Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Åsa, and I am a graduate of Vegas Stronger, having the honor of walking in the graduation ceremony on December 7, 2023. I’d like to share my story with you, so you will understand that the people Vegas Stronger helps are real.
Let’s start at the beginning; my childhood. I was born in Montreal, and I lived in Toronto, later moving to New York in 1980. I started school in first grade there. Because I spoke French, Swedish, and English and had a unique name, kids teased me. I also had learning disabilities that were not diagnosed until much later which made it hard for me to keep up with the other kids. Growing up, I traveled back and forth between Sweden and the U.S., attending school in both locations. I found my safe place in music and art (dancing, acting, modeling) and participating in the orchestra. I didn’t spend much time with kids my age and didn’t have many friends, because I was different and they had labeled me as different.
When I was 12, I went to France as an exchange student and while I was there, I was raped by a high-ranking diplomat who was supposed to be a figure of trust and safety. After that, I changed dramatically because I didn’t find the help I needed because people didn't believe that what I said happened. So, I internalized it. At this point, my self-esteem evaporated, I no longer believed in myself, and all of the bullying I had as a child became more prominent; things just got worse and worse until I found myself hanging out with the wrong people and turned to drinking alcohol as an escape from the pain.
Because of the incident in France, we moved to Sweden, but then because of my behavior change, we moved back to New York where I started high school. I did fairly well in high school and tried to do all the right things. And then when I was 16, I began dating a man who was 28. My parents had no idea, it was a secret that I kept from everyone. They all thought I was doing well, I had a part-time job and put forth a good front. But in reality, I was going to bars underage, and I was dating a man far too old for me, but I felt accepted, mature, and loved. I went on to complete high school and vocational school for culinary arts.
After graduation, I went back to Sweden and was raped once again, but this time by the one person I thought was my best friend – they call it date rape today. I was too ashamed to say anything and once again turned to alcohol to hide my pain and my addiction to men.
You see, I turned to both because that is where I found acceptance and a way to numb the pain. I didn’t know who I was, or how to deal with anything and I realize now that I knew nothing about myself, so anyone who paid me a compliment, I would bend over backward to please.
When I turned 19, I had an abortion, and then at 20, I had my daughter after I met another man that I lived with. For a while, I had a house with a white picket fence, a dog, and a family. But it didn’t last. This is where another horror story begins. My partner was great in the beginning, I felt so loved and perfect. But over time that changed and he became overly jealous, and abusive, both financially and physically towards not only me but also my dog and daughter. He kidnapped my daughter, killed my dog and my daughter’s horse, and many other terrible things that I won’t share because they are just too hard to talk about.
My parents saw what was happening and had me come back to the States and I eventually stayed after trips back and forth, as things continued to erode in my relationship. Most people didn’t know what was going on, I was embarrassed and people blamed me for things not working out.
Later, I met another man and had another child, another daughter whom I love to death, but who I haven’t now seen in 12 years because I walked out thinking they would be better off without me. I had postpartum depression and other issues that I didn’t know I had at the time.
After that, I chose to come to Las Vegas because I wanted to be a light in the dark. I had aspirations of helping other people like me, but I didn’t know how because I hadn’t yet found help for myself. Instead, I ended up homeless, a product of my environment, was victimized, in and out of jail due to not being able to pay child support and I turned to drugs, crack cocaine, and meth in addition to alcohol.
After a lifetime in denial, I finally realized that I needed help. There was a very visible and profound shift within me. Once I received treatment, I finally started to understand why I was the way that I was all these years. I also realized that there is a difference between treatment and recovery. You have to treat yourself to get into recovery. By that I mean, you have to allow yourself to have little rewards along the way to continue encouraging yourself to keep going and stay committed.
What I want you to realize is that there was a point where there was a shift, a very visible and profound shift within me. I finally received the answers to the questions I had about myself and why I was doing what I was doing. I couldn’t defend what I was doing and I thought to myself, then why am I doing this to myself?
If you want to get to know me better, stop by Vegas Stronger! Even though I am a graduate of the Intensive Outpatient Program, I am now a member of the Vegas Stronger Alumni and am here most days. I am currently waiting for my birth certificate to arrive from Canada, and am volunteering in the gym and other areas of the organization helping however I can, and telling my story to you is just one way I want to give back to this amazing organization and people who help me through recovery.
It is my hope that I will someday join the team here as an employee of Vegas Stronger because I believe in the amazing work taking place here, and the angels who make it all happen.
I want you to know that the people Vegas Stronger helps are real and just like anyone else. I am no longer afraid to be who I am, I love myself and understand that loving myself means taking care of myself – body, soul, and mind. Vegas Stronger helped me to understand this.
I believe, that people who want help shouldn’t ever be denied help because of finances. Vegas Stronger didn’t turn me away in my time of need, instead, they welcomed me with open arms and I have been given a second shot at life!
You can help make sure that Vegas Stronger continues to be here and poised to welcome many more women like me who are ready to accept the help, love, education, and insight that will allow them to create and live their best life yet while paying it forward.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story. I hope you will become a part of this amazing organization!
Thank you for your time and care,