We must all be mapgivers

Gina English

We must all be mapgivers. 

We all have moments of darkness, without hope or direction in moving forward. But when we find our way to the other side, we must turn around and pass our map back to the person still there. My journey means nothing if I cannot share it with others to help them find their way.

That is just one of the things I love about being a social worker, understanding the absolute honor bestowed upon me to be allowed into someone’s most vulnerable life moments, and to say ... I see you. You have what it takes to get through this. I know because I have been here.

When I look back on my life and where I came from, I think about how I have learned so much about who I am — and how  I continually gave pieces of myself away, my value, my strength, my identity. In fact, considering where I came from, I’m not sure how I ever had them to give away in the first place. Sometimes it overwhelms me to look back now and remember how many times I felt powerless or unworthy and think about how far I have come. The truth is, I think deep down I always knew I would find my way to the other side but convincing myself of it has always been a struggle.

I think for women especially it is difficult to give ourselves permission to be successful, to dream big, to dare to go for it. For so long I was afraid to believe in myself, in my own worth or ability to do more than survive. When you come from the life I did, surviving it is the accomplishment – but  for me that was never enough. I hate the word survivor. To me, being a survivor means that something almost destroyed you, but I was put in this world ready for battle and conquered the things that were done to me. I am not a survivor. I am a warrior. I have always possessed the tools I needed to thrive, but for too long I lacked the confidence to use them to rise above the chaos, instead clinging to them only as a life preserver to keep from drowning.

My parents had three children before the age of 19 and split by the age of 20. My first sibling was taken away by my grandparents and given up for adoption. I was born a year later. My mother then dropped out of high school, and my brother came 17 days after my first birthday. My dad was a drunk and abusive to my mother. Eventually she finally had enough, told him to get out, and he never came back. I was three when she met my step-dad; it wasn’t long before he began sexually abusing me. The abuse went on until my parents divorced, when I was in the fifth grade. Years later she admitted to me she had known what was happening to me. I think it this is where my lack of value and identity began, and it was only solidified by the clear knowledge of my mom’s belief she had to prove she was not a “loser” for having us. At 16 I decided to quit school and move out.

At 17 I met the man I would marry, and by 19 we were living together. Our relationship was tumultuous at best. We partied hard, fought hard, and made up fast and often. After three years of highs and lows I was done, until I found out I was pregnant with my first child. So, I got married and quickly found myself being drowned by my husband’s drug addiction. It was then that I began to recognize just how much control I had given up in my life, how I was continuing to let things happen to me. I was a prisoner of the belief that if anyone knew the things I had been through they would judge me or think I was a bad or broken person. I lost my voice. I kept pouring love into broken people, trying to salvage broken relationships, asking for nothing in return. I believed loving someone meant to love them more than yourself. I had seen selfishness at its worst and thought if I was selfless I would be redeemed.

My saving grace, my redemption, was becoming a mother. I would see my children look at me amidst all the chaos with their father and see their unshakeable faith in me, faith that I would make it all better. They had no doubt in my capability to protect them. I never felt protected growing up, yet my children innately had total trust in me to protect them. My relationship with them was the first real and untainted thing in my life, and I was going to fight like hell to be worthy of it. I wanted to be the person they saw, the person they believed I was. It has been a journey, and sometimes I still struggle, but I know now that I have been that person all along. I remember a high school guidance counselor telling me that the place where I came from and the things that were done to me did not define me. I can tell you shame and self-doubt are hard things to shake, but seeing myself through the eyes of my children helped me let go. Because of them I found strength in myself to be bold and dream big. I earned my GED and went to college, graduating summa cum laude with a degree in social work.

Instead of giving my strength away, I cultivated it and grew it, and found the bigger it became the stronger those around me became, including my husband, who has been sober for 10 years — and  I love him even more for fighting his way back to us. I know I am blessed, and for me to not share my map would be a transgression to all the amazing women around me, so many of whom are just waiting to bloom. To all of them I say this:
I see you. You have what it takes to get through this. I know because I have been here.

Gina English graduated summa cum laude from Park University and is now a Social Services Coordinator with the Kansas City Police Department. She the first ever in-department social worker for the Kansas Central Patrol Division. She spends most of her time with her four boys and husband. 

Words: Gina English