I would like to start this off by saying I am not trying to paint my mother as a monster. She was, and is, a mentally unwell person. When I was younger, and up to about 2 years ago, she was a monster in my mind. But now, I can see why she was the way she was. She was abused by her mother, she does have mental health illnesses/issues, and she has had some heartbreaking traumas in her life that she could not mentally deal with. This made it to where she could not properly parent and raise us, this being said I will start. Also, I apologize if parts of this come out with a rushed or ‘drone’ feeling. I have never shared my life quite like this, and if I am being 100% truthful, it is a bit uncomfortable. This is also about the traumas in my life, there have been many moments of light and love. Those were the moments that gave me hope, gave me the strength to get past and survive. The words that follow are the darker parts of my journey that have left deep scars that I have had to learn how to live with.

My name is Anna Marie. I was born under the surname Thomas, but I have never felt a connection to any surname that has attached itself to me. Perhaps it is because I have had so many. I grew up thinking it was Retherford, even wrote that as my surname in elementary school. In the 4th grade, upon entering into the foster system, I was forced to use my birth name, Thomas. From then on I was Anna Marie Thomas, not Retherford. Which was a bit confusing for a good chunk of my childhood. It created a loss of identity within me and for most of my life, I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. Even now, at 36, this feeling still creeps its way in on occasion. I married young, at 18, just out of high school. From that time on I was Anna Marie Koonce, and I kept that name even through the divorce because it was my son’s last name. As time went on I remarried and adopted a new surname of Burdette. Now onto my second divorce, I kept the name Burdette because it is my daughter’s name. But it is different this go-round, I hate the name but don’t know what to change it to since I have no connection to any surname before. Perhaps I should make up a new one! But, on with my story!

I was born June 7th, 1983 in sunny SoCal IE (Southern California, Inland Empire to those who are not savvy to the lingo). I don’t remember much of anything before I was about 10, just snippets here and there. From the little I can remember, and from the stories I have heard from others, I have been able to piece together my childhood. I lived in California with my Father and Mother until I was about 3 or 4, my sister was about 1 or 2. During those few years I know this: my mother abused my father and me, she also was having an affair with my stepfather who, later I know for certain, was sexually abusing me. My mother was very rough with me as a baby. I met my biological dad when I was 25! He told me some things she would do, that was very much in her nature, and I had no reason to not believe them. For instance, to teach me a lesson for trying to climb the baby gate she would catch me mid-climb and drop me on gate right in between my legs. Later she blamed my father for sexually abusing me and he was convicted of sexually assaulting a minor because of evidence found on and around my vagina. I can’t say with 100% certainty that he didn’t do anything. I honestly just don’t know. But I know the character of my mother and stepfather, and I had the great opportunity to meet my biological dad when I was 25. He was an amazing man, but he was broken. My mother broke him in every way you could break a man. After the conviction of father, my mother and now stepfather moved all of us to Pueblo, Colorado. Growing up with my mother was not an easy streak, nor was living with my stepfather for that matter, but my mind has blocked most of that out. Perhaps I shall remember someday, but I don’t know that I really want to. Stephen King’s portrayal of Carrie’s mother is a pretty close likeness to my own mother, the difference being my mother was just a little more abusive and a little less fanatically religious. I remember my mother used to tell us things like “you better tell me the truth because if you don’t Jesus/God will” and she was dead serious. To paint a clearer picture of her mental health she had stayed for a stint in a mental hospital and I remember clearly the day we picked her up. She had a smile on her face as she joyously got into the car, looked at all of us and said: “that was such a nice vacation”.

I remember my mother teaching my sister a lesson or two growing up. One, in particular, was when she was about 7 or 8, she had left the curling iron on and my mother held it on her arm. She still has the scar. Her story, of course, was that she tripped and accidentally hit her arm with the iron. This is what my mother did, she made up stories of what she could mentally deal with and that was the truth of what had happened, no one could tell her otherwise. We lived like this for years. My mother freaking out and chasing my stepdad around the kitchen with a cooking knife. My sister and I were called Pollock Indians, heathens, sluts, whores, and the like.  I remember my mother clearly telling me that I was worthless and stupid. I can’t speak for my sister but I grew up thinking I was, in fact, a worthless piece of shit that no one could ever love. These feelings would later manifest in self-harm activities of punching myself and calling myself names, especially when I felt I had done something ‘wrong’. Growing up with this kind of abuse really took its toll on the view I held of myself, and it still affects me to this day. I don’t feel there is a need to go into every horror of my childhood at this point. And I am not telling you any of this to envoke pity, or for you to feel sad. It is simply a picture of where I have come from.

When we are young the view of the world and of ourselves is formed, as well as where we fit into it. If it is full of abuse or neglect we will have unhealthy views of ourselves that we will battle with for the rest of our lives. I more often than not feel like an alien and that I don’t really fit or belong anywhere. There is a loneliness that I carry that not many know about and even fewer understand. I feel like no one will ever understand the beat of my soul. But maybe no one is supposed to. Strangely I am not always in this state of mind. It ebbs and flows, comes and goes. Usually when I am in a situation that is unfamiliar, like with love. I tend to flounder and I have to learn how to move through the anxieties. I have to learn to breathe and know I will be ok.

