‘Don’t tell nobody. I’ll give you some money when I get paid,’ he said as he was getting off me. I was scared out of my mind. My uncle, my favorite uncle, had hurt me.’

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“As a child I can remember, for the most part, being a loving and outgoing little girl. I was part of a big family and always lived with my mom, siblings, and other family members. I was a very happy kid, spoiled and loved attention. My family wasn’t rich, but that never mattered to us because we always had each other. We had family functions that brought us together and kept us close. I wasn’t spoiled by money or things that cost much, but with love and attention, it was a warm atmosphere.

My grandmother on my mother’s side of the family was one of my favorite people in the world. She was brown and petite with silky hair that she kept in two braids. She had long nails and a soft, gentle voice that everyone stopped and listened to when she spoke. Being the youngest out of all my siblings and cousins meant the older kids sometimes didn’t want me around. As a result, I spent a lot of my life with my grandma, who never failed to set the other kids straight when they picked on me. As a child, I loved laying in her lap for hours and watching the television screen. She was one of the few family members that I always lived with.

On March 13, 1999, as my brother and I were getting dressed for school, my mother received a phone call from the hospital where my grandma was staying. She had been there, sick, for a few weeks. It was the day we received the news that my grandmother had passed away, the day the whole world came crashing down for me and my family. She was the rock to our family, the one that kept everything and everyone together. I was 7 years old at the time and I didn’t know much about death. But I knew my grandma was gone forever.

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At the time of my grandmother’s passing, my family and I lived with one of my uncles. A few weeks after the funeral however, we moved out. I was too young to fully understand what was going on, but all I knew was my mother and uncle had gotten into a heated argument, and we had to leave abruptly. I was comfortable there and didn’t want to go.

We moved from my uncle’s house and back into the house we had previously lived in. I stayed there with my mother, brother, and another one of my uncles. Although life was different and I missed my grandma a lot, I was still a happy child.

My Ma was a single parent. When she was busy working or running errands, my uncle would watch my brother and I. He was always one of my favorite uncles. He was funny and cool, and always took me and my brother on bike rides around the neighborhood. I loved being around him.

My brother and I often slept in the living room, one of us on each couch. One night, we were sleeping in the living room while my Ma had run out to get something. As usual, she asked my uncle to watch us while she was gone. This was the night that would change my life forever.

I was sound asleep and suddenly woke up to my uncle on top of my body. I was only 7 or 8 years old at the time. I was in shock and didn’t know what to do. I can remember looking over at my brother who was still asleep. I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. I was too scared so I laid there, not speaking, while my uncle raped me, taking the innocence I would never get back. He hurt me in the worst way that night.

‘Don’t tell nobody. I’ll give you some money when I get paid,’ he said to me as he was getting off of me. I didn’t respond, still in complete shock. I was scared out of my mind. My uncle, my favorite uncle, had hurt me. He asked me to go change my clothes, so I listened. I went into the back room, as we called it, and changed. I was moving so frantically, but I couldn’t find my underwear. It seemed like every time I picked something up, it wasn’t mine. I was in the dark, afraid, trying to find a new pair of underwear to put on because my uncle had raped me. My little brain couldn’t process what was going on.

I was tired of looking, so I put on the next pair of underwear I could find and wished they were mine. By the time I had finished getting dressed, my Ma was walking through the front door. She could see from my face I wasn’t okay and immediately asked me what was wrong. I just stood there, not knowing what to say, and still in shock. ‘Did he hurt you?’ I didn’t say anything. She took me into the room and pulled my shorts and underwear down. They were freshly soaked with blood.

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Everything felt like a blur from that moment on. I could hear my Ma shouting at my uncle, but I was unclear what exactly she was saying to him. My brain felt like it was on autopilot. I felt like I had tunnel vision and didn’t know what was going on around me. I was completely numb, like a part of me had died.

Suddenly, I was at the hospital and everything was so bright. I can’t remember how I got from my home to there, but I remember walking down the hall and into an examination room, a blurry memory in my mind. The doctors and nurses kept telling me it wasn’t my fault. But I just stayed quiet and allowed them to do a rape kit on me. I laid on a table with nothing but a hospital gown on as they inspected and photographed my private parts. That night seemed like it was never ending. I spoke with so many nurses, doctors, and police officers. Maybe it wasn’t a lot, but for a child it sure felt like it.

