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Amy Merritt

Healing from childhood trauma and sexual abuse

Childhood for me was full of uncertainties and an overwhelming absence – void of love, nurturing, compassion, and tenderness. Whether it was not knowing when my mom would come home, or whether she would come home drunk; if a stranger would be coming home with her at night, or if she would call needing help from jail. Would we have food to eat and bills paid? Would we have clothes to wear to school? How long would I be left alone? From the ages of 5 to 10 years old, I had experienced sexual abuse by 3 different people. At a young age, I wasn’t able to understand what was done to me, nor did I tell anyone. One of the abusers was my brother, who was my mom’s favorite out of my two siblings, so early on I told myself what happened to me would never matter to her. Being left alone and unattended with strangers and with my older brother and his friends never made me feel anything except scared, dirty, alone, and forgotten. My mom’s value of her boyfriends over us kids left me feeling abandoned and worthless. No one cared for me. That little girl felt like a used, tossed out rag.

Growing up, I coped with my childhood in many ways that were destructive. My life as a tomboy teenager and young adult were full of stealing, lying, cheating, manipulating, and being promiscuous. I sought unhealthy attention from men – trading my soul for what I thought was love – only ending up broken and abused again by men I dated and their friends. I was living under deep shame, guilt, and rejection. Not feeling love, not feeling safe, and not feeling significant. I felt like no one saw me or cared, but I just kept going through the pain, choosing the same things over and over again, as if I had no choice. These choices were miserable and devastating. I graduated high school a year early to escape my home life, and chose to get married as I started my first semester in college at 18. Somehow, I graduated with my bachelor’s in psychology, but by the time I walked the stage, my marriage had already ended in divorce. I left home, trying to gain freedom at 17, but instead just led myself into another layer of heartache and brokenness – seeking my worth from relationships.

Blaming myself for a broken marriage, my life fell further apart. I began an 8 year battle with bulimia and my divorce propelled me into a more self-destructive lifestyle. I allowed men to further use me and objectify me. Putting myself into situations with strangers where I was paid to be filmed and/or photographed in ways I hate even thinking about now. Within a few years, I had become a shell of a girl. I hid myself so deep, that I didn’t even remember who I was, or maybe I never knew. I walked through life, working really hard in jobs and school, but never having any real friends. The only people in my life were men. Feeling like trust was so far off the table, my boundaries were invisible and so was my self esteem. At one point in college, I was given the opportunity to fly to the beautiful island of Hawaii and make a LOT of money, something like $20,000, but the job required things I just couldn’t agree to, and thankfully there was a whisper that I heard that day that gave me the answer and courage to say “no.” On this day, I felt strength for the first time and decided I had had enough, and I stopped working in the shadows.

“Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left.” Isaiah 30:21

Over the next 10 years I went back to school, became a Registered Nurse, and began to live a less destructive lifestyle, but I still struggled with codependent relationships. After a brief six months without a relationship, I met my current husband who was nothing like the other guys I had known. Looking back, those 6 months were a time I started to see what I was capable of, rather than what men made me capable of. After almost 4 years of dating, we got married. My life seemed better and my husband wasn’t trying to manipulate or use me, but because of my lack of emotional skills, I didn’t understand how to function in this new setting. The life I lived had produced in me a hard heart shaped by fear, brokenness, and distrust. It continued into my marriage. I still had no idea how to actually trust someone and believe they wouldn’t hurt me, so I was always on edge – “waiting for the other shoe to drop” as my husband used to say.

Within the first 5 years of our marriage, I had 2 affairs and deepy struggled with anger, feeling unloved and unlovable, and still incapable of trusting anyone. Life was exhausting. I didn’t realize any of these things until I was 33 years old. I thought I’d chosen bad relationships because I was bad and felt I didn’t deserve anything good. I thought I was the reason my life was so hard and that I would never be able to change or have a chance at happiness. I didn’t even know what happiness was, and I felt like all the things I did, I didn’t want to do, but I didn’t know how to do anything differently.

“I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate…And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.” Romans 7:15, 18-20

But here’s where the second part of my life begins! Three years into our marriage, while I was was in nurse practitioner school, my daughter was born. She was born perfect (like any mom would say), she was wonderful and lovely, and my heart began to soften a bit. Although I was married to a wonderful guy – kind, caring, sincere, generous, and humble – our relationship was really hard. I had so many struggles with my self-esteem and trusting him; I don’t think I had ever trusted anyone to this point, and I did not know how. I felt like I was a failure and I was dealing with heavy shame from the secret of my affairs and choices I had made as a young adult. After a few years, when our daughter was 20 months old, my husband and I, both frustrated and unhappy in our marriage, finally took some friends up on an offer to go to church with them.

