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Sunday, 17 February 2013

From Tragedy To Triumph: Reclaiming and Taking Back My Life As A Survivor

This isn’t a story that begins as a fairytale but neither is it a story that ends in a tragic tale either.  Rather this is my story about my journey as a survivor, about the battles I’ve fought, the obstacles I’ve overcome, and the challenges I’ve risen above to get where I am today.  This is a story about turning tragedy into triumph and once again gaining victory in my life. This is the story of what led me to help abuse victims and survivors, thus motivating me to start Born To Be Inc., my very own non-profit organization.  But to really understand why I am so passionate about helping victims and survivors of abuse, one must first know the story of my past and how it all began.

I like to say that from the very beginning, I was born to be a fighter in life.  When I was born, I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and the doctors told my parents that I would never walk or talk.  My mom used to tell me that I was her miracle baby because by the grace of God, I proved the doctors’ diagnosis wrong and did learn to walk and talk even though I didn’t begin walking until I was two years old and up through first grade I had to take speech classes in order to learn how to pronounce consonants since I struggled with speaking properly.  I remember having to go to therapy to learn how to walk and all the speech classes I took but in the end, I was able to walk and talk, play sports and write.

I wish I could say I grew up in a loving, caring family where my parents were proud of me and where they showed me affection but sadly that is not the case.  There was a brief time in my childhood where everything seemed to be good, where we were a happy family, and where my parents loved each other dearly.  Everything seemed to be going good for a while and I guess you could say we appeared to be the average American family. Mom was a stay at home mom, taking care of me and my brother and Dad worked at a nuclear power plant. Dad coached the sports teams we were on and Mom served on the PTA board at our elementary school and often planned school activities. She’d write my dad little notes on his napkins when she’d pack his lunch for work and he’d leave pieces of chocolate for her to find on her dresser or on the pillow on their bed and even write her little poems. That life though wouldn’t last for long. Somewhere, somehow, things changed and the family fell apart once we moved to Pennsylvania when I was 11 years old.

I can’t even recall how the family fell apart or how things between my parents changed and the once loving home I knew became a violent battlefield where laughter and happiness were replaced by shouting, dishes breaking, and the sound of tears.  The very first time my father abused me was when I dared to intervene on behalf of my mother to try to protect her from my father’s wrath.  I had been upstairs cleaning my room and the sound of my parents fighting caused me to stop what I was doing and creep downstairs to see what was going on.  I saw my mom standing up against the wall, my father cornering her, and yelling in her face about something.  I don’t know why but on instinct I called out, “Stop it! Leave her alone!” A little surprised by my outburst my father turned around, walked over to the bottom stair where I stood, and telling me to stay out of it and that this was clearly none of my business slapped me across the face.  From then on, things in my childhood seemed to go from bad to worse. Most nights I cried myself to sleep and I definitely learned to try to stay out of my father’s way as much as possible as to avoid being caught in the path of his anger.  I tried to live up to his expectations and be everything he wanted me to be but yet all I ever heard was how I was a disappointment, how my parents didn’t want me, and how I was the one who was ruining their marriage.  Many times I would escape to a secret place I had and stay gone for hours at a time because to me, being anywhere else was better than staying at home.

In my house it was better to just try to stay invisible and be a ghost then to make myself known.  My mom never tried to stop my dad from abusing me.  Sadly, plenty of times she was the one who told my father things about me that weren’t true where he’d unleash his anger on me.  She seemed to forget that I was the one who intervened on her behalf plenty of times to try to protect her.  I couldn’t always protect her though and I watched as my father broke her spirit down to where she finally fell into deep depression and became a shadow of the strong woman she once was.  Most of the time she locked herself away in the bathroom or in her bedroom, crying nonstop and would barely come out. She lost interest in what went on in my life and my brother’s life.  Eventually it got to the point where she started brainwashing my father and turned the tables on him after he was falsely accused of sexual harassment by a coworker at one of the nuclear power plants he worked at and lost his job because of it.  My mother believed he had cheated on her even though he always told me and my brother that he hadn’t and thus my mother fell apart that much more, clinging to him even tighter, refusing to let him go anywhere without her.  Plenty of times my brother had to make me leave the house so I wouldn’t be around the fighting going on.  It got so bad between my parents that I remember one day standing in the doorway of my room, watching my father pass me, and seeing him look so tired and worn out, as if he had lost a battle, and saying to me that he wished he could just die.

