First For Women

“Never underestim­ate the power of love”

After enduring years of horrific sexual abuse and psychologi­cal torture as a child, Michelle Stevens, 48, battled mental illness so severe, most therapists deemed her a lost cause—until the kindness of one special counselor changed everything


Crouched on the floor in a mental hospital, wedged between the bed and the wall, Michelle Stevens curled up into a ball of terror and rocked back and forth, back and forth. She had fallen into a pit of despair so deep, she could barely bring herself to even look up when a stranger entered her room. “Hello, I’m Leah,” the woman said softly. “I want to help you.” Where’s my usual therapist? Michelle’s mind screamed. He committed me for swallowing a bottle of pills but now he doesn’t care enough to show up! She averted her gaze and went back to rocking. This lady was wasting her time.

Michelle trusted no one…6 therapists over 15 years and every single one had failed her. No one could rescue her from this hell. No one could help her feel loved or safe. Still, Leah came and sat on the bed and took Michelle’s hand. And with that simple, compassion­ate touch, Michelle felt a spark of hope for the very first time.

A childhood of horror

Michelle will forever be able to pinpoint the exact moment that marked

the end of her innocence. She was 8 years old and had spent a weekend alone at her mother’s new boyfriend’s house. His name was Gary Lundquist, a respected elementary school teacher who’d claimed he wanted to “get to know” Michelle better. “We spent time looking at photos of schoolchil­dren— he had Polaroids of his ‘special’ kids,” describes Michelle. That evening, Michelle had put on her favorite pink nightgown, crawled into bed and Gary had taken two Polaroids—one for him and one for her. “I still have mine to this day,” she says. “It was the last moment of my life when I didn’t know there were monsters in the world.”

For the next 6 years, Gary sexually abused, tortured, brainwashe­d and sold Michelle to other men. “He threatened to kill me or take me from my mother, so I told no one,” Michelle states. At one point, Michelle’s mother had discovered pornograph­ic photos Gary had taken of Michelle, but did nothing. “My mother was in denial— a lot of it was financiall­y driven since she was a single mom…it was more convenient to believe him than me,” she recalls. “My teachers also ignored the signs, fearing they’d be accused. And any friends I made, Gary molested them too.” So Michelle had harbored unimaginab­le pain and fear completely on her own.

“You may wonder how a child could silently endure such hell, but nothing goes through your mind except terror and survival,” Michelle explains. “You pretend it’s not happening. When there’s something we can’t deal with, we go into a state of disassocia­ting, where we stop feeling—and that’s what I did. It was actually a blessing.” Throughout this terrible time to help herself cope with repeated trauma, Michelle developed multiple personalit­ies. The first personalit­y formed the night Gary began the abuse, when a voice of another little girl whispered, ‘It’s going to be okay.’ Over time, Michelle’s mind suppressed all memory of the abuse.

Once Michelle reached her teens, she was no longer of use to Gary, who preyed only on young children. At 17, Michelle had finally left home and gone off to college, but she was plagued with anxiety, PTSD, depression and suicidal tendencies, which led to an intentiona­l overdose a year later. “The pain was really from a lack of love,” she states. “My parents didn’t love me. I had never known love. I had no one.”

After recovering from her first suicide attempt as a teenager, Michelle worked with therapists well into her 20s, but each one had seemed unplugged or uncaring or they prescribed meds with brutal side effects.

 ??  ?? Michelle Stevens, Ph.D. Leah Matson, Ph.D.
Michelle Stevens, Ph.D. Leah Matson, Ph.D.
 ??  ?? Polaroid of Michelle when she was 8 years old, taken moments before her sexual abuse began
Polaroid of Michelle when she was 8 years old, taken moments before her sexual abuse began

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