From the time my high school sweetheart, Daniel, and I met and realized we were serious about each other, we vowed that when we married, we would do everything in our power to make sure that our children’s childhoods were not like our own. We haven’t been perfect, but after 38 years together, 33 of them married, I can say that we accomplished the goals of breaking the cycles of parental alcoholism, emotional abuse, deliberate neglect, and sexual abuse, which is what I endured from age 8, into my teens. I am married to my soul mate; my marriage is stronger than ever—though, trust me, y’all: it took a lot of work along the way, given the issues we both came into our marriage with—and our daughters are all successful, independent, compassionate, empathetic adults. My husband and I consider breaking the cycles of abuse and being able to raise strong children our greatest accomplishments.
I married Daniel the week before my 19th birthday, and our first daughter was born a year later, on our first anniversary. Two more daughters followed. I stayed home with them for 10 years, and when our youngest went to kindergarten, I went to college and became a teacher.
I just completed my 20th year as an educator. I teach 9th grade English in a small rural district in East Texas. I have a real connection with kids who don’t quite fit in; I have a very empathetic heart, and I’m always open to listen to those kids who, it’s pretty clear, not many others in their lives are listening to.
In addition to teaching, I am also a professional writer. I write primarily contemporary Young Adult fiction—“problem novels” for teens—but I know that adults read my books as well. A lot of therapists and “helping people” use my books with their clients, too. I write authentic, gritty fiction with a heart—I tell the truth without looking over my shoulder, and I do so, I suppose, because I spent so many years not being able to speak the truth. More than anything, I want the work I do to inspire hope and the belief that working on recovering from trauma is worth it, even when it is very hard, and I guarantee, there are times it will be hard.
I drew on my experiences as a survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse to write my first 3 books, The Patience Trilogy. I actually wrote them over the course of the six years I was in therapy, and the plotline very much follows my own shaky steps through the recovery process, even though the books are fiction about a 15 year old girl just beginning to deal with her trauma. Writing the books was, at first, a “therapeutic assignment.”
I had been sharing poetry and essays with the clinical psychologist who was treating me, and he suggested that I try writing a novel. After four months of trying to pull myself out of my own head enough to see the recovery experience through someone else’s eyes, I asked myself, “What if I had gotten out of my house when I was 14, instead of remaining in it until I married? What if it happened to someone else?”
Doing that—getting out of my own head—was the ONLY means I had to stop spinning on one question: WHY? WHY was I sexually abused as a child, and WHY does my mother not want to deal with it?
My first book—that therapeutic assignment—was Courage in Patience, and it is the first book in The Patience Trilogy. I modeled the main character, Ashley, after myself as a broken child, and her stepmom, Beverly, is very much like my “teacher” self. Ashley’s therapist, Dr. Matt, is patterned closely on my (now-former) therapist, Dr. Matt Jaremko.
Many years after I completed therapy, the very same Dr. Matt Jaremko and I co-authored a book about trauma recovery, called Trauma Recovery: Sessions With Dr. Matt- Narratives of Hope and Resilience for Victims With PTSD. It’s as if my journey came full circle, as I penned a book with the very person who guided me to recovery, and the fictional storyline we use to teach about trauma recovery includes the characters of Dr. Matt and Ashley (she’s aged to 19) from The Patience Trilogy.
In addition to PTSD, I also have an eating disorder—Binge Eating Disorder (BED)—and, in an effort to address a relapse that lasted a few years—and the shame I felt at regaining about 75 pounds of a 100 pound weight loss when I first entered therapy, I wrote a book called Big Fat Disaster about a very overweight teen girl who suffers from BED. She wants more than anything to be loved and accepted the way she is. This book is on the Spirit of Texas-High School Reading List, and it received a starred review from Kirkus.
I am very proud of my writing career; I never would have become a professional writer—at least I don’t think I would write the sorts of books I do, engineered to provide hope and reach out to others so they know they are not alone—had I not entered recovery to deal with the absolute river of shit that my childhood was. I am a very happy person, and I’m really glad I didn’t act on the suicidal feelings that grabbed on and held tight for a while when I was in the “dark days” of therapy.
My mother married my stepfather when I was 8, and within a year, he began molesting me. He broke my “truster” the rest of the way; it was already pretty weak from my bio dad treating me as if I did not exist, and my mom disappearing on my brother and me for 3 days and leaving us with her friend, with no explanation given as to her whereabouts. I lived in fear of losing my mom, and the way my stepfather kept me silent was telling me that if I ever told my mother “what WE had been doing,” he would leave my mom. My mother feared being alone more than anything, I think. I also got the message from my grandmother that my mother was so emotionally fragile that she could not handle upsets: making Mom sad was a shameful thing to do.
The molestation continued over many years and progressed to vaginal and anal rape, but the worst part—even worse than everything he did to me—was that when I overcame the fear my stepdad instilled in me to keep me silent all those years and I finally made an outcry, my mother told me, “We’re just going to move on.” She. Did. Nothing. About. My. Outcry.
