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INDIAN LAND – It’s hard to imagine the horrors of a child sexually abused by her father and brother.
For Indian Land resident Sarah Harrison, it’s a reality.
Harrison, 65, remembers being sexually abused by her father as early as age 4. It could have begun before that, but she can’t remember.
When she was 7, her mother made her sleep in the same bed as her 14-year-old brother, because her mother felt the bed Harrison shared with two other sisters was getting too crowded. Her brother also molested her.
Harrison’s mother turned a blind eye to the abuse.
Because of the abuse, Harrison often drank and became promiscuous as she got older. One night in college, she got drunk at a dance and was raped by three men.
Harrison became a successful teacher. But her personal life was ruined by the abuse she suffered at the hands of men in her family.
Harrison married four times, and by age 59, her body was worn out by physical and mental suffering.
She was hospitalized in Florida, at the Women’s Institute for Incorporation Therapy. There, she learned she suffered from dissociative identity disorder, and why she had created three alternative personalities for herself.
Susie was an “alter” she created when she was 4. Faith came at age 8. Kristen came later, when Harrison was a teenager. All three alter personalities helped Harrison deal with the pain and anguish she suffered.
Harrison said the director of the institute told her that children who are abused like Harrison die, go insane or survive through their intelligence and creativity.
Out of Harrison’s creativity came her alters, who helped her cope with the abuse and protect her. For the first time, at the institute, Harrison actually began realizing that the abuse wasn’t her fault. Through incorporation therapy, Harrison was able to turn her alters into adults, so they couldn’t sabotage her healing.
“I’m a different person,” Harrison said. “I was so crazy before I went into that hospital.
“But it didn’t affect my career,” she said, “because I loved those kids so much. I was totally dedicated to my job” as a teacher.
It was at the institute, where she received two weeks of inpatient therapy and two weeks of outpatient, that Harrison realized she had survived the abuse for a reason. She feels that God has a plan for her, and that’s to help other sexual abuse victims.
After her stay at the Florida institute, she finally met a man who took her as she was. But the marriage didn’t last long, since he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and soon died.
Book describes abuse, healing
With the help of her sister, who was also abused by their father, although not to the extent Harrison was, Harrison wrote a book last year, “You Love Your Daddy, Don’t You?”
The book is a frank memoir about Harrison’s life of abuse and also of healing.
“The purpose of this work is to tell the story of my life by sharing the most horrific nightmare that millions of children face around the world – namely sexual abuse by a trusted relative,” Harrison wrote in her author’s note. “I hope it will enlighten others who may be living in abusive situations and give them the strength and courage to do whatever it takes to separate themselves from their abuser, for only then can healing begin.”
Harrison has also worked with teenagers who are incarcerated through the Department of Juvenile Justice, through her church, Harrison United Methodist in Pineville. Some of the teens have been abused like she was.
“They were hurt just like me,” Harrison said. “I wish someone had tried to help me when I was that age. God had intentions for me in the church, working with these girls.”
Maybe the most important thing Harrison has learned through the twists and turns of her life is the importance of forgiveness.
She found it in her heart to forgive her father on his deathbed in 1981. She asked him if he remembered the things he had done to her and he squeezed her hand. The fact that he acknowledged those things was enough.
“I forgave him right then,” she said.
It’s been more difficult with her mother, who died in 2003.
“Mama is the hardest to forgive,” Harrison said. “She should have protected us. She should have left Daddy. I’m not completely sure I’ve forgiven Mama. I’ve tried to. I know I have to. It’s just really hard to believe that I can.”
Harrison also had to find forgiveness for herself.
“You have to learn that the perpetrator is bad, not you,” she said.
Starting support group
Harrison is interested in starting a support group for incest survivors in the Lancaster area.
If you would like to help, call her at (803) 548-0490 or e-mail her at email@example.com.
u Contact senior reporter Jenny Hartley at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (803) 283-1151