Losing Her Saved Me: How I Healed From Trauma
by Amanda Olejniczak
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I never imagined that I’d be living my life without my mother in it, but that’s my new reality. My name is Amanda Olejniczak, I am twenty-six years old and at age four I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, and anxiety.
The story goes: I went to therapy for the first time on June 9, 2000, at age four but I never returned because my mother was blamed for my behavior. I still wonder how different life could have been had I continued to get the necessary help for my OCD and anxiety at that age.
Later in life, at age sixteen, I was diagnosed with depression and anorexia; now at age twenty-six I also struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder due to my past relationship with my mother and her second husband. I have been in therapy for my mental illnesses consistently since I was diagnosed with anorexia at age sixteen, but it wasn’t until I met my current therapist after being discharged from treatment for the second time, that I believe the real work has begun. When I met my new therapist, I immediately felt seen and heard. This was something I had never experienced before; I didn’t think I deserved it. I had been told by previous therapists that I would not achieve anything and my mother was told to not expect anything out of me so she wouldn’t be disappointed. This therapist was different. She not only saw me for who I was, she saw the potential I had and continues to push me towards being the best version of myself.
At twenty-six, my list of diagnoses, with the exception of anorexia, has not changed, but I’m finally learning how to better navigate my life while living with my mental illnesses. In this essay, I explicitly tell my story of how losing the toxic relationship with my mother left room for me to find myself. An entire year has gone by since I last heard from or seen my mother.
Thu, Mar 11, 2021 12:02 PM:
“Thank you for being such a nasty, nasty, spiteful child. I now understand you better than ever.”
If reading that quote made you cringe, imagine being on the receiving end of it as an only child. At twenty-five years old, my world was just beginning to turn completely upside-down and then to see that text from my mother was absolutely heartbreaking. I was starting to question if making the police report was the right move. Was losing my mother and everything I’ve ever known really going to be worth it? I hoped so. Hope was all I had to go on at this point to drive me toward making the biggest decision I ever have.
I couldn’t tell you where the feeling of being “ready” came from, it just felt like it was time. I couldn’t pretend anymore that everything was normal. So, on March 2nd, 2021, with the support of my partner, Emily, I called the police. I was ready to report the grooming behavior I had endured from my stepfather beginning in 2012, when I was sixteen years old. I remember the operator’s bored and seemingly annoyed voice asking, “Why didn’t you report this sooner?” Shocked, I paused for a second and in that moment, I felt my face get red with anger. I tried to stay collected, I guess it’s true that not everyone goes through the proper training regarding sexual abuse. The answer to that question should never matter, but I answered it.
“He was my high-school counselor and then he married my mom.” There was silence on the other end of the phone followed by
“Oh wow…” I remember being on the phone for several minutes with this woman who eventually instructed me to go to the police station to make an in-person police report. I was shaking. I ordered a taxi and within an hour Emily and I arrived at the police station. Two female officers exited their police car and approached me. I felt as if my legs would buckle beneath me. Thankfully, Emily was able to stand with me in the parking lot, per Covid-19 precautions, as I told them my truth.
It is a whole new level of pain when you stand in front of police officers to tell your story of abuse and they seem to believe you more than your family ever will. Thankfully, my loving partner and therapist were ready to go through this process with me.
The following days were filled with tasks trying to logistically figure out how I was going to live without my mother in my life. At twenty-five, I was very attached to my mother in unhealthy ways; as a disabled individual, I relied on her for help with many things such as getting to and from the grocery store, having money to do laundry, and paying for other items that food stamps didn’t cover. I can hear it now, “You’re so ungrateful,” my mother’s favorite argument, even though I have always been grateful for any help I’ve ever received from her.
I remember feeling fearful the following days after I made the report. That fear made me disassociate often. If I was present in my body, I felt like I was running solely on adrenaline. I was trying to work out specific details such as a new cell phone, cell phone number, and bills that I would now be responsible for.
