I was that kid who knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up. I can't remember ever wanting to be anything else. I knew that I would go to an Ivy League school. (I thought that it would be Harvard until I learned that they didn't have a vet school.) I knew that I would not have children. I didn't plan on marrying anyone, opting instead for a male neighbor who would cut my grass and let me borrow his big, woolen sweaters. I wanted to have horses, dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, goats, and a donkey. I knew exactly what I wanted and how I was going to get it all.
Until I failed. In my defense, it wasn't through a lack of trying that I failed, but rather through a lack of focus created by trauma and its resulting mental health disturbances. You see, I hadn't factored into my life equation things like rape, self-injury, dissociation, and clinical depression. I didn't plan for my complete and utter unraveling, for the alienation of my friends, for the judgment of my family, for the feelings of despair and hopelessness that would rule my life for so long. I hadn't prepared for the unhealthy relationships, the financial hardships, and the lack of direction or purpose.
I lost years to this detour, but unexpectedly found a new path when I became involved in helping others who had experienced sexual violence. I was trained to answer the phone to speak with survivors and to provide emotional support and information about available services. After some time as a volunteer, I was offered a full-time position with the agency. I started doing public speaking and community outreach on sexual assault. I suddenly felt a sense of excitement about my work, fulfilled by the promise of doing something that might prevent another person from experiencing what I had, and happy for the first time in over ten years.
That was almost 15 years ago, and now I am beginning to question whether I have followed this path as far as it can take me. I am frustrated by so many aspects of the work that never seem to improve--the police response to reports of sexual assault, the low likelihood of arrest or prosecution of the perpetrators, the judgmental reaction of the general public, including the professionals tasked with providing care and services to victims, and the constant justification for the work that I do, from the begging for funding to the meticulous documentation of client demographics and services provided. I feel powerless to truly help victims and particularly powerless to end the cycle of violence faced by women in our culture. I dream of an end to the sadness, pain, and confusion that I feel vicariously through the people that I try to help.
I'm facing a crossroad...one direction leading me deeper into the work that I have been doing with more credentials and new skills and the other direction leading to a fresh start on a brand new path. I don't know how to choose. I don't know which option to follow. I don't know whose advice to heed. But, I feel a sense of obligation to that little girl, the one who knew so strongly and so deeply what she wanted to be when she grew up. She didn't get to fulfill her dreams, and life led her into a new direction. Now, I have the power to make a choice, to let that girl be who and what she wants to be, to take control of the next phase of my life. I may not have become a veterinarian, but there's still time for me to dream and to make my dreams come true....once I decide.