Light at the end of a dark tunnel

Persevere through the struggle and never give up.
(Photo by Charlotte McKnight)

Persevere through the struggle and never give up. (Photo by Charlotte McKnight)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Chapter 1: The Attempt

I was 12-years-old. I tried talking to my friends. Only one of them came come close to understanding what I was going through. She gave me the idea that perhaps cutting myself would help me feel better.

I tried it. I tried it four times. The first time I had no idea how to do it. I just grabbed a stashed-away knife and began to cut at my forearm. The initial cut wasn't large and I felt no effects. It didn't make me feel better. I was still torn up inside. I dug the knife farther and farther into the cut. "This isn't working," I told myself. I cleaned my wound and wrapped it up. It was winter, so the cuts were easy to hide.

I tried it three more times. It was not enough. I abandoned cutting and decided that if this is what I had to look forward to for the rest of my life, then I didn't want to live. I thought maybe in death I could find the peace and happiness I strived for.

I thought about it a few times before I actually worked up the courage to try killing myself. One night, everything became too much to handle. I was scared, angry, but most of all just wanted to be happy, for once in my life.

I grabbed aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and a few other pill bottles I found; I went to my room with a glass of water and swallowed everything.

The next morning, I woke up in complete disbelief. I sat there, angry that my attempt at death had failed. I started thinking there was no way a normal person could have lived after swallowing such a large amount of pills. I thought "perhaps I am supposed to live, perhaps there is a reason why I am here and I just haven't figured it out yet."

My new revelation motivated me; I was able to get through the bumpy road for the next few years.

Chapter 2: Exposed

I was young and scared, but that was the only life I knew. There was no relief, no safe haven, no one to trust or rely on. My mom and brother were broken from all we had been through. They were lost and didn't know how to get out of our situation.

My dad was abusive; verbally and physically. My mom could not protect us when she divorced my dad. He re-married, but the brunt of his fury landed on my brother and I.

My dad knew mom would always find out about the abuse and that it would hurt her. That was his goal, to hurt my mom. It worked; my brother and I were just pawns in his sick game, and we would arrive at our mother's house in tears.

Chapter 3: Bed time stories

When I was 12-years-old I started to look like a woman. My dad would still yell at me, but things started changing. He began touching my brother and I on the leg, rubbing up and down. "This is new," I remember thinking. Then he started commenting on my appearance, buying me revealing clothes, and telling me to start shaving.

While I was sleeping one night, he climbed into bed with me with wearing only his underwear. "What should I do?" I thought. I let my mom know, but she wouldn't to do anything. She explained that the abuse could get worse if she confronted him. I put up with it as best I could.

Whenever I would go to my dad's house for the weekend, I brought a knife and slept with it under my pillow. I locked and barricaded my doors, unlatched the window and kept my shoes close by in case I had to make a run for the police station located a few blocks away.

Chapter 4: Police Intervention

The divorce took three years to finalize, and the police were often called due to my dad's actions.

For the most part, my brother and I weren't home when the police came, but once I did have to make an official statement when my dad came to our school to pick us up. I was in sixth grade.

My mom tried to protect me that day at school; she moved in front of me as he tried to grab me. He shoved both of us into a wall, and my mom continued to shield me until help arrived.

Chapter 5: Enough is Enough

My freshmen year of high school I decided to finally put an end to some of the torture.

My brother got onto my dad's computer. We found child, and incest porn. I remember being sick to my stomach. I never wanted to go back to his house, and I refused to remain a victim. I did the only thing I could think of, and went to my high school guidance counselor; told her what was happening, and what my brother found.

She immediately called child protective services. When I got home, I was proud of myself. I told my mom what I did, how I found the courage to stand up. As I explained my actions, I noticed my mother's discontent.

She couldn't believe what I had done. She told me to go back and beg them to not talk to my dad and tell them everything was ok.

I was devastated; the bright ray of hope I had was smothered. I was angry that she would continue to put me in that situation without doing anything to stop it.

