PTSD is not just something that is particular to those that have attended military/war. It applies to anyone who has been subjected to a traumatically stressful situation and are still alive to try and live after the dust clears.
We were a closely-knit family. I’m the second oldest, first daughter of 5 children. Growing up, our lives consisted of school, church, family and playing with neighborhood children. Most of the houses on our street were single family homes with yards, two parents with multiple children. Dad made sure we were moderately dressed and in a “controlled” environment, always together, rarely apart. I don’t think we knew what an apartment was and we had no clue what blended family was. Suburban life is what we had. Even the things that we went without, we made it work, and even though things went on around us, we were shielded.
But at the age of 5, I was molested by family member. I never understood why he would want to touch little girls (I later found out that I wasn’t the only one). Just the mention of his name makes me remember his nasty voice and see his vulture face then deal with the reality that no legal action was ever taken against him. He even went on to marry multiple times and have multiple children. I don’t remember how my family found out, but I remember my parents being upset. I have no idea how they handled it, but he never touched us again. And I don’t remember being around him very much after that.
But he is still around. And I was hushed and told to not talk about it. I was just told to get over it and move on with my life. “Don’t wallow in the mud”. I’m encouraged to speak on happy things and treated with a watchful eye to see if Ima one day spill the beans. It’s funny how people are more worried about protecting a predator’s “name” and making excuses for him than they are healing a (troublemaker) damaged child.
This man has gone on to do the same to countless others, all cases unpunished, leaving a trail of tears, while he praises the name of the lord. I received no therapy for this. So I tried to process it all the best way I knew how, by becoming secluded and protected. I stayed to myself a lot. I chose a way of life that I thought made me “disappear”. I wanted to be as unappealing as possible so that I am not a target to anything like that happening again. But how is that possible? How can you disappear from neck to feet pajamas and touches while you were asleep? But where there’s a fetish, there’s a way so he did it anyway. And there was nothing I could do to stop it.
“He ONLY touched you, it’s not like he ACTUALLY did anything else” is the sentiment. “He was a teenager and didn’t mean anything by it” was the excuse. “That was a long time ago, get over it”, as if time makes the violation go away.
I became cynical and overprotective. I became a very light sleeper. I don’t like anyone to touch me unsolicited, especially if I don’t know you. I can’t sleep with my back to a door nor a window. I don’t like closed doors. I don’t like elevators nor tiny bathroom stalls, anything that makes me feel closed in or trapped. I don’t like entitlement syndrome like, just because you have a particular position or title gives you full access.
I’ve been a mother over 22 years and only a handful of people have ever watched my children for short periods of time. And I’m quick to fight for and stand up for my children. I wouldn’t allow many to change my children’s diapers and all my children were taught, as soon as they could walk, how to clean themselves, potty training and bathing so they wouldn’t have to rely on anyone else to do those things. I taught them defensive and safety skills early, and I did not speak to them with baby talk. I needed them to be able to communicate clearly, as soon as possible.
For years I struggled with the lack of consequence. He stole my innocence and changed my perspective. I thought I had pushed past them. I thought I had suppressed those feelings, but recently, I’ve struggled with those negative feelings resurfacing because here my dad, a good man, has passed, but you are still alive!? I know it’s unfair to wish death upon anyone but I don’t understand this. But then again, I’m not ready for him to die, cause these last few decades, he is the reason that I KNOW that Karma is true! I’ve watched Karma kick his ass, and karma is the reason I forgive you. Then I’ll move out of the way and let karma finish it’s job.
A NEW LIFE
When I was in middle school, our parents separated, and although this is now common, in the 1980-90s where we came from, was unheard of. And we had no prior indication. We were children of the same two parents, rarely spent any day apart, went everywhere together, did everything together. We came home one day, and was literally split and taken to a new life. It was a complete shock! I still remember the day they separated and the emotional confusion I had. This caused me to become skeptical. How can everything be fine one day then the bottom fall out the next? We never went to counseling, no conversation was had about it, just move on with your life. So I tried to process it the best way I knew how. I went through life expecting a storm on a sunny day. Smiling at the good times yet peeking around the corner. Accepting blessings with a side eye. In my adulthood, I decided that I would be very verbal and call things as they were. I became unapologetically straightforward. My motto became “You can’t say you weren’t warned”.