While my mother was going through depression and my dad was occupied with trying to deal with her brainwashing, I unfortunately was struggling with growing up in a household where I had to take care of myself and where my dad would tell me that there was nothing to be proud of me for.  “I love you” were not words that I heard.  At the private Christian school I attended, the school that my parents made my brother pay for me to go to by making him take his GED and work full time to pay for my tuition when he could have had a chance at obtaining a running scholarship if he had gone his senior year to high school, I became a target and victim of bullying because I didn’t come from a wealthy family like the other kids did. I developed a self- infliction habit and nearly got thrown out of school because one of my classmates went and told the principal that I had been going around claiming I was going to kill myself when she overheard me talking to a friend about my self-infliction problem.  Instead of being concerned about why I was cutting, my parents told me that I was ruining their reputation as parents and making them look bad.  They forced me to see psychologists, planting the false belief in me that everything was my fault, that somewhere deep down inside of me must be some good in me where I didn’t want to be such a bad, rebellious child, and as a form of punishment, my father made me repeat out loud what a moral failure I was. Everything in my childhood my parents controlled from what college they wanted me to attend to taking money from me that I earned from my full time job when I had to move back home because I couldn’t afford to attend the college I was at even on the work study plan I was on. I never saw a dime of the money that I made because they took it from me. Finally one night, at 17, I packed my bags and left home for good. I had friends come and pick me up but I didn’t tell my parents my escape plan.  I just knew that at 17 in the state of South Carolina I was considered a legal adult and that I was free to leave home without my parents being able to do anything about it.  The night I left it was cold and rainy and the words my dad spoke to me before my friends came and got me were that he would never stop yelling at me, that even when he was dead and in a grave he’d still continue to yell at me.  Mom didn’t say anything except that if she had known sooner that I could legally leave at 17, she would have thrown me out long before then.  The next day, with only the $300 paycheck I had managed to keep for myself and a few clothes that I owned, I boarded a bus to Florida to go stay with my brother.  I was nervous and scared, not knowing what waited for me in this new life, but sitting on that bus, the one thing I told myself was that I would never look back and never return to that life I once knew.  I didn’t even glance back to take one last look at the town when the bus pulled out but kept looking ahead as we pulled out of the terminal.

If I thought life was going to be easier for me, I was wrong.  I went through a lot of ups and downs and things with my brother didn’t work out because he was going through a few issues and problems of his own.  Thus I had to find my own way and learn to provide for myself because once again I found myself on my own.  I ended up attending Atlanta Job Corps because I couldn’t afford to pay my rent or groceries either.  I figured going to Job Corps was better than barely getting by and being in the situation that I was in.  Atlanta Job Corps proved to really not be that much better of a place to be since the girls there came from rough backgrounds and many fights broke out at the place.  The center was on the verge of being shut down for various reasons and downtown Atlanta was not exactly the safest place to be either, at least not the area of Atlanta that I was in. I made it through the program, though, and shortly after I left Job Corps I met and married my ex-husband.

My marriage was not that happily ever after that I wanted and hoped it would be. In fact, I never knew what my mother went through with my father or how she felt during all the abuse he put her through until I found myself in a similar situation in my own marriage. My marriage only lasted for 9 months but the domestic violence I went through in those 9 months was a nightmare.  My ex-husband would provoke me to anger, bringing out that defensive side of me and I found myself plunging into a world of darkness.  He watched me as I would cut myself in front of him, video tape the fights we got into, humiliate me in public, throw things at me, and his way of attempting to calm me down was to knock me to the floor and have his arms around my neck, choking me until I could barely breathe.  I grew so afraid of him that I would lock myself in the bathroom and sit there for hours, listening while he banged on the door, threatening to call the cops if I didn’t come out.  In a way I blamed myself for causing him to be angry with me and thus I began self-inflicting again.  Sitting in the dark bathroom, I would punish myself by cutting and for me it was a way of getting rid of the emotional pain I felt inside.  There were a few times I even passed out and couldn’t remember what had happened.  I felt like a prisoner in my own life and I couldn’t tell anyone what was going on because I was afraid of losing my job and afraid of what people would think.  I didn’t have anyone I could talk to about it.  I didn’t want another repeat of what happened when I was in middle school and went to a school counselor to tell them about the abuse going on at home and the night my father locked me out of the house in the freezing cold for a few hours after nearly breaking my arm and shoving me to the ground numerous times. The counselor turned around and told my father what I said which only made things worse.  So I kept silent about the domestic violence and finally, after 9 months, we split up and once again, I did what I seem to do best, do what I had to do in order to keep surviving.

