometimes. But Seth and I have never had a stronger marriage. We have grown way more than we ever thought possible. We are blessed to have a super smart son and a fantastic, sassy little girl. We enjoy every minute with them. And we’re doing our very best to raise them to be honorable, kind, loving people.
I have made it my mission to help other people who have been sexually abused. I don’t ever want anyone to feel alone in the struggle like I did. I believe God works all things together for good and I want to see the good that can come out of this rotten situation.”
You can follow her journey on: Instagram and YouTube