If you were to ever meet Karyn, you’d never know. When we met, she smiled brightly at me, and we laughed at a few jokes together. In fact, we laughed about a lot the entire time we were in the same room.
You’d never guess she’s gone through all that she has.
A woman from an otherwise idyllic childhood, Karyn told me of the mixed feelings she experiences when hearing the word “family,” as a cousin of hers abused her sexually for years. She dealt with line-crossing often from those who she assumed were friends, as they would “mistake the fun in [her] personality for flirtation.”
Perhaps it’s this constant overstepping that led her to to work harder than ever to reclaim her autonomy and ownership of herself. She graduated high school with great grades while hiding her first pregnancy, because she knew she’d be denied graduation otherwise. Despite several instances of domestic violence, including moments wherein her partner would allow friends of his to corner and intimidate her, she still raised her child and put herself through college. After the father of her child suddenly changed his mind about having a family and walked out, she stood firm and continued to keep moving forward without so much as a look backwards. Not once did it ever occur to her to let other people tell her what she could and couldn’t do. It was as if she’d decided that no one would ever again take from her what she wasn’t willing to give.
She has forgiven, but she hasn’t forgotten. While Karyn still tries to see the good in people, she’s also become very passionate about self defense — she even teaches women’s self defense classes on a regular basis. It’s a constant struggle for her to be honest with her children about who she is, but to also help them grow into people who still trust.
“Hopefully I’ll raise good children in this world, and hopefully they’ll make a positive impact.” She says. “I see them growing and they’re sweet and they’re loving…so to see positive things shine through obviously shows I’m doing a good job somehow, even though I feel like I’m not.”
As mentioned before, though, you wouldn’t know any of this if you didn’t speak with Karyn. In person, you’d think her story is completely normal.
But then…I guess it is normal. Unfortunately, what we see on the outside isn’t always a good indicator of what’s going on behind closed doors.
In fact, just a quick search shows anyone that Karyn may be more “normal” than even she would like. She counts amongst the 1 in 5 girls who are victims of sexual abuse in their lifetime, and the 10 million a year who are victims of domestic violence. It’s even thought that more don’t report these incidents at all. Many emerge from these situations with PTSD and depression, among other things, if they emerge at all. It’s something that many of us know should change, but we often forget about. It lurks beneath us like a malevolent shadow, and it doesn’t show any signs of going away.
In all honesty, I was going to come up with some clever transition into talking about how optimistic and kind Karyn still is despite anything, but I feel that I should instead say this: Karyn shared her story with me because she wants all survivors — not just mothers, not just women, but all survivors — to know they’re not alone. And if that doesn’t speak to the depth of her character, I don’t know what does.
So please know, from Karyn, and from the rest of us at NYAM, if this speaks to you on a personal level, be you a survivor many years ago or yesterday, once or many times, you are loved, and you are a warrior.
No fancy endings here. Just know we stand by you.