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Victim Turned Leader: An ACEs Story
My entire life I have belonged to others, never to myself. As a little girl I would lie on the green grass in the summer for hours, just looking at the sky, making shapes out of clouds and watching bees buzz by. Sometimes I’d catch one and then a fly, and the little tomboy in me would place them in a jar to watch them fight, then, my empathic side would shower me with guilt for the rest of the day.
I often searched the ground for four leaf clovers, and I’d make wishes. Not for ponies, or candy, I wished for places and experiences, for friends and bike rides through the neighbourhood. My existence was contained, into this little backyard, a front porch and a spot on the floor next to my parent’s bed, there was no room for me. There I slept like a pet, under foot. My imagination was my best friend and my spirituality was my comfort. When I started going to school full time and had access to books, my imagination evolved, and I escaped often. I knew I had more value then I was led to believe, I’m not sure where that sense came from, but it was like the force in Star Wars, it was strong in me, and it was just a matter of time.
In my teenage years it got worse. I’d get up and go to school, then straight home afterwards, I’d eat, change out of my uniform and put on clothes I didn’t care about, they were baggy, I didn’t want attention, and even in baggy clothing, I dealt with it every evening. I would go to work with my parents at an office building by the airport, the men who worked there managing exports felt no hesitation being inappropriate in my presence. It was disgusting and gross and the moment I got home, I jumped into the tub. By the time I was back in my room, it was midnight and two to three hours of homework awaited me. I’d do what I could, often crashing, then get up again to do it all over again with only three to four hours sleep. Six days a week, for four years. I was very angry during that time, I was oppressed, I was abused mentally and physically, but still I knew I had value.
By the age of twenty-two, I was married, with a mortgage and my first serious job with a big company. It was the opportunity I had waited my whole life for, a stage to shine, to succeed and to finally give myself the life I wanted, but it wasn’t what I wanted. I still felt oppressed, like my life was not mine. I was on auto pilot, doing what was expected, settling, and hoping it would work, but I knew I was lying to myself, and I continued to do that, for a long time. At twenty-seven I became a mom to a little girl, and when I looked at her, I felt joy and love and all good things, and simultaneously, it terrified me. My childhood had been taken from me, hers would be golden. My teenage years of self-discovery had been forbidden, hers would be filled of memories of summers with friends, school events and extra circulars. My twenties had been isolated into societies expectations and a man child who felt he deserved me, she would belong to no one, not even to me. Eight years later I had a second daughter, and ten years after that I am here.
In the fourth act of my life I am successful, I have been in the same relationship, a result of a lot of work, and growth and love, and yes, choice. It is this version of me that I wish to introduce to you when I say, “Hello, I am Paula”. I am a successful leader in a large and well-known organization, where I empower a team in addition to other Women and young talent to achieve their goals without fear, and with gumption. I am a thought leader, I have so much value now, but- I still do not belong to myself. I belong to all of them. Here is my plan for escape. My role as a mother is my purpose, so that will never change, but who I am as an individual, is a little girl who wants her wishes to come true. My first wish, gift myself with and education so I can remove the little grey cloud over my head that makes me feel like a fraud, no matter how successful I am. I will never be able to get the experiences I missed in high school or University, but I can get the prize that lets me take new steps. Wish number two, apply these things to a new career path that is about what I want, no longer about what I need to survive or take care of everyone else.
I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m not going to worry about it. I might never get the full result of my career aspirations, redesigning a career after it’s had its own twenty-four-year lifespan isn’t going to be easy, and I have some fears, but it is also what makes me fearless.
This is me.