A week from my 11th birthday, June of 1994, my stepfather came into our bedroom and stuck his fingers into my vagina. This may not be what you wanted to read, and there was a time even saying it like this was very difficult for me to do, but this is the truth of it. Plain and simple, what happened. This is the only instance I remember of this kind of assault. I do remember feeling like it wasn’t completely wrong, which now looking at it as an adult I can see that is probably because it wasn’t the first time it had happened. I went to my school the next day and awkwardly told my 4th-grade teacher, Mrs. Dabney (she will forever be the superhero of my childhood), what he had done. I was embarrassed and felt silly telling her, and part of me felt like it wasn’t even that big of a deal. But for whatever reason, I felt like I needed to tell her. I remember her face draining of color and telling the class that she would be back. She told me everything would be ok and she walked me to the office. I sat in that office for what seemed like 12 hours. My mother didn’t believe me and said I was a troubled kid that was having flashbacks of when I was a baby. I am pretty sure she also told them that she couldn’t handle me living with them anymore. I was taken away from my brother and sister and placed in a foster home. But this was a positive turning point in my life that wouldn’t really set in until I was an adult. I was lucky, and I must have some angels out there that were trying to save me. I had the most amazing foster family anyone could ever ask for. But I had never been loved, never been shown what love looked like in a family. It was almost painful at times and they endured a lot of attitude and crap from me. I was a scared little girl who just wanted to run away from everything. Everything made me uncomfortable and I could not communicate with anyone very effectively. On a positive note, It was a time when I started finding my voice and finding ways to heal through art and music (specifically singing, it has always been healing for me).

I remember my caseworker forced me to have a visit with my stepdad while I was in the foster home. I hated every second, and it made me feel as though I had done a great wrong in telling anyone about what had happened. It made me feel like what he did was not supposed to be a bad thing. This is probably why I reached out to him when I ran away from the foster home. I missed my brother and sister, I wanted to go home. Even though there was abuse, it was familiar. I knew how to navigate in that world. Even today, as an adult, living in survival is an easy place for me to be in. I have it down to a fine art. It is living in a thriving life that I am trying to be at peace with now. When I ran away I was gone for 2 days, once again I had some angels watching over me because the situations I had found myself in were dangerous, to say the least. I left all I had at the location I was at and ran again. I called my stepdad and he met me at a gas station to talk and he then took me to my caseworker. I was around 14 years old, just starting 8th grade when I got to go back home. At this point, my mother and stepdad had divorced but he stuck around to help our mother and help take care of my brother. He became a savior for us about 2 years later.

I was a Sophmore in high school and boy oh boy I had some fire in me, which may be putting it lightly, I hated to be told what to do and that is a hard place for a parent to navigate, even with a sane mind. One night things got out of hand. She started pushing me around (literally) and as I was walking to my room she drew her fist back to punch me in the back of my head. My little sister jumped on her back yelling “don’t you fucking touch her!”. It was one of the most epic moments for her and me, even if very sad. I love her for defending me and I hope she is ok with me sharing all of this. I remember them toppling over the couch, my mom in hysterics. She kicked us all out that night. That night we went to live with our stepdad. He took us all in, no questions. But he was moving to Washington State to be closer to his family. So, he made our mother sign over her rights so he could legally be our guardian. In the middle of my Sophmore year, I had to say goodbye to a big chunk of my heart. I had made bonds with people that I once thought could never be broken. But I have now found that no person is permanent in our lives. The only permanent is ourselves and even then we have an end at some point. But it was more good than bad, I got to leave a whole world of pain and suffering behind me. It was a fresh start and a new adventure. I always have loved adventures, even to this day!

Things were better, for the first time in our lives. I was on guard and uncomfortable with my stepdad at first, but I was also older, and as creepy as it is I was not his type anymore. I remember finding child porn on his computer once, this set in stone for me that I would never have to fear him like that again. Once again, I was was disgusted but there was also a sense of relief. I had a hard time opening up to people in school so making friends served to be challenging. I was quiet, dressed funny compared to my peers, and just kind of ‘blended in’. The friends I did make were a grade above me. They were strong positive influencers in my life at that time. So when my Senior year came around I felt alone again. I partied a bit too much and hung out with the wrong crowds. I had sex for the first time when I was 18 with a homeless kid in Seattle, thought I was in love until he became very possessive and I had to get away from him. Then there was Corey. We met through a friend, I didn’t know this at the time but he had asked her to find him someone who would have sex with him. I guess she just assumed that I would fit the bill. I am gifted with the ability to remember ALL of my drunken shenanigans. Well, I remember this, my feet in the air and talking to my friend who was having sex right next to us. I remember her telling me to be quiet. I don’t remember feeling anything, just seeing my legs in the air. I love my son, and I make sure he knows that he was no mistake and that I love him with all that I am. But looking back now at the young woman I was, that was NOT consent. I had no idea at all what was going on and was in no space to even say no if I wanted to. I became pregnant from that night. When I graduated high school I was 3 months pregnant, but at least I graduated. I was actually going to break up with him because we fought like cats and dogs, vicious screaming fights. But then we found out I was pregnant and he was from the South, and ‘if you get a girl pregnant you marry her’. I had zero confidence or self-esteem and I would crumble under any kind of scrutiny or pressure. So when he said we were going to get married, I went along with it. I had no choice in my mind at that time anyway. I remember him throwing a fit for having to pay $50 to the little marriage shack we got hitched in. Oh, the days haha. To make matters worse when I found out I was pregnant I also found out I had chlamydia from the homeless kid. I felt like a dirty whore telling him I had it, and he did a damn good job of making sure I continued to feel that way all the way up to me finally fleeing from the marriage 2 years later.

