In her formative years, Catherine Schiffer fell victim to daily sexual, verbal, and physical abuse. Through her teens and into her thirties, she fought to survive, battling drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and two failed marriages with many dysfunctional relationships in between. In her forties, she knew it was time to change or die, and that’s when her life took on an entirely new and profound meaning.
This week on Overcome With Auntie Anne, I’m talking with Catherine Schiffer about how she went from victim to survivor, to thriver, and how walking through the doors of recovery began the daunting journey of undoing all the wreckage in her life. It’s a story you don’t want to miss, so listen to the podcast to hear our entire conversation. Or keep reading below to catch some of the highlights.
Catherine was born in Monrovia, California, in 1968. Her mother was only 15, and her father was only a few years older. Immediately after being born, she went into foster care for the first six months of her life. Only after her mother and father got married did they come and take her home. Even though it was so early in life, Catherine feels that this was the beginning of things going wrong because she didn’t have the typical bonding experience that newborns typically get with their mothers.
Catherine’s father was arrested for selling drugs when she was three, leaving her 19-year-old mother to raise two kids as a single parent. In time, though, her mother met a new man--the man who would eventually become Catherine’s stepfather--and they started dating. But while her mom was only 19, this new man was 45. This was the first red flag.
While they were dating, this new man’s ex-wife came and told Catherine’s mom that the reason she divorced him was that he molested their two daughters. This was the second red flag.
But unfortunately, Catherine’s mother didn’t pay any mind to either of them.
As a result, this began what would become daily sexual abuse towards Catherine at the hands of her stepfather. Catherine was only three when it started, and it lasted until she was 14. She says that her stepfather “did as all good predators do isolate you from family,” and “he took us all to Louisiana, 3,000 miles away from any family, [and] we were alone.”
Alcohol became a big part of Catherine’s mother and stepfather’s relationship. In fact, her mom became a heavy drinker, and in doing so, became emotionally and physically abusive.
She would speak “words of shame” that cut Catherine “at the core of who [she] was as a human being.” And “the physical beatings were almost daily as well.”
Catherine says, “From the time I was three until I was 14, that’s what my life looked like; I was beaten, I was raped, and I was verbally assaulted on a daily basis.”
Trying to speak up
Catherine tried telling her mom about the stepfather’s rape she was experiencing. And even though her mom walked in on it happening one time, she never did much about it. In fact, just the opposite happened; she made Catherine feel ashamed because of it.
However, her mother eventually sent Catherine’s stepfather to counseling. After some time, the counselor he saw said therapy cured him. But unfortunately, it didn’t, and the sexual abuse continued. At 12, Catherine recalls feeling like, “there’s no point in saying anything because no one’s going to do anything.”
This was when the shame began to set in, and Catherine felt maybe the problem was her, that there was something wrong with her. And she no longer wanted to say anything about it because she didn’t want others to judge her. “I was a child riddled with fear. I was a child riddled with confusion. I was a child riddled with desperation.”
For Catherine, “it was live or die.” She says, “I was in survival mode. And I knew that the only way I would ever get out is for me to do it.”
In junior high, Catherine became a chronic runaway. The pattern was the same: she’d run away, get caught, get taken to a youth facility, be held in the facility for 72 hours, and then get sent home. The thing was, Catherine loved it at the facility, which is why she would run away. But one of these times, knowing the facility would send her back home, Catherine decided to run away for good.
Back in California, her biological father was released from prison. Catherine didn’t have an intimate relationship with him, but she did care for him even though he was still a drug addict and alcoholic. So at 14, Catherine ran away from Louisiana and went back to California to live with her biological father.
When she got off the plane, her dad handed her a joint and said, “This will help.” After that, drugs and alcohol were what Catherine was given when dealing with problems. And so that’s what she started doing, and she eventually became an addict.
At 15, Catherine met her drug dealer. At 16, she got pregnant with her drug dealer’s child and decided to marry him. And at 17, she had her first baby. She admits that this was a way to escape her feelings that her father didn’t really want her in his house. So, she says, “I decided that I would try and just find my way and do my thing.”
A life of addiction
Eventually, Catherine became a meth addict. And she’s not shy about what it did for her. She shares vulnerably that meth “seemingly took away all my pain. The torture that I lived daily from the abuse--the mantra in my head that I was nothing, I was dirt, would go away when I used.”
At that time in life, Catherine used meth to feel like a normal human being. “When I was high, I was somebody. When I was sober, I was nobody.” She admits that it’s hard to reconcile in her mind this reality that she was living. But again, she was in survivor mode, and she did what she could to survive each day.
At 21, Catherine had her third child. At 22, she divorced her first husband. And at 23, she met her second husband. Over the following number of years, she spent a lot of time “in and out of jails, institutions, and rehabs.” But at 29, she was arrested again and sent to Los Colinas Detention Facility for women. It was here that Catherine says Jesus intervened for her.
Redemption begins in a jail cell
While in prison, Catherine found a book called The Power of Praying by Stormie Omartian. The book talks about being grateful in all things. And even though she wasn’t sure how that worked, she decided to give it a shot and thanked God for her jail cell.
Here’s the thing. There was the potential that Catherine could be in jail for up to a year. And she had three children at home. But only eight days later, she was released. Something shifted. “I walked out of that prison a changed woman, and I never used meth again.” To this day, Catherine remains grateful to the officers who arrested her because that time in prison changed her life.
Although her meth addiction was gone, she drank and smoked to numb the pain. But at 39, her doctor told her that if she didn’t quit smoking, she’d be on oxygen by the time she was 55. So at the beginning of 2007, she attended her first Celebrate Recovery meeting and “began a journey of recovery that began to change [her] from the inside out.”
Part of the recovery program is a 12 step process towards change. The fifth step in the process is sharing your story with someone. But because of the darkness surrounding her past, Catherine was convinced that if she did share, whoever was listening would “get up and run.”
But she did it anyway, and the women she shared her story with showed nothing but empathy and understanding. “That’s when my life began to change I learned that it’s in my pain, that it’s in the truth, that we are set free.”
I’m sure all you readers can guess how I feel about that. We can all be overcomers. If we’re willing to be vulnerable and confess to a friend, healing is right there waiting. And healing came for Catherine.
After 20 years, Catherine walked out on her dysfunctional marriage. And she began counseling and life coaching, and she says it worked wonders. Through it, she learned how to communicate her feelings and values--feelings that she used to run from and values she never had.
Catherine’s relationship with the Lord has grown and continues to grow. She spends time with him every day, getting up every morning at 5:30 to do so. During this time, she says, “He organizes my thoughts He tells me what to focus on [and] what not to focus on.” And there’s a lot that requires her focus.
Catherine is thriving today. She’s a multiple award-winning bodybuilder and an active realtor and business owner. And she’s committed to bringing awareness around childhood sexual abuse. Her nonprofit, One Voice One Mission, works to outfit classrooms with resources to teach kids about safe touch--what’s appropriate and what’s not--and show teachers how to identify struggling kids.
Catherine’s also a life coach. She helps people to get “their body, mind, and soul in alignment with who they are.” And she’s happily married, experiencing the love of God through her marriage, something she never thought would happen.
If you’d like to connect with Catherine, she’d love to connect with you. You can contact her on Facebook. Send her a message and tell her you heard her story on Overcome With Auntie Anne. You can also find her book, Pieces of Me: A Daughter of Mental Illness, on Amazon, so be sure to check that out.
The post From Victim to Surviving to Thriving with Catherine Schiffer appeared first on Auntie Anne Beiler.