Purpose & Passion
As a victim, then survivor, and now thriver, I want people to know that it is possible to live through severe trauma and still end up having a good life. It isn’t easy, and is not a short journey, but it is possible, and I’m living proof.
Sharing my story gives others permission to share theirs. It also opens eyes to things most people don’t want to even think about but are needed in order to be able to protect children.
I fought hard to heal and break the cycles of abuse in my life because I was determined that my children would not be exposed to them.
That same passion and drive are what I’m using to speak out, educate, and fight for mental health and public policy for those children experiencing child sexual abuse, child sex trafficking, and adults who experienced that abuse themselves.
I am a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves.
Serving mental health and public policy
Many mental health issues occur because of different types of abuse. It took me 5 attempts, including two physicians telling me I was making it up for attention, before I finally met the right therapist for me.
After my first “17 Years in Hell” from being pimped out by four family members, extensive sexual abuse, two suicides in the family, and other abuse, it was critical for me to do whatever I could to heal and protect my children.
I ended up in a couple of abusive marriages because I didn’t know anything different. I hadn’t seen any good marriages as role models. Thankfully, I’ve done enough healing that I’ve been in a relationship for the past 7 years where I am treated well, and it’s been a whole new world for me.
I’m an advocate for
- lessening the stigma of therapy
- increasing mental health and other trauma-informed professionals
- increasing insurance coverage and access
So many children and adults don’t have access to that kind of support because physical health is considered more important than brain health. But no need to get on my soapbox here.
Why this matters?
Being able to be vulnerable and share things that happened in my family and to me, is part of my healing. It’s also the start of healing for many others. It lessens the loneliness and feelings of isolation. Many audience members have asked me to keep speaking out because they aren’t in a position to do so themselves. Collaboration is the only thing that will make a difference in protecting our children and stopping sexual abuse whether in person or online.
Why should we care?
If you’ve been abused or know someone who has, I want you to know that there is healing no matter how bad the abuse is or was. It is possible to not only survive but also thrive. It’s not an easy journey, but it is worth it.
Where I’ve Been
Even after years of therapy, instead of using drugs, alcohol, cutting, starving, binging, or many other things to keep the feelings and memories deep inside and try to cut them off completely, I became a workaholic. After all, when you work seven days a week for years, it’s easy to ignore those feelings and memories.
As a single mom without child support, I quickly got caught up in work. As an executive director of up to six nonprofit state professional associations simultaneously, I also owned a for-profit association management and consulting company. I helped start a national nonprofit on top of that.
Work travel kept me on the road 26 weekends a year for three straight years. I became severely burned out. I had to close my business because it was too dependent on me. It was excruciating because I discovered that my work was my identity.
On the path to healing, addiction is often a first stop.
My Addiction – Workaholism
It started as a way for me, a single mom with two children and no child support in sight, to provide for the three of us. On the exterior, it looked like I was doing it for business, my staff and my family. On the inside, I had no identity except work. It was my ticket out.
During “My 17 Years of Hell,” doing well in school was a priority. It allowed me to get a bunch of scholarships so I could go away to college and escape that environment.
I then put myself through the University of Denver in three years, only taking one summer class, while also working and maintaining scholarships. I also crashed for a while after I graduated. I had two speeds: 5th gear or neutral.
For decades, I showed my capability and worth through work. I didn’t realize then it was beating me to death because I was in reaction mode. When I was growing up, I wasn’t allowed to have an identity, so I thought working so hard meant I was free.
It wasn’t until I closed my business, transitioned my nonprofits, and started my consulting business that I discovered how my working 24/7/365 meant I was not feeling all the pain I had been avoiding. I didn’t have good relationships or any idea how to have fun.
Where you are is not necessarily where you need to stay. The journey continues…
Do you know someone like this?
It could be a boss, a family member, a coworker or someone else in your life. Workaholism is a more acceptable addiction than drugs, self-harm, eating disorders, etc. Society rewards us for accomplishments and achievements.
However, there is another side. Trauma survivors can be some of your most valuable workers. They might miss a lot of work. They can also be problem staff or managers. If the manager or leader is a workaholic, life will not be easy for those working for them.
That workaholic person is still in need of recovery to reach a healthier path of knowing there is intrinsic value for them to simply “be.” They do not realize work is not required of them to “earn” a place in humanity.
There is one thing in common: focusing entirely on work or business tends to exclude relationships, life balance, and relationships with friends and family. For me, it was a vicious cycle. Work was my identity, and it’s taken me some time to figure out who I am and what I want to be when I grow up.
If you are interested in Mary Jo sharing some of her story with your group, podcast, radio show, or at a meeting, please click here. She is a proud member of the Burlington Better Speakers Toastmasters Group.