Healing from Sexual Abuse
“I was feeling shameful and dirty. I was carrying this shameful dirty secret,” Paula McDade described herself when she was 8 years old.
Paula McDade, 50, is the founder and visionary for Not on My Watch Women’s Initiative, which is a non-profit organization that provides a platform for awareness about sexual abuse and assault, domestic violence, and the mental health issues that are the result of those two. Paula is also the author of Captured and Crowned, a 30-day devotional with a journal using God’s word to “instill a sense of esteem based on spiritual principles.”
Her works were and are still inspired by her personal experiences that began when she was a child.
Paula’s step-father, a minister at the time, decided to “teach” young innocent Paula about sex when she was 8 years old.
“I instantly had a feeling that something was very wrong and inappropriate,” Paula remembers. “But as a child, you can’t say anything. You can’t fight back because this is an adult.”
Paula’s mom often left Paula alone with her step-father to shop and/or run errands, which gave him ample of opportunities to continue to molest her.
“Even in my discomfort and expressing that, she still continued to leave me alone with him,” Paula said of her mom.
Paula’s step-father proceeded to molest her during the evening once her mother went to sleep for about six years.
“I didn’t feel as though I could stand up to him,” Paula remembered.
Paula didn’t tell anyone.
“I stuffed it down, which caused a lot of fear and anxiety. I can remember having lots of fake illnesses- thinking I was dying or I had some random disease,” Paula recalls.
Paula was 13 years old when she finally told her mother that her step-father was molesting her. Denial would not allow her mother to accept the truth about the molestation and it continued on.
Paula grew angry towards life, her situation, and especially towards her mother. Today, after several years of processing her emotions and anger, she can see her mother as someone who was also struggling. When Paula was 4 years old, her biological father divorced her mother, which left her in and out of depression with mental breakdowns.
“Now I can look back and see that she was emotionally sick. For her to deny something like that she would have to be,” Paula said about her mother. “We all have different things that we struggle with on different levels. Hers was just way deeper than normal, so she needed help. She needed help to get beyond that sick part, so that she could see and acknowledge what happened.”
During her childhood, Paula felt intense fear, anxiety, uncertainty and emotional instability in her life. Her social life was affected by this dark secret and kept her from fitting in at school.
“I had these underlying issues at home that didn’t really allow me to open up to people and just be free - just be a kid,” Paula said.
After seven years of being molested by her stepfather, she spoke up to him.
“By the time I turned 15, I had gotten old enough to start speaking my mind. I was angry,” said Paula. “I started verbally lashing out to him and other adults. I couldn’t keep the anger bottled up inside any longer.
Paula believes this caused him to reconsider his inappropriate actions and eventually he stopped molesting her.
“I was promiscuous pretty much from the time I started having sex outside of the molestation at 16 [years old],” Paula said.
She got pregnant by one of the boys she had sex with and gave birth to a son. Paula continued to have multiple short-term boyfriends, but nothing serious ever came out of them.
During this time, she continued to live with her mother and step-father, but it wasn’t a nurturing environment.
“I was pretty much on my own, as far as emotional support or support with the baby,” Paula said. “You can’t really be a mom at 16 because you don’t have the skills or the – of course I didn’t have the mindset.”
At age 19, she had another son and then at the age of 21, she had a daughter.
“I just continued to repeat a cycle of having children. I was too young. I was not ready,” Paula said.
It Gets Worse
When Paula was 21 years old, she spent a lot of time with one particular girlfriend. They spent lots of time at her friend’s boyfriend’s house who also had a brother living there. The brother often made inappropriate remarks towards Paula, but she continuously brushed them off.
One day, the brother caught Paula alone in the living room and pulled her into his bedroom. He locked the door behind him and raped Paula on his bed. When he was done, Paula felt disgusted and she immediately pulled up her clothes, got up and ran home.
“I’m curled up in a fetal position sitting on the floor just crying- wondering if I should call the police or not. But, instead of calling the police, I called my best friend,” Paula remembered.
“Well, just don’t say anything. He’s not even here right now. He left,” Paula remembers her best friend’s response.
The same feeling of helplessness and shame she felt when she was 13 years old crept back up.
“Well, if I tell somebody, they’re probably not going to do anything anyway,” Paula thought that night after hanging up with her best friend.
