TRIGGER WARNING This article contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.

Angie

I am a resilient, compassionate and courageous woman.  I am the proudest mother to an incredible little 4 year old lady.  I am a wife to a loving and supportive husband and life partner.  I have an incredible support system of family and friends. I am emotionally intelligent and intuitive.  I am an employment counsellor and successful in my career.  I am an asset in any workplace or setting.

I believe that I have several guardian angels; I have to believe this to believe that I am stating these things about myself here.  I wouldn’t have dreamed of saying this five years ago.  I am grateful for all that I have but it wasn’t always this way and I will share that journey with you to prove to you that it is possible to heal from adverse childhood experiences (and remember, that we are children until we are adults).



Angie

In hindsight, I have always struggled with mental health.  I’ve endured several traumas in childhood that no child or adult should ever have to encounter in a lifetime.  The impact from those experiences were and are huge.  It had seeped into all aspects of my adult life.  With a small support system and my own resistance to advice, I found myself often knee-deep in self-destructive habits (smoking, drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, petty theft, lying and other undesirable behaviours) that did take away the pain for moments.  But if I’m being honest, they never really took anything away except my own self-respect, self-compassion and self-love.  I just couldn’t see it…..no…I wouldn’t see it.  I make no apologies for what I’ve done to get through life because here I stand.  I survived.  I’m stronger as a person.  And my lived experience gives me the opportunity to help others see hope through their own journeys.

Life started off decent for me as a baby, I was loved and cared for.  Mom was very young and quite troubled so there may have been some dysfunction but she had the support of a hardworking, proud and decent man and her mother.  When I was 2 she left her boyfriend after meeting who was to be my stepfather.  Life was different: drug use, drug dealing, parties, alcohol, reckless behaviours, swearing and meanness were introduced into my environment.  My first brother came into the picture as this was happening and I was so grateful for him.  He experienced love; I adored him like my own and I believe he was a saving grace for our mother.  Things started getting worse in our home environment with screaming, physical abuse leading to our mother running away from home often.  This is when the sexual abuse started against me and continued in secret for 4 years until my stepfather was caught, which led to our removal from the home (me, my brother and our new baby brother).  We were brought into safety, we were not to be separated in care so were luckily brought together into a foster home where we were assured safety.  I had my boys with me, I cared for them.  It’s all I could have wanted at age 9.  It was nice, it was different; this family was well-respected and active in the community, church and my school.  I was only there a short time before being put into legal guardianship with my grandmother and leaving my brothers behind.  However, in my short time there I was subject to a sexually inappropriate incident and witness to some strange situations that I couldn’t have processed at that age.  This single incident though was to be a catalyst in my troublesome behaviours through life and my disregard for authority.  No one could be trusted; no one could actually assure my safety.  I had to grow up even faster than I already had.

At nine years old, I was coached through the court process to testify against my stepfather for a conviction for the sexual assault I suffered at his hands over 4 years.  Up until the last minute, as I was walking through the door to head to the courtroom, that moment of courage was snatched from me…..he pled guilty.  And that was it, instantly, it was over, everyone was relieved.  He was sentenced to two years less a day and I was sent home to grandma.  No one followed up with me, not one person asked how that left me feeling.  In fact, I didn’t even really consider how I would have felt until just this year and I can’t imagine that I felt very good or that I could even really process that situation.  I know it was unfair.  Children have feelings too and it’s up to the adults in their life to help them make sense of those feelings.  While living with mom and my stepfather, I was sexually touched in an elevator in our building by a stranger.  I blamed myself for this one because I had a gut feeling I shouldn’t have got in the elevator with this man.  And now I have an irrational fear of the 5th floor and residential elevators in general.  Is it really irrational though?  I know now I was not to blame, I was 7.  We were taught daily as children to not trust our instincts, “I’m cold”-- “no you’re not” “I’m full”--“you can’t be, keep eating” “I’m tired”--“You just slept, get up” “I don’t want to hug them”--“don’t be rude”, so we don’t like it but we accept it because they are the adults and they know better, right?

My brothers and I were separated, as I went to grandma and they went off together to a new foster home.  I became too much to handle for my single grandmother in my defiant and confrontational attitude and behaviours.  I was sent away several times by her to live with other families in hopes that I would “straighten” out.  Often I was sent back to grandma.  That rejection was to play a continued role in my low feelings of worth and value to others through life.  My brothers were now in Newfoundland with their grandparents. 