As I got older, I realized that adults go through things that you can’t always explain, especially 5 children with 5 different levels of understanding. So I released the feeling that my parents turned “my” world upside down. I realized that they had a whole entire world they were trying to manage themselves from a perspective foreign to me. And even if they could explain, does that mean they have to? My parents did not owe it to anyone to explain their decisions. They only needed to make a decision then yes, it is up to us to adjust. Right or wrong, good or bad, their life was their decision to make.
I don’t know what kind of counseling would have helped at that time. Counseling does not make your wishes come true. It couldn’t glue everything back together and make the separation not have even happened. And if it did, would that be “fixing” things? Would that have made things right? Do I get make the decision what’s right? Do I get to choose that what’s right for me = right for them? I don’t even know what those “things” were, and as their child, that’s not my place. Their separation made me have a negative outlook on marriage. It made me say well, if people can be married one day then abruptly separate the next, what’s the point of marriage? So I began to treat relationships as temporary so I wouldn’t be hurt WHEN they ended. Yet I longed for that steady relationship which I did not even believe existed.
Counseling can give you a platform to process what’s going on inside of you in a healthy way.
I moved with my mother and got my first job at 15 through a summer program. My mother informed me that it was now my responsibility to buy my own clothes and shoes, etc. And I did. What I bought was mine and I no longer relied on either parent to clothe me, nor did I spend all I had and I didn’t expect anyone to supplement. But my mother and I did not get along. Looking back, maybe it was just a difference in personality (we still have those differences now), or maybe we were separately going through things and neither knew how to deal with the other, but you don’t think of those things at the time and even so, don’t know how to handle them, so guess I rebelled. I’m sure I had a smart mouth and an attitude and some defiance. All I knew was my frustration with her. I didn’t even think to consider hers with me.
I ended up moving in with my father, and although we are more kindred spirits, after finishing that year of school there, he allowed me to move in with his sister to be around more female influence. I learned a lot from her. From cooking to doing hair (relaxers, weaves, braids) to caring for the house, I was miss independent. I stayed with her for a short while then, an abortion later, ended up on my own and I was okay with that. I won’t elaborate on the abortion other than to say that you may be able to “get rid of the baby” but the spirit lives within you forever.
While in high school, I was emancipated. And I didn’t really understand what that meant. I just remember thinking, aha, y’all need your parent permission but I can sign for my OWN self! At that point I was attending a school where I was 1 of 3 black people in my entire graduating class, the opposite of everything I had known until this point in life (talk about a culture shock!). And I lived over 100 miles away from the nearest parent. But I got up every day and went to class and social events.
By the age of 17, I signed my own lease in my own apartment. I thought I was real grown. Emancipated, own apartment and I was dating a man 12 years older than me! He was the reason I got into that apartment. His brother owned a complex and let me live in one of the units. To cover my rent, I cleaned the vacant places and did light touch up paint, etc. as needed. I was responsible for my own utilities so I washed dishes at a local diner. I didn’t stay there long, but that opened the door for me to start a rental history then eventually move into another place. The boyfriend would shower me with attention and gifts, bought me a nice car and gave me money whenever I wanted, so you couldn’t tell me nothing!
A CHANGE OF MIND
I graduated from high school with my CNA license while going to school full time and working TWO jobs, a car and apartment of my own. But something wasn’t right. I woke up one day and decided this is not the life for me. And this is not the relationship for me. Besides him being 12 years older than me, there are a list of reasons why we should have never been together in the first place. I had no plans and no particular dreams, but I knew that I couldn’t continue life this way.
I sold my car, shipped my belongings to my mother’s place (she had moved south by then) and bought me a one way train ticket to Atlanta. Then came the phone call. “ I see that everything you care about is gone, you’re not coming back are you”? “No”, I stated. “I figured”, he said, but he understood. Little did I know just 3 weeks later I would find out that I was pregnant. Ready for a change and almost 700 miles away, I called and told him I was pregnant and we decided that since I was going to keep the baby, he wasn’t going to move where I was and I wasn’t coming back, so I’d do this alone. At age 19 I gave birth to my first son.
