My story begins with a childhood that was filled with sexual abuse by multiple men. I can’t remember when it started, but I remember the feeling of fear associated with it as far back as my first year in school. I loved school. It was my safe place. I recognized early on that not only was school my sanctuary, but it was an environment where I excelled academically – I was good at it – and I viewed it as my ticket to freedom and safety. I was determined to work hard in an effort to be independent and self-sufficient – to be free and safe.
My second-grade teacher was the first person I almost told, but I didn’t. I was in fifth grade the first time I told my mom. She didn’t believe me. It was two more years before I had the courage to speak up a second time. By this time I was a teenager and afraid of getting pregnant. The hard truth I was faced with was that those who were responsible for protecting me would choose to protect my abuser instead. I was told to not speak of it to anyone.
When I turned 18, I left home in the middle of my senior year of high school and spent a decade in perpetual dysfunction. It is said that hurting people hurt people and I inflicted my share of pain on others as I launched into adulthood completely blinded by post-traumatic stress disorder. When I was 28, the despair of my past escalated to the point that I attempted suicide. Soon after that, I found out I was expecting my first child. This was the first in several turning points towards healing and moving forward. This child gave me something to live for.
In the years that followed, there would be difficult choices that would need to be made to get to a healthy place in life. I longed to give my children as dysfunction-free a childhood as possible. I’ve by no means been perfect in this regard, but with counseling and a supportive partner, my journey has taken a brighter path far from the dark one that life started me on. Part of that road to recovery for me included a return to my ‘safe place’ by going back to school. Within a ten-year period, I completed my bachelor’s degree, dual master’s degrees, and my doctorate degree. That child I once was, who was committed to doing what it took to be free and safe, succeeded. I also learned that while being independent and self-sufficient is good; it’s also important to have a community of people whom you can trust and count on.
Today I work in that profession that has been my refuge all these years, now as an educator at the college level. I strive to empower others with the knowledge and skills to achieve their goals. Usually, it’s associated with employment and economic advancement. I see it as creating opportunities to be financially independent; enabling others self-sufficiency while appreciating the tribe that surrounds us – to be free and safe.
This blog post was written by Charlene. Thank you, Charlene, for sharing your story with us.