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6527212 September 16, 2009

Daddy Dangerous: An Aberration Story

What he did and didn't do in his role for me as my father was HIS SHAME....not mine.

Have you ever wondered what draws you to a particular person? Sometimes we find out and sometimes we don't. Well, my guest today is someone I gravitated toward at 18 or 19 years old. If you've read my Teen Aberration Stories Series (see sidebar for links), you know that this was an emotionally volatile time in my past.

Today's guest, Renese, was five or so years older; however, due to a detour into the Navy, she was one of my college classmates. We were friends for several years but then eventually parted ways when we both finished college. For some reason, Renese made me feel understood. She made me feel okay. Although we were close and had great fun together; we never got deep. I was not about getting deep with anyone at that time in my life. I didn't know how to jump outside myself. I didn't know what to share and what to hold back. Perhaps she felt that way, too.

I recently reconnected with Renese on Facebook!

I had a vague memory that her childhood had been difficult, but didn't know the whole story. Back then, at times when folks tossed me an emotional bone, I ran, afraid that if I came to know or understand them, I'd have to explain myself in return. So now, almost 25 years later, Renese finally shared her story with me. I cried when I read her words; all those years ago, in my selfishness and fear, I missed an opportunity to connect with her on a deeper level. But I know now why I was drawn to her. She was special because in her, I saw myself--even when I didn't know who I was. She served as a sort of role model for where I might be in five years. Just like all friends, we had our ups and downs. But she was there when I was a college senior, single and pregnant. She didn't judge. She only smiled and knew what having the baby meant to me. She "got it" when few others did.

Due to the individual emotional growth patterns we each have, we can't always fully connect with those who pass through our lives at the precise moment when they enter the stage. It's easy to imagine that our connections are superficial even when there may be something deeper at play. Can we all strive to cherish those around us just a tad more? Because even when we don't understand each other, we are there together ... and that counts for a lot.

You grew up in an abusive environment. Can you explain the specifics and what it was like for you?

My father was extremely abusive, both physically and emotionally. Although he rarely beat me, he did so on a regular basis with my mother and sister who was 14 months younger than me. Growing up, I was fairly intelligent, above average in school and above average in looks. My sister had dyslexia (didn't know it at the time) and struggled in school. She also struggled with her weight, and had to wear braces and glasses. Although she outgrew all of these challenges and is now quite successful in sales, my entire childhood was a comparison between my sister and myself. My father once beat me so badly that he actually stopped at one point and pondered out loud as to the pros and cons of 1) continuing until he killed me and collected on the $1,500 life insurance policy he had on me or 2) stopping and possibly having to pay a large medical bill.

What was the dynamic between your mother and father, and how did your mother cope?

My father ruled with an iron fist. I basically saw my mother as a doormat. My father did and said anything he wished to her or to us, and she was either much too obedient or much to fearful to say or do anything in retaliation. As far as I could tell and/or remember, she made every effort to create as normal as normal a life as possible for my sister and I. I remember that she had to hide anything that she bought us for Christmas because he would be so mad about the money she spent to do so. She was usually beaten some time shortly after the opening of the presents, and we all knew it was coming.

How did you cope with the abuse as a child and teenager?

My parents split when I was 15 and my sister was 14, so most of what I coped with was as a child. I lived in fear almost constantly. There was never any rhyme or reason to what it might be that would "set my father off". It was impossible to know what I could do to please him so that I could do more of that, any more than it was possible to know what it was that would upset him in order to avoid doing that.

I later learned the term "rage-aholic" and came to understand that this described him quite well. I guess I coped by being around him as little as possible. I was lucky to have good friends with loving parental homes in my neighborhood where I could escape and spend as much time as possible.

You joined the Navy as a teenager. Was this decision influenced by what was going on at home, and was it a good decision?

I was working for a chiropractor at the time and he told me about how he joined the Navy and they helped him to pay for college. I literally left his office and went to a recruiting station and signed up. I never really saw it as the "big, important, grown-up" decision that everyone else did. I just saw it as the only option available to get what I wanted. I hated boot camp, but the remainder of the time I spent serving my country were some of the best years of my life.

After being in the Navy, you went on to get a great education. As a young adult, were you still feeling the impact of your abusive home life? If so, how did this impact your decisions and actions as a young adult?

I've been asked this a lot over the years. I've thought about it a lot as I've grown through the various stages of my life. To answer best, allow me to digress to one particular experience that occurred just before my parents separated.

I was a virgin when I was raped by a close personal friend of my father's. I was 15 at the time. I told absolutely NO ONE at the time that it happened; not even my mother. My father's every day rage was such that I had very little doubt that he would have murdered the man who raped me, and that he would have returned to the caged life he had experienced in his early 20's.

