Please help me in welcoming Liz Ferro, founder of Girls with Sole to the blog today, as she shares her journey through the pain of sexual abuse and hardship that lead her to a place of healing and supporting others through fitness.
When I was born I was given to the foster care system. After living in four foster homes amongst trauma and turmoil, I was adopted at age two. At the age of eight my next-door neighbor began sexually abusing me and continued to do so for about a year. When my mom discovered what was happening she made the fatal mistake of sweeping it under the rug. Maybe if we ignore it – it will go away. Well, much like anything that needs healing –ignoring it can often do more damage than good.
For much of my life I felt helpless and out of control- like I wanted to run away from myself. I wondered if I would ever feel at home in my body.
Today, when I look into the mirror and study the lines on my face, as I often do, I know that I’m the same person that I was all those years ago….but how can that be?
I lean into the mirror and do my best to see if I can catch a glimpse of that person somewhere deep inside the reflection but I don’t see her. Perhaps she sunk to the depths of my ocean colored eyes. It seems that the deeper the lines and wrinkles of time begin to show on my face-the harder it is to remember that girl, and the smaller the chance of ever seeing her resurface. Never to be forgotten, and possibly to help future generations of cast aways find solace, the memories of her have been scrawled on paper and placed in a bottle that tosses among the ceaseless waves of my brain.
Ocean waves, like old memories, often seem playful and harmless just before they come crashing down on us with a thunderous force but I don’t have to worry about rogue waves anymore.
Over the years, an abundance of salty tears have washed over those bottled memories, transforming them into shards of faded patina sea glass and leaving behind only a mythical, beautifully mysterious, and yet, tragically misunderstood mermaid of who I used to be.
Like buried treasure that is never unearthed, those memories are buried too deeply to see the light of day. They will permanently remain on the map, however, and I’m glad that they exist because they are a big part of what makes me the treasure that I am today.
The old feelings of self-hate and patterns of self-destruction that was my life for so many years were actually the spark that ignited my passion to create the non-profit, Girls With Sole, that uses free fitness and wellness programs to empower the minds, bodies and souls of girls who have experienced any type of abuse, or who are at-risk.
The girls that I work with everyday in Girls With Sole programming are blown away by stories of this mythical creature. Surely she couldn’t have existed. They look at me now and ask me:
“How can it be?”
With all the things that happened to you – how are you so happy, Ms. Liz?
They participate in Girls With Sole programming; they read my book, Finish Line Feeling and before they know it, they come to me and say:“You inspire me and give me hope for a good life, Ms. Liz”
I am sure to let them know that it took time and effort to get there. I worked hard on self-healing and took a microscope to my interior – carefully investigating the scariest parts of my mind, my heart and my soul. It took a long time, but with the therapeutic effects of running, biking and swimming….I found my way out of the deep darkness and into the blue skies of a life that finally felt free. The heavy weight of self hate was completely washed away and I came to the realization that the rest of my life would be dedicated to bringing this same realization to girls who need it.
My whole life I was told I was wild and crazy. This was never meant as a playful or funny compliment- like the two wild and crazy guys played by Dan Aykroyd and Steve Martin on the old Saturday Night Live episodes. When I was young I had a sizzling energy, that, combined with my mistrust of the world, and my inner anger…..created a neutron bomb of wild behavior ready to go off at any given moment. I was prone to sudden, angry outbursts that were beyond alarming to those who witnessed them. I was always considered “too much” of everything that was unacceptable. I was too loud, too wild, too sensitive, too destructive and disruptive, too obnoxious, too talkative, too moody, too crazy, too much of a perfectionist, too hard on myself and others – just “too much!”
I was the kid that adults couldn’t stand. Teachers were frustrated with me and I spent more time in the principal’s office than in the classrooms of my grade school. On the first day of Kindergarten I was sent home for punching a boy in the face at the finger-painting easels.
I was kicked out of the Girl Scouts.
I made most of my friends’ parents very nervous, many of them asking my mom what she was going to do to tame me. Ritalin was often suggested.
In high school I was suspended for a week from school for taking part in a food fight. When the principal called my mom to tell her, he told her that I was an “animal.”
In college I jumped out of moving cabs when the people I was riding with angered me, and put myself in the most precarious situations because I was the wild child; the hell raiser; the party girl. Storms brewed inside of me that kept the glowing embers of self-hate and misery alive. It was excruciating for me at times to be in my own skin. I longed to feel at home in my own body. Thank God I kept running and swimming, and it was both of these things that kept me from turning to drugs and even from suicide. I knew I was “wild” and that people worried about me and for my well being. Sometimes I was even a little afraid of me, if truth be told.
When I was a young adult I was told that “a room full of psychiatrists wouldn’t be able to figure out what was going on in my head.”
Members of my own family often told me I was crazy, wild, directionless, and begged me to tell them what was wrong with me.
For most of my life, being a wild girl was considered a bad thing. Therefore, in my mind, I was a bad thing. I became a people pleaser and desperately wanted other people to like me so that I might like myself. I desperately hoped someone would help me recognize that I had at least one redeeming quality.
The quality that was unanimously recognized by all was that I was athletic. I took this and literally ran with it. I nurtured it because it made me feel whole, awake, and alive! I was a good person when I did physical activities. My body and brain thanked me graciously. In sports, taking chances and pushing things a little too far is a good thing. You can channel negative energy into something so rewarding and productive. I found an answer to my apparently questionable, yet unanswerable behavior that boggled so many minds.
I quickly recognized that athletics and fitness made me feel special and could do more for my mind and body than therapy alone could ever accomplish. Being an athlete helped ease the pain of repressed childhood sexual abuse and built my strength both emotionally and physically. Soon this strength spilled over into every aspect of my life.
Today I realize that being a wild and crazy woman – an authentic and thriving version of the girl that scared so many – is a very good thing. I’m still my wild and crazy self…but I have honed my prowess of fiery energy and learned to channel it in a positive way. Girls With Sole does this for our youth. It provides them with the fundamental tools to believe in themselves, to love themselves, to be fit and well in mind, body and soul, and, like me, to take great pride in their wild woman status. Once you harness this power, and use it wisely and in a healthy way, you can accomplish anything. The girls in my programming quickly begin to learn this lesson – the lesson that took me over twenty years to figure out for myself.
Today I’m too happy, too energetic, too helpful, too loving and caring, and too wild and crazy…in all the best ways possible!
Transcending the pain of our past isn’t easy, but we all have the choice to rise up from the dark depths of pain and into the light. Oftentimes on our way out of the murky darkness, those same things that hurt us become the treasure we can share with the world!
About Liz Ferro:
She is the recipient of the 2014 SELF Women Doing Good Award; the 2012 Longines Women Who Make a Difference Award from Town & Country Magazine; the 2011 American Red Cross of Greater Cleveland Hero Award; and the 2011 Classic Woman Award from Traditional Home Magazine.
Liz lives in Cleveland with her husband, two children, and their rescue dog, Rico Suave.