34: Not Giving In

34: Not Giving In

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

Not Giving In

Continue to work hard at what you love no matter what the odds are. Eventually, someone will praise and appreciate what you do.

~Author Unknown

I am living proof that how we choose to react to things in life can dictate our outcomes. We can either navigate to peace and happiness or we can be our own adversaries.

My childhood was messy, to say the least. My parents had money, and then they lost it all. Our family went from comfy suburban rancher to the roughest project in town. Also, I was biracial and learned quickly that I didn’t quite fit in. The black girls didn’t like me. They said I was trying to sound white. They said I thought I was better than them because I was mixed, and then they threatened to kick my butt. The white girls ignored me when I tried to be friends with them because of where I lived. Maybe I was dangerous in some way? At the very least I had nothing in common with them, and just plain didn’t meet their standards.

My dad had to work two jobs, so he was gone most of the time. He still tried hard to instill in us a deep underpinning of family and faith. My mom started to show signs of paranoia. She would accuse my father of being with another woman instead of at work. She began to have paranoid delusions of people following us and told us that someone was breaking into our house at night, although nothing was missing! Then one day, exasperated and panting, she told me that she just finished wrestling with Satan in our kitchen. That’s when I knew my mom was mentally ill.

Soon after, she started hanging with a new group of friends. Her children were once her priority, but now we were just in the way. So I guess it was no surprise that my mom’s next move was to leave my father. Even though she didn’t want us, she didn’t want my dad to have us either. She manipulated my sister’s thinking against our dad as best she could. She even dreamed up false accusations of child abuse to stop him from getting custody of us and forever tarnished his reputation.

As years went by life only got worse. All around me I saw other kids with normal lives — they wore nice clothes to school; they took ballet and tap; they had nice things; their moms were in the PTA. I was dressed in rags, never had anything to eat at home, my mom didn’t care where I was or what I did, and my stepdad smoked crack, beat me senseless, and molested my brother. Life was a mess. I was failing in school. I was terribly lonely and I felt unwanted. I had no idea what kind of future I would have.

Despite the situation, I had big dreams. I wanted more than anything to become an oncologist. I loved gymnastics and horses. While my mom would never sign me up or commit to any of these interests, I studied the things I loved. I worked out daily and taught myself gymnastics from books and on playground equipment. I dreamed that one day my life would be good. I never stopped dreaming.

When I was thirteen, in a crack-fueled fury my stepdad beat me on the kitchen floor until I was coughing up blood and begging him to stop. I called for my mother to help me but she stayed in the bedroom; I knew she could hear me. When he finally was too tired to kick me in my chest anymore, he snatched up a plastic grocery bag and threw it at my face. He told me to get out and not to come back. I didn’t want to leave, but since my mother wasn’t intervening, I realized that she wanted me to go, too. I saw no other option. As I turned and headed out the door, I thought, “Big deal, you’re making me leave somewhere that offers zero comfort. What’s to miss?” That night I cried myself to sleep on the roof of the school.

From there I bounced around and stayed at friends’ houses. By fifteen I had a fake ID and was dancing in a gentleman’s club on the west side. It was the only job I could get, but it was also a trap. I noticed that the girls who worked there were all on drugs and had legal problems. The men were mostly rude and talked down to me. When I told them I wanted to go to college, they laughed. I started to grow angry. Angry at them, and angry at life. I had big dreams and felt like I was born without a chance. Still I was determined to make it. There was a fierce fighter deep inside me. I managed to avoid the lure of drugs and other major issues, but I wanted more. I remembered to have faith in God, although I wasn’t proud of the way I was living.

I signed up for GED classes when I was sixteen. The more that people told me I couldn’t do something, the more I wanted to prove them wrong. I used that negativity as the driving force to have some say in how my life would be. I still had financial hardships and other typical obstacles, but I said over and over, “I don’t accept this for my life.”

I’ve come a long way. Today I have four years of college. I was licensed in real estate and am a licensed home inspector as well as a writer, wife and mother of four. I am blessed with a great family. If you’re feeling discouraged and unsure about life, sometimes you have to adjust the way you see things and have a little faith. I could have felt sorry for myself and given up. I could have gotten pregnant as a teen and entered the cycle of welfare and government housing. I could have chosen drugs to numb the pain of a lonely and desperate childhood. I chose to find an inner strength I think we all have, I chose to not give in, and you can too.

~Lauren Ball

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