Mike Johnson quickly became a fan favorite when he appeared on The Bachelorette last year with his megawatt smile and easygoing attitude — but, as he reveals in his debut book, Making the Love You Want, he has struggled with a painful past of sexual assault, self-doubt and depression.
In the book's introduction, Johnson describes being sexually assaulted by his babysitter while his family was living in Germany when he was five years old. "My memories of fighting her off me and exploding out the front door to get away are still vivid," he writes. "Although I knew that what happened to me should never happen to any child, I couldn't help but think something was wrong with me."
Johnson, 32, tells PEOPLE he decided to open up about the incident to help others struggling with insecurities and depression, as he did in the wake of the terrifying ordeal.
"My book teaches people how to stand up in their power, and for me to help others, I practice what I preach and be authentic and let people know what I've been through,” he says. "When you can connect with the author of one of your favorite books, it can make you feel so much better."
Johnson says he didn't talk about the incident for years — his pain, instead, would reveal itself in fights, petty theft and an attitude problem.
The Air Force veteran didn't tell his mom about it until he began writing Making the Love You Want. "I knew she would feel as if she was wrong, and I don't want her to ever feel that way because there's nothing she could have done," he says. "I wanted to protect her."
Speaking with friends about the incident and his emotions has also helped, Johnson says. "When you talk about it, you gain strength," he explains. "It was comforting … after those deep, vulnerable conversations, you'd be surprised how much your bond grows."
Making the Love You Want, out Friday, is part memoir, part self-help roadmap where Johnson guides readers on how to cultivate and maintain self-love for a happier, healthier life.
Johnson wrote the book over the course of six months last year, often waking up in the middle of the night to jot down thoughts and working with the occasional glass of wine. "I was able to be more vulnerable because if I thought the world was asleep, no one would hear my thoughts," he recalls.
That transparency, he hopes, will help him connect with fans on a deeper level.
"I'm so much more than an individual who was on a TV show to find love, or a smile," he says. "I lived a life before and after the show, and I hope this book will give a great insight into who I am."
If you suspect child abuse, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453, or go to www.childhelp.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual abuse, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.
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