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I can’t remember a time when violence and trauma weren’t part of my life. I never knew my father, and I found out recently that I was conceived when he raped my mother. My own father broke my heart prior to any other man.
When I was just 5 years old, I watched my late stepdad put a gun to my sister’s head and tell my mother that if she left him he would blow my sister’s brains out. My stepdad would shoot the TV, shoot the tires, shoot our animals. My own brother molested me. To me, dysfunction was normal.
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I wanted out, so I left home at age 14 and dropped out of school the first week of ninth grade. By 15, I was emancipated and married. I was in an unhealthy relationship, but I thought this is was what love was. My husband thought he could have sex with me whenever he wanted after we married. It was more of an ownership than a healthy relationship.
An older friend of my husband had just gotten out of prison and he gave me a tattoo of a rose, then signed his name and the year below it. When my husband was downstairs, this man forced himself on me and proceeded to rape me over the bathroom sink. Afterwards, he went downstairs and told my husband I was going to have his baby. My husband didn't even respond, let alone take me out of that situation. That day I felt as if a part of me died and no man would ever protect me. I felt as if my perpetrator had branded me for life. I was so scared and I felt so unsafe. I was 15 and unsure how to process any of this, so I kept it inside and never spoke of it.
I left my husband before my son James was born. I was 16. I felt lost and alone. My late stepdad said I couldn’t come back home. I don’t blame my mom for not standing up to him—she didn’t know how to get out of that relationship. (Eventually she did, and she’s been married to an amazing man for 15 years.)
I was drifting—sleeping on couches, getting government assistance and visiting food pantries. There were so many resources I didn’t take advantage of. I pushed good men away and went to the ones who wanted to have ownership of me.
My next partner tried to stab me with a screwdriver and I needed 44 stitches in my leg. He ran off the road with the baby in the car. We traveled from our home in Missouri to Las Vegas and he stranded me there. I worked as a dancer and my partner took all my money. I was the girl who didn’t talk about it. If I went to work with bruises and my manager asked, I would quit my job. I made all the excuses for him that were possible.
I was living in denial since he contaminated my thought processes. No matter what he did, I didn’t leave. I thought I could fix him. When he would say, “I’m going to slice your throat if you leave me. Nobody loves you like I do,” I would think, “Oh, this guy loves me more than anyone in the world.”
I began self-medicating with alcohol—alcohol was one thing that loved me no matter what. I got several DWIs. Trauma and abuse were all I had been exposed to so that was normalcy for me.
That relationship eventually ended and I got involved with another abusive man. Looking back now I can see the patterns. I had no healthy relationships. I thought I was not deserving of healthy relationships. What resonates is how broken I really was.
Outsiders think you can just leave, but they don’t understand that leaving can be the most dangerous thing. You never know when you’re in a relationship with an active, abusive, toxic person what to expect. You’re walking on eggshells. You have no time to focus, reflect or rebuild. You’re in fight-or-flight mode all the time. People always ask, “Why do you stay?” but what they really should be asking is, “How do you reclaim your life?”
Learning to Love Myself
I thought, “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I be in a healthy relationship?” At some point I recognized that I was raising three men—my sons James, now 22; Tyler, 16; and Dylan, 10, and I couldn’t give my perpetrators that power over me anymore. I went to counseling. I had to give up alcohol. I knew if I kept going down that road I would be murdered or in prison or not emotionally there for my kids.
What I saw through my whole childhood was that love means you have to stay. That’s love. No matter what. I had to learn to love myself again. That was the game changer.
I set a goal—to get my high school diploma before my oldest son graduated in 2014—and I achieved it. That was my turning point. It was such a good feeling because I had always been told I wasn’t good enough or smart enough. I thrived from there. I went to college and got a lot of support from my professors that I didn’t get from my home life. I set simple goals—not big ones—but I was going in the right direction. It made me realize my self-worth.
I went to Utah to the Haven Retreat, a retreat for female survivors of childhood sexual abuse. I was scared—I didn’t want to relive my past—but those four days changed my perspective on myself. Sometimes it takes people treating you well for you to remember who you are and what you deserve.
A future with Promise for Myself and My Sons
I didn’t date for a year. I just focused on myself and learned to love myself. I didn’t think I had the right to have boundaries, but now I have healthy boundaries. I realized that if I deprive myself of a loving and healthy relationship and my children of a stepfather I’m just letting my perpetrators have all that power. I deserve love and respect and I know that’s possible.
I thank God every day that I can choose the relationships I’m in. I’m in a relationship now—we’ve known each other for a couple of years and we’re taking it slow. That’s the healthy thing to do. My studies and my kids are my priority.
I’m working on my applied behavioral science degree. I was going to study business but when I took classes in human services, and I heard stories about individuals subjected to trauma, it changed my life. I knew I could help other people. I wanted to be a life coach because I know what it’s like to lose your identity and self-esteem.
Everything I’ve been through has made me a better person. In my business, Push Forward Coaching, I specialize in helping individuals who were exposed to trauma reshape their identity. I’ve lived it, so I know what it’s like to be in a dark place. I can empower others while giving them hope.
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