Apparently, my perpetrator’s insistence that he “was sick, but I’m not any more” was enough for her. She did not call the cops; did not seek counseling for me. Her question, asked the same night I told that he’d been coming in my room since I was 8, was: “Does he ever pinch you on the breast when he passes you in the hall?” I guess that was an intimate gesture between them. I knew without a doubt that I was considered competition instead of her daughter; as if I, an 8 year old when it started, was some sort of temptress.
That night, my stepfather emerged from his bedroom where he had retreated when I told my mother he had been molesting me since I was so young. He barreled into the room, stuck his finger in my face, and declared, “You are not mine. You were NEVER mine. YOU. DO. NOT. EXIST.”
He ignored me for the better part of a year, and my mother seethed resentment. At some point, I could no longer cope with the hostility from my parents, and a switch inside of me flipped. I became “the perfect daughter.” I apologized to my stepfather for “upsetting him.” I started calling him “Dad.” I did all the housework. I went to work for the family business, a construction company based out of our house. And, I developed a bitch of an eating disorder, stuffing myself to the gills so that I would not feel my feelings. It is something that vexes me to this day, although I manage it pretty well at this point.
I played the game—I call it “Let’s Pretend Nothing Ever Happened in Our House”—until I was 38, when I broke. My mind melted, and I did some crazy shit. I had tried therapy off and on since I was 21, when the constant anxiety I lived with became too much, but I never stuck with it. Any time the therapist nudged me toward facing the truth in the form of raising the issue of what my stepfather did to me with my mom, I quit therapy. I feared I would lose her if I told; if I claimed my right to live as a survivor and lived in what I call the “Light of Truth.”
I told my mother that I was having a really hard time dealing with “what happened to me in our house when I was growing up,” and she made clear that she would not “rehash the past.” She told my husband that this “was Beth’s problem.”
This is why I say that her response to my needing help from her was worse than the actual abuse. It was devastating. My fear of losing her came true. She cut me off, and she cut off my husband and children, her grandchildren, who had known her only as the best grandma in the world. It was devastating, but we got through it. I felt immense guilt for blowing up my family. It took a long time to get over it.
We came out stronger as a family, and I came out of this experience as an incredibly resilient person, capable of experiencing hell, then the walk through hell to recover, and coming out the other side. I learned that I am worthy of unconditional love, and I do not accept “crumbs” from anyone. I will not grovel for anyone’s acceptance or love.
My Healing Journey
I entered therapy and stuck with it, in part because Dr. Matt Jaremko had already helped Daniel work through some issues. If he could help Daniel, and Daniel trusted him, I felt that I could, too. Dr. Jaremko and my relationship began when I went to one of Daniel’s final therapy sessions, and I blurted, “I was sexually abused as a child.” Dr. Jaremko, whom I would later nickname “Dr. J,” offered to help me, and about a month later, I broke to the point that I took the day off from teaching and essentially wept. I called his office and made the appointment that marked the start of my journey to becoming a whole person.
Dr. J practiced Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with me; he essentially reparented me, and proved himself to be a steadfast person I could trust, even when I was angry with him for pushing me. I knew, without a doubt, that this person cared about me. Outside of Daniel, Dr. J is the first man I truly trusted. That doesn’t mean he babied me, though, and thank God he didn’t, or I could not have grown into the tough person I am. He taught me to be resilient, and he believed that I could be. He saw me as strong, brave, and capable of overcoming the challenges PTSD presented me with; my PTSD symptoms were awful for much of the first 2 years I was in therapy with him. The nightmares were overwhelming, and I was not sleeping well at all, so the middle of the night is primarily when I wrote Courage in Patience.
At the time, I didn’t think at all of becoming an author, finding an agent and selling the book to a publisher. I was simply complying with a therapeutic suggestion, and as I wrote, I discovered that I could extend grace, mercy, and compassion to my younger self. I became an objective observer to the fictional Ashley’s recovery process, and it chipped away at the shame I was coated in from head-to-toe. I essentially replicated the therapy sessions I was having with Dr. J when I wrote Ashley’s sessions with the fictional Dr. Matt, and I absorbed what Dr. J was teaching me even more.
The things that healed me and helped me complete my journey are the following:
1. Writing my recovery journey through fictional characters/becoming an objective observer and really noticing the pain that “Ashley” endured.
2. The application of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy helped me realize that I had more control over my thoughts and feelings than I realized. I learned that “behavior comes before feelings,” and I learned to slow down (I also have an “impulse disorder.”)
3. The use of music therapy—specifically chosen songs Dr. J shared with me–these inspired healing and helped me face the truth about my trauma. The songs soothed me. (You can find them here, as well as an explanation of why they were used with me.)
4. A kick-ass support system in Daniel and Dr. J: they called me out on my crap when I was immersing myself in “stinkin’ thinkin’,” and, again and again, they proved themselves trustworthy and steadfast. They refused to give up on me even when I got lost in myself, and I got lost a lot.
5. My children: the immense, fierce love I have for them and a desire to not abandon them (through killing myself) the way my mom essentially abandoned me kept me from giving in to suicidal ideation and self-pity.
“More than anything, I want the work I do to inspire hope and the belief that working on recovering from trauma is worth it, even when it is very hard, and I guarantee, there are times it will be hard.“
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