There was nothing altruistic about that decision. I just didn't want to live with the guilt of taking any part in that. I treated the rape as I did the rest of my abusive childhood: it was OVER! It was the PAST. The man who raped me most likely gave it very little thought after wards. If I had allowed that one physical act of violence to get into my head and continue to have an effect on my psycho-social-sexual life afterward, I would have given him more power than he deserved. I felt the same about my father and what he had done throughout my childhood. What he did and didn't do in his role for me as my father was HIS SHAME....not mine. I couldn't and wouldn't go through the rest of my life letting the past affect me negatively. Whether bad or good, my life experiences were going to have a positive effect on my life--or no effect at all.

Recognizing that some negative things we experience as children never quite leave us, how were you able to embrace these "aberrations" and learn from them?

Yes, bad things happen, but they are only mistakes or aberrations if we don't learn from them and take something we can use from that experience in order to move forward and live positively from that point onward. Things for which we have no control happen. Sometimes they result in bad experiences. We even make mistakes that cause bad things to happen. We can either accept that these things have happened, and figure out a way to move forward, or we can resist, struggle, and cause ourselves to be stuck in more pain and confusion.

In many ways, we all look back and wish things had been perfect; however, sometimes when I meet a person who claims to have had a perfect or normal childhood, it seems they are missing a dimension that I have. Sometimes I don't want that dimension, but other times, I cherish it. Do you identify with this, and can you share your thoughts about it?

I think that perfect and normal are both, like most subjective insights, in the eye of the beholder. I think some people delude themselves into believing their childhoods were perfect or normal because they refuse to face something too painful or uncomfortable with which to deal. I wasn't locked in a closet and denied food while my prostitute mother pimped herself out in the next room, and then pimped me out when I became old enough. I also didn't live in the Brady Bunch house. It's all relative and I believe it's what you do with it and how you deal with it as you become and adult that makes you who you are. You decide how you're going to take charge of and live your own life.

Sure, there are those extremes in psychopathology where things were so bad that the child had to form alternate personalities in order to escape the abuse. There are also lesser cases where the abuse results in other forms of social or psychological behavioral difficulties. I still believe that, for the most part, we need to look back on the bad things that happen only to the degree with which we want to use that information and experience to grow and better ourselves.

I've always believed in the garbage in...garbage out axiom. We need to spend as much time as possible focusing our minds and bodies on things that feed us positive emotions, spiritually and physically.

No one is a perfect parent, but we try. How has your past impacted your parenting skills? Has being a parent given you a new perspective on some of the things that went on in your childhood?

My father was an ass; I've tried very hard not to be one. I basically grew up with my mother because we were only 17 years apart in age. We partied together a LOT when my sister and were teenagers after my mom and dad split up. It was GREAT while it was going on, but I feel like I missed out on that kinder, gentler mother-daughter bond.

I was almost 30 when I had my one and only child, a daughter that just turned 18. We had a wonderful bond, very loving and close (even though I left her father when she was 4 months old and was a single mom until she was 9). Unfortunately, she hit puberty at the age of 7. Doctors have said that it was the assault of all those hormones on such a young person not quite ready for them, that caused some problems. Although she always says, "I love you, too" when I tell her I love her, she tells me that the last time she can remember feeling any love for me was when she was about 5 or 6 years old.

I remarried a wonderful man when she was 9 and he's been the only father she's ever known. He has been the best step-dad in the world (many biological fathers could take lessons from him). She accepts our love and the things we do for her as things she has her right and privilege and walks around us as if we were furniture. I honestly cannot remember the last time that she hugged my husband or told him she loved him. The perspective that I have on my childhood compared to my parenting is that I learned from my childhood what I didn't want for my child and made supreme efforts that she never saw or heard any kind of abuse EVER from anyone in her home. She recently told me in counseling that this is where I made my mistake; I had a bad childhood and because of that I overcompensated by showing her TOO MUCH love. I'm still not really sure how I'm supposed to take that. I do feel as if, when she finally has a child of her own and truly learns what that kind of unconditional love feels like, she'll at last understand how I've felt about her all these years. I also feel as if, because of some of the things that she's said and done to me, she'll feel very guilty about it all at that time and it will all come rushing at her in a flood of emotion. It is my sincere wish that she comes to that realization well before then so as to somewhat mitigate any of that guilt.

What are the top three things we can do for a child or teen who may be in an abusive situation?

Listen. Just talking about a bad situation at home can sometimes be cathartic and helpful to the person suffering the abuse. I'm also a big believer in prayer and prayerful meditation. Helping that person to learn coping techniques that quiet the mind can be healing and helpful. When there's absolutely no doubt that the situation is true and harmful, report it to the appropriate authorities and get that child out of the situation.

Do you have a motto for life, and if so, what is it?

Yes, I do have a motto for life and it took me a long time to learn it. It's Let go and let God. I'd heard it for a long time and never really understood just how powerful it could be.

I'd spent a great deal of my life pushing and struggling to get things done my way. It kind of goes along with the old if it don't fit, don't force it axiom. I still get really type A sometimes and try to force something to happen that I'm just certain will be perfect for me; but I've learned over the years. Even though I still need to put in some effort for the basics--the best things in life are those that just happen when I'm not even looking for them!

