Tizz O’Toole

I was five years old when things went sideways. My father was back after walking out when I was a baby.  Every rotten thing that a kid could ever experience short of death became the new normal for the next nine years at his house when I visited. Summers, school holidays, and every other weekend were now also known as “Hell.” There were threats to ensure I wouldn’t tell, so I kept my mouth shut.  When I finally opened up about it, I was an adult and the perpetrators were gone.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t believed so I quickly buried the pain and shut up again.

I married at 20, then 36, both abusers who reaffirmed the low opinion I had of myself. Over the next 20 years, I lost everything because of the chaotic way I lived my life trying to escape the abuse and my past. I was sexually assaulted four times during those years. I finally chose to start taking care of myself.  Not long after that, I met my current husband. It was the first time I fell in love with a good man. We’ve been together for 23 years.

My life taught me how to be strong, but I had help. I was in my 30s when I met people who listened to my story for the first time and said the most important words any survivor needs to hear:  “I believe you.”  

When my oldest son disappeared six years ago at age 32, I thought I would die from grief and fear. But I had faced fear and grief before. It took time, but I had help. I got stronger.  When I was a young girl, I dreamed of being a mom, but I have lost four out of six of my children. I feel grief daily, but I also feel joy. Ultimately, after a lifetime of hatred and abuse, I learned how to forgive my biggest enemy. Me. This has changed everything.