It wasn’t long before I was captivated by the truth that I had never heard before. I had heard something about God as a child – that He existed somewhere. But I had never heard about Jesus. Can you imagine!? Writing this breaks my heart for all those hurt people who feel lost and unseen like I did. I heard for the first time that I was loved unconditionally, and that I was not identified by my past or my sins, but by the sacrificial death and the resurrection of the Son of God – Jesus. I felt drawn to this truth, I wanted to know more about this freedom and over the course of 6-12 months, God opened my heart to hear from Him. I chose to believe that Jesus died for me and it was enough to cover my sins and give me a new life in Christ. I was free from so much shame and guilt I had lived with from childhood – all the sexual abuse, the promiscuity, the ways I’d devalued myself with men, the things I let others do to me willingly and unwillingly, my divorce, my affairs, my eating disorder. I was blameless and clean, without a single fault in the Lord’s eyes. His unconditional love began to cover me and redeem and renew the broken pieces in my heart.

As a mom and wife, I had always struggled with control and perfectionism. But by the time my second child, a son, was born I was able to walk in the freedom of 2 Corinthians 5:17 – that I am a new creation in Christ Jesus. Being a baby Christian of only 2 years, there were still times when I was pretty angry and controlling, especially toward my husband. I decided to learn more about God by attending a recovery ministry specifically for sexual abuse victims at my church. I didn’t think I was struggling with the shame and guilt from my past abuse and didn’t think I needed any “healing” – I had just been baptized! But I did love the Lord, and I felt like this was a place I could go and learn more about who God is. Ha! God is really good at working all things for His glory and in His timing! The very first night I heard a testimony that mirrored what my life was like, with anger seeping out all over, and I truly believed that I was in the right place and that God had something really amazing for me there and my heart remained hungry for truth.

As the weeks went on over the course of almost a year, I began to really see that I still believed so many lies about myself regarding my past choices and behaviors, and that there was a lot of shame and guilt still lingering. I had always seen myself the way the world saw me in regard to my sexual past – a slut – and I felt that was the price I paid for the choices I made. It was firmly planted in me early from my experiences that I was dirty, worthless, and unlovable. No one had even cared for me as a child, and that was the life I lived out over the next 30 years. But God lovingly reminded me through this ministry that I could know the truth in John 8:32 – to know who God is, know who God calls me, and to know what plans He has for me – and that truth can set me free. God comforted me and showed me that I needed to surrender all of my heart, including my past, and my present over to Him. I began to trust the Lord more and began to learn to trust others as well. I allowed Him to truly give me my identity – a fully new creation, instead of just partly new.

I began to see that my anger was related to my need to control, which came out of the fear I had from the experiences of my childhood and family brokenness. The uncertainties, abuse, and abandonment had shaped me going forward. As a child, the lack of control I had when my “no” was taken away (when others defiled me and took something from me that wasn’t theirs to take) came out as control and fear and looked like anger, along with many layers of heartache and broken relationships. That anger would come out anytime I began to “lose control” of others or situations. I constantly feared that I would not be enough for my husband and that fear often turned into anger. God used my time in this ministry to pull off all my layers that were still hard and hidden and I began to feel a tug on my heart to confess about my affairs from 8 years ago to my husband…but that is a whole other Ebenezer!

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James 5:16

Do you want to feel how much God loves you? Try being completely honest and vulnerable with Him and let Him comfort you and strengthen you to do some really hard things. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” The time had come for this to be true in my marriage. My old self was so far gone, I didn’t even recognize her – the freedom I had in being the daughter of the King, Who lavishes me with His love, Who is enthralled with my beauty, Who rescues and protects me, that was the woman standing in the living room on the day I confessed my deepest, darkest secret to my husband. By God’s amazing grace, my husband accepted me with open arms and heart, and embraced me. He had also experienced the same amazing love and grace of being a child of God over the last 3 years, and together we stood – once broken and separated by our sin and flesh, but now coming together as one because of God and by the healing power of the Gospel that had seeped into every area of our life now. Healing was not completed overnight, but my biggest fears in confession were shattered by the love of God. A few months later, my husband and I went through a marriage ministry program that truly gave us a solid foundation in Christ to anchor our marriage.

This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long. Now I am leading others through healing in the recovery of sexual abuse at my church. It is the passion God has given me, He has made it beautiful in its time.

Hear more of Amy’s story here: Mom Struggling Well Podcast: Episode 51

or on iTunes: Mom Struggling Well Podcast: Episode 51 on itunes

Amanda Buccola
[email protected]
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