Denise Sanchez "Your past will always be there, so you have to learn to 'stand on it.'''
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Jennifer Denise Sanchez. I often go by Denise. I find it a bit difficult to describe myself, so I’ve recruited my family to help me out. According to my daughter, I’m “demanding,” according to my husband I’m “focused,” and according to my son I’m “strong.” I think all of these are true, but I would say to my daughter that what she perceives as demanding is my passion to build and grow a healthy, love-filled family. My family has always been and will always be my top priority in life.
Professionally, I’ve worked in various fields throughout my life. Currently, my husband and I are franchisee restaurant owners. Outside of this, my personal focus is dedicated to volunteer work at my daughter's school, our local church, and now to KISS. Volunteering is very special to me because it allows me to open another form of communication with my family, my community, and my faith.
What was life like before trauma?
I was abused by my grandfather during my childhood. I’m not exactly sure when it started, but it lasted up until the age of six. It’s difficult for me to recall what life was like before the trauma since it began at such a young age. One thing I do remember, however, is that my relationship with my mother was different prior to the abuse. I remember that we used to share more physical affection with one another.
What was life like after trauma?
I was not the only victim of my grandfather’s abuse. He also abused my childhood friend/neighbor. He was caught abusing us when I was six years old, and my friend was eight. Life after trauma was absurd and uncomfortable. Unfortunately, neither of our families knew how to deal with the situation, which was traumatic for them as well, so they tried to pretend like nothing happened; and unfortunately, this had serious consequences, not only for myself and my friend, but also for my entire family. These consequences have reverberated throughout all of our lives, even the lives of my children, up to this day, shaping every aspect of my relationship with myself, my family, and the world around me.
How would you describe your process of healing?
The process of healing has been long, difficult, and ongoing. For the majority of my life I have been forced to process all of my confusing, painful and overwhelming emotions on my own due to my family’s neglect. I attended church with family friends as a child, but I never understood why I had to go through what I went through since I was a Christian. It was very difficult to reconcile why God would allow such an awful thing to happen, so as a teenager I turned away from my faith.
I began using alcohol as a form of rebellion and escapism from my family and pain. I got involved in a turbulent, unhealthy relationship that lasted from high school into my early twenties, leading to the birth of my first child with that partner. My son was born when I was twenty-three.
Despite the painful journey, my son's birth gave me a glimpse of hope for the first time in my life. I felt the potential of what love could be and thought that I might be capable of sharing it with another person. This love led me back to God, and I soon realized that He had placed this child in my life for a very special reason. It was the first time I had felt I had a purpose, and it was the first real step in my healing process, but it was far from the last.
I hadn't been able to address my trauma fully, or head on until my mid-forties. This came as the result of finally confronting my problematic relationship with alcohol, and in the process, understanding and processing the pain of my childhood abuse.
Where are you at in your healing journey?
I’m in a place of discovery and balance. For me it’s important for my mind and body to be whole. My mental, spiritual, and physical needs must be in alignment. As much as I pray, I do still feel like I need therapy as well as a healthy fitness and nutritional routine.
What has been the biggest breakthrough in your recovery?
Learning to love myself has been the biggest breakthrough. As a child, I always felt like “tainted goods,” as if I was responsible for the pain that was affecting my family. I could feel them all projecting their guilt and shame on to me, and I internalized it. It wasn’t until I started doing therapy that I was able to start the process of forgiving myself. The struggles and abuse I faced as a child instilled a strong fortitude within me, but for the majority of my life I could only share that strength with others because I did not feel as if I was worthy of my own love. In forgiving myself, I was able to start forgiving others around me, most importantly my mother and father.
Learning to love myself has been the biggest breakthrough in healing.
What does “completely healed” look like to you?
I don't know if there is such thing as being completely healed, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. My son broke his arm when he was in the second grade, and to this day he still feels what is known as a phantom pain in his arm when it gets cold. I think there will always be pain, but now I feel strong enough to manage it in a healthy way.
Does forgiveness play a part in your story? Who have you had to forgive?
I released forgiveness to my grandfather at his funeral, but I didn’t actually mean it. I don’t know if he deserves my forgiveness to be completely honest. I think some things are unforgivable. Despite this, I do pray a lot about forgiveness. My biggest struggle was forgiving my parents. Their choices do still anger me at times, but I have, over time, learned to forgive them.
What advice would you give a survivor going through trauma right now?
My biggest advice is to tell your story. Even if you feel you can’t go to family, you need to find
somebody. I think it’s very important to find people you can communicate with along with God. Prayer was not enough for me to come to terms with my trauma, and therapy was essential in the healing process. I strongly believe that communication with God happens through others as much as it does through introspection and/or prayer — all forms of communication with God are important.
I strongly believe that communication with God happens through others as much as it does through introspection and/or prayer
What would you like other people to know about your story?
In therapy I learned that your past will always be there, so you have to learn to "stand on it.”
You have to find your way to stand in strength, and to look at the past as a gift not a curse.
Therapy was very painful, but necessary. It taught me so much, but also forced me to deal with all the emotions I had been avoiding for my whole life. Suddenly, I had to figure out what to do with all my grief and anger. I understand now that I have every right to be upset with how my family handled my trauma and their own. For much of my life, I have felt robbed of the joys of childhood, and even the joys of creativity. I was filled with so much self-doubt and fear that I constantly felt that I had to work that much harder just to conquer my own anxiety.
Now I’m finally discovering a newfound confidence which is inspiring. I’ve realized it’s not too late for me to take new risks and try new things. All these experiences have strengthened me, and now I can truly begin to tell my story, and continue to develop it for myself.
What is your . . .
Love language: Kindness, attentiveness, quality time
Self-care routine: Mindfulness practice, long walks of solitude, consistent exercise, therapy
Self-love splurge: Spa days and in home massages
Best compliment you get: “You have a beautiful soul.”
Most said prayer: My prayers are private, but they always include “Lord, please forgive me for my sins,” and “Thank you for all you do.”
A dream in your heart: To leave a legacy for my children
Idea of the perfect day: Laughing and having fun with my family.
Time or place you feel the most safe: Sitting on the sofa with my husband and both of my children by my side.
Favorite quote: Just because someone carries it well, doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy.
Secret wish: To go back to school!