Until I was 9, it was just my mom and me. We were really poor and lived in a million different places, but I was happy. When my mother started dating, I didn't mind. I wanted a father figure.
Everything seemed mostly fine until after the wedding. Overnight, it seemed, my stepfather became physically and emotionally abusive. We weren't allowed to go anywhere, see anyone, or do anything without his permission. The more I challenged him, the worse the abuse became. He would shove me and twist and sprain my wrists. He played mind games with my mother, too. She ended up in a psychiatric hospital. While she was there, he sexually abused me. My mother and I went to the police, but there was no proof; it was his word against mine. I was devastated.
I ran away at 15 and ended up in a foster home for six months. Two years later, I left home to become an exotic dancer with the help of a fake ID. I was so horrified that I danced with my eyes closed, trying to avoid the leering eyes of men who were older than my father.
A Simple Prayer: "Help"
A turning point came for me one night when a young woman walked into the club in tears. She was asking if anyone had seen her boyfriend. Suddenly I realized that this place was hurting relationships. Was I breaking up marriages? It broke my heart. Soon after, I tried dancing without the help of alcohol or drugs. For the first time in three years, I felt truly naked, ashamed, and in shock. I left early, went home, and said a simple prayer: "Help." A feeling of peace came over me. Somehow I knew I'd get the help I needed.
I began to turn my life around. I stopped dancing, took a job at Walmart, and finished my last year of high school. I surrounded myself with positive people. A couple from the church let me stay with them while I got my act together. They didn't make a lot of money, but they were happy with their lives and they treated each other kindly. I observed people like this -- people I admired -- then worked to adopt their habits until they became a part of me. For example, I had always been shy, so I watched outgoing people and learned how they smiled and greeted each other.
I've had an extraordinarily happy life since then -- mostly because of the choices I've made. Now, at 29, I'm working toward my bachelor's degree in psychology and have two young children. I was married for five years, but I'm about to be remarried. I've learned to let go of the past -- to look back only long enough to help me make better decisions for my future.
If you're scared or abused, talk with someone you trust, think twice before making decisions, and learn to forgive and respect yourself. With help, you can overcome obstacles -- no matter how difficult.