Growing up in one of the few Black towns in Northern California had its perks. I grew up with a sense of community, respect for my elders and the knowledge that if I ever set a toe out of line, somehow it was going to get back to my mother or grandmother. In a small town, everyone knows or thinks they know your business, and they are not afraid to tell everyone what they have heard.
My mother raised my brother and I with the help of my uncle and grandmother. We loved and protected each other the best way we knew how, and I have always felt very fortunate to have the family that I have.
My mother moved from L.A. with my brother and I, after my dad was sent to prison. Their marriage had not been an easy one. My mother was only 18 when she met and married my 29- year-old father. He had lived his life hand-to-mouth on the streets of Boston since he ran away at the tender age of fourteen. My mother was a quiet, sheltered bookworm, starting out her first year in college when they met. She had me 9 months after their union.
My dad was a hard man and didn’t know how to provide or care for a family. When they met, he was in the Mosque trying to turn his life around. But he soon found that family life was much harder than he had anticipated, and he quickly turned back to the life that he had known before — hustling to make ends meet.
By the time I was three years old, I had witnessed my father emotionally and physically abuse my mother. But I loved him the way only a daughter could. And when my mother received the call that my father was in jail and wouldn’t be coming home, my heart was broken.
By this time, my brother was born, and my mom had the unhappy job of relocating two small children with barely a dime to her name. So, she called my grandmother who wired her some money, and we took a 9 hour bus ride to begin our new life at my grandmother’s house.
Although I missed my dad, living with my Gram was wonderful. All of my family were there — my uncle, my auntie, Gram, my mom, my little brother and I all jammed into a three-bedroom apartment. I felt safe and wanted for nothing. My Gram always said “I may not be able to buy you everything you want, but I will always spoil you with love.
But all good things come to an end. When I was around 4 or 5, one of my uncle’s friends began “befriending” me. He talked to me as if I was an adult, and that made me feel special. As all monsters and predators prey upon the weak and the innocent, he preyed upon me.
I do not know how long these occurrences happened, for time is not the language of youth. But I know that he stopped hurting me only after he was caught trying to sneak upstairs by my mother and auntie. They believed that they had stopped him from hurting me, never knowing that the damage had already been done some time before they found out.
From then on, I lived my life in secrets and fear. I buried what had happened as best I could, but the feeling of shame and loneliness plagued me for years.
As an adult, I never knew why I felt so sad, angry and ashamed. I was afraid of everything on the inside, but proud and defiant on the outside. I just thought it was a part of my personality.
My romantic relationships all turned out the same — full of secrets, longing and anger. So, in my late twenties, I began exploring my spiritual side. I was looking for answers, trying to figure out just what was wrong with me.
Each step I took led me to new places within myself, to opening up my heart and to helping me fill the cracks in my soul. Then one day, I had an epiphany:
What if I am not broken, but there is a deep wound that I have never acknowledged that is festering inside of me? What if the pain I feel is the result of some form of trauma?
So I began searching for the pain instead of running from it. But that was excruciating, and I realized for the first time in my life — that I couldn’t do this alone.
I began to look for women’s groups in my area that dealt with trauma. But I didn’t have much luck. Everything I found was either hours away from my home or closed down due to lack of funding.
I wanted something that felt real and personal. To be surrounded by people that supported one another, encouraging growth and applauding change.
One not so special day, I went online and by some kind of miracle I found an ad for ARCS on Craigslist. I went to the website, read the bio, and got excited for the first time in a long time — thinking that I might have found just what I was looking for.
I signed up that night, to join a free online class. The day of the online class, I was quite nervous. Being of a generally reserved nature, I often feel uncomfortable in new groups of people.
But honestly, I had nothing to worry about.
From the moment that I first connected to the class, I felt nothing but welcomed with kindness and care. I was impressed with how our teacher interwove her extensive knowledge of human behavior, addiction and trauma with her own personal stories of overcoming life’s demanding experiences.
The ease from which teachers and students alike shared their stories was mind boggling to me. I always hated when people asked me about my past or to talk about my feelings. But here, women were freely expressing themselves — with no shame, no guilt and no manipulation.
I knew this was where I wanted to be.
My teacher gave me the opportunity to share why I came to the class and any portion of my personal story I would like to add. And shockingly, I did so freely!
I started to feel empowered from that very first class, and I haven’t looked back since. I signed up with the intention of creating a safe space for women to deal with trauma, but what I truly found was a safe, nurturing and knowledgeable space to learn about myself.
With each lesson that I’ve completed through ARCS, I have gained another part of myself that I never even knew I was missing. I have learned so much about addiction, trauma and how to separate the truth from the lies that I have believed all my life.
Since starting ARCS, I have begun to find my voice and to gain confidence in myself. I am now teaching guided meditation classes, writing the novel I have wanted to write for years — and even painting, simply for the fun of it.
I am doing all of the things that I was afraid to do for myself, because I was always giving myself away to others in seeking what I had lost in childhood.
Through ARCS I have learned how to hear my inner child and give myself the things that I longed for as a child.
In my time at ARCS I have learned that, often, it is the most wounded souls that are the most giving and caring people. Trauma survivors know and understand loss, heartache and what it truly means to be alone in this world.
And while this can manifest itself in a myriad of self-harming ways, it can also manifest in a strong desire to protect the weak and innocent. We can become excellent care givers, as we have a unique and valuable understanding of human behavior.
Through ARCS I have learned that that which gave me the greatest shame can now become one of my greatest strengths. One of the best gifts that I have ever given myself was stepping out of my comfort zone, trusting my instincts, and becoming part of the ARCS family.