From Hair Stylist to Author
I am a hairstylist by trade. You can develop a close relationship with customers who you see often. I had such a client who had a sweet smile and a nice personality. I knew she struggled with depression and PTSD, but I didn't know why.
One day when she was sitting in my chair, she shared the why. She told me she had been sexually abused as a child. Then, I shared with her what I had never shared with a client before. I shared with her my story of how I was sexually abused as a child by my stepfather for six long years, from the age of six to the age of 12. We chatted back and forth a little bit, and she left.
When she came back for her next appointment, she asked, "Cathy, did you suffer from depression?" I explained I had depressed days. I had a tremendous amount of shame and humiliation. Yet, I didn't have depression. Then she asked me, "What about PTSD?" Again, I paused and responded that I had low self-worth. I had incredibly low self-esteem, but I didn't have PTSD. She continued, "Well, you are medicated, right?" Again, I paused. I know it's beneficial for some people. Yet, I didn't take medication. "Don't get me wrong," I said, "I felt broken. I had a journey to heal." She looked me square in the eye and she told me, “You need to write a book, girlfriend!” I laughed it off because I couldn't see the value of a book.
In the days to come, I reflected and I went into deep introspection. I asked myself why do some people suffer traumas and go on to live a fairly successful life? Why do others suffer more? One person is no better than another. What did I do on my journey to get where I am? I was in a really good place. I spent so much time reflecting, and then I started taking notes on index cards. I began writing down attributes I applied: books I loved, empowering quotes, and scriptures from which I drew strength.
I found I had this organized mess of index cards. Now, what do I do? Do I dare write a book?
I was invited to a talk by the United Way Women's Leadership Network via a dear friend. She was personally sharing her message of how she became a victim of human trafficking. Later in life, she became a victim of domestic violence. Unfortunately, once one becomes a victim of one kind, we can then become a victim of another kind. This is why it is so critical for us to move through and out of our traumas.
That evening, I heard every word of Brook’s message. Yet at the same time, I received my own message. The message was to write a book. I heard that I am here, in this place, for a purpose. It was time for me to share my story.
So, I started writing, and as I started writing, the apprehension came; I was petrified as less than 10 people knew my story. If I put this into a book, the world will know my story. I went back into deep introspection and prayer. I asked, why me and why now? I'm imperfect; I'm flawed. I'm dyslexic. I don't even have a college degree. The message I got back was, “You're enough, write the book. It's time.”
My name is Cathy Studer, and this is my Kintsugi Story.
My parents had divorced and both remarried. My brother and I lived with our mother, and we spent vacations with our father and his new wife. My mother worked nights in a factory. Life was good. I was a happy child.
When I was six years old in the middle of my sleep, I was awakened. It was my stepfather. I was confused. I was afraid something had happened to my mom, but he said I was in trouble. He instructed me to go downstairs to be punished for misbehaving. I couldn’t recall what I had done wrong, but I followed him downstairs.
Every night this happened, it was always because I had done something bad, which accelerated the shame I felt. I was confused, especially because he said that my mother knew about it. I was hurt. It felt uncomfortable, wrong, and so painful.
I immediately felt like I had lost trust because this is a person who was supposed to protect me when my mom was gone. He did something that made me feel very uncomfortable, and I didn't like it. The next day when I got up, I had to go to school. I felt sick, and I didn't want to go to school.
I remember walking to the bus. We shared typical sibling rivalry, and my brother was older at age eight. He said, "What's wrong with you?" I answered the typical nothing, nothing. For a moment, I thought about telling my brother. Then, I was afraid he would think I was bad, too. I was scared he thought I deserved whatever happened, so I didn't say anything.
When I rode the bus to school that next morning, I sat, asking myself, “Does this happen to other little girls? Is this normal? Why did my stepfather do things to me that felt so uncomfortable?” When I got to school, I tried to put it out of my mind. Then as the years progressed, he would continue to come and get me. He would always wake me up in the middle of the night, telling me I had to come downstairs. This would happen about every other week. Unfortunately, each year he progressed; his abuse progressed, as it progressed, so did my shame. My humiliation and my low self-worth grew. Some days I would go to school and put a smile on my face and put it out of my mind. Other days, I couldn't.
I was fortunate that I was a good student. For me, trying so hard to hang on to that would be a small way to reduce my pain. I never told a soul. As the abuse progressed, he started tying up my hands, and he blindfolded me. It was so scary and humiliating. Then, he made me write down on paper what he was going to do to me what my punishments were.
