Selfspiration: The Root of Support

Family trees grow to be knotted and gnarled, branching out, up, away and providing shade and comfort in unexpected ways. But what matters most, grows when and where others cannot see. Deep in the dirt, in the heat of the summer sun or the cold of winter, our roots spread out to support us. The roots of family. I am so fortunate my family never waivered and continues to stand by me unconditionally. I hear from others who still struggle with the reaction from when they tell those closest to them, when they share with their parents, no matter their age, and find the unconditional love and support they need does not happen. It makes my heart ache all the more for the struggle of survivors when this challenge compounds the road blocks on the journey to healing.

High school graduation with my mom and sister. (May 1997)

People ask how my parents reacted when I told them what happened. I don’t know that one word, or even any series of words, could sum up their anger and anguish, frustration and fury, pain from the idea that it happened and pride in the woman that overcome what happened to the girl she used to be.

As I started working with my counselor about two years ago, I told her the one person I could never tell would be my mom. I couldn’t imagine the hurt it would cause her and the guilt she would place on herself. My mom sacrificed so much to give us a happy childhood, good education and opportunities to dream big and achieve bigger. I felt somehow it would undermine her seeing the great mother she was and continues to be. But one morning, after she visited us for the weekend, I woke up and handed her a letter I wrote as I journaled my way through the process of healing. I don’t know what or why that moment became the right time, but it did. I vividly remember her reading the folded white piece of office paper, her face going from a morning flush of pink, to as white as the paper she held, to red with pain as tears welled in her eyes. She got about halfway through and through her tears, asked who, why, when. Questions that even now I don’t know all the answers to. She shook. I saw the depths of pain a parent can feel knowing they couldn’t protect their child from a the evil that lurks in some people. A sorrow that she brought this man into our lives, her former colleague and friend, a person she allowed into our home. The same person she trusted with her own children. Mom finished reading and then just hugged me as we both cried. Pieces started to fall together for her, she knew that I started seeing a counselor some time before, but now she knew why. She asked if Nate, then my fiance, knew. I said he did. She said she felt so grateful I could rely on him and I didn’t walk the darkness alone. Anger more than anything became the emotion for Mom. She wanted to confront him, scream from the top of a mountain (not that those exist in Nebraska, so sky writing also crossed her mind) what he did. But she knew she could not. She knew she needed to let me take my power back in the time that I needed to. I am so proud of her and how she channeled what happened. She started working last year to bring a program called Darkness to Light to the school where she teaches first grade (and the community my abuser once taught). Darkness to Light teaches children about sexual abuse and sexual assault.

Driving down the aisle with my father on my wedding day. (October 2010)

Right after I confronted my abuser in January, my husband Nate and I drove to my father’s farm several miles out of town. We found David, typical farmer, knee deep in brown muck, a mixture of snow, mud and cow manure. He didn’t expect us that day. I told no one we would be going to Wayne and only Nate came with me. But as we walked into his house, I felt the same feeling I did months earlier in the moments before Mom found out. I never doubted they would both believe, love and support me. But I felt like a little girl again. I worried that, what in a children’s mind, I believed I caused (which the adult in me knows to be untrue, that I didn’t cause it) would burden those I cared about most. I don’t recall exactly what I said to my father, but I can never forget what he said to me, tears running down his weathered face, the drops rolling between the wrinkles and whiskers. He said, “Jo, I’m so proud of you. I will stand beside you. Whatever you need, dad is here.” The moment I needed my father the most, he did what only a dad could do — love their child. He said if, or when, he ever saw the man who did that to me, he could not shake his hand but walk past him because he did not deserve our family’s respect that even acknowledging him would bring. I think as time went on, he would probably give my abuser some choice words in the right situation, but his pain shows in different ways. Two parents, two different reactions but the same result — love and support.

When I spoke at TEDxSiouxFalls, my parents sat in the front row. I could not imagine, and I don’t think they could either, being anywhere else. Not all family trees look like mine, but as survivors we all share in the roots make us strong, if that’s a friend, family or fellow survivors. Roots run into obstacles as they make their way underground to grow and support us for the future. My mom always said she would know she did a good job as a parent if she could say she gave us roots to remember where we came from and wings to fly to where we wanted to go. I am proud of my roots and my wings.

Originally posted on


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