When I started attending the Safe Mothers, Safe Children program at the ACS-NYU Children’s Trauma Institute, I felt like my past had completely destroyed me and my relationship with everyone.
As a child, I used to have to look down when an adult was talking to me. If I looked up, then I would get hit. My family called it disrespect. But when I became an adult, I felt disrespected by everyone, including my children. I often felt so angry at them that they were afraid of me. At the same time, I would give in to them all the time. I didn’t know how to be a parent.
As a child I was also violated so many times I can’t even count. As an adult, I was so afraid that I wouldn’t even sleep with my bedroom door open, even though I knew my kids were the only people in my house. I just didn’t feel safe, even behind closed doors.
Ashamed of My Story
When I started therapy, I was so ashamed to talk about anything that had to do with my life. But my therapist supported me. There were times that I didn’t feel like talking to her about my past, but she helped me realized how good it would be to let it out, and I did.
She also gave me charts to fill out for homework that helped me monitor my feelings so I could pay attention to when I was feeling angry or confused. Those charts helped me pay more attention to how strong my feelings were, and learn ways to bring down the intensity.
Learning to Play
I also began to play with my children. My therapist gave me logs to write down whether I had played with my children for even 5 minutes a day, and whether there were any obstacles.
At first I just took small steps. But as we played, I felt like I was learning how to play right along with them. I stopped being afraid to enjoy myself.
My younger children began to trust me more and more. My 6-year-old daughter used to be so afraid to come to me when I called her, and she would lie to me all the time. But she began to really open up. It felt wonderful when my 5-year-old son started telling me everything about his day when he came home from school.
‘I Will Never Give Up on You’
It was much harder with my older daughter, who is 15. While I was in therapy, she overdosed. I was overwhelmed with so many feelings. One way I began to sort them out was by filling out a special chart. I wrote down how angry I was with my daughter, but also how helpless I felt, and how guilty that her overdosing had to do with me and the kind of mother I used to be.
I also wrote down my actions and the results of my actions. I realized that when I refused to take my daughter to the hospital because I was so angry, that made her think that I think I’m better off without her. That was painful to realize.
I also wrote down alternative actions I could take, like telling my daughter, “I understand why you did what you did. I’m here for you, and I will never give up on you.” I wrote down other feelings I could have about myself as well, like being proud of not giving up on my daughter.
Finding Ways Forward
In so many ways, therapy helped me take control of my life and believe that there is always a way forward. It helped me give my children something my parents didn’t give me—the safety, the trust, and most of all, the love I never received.
I also began to understand what my rights are as a human being. I learned that:
I have the right to ask for what I want.
I have the right to say “no.”
I have the right to feel and express my feelings, both positive and negative.
I have the right to make mistakes.
I have the right to have my own opinions and convictions.
I have the right to be treated with dignity and respect.
I have the right to change my mind or decide on a different course of action.
I have the right to protest unfair treatment or criticism.
I have the right to expect honesty from others.
I have the right to my own values and standards.
I have the right to be angry at someone I love or anybody for that matter.
I have the right to say “I don’t know” no matter what the question may be.
I have the right to negotiate for change.
I have the right to be in a non-abusive environment.
I have the right to ask for help or emotional support.
I have the right to my own needs for personal space and time, even if others want my company.
I have the right not to have to justify myself to others.
I have the right not to take responsibility for someone else’s behavior, feelings, or problems.
I have the right not to have to anticipate others’ needs and wishes.
I have the right not to always worry about the goodwill of others.
I have the right to choose not to respond to a situation.
I have the right to be respected and taken seriously.
I have the right to a happy life.
I have the right to my freedom.
When I completed the therapy program, I received a certificate. I call it my diploma. I told my therapist, “This program changed my life.” But she said to me, “No, Micarline, you did it. And I’m proud of you.”