It wasn’t until I escaped from Gordon on May 3, 1996, and spent many years making sense of what I endured, that I realized why God put me in the worst possible situation. He did so to make me the strong person I am today, so that I could help other women to escape their abusers and also have the chance to start their lives over.
I assumed it would be easy. I thought I could just wake up one morning and say, “Today is the first day of the rest of my life. Today I’m starting over.” I didn’t realize all of the difficulties that life presents us on a daily basis, and that starting over isn’t something that we do once in a lifetime; it’s something we do on a continuous basis, by learning from our mistakes, until we eventually become the people we will be.
I had considered the possibility of telling my story in a new book. But I was embarrassed and frightened of sharing my true story with the world. I had no self-esteem or sense of self-worth. I couldn’t believe I let someone take away my dignity and go against my beliefs, while my family was out there, creating beautiful, legendary music, and making the world a better place to live. And I did not think people would believe my story or relate to it. I was the subject of sensational tabloid reports and late night jokes for too many years to want to open myself up to ridicule once again. Also, Gordon had threatened me for so long about what would happen if I told anyone what he did to me behind closed doors that I was still terrified he might find a way to harm me, or my family.
For the longest time, I did not understand that abuse is a universal horror that happens to women of every race, religion and social class. Because I was ashamed that I let it happen to me, I tried to pretend it didn’t. And then, on March 4, 2003, I was an invited guest on Larry King Live after a self-imposed seven-year hiatus from the spotlight in America. During our conversation, Larry made a comment that I will never forget. It all began with a question about Gordon, which I did my best to circumvent.
“I really don’t wish to talk about it, Larry, because it’s negative energy, and I don’t like it,” I said.
“But you’ve come so far,” King said. “I promised I wouldn’t speak about this because it brings such negativity that I don’t wish to go through again,” I said.
While that negative energy line had worked on everyone else, it didn’t work for Mr. Larry King, who I’ve always admired for his ability to dig beneath the surface of a subject. “But people appreciate more how you’re doing when they know what you’ve been through,” he said.
His words got through to me in a way that nothing else had. I did not want to cry on national television, so I did not admit how much his statement had moved me. But it literally changed my life. That was the instant I realized I was going to help other women in the same situation that I had faced in my past.
I was further inspired when I began receiving countless letters following a sit- down interview I did on 20/20 on January 21, 2005, which contained a detailed discussion of my abuse. Women began walking up to me, wherever I was, to congratulate me for getting away and then they would tell me their own stories. The courage these women showed in opening their hearts to me, and the similarity of our stories, made me feel more comfortable about sharing my story. I started realizing, for the first time, that I wasn’t alone, and that this is a major problem that needs to be addressed to the world. But I still didn’t feel that I was the one to take on the subject.
And then, one day in 2007, I was at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills when a dignified, impeccably dressed woman approached me. I could hardly believe it when she pulled me into a dressing room and spent the next hour crying, shaking, and telling me her own story of domestic abuse, as a concerned sales lady knocked on the dressing room door.
“Ms. Jackson, are you okay?” the sales woman asked me again and again. “Yes, I’m okay,” I reassured her every time she asked. As I said the words, I actually realized I was okay. Even more than that, I had
grown strong from everything I had been through, and now had the experience, knowledge and power to help others.
Other women seemed to want me to help, too. The one universal comment I heard again and