Today PennCAC is meeting Erica Goodson for the first time via Zoom video chat. Erica joins us from her home in Ohio, where she lives with her fiancée, their children, and a cat called Plexus (named after the colors of the solar plexus chakra). Erica woke up early to make sure she didn’t miss the call but would typically still be sleeping at 9 a.m. She works a second shift job as a CNA at a state-run residential care home where she supports individuals challenged by mental illness, intellectual or developmental disabilities, substance abuse disorders, or who have been previously incarcerated. It’s a tough job. “Some of the residents have been victimized or in foster care, and a lot of them don’t have any family,” she explains. As we learn over the course of our hour-long conversation, that could describe Erica, too.
On the living room wall in the background hangs a framed quote: Home is where the heart is. Cliché? Not for a survivor of child sexual abuse like Erica. Now in her thirties, having a home of her own where she feels safe and loved is a big deal.
As a young girl and then as a teenager, Erica tried to avoid being at home. Instead of returning after school, she would spend time at a friend’s house. For Erica, home was where she was repeatedly victimized for most of her childhood, beginning when she was seven years old. Erica never felt safe enough to tell an adult what was happening. At the age of 14 she became pregnant as a result of the abuse, and then she blamed herself for not telling. “I felt like it was my fault,” she shares. “I felt that if I had said something sooner I wouldn’t have been pregnant. I wish more people had said to me it’s not your fault and you’re not alone…I could have felt more supported.”
I wish more people had said to me “It’s not your fault” and “You’re not alone.”
When her pregnancy exposed the truth about what she had suffered, Erica was removed from the home and placed in foster care. “I went into foster care with just the clothes on my back,” recalls Erica. When her son was born, Erica was told there was no foster situation available for the baby and so she had to give him up for adoption. For the next few years Erica moved between placements and programs before graduating from high school and entering Job Corps, which made it possible for her to get a driver’s license, attend college, and get her CNA license. Despite some personal setbacks that now she can see were caused by the trauma of her past, Erica persisted. “A lot of people who have been abused are afraid to step out their door, but I wasn’t going to let that control my life. I wanted to finish school, have a family, and I couldn’t let the abuse hold me back.”
Finding a good therapist was crucial to Erica’s long-term healing. After she was placed in foster care, Erica began seeing a counselor through Safe Haven. Over the years, Erica has been in several therapy settings, but it’s that first connection that she has found to be the most helpful. In fact, as an adult Erica returned to that Safe Haven counselor. “I’ve known her twenty years now,” says Erica, who still talks with her counselor informally every few weeks on the phone. “We’ve built a friendship. We can talk about anything. If I have flashbacks, I can text her anytime and she’ll get back to me and ask if I’m doing okay.”
To other survivors, Erica stresses how important it is to find someone who can provide the day-to-day support. “It’s okay to talk to somebody, no matter how old you are. You don’t have to tell about your life story if you don’t want to; just find someone who can listen and be there for you.” Today, Erica shares her story with others to inspire and encourage fellow survivors. She has spoken about her experience at Jane Doe No More and Take Back the Night events. “The first time I told my story in public,” recalls Erica, “I was so nervous, it felt like a chilly wind hitting my chest.” But after she spoke, “I was so excited and ready to do it again.” Knowing that she can make a difference for someone else means a lot to Erica. “Just for them to hear your story can make somebody feel better. For them to see you’re still walking around with your head held high.”
Just for them to hear your story…to see you’re still walking around with your head held high.
For Erica, so much has healed—and some has not. That’s the hard reality of living as a survivor of child sexual abuse. “Some things I’ll never forget,” says Erica. In addition to traumatic memories, Erica lives with unanswered questions.
One of those questions is what happened to the son she wasn’t able to keep. “Knowing that I have a child out there in the world is hard,” shares Erica. “You want to know who he grew up and became and you hope one day he’ll find me and we’ll reunite.” But Erica worries how her son might react to learning about the abuse. “Would I just come out and tell him this is what happened, this is why I couldn’t have you?” In all the imagined conversations with her son, though, Erica is certain about one thing: “If I saw him now, I’d let him know I’ve always thought about him, I’ve always loved him.”
Another conversation that Erica wonders if she’ll ever have is with her mother. “My mom must have been aware of the abuse while it was happening. I was giving her signs—telling her it hurts down there, never wanting to go home. She didn’t get it. That’s frustrating to me now, thinking about how my mom didn’t protect me. I’ve learned to accept it, but if I could just hear her say I’m sorry then she wouldn’t need to say anything else.” Instead of feeling angry and resentful, Erica tries to use her experience to become a better mom herself. “It makes me want to be the kind of parent my mom wasn’t to me. My mom left me alone a lot, and I lost a lot of my childhood.” Now, Erica enjoys the house full of children that she and her fiancée are raising together, including an 18-month-old full of energy and curiosity. “I just want to spend time with my daughter and be playful with her,” says Erica.
I lost a lot of my childhood…I just want to spend time with my children and be playful.
Overcoming the trauma associated with her lost childhood has allowed Erica to create a different kind of home for herself and her family—one that makes her smile when she reads that framed quote on the living room wall. Sometimes the smallest victories are the biggest. “I used to drive by my childhood home and it would give me flashbacks, but now I can drive by and be fine. I never want to walk into that house again, but I can drive by.” For Erica, that’s enough.