Woman shares painful story to help others (Video)

Jennifer Lee Preyss By Jennifer Lee Preyss

May 31, 2013 at 12:31 a.m.
Updated June 1, 2013 at 1:01 a.m.

A tattoo on Stacy Killian's arm reads "I am strong, I am brave, I am beautiful, I am loved." Killian is currently working to help women who have experienced sexual abuse like she has through her Christian faith.

A tattoo on Stacy Killian's arm reads "I am strong, I am brave, I am beautiful, I am loved." Killian is currently working to help women who have experienced sexual abuse like she has through her Christian faith.   Angeli Wright for The Victoria Advocate

Tears streamed down Stacy Snapp Killian's cheeks as she held her husband's hand in a loose grip.

Her best friend, Laura Stehling, stood next to her in the circle, squeezing Stacy's other hand for comfort.

For a moment, the newly thin and brunette Stacy, opened her eyes to scan the faces of her children, Jadyn and Chase, who stood quietly in the prayer circle waiting for a cue.

Stacy's husband, Brett Killian, held his eyes closed. His demeanor was calm for a man who informed his family that morning he was leaving to start a new life with a woman he met on a dating website a year earlier.

His announcement came the day after Christmas.

The family's oversized tree twinkled in the corner of the living room.

Even so, Stacy, 40, wasn't ready to let go of the marriage or admit her family's perfect Christian, country-club image was a mirage.

Stehling asked the family to continue holding hands in the circle. Then she asked them to pray.

"I asked for God to restore their marriage or for Stacy to have the strength to move on without Brett," Stehling said.

The stay-at-home mom didn't know how she would survive without a husband, little money and an expired Arkansas cosmetology license.

But she knew God was near and wouldn't let her fail, even if she had to rebuild from scratch.

Three years ago, the day her husband left, she decided it was time come to terms with all the lies and move forward in the most honest way she knew how.

She realized if she wanted to get her life back, she would to have to let die the person she thought she was.

The surgery

After delivering her daughter, Jadyn, at Citizens Medical Center in 2001, Stacy's weight surged to almost 300 pounds.

Her husband said he thought Stacy was attractive at all sizes, even when she was large, but she wasn't comfortable with the amount of weight she was carrying as a 30-something mom.

"Stacy was always beautiful, and people have always been drawn to her," her husband said.

The Killians were new residents of Victoria. They moved to Texas from Arkansas when he was offered a high-paying job with Union Pacific Railroad. Stacy said she was excited to get married and quit her job as a hair stylist. She wanted to concentrate on raising her children and becoming the ideal stay-at-home wife and mother.

"I wanted that family. I never had it growing up. And for a while I just thought, 'I am living the life,'" she said. "It was my dream to move to big city and live how we were living. Victoria was the big city in my mind."

A few months after Jadyn was born, Stacy visited a Victoria physician, hoping to get a prescription for "speeders," or drugs that would reduce appetite and speed up weight loss.

Instead, she was referred for weight-loss surgery and by the end of the year, she had shed about half her goal weight.

The weight loss made her realize she was losing more than numbers on a scale. She was losing the fat layers that were serving as an emotional shield, protecting her from past hurts. She discovered she was eating and gaining weight to hide family secrets and prevent others from getting too close.

"I had begun the hardest transformation in my life," she said, her native Arkansas Southern drawl still present. "For the first time in my life, I had to carry my cross and own up to my past because I couldn't self-medicate with food anymore."

Stacy said she never understood she was a food addict until she could no longer binge when her emotions were out of control. And when she started examining why she was addicted to food, a dark secret surfaced.

"I couldn't figure out why I was so miserable and fake," she said. "I began to read the Bible and study the message of a man named Jesus Christ who died and rose again. I wanted to know what that was all about."

The more her body transformed, the more Stacy realized how broken her soul was.

The abuse revelation

About a year after the surgery, Stacy's exterior looked better than it had in more than a decade.

Emotionally, she was struggling. A recurring nightmare she experienced as a child and teenager, started again. A dream she describes as someone opening the door to her bedroom at night and lingering in the doorway. She was also becoming obsessed with household cleanliness, sometimes spending hours vacuuming one area of her living room carpet.

Stacy decided to seek therapy where she learned during a counseling session that she was suppressing a traumatic sexual molestation event from her childhood. A family member, she said, had forced her to perform sexual acts on him. She had been holding on to the fear and shame of the incident for more than 30 years.

