Auntie Anne’s Founder on Her Struggle with Sexual Abuse (Part 2)
The jarring story behind the booming company
Break the silence; find your voice.
You are reading part two of Beiler’s story. Read part one here.
Upon the death of her daughter and estrangement from her husband, Auntie Anne’s founder Anne Beiler was broken and bewildered. Desperate to find a path through her pain, she turned to her faith leader for counsel.
“Five months after Angie was killed, I went to talk with my pastor,” she explains. “I couldn’t talk with my husband anymore. We were disconnected in spirit, in body, in soul.”
As she unburdened her heart to this man, the newfound solace was palpable. For the first time in months, she could breathe.
“I felt relief to be able to tell someone how I really felt,” she recalls.
But that refuge was a mirage that vanished as quickly as it came. “Before I left his office, he took advantage of me,” she admits.
Abuse of Power
Stunned, shocked and ashamed that she had somehow caused the abuse, Beiler vowed that she would never tell anyone what happened. When Pastors Prey, a book published by the World Council of Churches examining clergy abuse, explains that when abuse occurs at the hands of a trusted clergy member, victims are “unable to see themselves as victims and are often trapped in a combination of confusion, guilt, shame and self-blame.”
That was Beiler. “I thought I was to blame,” she reflects. “My pastor told me I was to blame.”
As the abuse continued, Beiler’s mental, physical and emotional health deteriorated. She wasn’t the mother she wanted to be, and her marriage to her husband was at greater risk than ever before. The pastor fed her lies convincing her that she was guilty of adultery. “I didn’t know anything about abuse. I thought I was having an affair, that’s what I truly believed,” she explains.
Beiler was dying and taking her family down with her. Finally, after shrinking to 92 pounds, she sank to her knees before bed one night and cried out to God.
“Every time you come to Him, He will forgive you,” she testifies. Her life, she believed, was counting on it.
The Power of Words
As she cried out to God, Beiler began to hear her internal screams more clearly. She began journaling, and what her own words revealed stunned her. “I began to write my feelings down, and it shocked me,” she admits. “Where did all these feelings come from?”
Her final act of honesty was the hardest: telling her husband what had been going on for the past six years. “It was sheer courage and obedience to what I knew God wanted me to do,” she reflects.
Beiler was eager to be free of the secrets she carried but convinced that her husband would want a divorce. But confession, as she explains, “isn’t about predicting an outcome, it’s about freeing yourself.”
Within the congregation, rumors about the pastor were swirling around. Beiler started there. “When I finally told my husband, the weight of the world was lifted,” she claims. “I simply said, ‘Hon, you’ve heard about the pastor and all the women?’ He didn’t say anything, so I said. ‘Well, I’m one of those women.’”
After apologizing, she turned and practically ran from her husband’s workplace. “I was so broken, I just knew he would tell me to leave,” she recalls.
The Power of Listening
But Jonas Beiler did not ask his wife to leave. Instead, he helped Anne get counseling, regain trust in herself and return in full to those she loved.
“When that counselor told me it was not my fault, that was the first time in years I started to believe it,” Beiler explains. “Abuse is not your fault. But the shame of it keeps us in a dark place.”
As an abuse survivor, Beiler offers encouragement to other women who have suffered from similar situations: “You have a voice. God gave you a voice. You are not to blame. And sexual abuse is not your fault.”
In time, the world would come to know Beiler as Auntie Anne. This business endeavor ultimately funded a community counseling center for those in need. Though Beiler sold the company in 2010, today the number of Auntie Anne’s worldwide stands at 1,800 according to Franchise Chatter.
Since then, Beiler has added “grandma” to her many titles. She travels the country speaking about the power of prayer and forgiveness and is committed to helping others who have suffered abuse to find the courage to speak out.
“It’s up to me to break the silence. At any cost, almost, we must break the silence. Even if it means that someone may take our story and use it against us, that’s our greatest fear. But I am saying that … you must free yourself. The years of secrets debilitate us and shame us,” she declares.
Beiler was fortunate to have her spouse to lean on. But people who don’t have that resource shouldn’t feel silenced. Beiler insists: “Find a dear friend, maybe a grandma, someone’s mother who is caring — just call them and say ‘I really need to unload.’ And the listener needs to learn how to listen. We leap to pray for one another, but we need to listen to one another, too. Every bit of struggle that I experienced led me to complete freedom, complete redemption,” Beiler says. “Out of our pain, our purpose is born. Instead of thinking ‘Life is good, God is harsh,’ I now believe that life (can be) hard, but God is good. I am not confused about that anymore.”
Everyone has a story to tell and Lisa Renze, a writer living in Indianapolis, believes if we just listen, we all have something to learn from one another. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRenze.