“Many people in recovery face great fear
in entering or reentering community life.
We must be in a position to say, “Take my
hand and I will take you there.” To offer
those words, we must first know that
community terrain and have connections
with its people and institutions.”
– William White
My name is Donna Mae (Goles) Baukat. Stephen M. Baukat is my husband of almost 40 years in late 2021. The first thing you should know about me is that I am transparent, and I love to share my story of how I have been recovering since the late 1960s from mental health issues. The reason I am being open about my recovery is that my story might help someone who may take time to listen.
A story always starts with a beginning — mine starts as an infant. In fact, because I was conceived out of wedlock, my mother held me responsible for her marriage to my father. Both have passed. I was never open to strangers about the physical and emotional abuse I experienced as a child, nor have I talked about the neglect. In Y2004, my mom admitted that she married dad only because she was pregnant and failed in attempting an abortion. She said she went to have an X-ray complaining of stomach pains and knew that she should have mentioned her pregnancy to the technician. She told me she could not hold me or coddle me as a mother would her newborn. Her anger toward me was about her having to marry someone she did not love. My father did not know how to express affection. Mom was mainly the reason my dad whipped me with a belt. She might be arguing and fighting with him about how Donna Mae did not do the family’s ironing or folded the clothes or cooked rice or whatever.
I grew up with low-esteem and an over-achiever. Being first on the honor roll was not good enough for mom and dad when I attended an elementary parochial school for girls in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Canadian Sacred Hearts Nuns were the kindest and gentlest people I have ever known. They never knew that under my mid-length, pleated navy-blue skirt were belt marks, or bruises on my arms, from a punishment the day before. They nurtured creativity in me. They listened to my ideas without using their hand across my head for talking too much, and when I asked many questions.
Actually, I ran away from home every school day to leave the unhappy home I was in. The 14-mile bus ride in the mornings to school near Downtown Honolulu gave me a chance to complete my homework on time. It helped me escape the shouting voices and slammed doors by a mother who never had love or affection in her own childhood. Dad was always busy in some type of project in which he would not look up when asking him a question. His reading a paper at the kitchen table could never be interrupted, but I took risks for what I needed for school and he invariably told me, “Go ask your mother”. That was how I remember my parents. Since I am their oldest child, I was responsible for keeping the house clean. I learned to cook when I was seven or eight years old.
On February 12, 1958, mom with my four siblings were on a plane leaving Honolulu airport for San Francisco where my father had found a good paying job in Southern California. I recall looking out the window as we taxied by all of 30 cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandma with grandpa waving goodbye. The one thought I kept deep inside my mind and heart was not grief of leaving them. I was feeling relief! That feeling of relief came as the airplane took off and we were flying over Waikiki and Diamond Head then heading to the California coastline. Grateful that Tata Cerillo would never touch me again. I was certain to be age 13 and not worrying anymore to be in his home to babysit me and my sister. Most of the time with Tata was a guise to ask for money, which my mother would get when she came to get us.
I married one year after my 1962 high school graduation. Walt became a Marine Corps drill instructor when our third child was born, which was after he returned from the Vietnam war. He was a heavy smoker. Nearly every weekend he got drunk on a case of Coors beer. My parents were not alcoholics, but my dad behaved as one. He was a good father, but his wife was last on his list. Our children were born nearly 19 months apart and unplanned. By the time I was 28, we were divorced — not soon enough. I was treated in a mental hospital for major depression a few times with attempted suicides.
The last attempt harmed me with 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 30% of my body. Nine shock treatments after I was healed, and with various medications, led to hearing my psychiatrist telling me that my depression stemmed from the emotional and physical trauma I experienced as a child. A number of counseling and group therapies gave me an understanding of those months spent with depression, high anxiety and self-condemnation.
I’ve spent five decades of recovery for mental health conditions through psychiatric medicines and behavioral modification treatments. My lived experiences and the lifetime of illnesses, spine surgeries due to auto accidents, and a disability with Fibromyalgia since 1989 are a testament to my survival. I will reach my 77th birthday at the end of 2021 with the reflections of overcoming adverse childhood experiences, poverty as a child and the knowledge that I have worthiness of love and respect.
Thanks to my faith in a Heavenly Father God, His mercies and unconditional love, I will celebrate 40 years in marriage with Stephen Baukat one month before my next birthday. I have succeeded in a handful of careers that changed from being a stenographer right out of high school to work as an office manager and administrative assistant, in becoming a sales/marketing engineer and manager with a couple of electronic components manufacturers in Southern California. I am the first woman and first Pacific Islander to sell printed circuit boards and the first woman to market chemical milled substrates for semiconductors. Steve retired as quality director in military and aerospace computer manufacturing. We moved to Durango in November 2013, a few days after our anniversary. Steve has been like the mother and father I needed. He has not laid a hand on me since we first met, though we have arguments and fights! He has loved God and has loved me as much.
I have three adult children with seven grandchildren and two great granddaughters. They love my husband as their Papa Steve. With an understanding about the impact of adverse childhood experiences, a previous marriage with spousal abuse, and by recognizing that I have overcome adversities—I am able to share my story to help others on their own pathway to recovery. Painful hurts toward me only taught me that there is hope. Spiritually, I’ve become stronger.
When I was a volunteer with a prison ministry in Southern California for ten years, I suffered Fibromyalgia pain and the chronic fatigue that comes with it. Upon returning home, my husband Steve would be waiting to help me from the car to our bedroom; because, he knew I was tired and sore after each monthly visit to Chino or Los Angeles Institution for Men…..another for Women…..or after visiting a youth detention facility.
Service in the community has given me a strong feeling of fulfillment. Though my husband and I are retired, we enjoy working with people experiencing homelessness. Many of our clients have criminal records. But, I encourage anyone to know there are many pathways to recovery and contentment. We just need to take that first step in understanding our trauma and past hurts.
My childhood experiences meets the Abuse in Childhood Experiences (ACEs) survey in which I score six.
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