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6527212 September 03, 2009

From Pain to Prophetess: An Aberration Story

It was simply God.

I've been feeling a bit down lately. I'm not so sure I like how my mural is turning out, the publishing industry seems to be moving at a snail's pace, and my mother still isn't talking to me.Of course I've seen worse calamities, but there are just some days and/or weeks when that sinking feeling just won't go away. Sometimes it grabs me by the throat even when nothing seems to be sinking; everything appears to be fine.

So what is it? Psychology, guilt, the residual pain of childhood, missing my mom, boredom, selfishness, hormones? Who knows, but when it hits, the most important thing I do is to get busy coaching myself out of it. I think about all the things I have to be thankful for (there's a lot!). I look at the beauty around me (again, a lot!). I smile because Dad always told me that if you put a smile on your face, you'll eventually feel like smiling (it works!). I make a "to do" list. I write. I paint. I read.

And more recently -- I think about Aberration Nation and all the heroes who have shared their stories here.

See, I don't just write this blog for you, I write it for me. It's great therapy, especially when the sink sets in. For many years, probably through my early twenties, that stinky sink greeted me every morning, almost without fail. But as an adult, I've managed to keep it at bay, only allowing it to stay for a few weeks at a time. Sometimes I pretend it's not there until it fades away in much the same way it crept in. I've come to accept it as part of who I am and have tried to take from it what I can in terms of positives: compassion, empathy, experiencing a wider range of emotion, creative insight, my body telling me to either slow down or get busy, etc. I am who I am, and I've learned to channel and twist a tremendous amount of negative emotion toward positive ends--but it's not always easy.

So today the sink is my visitor, and together we will welcome Prophetess Lori McKenney to Aberration Nation. If anyone has a reason for a sinking feeling, it's her. Yet Lori marches on, ministering to others because she understands their pain and suffering. (Her beautiful smile alone lifts my spirit!) She knows exactly where the sink in life comes from, and her life mission is to help lift others out so they can know the type of metamorphosis she has experienced. Sadly, many of us need a total overhaul. Other simply need an every-once-in-a-while-mini transformation, because even after a metamorphosis, we're still only human.

In her book, Transformation, Lori explains the four stages a caterpillar must achieve before it transforms into a beautiful butterfly. In correlation, she imparts how the human heart and mind is connected in the complete metamorphosis process we can all experience.

You have said that your childhood wasn't normal. Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like in your Hampton, Virginia home?

Most children don't come home and see their family members shooting at each other. I grew up in Hampton, Virginia in a city that has gone through many changes. Hampton is a nice place but I was exposed to some bad things growing up there. When I think back on those difficult times, I realize that many generational curses hovered over my family. Due to lack of discernment, these curses eventually became strongholds. My family was in great need of Jesus Christ.

Throughout the years, I noticed that my parents had different goals. My mother was raised very different from my father. My father was a concrete finisher. I watched him day after day work hard to provide for the family. When he came home from work, he cooked dinner for me and my two brothers. I don't remember too much family time such as playing games, running through the house, having pillow fights, or outside events with my parents.

The memories of my mother are very little because she only lived a short time; I will explain later. Her background consisted of partying, getting drunk, and a lot of sexual immorality. I remember her always being at my grandmother’s house where there was a lot of prostitution and bootleg activity. There were also many people around--many of whom I would see one day and then the next some evil metamorphosis caused their lives to be shortened, even to the point of death. There was often a lot fighting in my family. Sometimes they would literally shoot at each other.

For all these reasons, my childhood wasn't normal. There were times I had to put a dresser in front of the door to get some rest because of the strange men who were always in and out of my grandmother’s house. I was never raped--thank you, Jesus.

God knew he was about to change the pattern of my life. A complete metamorphosis was going to take place.

How did your home environment shape your teenage and young adult years? Were you able to overcome what you'd been through at that point?

No, it caused me to run away from home. I was very angry with my father because he eventually killed my mother. It led me to marry a man who abused me physically and mentally. I was eventually able to overcome this by forgiving my father.

You eventually found Jesus Christ, and experienced a complete metamorphosis. Can you explain what happened and how your life changed?

When I excepted Jesus Christ into my heart, I began to see God transform my life. God changed my heart and mindset. I begin to have a different view about what my life would be.

The concept of metamorphosis is central now to your ministry. How did you come to start your ministry? Was it something you had always wanted to do or did it evolve as well?

Transformation is central to my ministry now because the process I had to go through to get to this level was painful but it ultimately worked out for my good.

Many people learn from hardship and overcome the negative experiences in their lives in various ways. For you, was it primarily your religion that enabled you to overcome, or or where there any other contributing factors?

It was simply God.

Although you suffered as a child, you now have so much to give to others. Do you believe that the suffering you experienced was part of God's overall plan for your life? Many people wonder why God would have us suffer at all. What are your thoughts on this?

