I was about thirty-three years old when I started living.
My life seemed to end and begin one afternoon after a vicious confrontation with my business partner in the presence of our employees. These fights were becoming frequent, not through any fault of his, but entirely due to my overwhelming discontent with my pathetic existence.
My life was spiraling out of control. Bitter over yet another relationship meltdown, I sought therapy, only to then become involved in a sordid affair with my therapist. A failed attempt at a professional modern dance career led me to return to a job I detested. I found no pleasure in life, hated everyone, especially myself, and spewed bitterness at all who crossed my path.
After that particular fight, furious and frustrated, I stopped by a Manhattan pub for a drink. Drinking was becoming a routine, as I often needed a drink at the end of the day and to get to sleep. But this was the first occasion I was in a bar having one before noon.
As I sat staring into my cocktail too upset to even take a sip, I looked around at the other patrons. They were men; hardened alcoholics who had probably been drinking for hours. What disturbed me most was that they reminded me of my father, the man I had vowed never to emulate. Wearily, I slipped off the bar stool thinking, "This can't be my life; I can't let myself become one of them."
I paid for my untouched drink, and made my way to my apartment, where I spent the rest of the day in bed in a strange numbness. Just laying there, all I wanted was for the pain to stop. I was convinced dying was my only way out.
Then I realized something I had never considered before. What if this is my life and nothing ever changes? Tomorrow would be just like today, and the upcoming days simply a repeat of the previous miserable months and years I had endured so far. This thought filled me with an unspeakable dread that made my heart palpitate furiously. After a while, it exhausted itself and suddenly, I couldn't feel my heartbeat at all.
My first thought was, "It seems my wish is finally coming true." But in that same moment, I knew I didn't really want to die.
Since I had tried everything to improve my life -- psychotherapy and hard work; or simply to feel better -- alcohol, sex, and excessive spending; and nothing had worked, I didn't know what else to do. So for the first time in a long time, I prayed. I sat up on my unmade bed, and in humbling resignation, pleaded, "Please God, if you are up there, you gotta help me." Soon after I spoke the words, a calming relief filled my body. I fell back unto my pillow and instantly fell asleep.
I will never forget how I felt when I awoke about 16 hours later. For the first time, I tasted what contentment could feel like. I was refreshed and light; the constant tight feeling around my heart and chest area was gone. This was my first taste of freedom; I was no longer a prisoner of my pain and fears. On that day, I came to the conclusion that any other life was not worth living. So I decided to find a way out of the nightmare I had been living and to awaken to a new life. With this temporary sensation of relief and calm, I set out on my quest to find healing. And that is how my new way of existing began.
It was no secret to me how I had gotten to the point where I considered suicide a valid option. Even as a teenager, I was aware that my life until then might indeed be my fate. I understood that my future was likely to be a reflection of my childhood. Since chaos and violence was all I'd known, repeating the conflict and mayhem that was my family's legacy was an inevitable consequence.
In my book Memories of Hell Visions of Heaven: A Story of Survival, Transformation and Hope, I recount my experiences with abuse. My father, an alcoholic who drank away every penny of our family's earnings, persistently berated and beat up on my mother. Soon, it become my seven older siblings' duty to defend her. Thus, the web of physical violence escalated to include machetes, two-by-fours, and whatever would cause the most hurt in their attempt to kill each other. Violence was what we knew as a family and the only method used to resolve conflict. As the last and the weakest of the pack, I was defenseless and therefore, received the brunt of their viciousness.
My father, who led the parade of violence that my siblings so seamlessly joined, ironically, was the only one who never laid a hand on me. The abuse I received from him was the emotional kind, while the abuse I received from the rest especially my fundamentalist Pentecostal mother was all physical.
My mother, driven my scripture, firmly believed that God granted all parents the right to spank their children. Every infraction was just cause for a beating, usually accompanied by verbal chastisement. Those were the upbringing I was reliving and trying to escape from. This pattern of anger, aggression, and violence was the only existence I knew, and the life I was leading.
From the moment I experienced a different way of being, I sought to break free from the captivity of my past and its destructive behaviors, as I now had an unquenchable thirst for more of the freedom I had just tasted.
There were many reasons why I wrote Memories of Hell, Visions of Heaven, but there were three main ones that kept me going through the gut-wrenching moments of the two long years it took me to complete it. The writing process gave me the opportunity to revisit difficult memories and experiences that I would have merely tried to continue to ignore.
Firstly, writing this book was a gift to myself, a symbolic closure to a long healing process. Healing is ongoing, this was an end to one phase of my multi-faceted course of actions. Secondly, in sharing my story, I realized my tale was not unique.
So many of us have experienced abuse, and while the circumstance may vary, the scars that remain are the same. What struck me the most was the amount of shame that surrounds abuse and how so few are willing to talk about it.
And thirdly, I wanted to address the permanent damage parents can cause their children when they choose to punish by hitting them.
I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel the country and personally share my story with a larger audience. It is my hope that, by offering a voice and a face to the cause of ending abuse, especially of children, my own suffering was not in vain.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.