Because of the scars that my marriage left behind, it took me about 4 years before I decided to date again.  Then the turning point in my life happened.  A night that I will never forget and a night that changed my life forever.  My brother had introduced me to a college friend of his before I moved to Texas to start my life over and yes, there were sparks from the beginning.  I was mesmerized by the guy’s charm that I didn’t see all the signs or warnings.  All I could think was that I wanted this to be real, I wanted this to be the one, and I wanted that Cinderella story.  Little did I know that the next time I would visit him in Florida, he would rape me. You never expect that something like that will happen to you when you get into a relationship.  I guess it’s because we want to believe that the person we are with is one who will protect us and keep us safe.  But the front that he put up when my brother introduced us, the charm he used to lure me in, disappeared altogether when I went and saw him again.  The guy was controlling, trying to tell me what I could and couldn’t eat, always putting me down if I didn’t give him money for things, and he would even tell me I wasn’t beautiful enough, that he couldn’t stand the way I looked because according to him, I was disproportional in the way I was built.  He often said he was disgusted by my appearance and told me during our time together that he was making an exception being with me because he liked my personality but that he didn’t like the cover of the book. He said he was trying to get over past feeling that way but that he just couldn’t.  He tore me down emotionally and it took me a long time to realize that I had been raped the night it happened.  I had said No and he kept on, telling me just a few more minutes.  No one could hear the screaming because the radio was up too loud and the music probably drowned it out. Afterwards, I remember thinking, this shouldn’t feel this way, and I shouldn’t be feeling like this.  For a time I guess I was in shock where a part of me tried to block it out and was in denial over it until finally I acknowledged what happened.  Still, I kept silent about it, never saying a thing to anyone.  I did try to tell my aunt and wrote about what happened after I got back to Texas and after I broke up with the guy, but my aunt turned her back on me and wasn’t there for me.  Even my own brother didn’t believe me.  After I was raped, I would go into the bathroom at work and break down crying.  I hardly ate and I felt depressed.  I had nightmares about what happened and when I would look in the mirror, I couldn’t stand the sight of myself because in my mind I kept hearing his voice.  I’ve never come out and said this but there were other times in my past where I wasn’t raped but I was sexually assaulted by men. When I was 10 years old, I was molested by a doctor while my mom sat in the same room.  Later on, I was sexually assaulted by a few guy friends who were drunk when I was 19.  I’m just now finding the courage to break my silence on this and really share my full story.

After being raped, I struggled with feeling good enough to date anyone and I blocked a lot of people out.  I really didn’t know how to cope with it and neither did I want to admit that it had happened to me, either.  All I wanted was to forget about those memories and the pain my ex-boyfriend put me through and how he took my innocence and how I could never get that part of me back.  However, the one person who really helped me to fight back and get through this was my best friend.  It was very hard for me to come out and tell my best friend about what happened because I didn’t want to ruin the friendship he and I have and I didn’t want him to think any less of me.  But I should have known it wouldn’t affect the strong friendship he and I have had for the past 9 years and that it wouldn’t make him see me as broken, damaged, or shattered.  Instead when I told him about my fears of not being good enough for anyone when it comes to dating again, he told me that I am better than good enough and he went on to tell me that everything I have been through has just made me that much stronger in life.  If it’s one thing about my best friend it’s that no matter what I go through and no matter what I tell him he always sees me for the person I am today, not the person I used to be.  He always reminds me of the strength and courage I have within me and has a way of reminding me of my true worth and value as a person.  It’s why I say he is my hero in life because he has helped me to grow more as a person and has helped me to overcome these challenges and battles I’ve faced.

We survivors should not see ourselves as broken, damaged or shattered because to be standing here today shows that we have had the courage and strength to take back our own lives and not let the past control us or break us.  We should never think we are not good enough because just as my best friend told me I am better than good enough, so I am telling all my fellow survivors out there that you are better than good enough.  When you look in the mirror, you should see a miracle in the making, you, and see the most beautiful person ever, you.  I started Born To Be Inc. as a way to help survivors and victims see how beautiful they truly are and to help them not only rebuild their lives again but to show them who they were born to be in life, someone special, amazing and extraordinary for everything they have overcome in their life.  Don’t let the past determine the outcome of the life you are now living and don’t let who you once were decide who you are today.  Don’t hide behind the past but step out from the shadow, remove that mask, and be proud of the person you’ve become and are today. Claim yourself, claim your life and don’t let anything you’ve been through take over you or this chance at a better life you’re building.

I know this is only a part of my story because my life story is still being written every day.  This though is the reason why I turned those tragedies into triumph and used my passion to help others in life to create Born To Be Inc.  People can look at me and they can just see the girl who struggled with eating disorders, who went through domestic violence and child abuse, the girl who used to harm herself through self-infliction, the one who fell into a dark world of depression and they can judge me all they want on who I used to be but I know that isn’t me anymore.  I’m a fighter, a survivor, and a warrior; I’m a phoenix rising up from the ashes of my past, a diamond in the rough that life’s experiences has polished and refined by bringing out in me all the qualities I never knew I had, and a rose that is blooming after the storms I’ve faced and endured. The fragile parts of me are the strongest parts of me for they are the ones that have withstood the most tests and yet remain unbreakable.  I am embracing every part of who I am, loving me for me, and I don’t regret anything I have been through because I know that the reason why I went through what I did was to lead me and prepare me to start Born To Be Inc. and to become a writer, to share my story and break my silence to help others out there.  I know that my story is just one of many out there waiting to be heard and I believe every story deserves to be told and every voice deserves to be heard.  In making this comeback in my life and turning those negative situations into positive outcomes, I have found that I have won the sweetest victory in reclaiming my life and taking it back as a survivor.

Jenna Kandyce Linch

Copyright (c) Jenna Kandyce Linch

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