Yes, I believe God allowed this process to happen so that he could eventually get the glory. My years of rejection, negative thoughts, depression, suicidal thoughts, hate, and bitterness has enabled me to minister to all types of people.

My Christian upbringing taught me that God loves all people, and that we should first worry about ourselves before judging others. Why do so many Christians seem to spend a lot of time judging others? In your view, is that how they should be spending their time? Doesn't God just want us to be happy? How can we be happy if we're so wrapped up in telling everyone how to live their lives based on our religious doctrine? I believe love is the underlying message that so often gets lost in the shuffle.

God loves people. I don't believe He wants us to judge others. He wants us to be open and allow people to come to us to get Godly wise so He can give them a successful life.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 (New International Version)

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6527212 June 24, 2009

Runaway Lisa: An Aberration Story (Part 1)

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During fits of teenage rage or deep despair, I'm guessing a large percentage of you considered running away from home at least once. My guest today not only had the idea, but at 17, she also methodically planned her escape, and made a run for it--crossing state lines and childhood borders.

Lisa Morguess ran away, and never looked back.

Through determination, hard work, and a pinch of luck, she survived. She grew up. Today Lisa is an insightful mom of six, a loving wife, super blogger, and advocate. On her various blogs, she describes herself and her life this way:

I'm a 41-year-old, married to my best friend, stay-home mother of 6 children: Kevin (12), Joey (6), twins, Annabelle and Daisy (4), Lilah(2), and Finnian, born in July 2008 and diagnosed with Down syndrome. Oh, and my husband is currently battling cancer. I'm just trying to hold it all together.

This is her story.

Lisa shares her experience in three parts. Part 2 will be posted on June 29th, and Part 3 will go up on July 3rd.

You were a teen runaway. Can you tell us what prompted you to take such serious action?

I grew up in, as what has almost become a cliché, a very dysfunctional family. There was a lot of emotional and physical abuse from the time I was very young - in fact, even before I was born, as my understanding is that my father abused my mother while she was pregnant with me, and they both, in turn, abused both of my brothers and me from the time we were very small. I grew up knowing that my mother had never wanted to have me, as I was born a mere 10 ½ months after my older brother, and she told me flat out as I was growing up that she hadn’t wanted to have me, and that she didn’t actually feel like she loved me until I was about 2 years old. That was apparently an epiphany that came to her as she was about to place her hands around my throat to choke me because I cried a lot as a baby and toddler. So I grew up with that kind of start in life, and it continued all through my childhood.

My mother was generally an emotional wreck and she leaned inappropriately on me from the time I was very young, so I became her emotional caretaker. It was a lot of responsibility for a child to have. She also expected me to change roles at her will from her emotional sounding board back to a child whom she could bully. As an adult, I can see now that I suffered a lot of depression as a child, and by the time I was an older teenager, it just all got to be too much to handle. Although I was never actually suicidal, I thought about death a lot, and spent a lot of time wishing I were dead.

When I was 15, there was an incident at home during which both she and my stepfather were beating me up, and it was bad enough that my younger brother ran to a neighbor’s house and called the police. The police came , and it was basically my parents’ word against mine and my brother’s. I don’t know that my parents were cited or anything - I’m guessing not since I was not removed from the home. I did, however, of my own accord, move in with an aunt shortly after that for several months. That situation wasn’t much better, for different reasons. I ended up going back home eventually, and things only got worse. I had a boyfriend by then, and there came a point when my mother tried to force us to get married (I was 16 at the time, and no, I was not pregnant; there was no reason for us to get married, this was just another power play by my mother). We called her bluff and told her we would get married, and then she forbade us from seeing each other and threatened to have him arrested.

It was all very crazy, and I just reached a point that I couldn’t live with my mother (or my step-father) anymore. I felt like I was really already an adult anyway; although my parents provided food and clothing and shelter for me, they certainly were not meeting any of my other needs, and emotionally I felt like I had already been on my own for years. So it didn’t feel like that big a stretch to decide to run away and make my own life. I had tried living with my aunt and that hadn’t worked out, and my father and his wife didn’t want me, so I didn’t have a lot of places to go. I could either stay where I was and continue spiraling down further and further into despair and hopelessness, or I could try to make my own way in the world. Shortly after I turned 17, I left home again, this time with my boyfriend, and we left the state, and none of my family or friends knew where I was for a year.

I'm guessing your family situation played a role in your decision to run away. If so, what was the family dynamic?

My mother and father divorced when I was 5, and it was an on-again, off-again relationship for many years after that. I had an older brother and a younger brother. When I was 14, my mother remarried, a man she had known for three months. Their relationship was horribly dysfunctional and abusive as well, and he was never any kind of father figure, he was really just one more person to abuse the kids.

Did your family search for you? Are you in touch with them now?

