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[This account is from Victims of Memory: Sex Abuse Accusations and Shattered Lives, by Mark Pendergrast. Upper Access Books, Hinesburg, Vt. Copyright (c) 1996. All rights reserved. For information to order this book, call Upper Access at 1-800-356-9315, or order it online at or Read our review or visit the Victims of Memory web site.]

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Leslie Hannegan, Christian Retractor

As a child, Leslie Hannegan suffered from a severe stutter. Lonely and imaginative, she lived, as she put it, "in my own world," even though she had two younger brothers. Her father was often deeply depressed, while her mother was frequently ill. "I grew up Catholic, and that helped get me through," she remembers. Whenever the other school children's taunts got to her, she'd listen to the choir sing "Be Not Afraid," and she felt the Lord's comforting presence. She suffered from the same depression as her father, however, from the third grade on. "The only thing that gave me joy were ballet classes." Still feeling awkward and lonely at 24, Hannegan met a man in 1991 who broke her heart. In the stressful wake of that disappointment, she attended a church function at which a Christian incest survivor spoke. It changed her life.

I met Ray at a dance performance. He was involved in dance, drama, and singing. He was gorgeous and he was a Christian. We just fell in love with each other. A week later, he was calling, telling me I'd be his wife, wanting to know if I felt the same way. Oh, yes! He swept me off my feet.

[But when Hannegan visited him two months later, he acted completely cold. The visit was a disaster. She cried the entire flight home.]

A week after I turned 24, he sent me a card saying, "You're not the one for me. I'm not going to marry you." That's when I started to hear this voice inside of me. I believed it was God's voice, telling me that Ray was going to be my husband. This could have been just my desires talking, but it seemed like a real voice to me. So I believed it. I kept hoping and hoping.

Because of this, I was very unhappy with myself. I started searching for what was the matter with me. I attended a large interdenominational Christian meeting here in Texas. The woman speaker was an incest victim from Washington state. She said, "There are women in the audience who don't remember any abuse, but their lives show it." She said, "You're going to start to remember it." It was just like a little light went off inside of me. I thought, "She's talking about me." It's kind of funny, but I finally felt special. It made me feel better, because it wasn't my fault why Ray didn't want me.

My mother went with me to this meeting, and I told her afterwards I felt I had been sexually abused. She asked, "Who could have done this to you?" At first I thought it was a 12-year-old babysitter when I was two. I went to the Christian bookstore and bought Freeing Your Mind From Memories That Bind, by Fred and Florence Littauer. They go around the country and give lectures and pass out a quiz asking, "Do you have these kinds of feelings?" They tell you that three out of four people were abused but just don't remember it. They take people through age regression and say that the Holy Spirit is leading them back through time. This is all described in the book.*

Because they wrote that the Lord had told them this truth, I trusted them. I put all my faith in what they told me to do. I also read The Wounded Heart by Dr. Dan Allender, which encourages you to write stuff without thinking about it. So I did a lot of that.

Ever since I was little, I've had paralysis in my dream state, where I feel like I'm awake, but I can't move. I would see things, like another realm opened up to me. There would be incredible fear with it. It always seemed that something came into my room and touched me. This got more intense after I converted to evangelical Christianity when I was 19. After I accepted that I was an abuse victim, it got much worse. It was constant, almost every night. Most of the time, I was frozen. I couldn't even scream. Things would be flying into my room, getting on top of me, molesting me. Some were evil-looking inhuman things.

I told my mother about these episodes. When this happened to me, when I could finally get up, I'd run sleep with her, because I didn't want to be alone. Dad had taken early retirement by then and was away at a church retreat for a month. I put two and two together and thought that these dream experiences must have been memories of torments, maybe satanic.

My anger and fear were getting worse and worse, but I didn't know where to direct them. I had this dream two nights in a row, of this dragon. The second night, it had my father's face. And I just knew the dragon's name was Incest. Something inside me screamed, "Daddy, Daddy, why did you hurt me?" I felt so betrayed. The horror and shame came flooding in right then, in the middle of the night. I was in shock.

Prior to this time, I did have a hard time with my father. We were both depressed and living at home. I had a hard time talking to him but couldn't figure out why. Now the pieces started to fit together.

I didn't tell my mother right away. I wanted to deal with it and get healed. I thought the Lord was helping me and would bring the past up and let me be healed. That's what these books were telling me. So I just trusted myself to the Lord. After two weeks, though, I told my mother, because it hurt so bad. I don't know if she believed me at first. I just know I sure needed her. We called Sharon Purcell, a Christian social worker with a private practice. I told her I was an incest victim and needed help. I said I didn't have clear pictures, and she said, "We'll work on those."

Sharon would pray and lead me into age regression. She'd bring me back to the womb and I'd go from there. Anything painful we came across, she'd bring Jesus into it, so the Lord would be there for this painful time. Only nothing ever surfaced during the sessions. It was always on my own. She encouraged me to journal more, so I did. And she wanted me to look at old photographs. Dad has taken so many great pictures of us. There was this one picture of me as a little girl by my parents' bed, with a pocket book on my shoulder, that really triggered me. I'm so uncomfortable about the story that got built around this picture, I'd rather not talk about it.

