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A story of Trauma and Resilience

My Story

People say all the time that you don’t have to let your past, family or your childhood define who you are. I don’t believe that is necessarily a bad thing. I let my childhood define who I am by defying the odds. It was expected that when I grew up, I would be a teenage mother living in the trailer park. But that wasn’t the life for me.  I am successful. Not because I am rich, but because I am not a stereotype. I rose above my circumstances and made my life the best it could be.For me to tell my story I must distance myself from the trauma. Make it very factual. I, like many victims, try to separate myself from what has happened to me emotionally in order to survive. I am one of thousands of children who have to do this, but our story is one that is vital to hear.

When I was 5 my dad was released from prison after serving 5 years for burglary. We moved frequently, I attended more than 10 elementary schools and moved more times than I can count because my dad would drink so much that he wouldn’t go to work. Although I always remember my mom working so hard, being so skinny because she never ate, it just wasn’t enough. We lived with family members often. Sometimes 6 of us in a one bedroom apartment where I had to sleep on the floor. We were homeless a lot. My dad would get drunk and become emotionally and physically abusive. He hit my mom so hard once that it affected her vision for life. She, after 40+ years, still wears glasses because of the injury.  

I often wondered if I was loved or hated. 

We never embraced and the only person who ever told me they loved me was my mom. I wore hand-me down clothes often and wore the same things a lot. Being teased was a normal part of my childhood. When I was 15 I came home from summer break and my dad had sold all of our belongings and the trailer we lived in. I was yet again homeless. We moved in with my grandma again and we all shared a one bedroom apartment. Eventually we moved into our own one bedroom apartment. At 14 I had to get a job in order to buy myself school supplies and new shoes for school. My mom barely made enough to pay the rent and my dad was practically useless, sitting in the dark, drunk all day. 

 My dad hurt my mom regularly. He often took his frustrations out on her or my brothers. He would go on a rampage through the house and no one was safe. In 9th grade I came home to pools of blood on the floor. No one was home and I was scared. I didn’t know what happened. My dad had tried to commit suicide. This wasn’t the first time. He still today has scars up his arms from cutting himself. He would tell us that we hated him and no one loved him and we were left trying to convince this man who was a monster that we loved him. 

Despite the challenges I faced at home and the trauma that I experienced, in school I never acted out. I wasn't in trouble. I did what I needed in order to get by in class and fly under the radar. School was my “safe haven”. I needed it to be a place that I felt safe. Trauma research shows that some students who are considered "well-behaved" are actually just stuck in fear/survival mode. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1230675.pdf

  Research shows that if a victim of trauma has at least one person in their life to encourage them and believe in them that they are far more likely to be resilient. I had that person. https://sites.google.com/frank...a-and-resilience-th/  When I was 16 I was ready to drop out of school because it meant I didn’t have to live with my dad anymore. I just couldn’t stay there any longer. My youth pastor and his wife, who happened to be the sister of my best friend, asked her parents if they would allow me to move in with them so that I could continue to go to school. They agreed and that changed my life. No more did I have to watch the dysfunction in my home. I didn’t have to be around my alcoholic father who lived in literal darkness because he never wanted to turn on the lights or have to watch my mom suffer from depression and fatigue from working her jobs at Dairy Queen and Meijer. 

This was my ticket out. I had a birthday party for my 16th birthday, with cake, dinner and gifts. I had my OWN room with my OWN bed. I was blessed with a plethora of gifts at Christmas and I was welcomed into someone else’s family with open arms and no judgement. I was encouraged and told that I was smart and capable I broke the cycle and I know that if the kids we serve had that one person in their life they too could break their cycles and be resilient. 

I believe all teachers value safeguarding student rights. We value their thoughts and have hope for them and their futures. We care about our kids. We want them to be successful and we understand in order for their intellectual needs to be met that their Maslow needs must be met. My message is important because I am an example of needs being met albeit late. I was a victim of trauma. Neglect, Abuse and household dysfunction. If someone had noticed I was going through trauma at a younger age maybe I wouldn’t have been exposed to as much as I was. But then would I have the desire to do what I do? I don’t blame anyone for not saving me. I am able to use my story to inspire others. I too want students to be safe.I want them to be successful and have high hopes for them. I strive to build rapports with my students and their families so that I can help when needed and I can detect anything that would seem out of the ordinary. 

 

Tiffany Holt

Graduated from BCTC in 2011 with an Associates in Arts and from the University of Kentucky with an B.A. in Arts and became a Special Education Teacher. She specializes in Behavior and Trauma. 

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Comments (9)

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Tiffany- you are an inspiration. Thank you for sharing, thank you for your bravery. Thank you for being a light of hope for so so many. I'm grateful to have had the honor to read your story. 

 Your support is overwhelming. I hope everyone understands that my story is not one to place blame or shame on anyone. It’s just my story. The support and messages I have received show me how much people love and care. My request is that you show others that love and care. When you have a young family member who wants so badly to make the right choice or a student who is quiet and stays to themselves. Remember my story. Remember that just because society is influencing an individual to make certain choices or behave a certain way doesn’t mean that this person is without the desire to do good. Be good. Be somebody when the world is telling them they are nothing.
I’m not asking you to save anyone. I’m just asking that you be that person for a child that needs it. It could literally change their world.

Congratulations, Tiffany! You've experienced so much adversity that you should not have had to endure, and you're making a huge difference in people's lives. Including everyone who reads this. Thanks so much for posting this.

Such a powerful story of resilience. We're always told it's the ones "acting out" that are the children with trauma in their lives, not the ones functioning at grade/expectation level. This is a great reminder to recognize that any one of your students could be suffering from trauma, you just have to find a way into their heart by listening and being that supportive adult in their life. Thank you for sharing! 

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