When Tammi first asked to write my “story” I thought “yeah, sure…no problem…I’ll get to it sometime.” I didn’t really have a major issue with writing it, although I would have a couple of years ago. It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve really gotten comfortable acknowledging, owning and even cherishing ALL of my past – without guilt, shame or feeling that I was somehow less than others because of what I went though. So I didn’t put it off because I was scared or ashamed – I just really didn’t get that it would make a big difference.

I’ve been a coach and seminar facilitator for years now and I have the honor of helping people learn about themselves and gain tools so they can get past barriers (most all are rooted in our past experiences) and design lives they love. I’ve always thought that my gift to give the world was to teach people how to move forward and have never spent much time in the story of why or how I learned the lessons myself. Yesterday I did a tele-class and afterward received the most touching email from a woman I didn’t know. I had very briefly shared about my childhood and it really connected for her since she had just left an abusive relationship. It had clearly had an impact for her and it touched me deeply to know that my life could have such a profound effect on another woman. It is from this place that I share my “story” with you.

I was adopted as a baby at a time when the adoption process was fairly loose and didn’t effectively screen out parents who had no business having children. My biological mother was a teenager and chose to give me up because she thought I would have a better life that way. My new “parents” took me home when I was 3 days old and according to my adoption records, there was one home visit by an SRS representative before my adoption was finalized.

As a young child, my siblings and I all endured some pretty healthy “whippings” and back in those days it wasn’t all that uncommon but as I got older, the frequency and intensity became worse. We had a large family and I always felt like I was singled out because it seemed that I got more of this special attention then my brothers and sisters. My father never kept it a secret that he hadn’t wanted me so I thought it was because I was adopted but, when I look back now I realize that my personality or attitude was probably the biggest factor. While the others learned to shut up and take it, I refused to let it be ok and I protested as much a little girl could. I became a rebel and I chose to fight back.

Much of my childhood is now a blur (this isn’t due to age – I’m only 42!) and has been for sometime. I think I chose to block it out because it was so painful. When I do think about it, the feelings that come to mind are pain – both physical and emotional, a constant state of fear, and extreme loneliness. I think the loneliness was the worst of all. I didn’t feel I could tell anyone. First because I thought maybe I had done something to deserve it. Maybe there really was something horribly wrong with me; otherwise it surely wouldn’t be happening. My father told me many times that he hadn’t wanted me and neither had anyone else – including my biological mother. This really helped to feed my feelings of worthlessness and I felt very ashamed.

I remember going to school with welts on my legs and wearing sweat pants in gym so the teacher wouldn’t see them. I remember dressing in the bathroom stall so the other girls wouldn’t see them. When I started sleeping over with girlfriends it became more and more apparent to me that what took place in my house wasn’t normal and that maybe I didn’t deserve to be hit. As I got older, it became harder and harder to keep it to myself.

I have a vivid memory of a particularly bad beating from my father. I had triggered him and he beat me with a leather belt (he called it a razor belt) until my legs bled. I was so hurt and outraged that I couldn’t let it go on another day. I left the house on foot and headed toward the police station, which was about a mile away. My mother caught up with me in her car and told me that if I went through with reporting my dad, it would be the end of our family and that it wasn’t fair to the other kids. She said that she would rather I got in her car and we could both drive off a bridge together. I went back home with her.

Within a year of this event, I reached my breaking point and decided I would rather die than continue living the way I was. My father found out that I planned to commit suicide and told me that if I was that unhappy, I should leave. He said there was a big world out there and that perhaps I would be happier somewhere else. I left the next morning and never returned home. I was 14.

Over the next several years I married, so I could become legally emancipated from my parents, and decided to have a child. My teenage logic said that I could just make my own family! Crazy as this was, my daughter has been the greatest gift in my life. I’ve always felt that my life really began after I left “home” and I guess we raised each other in many ways.

For many years after I left home, life was a real struggle and I continued to feel angry, hurt, and inferior but, I was never hit again and I never allowed anyone to abuse me in any way so the struggle seemed to be worth it. I felt like I’d overcome my past and I had WON. It wasn’t until years later that I realized I was still a victim to my past – even years after I left. I figured out the source of my unhappiness wasn’t the events that had taken place – they were over and dead – but the decisions and beliefs I had created about myself. I had decided as a little girl that I was a mistake and had no value and this pain was constant and endless.

Thankfully, as I got older, I met some wonderful teachers who showed me that I could change my beliefs and I could create and allow the beautiful life I wanted. As I sit here and write this today, I feel incredibly grateful for my life – today, yesterday and even the days as that lonely, hurt little girl. I now have a wonderful, healthy life full of family, friendship, fun, passion, learning, growing, sharing and LOVE. I KNOW that I am a courageous, loving, lovable, passionate, valuable woman and I don’t hurt anymore.

Both of my parents have passed away and I feel a lot of empathy for them. I know now that my father was terribly ill and that my mother was simply living out her life the way she’d been taught by her parents. I love them both for the gifts they gave to me and brought to the world. I know that I wouldn’t be the woman I am today or have the gifts I’m able to give had I not been taken into their home.

If nothing else, my wish is that I can offer you hope. Regardless of our pasts, or even present circumstances, every one of us can create a beautiful life. I don’t care who you are or where you came from or what has happened to you – you deserve to be happy and to live a life free of pain, fear and abuse. There is hope.

Ruth Hensley
July 16, 2009