My name is Joy and I am a wife and mother. I was born in a small town in Georgia. I am the youngest girl of seven children. I grew up in a loving home, yet we always had issues. Both of my parents suffer from depression and sometimes that came through in the way they raised us. My parents were very conservative. From a young age, I knew there were things that were not allowed, yet I was never really taught why they were not allowed. It was simply, do not do these things or you will go to hell.

When I was 3 my older brother, Donald, began sexually abusing me. I honestly feel like my parents did not know the extent of what was going on. Looking back there were signs, but when you have seven children things can get missed. I remember screaming and crying every time I was told to go to bed. I was terrified but had no way of telling anyone.

My brother was sent to live with my Grandma because he and my brother Andrew started getting into fights and my parents were afraid. The shame that I felt was terrible. I was a little kid and could not understand why my big brother, whom I loved so much would hurt me. My brother later married and had a son. When I was 7 and he was 20, he committed suicide. I just knew it was my fault and that I was going to go to hell. I have carried that shame and guilt with me my entire life.

Fast forward to when I was 15. Due in large part to what happened with my brother I had very low self-esteem and was constantly looking for someone to love me. I fell in with the wrong crowd. I began drinking, smoking and cursing. My best friend, Lynn, encouraged my behavior. I became friends with some guys from school and they joined our group. I became good friends with a guy named Matt. We all hung out together every weekend.

One weekend I had camped out at Lynn’s house and Matt and his brother came over the next day. At some point, I went into the tent and Matt followed me. He began kissing me and shoved me to the ground. I screamed and cried, but he would tickle me, making me laugh. He attempted to rape me but for some reason he stopped. I told my friend about it, but she said that I needed to relax because that is not what he meant by it. He was just playing around. The incident ruined my friendship with Matt which Lynn blamed me for. I never told anyone else what happened.

After all they would just blame me too. I was constantly hearing in church that sex was a sin and that you should not even kiss a guy because it could lead to sex. I felt the entire thing was my fault and I had even more shame and guilt to carry around. This was around the time I began cutting myself.

Fast forward again to when I was 16.I met Lee. I fell head over heels for him. Our relationship started out physical. We would go to this dance hall on the weekends and sit outside and make out. My parents did not like him which made me want to be with him even more. I would sneak around to see him.

One night I was camped out in my yard with Lynn and we invited her boyfriend and Lee over after my parents went to bed. That was the night I lost my virginity and the night I was raped for the first time. After that Lee thought he owned me, and I felt that I had to do what he wanted because I loved him. I was filled with shame and guilt because I had gotten myself into this situation. I had sinned. I had gone against what God wanted and now I had to live with the consequences. Lee would rape me repeatedly over the next few months. I quickly learned that sex was a terrible thing. It was painful and humiliating.

One day Lee and I got into a fight and he pushed me against a wall and called me terrible names. My friend witnessed this. Lee went inside, and I cried. Lynn told me that I should not have made him mad and that I needed to make it right. We went inside, and she said that she and her boyfriend had to leave. I said I needed to go too, and she said that I needed to stay and kiss and make up. She took my keys and left. I tried to make up with Lee. I told him I was sorry. The result was that he sexually assaulted me and then raped me. This was one of the worst times and left me in physical pain for days. I wanted so bad to tell someone, but I knew nobody would believe me. This kind of abuse continued until we broke up a few months later.

After the relationship with Lee, I felt worthless. I felt that God would never forgive me, and neither would my family and friends. I sunk into a deep depression. The cutting got worse. I just wanted to feel better. I did not have anyone that I could turn to. My family always called me a baby and thought I overreacted to everything.

There was nobody in the church I felt that I could trust. I was alone except for Lynn. Lynn married her boyfriend and moved into a house owned by my dad. Her brother in law often stayed with him. I developed a relationship with him. I did not love him, but I liked him. One night we were left alone at the house and ended up having sex. My dad caught us. He was furious. When my dad asked him how old he was, he lied and said 17. He was really 26 and I was barely 17. I remember begging my dad to take me to our preacher’s house. That was the only place I felt safe. I stayed with them for a few days and things calmed down. My dad forbade me from seeing Lynn again and they ended up moving. The next couple of years I bounced from one guy to another. I would make out with them and then they would leave. I thought “Well I am already going to hell so why not”.

