Today's article is a story of growing up abused. It's a story of tragedy and triumph. It's about a young woman who grew up in an abusive household.
Andrea Joy is the writer and blogger over at Saving Joyfully.
Saving Joyfully is a website designed to help others with tips and resources to help people save money on the journey to financial freedom. She also shares real personal stories of lessons she has learned with her finances and showcases great bloggers and freelance writers related to finance and a frugal lifestyle.
Andrea has never told her story publicly until now. Andrea stepped out in faith in a big way revealing this for the first time.
She's telling it now for two reasons:
- To help anyone who has experienced abuse know they're not alone; to know they can overcome it.
- She doesn't want to hide from it any longer. She told me she'd found healing from sharing it
Overcoming the shame and embarrassment that comes with abuse is one of the hardest things to do. I'm humbled and grateful to provide the platform for Andrea to share her story of tragedy and triumph.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What’s your background? How did you grow up?
I was one of 9 children raised in what most would call a religious household. Today I am happily married to a loving husband.
I graduated high school in 1999, then started college a few years later around 2001. I wasn't confident what I wanted to take but knew I needed to get an education, even if it meant years of struggle and hard work ahead of me.
I'm so very proud of the education and determination I showed throughout the many years of college. I graduated college in 2013 with a degree in business management.
I work full-time in medical billing. Working full-time and going to college it took me a very long time to finally complete my degree. I will never regret the hard work and time invested.
For years I struggled with secrets in my past that I have never willingly shared. Some of these I kept a secret because they were painful. Others I held back to protect those that I loved.
For years I have lived through and endured a painful, abusive past.
My siblings and I suffered abuse – emotional, verbal, and neglect. Some of us experienced sexual abuse as well. I was between the ages of 5 and 9 when the sexual abuse happened. I still cannot talk about this or go into many details. It is still quite painful, even at 37.
Behind the scenes, most never saw what the reality of our lives was like. They did not understand what would leave me broken and struggling even in my adult life.
In an attempt to hide and disguise the abuse at home, we were not sent to school or taken to the doctors. The primary education I received I pursued on my own.
We rarely had any social interaction at all. The one social interaction I did have was twice a week at the church on Wednesdays and Sundays.
If I had believed religion was nothing more than what was shown to me growing up at home, I would have considered none of what I learned at church. It was a blessing to experience a wonderful youth ministry at the church we attended.
The youth pastor and leaders at the church were all very loving and dedicated to the youth of this group. They gave selflessly to us every week. I grew spiritually and gained much wisdom and insight from my youth Pastor, especially, his wife.
If it were not for the fantastic examples that they set in my life, I would not be the woman I am today.
How has this abuse shaped your life?
As I became an adult, I could not wait to move out of my childhood home and live on my own; to begin to live a life free from all of the abuse and find the Joy I always hoped I could have. I loved my parents despite the abusive upbringing, and I still do. That’s why it’s even more of a challenge to talk about this aspect of my past, even today.
I began dealing with it and recognized many of the consequences of this past abuse were holding me back in my own life today.
When Fred asked me to write this post I knew it could help others. But I was not sure how to explain everything I experienced. I realized it would never be possible to share everything. I don't think it would be beneficial to those reading it.
What I can say is the abuse I endured growing up has shaped who I am today. I am stronger as a result because of what I have learned to survive. People who have suffered from an abusive relationship of any kind, understand the challenges in so many areas of their lives.
You can choose to learn and grow from the experience, or you can allow the past and this painful situation to define you. I prefer to accept the past for what it is; to make a difference in my future and the lives of others through my story.
How has your experience affected the relationships in your life? Specifically, your marriage?
You will find that if you have endured any abuse in your past, it can leave you with various challenges in developing and maintaining relationships. They are not impossible to overcome but often require a very loving and patient partner to help regain the trust that has been a challenge to develop.
I met my husband in my twenties in a church group. We became best friends at this point, and I honestly couldn’t believe a man like him existed. Most of the men in my life were womanizers and did not treat their wives well. That's what I came to expect from men until I met my husband, Jason.
To be honest with the way Jason treated me, intimacy, often a problem for abused women, was not a challenge. I believe it is a “God thing” that I didn't struggle with this in our relationship.
I struggled (and still do) with being emotionally distant at times. When growing up, I never thought it was OK to talk about your emotions, to share about feelings. I always felt my opinions did not matter because of the abuse. I've carried this with me throughout my adult life.
What impact did the abuse have on your finances?
Depending on the situation and the abuse experienced your finances can suffer during and even after the abusive experience. Personally, my financial condition got damaged due to lack of education. I was forced at a young age to try to make it entirely on my own.
I did not know how to do this or make the right financial choices. As a result, that set me up for many painful years. I made the best decision I could without the ability to gain a loan on my own, without scholarships or any financial assistance to make it through college.
