I live a spectacular life and I am grateful for every moment I have on this Earth. But it hasn’t always been this way. It’s hard for me to believe how often I used to contemplate suicide. It’s hard for me to believe that the real reason I never did was because I didn’t want my cats to go hungry and eat me. I have gone from a time of complete despair, to a time where I have never felt more alive. From a time when I felt I had nothing to live for, to knowing I had everything to lose.
I grew up in a very small town in Upstate New York, starved of culture and diversity. It is in this town that I first started to die inside and knew that there had to be more in this world than white, Christian people. I longed for experiencing more. When I caught a glimpse of what this vast world had to offer, vibrant cultures filled with people with generous hearts and stories that excited my soul, I wanted nothing more than to experience all that it had to offer. I made it my mission to start traveling as soon as I finished college and made good on that promise to myself with amazing adventures to China, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Turkey, and Tanzania, just to name a few.
To understand my healing, one must first understand the hell that was at the beginning. I have been sexually violated by 8 men. 7 of which occurred by the age of 15. Some were strangers, and some were men I was supposed to trust. This does not include the time that I was attacked from behind at knife point because I was successfully able to get the knife away from the perpetrator and run away to safety.
These acts left a horrible mark on me. I slowly became an empty shell of the young girl I used to be. When you’re just a kid, your mind can’t process the very thought of these things happening to you. The feeling of having absolutely no control, the idea that you’re just a body to be used at the whim of someone else’s desires. I began acting out in the only ways I felt I had some semblance of control. I developed an eating disorder and became extremely promiscuous. Some people may not understand how this was my form of control, but I was the one to decide who touched my body and when. I figured hell, I may as well choose who uses me instead of waiting for the next abuser to make his move. Unfortunately, this type of control only led to me putting myself in situations which made it more likely that I would be attacked again.
When I was 24, I fell in love with a man twice my age, who saved my life and he didn’t even know it. Stan. He loved me more than I loved myself. He made me feel beautiful, desirable, and like I deserved to have the world at my feet. The problem was, he was an addict, alcoholic, and ex-con that was on life parole. I didn’t care. He was a wonderful cook that knew that the way to my heart was straight up through my stomach. He would make the most amazing meals just to see the smile on my face. I would often open the door to go to work or to go check my mail to find flowers on my doorstep, just because. I would find a card on my pillowcase to remind me how much he loved me. He would massage my feet and paint my toenails afterwards.
He never knew all the traumas of my past. No one did. He just knew from all the times he’d find me crying and having almost a whole box of used tissues heaped up on the floor that I had a story that I wasn’t ready to tell. He’d just hold me, tell me he loved me, and knew that I would tell him when I was ready.
After just a few times of people not believing me, telling me it was my fault, telling me I should be grateful that someone actually wanted to touch me, or that I should just grow up and get over it, I learned to just keep my mouth shut about my traumas. But I saw how it was all playing out in my life even when I chose not to acknowledge that the traumas even happened. I knew that I had to address these issues but didn’t think I was strong enough to handle admitting that all these things happened to me. It didn’t just happen on that movie I saw.
After a couple of years with Stan, and deciding to buy a house together, I knew I had someone who would be there for me when I started to acknowledge everything that had happened in my past. So, even though a few weeks earlier I had just started my PhD program, I sought out a therapist to begin the healing process. I waited for a couple days after my first appointment to talk to Stan. Little did I know though; the universe had more pain in store for me. The same day I decided to tell him about the traumas I was starting to address, his mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer. His mom meant so much to him, so how could I now burden him with my past? I couldn’t. So, to continue the trend of keeping my secrets to myself, I decided to wait to tell him.
Not long after she was put on hospice, she died with Stan and me by her side. I was there through the night when hospice came, and she was taken away. I started a new job that very same morning, having to pretend I never saw someone I care about, die while I held her hand, just a few hours before.
Not surprisingly, his mother’s death hit him hard. As I watched my rock fall apart, I was dying inside. I was reliving traumas I had buried deep for years and had no one I could trust with the knowledge of my past. I never thought things could get any worse. That was until the day I walked in to find Stan dead a few weeks later. My whole world came crashing down at that very moment. As if that wasn’t enough, a week and a half after finding him dead, I closed on the house we were supposed to be moving into together on the same day my first semester ended for my PhD program.