My Ma was by my side the whole time. After I was done at the hospital, we headed back home to the very same place I no longer felt safe at. By this point, my dad was with us. Somewhere during the hospital visit he had shown up. In my mind, it felt like it was just me and my dad in the car. He didn’t say much to me, he just hugged me the entire way back. When we pulled up to the driveway, all I could see was red and blue flashing lights. My dad didn’t want me to watch, so he gently pushed my head down onto his chest.

My uncle went to jail that night for what he did to me. My Ma, brother, and I ended up sleeping at my Aunt’s house for the night. I guess I wasn’t the only one that didn’t want to be there in the house he hurt me in. I didn’t go to school for a few days or maybe even a few weeks after it happened. I couldn’t function. I didn’t play much. I wasn’t the same happy kid anymore. One day when I went with my Ma to pick up my homework, we ran into one of my cousins. I guess she heard about what happened because she asked me about it. I was too ashamed and embarrassed, so I denied it.

After the abuse, I don’t recall getting professional help. I kept all my feelings bottled up. I just wanted to forget about what happened to me. I found myself eating a lot, enjoying it as my escape. Without the help I needed, I resorted to becoming an emotional eater.

Even as a young girl, I could feel the tension with certain family members. I felt as if it was somehow my fault my uncle raped me and went to prison for what he did. His sentence was 20 years, though he deserved more if you ask me. Some family members were mad at my Ma for doing the right thing and protecting me, but she didn’t care. I thank God she didn’t let my abuser get away with it. While some were angry, my family, for the most part, didn’t speak about my abuse. So neither did I.

After that, my trust for men was completely gone. I felt uncomfortable being around any man, even my own father sometimes. I was okay when both women and men were around but being alone with any man brought back those feelings. It gave me flashbacks even though I still didn’t fully understand what they were at the time. I’d remember the smell of the cherry chap-stick my uncle always wore, and it would literally make me sick to my stomach. I became a shy, standoffish, and distant little girl. I tried to be normal self again, but I just couldn’t.

During my teenage years. I was still emotionally eating and keeping all my feelings bottled up. Just when I thought I’d forgotten about what happened, the memory of that dreadful night came from the sight of his photograph. My family members had my uncle’s prison pictures up in their homes. While I tried to ignore it for the most part, in the back of my mind I was always wondering why they didn’t consider my feelings. Couldn’t they have at least taken them down while I was there?

Eleventh grade was one of the hardest years. Although I had friends and good grades, I hated going to school. My Ma would always tell me the importance of going to school and getting an education, but I never wanted to hear it. I always wanted to be home, away from everyone. I wanted to be in my dark room, sleeping, crying, and laying in bed. I remember only coming out for food and soda for days on end. I wanted to be happy, to be normal. I wanted to live my life, but I was breaking more and more and didn’t even know it.

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My Ma would leave for work before I went to school, so I was able to get away with skipping school for the most part before they began calling home about my attendance. To keep everyone happy, I would go to school some days, but others I would stay home in my comfort zone. I slowly stopped caring about whether I got trouble.

One morning, my Ma came in my room and told me to make sure I went to school. I told her I was fine and reassured her I would go. But when I got dressed, I felt an overwhelming sense of dread about walking out of the door. Instead, I went downstairs to the second floor and grabbed a knife from the kitchen. I made up my mind that my only option to get rid of the pain was ending it all. I went to the first floor to the sitting room and tried to slit my wrist. I was afraid to do it, but all I knew was I didn’t want to feel the things I was feeling. I cut into my arm, but the knife was too dull, so I began slicing it repeatedly until I was left with welts on my wrist. Eventually, I gave up and went back into my room, where I stayed for days. This was the darkest time of my life.

I wasn’t good at expressing myself with words, so I wrote my Ma a letter to tell her how I felt. On the front and back of a notebook paper, I told her about the dark place I was in and how I didn’t know what was wrong with me. She worked with the school to put me in a homeschool program and I started seeking professional help. I was told I was suffering from depression. I liked talking with my therapist. She was nice and talking about what my uncle did made me feel a little better. I was scared but I came out and told her. It was like my heart and mind knew it was time to get it off my chest. My therapist reassured me that it wasn’t my fault. That year, I was angry at myself for failing the eleventh grade, but I eventually accepted it.

After completing homeschool, I went back to a new public school, where I graduated in 2011. I was a year behind my peers from my old school, but I still did it. Being around a lot of people was always challenging and gave me anxiety.

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During all my ups and downs, I prayed and spoke with my grandma, which helped me out a lot. Even though she wasn’t there, I felt like I could always feel her spirit. When I would have flashbacks or thoughts about my uncle raping me, I would pray. Even though I disliked my uncle with a passion, I prayed for him, for the man that hurt me so badly. I honestly don’t know why I did it, but I guess it helped me heal.

