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Overcoming Trauma and Finding Purpose: Q&A With Vanessa Opina

TCB: Welcome to The ChaCha Blog Vanessa! Thank you for joining us. Do you mind telling everyone about yourself and how you got to where you are now in life?

VO: Hello, hello! Thank you ChaCha Blog for having me.

My name is Vanessa Opina but most people call me Vee and I was born and raised in Southern California. My childhood was far from perfect. I moved around a lot and was exposed to a lot of things at a very young age. I believe the things that I went through have shaped the way I look at life and the way I try to live life.

At 17-years-old I gave birth to my son who is now 19-years-old. I had my daughter nine years later and she is now 10-years-old. I joined the military in 2006 and was honorably discharged in 2011. I attended college for about a year before I landed a contracting job as a logistics specialist and was there for three years.

In 2017 I was hired as an electrical apprentice do work on a naval base for NAVFAC (Naval Facilities Engineering System Command). I have been at this job for almost four years and will be finishing the program on September 01, 2021. My goals in life are nowhere near done.

The top four things I want to accomplish in life are to spend more quality time with my family, receive my California Electrical License, travel more, and of course dance more!

TCB: When we talked briefly, you had mentioned wanting to share your story which I find to be one of the bravest things we as humans can do. Having the courage to just bare our vulnerabilities with others to hopefully bring a sense of community to those who have gone through or are going through similar situations or maybe even the same situations.

With that said, how did growing up in foster care affect you as a teenager and young adult? What was that like for you?

VO: I was 10-years-old when I went to my first foster care facility. It was called “Los Ninos”. I was placed there because my mother was not fit to take care of me.

At 11-years-old I was sent to a foster home in Calexico, CA and I was there for three years. Then at the age of 15 I was sent to a group home in Palm Desert, CA.

I got pregnant at the age of 16 and because of that I was sent to another group home in San Diego. After I had my son, I was then sent to yet another group home in Perris, CA.

I graduated high school at the age of 17 and was able to emancipate myself and move to Palm Desert with my son’s father.

Growing up in foster care and group homes was not easy. The easiest part was moving from place to place because as a child I unfortunately had already become accustomed to that.

What was hard was making friendships again…Learning new rules.

As a teenager it was harder because a lot of the girls that I was in a group home with had drug problems, mental illnesses, and a lot of them had run away from home.

I couldn’t relate to all of them. I was in group homes because I didn’t have fit parents to care for me. The only way I could relate was to be like them. To do things they did. I still had a choice but growing up in group homes did influence a lot of the experiences I had as a teenager and as a young adult.


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TCB: How did your parents’ struggles affect you growing up? Did their demons become your own as well?

How did you find the strength to change the narrative for yourself and be the one to change the generational trauma and wounds?

VO: My parents were both drug addicts. They both passed at very young ages. My mother passed at age 46 and my dad passed at age 49. Even though I saw how badly drugs affected my parents’ life, it did not steer me away from using them.

I came to a low point in my life and started using. I used for two years and was able to maintain a job and care for my son. I thought everything was OK, I thought I had it under control.

One day I had an overdose and thought I was going to die. Thats when I knew I had to stop and fortunately I was able to quit cold turkey.

I knew that if something happened to me, who was going to take care of my son?

My son is who saved me because if I didn’t have him, I would have continued to use and not cared about myself. My son motivated me to be a better parent and to make something of myself.

TCB: Being a mom now and looking back at your experiences with your own parents as a kid, how has it changed your view and perspective as a parent? Was there fear in becoming a parent?

VO: As a parent looking back at my own experience with my parents, I see that I want to make sure my kids have a stable place to live, to be a good role model for them, and to always try to give them the reality of life (no sugar coating).

I think there is always fear in someone who is going to become a parent. But for me, the moment I found out I was pregnant I already had a strong mindset to do whatever I needed to provide and take care of my child.


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TCB: How did your struggles as a child dictate your worth as a young woman? How did you overcome that and what changes did you need to make in your life to find yourself and find your inner power?

VO: So as a child I experienced racism but not from strangers, but from my own family. I was told things like, “Don’t go in the sun you will get too dark”, or “You’re Spanish but you don’t speak Spanish”, and things like “Why do you dress like a slut?” This really put a damper on the way I looked and thought about myself.

It took me a long time to feel confident in my appearance and who I was as a person.