When I was 19, I became very depressed and the cutting got worse and I started making myself throw up. At this point I was living on my own. My friends convinced me to go to the hospital and get myself admitted. They were worried about me. I spent a week or two in the hospital and then was released. The doctor put me on antidepressants, but I still felt bad. I remember I just wanting to die.

I did not know how or when, but I could not handle this life anymore. That night I went home and sat on my couch and cried. I took the top off my medication and stared at it. I knew if I took it all it would kill me. I was sitting there thinking about it and my dad called. He just called to check on me because he had seen me come home. He told me he loved me and was worried about me. He saved my life that night.

About a year later, I hooked back up with Lee. I had become friends with Lynn again and of course he hung around with her husband. One night I was over there, and we went out to his truck. Long story short he raped me that night sitting in his truck. I could not believe that I let this happen again. I told Lynn and she said I was overacting. That night I thought again about killing myself. I went home and cried for hours. I just knew that I deserved it. After all, once again I had sinned by getting myself in that situation. The next day I went to my cousin’s house. I told her and her husband what had happened. For the first time, I was believed. He sat with me on the couch while I cried and my cousin went to talk to my mom. When she got back, she told me what my mom had said. She said that I made the whole thing up and that I was never raped. She said, “She just had sex and did not want to get in trouble, so she just made up this story”. Once again, I was devastated. What did I ever do to make my mom hate me so much? My cousin encouraged me to go to the police, so I did. Long story short, they did not believe me either. I had nowhere to turn. I felt completely alone.

Finally, I met a wonderful guy. His name was Alan and he was a Christian. His grandfather was a preacher. We met in college and hit it off so well. I do not remember at what point that relationship became sexual. He would force me to do things, but I honestly think he just did not know any other way. At this point I thought if I wanted to keep a guy I could not say no to anything he wanted to do. We dated for a few months before he asked me to marry him. For the most part I was happy with him. Yes, he was rough but that was just the way things had to be.

One day we were at his grandparents’ house and he got upset about something and slapped me in the face in front of his grandmother. She said nothing about it. I was once again humiliated but I stayed anyway. It was not until I saw how violent he really was that I ended things. One day I had taken my nieces to Chuck e Cheese. He was mad that I was not with him, so he showed up. He was yelling at me and then he hit the back of the booth where the girls were sitting. It was at this point I knew I had to end it.

Throughout all the things that have happened to me in my life I have often felt alone and let down by those who claimed to love me. I honestly felt that even God had left me. I blamed myself for all the things these men did to me. Did I make unwise decisions? Yes! Did I deserve to be physically, mentally and sexually abused? No! Nobody deserves to have these things happen to them. Those men made those decisions.

Now here I am many years later and I am finally starting to see things in a different light. God never left me. I just could not see him because I was not looking. I reached out for help and those that should have protected me failed to do so. I am now broken. I am now kind of damaged. I am scared, but I survived. I am a survivor. I am brave. I am loved. I am saved.

Now I am happily married to a great guy. He is the only guy I have ever been able to trust and be honest with. He loves me for me. The good, the bad and the ugly. Times have not always been easy and the ghost of my past have often caused issues. Depending on God has gotten us through some really trying times. I am thankful to have God and my husband on my side.

For those going through any kind of domestic violence situation, I know it is lonely, but please know you are not alone. God is there. My dad calling me that night when I sat there with an open bottle of pills…. That was GOD. A couple years ago I hit rock bottom again and was going to kill myself because I thought everyone would be better off without me. I refused to answer my husband’s calls and so he called his parents. His dad called me and something told me to answer…. That was GOD! They saved my life that day. My point is, even when it feels like you are all alone God is there. People let us down, but God does not. He is always there.
I would also like to talk to those who have friends and family that are in a domestic violence situation. Remember, leaving is not always easy. The emotional abuse can make it difficult to leave. Lee told me one time that he would die without me. I believed it, so I gave him what he wanted.

When someone is going through this, they often feel like God hates them. Telling them to pray about it and things will be okay, might make it worse. Chances are they are praying… a lot. So, when they hear that, they think that God hates them because their prayers are not being answered. Also, they do not need to hear “Well if you had not done xyz.” They know how they have messed up. They just need support. The best thing you can do is just be there. Be there if they need you and make sure they know it. If they need to scream, let them. If they need to hide, let them. Most importantly if they tell you, believe them.

Thank you for listening to my story.