Madelene Sagstrom has been on a journey of healing and self-discovery for the last five years. She took another step down that path on Monday when she shared on social media her first on-camera interview in which she discussed being sexually abused as a child. The video was produced by the LPGA as part of their Drive On initiative.
For 16 years, Sagstrom held the secret. She didn’t tell anyone. And it ate away at her inside.
“I really did not like who I was,” Sagstrom said in the video. “I couldn’t even put body lotion on my legs because I hated my body so much due to what somebody else did to me.”
Sagstrom grew up in Enkoping, Sweden. One day, as a 7-year-old girl, she visited the home of a male family friend. She often made the trip with her brother, but that day she went alone. It was during that visit that Sagstrom was sexually abused. She remembers the abuse happening on that one occasion, but she tried to push it out of her mind and dismissed it as not a big deal. Others have experienced far worse, she’d tell herself. She threw herself into golf. She tied her self-worth to her performance on the golf course.
“Golf turned into this thing that absorbed all my energy,” Sagstrom explained. “When I played good golf, I was a good person.”
But as Sagstrom worked with her coach and mentor, PGA and European tour player Robert Karlsson, to manage her emotions on the golf course, he prodded her to search for the deeper underlying reason for her emotional outbursts.
“I had this thing come up in my mind. I was like, I don’t think that’s important. Let’s just put that on the side,” Sagstrom said when she thought about the abuse. “But it kept coming up. It kept coming up. And I was like, maybe there is something there. Maybe I should tell him.”
In a hotel room in Greenwood, South Carolina, in 2016, Sagstrom shared the secret with Karlsson. The tears that followed and the emotional release she felt, unburdened her for the first time in more than a decade.
“I could see it was a relief for her to talk about it,” Karlsson said in the video Sagstrom shared on social media. “It was a strong emotional thing for me that she trusted me.”
In 2017, Sagstrom publicly shared her story for the first time. She participated in a campaign in Sweden, “Inte ensam, aldrig glömd,” which translates to “Not alone, never forgotten.” As part of the campaign, Sagstrom revealed on Facebook the abuse she endured, the pain she suffered and her path towards healing. First and foremost, Sagstrom hoped the message would serve as a comfort to anyone, who like her, had lived with the secret of sexual abuse. She wanted them to know they are not alone. Sagstrom says as much at the end of her recent social media video, which includes a phone number for a sexual-assault hotline.
That message was the driving force behind Sagstrom sitting down with me for her first on-camera interview about the abuse, which was used in the video she shared on social media.
It was January 2020. Sagstrom had just won for the first time on the LPGA Tour at the Gainbridge LPGA and she was eager to use her platform to help others. Following her victory, Sagstrom wrote a letter to her younger self and shared it on Instagram. The letter was profoundly insightful and touching. The letter opened the door, just a crack, into Sagstrom’s personal discovery over the past four years.
“I know it’s easier for you to be hard on yourself, to doubt yourself and not think you’re good enough,” Sagstrom wrote on Instagram. “Please little girl, be nice to yourself. You’re so much greater than you can ever imagine right now. You’re so worthy and perfect just the way you are.”
It was shortly after Sagstrom posted that letter on Instagram that I first learned of her revelation on Facebook in 2017. I approached Sagstrom about sharing her letter to herself as a video. Then, I delicately proposed the idea of sharing her underlying story of sexual abuse. Sagstrom was ready.
That first meeting was more than a year ago. The past 12 months have continued to be a time of discovery for the 28-year-old as we worked together to share her story. We sat down for her formal video interview in October 2020.
“It’s an emotional experience. Every time I talk about it, it becomes less hard,” Sagstrom said about her growth over the last year. “Every day I go out and own my story, and my history, and who I am, I’m growing.”
Sunday afternoon, Sagstrom took another big step. The day before her story was shared with the world, she met with the media. Via Zoom, she recounted her journey and answered questions with profound insight, evidenced by the work she’s put in during her five-year journey towards healing. While there’s no way she can fully prepare for the media attention her story will garner, she’s braced herself the best she knows how for whatever comes next.
“I’m definitely ready for it,” Sagstrom said about sharing her story. “I’m ready to get a label and break out of that label because I am so much more than just this story.”
Sagstrom acknowledges that she has good days and bad days. She’s not completely healed, but she’s come a long way in coping with the sexual abuse she endured 21 years ago. And, she hopes whoever watches her story will know that they too can begin their own journey towards healing. One step at a time.
“What I want to share with people are the steps I’ve done afterwards. It’s the decisions I’ve made to grow,” Sagstrom said. “I hope people can see my story as an inspiration to work through whatever you’re going through.”