Erica, on Transformation. Sling Diaries Vol VII
The Sling Diaries, Volume VII. A photo-documentary chronicling the art of baby wearing in the lives of families around the world. Over the course of six months, Sling Diarists will create their own Sling Diary though a series of diary entries interpreting a unique theme given to them each month.
Meet all of our Sling Diarists here.
“Beautiful are those whose brokenness gives birth to transformation and wisdom.’
-John Mark Greene
Would you believe me if I told you that I grew up in and out of homes? That many months we lived in “Battered Women Shelters” or hotel rooms, my mother and my sisters packed tightly into one room, bed sharing. The tents came after I fled. We oscillated between a home you would see on a sitcom to a horror scene you would catch on Law & Order. One day we had a family, the next day we were broken, fighting, scared. Our mother vacillated more violently than did our home lives.
I am the eldest of four daughters, birthed to a mother with a heart so broken all the love in the world couldn’t put it back together. Before I was nine, I can remember things that I now as an adult, can identify as abnormal, but it wasn’t until I was nine that I truly grasped something wasn’t right, even if I didn’t know at the time exactly what it was. Something was wrong with my mother. I mean, when you’re 8, you do not know that being shook by your hair like a rag doll isn’t normal. You don’t know that bleach baths are not normal. You do not know obscenities screamed vile and hatefully aren’t normal. You do not know being awoke by a mother at 3am to listen for the ghosts in the wall, or to bake a cherry chip cake, or go shopping for laundry detergent and new clothes isn’t normal. You do not know manic. You do not know depressed. You only know your normal. At nine I realized my mother wasn’t like other mothers but I loved her fiercely. It wasn’t until I neared teen hood that I began to notice the deeper currents. The psychosis. The drugs.
I was taught to steal at 11. All the intricacies of how to look someone in the eye, how to manipulate, how to earn trust just to use it for your own gain. I learned to lie, to distrust, especially other women. I learned to use drugs to get your body to do extraordinary things. Diet pills mixed with coffee for energy, helped to clean your house. Cough medicine and a drink of alcohol, helped you go to sleep. I raised three sisters as my mother eventually spiraled so far out into the world of drug abuse while we were left alone. She isolated us from everyone and anyone that wanted to help. Often leaving our family to have no clue what was happening in our house. We were a family of mental health tied intimately with self-medicating drug abuse that had fallen through the cracks.
As I grew up it became worse. In part because I was more aware of what was happening and also because it was teen hood that made a mother already abusive turn into another person completely. The more I left “girl” behind and inched closer to womanhood, the more my mother began to harm me. Mental, psychological abuse woven tightly with fear and physical harm. Her words are still to this day some of the most hurtful memories of my entire life.
I left when I was 13. Homeless. On the street. Laying my head anywhere parents could be convinced I was just staying the night on a Tuesday. Months and months go by. I can remember being so hungry. And the only skills I had been taught were thievery, so I would casually walk through a grocery store and take just one pack of pop tarts out of the box. Some days that would be all I ate. Eventually truancy caught up with me and thanks to a relentless truancy officer I was eventually arrested and my mother was contacted. She feigned worry and distress but never showed up to the hearing. I was a ward of the state. I was treated like a criminal. But I was only trying to save my life. After a week, the aunt on my father’s side (he had passed away in a freak UPS accident when I was two) appeared and I was given to them. Luckily, they loved me and boy did they try to help me. And as an adult I can see how all the things they did, the things they said, the normalcy and love and patience and curfews they showed me….did indeed do something. But at the time, I was so broken that their comfortable home and normal lives could not save or fix me. At 15, I was dating a 22 year old and nothing anyone said was going to stop me. I was arrogant and after years of keeping myself and siblings alive, I thought I was grown. I wasn’t, I was wrong and I made things harder for myself by thinking so.
At 16, I was a high school drop out, 2 weeks into 10th grade. By 17, I was pregnant. And by 18, I was working two jobs and I was a teen mom. I know, right. Well shit, the cycle is gonna repeat. It was repeating. I had done every single thing my own broken mother had done. And everyone was quick to tell me how much of a failure I was and how worse it was going to become, statistically speaking. And I believed them. Of course I would be a loser. I was a physically, sexually, mentally abused product of a white trash family and I would more than likely never amount to anything. I had thrown my chance away when I left the family that tried to save me and had a baby out of wedlock and became a high school drop out.
I was more than likely going to continue into my adulthood unstable and possibly abusive. It was all I had known.
Well you know what. Your past experiences DO NOT DEFINE YOU. You define you. And that pair of baby blue eyes that looked up at me like I was the absolute best thing on this planet stirred so much love in me that I couldn’t help but love myself and radical transformation ensued. I found my worth. It took several more years of ups and downs and repeat abuse with the father of my two oldest boys. But I eventually recognized that trauma that I was repeating and I re-declared my worth and left the abuse with only the support of two people and two baby boys, ages 4 & 1. It was scary and isolating and I questioned if I should return to the abuse, if it meant not climbing this hill alone. But every time I looked back the fear grew like a shadowy mountain and I continued to move forward, determined in my truth. With each step forward, the shadowy mountain could not cast its darkness and the sunlight shone brighter and brighter. Friends and family were able to see ME. It hasn’t been easy to become new. To grow so big that the mold that was cast too confining for my greatness shattered, allowing for a woman not defined by her history to stand tall. My history matters because it tells the tale of determination and perseverance but it does not define or constrict me. I do not allow it.
I am 35 years old. I have a Bachelors degree of Anthropology. I am a distinguished Alumni, invited back yearly for speeches and lunches with the incoming class. I am a mother of five, ages 17-2. I have been an apprenticing midwife and just passed a National certification, making me a Certified Professional Midwife. I own my own business and one with my husband. We own a home on 85-acres where we farm and raise our family. I am a published author. I am trusted and loved and have friends. I attend school functions. I make my children laugh and most importantly, I make them feel safe. I am not an abusive mother. I am not an alcoholic. Or a thief. Or a drug addict. I do not lie to manipulate those around me. I AM transformation. We ARE all transformation. None of us are bound by our past, nothing is cemented. There is no trauma that cannot be transmuted, no experiences that cannot be transformed. We are capable of the greatest growth and I like to think we are masters of our own fate. I felt it was important to share this snippet of my past. I hear from mamas all the time how perfect things seem in other peoples lives, especially when we use these 3x3 squares to cast our unique stories, often highlighting our goodness and our happiness, or how they could never do what I do, or how their pasts have made it impossible to change, or how they aren’t good enough. And I get it, I am STILL a work in progress and I know how scary it is to take the helm. Especially if taking the helm means every ones abandons ship. You know, I have taped all around my home reminders to keep myself aligned with the mother I want to be, not the mother I had. It’s hard work to change but it is so worth it. And if I can do it, I know you can do it. We are all able to take the broken pieces and turn them into something new. I believe in you.
I hope that by being brutally honest with my children about my upbringing and my history will help them not to feel roadblocked by the hard crap life is gonna bring up. I also want them to know that goodness is worth the fight, that transformation is always happening whether we like it or not and to go with the flow of it and trust in the process.
That the becoming and sometimes the brokenness is where the beauty is at.
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