To overcome this, I started looking at myself as “human” and not a specific race/ethnicity. I started learning about who I was as a person. Thats when I started to love myself again.

TCB: First of all, thank you for your service! What led you to the Navy? How did that impact you moving forward? What was it like?

VO: It was several months after I had my overdose that I decided I needed to do something with my life. Working 2-3 part-time jobs and trying to go to school while taking care of a 4-year-old was not easy.

I kept seeing a commercial about joining the Navy. For some reason I was drawn to it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

In the summer of 2006 I signed up for the US Navy and was shipped off to bootcamp on December 11, 2006. It was the best decision I made for my life. Thats when my life took a turn for the better.


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TCB: How have you overcome your struggles and all the hardships you’ve been through? How have you found inner peace?

VO: Sometimes I ask myself the same question!! Ive been through a lot, and when I say “a lot” I mean a lot! I remember a time in my life when I was about 19-years-old living with my son’s father.

He physically hurt me so bad that I had head injuries and some broken ribs. My face was unrecognizable because of all the bruising and swelling. I was sure that day I was going to die. I thought it’s finally over. I finally can be free from this relationship but the universe had other plans for me.

This is the one moment I go back to when I think of my past struggles and the struggles I have now. I remind myself that nothing was worse than that. That I could overcome these struggles just as I did that day. That I could survive anything now that I have been through one of the worst experiences.

Inner peace was hard to accomplish with the situations I was given in this lifetime. Spirituality is what really helped me find inner peace. I am not attached to a specific religion, but I do believe in the laws of the universe. I believe you should always try to treat people the way you want to be treated. Thats how I try to live my life. That’s how I have learned to forgive people that have hurt me.

TCB: Looking back at your childhood and your life thus far, how do you feel? Besides your incredible children, what’s been the biggest motivator for you to keep going and keep pushing towards your dreams and wishes?

VO: Life is my biggest motivator. It really is. With all the bad things that have been happening in this world, I realize that you got to do what makes you happy.

You have to live everyday like it’s your last. Death is inevitable.

TCB: If you could sit down with your younger self, at any age, what would you say to her? What advice would you give her? What would you want her to know?

VO: To my younger self I would tell her that she is loved, that she is smart and beautiful. I would tell her that whatever she decided to do in life that it wouldn’t be easy. That before making a decision to make sure to write the pros and cons.

To think before you act. To be patient. To love yourself.


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TCB: When did you get into dance and how has that changed your mental and your life?

VO: Dance! Oh, how I love to dance.

So, my first memory of dancing was when I was 8-years-old. Sir Mix-A-Lot came out with the song “Baby Got Back”! I had to record it on my cassette tape player (yes, the good old days!) so I could replay it over and over!

I never took any professional dance classes but I danced a lot in my room. A year later I ended up getting into breakdancing because my brothers did it a lot. I learned a lot of moves and was pretty good at it. I continued to dance up until I was 15 but mostly in my room or if anyone remembers those MTV music video tutorials!!! Ha-ha! I did those too!

After I had my son, I didn’t have time for myself. It wasn’t until I was 30-years-old when I actually took my first professional class.

Let me tell you, it wasn’t a pleasant experience but it drove me to practice at home with free online classes. I did that for about a year and went back to Los Angeles and started taking classes at Edge Pac, Playground LA, Millenium, etc.… Dance was always my escape from what was happening at home.

Dance has changed my life in the sense that it has helped me mentally. It always made me feel good inside. It helped with my anxiety. It helped me with confidence. It was my getaway from problems I was going through. It made me feel safe. When I danced, I was able to be a different character other than myself.

It was almost like an out of body experience for me. Dance is my life and it has become a part of who I am.

TCB: Your soul just glows and everyone needs to see that for themselves, so where can they find you and stay up-to-date on when you’re teaching and what not?

VO: Awww thank you! You can find me on Instagram @visual_vee_7. At the moment I am not teaching on the regular but if I do have a class it will be posted on Instagram.

If you’re interested in dance covers or dance projects just send me a DM on Instagram and we can link up!

Thank you so much to Vee for being so vulnerable and open about her story. If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic violence or substance abuse, please refer to the numbers below to seek help immediately. 

Domestic Abuse Hotline: 800.799.SAFE (7233) | thehotline.org Substance Abuse Hotline: 1.800.662.4357 | samhsa.gov Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800.273.8255 | suicidepreventionlifeline.org

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