I was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in March of 1960. My mama was only seventeen at the time. She told me there was snow on the ground when I was born and she had nothing to dress me in. The doctor’s wife gave me clothes to wear home. We were very poor and by the age of six months I went to live with my Granny Ray whom I loved and adored. She was my safety net, my warm place to hide. She took me to church and I watched her pray on her knees and cry for my papa. He was a drunk and he took pills, but I loved them with all my heart. They were always so kind to me.
During that time, my mama had her first mental breakdown and was taken to a psychiatric facility. While she was there, she experienced the pain of receiving shock treatments and then she was released. I remember staying with my granny off and on, but sometimes my daddy would come and get us. We were back and forth between the two places. I only remember bits and pieces of my childhood, but I knew early on to stay out of daddy’s way. My sister was born 18 months after I was, and then ten years later, my mother gave birth to my youngest sister. There were four of us girls, and we lived in one big hell. My mama experienced breakdown after breakdown, and I remember going to the closet and hiding from Daddy. I lived in constant fear and our lives were filled with violence. I remember how I would hear my mama screaming and crying. Later in life she told me that daddy would steal the grocery money, buy her negligees with the money, and then he would take her in the bedroom and rape her. I saw my daddy dragging Mama by her hair, but I couldn’t do anything. I felt so helpless and life seemed hopeless. One time when Mama took us to school she had two black eyes from a beating my daddy had given her. Oh, my poor mama!
I was very ashamed growing up. I didn’t have friends because my daddy would bust up all our furniture. I remember at the age of seven all we had in our living room was a picnic table. My mama gave me a birthday party, and I was so embarrassed. If there were dishes in the kitchen sink, Daddy would make us watch him take a hammer to them. One night, he woke us up to the sound of a bowling pen in the dryer. All we heard was that loud banging sound. I hated to go to school because I was afraid somebody would find out what my life was like. I remember once getting into a Volkswagen Beetle with my mama and sisters. Mama was taking us to Zesto’s and my daddy tried to stop her. He decided to lie down in front of the car. Mama ran over him and broke his arm. She didn’t stop, she kept driving. She had five dollars in her purse and she was determined to get her girls some hamburgers.
When I was seven years old, I was molested by an old man in my papa’s restaurant. I went to hide in the boarding house next door. That’s when I first experienced the shame and guilt, which later drove me to have my first drink. I told Mama what happened, but nothing was done and we never talked about it again. My mama finally divorced Daddy when I was 14 and after the divorce we moved from place to place. By that time, my sisters and I were raising ourselves because mama had to work two jobs since my daddy never paid any child support. I remember during that time that Mama had a major car accident, and she had just come out of the hospital from having a hysterectomy. When I got home from school, I found mama lying at the bottom of the stairs. Daddy had broken in our apartment and kicked mama down the stairs.
The apartment we lived in at that time also caught fire and we were burned out, but no one ever knew how the fire started. The fire happened two weeks before Christmas and everything got burned; however we managed to drag some of the furniture outside. We had to wash it off with soapy water so we could still use it. The people we rented from later evicted us. This is when my feeling of rejection began. It was a seed that grew and festered. This is also when I started drinking, I was 14 years old. I remember my first drink of cherry vodka going down warm and smooth; it took away all my hurts and helped me forget my pain. For the first time ever, I could deal with life. I had finally found relief. I also found that same relief from men. I fell ‘in love’ with any man who showed me attention. Then when I was 17, I was date-raped. My Granny Ray always told me to remain a virgin until I was married, but after I was raped I knew that nothing mattered anymore. I didn’t even tell my mama about it because she was never around. I started experimenting with drugs too, and I mean every drug. I would try anything to numb the pain.
I moved out of Mama’s apartment and by the time I graduated from high school I was working at the Sheraton Hotel. I learned how to use my body to get money from men so I could support my addiction to drugs and alcohol. I also learned how to throw-up after I ate so that I could stay thin. At that time my looks were everything to me. I was arrested at the age of 18 and then again at 21. I was sent to a psychiatric ward for evaluation. I always blamed everybody else for my problems. I was arrested about ten more times for public drunkenness and also for a few felonies. I moved from apartment to apartment, from man to man, and from job to job. I went to Miami one summer and ended up living on the beach. Two men took me in for a couple of days; I did what they wanted but they still threw me out.
Finally, I was able to find a man to take me home, but oh what a price I paid! I worked at every bar that would have me, and I was fired from them all. I ended up pregnant and working at a bar at Lenox Square. I would take the train to Little Five Points while I was drunk, and then I would go to dope houses. I had an abortion in my fourth month of pregnancy. The guilt just got deeper and deeper. I would sometimes think about God, but I hid in shame knowing He would probably never forgive me.
I became a blackout drunk, I couldn’t get high enough. It’s a whole new experience when alcohol stops working. I ended up at a bar on Stewart Avenue earning tips as a stripper. A guy came up to me one day and put a dollar in my belt, he said; “You don’t look like you belong here, come home with me.” About a month later he saw me for what I was, a drugged out drunk, but he also saw something good in me. He told me that he would marry me if I would get help. I always thought if I was married my life would be different. So after I finished my 12 pack of beer, I went off to a treatment center. That was the first time I heard about Alcoholics Anonymous. When I got out, 28 days later, nothing in my life had changed so he made me leave. I went to live with my sister, but after a while, she made me leave too. Then I took a room at my hair dresser’s house and started going to A.A. meetings. I found a boyfriend and ended up out of her place too. Then, when we broke up, I moved back in. “Nothing changes if nothing changes.”
I was having relationship problems. I started going to different meetings and found someone else to love. I ended up marrying him. The year was 2001; I had two small children, a failed marriage, no sobriety, and then I remembered, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” I divorced my husband and moved to Stockbridge, Georgia. I met another man in a matter of weeks. I was popping pills and living a big lie. I had grown up just like my mama. One day I looked at my little four year old angel, she looked so scared and so lost. She drew me a picture and with tears rolling down her face she said, “Mama, where have you gone? Please come back.” I had left my girls so many times with anyone who would take them; I just wasn’t there for them emotionally. That was it for me; I decided that I couldn’t do this anymore. At the age of 41, I looked in the mirror and said “I HATE YOU! Look what a mess you have made of your life.” I wanted to be happy, to be free from my past. I wanted my children to have a happy childhood. It was my choice. I wanted to be able to lay my head down at night and allow God to heal my wounds. I wanted to get the hate out of my heart and learn to forgive myself and others for without love and forgiveness you remain tormented and miserable inside.
Many years have passed toward my journey home. I am now single, raising my two beautiful girls. Every difficult moment has been a test that God has designed to strengthen my faith. He has placed a passion in my heart to serve Him by helping desperate, lonely, scared and wounded women. I have walked a mile with Sorrow and Suffering for His name sake. And when Jesus hears me sing or when He hears me cry, He bends down and kisses my face. And as He cheerfully listens, He always says to me, “Sing on my child. I hear your cry and I am coming to deliver you. I will carry your load and lead you safely home”.
In 2001 I started visiting the women in the Henry County jail, bringing my suitcase of bibles and AA literature. They would line up at the metal doors to hear the good news and I always squirted a good smelling lotion in their hands and I would sing to them, rocking them like little babies. One cold night I left the jail and saw a girl sitting on the curb with a plastic bag, a dollar bill and a picture of her son. She looked at me and said”Ms. Teresa I have no place to go.” The burden burned deep within my soul, I knew that God was calling me to serve, and that was where it all began.
On Nov. 2007, we opened Shining Light Ministries, Inc. We are a non-profit organization that works to help women achieve change in their lives.