When I left home, I left a letter for my mother telling her not to look for me, and that if she found me and brought me back, I’d just leave again. My understanding is that she stormed the house of the parents of my boyfriend, demanding to know where I was (his father actually did know where we had gone, but he never let on to her), and she filed a Missing Person Report with the local police, and that was it. To my knowledge, no other effort was made to find me. I did call my mother periodically from payphones to let her know I was okay, but she would just scream at me on the phone.

I am not in touch with my family now, no. When I reached adulthood, my father and I were somehow able to mend fences and became very close, but he died very suddenly a little over 10 years ago. After I turned 18, my boyfriend and I moved back to California and eventually got married. I had an on-again, off-again relationship with my mother for several years, but it was never an emotionally healthy relationship. She was never able to see me and treat me as an adult, and she continued to bully me for years.

I finally reached a breaking point with her when I filed for divorce from my first husband. I applied for a restraining order against him because he was an alcoholic and a drug addict (and he ended up dying from a drug overdose shortly after I filed for divorce) and very abusive, and I feared for my own safety as well as that of our two-year old son. At the court hearing for the restraining order, my mother showed up with my estranged husband and tried to tell the court what a horrible mother and wife I was (and the truth is, my mother had had virtually no contact with me or my family for a number of years already at that point, so she had no idea what kind of wife or mother I was - this was clearly just another opportunity for her to try to hurt me). Of course, she was not even a party to the hearing, so the judge was not interested in anything she had to say, but that was the last straw for me. What kind of mother does something like that? That was almost 10 years ago, and I have had no contact with her since then.

As far as my siblings, I lost touch with my older brother about 15 years ago. He has/had a lot of problems: never able to hold a job, in and out of jail, drug addiction, etc. Last I heard, he had moved to Idaho. He and I were never close. My younger brother and I, on the other hand, were very close growing up, but I think he never forgave me for running away. When I came back to California, we re-established a semblance of a relationship for a while, but it was never the same - maybe just because we were both a little older. There was a lot of conflict between him and his wife, and me and my first husband, so after a while things just became too strained for us to really have much of a relationship. Then when my husband died, my brother and his wife, in all their new found Christian zeal, decided that I had driven him to his death with my evil ways, and that I was going to burn in hell. Needless to say, I don’t have a relationship with them.

Where did you go and how did you take care of yourself? What did you do for income? Did you finish school?

When my boyfriend and I left, we went to Utah, of all places. None of it was impulsive; the entire endeavor was carefully planned out over the course of 2 or 3 months. I was in high school, but working part-time at a pizza joint, and he was graduated from high school already and working full-time for an exterminating company. We both saved up our money until we had around $2,000. He wanted to go to Utah for the skiing, which is funny because we ended up being so poor when we lived there that I think he skied once while we were there.

We agreed on a date we would leave, and on that morning, I feigned illness so I could stay home from school. After my brothers had both gone to school and my mother and step-father to work, my boyfriend came over with a small U-Haul trailer attached to his car, and we packed up as much of my things as we could, and then we went and packed up all of his things from the apartment he was sharing with his brother at the time. He drove the car with the U-Haul trailer, and I took a Trailways bus until we crossed over the Utah border - that’s how carefully we had planned it out: we knew that because I was a minor at 17 years old, and he a legal adult at 19 years old, it would be a federal offense for him to take me over state lines, so I took the bus.

When we arrived in Utah, we lived in the car at a KOA campground for several days. We scoured the newspaper every day looking for an apartment to rent. This was in October, and it was already beginning to snow, so we were a little desperate. We found an affordable apartment listed in the paper and called the number and the manager said he was leaving town, but if we could find a way in, the apartment was ours. It turned out to be an old house that had been subdivided into three apartments. We broke in through a window, and the apartment was ours.

My boyfriend got a job very quickly in a sales position. I lied about my age and got a job first working as a cashier in a little Greek diner, and then later at a microfilming company. I was always afraid of being found out - after all, I provided my social security number on the W-2 forms I filled out to be employed, and I lived in constant fear that somehow through that they were going to discover that I was actually an underage runaway. But it never happened.

When I left home, I was about a month into my senior year of high school, so that meant that to leave, I dropped out of school. I had always been a bright, hardworking student, so it was certainly a shame to throw that away. However, at the time, it just seemed like a price I would willingly pay for my freedom. After I returned to California, I eventually earned all of my missing high school credits and got my diploma.

Was there a turning point in all this? Did anyone in particular help you?

As I said, I left with my boyfriend. We had a plan, and we had saved up some money, so I think in many respects my story was different from many teen runaway stories. I never lived on the streets or had to eat out of garbage bins or sell myself into prostitution. Alt hough we were very broke at times - I remember having to scrounge for change between the sofa cushions to come up with enough to buy a loaf of bread and some bologna - we both had jobs almost the entire time we lived there, we had a roof over our heads, and clothes to wear. I don’t think I would have attempted to run away on my own. I was well aware of the stories of teen runaways and how they could end up. Having somebody to go with made the whole thing seem a lot more doable and less frightening.