SO FRESH AND SO CLEAN
I gave that baby the best life I knew how. I kept a journal from the first day I took the pregnancy to the dr visits to potential names to first kicks and you name it! That journal continued until well after he was born! I always kept a job, welfare never crossed my mind. He stayed safe and cared for, healthy and fly. I bought a new car and we would drive down the highway singing Outkast “So Fresh and so Clean”. He was my preppy baby. Always in polo style shirts and since I worked in a shoe store, he kept fresh kicks!
I was around family again. And although they helped me with him, if you saw me, you saw him. Whether pulling out in that car, which was eventually stolen, or carrying him down the street to the bus stop, there we were, Tina and Choo. I even would sometimes take him to work with me. One day, while working at a pawn shop, someone came in and stood there, gun pointed in my face and robbed us! As I looked at the spot behind the counter where I usually put my son up to play, and for once, was so glad he wasn’t with me. My first thought was to run. But instead, I carefully unlocked the register and all of the jewelry cases then got out of his way. When the robber left, I got up, locked the door, cried and chain smoked my last pack of menthol cigarettes, then the next day walked into the local college, ready to stop working and start a career.
A FRESH START
Me: I would like to enroll in Auto mechanics (you see, hanging around the men in my family, I knew about cars and I loved them so what better career?)
DeVry: We don’t have that here
Me: Well what do you have?
DeVry: We have Electronics and Computer Technology
Me: Well sign me up!
College was great! I was older than most of the students. Most of them were fresh out of high school. There were also some career changing students so we had a nice blend of ages in our class. I had a great group of friends, we studied together, ate together, hung out, they helped me care for my son (I was the only one with a child). The professors let me take him into class with me. He would mostly sit in a desk and color quietly. Then, at the age of 25, with my college sweetheart, after a devastating miscarriage, I gave birth to my second son. I missed only one semester. I moved back in with my mother briefly. I stayed on the dean’s list. I GRADUATED from college that I Financed 100%, while working and caring for 2 children.
A NEW WORLD
2 months after graduation, I was offered and accepted a job in a new state where I knew ZERO people. Then began the next phase of my life. I left my boys with my mother for the summer and moved to Tennessee, staying in a hotel until I saved enough money to get an apartment. Then, at the start of the school year, as my oldest was about to start 1st grade, I brought them to our new place. I began to establish a life for myself and sons, joined a church, met friends, and got involved in activities.
Then, at the age of 30, just 9 months after meeting a new friend, we got married. We blended our families, his 1, my 2 and we had a daughter together that year. We bought a house, was active in church and traded in my sedan for a SUV. But by the age of 35 that SUV was totaled. I got t-boned T-Boned by a police officer on his way to back up someone on a call. He ran through a red light at full speed and no sirens. Talk about trauma! I still cringe when I pass that intersection to this day!
I put my firstborn through PRIVATE SCHOOL costing more than my mortgage. I had very little support with that but I made the sacrifice. And you know what, he GRADUATED from that school! Then went off to college. Can you believe that? Single parent Tina from ESL IL gave birth to this child, withstood all those challenges and have the audacity to have a son that graduated from a world renowned school! Amazing! He was the first one in this family to do so! I was so proud! Private school isn’t easy! And especially a world renowned one that has kids from all over the planet boarding just to get into school here. What a blessing!
Not only did my son have the educational backing, he has such a likeable personality that he has made lifelong connections and earned his own name! Just wow! He did that! But I did that too! I’ve had to learn to give myself credit for my choices as his mother that paved the way for him to establish himself! I’ve supported his entrepreneurial endeavors, buying him a camera cause he wanted to be a photographer, a t-shirt press to support that dream, bought him an airbrush machine and drawing tools to enhance his creativity, and partnered with him in the fashion creation business.
