I Thought That Was What Love Was

I can’t remember a time when violence and trauma weren’t part of my life. To me, dysfunction was normal.

I wanted out, so I left home at age 14 and dropped out of school the first week of ninth grade. By age 15 I was emancipated and married, and at 16 I was pregnant with my son James. I was in an unhealthy relationship, but I thought that was what love was. It was more of an ownership than a healthy relationship.

I left my husband before my son was born. I felt lost and alone. My stepdad said I couldn’t come back home. I don’t blame my mom for not standing up to him—she didn’t know how to get out of that relationship. (Eventually she did, and she’s been married to an amazing man for 15 years.)

I was drifting—sleeping on couches, getting government assistance and visiting food pantries. There were so many resources I didn’t take advantage of. I pushed good men away and went to the ones who wanted to have ownership of me.

I began self-medicating with alcohol—the one thing that loved me no matter what. I got several DWIs. Looking back, now I can see the patterns. I had no healthy relationships. I thought I was not deserving of healthy relationships. What resonates now is how broken I really was.

At some point, I recognized that I was raising three men—my sons James, Tyler, and Dylan, and I couldn’t give my perpetrators power over me anymore. I went to counseling. I had to give up alcohol. I knew if I kept going down that road I would be murdered or in prison or not emotionally there for my kids.

I had to learn to love myself again. That was the game changer.

I set a goal—to get my high school diploma before my oldest son graduated in 2014—and I achieved it. That was my turning point. It was such a good feeling because I had always been told I wasn’t good enough or smart enough. I thrived from there. I went to college and got a lot of support from my professors that I didn’t get from my home life. I set simple goals—not big ones—but I was going in the right direction. It made me realize my self-worth.

I went to The Haven Retreat. I was scared—I didn’t want to relive my past—but those four days changed my perspective on myself. Sometimes it takes people treating you well for you to remember who you are and what you deserve. I realized I was associating everything with the trauma I was exposed to, but with grounding and mindfulness I don’t have to live that way anymore.

I am forever grateful that I was giving the chance to reclaim my life.

I didn’t date for a year. I just focused on myself and learned to love myself. I didn’t think I had the right to have boundaries, but now I have healthy boundaries. I realized that if I deprive myself of a loving and healthy relationship, I’m just letting my perpetrators have all the power. I deserve love and respect and I know that’s possible.

Everything I’ve been through has made me a better person. I’ve lived it, so I know what it’s like to be in a dark place. I can empower others while giving them hope.

-Drea, Survivor