“You deserved it!” I thought to myself as I ran out of the house. I screamed at the top of my lungs as I ran down the street. I will never forget this moment in my life. To this day it still raises the hair on my arms and puts a pit in my stomach. I curled up in a ball on the ground and cried. Probably the first time I had cried in a very long time. I was wearing the same clothes for three days straight but now they had acquired more holes in the shirt and memories I would never let go of. Memories that still cause nightmares in my life today. My hair had been ripped out in chunks and I had dried spit all over my 110 pound body. Had I really just been raped? Is this a dream? Why is this happening? Am I not worth anything else? If only I could see the future then, I would have realized that although it wasn’t okay, I was not as alone as I felt. I would one day use this experience to hug another woman going through the same thing and share with her this exact feeling. On this day, I promised myself that this would be the last time I ever proposition any men for money or drugs. And it was.
I was confused on why God hadn’t killed me sooner. I welcomed the idea of death for many years. Little did I know, I was already dead. I became “that girl.” The girl I always promised myself I wouldn’t become. And this is how I became her………..
Growing up I was always on a mission to be the best. Academically I was an honor student and in all gifted classes my entire school career. I excelled in sports and was an amazing Cross Country athlete. I took pride in my ability to excel at anything you put in front of me. However, this was never enough for me. I wanted more. More of anything that could take my mind off of the agony I was feeling inside. The unbearable task of living with Stephanie, as Stephanie, in Stephanie’s body.
The first time I drank I was 12 years old. Now this- this was the “more” I was looking for. I continued my normal activities of living, but not long after started smoking weed. By the time I was 16 I was taking Ecstasy and smoking crack on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. By the time I was 17 I had dropped out of school, stolen thousands of dollars from my family, hurt my four brothers in ways i could only imagine, and had already been arrested four times. On and off probation, in and out of the hospital, this chaos was exactly what I craved. It was never ending and I fed off of it. And I wasn’t stopping there. Why would I? Remember how I took pride in everything I did?
At 19 years old I shot heroin for the first time. This led to multiple stays in New Jersey’s finest jails, felony convictions, overdose, homelessness, multiple treatment centers, very abusive relationships and prostitution. It led to a new kind of “wanting more.” It became my life. Hearing the words, “You will die a junkie” manifested over time in my head as, “Stephanie- you deserve this type of life. This is who you are supposed to be.” And…….I ran with that!
In 2008, the house I was staying at got raided. Detectives from Atlantic County, NJ flew in like roaches. In swarms! I was caught. This was the first time in my life I had ever surrendered to the fact that maybe this is not how I am supposed to live. I had been caught up in a string of burglaries, armed burglaries, thefts…etc… the list goes on and on. I plead out to 7 charges adding to my assault and possession convictions already on my embarrassing record. I was looking at some serious time. And I did some serious time. Now you would think this would be enough, but after violating probation twice- I still couldn’t stop getting high! Against the laws to stay in NJ while on probation, I flew to Florida and checked myself into treatment facing a felony fugitive warrant if I did so. But at this point, I didn’t care. I was done.
Going into treatment my perception had changed. It was different this time than any other time I had checked myself in. I ended up going into a sober living and staying in Florida. Mind you, I did have a fugitive warrant back in NJ and I knew I would have to face it eventually. I put together about a year of sobriety, worked my steps, got a job in the recovery field, and my life had changed drastically. I started seeing more and more that God didn’t answer my prayers of, “Please kill me” because His answer was, “But I know the plans I have for you….”
I had a court date set for July of 2012 to go turn myself in. About a week prior to flying home, I found out I was pregnant. I had already agreed to a prison bid and for some reason, I knew everything was going to be okay. Standing before the judge who had declared to me multiple times to never come back into his courtroom had my legs shaking, and my mouth dry. But God’s answer was still the same, “I know the plans I have for you….”
Long story short, it WAS okay. I ended up being able to come back to Florida and pay my debt to society. Without the prison time.
In September of 2012 I found out I was having a little girl. The promises in my life were coming true. Gabriella Rose was born in February of 2013. Even writing this I am crying. I had never known a love for someone else with the same amount of fear tied into that love in my life. No wonder my parents were so hurt when I was destroying myself. They gave me life as I gave this little girl. I wish I could explain feelings, but they’re meant to be felt.
I accumulated almost 4 years of sobriety. My life was beautiful. But about 8 months before I picked up my 4 year medallion, I stopped being grateful, stopped trusting God, and started living in Stephanie again. Unfortunately, in September of 2014, with my daughter in my custody, this little angel who I adore oh so much- I got high again. I lost my job, my life, myself and my relationship with God. I walked away. Just as fast as I was able to create a new life, I lost it all faster, harder, and more painful than anything! Hearing, “Mommy, Mommy!” while you are in the midst of a nod from opiates is probably the most haunting voice ever. This started a new journey, a blessing in disguise.
God willing I was saved once again. I have been blessed with a new life. Do I still struggle with the pain I caused? Absolutely, but I have come back stronger than ever and I do not regret it. Becoming, “that girl” has helped me become a woman. A woman of integrity, of love, honor and morals. Nothing to be ashamed of but to be cherished and shared with the world in hopes that one day, I can help women realize that they are so much more than what has happened to them or what they have been through. I tell my daughter everyday, “You are beautiful, and smart. You can do anything in this world. And I mean anything.” She’s almost three, so she kind of just smiles, but that smile keeps me comforted in knowing that when God says to me, “I know the plans I have for you…..” He means it.
I am pregnant with my second child. This baby was completely unplanned. To be honest at first, I was angry and did not want her. I started feeling love for her more and more as time went on. The other day I felt her kick for the first time, and I held my stomach and cried. I apologized to her for feeling that way. But I was scared. I AM scared. Being a single parent is hard. I sometimes feel like what if I can’t do this? What if I can’t muster up enough strength to get by? Then I look at things like what I have already survived and been saved from. I am a good woman and an even better mother. Nothing in this world happens by mistake or coincidence. These babies that were given to me, at times have saved my life in the process of me giving them life.
Today I have the honor of working in the recovery field and helping women daily realize that they too are so much more than they see in the mirror. In doing that it encourages me to do the same thing. Nobody in this world has a perfect past, present, or future. And I wouldn’t want to. All I want to be is a better woman than I was yesterday. I want my daughter’s to look at me and be proud in saying, “That’s my Mommy!” I want my parents and brothers to be proud in saying they know me today. Because I m sure at one point, they weren’t! This life is so beautiful if we let it be. I hold on to the passion I have for life today and the empathy I have for others mainly because I know what it’s like to be at the bottom, at the top, and at the bottom again. So if you see me giving money to a homeless man, talking on the phone at 3 am to someone who needs help, or going out of my way to love someone who isn’t very love-able and you ask yourself why I am doing that, just remember….. just as God had plans for me, He has plans for everyone. Nobody is an exception. Not you, not me, not them. There is hope! Sometimes, you have to BE THAT HOPE!