Paula didn’t call the police.
All she wanted was a normal relationship - badly. Paula was very insecure about her future and grew needy and overly trusting of men.
This time, Paula was working the cashier at a grocery store, a handsome young man put his groceries on the grocery belt and began flirting with her. They exchanged phone numbers and spoke on the phone a couple of times, before he offered taking her out.
Paula agreed to a first date with him and drove her car to his house with her five-month old daughter in the back seat. She picked up her date and allowed him to drive her car. He drove her car to the back of an abandoned school house and raped her in the car.
Paula didn’t tell anybody.
Paula, at the age of 21, was a mother of three children from different men, raped by two men in one year and was looking for love.
“You do not need a boyfriend. You need a husband,” her mother advised her.
Wanting to please her mother and with no clear direction in life, Paula went on a mission to find a husband.
An old classmate from elementary school walked in the grocery store Paula worked at and began flirting with her. They exchanged numbers after a quick courtship and six months later, they were married.
“He was emotionally unavailable and verbally abusive as well,” Paula said of her ex-husband. “I just kind of perpetuated the cycle in a different way.”
Paula was married for five years and had two children with her ex-husband.
“As you can imagine, this caused a lot of problems for me,” Paula said. “Eventually, after you stuff that down for so long, it’s gonna mess with you.”
It wasn’t until Paula turned 26, that she decided to seek counseling and attended group therapy, as well.
“That’s where I started to unpack all of my dirty laundry about my past,” Paula said.
The group therapy provided a week for family members to attend the therapy sessions, which allowed Paula to speak her life story to her family members. She could not remember who all was in attendance, but she does remember building enough courage to confront her mother and stepfather together after Family Week.
“I sat them down at their house and said ‘hey this is what was done to me. This is how I feel about what was done to me’,” Paula remembered. “Pretty much their response was, ‘Okay it happened. Now what do you want us to do?’”
That wasn’t the response Paula was expecting or wanting, so Paula became angrier. She questioned her mother’s feelings towards her and couldn’t believe or understand why they responded the way they did.
Paula continued receiving counseling and worked through her previous emotions and new emotions that arose after confronting her mother and stepfather.
“It was a sense of relief,” she said of confronting her mother and stepfather. “And a sense of independence. I felt like, okay now I can go on with my life and start to heal.”
After Paula had spoken her long held secret out loud to the man who created them and in front of her mother who did not protect her, she put her trust into God and into those who were sent to help her heal.
Growing up, Paula viewed God as punishing, angry and distant. She formed her view of God from her biological father who was absent during most of her childhood and her stepfather.
“Eventually I worked through a lot of that in my 20s. I started to really explore my spirituality and my faith. It became something really deep and personal for me,” Paula said. “I thank God that I got anchored in Christ in my young adult years. I think that was a good time because then later it kind of informed how I moved in the world with regards to my healing process, and going to get help and trusting other people with my story and with my healing process.”
Love at last
As Paula was walking into her mega-church, she recognized the man greeting people at the entrance from an online dating site. When she got home, she sent him a message online and they set up a time and place to meet one another in person.
“It’s been such a blessing,” Paula says today of her marriage of 10 years. “This marriage has been the one that has really grown me the most, as far as relationships are concerned, and just learning on how to have a more healthy, stable relationship. Not run from problems. Not blame him for what’s happened in my past or take it out on him.”
Paula describes her healing processes in stages. In her twenties, she acknowledged her past and released her secrets. In her thirties, she processed the effects her past had on her faith, her relationships with men, her mother and children. Now, at the age of 50, she is in the empowerment stage.
“I feel empowered to the point where I can help other women. That’s another layer of healing. That’s another layer of overcoming,” she said.
But the healing process never ends. Paula says there’s always something about herself that she is working on.
“Occasionally, I’ll even go back to counseling just to make sure I’m processing that stuff and that I’m not just fooling myself into thinking, “Oh yeah. You’re better. It’s all good,” Paula said. “There may be something in there that’s kind of hanging around that I haven’t quite dealt with thoroughly.”
Paula is currently seeking women to get involved in Not On My Watch Women’s Initiative and volunteer to help spread awareness about sexual abuse and domestic violence. Her goals are to provide support and resources to women across the country by having NOMWWI chapters in various states.