Looking back, do you believe there were better options? What advice do you have for teens teetering on the edge you found yourself on?

I don’t have any regrets about what I did, although I am well aware that my story turned out a lot better than other teen runaway stories. At the time, I really didn’t feel like I had any “better” options. I had tried to live with my aunt, and that was not a positive experience . My father and his wife didn’t want me. The situation at home with my mother and stepfather was unbearable. My high school guidance counselor knew what was going on, at least to some degree, but never reported anything to the authorities or tried to reach out to me in any meaningful way. So I really felt very alone and hopeless, and then this guy, my boyfriend, comes along and wants to save me and suddenly I saw a way out, so I took it. Even now, almost 25 years later, the only alternative I see to my running away was to have stayed in an intolerable living situation with my mother and step-father.

I guess the best advice I have for any teenager teetering on such an edge would be to get help. Find a trusted adult - through church, through school, a neighbor, somebody - who will listen and, if not help you, then at least give you some direction as to where to find appropriate help.

What did you learn from your experience as a teen runaway, and how were you able to use those lessons as you came into adulthood?

I’m not sure that I learned any great life lessons in my experience as a runaway. I think sometimes, experiences are just that - experiences. I survived. It was a chapter in my life. I think if anything, it confirmed the underlying feeling that I grew up with, and that has to do with a sense of self-reliance and not believing that I could really ever count on anybody except myself.

Many teen runaways do not survive either physically or emotionally. How were you able to do so? Life is a long road. Did it get worse before it got better?

As I said, we found an apartment when we arrived in Utah, and furnished it using the money we had saved with thrift store furniture and necessities. We both found jobs, but even so, it was a very hand-to-mouth existence. We were usually very, very broke. His car broke down shortly after we arrived in Utah, and we couldn’t afford to have it fixed for more than a year, so we walked and took the bus everywhere. We ate a lot of Top Ramen and bologna sandwiches. We often couldn’t even afford the laundromat and washed our clothes by hand in the bathtub (I still remember the blisters on my hands from wringing clothes out).

I will say, also, that ours was an extremely rocky relationship from the start. He was abusive to me very early on, but there I was, an underage runaway, hundreds of miles from any friends or family. I didn’t have anywhere else to go, and besides, I had grown up watching my dad abuse my mother, and being abused by both of my parents and my mother’s boyfriend and new husband, so abuse was familiar to me, almost normal in a sick sort of way.

What top three things would you say to parents who are dealing with flight risk kids?

Listen to your kids. Take them seriously. Take responsibility as a parent and realize that as long as your child is a child (and even a teenager is a child) you are responsible for his/her emotional and physical well-being. If your family is out of control, get help. There is help out there.

Do you think the average adult takes teen emotions and issues seriously enough?

In my personal experience, no. However, I realize that I only see things through the very small and jaded window that looks out onto my own past. I don’t know what the statistics are, but obviously not every teen ends up so profoundly unhappy and desperate, so clearly there are good parents out there who are taking care of their kids, listening to them, and taking them seriously.

Of my six children, my oldest is on the cusp of teenhood at twelve years old. I see already that he is changing, and that parenting a teen will not be an easy task. I hope that I always remember my own past and that it will be a reminder to me to make sure my kids feel loved, valued, and taken seriously as they make their way to adulthood.

Come back on June 29th for Runaway Lisa (Part 2).

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6527212 March 15, 2009

Sh-t Hits a Homeless Fan: An Aberration Story

... all of our experiences, good and bad, have the power to enrich our lives.

How many of us have personally known homeless folks? If you're like me, you may have passed them on the streets of New York, Nashville, or Los Angeles, looking tired, dirty, and hungry. You may have heard stories about folks fallen prey to sad sack stories of the homeless needing money to visit dying mothers, or to buy food for their kids when all they really wanted was the next high. Let's face it, we're all a little uneasy about offering a helping hand because, unfortunately, we live in a dishonest world.

I'll admit I haven't always been the best judge of character. I was born believing that everyone is good at heart. I've suffered many a disappointment and heartbreak by finding out the hard way how untrue that can be ... including lessons learned about my own nature. With that said, I still hope and believe that every bum, stripper, burnt out wrestler, and dirty, scary looking teen out there isn't inherently bad. I look into their eyes and search for a kernel of good, something deserving of my hope, love, and understanding.

Besides being born naive, I also do this because I can't forget the moments when people (some strangers and some closer to home) have looked at me with disgust and hatred as if to say, "You deserve what you got!"
Maybe I did, and maybe the bum I saw during my recent visit to Times Square did, too, but maybe, just maybe, there are times when a storm catches us, spinning us out of control, and flailing and grasping to steady ourselves, feeling sick and confused, we just do the best damn thing we can. And our best isn't that great by the world's standards, but it's the choice we grab hold of to pull ourselves through. If we're smart and full of heart, sometimes the circumstances we land in can show us the final path out.