Deciding to attend my local community college was necessary and was extremely important to me after being deprived of a good education growing up. To this day my lack of education still affects me in many aspects of my life.
I never realized how it would change me until it began to affect my life once again.
You’ve worked hard to overcome your past. Tell us more about how you did that.
Attending college without a good education was only possible because I listed homeschooling on the application. In some ways, this was true. However, I would say that the knowledge I had behind me was at about a 6th-grade level.
Most who homeschool their children abide by a strict schooling schedule and value a good education for their children. That was not my experience.
I was a fighter. When I got accepted the school said my scores were low; that I’d have to take developmental classes to catch me up. There was no question in my mind; I would still attend.
I started college with less of an education than most and no money besides the full-time job I had at that time. However, I knew I had to make it work. My dreams were of having the advantages that other children had. I struggled with understanding why other kids had advantages and I did not.
I'm not looking for sympathy. What I want is to help people understand how it felt to be a child who craved an education they were not allowed to experience.
I know for many survivors of abuse, guilt, and self-blame is part of the struggle. Tell us how that was for you.
To this day it is embarrassing to me; almost as if it was my fault. I recognize now that I had no control over these circumstances. I’ve also accepted that I did the best I could where I was each step of the way.
An abused child almost always deals with guilt over the abuse they experienced and feels somewhat responsible. I cannot explain this entirely. I still have trouble understanding it.
I'll tell you, though, in my situation I still deal with guilt, even as an adult. I've wondered why I never spoke up for my siblings when they were still children, and I was an adult. My excuse was that my abuser was only abusive to older siblings and me. I hoped and prayed this was the reality, but there were things I clearly knew were not right. The lack of education and healthcare for my siblings were two of them.
The long-term effects of what happened to me and my siblings finally came to light in a challenging way.
In October 2011 my younger sister finally told our entire family what her abuser, my little brother, had done to her. That news was and still is devastating to me. My brother is now in prison serving out a 14-year sentence for what he did.
I deal with guilt for what happened to my younger siblings as a result of never speaking out myself. I am forever scarred by the tragedy that occurred in all of our lives and the choices many made that led to where we are today.
My parents fought long and hard to keep from telling the truth and letting children's services know it. I finally found my voice out of sheer sorrow and in defense of my two younger siblings that I wanted so badly to protect.
What advice would you give to people who suspect a child they know may be a victim of abuse?
If you ever have an instinct that tells you that a child may is in an abusive environment, please take it seriously! It could make a huge difference in that child's life. Even if it turns out not to be the case, it's better for the child if you bring it up.
You can do this anonymously. Social workers and other trained professionals can determine this using the methods they always use. In my mind, I believe it is better safe than sorry, especially when it involves the abuse of a child.
A child's life is fragile. They often can't help themselves. Many young children endure the abuse of all kinds around the world. Most will suffer in silence, never having someone say anything.
I am one of those children and so many times in my life so many adults could have spoken up on my behalf but remained silent. I recognize that most of them were still not certain themselves.
Again, I find this disappointing. Many things that I said to adults and did as a child growing up could have and should have been warning signs if someone would have listened.
You took some risky actions to protect your siblings. Tell us about that.
I finally decided to fight for my siblings. I was not going to let anything stop me no matter what happened. I'd involved myself in every way I could so I could prevent them from returning to our parents’ home.
My husband and I decided to fight for custody. It was a long hard battle, and it broke me beyond what I could have ever imagined. Many of my siblings and family members chose to have nothing to do with me after this. I know what I did was the right thing and if I had not done this, I could never have lived with myself again.
I think my one regret in all of it is not having spoken up sooner and allowing things to end up the way they did. We ended up with full custody of my younger sister who was at that time in junior high.
If I had it to do over again I would most likely have said something much sooner; I possibly would have spoken up when I was still a child in hopes that someone would have finally listened. The sad truth is as a child you often don't because you do not realize that the abuse you are enduring is not ok.
That took incredible courage to do. It must have been incredibly difficult. What advice would you give to someone reading this who’s enduring abuse?
Thank you, Andrea, for your honest, transparent discussion of your life's battle overcoming an abusive childhood.
I can only imagine how difficult it was to share. I'm honored and grateful to have it told for the first time on Money with a Purpose.
I can't think of many challenges harder overcome than the one you and your siblings endured. My hope and prayer (and I know yours too) are that your story motivates others who have been or are in an abusive situation to take action.
Whether it's child abuse, domestic violence or any other form, abuse is unacceptable.
You've offered some great tips on how to overcome and triumph over these deep wounds. If you want to reach out to Andrea, email her at Savingjoyfully@outlook.com. She will also respond to any comments made below.
Now it's your turn. Have you experienced abuse, either as a child or an adult? Do you know someone who has? If so, are you willing to risk coming forward to help? To reach Andrea, go to