I feel prudent before I share to call out a trigger warning around topics of suicide, sexual, verbal and emotional abuse, stalking, and child pornography. 
Trauma and continuous stress affects not just the mind, it becomes stored in the body. I've lived majority of my time on this earth in fight or flight mode with little respite. Despite it all, I have managed to have a professional career, buy a house, I have two amazing children and (now) a supportive partner. 
I've found a certain amount of comfort in reading stories of others who are open and honest about what they have been though. I feel a little less alone.
I've always known that I had a certain strength, but it came from necessity. I had to be strong because there was no one else to be strong for me. No one else I could rely on.
It started when I was quite young. My mother had decided to keep my bio-dad out of my life. She was a teen mom who herself still had to figure out life. So for the first couple of years it was just her and I against the world. She was in quite a number of physically abusive relationships when I was little and to this day I have no tolerance for play fighting.
When I was around four years old there was a group of us younger kids that a teenager would watch. One day, the teenager took us into one of the boiler rooms and asked one of the little boys and myself to do some sexually explicit things. I remember having to explain to the police what happened and having to touch my mom where I was touched. The teenager disappeared after that, but through the wonders of social media they contacted me many many years later. I was instantly drawn back into that boiler room and paralyzed with fear. My profile picture at the time was of my children and my daughter looks like me. Turns out this person was the acquaintance of my children's babysitter at the time. Needless to say she wasn't our babysitter for much longer after that, and I locked down every social account I owned. 
My mother ended up in a long term volatile relationship that started when I was five. They would fight all the time. 
When you are a child you have no power, and you rely on the adults in your life to protect you. I was not protected. My step-father was emotionally and verbally abusive. The wounds he left on my soul were worse than any broken bone or bruise. And that is only what I allow myself to remember, I know I have repressed and buried parts of my past that so have no desire to unearth. 
When I was a teenager there was a terrifying incident where my mom packed myself and my sibling into the van, my step-dad tore all the hoses off the engine and then grabbed on to the tailgate and was dragged by the van as we drove away. He destroyed the house and tried to kill himself by cutting himself that night. The imagery, the sounds, and the feelings are so incredibly vivid.   I learned much later there was a police investigation which found child pornography on his computer. He contacted me years later as a part of his rehab program. I was instantly a child again while I sat on the phone listening to him. I've had nightmares about him finding me for years but haven't had any direct contact with him since that phone call. I still have panic attacks when I drive to the area I grew up and pass my childhood home. 
I lived in fear, all the time. I have very few positive memories from my childhood. When I was given things there always seemed to be a price tag. I think the intent was to foster appreciation for the things received, but instead it fostered guilt and shame, to this day I still have difficulty receiving gifts or help from anyone. I was a straight-A honor role student, whose greatest transgression was disappearing into the woods behind my house for hours on end in an attempt to find solitude. I wasn't defiant or rebellious, I wasn't out partying, drinking or doing drugs. Despite all that I was convinced I was a delinquent, a disappointment, a spiteful, ungrateful child. This has created a lifetime of self-esteem issues. 
In high school, I had a stalker. An older boy who is hard to describe. He had weasel-like features, long red hair and was very lanky. He somehow figured out my class schedule and would be waiting for me after every class to walk me to my next class, even though I asked him numerous times to leave me alone. The most terrifying instance with this boy was when I came home one night from band practice and he was at my house, crouched behind our car, waiting for me. Growing up I lived in a very rural area, and he lived three towns away from me, roughly a 25 min drive, and he didn't have a car. He had a knife on him, for protection he said. He is another reason my social accounts are all locked down. 
I met the father of my children in high school, I thought he was my salvation. It took me years to see it, but I never learned what a healthy relationship was supposed to be. I traded one abuser for another. Overall he wasn't a bad guy, but he kept me down, was controlling, he was a bully. Because of my childhood I had issues with my sexuality and sex in general, I realize after the fact that he forced himself on me regularly. He honed in on my insecurities and amplified them, he gaslight me, he was a flirt but incredibly jealous if I spent time with male friends. He accused me of cheating on a regular basis and berated any accomplishment I had. I allowed him to make me feel worthless, because that it what I believed about myself. 
All of this has resulted in a lifetime of low self esteem, extreme anxiety, severe depression, but through it all I was determined to break free, break away and break the cycle. Giving up was never an option. I don't consider myself a victim of circumstance but a survivor.
Over the years there were three separate times when I was going to leave him, but was paralyzed and unable to take action. I knew I had to have a place to go and a plan. But it was more complicated because I had two children. They were the reason I left, they pulled back the shroud from my eyes and made me realize I had to break the cycle. I didn't want them to have the same trauma I did. I couldn't save myself, but I needed to save them. 
I've had limited support from others over the years. I have extreme trust issues, making friends has never been easy, and I am somewhat of the 'white' sheep of the family, since I have broken the cycle and stepped away from the family legacy of unhealthy behavior. 
I know that I am not special, there are others who have gone through more horrific things. I have to keep reminding myself not to compare. What is traumatic to one person may not be to another. The reality, my reality is that I have a lifetime of traumatic events and stress stored in my body and brain, which impacts me on a daily basis. 
The rollercoaster of life has kept throwing challenges at me, I've been burnt to the ground more than once but I keep rising up. 
Now I have an amazing job, a wonderful caring and loving husband, friends who like me for me, two amazingly strong and confident teenagers who are going to take over the world. 
Life isn't without its challenges, but every day I am learning new things about myself and new tools and techniques to tackle any obstacles that stand in my way. I'm finding as well that being vocal and taking about things with others gives them 'permission' to be vulnerable as well. I don't see it as being vulnerable, I am authentic. If you want to know me, then you have to know the broken parts that have been put back together.
Recently I've gone through a downward spiral, basically a nervous breakdown (not a clinical diagnosis), which has forced me to re-examine how I tackle life and the challenges it presents. I am burnt out. But for the first time in my life I found myself in a safe place and I broke down. The biggest thing I have learned from this is that I had to redefine what being strong meant. I've had to be honest with myself and others about the life I've had and ask for help. Recent events are actually what brought me to the Beautiful Disaster site. 
Definitely identify with the Phoenix. I've been burnt down and risen from the ashes so many times, just like a phoenix. But really every collection resonates with me, it's nice to not feel alone. I even got a Phoenix tattoo so that I have a constant reminder that I always rise from the ashes, stronger and more beautiful.

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June 18, 2021