Having a challenging childhood and attending 12 different schools in just nine years, I was that awkward kid that tried too hard to fit in. You know the type, right? I did “all the things” to get the attention and approval of others. This led to immense deflation of any possible self-worth.
It was the perfect set up for what I refer to as living in the gray.
I was bullied in kindergarten for being too fair-skinned and teased relentlessly in 4th grade for being the first girl to develop AND the tallest girl in the class. My nickname was “elephant.” I’m an average 5’6’’ tall today.
My younger self had her spirit broken before she could get going. The elementary years were hard, but it was about to get worse. It would be a long arduous road ahead.
The Road Ahead
When you’re the new kid, the first few days are terrifying. I remember so vividly my heart pounding through my chest and repeating, “you can do it, Kari, you can do it.” Followed by, “I’m so scared, what if nobody likes me? Will I be picked on again? Will anyone want to sit with me at lunch?” Never once did I worry about my grades. I was consumed with only the social aspect and being accepted by the other kids.
I wanted to die. There were times I wish I just didn’t exist. All to avoid the fear of trying to fit in AGAIN and being rejected.
I envied all the kids that grew up together, and that had a history of memories. Instead of having the courage to try out for sports, cheerleading, or the debate team, I was the kid that rebelled. It was easier to be labeled the bad kid, the one that was a bit of troublemaker. I had fear in school, but when it came to trying something dangerous, I was all in.
Where the struggles became worse
In my 7th-grade year, I attended school for only six months due to an older student slamming my head into a steel beam, knocking me unconscious and bleeding. Because this was one of the toughest years of my “then life”, my mom took me out of the school and pretended to homeschool me the remaining months, but that’s not what happened. Instead, I was out hitchhiking, smoking cigarettes, and hanging with kids several years older than me.
My 7th-grade year was also when I started smoking weed every day with some neighbor kids while listening to Sammy Hagar’s Montrose album repeatedly. Just hearing a song off that album, I feel high. I also have to add Van Halen’s Eruption, well any song from that record. I was in love with Eddie Van Halen, who was married to my idol, Valerie Bertinelli. Secretly, I was Val’s character, Barbara Cooper. The TV show, One Day at a Time, was my favorite. I guess it was the similarities of a divorced mother with two very different teenage girls. Oddly enough, I somewhat resembled Barbara Cooper, and my sister resembled McKenzie Phillips’ character, Julie. (Well at least in my mind, that is.)
My mom didn’t know much of what was happening back then, but not her fault. She was working two jobs trying to keep a roof over our heads after a bitter divorce with my father. My elder sister of 6 years was transitioning into college and had her own issues to deal with, so she wasn’t around either. It was just me and the derelicts in the apartment complex.
My dad was also trying to adjust to a new life. He moved 50 minutes North of us so his visits were few and far between. On my 13th birthday that year, he gave me a white large diary that I wrote in religiously. I wish I still had that diary today for research purposes, but I burned it page-by-page about twenty years ago. The memories were too hard for me to have around as a “keepsake.” I wrote everything in the diary, including how I was sexually abused multiple times and the relentless teasing I endured for years.
The entire family was in transition, not communicating, and just trying to figure it all out. We weren’t abnormal. It appeared many families split up when things got hard. It was just easier than sticking it out, according to my forming belief, via first-hand experience.
After another tumultuous year, of yet another new school, my 8th-grade year remains the one as most memorable, and not in a good way. This was the year that I moved in with my father after my mother decided to move back to Boston, her home town. It was a year of getting arrested for underage drinking, sneaking out of my dad’s house at night, and getting into a huge fight with a girl from school. This brutal attack was done in front of multiple kids in the woods and was extremely traumatizing.
This chick beat me up so badly that I was unrecognizable to my father when he retrieved me from a stranger’s house that I banged on for help in desperation. That was on a Friday night. My dad told me to suck it up and get on the bus Monday morning to go to school. Guess who was waiting for me as I stepped off the bus? That girl with her posse. It was not an easy day, as the torment continued.
New possibilities, or new struggles?
