“He would make us hold the stick over the stove, heat it up and then he would hit us with it on our bare bottom.”
For all the girls that feel as though your life is over, that feel as though you are sinking into a dark abyss and no one will care or even notice that you are missing, my story is for you.
My “Happy” Childhood:
My mom and dad divorced when I was 2. If you’ve ever lived through a divorce then you instantly know “that feeling.” The feeling that your life will never be the same, nowhere will ever feel like home and that somehow this is all your fault. I never really knew my father, to me he was known as my “Florida Dad,” a man who came to see me every so often. I was raised by my mom and stepfather in a house filled with constant fighting, yelling and hitting. Prisons have nothing on the house that I grew up in. My stepfather would hit and abuse my mom right in front of me and my siblings and when he was finished with her, he would start on us. I remember getting hit with a stick, but not just any stick that was within arms reach; time, thought and planning went into this beating. He would make us hold the stick over the stove, heat it up and then he would hit us with it on our bare bottom.
There were days I stayed home from school because of the marks it left on my skin.
Once I used our toaster oven and accidentally left the bread package on top which melted the “wonder” sign onto the top. He was furious. I was called “stupid,” “retarded,” “ignorant.” When he was finished yelling, he smacked me in the head. Hard. I can still remember that pain. I was eight.
When my Stepmonster needed to go somewhere, he would tape us to the wall to ensure we didn’t leave.
As in most homes, during dinner we were required to finish all of the food on our plates. However, on the nights that my siblings and I were unable to eat all of our food, we would hide it down the vent in the floor to avoid punishment. One day my stepfather discovered what we had been doing . I watched in horror as he forced my baby brother to eat all of the maggots that had crawled up from the vent because of the food we had hidden.
Middle School Memoirs:
My Stepmonster was an evil genius at inventing punishments to the extreme, whether we “deserved” them or not. When I was entering middle school, as a beautiful blonde 11 year old, I caught a really horrible case of head lice. My mom treated my hair but when the lice would not go away she took me to the doctor for a more intense treatment. However, my stepfather, impatient and unwilling to wait for the treatment to complete, and decided to just shave my head instead. He shaved me bald. I could only choke back silent tears as my beautiful, blonde locks hit the floor. As you can imagine, this led to a series of taunts and torment from kids at school. Bald girl + middle school = walking target for bullying and teasing. When out in public, people would assume I was a boy, I even got kicked out of the girls bathroom once and was told to use the boys bathroom across the hall. I was devastated.
Where was my mom in all of this?
Well, that’s a good question. She always appeared to be trying to protect us. She would take us to shelters when things at home reached a boiling point. I remember anytime we were abused she would always “fix it” by taking us shopping. We were able to buy whatever we wanted. But even this seemingly innocent action was emotionally destructive and set me up for financial disaster as an adult. Shopping to ease emotional trauma is the equivalent of putting a Band Aid on a compound fracture. It simply doesn’t work. I love my mom and this was all that I knew of childhood so it all seemed, dare I say, “normal” to me. But there is one particular day when everything changed between my mom and I.
It is a day that I will never forget, I was twelve and had finally worked up the courage to tell her something. Something terrible. I was being molested by my sister’s boyfriend. He was an older man and had been molesting me since I was seven. I imagined the relief that would come by finally speaking out, the tears of sorrow that would be cried for me and the demands for justice on my behalf. But none of those things happened. Instead, I was asked a million questions and then came the words that I will never forget. The words that broke our relationship, the words that broke my heart: “I don’t believe you.”
A New Dad, New Start:
It’s very difficult to live in a place where you don’t feel wanted so, at that point I decided to move to Florida to live with “Florida Dad.” I really didn’t know him that well but occasionally he would visit me in New York and take me out for ice cream. I loved those moments with him. I thought that if only I could run away from all of the people who had hurt me in New York then I would finally be happy. I would be free. But here’s the odd thing about trying to run away from your problems, they always find you. They will follow you to the ends of the earth and back again…until you attack them head on. But I wasn’t there yet. For now, I was sinking into a dark abyss. Living with Florida Dad wasn’t exactly working out how I had imagined. Honestly, he wasn’t the dad I had hoped for. I was disappointed and angry and as a result became very rebellious.