By the age of 40 I filed for divorce. After almost 10 years of putting on public façade, I had enough. I was having anxiety attacks, going to a cardiologist, seeing a counselor and was battling depression. There is no way that I can live in a dysfunctional home and continue to fake a smile. NOW I understand what my parents could have possibly faced! I’m not saying that was their story, because neither of them talked much about the separation. But it’s easy to make a marriage look good, when in reality, if it’s not working, it’s just not working, and you do more damage than good when you try to fake it. When I spoke to the kids about my divorce, one of them told me “I was wondering why it took so long”. I was heartbroken. Here I was thinking I was protecting them by hanging in there, doing my best, but the truth is, kids see the things we try to hide, and we damage them more by lying to them. Their only concern is “How will our life change”. ” I don’t know”. I told them but we will figure it all out together.
Yes, we did individual and couples counseling, yes we did classes, yes prayer, yes books, yes, yes. Bottom line, if 2 people are growing in opposite directions, there is no counselor alive that can make that work. And honestly, I had gotten to the point that I didn’t want to. Once the voices outside your home hold a stronger influence than those inside your home, your decision has already been made. I’m no longer going to fight against that. I was done. it was hard for me to tell my dad. “no, no, no, Tina” he said. I can still hear the disappointment in his voice. Daddy believed that God only gives you the one wife you are supposed to have period. I, like my parents talked to no one about what was going on in our home, except our clergy and counselors, but once the divorce was final, there was an unexplainable peace that filled our home. I kept the house, and we had so much inside that he was able to take a place full of furniture and we lacked nothing.
AS TIME GOES ON
My youngest son completed 2 years at that same private school as my oldest then requested to be transferred to a school that’s a better fit for him. When he came to me about transferring, I was skeptical. I didn’t want him making a decision motivated to protect me. I needed to know why he was doing it and be assured that he wasn’t making assumptions about my coins or struggling with anything personal. I made him write me an essay explaining his decision, and a paper outlining the pros and cons of being at both schools before I allow the transfer. He gave me a thoroughly written explanation within hours. He knew what he wanted and I supported that. When he transferred, they put him in honors classes. If he had the capacity to perform top notch at the private school, nothing less is expected now.
Later that year, after his transfer back into the public schooling system, I broke my leg in 2 places, needing a permanent rod and 5 screws followed by a hysterectomy ONE WEEK after that, leaving me off work with 6 weeks limited mobility. It turned out to be a blessing! Since he was now at a tuition free school, it gave us the financial availability to survive!
It was a challenging time for me mentally. Being limited in mobility, physically recovering, learning to maneuver again. Realigning my budget, running a household, trying to maintain some sense of normalcy, I opted not to take pain pills. I took one when I first got home and passed out from it and that was a deal breaker for me. As I mentioned in the beginning, I am a light sleeper and anything that interferes with that, I will not partake, so muscle relaxers it was! So I chose to tough out the pain of a broken leg and hysterectomy for 6 weeks with no medication. But I did it.
Then my dad died. My dad, the first person I talk to each day. My kindred spirit. The person that knows all my darkness, yet looks at me with light. The person who will speak to me with both reality and encouragement. The one that taught me that life is not a fairy tale and you don’t get to sit and complain about it. You have to get up and work for it. He’s gone. Died right in my hands. Right before my eyes. Gone. Forever. And left us with his legacy to decipher and fulfill.
There is so much more that I haven’t even mentioned, cause like I said, I’m not new to this, I’m true to this! Every challenge, I’ve learned from. Every obstacle, I’ve overcome. Every fear, I’ve conquered. I have triumphed, I’ve developed, and even on my bad days, my foundation is so stable that I quickly recover.
In the midst of all that:
I lost 3 grandparents
Paying off TWO student loans
Paying off a car that I co-signed and got repossessed so the bank sued me
I’ve helped my youngest son get connected on catering events to support his dream of becoming a chef
I’ve helped my daughter start TWO businesses beginning at age 7
Let my goddaughter come stay with me
I started a mother daughter mentoring group
Converted my basement into a studio/workspace
Started renovations on the rest of my house
WROTE AN ENTIRE BOOK
Created my own website
Celebrated 16 year anniversary at the SAME EMPLOYER, working in my FIFTH position
Spoken word artist
Team mom for ALL children sports
3-D Modeling Troop
And have made many relationships, whom stepped up at various times through all of these to help when we needed.