My 9th-grade year was interesting. I started at a public school in a brand new state, Pennsylvania. After just two months, a teacher named Mr. Ravina threw me up against the lockers and slapped me across my head in front of the other kids while screaming at me for not calling him “Mr” Ravina. I just said Ravina to him earlier that day. He didn’t like that. I fired back the double-dog-dare-ya 4-letter word that starts with F and ends with a U. He promptly escorted me to the principal’s office.
Disgusted with no other options, my mom enrolled me in the only possible remaining local school, Bishop Hafey. It was a private Catholic school, but I wasn’t Catholic. I didn’t even attend church. Because it was a private school, this meant hefty tuition, a stretch for my single mother, even after the weekly alimony check cleared. It would be the only school I attended for more than two years in a row. My mom promised me she would not make me change schools ever again. It wasn’t easy for her, but she lived up to that promise. Thanks, Mom.
The turning point
My first day at Bishop Hafey was after the winter holiday season in January. I didn’t have a uniform to wear and was the only kid with thick tan corduroys and a buttoned-down white shirt. All the other girls had a matching skirt, sweater or vest. I stuck out like a pink donkey at a rodeo show. Another devasting first day, but this time would be different.
I had a few girls come up to me that day and asked my name. Then they proceeded to invite me to sit with them at lunch. This had never happened in the past! Could this be for real? Could I finally be accepted and liked? The answer came in time. That answer was yes.
This school, this new town, and this experience happened for me in perfect timing. I believe wholeheartedly that it saved my life. To this day, I’m incredibly grateful for the genuine kindness shown to me.
There is much more to my story during those years, most of which will be revealed in an upcoming book. It was a pattern of various abuse, self-neglect, confusion, doubt, and desperation. It’s what I believe that fueled my self-sabotaging behaviors that continued for another three decades. It is the true definition of living in the gray.
I look back on those years and the word pitiful comes to mind. You see, when I use the word pitiful, I mean it in the sense of not recognizing my incredible resilience and strength. I believed that I wasn’t worthy of love or happiness, and was a disgrace to everyone around me.
But that’s NOT what I see today.
Power and God-Given Inner Strength
What I see now to be true is the power and God-given inner strength that carried me forward. I had perseverance and the will to survive, despite the inner thoughts of wanting to die. I was so afraid of going to hell, that any thoughts of suicide quickly diminished, but it was always a looming thought as a possible “option.”
Knowing what I know now regarding childhood trauma, I can see how I became self-reliant on outside sources for approval and acceptance, and how my belief system was formed from my experiences. Those beliefs became my crippling limiting beliefs that kept me stuck and unable to reach my fullest potential. It was so much easier to numb the hurt than it was to face it. I know I’m not the only one.
There are millions of people still hurting and numbing their pain today. It has become socially acceptable to pour a drink when stressed or to pop a Xanax when you feel a little off. But it’s not always the obvious heavy hitters. It could also be overeating, wasting time on social media, or watching pornography, just to name a few. It’s any behavior that is a distraction to avoid the truth.
Numbing the good emotions
Most folks with addiction have been through some trauma in their life, whether it’s mild or severe. We didn’t learn how to deal with our emotions, we needed to figure it out on our own. Most people choose to escape it. The problem with numbing our painful emotions is that we also numb our good emotions.
It takes hard work to persevere through trauma, any type of trauma. For me, it took years of self-development, understanding my brain and thought patterns, and diving into the trenches where my deep-rooted trauma was buried for years.
We all have something.
Your experiences may look different, but they can feel the same. If that’s you, I want to help.
I’ve been there.
I lived it.
Pitiful to powerful, the Journey
A favorite quote by Joyce Meyers:
You can be pitiful or powerful, but you cannot be both.
Maybe you see a part of yourself in my story. Perhaps you’re recognizing a pattern of numbing behaviors that you’ve been doing and wondering if it’s from your childhood trauma or feelings of not being good enough. You can’t change what’s happened, but you can change how you move forward.
Perseverance, strength, and resiliency have gotten you this far, but now it’s time to surrender and heal. You don’t need to remain in the gray area. You deserve to have a life you truly love, one that’s fueled by passion and purpose.
What awaits you on the other side is magical, freeing, and a life full of abundance! It’s not a final destination, but rather a journey of discovery.
If you’re ready to shift out of the gray area, let’s begin with a Discovery call on how I can help support you.