While piecing together the sexual trauma from her childhood, she also admitted to her therapist for the first time that she had been raped by two men in her early 20s.

Growing up in a well-to-do Arkansas family of strict Southern Baptist orientation, Stacy said she learned the unspoken rules early in life: "You just didn't talk about that kind of thing. I wanted everyone to think I had it all together, and my glass house didn't have any cracks."

Growing in spiritual maturity and spending time working through the events with her counselor, she made a conscious decision to start talking about it, and praying about it and asking Jesus for healing.

She wrote in her journal about her thoughts and experiences daily. And slowly, Stacy's external transformation was sparking an internal and spiritual renewal.

The investment

For three weeks after her husband walked out on his family, Stacy mourned the loss of her marriage. She would not leave the house, and her best friend, Laura Stehling, visited daily to make sure she was showering and eating.

After the third week, Stehling informed Stacy she had a few more days to be sad, and then it was time to get up and look for a job.

"It was tough love," she said.

Stehling signed a check for $350 and gave it to her friend.

"I told her this isn't a loan, it's an investment. Go get your cosmetology license transferred to Texas and start building your life," Stehling said.

Stacy had been out of hair dressing for nearly a decade. She was out of practice and didn't think anyone would give her a job.

Trusting the Lord would take care of her situation, she drove to Hair Dimensions and applied for a job.

"The first time I drove up there, I was too scared they wouldn't hire me and I drove away," she said.

But she went back the next day and was hired at the salon.

Money was tight while she was relearning the salon business, and Stacy said she and her children lived on frozen pizza and Ramen noodles for about a year. Her first year's salary was about $17,000, she said.

"We didn't have anything at that time," she said. "I was just trying to do anything to take care of my family. You do what you have to do for your children."

By 2011, Stacy's bigger-than-life personality had charmed a loyal client base to the salon. Her confidence was building each day, and she started to believe in God's promises for her life.

"She is so successful because she gives all the praise to God," Stehling said. "I don't know a lot of people who do that like she does."

The last stage of Stacy's transformation came when she decided to change her hair color from brunette to platinum blond. A few months earlier, she posted a Sports Illustrated photo of a platinum blond model on her bathroom mirror. She looked at the photo every day and reminded herself that she was beautiful and her life had purpose.

"I needed to change my image of myself," she said. "I looked at that photo because I needed to see myself in a completely new way. Everything about my life was different. So I changed my hair."

Soon after she went blond, she joined Joe Friar's KVIC Morning Buzz radio show as relationship expert "Stacy K." She worked the morning show for about a year, then finished the work day at the salon.

Stacy was living each day by faith, believing God would continue to prosper her life.

"I've built my empire from nothing to what it is now. We are very comfortable, and we have a blessed life - praise Jesus," she said.

Reaching out

When Stacy went public about her sexual abuse two years ago, she was startled to learn that dozens of other women in South Texas shared similar stories of rape and sexual abuse.

Women began contacting her on Facebook with their stories, and Stacy felt led by God to show them how they can be restored in Christ. She wanted to convince them, as someone who makes women beautiful for a living, that they can be beautiful on the inside as well as the outside.

Today, Stacy is convinced she's on a divine mission to reach sexually abused women who need to hear her story about living a secret life, food addiction and surviving divorce and sexual abuse.

She said her restoration is due entirely to the Lord and his ability to strip away the past and chart a new course for her life. When she looks at the photos of herself at 285 pounds and pretending to be perfect, she said she doesn't even recognize herself anymore.

"I live by faith. I'm open and honest, and I'm not fake anymore about who I am. I do not know that woman in those photos. She doesn't exist anymore," Stacy said.

As Stehling said, "The only thing fake about Stacy today is that platinum blond hair."

Stacy and her ex-husband also have also found restoration. They've become friends and decided to forgive the past.

"I'm proud of Stacy. I think what she's doing is great, and I wish nothing but the best for her. I still consider her one of my best friends," Brett Killian said.

Stacy is in the beginning stages of writing a book about her faith journey, and she hopes to use her passion for public speaking to reach as many abused and hurting women as she can. Her desire is to bring them into a relationship with Christ, no matter where they are in their understanding of Christianity.

"I want them to know the message of God is love," Stacy said. "I want them to sit down and own their truth, so we can create a new you - one that's real. Because in the end, I promise you will truly come to know to God."

Editor's note: Parts of this story were re-created through interviews with Stacy and Brett Killian and Laura Stehling.



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