Trauma was introduced into my life years before I met my now step-father. My relationship with my mother was never normal. Consistent lies, manipulation, and judgment from her caused me to develop severe anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, and even anorexia. My mother herself had very disordered eating habits, which she modeled for me. I felt these behaviors were normal at my young age, but really her habits could have been an eating disorder of her own. She taught me how to discreetly spit food out into napkins if I didn’t like it and commonly complained about her own appearance. This only encouraged me to have disordered habits too. It quickly turned dangerous, to the point that I needed to be admitted to eating disorder treatment at age sixteen.
Treatment was a very strange experience; being monitored when you go to the restroom, take a shower or anything in private. A staff member had to be present to flush the toilet for you, giving “weird” a whole new meaning. Unfortunately, I made very little progress in the seven weeks I was admitted. I remember telling my therapist that my father was the reason why I struggled as badly as I did with my eating disorder. My mom seemed to make it one of her life goals to make my dad out to be a horrible person when really it was her the whole time. I basically regurgitated whatever I could think of that my mom had shoved down my throat for the last sixteen years of my life. For example, dad was “mean” and “very judgmental.” I was asked to clarify but I couldn’t come up with any real examples or evidence. At this time, I was nowhere near ready to see that the real problem was not just my dad’s behavior, actually my mother’s. I did learn a lot in treatment, but if I’m being honest, their practices at the time only made me obsess about calories more. I had to count every single calorie that entered my body, and any kind of exercise was prohibited except for supervised yoga. This is not normal behavior by any means; it makes perfect sense to me why I quickly relapsed after being discharged, and didn’t fully recover for several years.
My mother chose the man that groomed me over her own child, and what pushed me past my breaking point was that she did so even after I told her what happened. As I sit here and type this, I have four and a half single spaced pages in chronological order of everything I could remember that my step-father did to me that was inappropriate before he married my mom in 2016.
I met my mother’s now second husband just a few weeks prior to being admitted to treatment for my eating disorder and in a vulnerable state. The beginning of the inappropriate communication began while I was away in treatment. We would email on an almost daily basis, nothing out of the ordinary at first however, it escalated quickly. Friendly conversations soon became very deep and personal for both of us. The following school year we were still emailing back and forth and this is when he told me to send the emails to his personal account instead of his work address out of concern that the wrong person would come across them and think they were “weird.” I complied. Furthermore, junior year of high school was also the year the inappropriate interactions began such as hugging, texting, and cuddling in the chairs in his office across from his desk. Most of the time I was in his office, he shut the door; he even went so far as to cover the small window on the door with a sheet of paper so no one could see us inside.
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I remember his behavior, like covering the window, making me question what his intentions were, but not as much as one might think. For the most part, my abuser was very good at normalizing his odd behaviors. I read recently that being groomed can commonly go unnoticed because the tactics used by the abuser do not come on suddenly and in my case, were hidden very well or disguised as showing that he cared about me, when really, he only cared about himself and his own sick needs.
My mother would swear to you, or to anyone, that none of it was true and that I am just a severely mentally ill person who made it all up. At first, I couldn’t decide how her response made me feel so I laughed out loud. I was hysterical, but really, I was in deep pain that I didn’t know how to tend to yet.
Not only did I lose my mother the day I made the police report, I also lost several other family members who decided to listen to my mother’s side of the story instead of mine. They were all insulting me behind my back after I made the report, according to my mother, so before communication stopped between my mother and I, she told me to block all family members from my social media accounts. I remember sitting in therapy sobbing at the thought of family saying nasty things about me after the report was made. My mother of course told me the specifics just to try and purposely insult and hurt me as much as she could.
After I came forward about the sexual imposition I endured in high school, I came to the realization that my mother’s true colors actually aren’t so pretty. Seeing my mother from such a horrific and different perspective re-traumatized me after the abuse I had endured. There is no way to sugar coat it, I ended up in the emergency room because I worried myself sick. I stayed awake for over seventy-two hours, spiraling about what I felt like I had done wrong. I started to question what I could have done differently, maybe if I had tried harder to tell my mom what this man did to me then it would have stopped, or she would have believed me if I had said something differently.