I remember when he forced me to write thinking, "Why, why, why, it's getting worse and worse? Why is he humiliating me even further? Am, am I that bad? Am I that bad of a girl?" Every time my answer was, "I must be. I must." The shame was so strong that I never told a soul.
A few times I tried so hard to tell my mother, but it would not come out. When I got my period, I hoped so badly that that would be the end of it. Sadly, it wasn't. He just told me that when he would wake me up in the middle of the night to let him know that I was on my period, and I remember as a kid trying to figure out if I could be on my period forever. Then I thought if he finds out I'm lying, he's going to punish me even more.
Holiday Prayers Answered
I had gone to bed and was already sleeping. My mom and stepdad had an argument, and my stepfather left the room. My mother decided to look in his wallet. She had a sixth sense. What she found shocked her. She found the letters I had written as part of the abuse.
I never forgot that. My stepfather would walk into the bedroom; he wouldn't turn on the bedroom light, but I could see him. I would be woken up, as he would tap me or sit on the edge of the bed and wake me up. Then, he made me come downstairs with him. My stepfather never abused me during the holidays, so I truly thought that I was free for the two weeks break between Christmas and New Year's Eve.
That night I could sense the bedroom door cracking open, someone coming in and sitting down on the bed. I just remember thinking--this can't be happening, this can't be happening. He's never done this over the holidays. Why is he? What now? Why? I can't take it anymore, I can't take it, I can't take it. Then, I felt a hand on my leg. I pulled away.
My mom spoke gently. I realized it was not him but her sitting at the end of the bed. She woke me up, and she asked me about the abuse. She knew the answer; she knew it was my handwriting, but she asked me, "Is this your handwriting?" I told her it was, and we both cried. She hugged me. We cried for about 10 minutes. She grabbed my face, and she said, "This ends tonight!"
My mother told me to stay in my room no matter what, and she went downstairs. I could hear her: her language was very direct and clear. There was no question that she did not know everything that was going on, and she was going to save me right then and there. She started throwing things out. This was the night, my six-year horrific nightmare ended, and it was also the beginning of my healing pilgrimage.
That night, my mom pulled my brother aside, and she told him why she just kicked out my stepfather out. I kept waiting for my brother to ask me what really happened. I expected him to ask me something, but he never did, and we never spoke about it.
When I decided to write my book, I went to my brother. I knew I had to tell him I needed to get the story out. I didn't know how he would feel about me. Having my name on the book would make the story public. He was very supportive, but here's the interesting part.
When he read my book, he called me and he said we needed to talk. He shared with me that which he had never shared before and not until he read my book. My stepfather actually abused my brother as well. For a year before he started abusing me, and he abused both of us without the other one knowing for a full year. He stopped abusing my brother completely, but he progressed with me.
My mother still doesn’t know my brother was abused. It is sad that we didn’t have each other to support during that time. It took me writing the book for this to come out.
Letting Go & Healing
I forgave my stepfather long before my mother did. To this day, my mother has still not stepped into forgiveness. Unfortunately, this has held her back in life with relationships and her own healing and her own guilt. When I first went to my mom and told her I want to write this book, she didn't want me to put my name on it. This emotion came from her own guilt and her own shame that she still carried. She felt guilty, and she still blamed herself. I never blamed her, but she did. After I wrote it and she read it, she came back to me and said, “You got to put your name on this. You got to do it.”
I had to forgive myself as well. When my mother called children and family services back in the day, there was no privacy for children. The lady, who was less than nice, told me that I would be in court. I would have to face him and my name would be printed in the newspapers. I did not think I could face that and based on what she told us on that day, we decided not to press charges. I regretted that, not knowing how many other children he went on to hurt.
When I was older, I tried to press charges. I had missed the deadline. When I decided to confront him, I found out he had passed away.
Now, my book and my story do what I did not do when I was a child. I am open about my story because I want to help as many children as I possibly can. The book also lays out all the attributes that I needed and possessed to overcome my adversity and still remain healthy and well. These attributes can be learned and so others can heal as well.
My story became my purpose and I hope that I can transmit the hope and the possibility of living a happy and joyful life, even after going through something as tragic as prolonged family abuse.
My name is Cathy, and I am Kintsugi.
Cathy's book is available on amazon You can purchase here
Resources on child abuse: EndCAN.org, defendinnocence.org
Resource for sexual abuse; National Sexual Abuse Hotline 1-800-656-HOPE
Connect at: www.cathystuder.com
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