I began a downward spiral. I was now living in a house, by myself, thinking about the life I was supposed to be living with a man that loved me in ways I never imagined. I couldn’t walk anywhere in the house without thinking about all the plans we had made for each room. I started to sleep with one man after another as I sought other men like Stan, with the hopes of replicating what I had lost. I started to eat and eat and eat and put on weight like crazy until I reached a whopping 222 lbs.
For the first few years, my doctor was patient with me and did not give me too hard of a time for putting on the weight. That was until my cholesterol started to increase. I wasn’t even 30 yet and I had high cholesterol. Something had to change. But I couldn’t muster up the motivation to go to the gym just because it was the right thing to do. I had to find a way I could be physically active and enjoy what I was doing.
I started looking into Meetup groups, thinking that being around other people would be good for me and a few hiking groups caught my eye. I like to walk. I love being in nature. Why not try hiking, I thought? I started out with small hikes on trails in local parks that included walking over some hills. With being morbidly obese, going over these little hills I felt like I might as well be climbing Mount Everest.
I am a Chatty Cathy and generally love getting to know people, so during these hikes I would ask people why they were doing these hikes. I would get many of the same answers. To meet other people. To get out of the house. To be healthy. But there was one answer that intrigued me the most. One woman said she was getting ready to meet her goal of climbing Mount Marcy. I had never heard of this mountain, so I asked her about it. She proudly told me it is the highest mountain in New York. I researched Mount Marcy that night and saw that Mount Marcy was part of a list of mountains called the Adirondack 46. The 46 highest mountains in the Adirondack park.
This was my turning point, my moment to finally start growing into the woman I have longed to be. I am such a goal-oriented person, lists are right up my alley. This list of mountains finally gave me something to work towards that I wanted to accomplish for myself. Not because someone else thought it was best for me. This is where I decided I wouldn’t exercise just to be healthy, but I would exercise to meet a goal.
From that point on I started hiking over 100 mountains every year. I started finishing one list after another until I started setting my sites on even bigger lists, that sent me trekking throughout the world. The mountains became the place where I felt most at peace and where I first began to heal. They are where I found my inner strength and through that journey, I transformed my mind, body and soul.
I was a college professor for 12 years and I mainly taught anatomy and physiology. I loved to teach about Wolff’s Law of bone because I believe it is analogous to our lives, just like the serotinous cones, that I named my life coaching practice after. Wolff’s Law states that bone will grow stronger based on the stress placed on it. Likewise, it will weaken as less stress is placed on it. The same applies to us.
I have spent so many years not understanding why I had to experience so much hardship in my life. Wishing it never happened. Wishing I had an easier road. But I know I would not be the same person I am today had I not experienced what I have during my life. I think some victims of abuse don’t like to acknowledge the good that came out of the trauma because they think that means that they are happy it occurred. It does not mean that at all. It’s just a shift in our mindset. If we can’t change our past (and we can’t), then we must accept that it happened and move on.
Although therapy has been valuable in my healing journey, I personally believe that some therapists make a mistake by making their clients relive their traumas by retelling their stories over and over again. Yes, acknowledging their traumas, if the client has never spoken of them before, could potentially offer some therapeutic benefits. But, the retelling of the same trauma many times just retraumatizes the client and keeps them cycling through all the negativity surrounding those experiences. It doesn’t allow them to focus on the fact that the trauma is over and now they get to learn and grow from that experience. I think continually focusing on the trauma perpetuates the thought that these individuals are broken, and they will never be able to move on from this. But I am here to tell you that you are in complete control of your future. I’m not broken, and neither are you! There is a whole new life in front of you. Every day is a new day to write a new story and to stop focusing on reruns from your past.
To learn how I moved forward from my unchangeable past and how you can do the same, I recommend that you read my book, Transformation After Trauma: Embracing Post-Traumatic Growth. Sign up to begin reading the Introduction and Chapter 1 for free: serotinouslife.com/transformation-after-trauma-book
If you would like to read or listen to the full book, you can find the eBook, audiobook, and paperback on Amazon.