The emergency room doctor wasn’t the most caring, or perhaps he couldn’t understand my specific mental health situation. I wasn’t asked many questions, and no one seemed to care about why I had been awake for over seventy-two hours, they just wanted to give me something through the IV to make sure I would sleep that night. I was given medication to sleep, even though I told the doctor I had some at home and it didn’t help any. I was then sent home just a few hours later with the hope that I would fall asleep that night, which I did, however I woke up about eight hours later feeling worse. I was convinced at this point I would die. I was absolutely terrified but because of the lack of help I received at the ER, I did not return.
It’s a year later and I now understand with the help of regular therapy, I was doing the best I could with what resources I had at the time. I was a child and it was my mom’s job to help me when I told her what happened; going one further, it was my mother’s boyfriend’s responsibility to not act on his sickness, but he did. He told me, a minor, that he loved me, he said in emails that I was his best friend, he kissed the top of my head, and hugged me regularly. Without going into further detail, that alone is not normal behavior from an adult in a student-mentor relationship. This was very confusing for me as I was only sixteen when it all started. At the time, I was having regular breakdowns or crying fits at home. My emotions would build up and I wouldn’t know how to manage them. This often resulted in self-harm. I believe the severity of the eating disorder was at its peak at this time; I didn’t have control of my life and this was a way to gain it. If the adults in my life had been the proper safe people they should have been for me, I’m sure my journey with my mental health would be much different.
Unfortunately, I don’t get control over how my mother and step-father react to me living in my truth unapologetically. I think there will always be pieces of me that wish my mother would somehow magically change and be the mom I always needed. Thankfully, I am finding that motherly love in other places, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still hurt, because I do. I am learning everyday how to better navigate the pain and post-traumatic stress disorder I now carry. It’s a bumpy road; I still hurt and I still have my bad days. Dealing with PTSD on top of depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and anorexia recovery on a daily basis is hard work but the really cool thing is that I get to do it how I want to and in my own time. I have wonderful support from my partner Emily and my therapist, who I meet with twice a week. Life is not perfect now just because I made a police report and the man who abused me is out of my life, it is much closer to a life I am proud to be living.
I currently have two poetry books written, the first was strictly about my experience with anorexia and self-harm behaviors, which I have published. The other book is about my mother and step-father, which I plan to publish very soon. I began writing poetry when I was sixteen and newly diagnosed with anorexia. I found that making art out of seemingly ugly situations helped me cope with the trauma.
At twenty-six, I can confidently say that my calling in life is to be a poet. I have been through situations that no individual should ever have to experience. The honest truth is: grooming and sexual abuse from individuals we know and have some type of platonic relationship with is common. However, it is not in any way shape or form normal, but it does happen. My advice to anyone reading this is to listen and pay attention and, please, believe survivors. It takes so much courage to come forward, especially when there is so much at stake, like losing your family. Thankfully though, in losing my mother, I’m finding myself.
My therapist once told me to stand up
I was convinced I couldn’t because I was drowning in the ocean
Depression can make a god damn flood out of shallow waters
Emotions always building
A constant flow with no ebb until I broke
The cycle at one point felt like it would never end
I swore my life would be that way forever
It wasn’t like self-pity fell from the sky
I learned it
Which thankfully meant I could unlearn it
So, I stood up
I was angry and frustrated, convinced I would fail
But here I am
I’m still standing in the water
And sometimes a wave will splash over my head or even knock me over
But I’m learning how to get back up and keep going
EDITOR IN CHIEF: Gabriel Nathan | EDITOR: Laura Farrell | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman
See Related Recovery Stories: Anxiety, Depression, Eating Disorders, Mental Health Aloud, Mental Health First Person Essays, OCD, Trauma