I asked her why. She made it all too clear that what I did was bad. I would have to deal with the repercussions of my actions once he found out.

I tried to stop child protective services from talking to him. When the school came to her, she tried to explain what would happen if they went to my father. Despite our desperate pleads, they went to his house.

Chapter 6: Healing

He never touched me again. It was the first relief I had in a long time, but I was still troubled inside. While I might no longer be suicidal, I was still angry and unstable. What I had gone through changed me into a person I didn't recognize.

I hated everything about myself. I lost friends because I couldn't let go of the past. I blamed my past for why I hated myself, I soon found myself very much alone and realized it was time to change.

I wanted to join the military straight out of high school. Getting away was the perfect solution to my problem. I had promised my mom I would get a college degree first. I chose a school three hours from home. I was able to get away from everything and the healing began.

Like most things, healing wasn't as easy as I imagined. Going away to college just wasn't enough to help me be the person I hoped to be.

Chapter 7: Beginning to Transform

Progress came slowly. I could identify triggers that made me depressed or angry. I couldn't fix them right away. I knew I hated having issues communicating my feelings. I knew I hated that I held everything in until I exploded on someone. I knew where to start; so I could become the person I hoped to be.

I wanted to care more. I didn't want my temper to ruin my relationships. I wanted to be helpful and strong. I wanted to be a person that could help others when they had a problem.

Chapter 8: The Realization

One day, everything changed. My best friend, whom I had a falling out with a few years prior, almost died. She clung to life; but a machine pumped her heart.

I dropped everything to be by her side. I needed to make up for how I caused and abrupt end to our friendship.

Not long after she was in the hospital, I received word my grandpa's leukemia was back and he had only six months to live.

At that point, I made the best, but hardest, decision of my life. I moved back home and finished college while taking care of my friend and grandparents. Their needs were more important than mine, but I still had to continue fixing myself.

I created self-improvement goals. I would no longer hide behind my past. I looked ahead to my future, instead of looking behind at my past.

My goals were to be there for my grandparents, help my friend get healthy, finish college with a 3.0 grade point average, and then join the military.

I was determined; nothing was going to stop me. My dad resisted my help for my grandparents because I wasn't supposed to see anyone on his side of the family without his permission. I didn't care. I loved my grandpa and I was there with him until the end, supporting my grandma along the way.

My friend's doctors told her she would never walk again, but I was able to help her, not only walk, but return to college and live her life again. There were times when she gave up and didn't want me there. I never gave up. I never let her tell me she couldn't do something, and I showed her she could.

Nothing was more satisfying than knowing I made a difference in people's lives. I became the person I had always dreamed of and strived to be. I let go of my past and created a future for myself. I was proud, and most of all happy.

Every class I took, and passed, boosted my motivation and confidence. I proved I could accomplish goals I set. I graduated college with a 3.0.

I started talking to service recruiters and enlisted in the Air Force. I wanted to support my country, and start my life away from home.

During the enlistment process I knew I would be leaving soon. I decided to visit my step-brother. Enlisting was the push that opened my eyes and gave me the strength to forgive my dad. While visiting, I noticed many things had changed with him.

Instead of seeing what I had expected, I saw that my dad was happy. Usual triggers for his rage had now made him laugh.

I visited him more often and found out I was right to forgive him. The feeling was incredible.

We never talked about what happened in the past because I didn't need his apology. I had forgiven him the moment I found out he had changed. I knew that in order to change, a person must first admit that there is a problem. He admitted he had a problem, and that was all I needed in order to forgive him.

Accomplishing my goals was what I needed to change into the person I desperately wanted to be while I was growing up. Looking back, it is hard to recognize the person I used to be. The only way I associate with that sad girl is to remember everything I experienced was all I knew.

Because of my past and how it molded me, I am a stronger and better person than I imagined. I grew from a dark past and made my way into a bright future.