“Sometimes, we just need to put it out there, to let others know we need them. We don’t always have to “appear” strong”
So much of my life is still impacted from the events experienced in my teenage years. I experience self-doubt, and I use my support mechanisms which include family and friends. I need to be okay that this is happening vs trying to fight it, and then be upset with myself thinking that everything should be fine now, since I have such a good life. I try to fool myself, thinking I am a better or stronger person because of it and that I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my past. While true, this comes in both positive and challenging ways. I see it rear its ugly head in self doubt, low self esteem, and anxiety/panic attacks.
I was a victim of abuse by my father from 11-15 years old. The abuse was in the form of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. During most of this time, I had to keep this to myself as there was a stigma- being Catholic and living in a more wealthy community at that time. My mother was aware of the physical and emotional abuse and initially attempted to help and protect me. This changed, however, when I shared with her the sexual situations that were occurring. This created further isolation and additional emotional stress.
My parents made me change schools and, initially, social workers attempted to bridge our family back together. My sisters and I were promised “privileges” if we lied, and the social workers went away. The situation of abuse escalated and I was placed in a Catholic retreat center. During this time, I found some peace and started to find myself again. I returned to my parents’ house again. Shortly after, I was fortunate to have a police officer befriend me.
After an episode of abuse, I started a plan to leave my family home. This was terrifying, as my father had always told me how much worse it would be somewhere else. I would be leaving the world I knew- my brothers and sisters and my mom who I loved so much. When I was 15, I was picked up from school and placed in protective custody, while my father was arrested.
I was extremely fortunate to be placed in an emergency home with an amazing foster family. They shared their clothes and opened their home to me. On Monday, I was driven to a juvenile detention center, where I stayed all day. Close to the end of the day, they came to me and told me that the family I had stayed with had contacted people they knew and with Family Service’s approval, I went to live with them. I also started therapy at this time. The family I lived with was extremely supportive and caring. Within 3 months of living with them, I suffered an optic neuritis and lost my vision. I was so scared. I was too afraid to tell the family because I didn’t know what would happen to me. I have been blessed with amazing friends throughout my life. My friends informed the family what was happening. My foster parents came to me, took me to doctors, and I was hospitalized for one week.
I had been in a very strict environment when living with my biological family (including locks on the phones, change of schools to an all-girl Catholic school, no social activities). I felt I was not good enough for my foster family. Self doubt reared its ugly head, yet again, and I found myself wanting to be on my own, at age 17. I emancipated myself, got an apartment with a friend, and completed high school. You can imagine the kind apartment and the area of an apartment you can get at age 17! Additionally, I encountered roommates who were involved in drugs and one that attempted suicide. Again, I was fortunate to have a family that assisted me in getting the friend the help she needed and encouraged me to live with them until I completed college.
As I graduated high school, I saw opportunities for college. Many organizations and schools offered me financial assistance to attend. After a false start, I began my education in nursing. I completed my RN and was awarded the leadership award by my graduating classmates. Upon graduating, I married my high school sweetheart (and someone I was dating during the time my father was abusing me), which ended in a failed marriage. He was having a relationship with another woman. I think I was wanting someone to love me, but I realized I needed to find myself before I could find anyone else. I attended therapy to help me through this situation.
I started to focus on myself and my career. During this time, I was successful, and remain successful, but still have times of self-doubt. I remember once at work, during a national meeting, I had to google a baby picture to turn in. I didn’t want the stigma or the people to know that I was a victim of childhood abuse, so I chose to remain silent about that aspect of my life. Later on in life, I met a person who supported and encouraged me. We have been married for 29 years. We have two amazing daughters and remain a very close family, which includes my husband’s family.
When my oldest daughter got married and our younger one went to college (empty nest), I started experiencing panic attacks. I again had to go through self-help, self-identity, and lean on my family and friends for support- and they were always there.
Throughout this journey, I was fortunate to have God place great people before me in the form of family and friends when I needed them most. Sometimes, we just need to put it out there, to let others know we need them. We don’t always have to “appear” strong. When they say it is a marathon, not a sprint, that is so true. We have to keep looking inside ourselves, refine ourselves and become that better person. It is okay and even good to lean on family and friends, along with prayer, to reach these goals.\
My daughter encouraged me to reconnect with my foster family 5 years ago. My daughter’s wisdom is beyond her years. She asked me why I didn’t stay in contact with them if it had been such a positive experience and I loved them. I was honest that I felt I had not been a “good” person at that time without any clear reason. I could see my self-doubt. It made me feel stronger to reach out to them, and wow, what an amazing experience. We remain connected today.
My relationship with my sisters and brothers remains fragmented. I have a strong relationship with one sister, but we have agreed to not discuss the past as she was 5 at the time I left and did not experience any of the abuse that I experienced. My father passed away from liver cirrhosis and I had always hoped that my mother and I would reconcile. This never occurred as she has since passed. This has been hard, as I felt I never received the closure from the abuse.
I am blessed with my marriage of 29 years and our two beautiful, intelligent daughters. Family is extremely important. We need to be there for each other and want the best for each other.
I am duly blessed with the support of great friends and especially strong women who are very dedicated to their families and to the community. I also utilize amazing self-help books and resources available.
I do believe in reinventing yourself and to constantly work on bettering yourself spiritually, intellectually and emotionally. I know that situations and experiences will bring self-doubt and have me question myself, but I need to lean on myself, family, friends and the resources that are there for me. It is not a one and done, but a lifelong journey.