When I was eight years old, my mother moved in with a man who was a schoolteacher. He turned out to be a sadistic pedophile who was part of a child sex ring. And he wasn’t really interested in her. He was interested in me.
From the moment he got me alone, he started torturing me. He announced that I was going to be his sex slave for the rest of my life. He used brainwashing techniques to make me compliant. He then trafficked me in a child sex ring for six years, from when I was eight to when I was fourteen.
I developed post-traumatic stress and dissociative identity disorder. I made my first suicide attempt at thirteen.
At that moment, I began the process of moving forward
My lowest moment was at age eighteen, when I made my second suicide attempt. My heart stopped, and they had to revive me at the hospital. I thought, “God, just let me die.”
I had an epiphany at that moment. I heard a voice say, “Your parents are never going to love you in the way you need. You need to stop looking for love there and move on.”
At that moment, I began the process of moving forward. It wasn’t easy. Many people who are abused as children become self-destructive. They get into drugs. But when I was twelve or thirteen, I had heard the saying, “Living well is the best revenge.” I understood that if I gave in to self-destructiveness, those who abused me would win. I decided that I would have a career, I would have a loving marriage, and I would go to a good college.
Today, my greatest joy is helping other people
I spent years trying to get help. I had seen the movie Ordinary People, and I was determined to find my Judd Hirsch character. I had to find a therapist. But man, that took many years and many suicide attempts. I was so traumatized, and I needed a therapist I could really trust. The turning point was when I finally found the therapist I’ve now had for the last 20 years. I found what I was looking for.
Today, my greatest joy is helping other people. I got a Ph.D. in psychology, something I never thought I’d be able to do. Through my private practice I’ve helped others heal, which gives me an immense sense of meaning and purpose.
I was incredibly blessed to find some very trustworthy people. The first was my best friend, Steve. I met him on my first day as an undergraduate at NYU. He showed me what it meant to be a happy, confident person. Then I met my wife, to whom I’ve been married for 23 years. We have a beautiful son, who is the light of my life. I've kept all of those promises to myself, and my life has surpassed everything I ever thought it would.
I wrote a book that I hope will help people, called Scared Selfless: My Journey from Abuse and Madness to Surviving and Thriving. The penultimate chapter is called “All You Need is Love.” It really does boil down to that.
Dr. Stevens is the author of Scared Selfless: My Journey from Abuse and Madness to Surviving and Thriving, an inspiring memoir that vividly describes her triumph over childhood abuse and the mental illness it created. She is also the founder and director of Post-Traumatic Success, a non-profit organization that provides education and inspiration to those affected by psychological trauma.
Image Credit: Melissa Lyttle/The Verbatim Agency for OptionB.Org