Where do I even begin with my first marriage? I will start off by saying, just as I said about my mother, I am not trying to paint a bad picture of my son’s father. It is all just stuff that happened. Things that have shaped my anxieties, fears, blocks, etc. Moments that have left scars. I was not an easy person to be married to, I know this, and he couldn’t control his temper. We both had issues. I couldn’t communicate and he couldn’t control his mouth or body. I think he also felt trapped, trapped in a marriage he didn’t want and wasn’t ready for. Either way, I was a victim of domestic violence. I didn’t think so at the time because it was all mental, but it was abuse. I thought this is what love was because this is what I was taught at a young age love was. I didn’t know any better. This was one of the lower times in my life. I was a wife and a mom. Nothing more. I couldn’t do anything without scrutiny and I was shamed daily. I wish I could hold that young woman and tell her right from the beginning that she deserved better. That she was so much more than this. I can go on about all the bad stuff that had happened but in the end, I left when it got to the point where he was telling me ways he wanted to kill me. This happened a few times before I finally found the courage and strength to leave. And this was in part due to the few family and friends I was allowed to talk to encouraging me to leave, convincing me that what was happening was not how it was supposed to be. I was terrified of him, and for years he held me in that space, even after I had fled with my son.

Every relationship after this one was just part of a cycle. A cycle I am glad I finally recognized, caught, and changed. If I was with a great guy I fled, if I was with a manipulator I stayed longer (albeit most were of the manipulative type). I always felt so empowered after I ended those relationships. Like I had made it to some groundbreaking self-development inner epiphany. But I didn’t see the cycle, didn’t see I was still attracting abusive people into my life. It took me time, and devotion to myself, that didn’t come until after my second marriage fell apart. We also fought like cats and dogs, screaming matches and slamming of stuff galore! But he knew how to manipulate my emotions and I was always left in a space of feeling I was foolish for feeling what I felt. I also didn’t want to ‘fail’ again so I stayed in this one for the longest out of them all. Maybe one day I will write a book on the horrors of being in abusive relationships and how to recover and heal but for now, I will just say this: I gave to both until I had nothing left to give, and then I kept on giving. I became an empty hollow shell of a woman, and with that, I also became hypercritical and judgemental. I was past the point of unhappy. At the end of the first marriage, I fled from fear; at the end of the second marriage, I fled because I had gotten to the point I didn’t want to be alive anymore. I left for me, I left to save myself. I was lost, cracked, and hated myself for what I had become. I spent a whole year after my second divorce working on myself. Loving who I am and being completely happy being alone. I won’t say that my life is all rainbows and sunshine now, although it is the happiest I have ever been. I have learned tools along this journey that have helped me mentally massage the scars life has left on me. A little massage therapist metaphor there, any good massage therapist knows that to have a scar area be fully functional you have to massage it daily to keep you moving freely. The same is true with our minds and souls. There is no cure for our trauma but, with practice and a lot of love, we can have daily healing to keep us moving freely through life.

If you have made it through this whole read, I thank you for taking the time to get to know me a little better. I don’t post this lightly, in fact, I am a bit terrified to be posting it at all.  If I love you, I love you with my whole being and I know that I can be intense. It is the only way I know. I am also doubtful of when people do truly love me, it is ingrained into me. I will leave you with this: if you love someone who has trauma, don’t love them lightly. Be fierce! We need it the most, even if we push it away. We love you too, more than we can ever express, but we are also terrified by it and we don’t mean to be. We simply come from a different life and things affect us differently. To all my fellow kindred spirits, do the daily work to massage your scars. The world needs your strength, tenacity, and power for life. Be an inspiration, because you are in fact loved. You may not be seeing it. You HAVE to love you first. Love and light to you all during this hard time of seclusion and social distancing 💚 I know for me it is stirring up some old demons that I am trying to work through. I also apologize for my beautiful grammar… I like to pretend I know how to expertly use commas and the like haha

With Love and and Open Heart,

Anna Marie

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