In my early 20s, I started going to church. During this time, I found out my uncle was getting out of prison. I didn’t know how to react to the news. I thought of all the things I would do to him. Spit in his face, fight him, anything to make him hurt how he made me hurt. Lo and behold, I was working as a cashier at a store when I saw my uncle again. I couldn’t do any of the things I had thought of doing all these years. My blood was boiling, and my body felt hot. I was shaking. To make matters worse, there was no else available to ring him up but me. I couldn’t run away like I wanted to. I had to do my job. For the rest of the day, I couldn’t function.

I saw him many other times in my neighborhood. It was brief and I just ignored him or tried to. I never grasped the fact that people still wanted him to be around after he had hurt me. I guess they didn’t care as much because it wasn’t their own kids he had harmed. Furious wasn’t the word. I had so many emotions knowing that people, my own family, could be welcoming of this monster.

Soon after, my uncle started showing up on my block. I was angry but tried to keep my composure. God, I honestly don’t know how I did it. He started to sit on my front steps, socializing with other family members. I felt like I was exploding the first time I saw him there. I wanted to knock his head off for making me have to pass him in order to go into MY house. Yet again, I kept my composure and didn’t express how I felt about my uncle being around my family, and even my own parents. I was betrayed by everyone, but I wasn’t good at telling people how I felt. I bottled everything up and kept moving on with my life. I said a few things here and there about him being around, but was too angry to stick around and hear the responses. I guess since I didn’t say much about it, people assumed that it was okay for him to be around me. Assuming isn’t good at all.

I started going to church frequently and working on myself. By this time, I had entirely given my life over to Christ. Jesus was now my Lord and Savior. It was a great feeling going to church and striving to do and be better. One Sunday, the Pastor was preaching about forgiveness. It felt like he was talking directly to me. It all made so much sense to me. After church that very Sunday, I wrote my uncle a letter, forgiving him. I wasn’t forgiving him for anybody but myself.

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I thought my healing process would finally be over, but I was mistaken. It was nowhere near finished. I was able to be around my uncle for short periods of time, even hold conversations with him. I have no idea how. But I still suffered from depression and anxiety on and off, which I tried to ignore. I hated taking the prescription pills the doctor prescribed to me. I hated the way they made me feel. Through all of this, I would find comfort in being around little to no people. It wasn’t that I was antisocial. I just felt like I could only be around people that were trustworthy and made me feel good.

Today, I am still healing. I’ve learned that the healing process cannot be rushed. I never knew what my calling was until a few years ago when I was at church. The Pastor was preaching about finding our purpose in life, and it suddenly occurred to me that I should share my testimony. It was like God spoke to me. I began a YouTube channel to help others that have experienced the same trauma.

At first, I doubted starting my channel because I feared a lot of things. For one, I’m super shy and I hate speaking in front of people. I was also afraid of how people would react to me and my story. After weeks, maybe even months, of contemplating and discussing it with my loved ones, I made my first video. It was completely nerve-wracking, but I did it anyway. For the most part, the response has been amazing. I’ve angered some of my family members or have made them comfortable, but I don’t care. My purpose is to uplift the people out there that feel like giving up. For that reason, I have named my channel Nay Uplifting Others.

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‘Everything happens for a reason.’ I’m sure we’ve all heard that saying before. Although I was hurt in the worst way, completely broken and close to death, I found my purpose. I am still in disbelief that I have gone from being ashamed to talking about my uncle raping me, to sharing it openly with the world. In tears typing this, I’m proud of myself.

I’m not where I want to be, but I’m where I need to be in all aspects of my life. I’m still learning, growing, and healing. I’m a work in progress. As I’m making videos helping other people, I’m also helping myself. This is my therapy. I still have my moments. I still struggle sometimes. But that’s okay and normal. As I talk to people that have been through the same abuse as me, I’ve learned that anyone can be a victim of sexual abuse. Anyone can be the abuser: parents, men, women, family members. Anyone you can think of can hurt you or your children in the worse way possible. But what goes on shouldn’t stay hidden if it’s hurting the people that we should be protecting.

To anyone that has experienced trauma, remember that healing doesn’t have a time frame. Don’t rush your healing process.”

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This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Ja’Nay of Maryland. You can follow her journey on Instagram and YouTubeDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

Read more inspiring stories of young women overcoming abuse:

‘I was staring at a naked picture of myself on my father’s computer. ‘What the heck?,’ I said out loud, the last words before rage overtook my body.’

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