I am no longer a victim or survivor.
I am a thriver who wants you to know that healing IS possible.

My Purpose: Expanding membership in the 1% Club

Not the wealthy 1% – the “other 1%” is the community I am focused on expanding dramatically.

Less than 1% of abuse survivors are successful long-term in the effort to escape and stay out of an abuse cycle.

In my journey as a child victim of several forms of severe abuse, I first became a survivor. Now, I am pleased to say that I am thriving and advocate from a position of greater wholeness than I ever imagined was possible.

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.

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 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

Though it was not easy, I’ve come to realize that 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 am a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves.

One of Alaska’s many glaciers.
At Bridgeclimb Sydney with my Husband. 
Glacier National Park with my husband.
We visit at least a few national parks every year.

Serving mental health and public policy

Many mental health issues occur because of different types of abuse. It took me five attempts to work with medical professionals, including two physicians telling me I was fabricating my experience of abuse and trauma. I realize it was maybe more severe abuse than they had previously encountered or imagined. However not being believed is also unfortunately too routine for abuse victims. My determination was intense and I eventually was able to locate the right therapist for me. I am determined to make it better for others on this path.

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. Thankfully, I’ve done enough healing that I’ve been in a relationship for the past seven years where I am treated well, and it’s been a whole new world for me.

I’m an advocate for

  • increasing mental health awareness and resources for victims
  • training for medical, law enforcement, mental health workers, social workers and others so they become more highly trauma-informed professionals lessening the stigma of therapy
  • increasing insurance coverage and access for abuse survivors
  • helping survivors who are being exploited by organizations and not being treated as experts of their experience

So many children and adults don’t have access to that kind of support because physical health is considered more important than mental health. Both matter immensely.

Why this matters

Many audience members have asked me to keep speaking out because they aren’t in a position to do so themselves. Being able to be vulnerable and share things that happened in my family and to me, is also part of my healing. It’s also the start of healing for many others. It lessens the loneliness and feelings of isolation. 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, or short, 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 earn 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.

Hiked the Grand Canyon and survived two nights of tent camping at the bottom.
Our family gives scholarships yearly for deaf and hard-of-hearing students who need help paying for educational expenses.
Celebrating being chosen for one of the very first issues of “She Is Tulsa” magazine.


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.