If you were to look at a family picture from my childhood, you would say, “What a nice looking family.” We were picture perfect. I grew up in the country in a large home built by my father, a “self-made man” whose company grew to great financial success. My mother, a beautiful woman, worked in marketing, taught Sunday school, and was involved in school activities. She even taught aerobics on the side. We were a busy and successful family.

It was in the midst of this busyness that my world began to privately crumble. My mother often used babysitters when I was young. One babysitter, a high schooler, would take us over to her boyfriend’s house while she was caring for us. It was there that I was first exposed to pornographic videos. I was ten.

Not too long after, friends of the boyfriend began to commit acts against me. They would physically hurt me or threaten me if I resisted. At that age, I wasn’t able to comprehend what was happening. All I knew was that I had a terrible secret, and I began to hate myself.

The abuse continued as I moved into junior high. It expanded from the friends of my babysitter’s boyfriend to the boys in the neighborhood. I then began to enter into controlling relationships. I remember one in particular.

When I was fifteen, I met a boy in high school who was older than me. He preyed on controlling others, and I willingly came under his mental, emotional, and physical control. If I spoke to another boy in the hallway, he would come beside me and hold my hand. What others could not see is that he would squeeze my hand until I wanted to drop to my knees in pain.

My boyfriend had a friend, Jason, and the three of us did a lot together. Jason was very nice to me; he was kind and nonthreatening. When my boyfriend saw that Jason and I were friends, he told me that I couldn’t hang around with Jason anymore. I obeyed and ended the friendship.

One night, a couple of weeks later, Jason drove to my house in tears. He was armed with a bottle of tequila and a loaded .22 caliber handgun. He said he could not understand why I had stopped being his friend, and he wanted to kill himself. We talked for two hours and mended our friendship. During our conversation, I asked him to unload the gun, and he did. By the time we were finished talking, we were both smiling, and we hugged good night. I gave him back the bullets as there didn’t seem to be a threat anymore—another secret I hid from my family.

The next day, I learned Jason was dead. After Jason left my house, his car slid off the icy country road and got stuck. According to police, he tried to dislodge his car with some boards but was unsuccessful. So he sat back down in the driver’s seat, reloaded the gun, and shot himself in the head. I was the last person to see him alive. Since I had returned the bullets to him, I naturally blamed myself. I was sixteen, and another negative emotion—guilt—was added to my life.

From that point forward, I stopped actively living life in a healthy way. I got pregnant, suffered a miscarriage, and barely graduated high school. I surrounded myself with abusive relationships familiar to what I had experienced in the past. Distrust for people grew, and I began to view myself as “damaged goods” with no value to anyone.

I turned to alcohol, and it helped block out the voices in my mind that screamed I wasn’t good enough or pretty enough or smart enough.