I experienced yet another sexual violation from a peer in grade eight but that led to so much fear for my safety in high school that I withdrew the charges in the end.  Mom was falling apart in her life and I somehow felt very responsible for her even though I had convinced myself I hated her (trust me, it was safer that way).  I finally made the decision to leave grandma and move back in with mom to help her and be near my brothers since they were back at home with her.  This was a very trying time, many of the same dysfunctions still existed and I was powerless to stop it or protect my brothers.  All I could do was be there to hug them and let them lean on me.  This ended badly, I called Children’s Aid to report neglect.  I was kicked out just before my 16th birthday and my brothers were taken away from the home again and ended up in Newfoundland with their grandparents.

A boyfriend’s mother helped me go on student welfare and get my first apartment.  I attempted to seek psychiatric help but this didn’t go well and I decided to self-medicate in isolation with alcohol.  High school was tough to get through though I tried year after year with the help of incredibly compassionate teachers and guidance counsellors.  I gave up when all my friends graduated.  I was lonely and now understanding how wrong my experiences as a child were – it hurt so badly.  I moved on to drugs then to stronger drugs and when that stopped working, even stronger drugs.  It helped me just forget the unending pain of my existence. When the feelings were too intense I even engaged in self-harm.  I found solace in learning about people more destructive than me, it was almost always unpleasant.  I didn’t like who I was.  Eventually the universe put some of the most amazing people in my path to protect me and though it was slow, I eventually returned to high school, became active in the community, graduated, made lifelong friends, reconnected with my good nature and kept on doing better. It was slow but it was movement in the right direction.  At 27, I reflected on purpose and realized that I wanted more in life and I couldn’t get it in my situation at that time…..and so I set out to get what I wanted. It wasn’t until the last decade in life that I stopped to realize that I did it.  I didn’t give up, I survived and thrived even.  It just didn’t make sense; I don’t deserve good things.  What went wrong?  How did this happen?  Somehow I met an incredible man, one that I would love unconditionally and feel loved by even through some of my most challenging years.  One that would show me the importance and value of family, encouraging me to restore the one I had.  One that would guide me to experiencing the world in a totally different way.  This was one that would stand by me no matter how tough it got.  I married him, I bought a home with him, I let him in and my life is even better for it.  I couldn’t be more grateful.

Becoming a mother to a little girl was a significant turning point in my mental health.  It was what we wanted, I can’t imagine being happier in pregnancy than I was.  I was healthy, I was active, I was probably the least anxious I’d ever been in life, I was excited.  When I locked eyes with her for the first time, words could never describe how welcome she was and how much love I could have for another being.  Being a new mom was tough, tougher than I thought it would be.  There were so many new challenges that I just wasn’t prepared for, I was so scared to “screw it up”.  I had proactively sought mental health support before birthing her and I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder and started taking medication.  After counselling, medication, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, the year of maternity leave and a year of being back at work I seemed to be getting worse at coping.  I didn’t understand.

After frantically trying to find out why I was so overwhelmed two years ago, I was finally diagnosed with something that made more sense, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Major Depression.  I could no longer function at work or handle common daily tasks let alone conflicts in my home.  This was a devastating blow to my sense of self.  I had “faked” it for a very long time and I was very good at this or at least I thought I had everyone fooled.  Now I couldn’t do that, I didn’t even know how to do it anymore.  A simple conversation turned into an emotional volcano awkwardly erupting at the very wrong moments causing me to run and hide in shame.

After a year and a half of healing and recovery, I am proud to tell you that I have successfully transitioned back to work and have an incredible outlook on my future.  I have healthier coping techniques, new information and even more supports to help me manage the difficult times (yep, those still exist along with some self-destructive habits!) and I found most of it within the free resources of our wonderful city.  I felt very vulnerable at times accessing some of these resources, completely unsure that I’ll be even accepted.  There is not one decision I would take back though because the wisdom that I got out of taking those leaps of faith I will carry with me forever and I will pass them on to my daughter and anyone that will listen.  Be careful, I care about a LOT of people.

The healing continues and it will for life.  I can’t change my experiences, but I have certainly changed the way I interpret those experiences.  I certainly don’t measure up my experiences to others’ experiences or vice versa.  What I now know that I didn’t before is that we are all the same, we are human first.  We are ALL challenged mentally and emotionally at one time or another and we must take care of these injuries and each other, just as we would care for physical injuries. Trauma is trauma, there is no comparison to the effects that uncontrollable events have on our lives and our health.

I have found my voice and this is where I choose to use it.

 

Angie

 

Click here to read Julie's story.

   

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