Well, I'm pleased to report that parts of our world are still honest. The newest member of Aberration Nation found herself in a destructive relationship with two young daughters, and she made a choice. Margay did the best she could at the time. She got out of a storm but ended up homeless. Then she was hit with a few other aberrations. Like many of us, she was forced to deal with several life-altering situations at once. The shit hit the homeless fan, so to speak. When you read her story I'm sure you'll agree that, under the circumstances, she did a fantastic job of leading her family to a better place. Margay's story shows us that not all who are homeless are heartless. When armed with the right amount of determination, any system can work.

Many of us have more than one aberration. If we're lucky, we get to deal with these one at a time; however, life doesn't usually work that way. At a certain point in your life, you were hit with several overlapping issues. Can you tell us what happened?

Well, after a series of events that started with me losing my job after 9/11 and ended with me living in a homeless shelter with my two young girls, I found myself facing two very frightening events for any mother. My younger daughter and I both fell ill and went through a series of tests and doctor visits and hospitalizations before we discovered what was wrong with us. the strange thing is that the two conditions, while very different, ran parallel to each other, and still do, at times. My daughter was hospitalized first, in February of 2003, with a stomach problem that, we learned at a later time, was linked to a mental health diagnosis that wouldn't come until much later. While she was in the hospital, the symptoms that I had been feeling for at least a month before--numbness, tingling sensations, the inability to hold something in my hand for more than five minutes without suddenly dropping it--culminated in me taking a terrible spill outside of the hospital on my way home one night. Still, I wasn't able to get to my own doctor until my daughter was out of the hospital. Several appointments with three different doctors and a hospitalization later, I was told that what I had was Multiple Sclerosis. That was in the Spring. That June, we received the devastating news that my younger daughter had bipolar disorder. It would be five more years before it was determined that she also had Asperger's Syndrome.

How did you initially cope with all the diagnosis for you and your younger daughter while homeless?

It was difficult because there is no privacy in a shelter. You may have your own room to go to, but still, everyone knew everyone else's business and everyone liked to gossip, or so it seemed. But, in what I now perceive as a life-saving stroke of intuition, when we first entered the shelter, I had arranged with my counselor to get therapists (a separate one for each, another good idea, as it turned out) for my daughters and myself, just to cope with the struggles of being in a shelter. As it turned out, that move saved our sanity. Having someone to talk to, outside of the shelter, about everything that was bothering me, including life at the shelter and all that entailed, was crucial. I think that is what kept me from giving in to despair. That, and visiting my mother as often as I could. She kept me grounded, kept me from giving up by reminding me what I had to lose if I didn't push through this terrible period in my life. Another thing that made it difficult was the debilitating symptoms of my condition. I was tired all the time, my legs were totally numb before the steroid treatments, and I just wanted to sleep my life away. So of course, those were the times when my younger daughter had her worst episodes with the bipolar disorder and often had to go in for psych consults. Eventually, they put her in an A.R.T. program for a few weeks, but in my opinion, that didn't do anything to help her. And through all of this, I was trying to give my older daughter as much stability as I could, under the circumstances. It was the most difficult time in my life.

You're no longer homeless. How were you able to pull yourself out of that situation?

One of the requirements of living in the shelter is that you have to send out applications to every housing authority and low income facility on the packet they provide you. I did so diligently. Still, I was in the shelter for about fourteen months before an opening became available in a family housing project in my old home town. I have since moved on to better circumstances, but I am so grateful that I had that opportunity to start to rebuild my life.

Many people think of homeless people as lazy or mentally deranged. Did you happen to meet other homeless folks, and if so, what did you learn about them? Did your own ideas about homelessness change after being in those shoes yourself and meeting others like yourself?

The shelter that I lived in housed fourteen families in total, so there were a lot of people there and although some might have fit the preconceived notions about the homeless, the majority didn't. The majority were people just like me; people who, through circumstances beyond their control, found themselves in need of a place to stay while they got back on their feet. I have to admit, my own opinion might have been colored by other's perceptions at one point, but I soon learned differently. I met a lot of wonderful people at the shelter who were just victims of a bad turn of luck and wanted to do whatever they could to get beyond it and make a better life for their families. So I guess you could say that my perception did change. Nowadays, whenever anyone makes a derogatory remark about the homeless, I am quick to defend them and to point out that everyone is just one paycheck away from being homeless. This is especially true in today's economy...

How did your younger daughter come to be diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome?

Well, we had been dealing with the bipolar diagnosis for about five years at that point and she had gone through a series of therapists/psychiatrists in those years. When we moved out of the shelter, I set her up with one who was closer to where we lived and who also was willing to meet with her clients in school. She was with that therapist for three years before the therapist decided to go into private practice and referred us to another therapist within the same agency. After meeting with my daughter for about three months, that therapist, in conjunction with the psychiatrist, presented the diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome, in addition to the bipolar disorder.