I got a lot of body memories. One day when I was journaling, my head got thrown back and I was gagging and could not breathe. It was almost like I was choking. That's why I assumed that he forced his penis into my mouth and I was remembering it.

I was so convincing. I would beat myself, scratch my arms, hit my legs, and try to pull out my hair. I hated myself so much. It was hard to believe that nothing had happened to me. The betrayal I felt seemed to indicate it was someone close to me who had done this.

After a month of therapy, Sharon told me I was healed and that the next step was for me to write to my father, so my family would get better and come to counseling. So I wrote him a letter, telling him I forgave him for the incest. I truly believed it would take a load off his shoulders, and we could be a family again. I wasn't trying to get back at him. I saw my father as a hurting person who had been abused himself. I felt compassion for him.

He was crushed. He cried hysterically and told the other people at the retreat about the letter. He told my brothers, and I didn't want them to know about it until he admitted it. My brothers were really angry at me. I became more of a mess. My father came back home. He went to see my counselor and said he was very concerned about me.

Then Sharon met with me and said she wasn't sure he did it. That was the ultimate betrayal. She had committed me to writing something so horrible, something you can't back away from-when she wasn't even sure herself. I was amazed and hurt. I left her.

So I went through agony for another year without counseling. After a year, I went to another Christian counselor, a blind woman in her late 40s, and she was wonderful. She said, "Well, what do you remember about this abuse?" I said, "Not much." She asked, "Are you sure this really happened to you?" I felt angry at first that she didn't believe me, but she was just asking questions. Finally she said, "We're not going to go into your past. We're going to help you get strong again, to be able to get out of bed every day." She didn't say, "I don't believe you." She just said, "Let's help you to cope." She prayed with me. I really started feeling God's love again. For a while I was angry at Him for letting me go through this.

I was sick of trying to look at my past. I just wanted to get on with my life and forget about it. I was still going to the Christian Church of God, an evangelical, charismatic nondenominational church. My pastor does not believe that psychiatry offers any permanent solution. He believes that only the Lord heals. When I told him at the beginning of all this that my father had done this to me, he didn't say anything to me. One weekend, my pastor and his wife saw a newscast on false memory syndrome. They realized that the Holy Spirit was telling them that what I was remembering was false. They prayed on that.

The following Monday night, just before Good Friday, my pastor gave a sermon, saying many of the same things as usual. "We're a new creation. The old one is gone. We're born again, and we don't have to look into our past." Then he said something that was directed straight at me. "There is a deception, an evil spirit from the pit of Hell, crossing the earth, causing false memory syndrome."

I couldn't believe my pastor was saying this. I was shocked and hurt. I made an appointment to see his wife to show her that God was healing me. I brought my journals in, but she didn't want to hear them. She was very strong with me. She said, "Leslie, you are having a nervous breakdown. We care about you so much, and we don't want this to happen to you." A couple of times I almost got up and left, I was so angry. But after an hour, it was like a wall coming down around me. I suddenly realized that it wasn't that terrible if I was wrong. I've always wanted to be perfect, to stay in complete control. But at this point, the fear and pride left, and it wasn't that bad to be wrong. I realized how selfish I had been, how much I had hurt my family. Being a Christian, I needed to release my father. I felt so awful.

I waited three days and wrote him a card on Good Friday of 1993. When he got it, he cried for joy. I was afraid he'd be angry, that he would never speak to me again. But we all embraced-my father, my mother, and me, and started the healing. It was wonderful.

Ever since I came out of this, it's incredible how rapidly I've been healed. I don't listen to that voice any more. I've come to realize it was different from the Lord's voice. It had a selfish intent, focused only on me. To be honest, I do actually believe it was an evil spirit.

Now I am a whole, productive human being. I'm doing well at my job in human resources at a major corporation. I love myself now. I'm coordinator of a Christian dance team, too. Someday, I want to have a good relationship with a man. I'm looking forward to having a husband and kids.

I speak out now about what happened to me. I'm particularly concerned about the misuse of Christianity. These Christian therapists say, "Get the anger out at your parents." But Jesus never said that. He said, "Don't let the sun go down on your anger." When you're angry, you're sinning against someone. I'm concerned that the Christian church is being deceived. These therapists truly believe the Lord is showing them this and that it is a real healing process. If they believe the Lord is telling them, they won't listen to anyone else. There's a stubbornness there.

Maybe if they hear from another Christian, they might listen. I am going to write to the Littauers and to the first speaker who led me into this deception.

 * Even in comparison to The Courage to Heal, the Littauers' book is incredibly suggestive. Freeing Your Mind From Memories That Bind offers an extensive list of "symptoms" of repressed sexual abuse memories, in-cluding pre-menstrual syndrome, asthma, migraines, in-somnia, vague bodily pains, or even nose-picking. The book is loaded with "Christian" advice. The Littauers suggest keeping a "prayer journal," for instance: "In it, each day, write out to God your pleading to find the truth of your past, no matter how painful it may be. Write out your prayers, word for word, just as though you were writing a letter to God, asking Him to come and help you."

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