Today’s SameHere Hero Story: Karen Smith
I was put into foster care at 8months old and returned back to my biological alcoholic father 4 years later (after he fought the adoption process) while my biological mom remained in a mental institution due to trying to take her life.
I still remember watching out the window in the high-rise building as my “mom and dad” drove away leaving me with a total stranger and his two older kids in my eyes.
My sister quit school to look after me while my father worked, she was 16. He came home drunk every night. My mom got out of the facility so there was another stranger to adjust to. How do you adapt to a whole new family at 4 years old that is so dysfunctional after coming from the most loving foster home ever? I spent day after day watching my father beat my mother up, throwing dishes at her, chairs, one night he even heaved the kitchen table but a doorway blocked it from hitting her. Their bedroom wall full of centerfolds and from the ages of 4-7, I was sexually molested by him. Back in the 60’s you kept your mouth shut plus I was told if anyone found out, my life would end.
At the age of 7, my mother and I left my dad and moved in with my sister, then 19. By this time, I was attending a third school. We moved into our own place, along with the cockroaches and rats in the slums of Toronto and I attended yet another school. We would visit my mother’s mom and her then-husband (I won’t refer to them as my grandparents) where I would be at the molesting hands of my 2nd cousin who lived there as well and again was sworn to secrecy. My mother had endured similar with her step-dad.
At the age of 10, my father came to my school one day and I remember being ushered to the principal’s office down the back stairway and hiding under his desk. My father was there to try and take me away from my mom. This caused more distress to her, so much so, that she was committed back to the facility.
In order to keep some consistency in my life, my grade 5 teacher and his wife took me into their home for the year until my mother was released. Again off to another area of Toronto and another school at 11 years old.
I kept in touch with my foster parents all this time, visiting on holidays and spending summers with them which meant traveling on public transit alone to another city an hr and a half away.
At the age of 14, I decided I needed to get out of the city and moved back with my “mom and dad” with my biological mother giving them legal guardianship. School number 8 in just 14 years…but life was the best out in the country on 2 acres of land, back “home with mom and dad”. I was finally safe. I finished high school, did 3 years of college, and graduated with high honors in Business Administration.
I went out into the workforce after having worked in my parents’ home business since moving there.
At 21, I got married and had 2 beautiful girls but lost a son at birth which affected me and still does. That marriage ended after 12 years and was a messy battle for custody.
I remarried 4 years later to someone who lived in the UK; a friend set me up with him and it started as a long-distance relationship. I had a beautiful boy and 5 years later after a couple of years of emotional and physical abuse to me and my children, I got the courage to go to the police. Another long-drawn-out divorce and battle for custody.
On my own with 3 kids 5, 10, and 16, I worked from 11pm -7am as a night auditor at a resort so I could be home during the day with my son who attended 1/2 day kindergarten. Several times my ex tried to take my son from me and the police had to be involved.
My oldest decided to go back and live with her dad at 16, heartbreaking. My middle child moved back with them at 16, another heartbreak but they had stability there. Something I never gave them, not by choice, however.
A couple of years later, yes another relationship, common law albeit, but it was amazing until we came home from a trip one year, 7 years into the relationship and I was totally blindsided. Apparently, he felt we weren’t on the same page and decided he needed to leave. We sold our house and he moved in with another lady. My son and I moved to a new home that I bought. He was struggling with school, he was a bigger boy and was subject to bullying and at times became the bully. He was back and forth to his dad’s every weekend, only to keep coming home in tears when I would pick him up.
My dad passed in 2010 and that has had a huge impact on me to this day. He was my hero, my rock, my safety net, and my biggest cheerleader, along with my mom who is still with us at 92.
I thought relationships were not in the cards for me. I was done and had endured far more than I wanted. It turned out I was wrong and marriage #3 happened in 2015. We moved away from all the turmoil in the city that all my stress happened; out in the country on a lake and life is good. My son still lives at home with us at 22 as we support him with his own mental health roadblocks but he too has come a long way.
Feelings of anxiety, depression, fear, unloved, exhaustion, loneliness, unworthiness, failure, betrayal, “dirty” all came into play over the 50 years of all these experiences.
PTSD is a huge part along with having suffered 7 concussions over 40 years and finally a diagnosed moderate TBI in the last year.
I have never had counseling, I have just tried to move forward and be strong with each trauma experience. I have told bits and pieces of my story here and there but always cautious for fear of being judged.
My biological siblings would always try to hush me as they didn’t want others to know what went on behind the walls of our family.
It wasn’t until just recently that I started telling more after reaching out to Eric Kussin myself after seeing #SameHere referenced in Morgan Urso’s story and then being inspired by Theo Fleury’s story and having a very short, but impactful, conversation with him.
I moved away from where all the trauma happened, I am aligned with a neurological wellness company in Canada with which I run my own home-based wellness business and use several neuropathic products one being a cognitive boost sleeve which helps decrease my anxiety and depression, I journal and just started using the #SameHere scale app.
Living out in the country and on a lake, I love to go hiking, canoeing, and fishing. Gardening is a very therapeutic hobby for me. I am off all meds finally.
Some people have been very empathetic and supportive, others seem to think it can’t be that bad if I look good and seem to be doing good. I’ve lost some friends and family members but I’m ok with that.