“To look at us, you would have thought we were the great American family,” Cheryl Glaiser writes in the first pages of her memoir, Use It, Don’t Abuse It (Gatekeeper Press). She goes on to set an idyllic scene of growing up in the 1960s in the small town of Walnut Creek, CA. Her mother was pretty and her father hardworking. She and her sisters were blondes and wore matching outfits. By all appearances, theirs was an enviable childhood. But as we all know, appearances can be deceiving.
That was certainly the case with Cheryl and her family. Both of her parents were alcoholics, and her mother was also a drug addict. This negatively impacted their whole family dynamic over the years. Not surprisingly, Cheryl’s parents ended up divorcing and, while both ultimately remarried, they continued to create a very dysfunctional environment for their children.
THE LIFETIME ECHOES OF CHILDHOOD TRAUMA
Cheryl and her siblings were forever scarred by the effects of this environment. Cheryl grew up with very little confidence in herself and her abilities because her mother would consistently tell her that she wasn’t smart, and her older sister ended up with an eating disorder after constantly being told that she was fat. Cheryl describes feeling like “there was no ground beneath my feet and everything was topsy-turvy.” With no foundation and no support, she learned what not to do as opposed to what to do as she grew older.
As she went through life, Cheryl was determined not to become an alcoholic like her parents and, once she became a mother herself, she made a point of paying close attention to how she interacted with her daughters so that they would feel loved and supported in ways she never had.
While Cheryl was not raised with any particular faith, she always wondered about the existence of a higher power. Later as an adult, she realized that she had started praying as a teenager without knowing that’s what she was actually doing. As she entered her early adult years, Cheryl became more and more curious about God, faith and the Holy Spirit.
Marrying into the Catholic faith became a turning point in her spiritual journey; she finally felt she had found somewhere she belonged. The idea of having a guardian angel to guide her became particularly important to her. The world may be unstable. Life can be chaotic. People are unpredictable. But faith is the bedrock that keeps you steadfast among all that. Cheryl had found the foundation she so keenly lacked growing up.
OVERCOMING LIFE’S HARDSHIPS THROUGH FAITH
As we watch her life unfold, Cheryl gains success in her career, becomes a wonderful and loving wife and mother, and manages to make her way through some very difficult life-altering health crises. Case in point: “Use it, don’t abuse it” was the advice offered to her by the doctor who performed a hip replacement surgery on her while she was only in her 20s — a rare procedure for someone so young. His advice became Cheryl’s motto as she moved forward in life.
Cheryl’s tenacity, strong values, faith and determination led her down a life path that could easily have gone in a far different direction. Her story provides an example for others who may also have grown up in dysfunctional families without a stable or solid foundation of love and support. How do you make your way through life if you don’t have that? How do you find the strength and confidence to go in the direction of your dreams? Use It, Don’t Abuse It shows us how one woman managed to do just that.
Cheryl writes that she wanted to tell her story in order to share the many lessons her life has taught her, particularly what she’s learned about “the power of words and the importance of watching what we say, especially to children. Adult words help form and build a child’s self-esteem — or tear it down.” As she mentions in the Afterword of the book, “negative statements get stored in the subconscious minds of children and continue to affect them throughout their lifetime. These negative statements are bad for their self-esteem. They carry these demons forever.”
Overcoming these demons and learning to lean on faith in the face of adversity is the life’s work of this truly inspirational woman. Her story stays with you well after you have finished reading it, leaving much food for thought and personal reflection. And for readers who identify with Cheryl’s upbringing, a sense of validation — and hope for future happiness.