I began to dream of leaving, so I would date much older men. At fourteen I had a twenty-six year old boyfriend. Looking back, I can clearly see there is something wrong with men who want to date children, but at the time I just wanted to be with anyone who said that they loved me. Illegal drugs began to intrigue me. It started with smoking cigarettes. But then that wasn’t enough and I began drinking alcohol. Then I started smoking marijuana. Deeper and deeper into the abyss I fell.
The drugs numbed the pain and made me forget but it was only a temporary fix. Eventually the memories from my past all came back again with a vengeance. It was as if they were chasing me, haunting my every thought. So, I began physically running away. I didn’t know what else to do. I was fourteen years old and hopelessly, utterly lost. I would run away for days, sometimes weeks. Florida Dad would call and report me as a runaway, the police would pick me up and place me in juvenile detention. It happened over and over again. It was the cycle of my life.
The last time I ran away it was all the way to New Orleans with a thirty-two year old man. I was fifteen. He would sneak me into the clubs and buy me drinks. This went on for awhile until I was bored with the lifestyle. Eventually I joined a magazine crew, which was really just a form of legalized slavery. I was only seventeen but they didn’t care. Our crew traveled from state to state selling magazines door to door. This job fit me well because we were never in one place for long and it was all about pretending, telling people what they wanted to hear. I became very good, very quickly. For the first time in my life I began to feel like I was the one in control. I even allowed myself to fall in love. He was also a member of the magazine crew and our attraction was incredibly magnetic. When the company refused to let us leave the crew, we decided to run away together during the night. It felt electric. I was running again and it felt good. It felt “normal.” It felt safe.
Abused… again. But Hey, it’s Normal:
However, once we ran away together, something happened. Something horrible. This guy whom I was so infatuated with and so completely in love with changed. He started hurting me. In many ways, I was not surprised. This is the only type of “love” I’d ever known. It was my normal, I knew it well and I was so drawn to to him. Addicted. It was the addict in me that endured the pain. I kept telling myself, “Just get through this and it will be good again. He will feel bad and he’ll love you again.”
And so I endured through the punches, the smacks, the spit, the kicks, the slams into the wall, the guns against my head, the screaming, choking, and knocked out front teeth. Even after being airlifted to the Emergency Room because I was dying, I still refused to press charges. There is no reasoning when you are addicted to something. You’re addicted. It’s like falling into a dark hole, an abyss. You don’t see a way out. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one, you just can’t see it from your angle.
Choose your poison:
To help numb my pain (physical and emotional) I began doing Crystal Meth. I tried every drug there is but meth was my drug of choice. And then it happened, three years into our “relationship” I became pregnant. I thought surely, now the abuse would end! He couldn’t possibly hurt our child the way that he has hurt me. I was so wrong. The abuse continued. I was six months pregnant when he kicked me in the stomach. I sat there in the middle of the street bleeding. He had been cheating on me with another woman and just left me to sleep there outside in the cold, carrying his child. Let me say, I am a big fan of hitting “rock bottom” because it’s in these moments that you force yourself to change regardless of how scary the prospect may be. I could not go on like this and I finally knew it. I had reached the bottom of my abyss.
That night I drove to my mom’s house in Arkansas. I stayed there and gave birth to a healthy 8.3lb baby boy. I was 20 years old.
One night, while on MySpace, I sent a message to a Lovely girl I happened upon online: “I don’t know you but there is something about you that is different. Please help me.” It was a virtual S.O.S. From that moment on, life changed for me. She invited me to join her Lovely Group. It was in this group and with the support of these others, I learned the way I had been treated my whole life wasn’t normal. That abuse is a crime. That old men preying on underage girls is a crime. That dads are supposed to defend their daughters. That moms are supposed to believe and cherish the words of their children. That even though I didn’t have these things growing up, I could be, and was already Becoming Lovely.
My journey was not overnight, it was not quick or without pain but eventually, I was able to forgive everyone who had hurt and abandoned me – not for their sake but for mine. I was no longer emotionally tied to my past. I didn’t need drugs to help me cope anymore. I didn’t even need the antidepressants that the doctors said I would be taking for the rest of my life.
These Lovely girls accepted and loved me right where I was, for who I was. Week after week. Month after month. My “stuff” didn’t scare them.
One day, after months of going to my Lovely group, I realized “I used to be fear-filled, beaten, abused, abandoned, addicted, and alone, but now…
…I am LOVELY.”