Annette Anderson's journey from secrecy to truth-telling is at the core of best-selling author Gregg Olsen's upcoming book, A Twisted Faith: A Minister's Obsession and the Murder that Destroyed a Church.
Guest Blogger Annette Anderson: All my life I've been a secret keeper; one who's been able to keep the confidence of others, a "steel trap," as some have told me. My personal policy of in-my-ear, never-out-of-my-mouth long led me to carry the burdens of others without much consideration. Throughout my childhood, my own mother would use me as her sounding board over late-night dinners, on subject matters that were far over my head. We all crave one who can listen to our problems, and carry our burdens, so I've been told.
Early next year, a new book by Gregg Olsen, A Twisted Faith: A Minister's Obsession and the Murder that Destroyed a Church (St. Martin's Press, April 2010), and a national TV show will reveal my secrets. At least some of them. My husband Craig and I have lived with this secret for a decade now. Without Craig's support, his belief in the importance of telling the truth, I'd never be free.
My story involves a minister named Nick Hacheney and his sick need to control, manipulate, and use women.
When Nick asked me to keep his secrets, I didn't hesitate to agree. It didn't seem difficult; I cared about him, after all. To suspect that my beloved pastor was grooming me as a pawn for his twisted purposes never occurred to me. I trusted him with my own secrets. My faith was simple and pure. I wanted God and all of the goodness that He had to offer me. As my pastor described to me the high esteem God held him in, that he'd been chosen since birth to carry out great plans as an incarnation of King David himself, this only served to solidify my hope that God must love me too, to bring someone so special into my life and that of my family. I soaked up every word, listening, trusting, feeling promising emotion, like a fire being stoked within me.
When Nick likened himself to an angel sent to help me, I'd been prepared to believe. A critical thought barely formed in my mind: "An angel? An actual, real heavenly angel??" I asked. "Shhhhh, don't question me, I can't answer; trust me, trust God," he'd say. "God wants your heart, not your head; just believe." Incredible as it was, this was not difficult for me to accept, as I knew I tended to overanalyze things. Autonomous rationale was never tolerated in our little church, and it had been a struggle of mine that I'd worked hard to overcome. Reckless trust with abandon was held in high regard, as a true faith that was pleasing to God. There was no room for doubt to get where we were going, though I was never sure exactly where that was.
He, of all people, deserves to know the truth, I thought to myself, as I tried in vain to muster up the courage to open my mouth. If my husband knew that I'd had sex with my pastor, he might even understand; after all, he'd been a participant in our self-sacrificial-all-or-nothing church doctrine just as much as I had.
Part of my dilemma was that a mere self-confession wouldn't suffice; I'd have to give Craig enough contextual information to understand the full story. I'd have to tell him about the other women, how they'd been coerced into a sexual relationship with Nick too. Of course I had no idea how many women Nick had manipulated for sex, or that the widowhood that he'd asked me to comfort him through was a result of his own hand. Yet the facts that I knew gave me enough pieces of a terrible puzzle to form some clarity of thought, and to be certain that something extraordinarily perverse had occurred within our church community.
Fear gripped me. I wasn't sure that Craig would actually get it at all. I barely had a grasp on the series of torrid events that caused me to spiral downward, to the point of near suicide myself. I didn't want to risk the tenuous hope that I held for our fresh start in the new town we'd just moved our family to. I wasn't sure that I could survive reliving my nightmare at all; the strength it would require for me to articulate my story taunted me from a distance. A tape still played within my mind: it was Nick's voice telling me how selfish I'd be to burden Craig with our secrets. "I've never believed that a couple should tell each other everything. It's selfish," he'd say. "Besides, this is our special secret, and always will be. It's a good memory, little lamb." The recollection of his words made my stomach turn.
Though I no longer believed Nick's lies, I couldn't be sure that telling the whole truth would serve any real purpose. But it just never felt right to hear Craig's nostalgia, or to accept his gifts and recognition for what a good wife and mom I was, with the secrets that I held. I couldn't live this lie -- and so I opened my mouth. I jumped in and told the truth; told Craig everything. I gave him not only my secrets, but the secrets of others as well. My internal conflict gave way to light where there'd been such darkness. The bond of betrayal was broken, and the consequences were completely out of my grasp. Craig was so mad, so hurt, I wasn't sure we would survive the horrible aftermath. Yet, somehow I knew it was right to tell, and that Craig would find the strength to pull through, just as I had.
Secrets like mine had to be told in order for all of us to move on. I wonder how many women out there hold a secret like mine so deep inside, feeling the fear that I felt. I wonder if any will tell their secrets now.