It was the summer of 1977; School was finally out. Here I was, this tall and skinny kid from Florida, ready to seize the opportunity to travel and play with my friends. All the stuff kids loved to do, that was me. Well, this go round, my parents decided we would head to South Carolina to visit the family. I said goodbye to my buddies and prepared for the big road trip. Everything was lovely at first.
We arrived in South Carolina at my Grandparents’ home with joy and excitement. We joked; even shared stories. Then Mom and Dad left my brother and me there (about one month and a half) to spend some time. Everything seemed great for a while. I stayed out of folks’ way and looked for things to do to keep from getting into any trouble. Nevertheless, things kept happening. I knew something was wrong when my grandfather tried to do what he could to protect me from all of that; however, it was no use. I came to be the topic of the day.
I began to notice that regardless of what I tried to do, I didn’t fit in. The more I tried, the worst things got. For example, one family member locked me out of the house while chasing me around the yard with a switch(stick). He knew I was afraid of the big dog in the backyard, but he didn’t care; he just kept going. Why? I asked myself the same question. Why is he doing this to me?
I had never experienced such mistreatment. Oh, and for the record, he did all this because I didn’t want to go outside to play. I wanted to sit on the couch and read books.
My parents did not raise me this way. No, I was taught to respect others. Now I’m being exposed to behaviors that cause me to question everything. Often, I would go to the bathroom and lock the door so that I could talk to myself. I didn’t bother anybody. I could go on and on… from being locked in the dark while they laughed to being spanked for reading books. Something happened every single day until it broke me. Let me say this… frequently, many do not realize the trauma someone can face as a child when dealing with physical or verbal abuse.
Before this trip, I was an honor student. I enjoyed reading books, and I loved school and playing. For example, I spent countless hours playing with my puzzles; I would dig through the pile of pieces to find the correct part. Sometimes, I would find myself ‘puzzled’ for a moment because nothing fit, only to discover that some pieces were missing. If the parts are missing, is it possible to finish the picture? Many of my puzzles ended up in the trash due to missing pieces, torn pieces, broken pieces, and pieces that no longer fit because they had frayed ends. I was eight years old when it all began.
However, reading was my absolute favorite thing to do. There were days when the relatives wanted us to go outside and play, but I would beg to stay inside to read. It didn’t matter, and I would be forced to go out and then receive beatings if I didn’t play. Soon, I began to withdraw; I had taken enough emotionally and physically. When my parents finally returned to pick us up, I was a different kid; the time my puzzle pieces went missing.
By the age of eleven, we moved to the same city and state where all the abuse occurred. My parents joined the church the relatives attended. It was during that same year that I became more involved in our church and enjoyed the same experiences I had seen. Later, I became more involved; I began to speak and lead the younger kids while wounded. I was still moving along with the previous issues hidden (neatly tucked) in the corridors of my mind.
For the next ten years, I spoke wherever I could. I spoke at seminars to introduce songs for the choir and during services. With all of this going on, I quietly battled with depression. Though I was acquainted with many, I only had a few friends. I didn’t want anyone getting too close. It was during those years that I became a recluse and stopped talking. I would sit in my room for hours and read. That became my escape…
Eventually, I remembered what had happened to me all those years ago; I had attempted to suppress it all. Once it came back to mind, I hated those relatives for what happened. One day my brother called my mom and told her that she needed to talk to me about the summer of ’77. That would be the first time I spoke about it. My mother tried to encourage me.
Once again, I thought the problem was gone. Now in my twenties, I faced hatred for those who hurt me; I remained depressed. Fast forward… I was in college, and the tension continued to increase; I couldn’t take it anymore.
Taking a full load in college, in the army reserves, I was wearing my “mask” while pretending everything was all right. Thoughts of suicide invaded my mind all the time. One day I went to my psychology professor and asked her in a roundabout way if she knew what was wrong with my ‘friend’. She told me that ‘my friend’ was possibly borderline manic-depressive and school was possibly too much for them. I thanked her and kept the information to myself. I continued to do everything I could to disguise the problem. One day my mother took me to school and told me I needed to deal with depression.
Here I was a grown woman, but those puzzle pieces reflected my life's condition at that time. From the age of 8, I had a problem. I was physically abused and bullied by some of my mother’s family members, which negatively impacted my life. It wouldn’t be until years later that my parents found out. It took years to overcome. I went from being the “happy kid” in the family to being withdrawn and insecure. Life changed as I knew it. I was open like a sore and depressed.
I continued to carry the weight of my past issues for far too long. Time had passed, and I had to deal with the stuff before it took me completely out. I knew I had to get a grip; I had been here before. This time I knew what I needed to do; I pulled out the heavy weapons and told depression goodbye. For the first time since being a kid, I felt free from hopelessness! No more drama and no more moments of being withdrawn. Now I felt free to share my story with whoever would listen. What I gained from all of this was that regardless of the pressures of life that I could make it!
So let me say this to you… in your life there will be storms that seem to rearrange your life as you know it to be. Yet we must get the healing we need and keep moving forward. Yes, I know it feels as if we will collapse under the weight and the issues don’t bring smiles or leaps into the air nevertheless we are challenged to stand in the midst of it all. Everything that happened through the years hurt bad. I wanted to crawl under a rock and wait for everything to blow over. I mean… Come on! I had been through enough don’t you think!? Yes!
Let me encourage you: Whatever you’ve been through will take time to recover so don’t attempt to rush the process. Be determined like me, to stand up for yourself during each phase. Don't sit idly by while becoming stuck. Instead, lift your head and acknowledge that you can and will get back up. No, you don’t have to sit down in shame due to challenges. Life is filled with valleys, mountains, and storms. Finally, I realized that I truly was not alone. This opened the door to my discovery and awareness; I had to change my focus. I had to learn how to stand for myself and fight for the win!