How were you able to cope with this new kink to the family system? Did you find the strength to take deep breaths and properly cope? If so, how did you muster that strength? If not, how did you eventually get a grip on the situation?

This is going to sound odd, but it wasn't a shock to me. I have a friend who is a special education teacher and while we were still living in the shelter, she told me that, upon doing some research of Asperger's in anticipation of a new student she would be having in the Fall, she began to suspect that this was what was ailing my daughter. She even sent me a copy of her research and I had to agree with everything she highlighted. So when the therapist said, "This is what we think we're dealing with," I just nodded and felt an extreme sense of relief. I think I just barely kept myself from shouting, "Finally!" because I suspected, even before my friend sent me the information, that there was still a piece of the puzzle missing. I think my daughter was relieved, too, because we finally had something to call the way she felt in school and social situations. So it was a good thing for us to get that diagnosis. I'm not saying that it has made the situation easier to handle, because it hasn't, but it has helped us to understand it better. Understanding is the beginning of change. As for mustering the strength, I have a wonderful support system and it starts with my mother who keeps me grounded and helps me to make sense of everything.

Multiple Sclerosis is a serious disease, and one that progresses. Are you concerned about the future for your daughters? What is your current philosophy in terms of what types of outcomes you wish for them?

I am always concerned about the outcome for my daughters. Even before I fell ill, I worried even more so because they were abandoned by their father when I decided to end the marriage because of his alcoholism and drug abuse. I worried that I didn't do enough to help their father even though he was beyond what help I could give him at that point. I worried that I had damaged them by denying them their father even though it was his choice not to come around anymore. So of course my concerns magnified when I was diagnosed with M.S. Fortunately for me, I am managing my symptoms and it's in a sort of holding pattern right now, so we're able to plan for the future just as if I wasn't ill. The last thing I want is for either of my daughters to feel like they have to put their lives on hold to care for me. As a matter of fact, my older daughter is in the process of preparing for college next fall and I am preparing to home school her sister because her current situation has become such a toxic situation for her that she developed school phobia and suffers from severe anxiety at the mere thought of having to enter the building. My philosophy is that I want them to prepare for their lives the same way they would if I didn't have M.S. I don't want my condition to deter them from reaching their goals, just as I am not allowing it to deter me from reaching my own. As a result of that philosophy, I achieved one of my major goals in life this past November when I had my first book, Nora's Soul, published.

As I often say, sometimes life sucks--that's the nature of the beast. But life is also beautiful and poignant. Through it all, what are the beautiful things that you have seen? Tell us what gifts have resulted from the struggles that you've lead your family through.

I couldn't agree more! There is so much beauty yet to be seen and enjoyed, whether it's a sunset, the first spring blossom, or the fiery foliage of Fall in New England. (Can you tell where I'm from?) Beauty comes in many forms and perhaps the most beautiful thing that I've witnessed on my current journey is the strengthening of the relationships in my family, particularly between myself and one of my sisters, who also has bipolar disorder. She has given me such great insight into the machinations of my daughter's mind, but she's also encouraged a special relationship with my daughter because she truly understands how my daughter feels - right down to the stomach problems that still plague her. That is the true gift here.

Of course, no one wishes tough times upon themselves. With that said, do you believe it's better to live a perfect life atop a silver platter, or do you believe that the struggles we face ultimately enrich our lives if we allow them to?

Who wants to live on a silver platter? It's cold and everyone looks at you funny. Seriously, though, all of our experiences, good and bad, have the power to enrich our lives. It's all in how we perceive them. And if we don't accept the bad, how can we appreciate the good? The struggles we face are what define us as people and bring out our true nature and teach us how to be better people, if we but listen. Although I don't enjoy some of my circumstances and don't relish what I have to face on a daily basis, I wouldn't want to change the circumstances that have led me to where I am today. Everything I have endured has made me the person I am and has put me in the path of some truly wonderful people that I would not have met otherwise. I do believe that my life has been enriched by my circumstances and I wouldn't want to change that.

Many people are struggled today due to our poor economic situation, among other things. If you could say anything to the world in regard to coping amidst multiple pressures and heartaches, what would that be?

Your worries will crush you if you let them. Don't let them. Take care of yourself and your mental health because if you don't, your body will start to break down and then you will have another issue to deal with. Don't be too proud to seek counseling if you're depressed; shatter those taboos about therapy. A good percentage of people in therapy are people like me who just needed to talk to someone about their situations; just because you see a therapist, it doesn't mean there's something wrong with you. (And keep in mind that people who are mentally ill aren't wrong, either; they're just wired differently.) Even if you don't talk to a therapist, talk to someone. Don't keep it bottled up inside; eventually it will explode and the results can be disastrous. And try not to give in to the mentality that the world is ending because you're facing all of these crises at once. It's not. Have faith in yourself, believe that you are strong enough and capable enough to handle it, and you will get through it. You just have to believe.

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