My name is Savannah Paz and I am going to share with you how Chrysalis saved my life. Like many young people I was born into a life of poverty and hardship. My mother loved me very much but was unable to provide me with the life she had dreamed of giving me. My story really begins with her and my father.
My mother grew up in a family where she faced emotional and physical abuse and was often labeled the “black sheep”. My father grew up in a home where he faced physical abuse at the hands of his alcoholic father. By the time I was born both my parents had endured more trauma than most people endure in their entire lifetime. I too was born into a home of domestic violence, where many of the problems my parents were running from repeated themselves. My mom eventually left my father to keep me safe and give us a fresh start, but unfortunately the hardships followed our circumstances.
My mother struggled with depression, post traumatic stress disorder, and low self-esteem my entire life growing up. I got glimpses of her true self here and there, but mostly I received her anger, stress, deep pain and hopelessness. As a single mother she often had to rely on neighbors for support as her family did not help us. This made us easy targets for people with bad intentions. I was sexually abused as a young child and the abuse went on for far too long. My mother was unaware and I was too scared to tell anyone. I grew up in a neighborhood where I often witnessed community violence and I was not the only child facing abuse or neglect in my community. It appeared to be the norm but I always knew that my environment was not right. This made me feel scared, alone and forgotten. It mostly left me wondering what was so bad about me that I deserved this life.
By the time I hit middle school I was angry, so angry that I started to no longer care about myself or anything else. I began skipping school, drinking alcohol and using marijuana. I had too many big emotions to process on my own that I would lash out at teachers, peers and my mom. I was starting to use my fists to express myself and would become physically violent with others. By the time I got to high school I could no longer take the pain that I was feeling underneath all that anger. I felt hopeless and no longer cared if I lived or died. My drug and alcohol use increased as a way to escape the constant flash backs and nightmares that were haunting me. I stopped going to school as I could not focus while there and felt deeply misunderstood. I became so angry that if someone looked at me in a way that felt demeaning or threatening I would try to fight them. I began cutting to numb the pain but even that wasn’t enough. I never wanted to die but I did want to turn it all off, the pain, the trauma, the anger, it was all too unbearable.
Just when I had given up on myself a miracle happen. I was referred to a program called Chrysalis, a therapeutic support group for young women who are trauma survivors that was offered at my school. Chrysalis saved my life, literally. I would not be the person I am today, if here at all, if it were not for Chrysalis. The Chrysalis program showed me that I was not alone and that other girls at my school had gone through similar trauma and hardships. Chrysalis taught me that I am worth fighting for and that the terrible things that happened to me were not my fault. That my trauma does not determine who I am and that my past did not have to determine my future. Chrysalis empowered me see a brighter future for myself and gave me the skills to set the foundation to make that a reality. The road to accomplishing my goals would not be an easy one but I knew that I was no longer traveling alone. My Chrysalis counselors never gave up on me and neither did the other girls. If at times I was unable to fight for myself, I fought for them, because I knew that they believed in me and I didn’t want to let them down. Throughout my time in Chrysalis I learned to unconditionally love myself. I learned that my past has only made me wiser and stronger. When I started Chrysalis I felt like a victim but when I left the program I was a survivor.
Today I work as a care coordinator serving young people in similar situations that I faced as a youth. I have this job because I was the first in my family to earn a college degree. I am able to serve my clients with the deepest of integrity and passion because of my lived experience. I have two sons who are thriving both socially and academically. They are happy, safe and feel confident in themselves. My husband and I are able to provide our children with financial stability, patience, support, and the resources that I never had. I have the skills to advocate for their best interests in all aspects of their lives and teach them the skills to advocate for themselves. My mom has grown and healed with me as well. She is now in a place where she can be the kind of grandma she had hoped to be during motherhood. I love seeing her when she is with my children. They get to experience her in a way that I always knew she was underneath all that pain. It is amazing to reflect on how much better my children’s lives are than mine was and how many cycles that I was able to break. My life is so full of meaning and happiness that I can no longer feel the pain from my past. Even as I wrote about my trauma, it felt as though I was remembering another life that I had lived before this one. My hope is that one day Chrysalis is offered at every school because it not only changes young people’s lives, but it can save them.
Thank you for hearing my story that ends with a happily ever after. I hope it has shown you the power that programs like Chrysalis can have in the lives of young people and inspired you that a brighter future is always possible.