A few dislocated shoulders, lots of broken bones, stabbing with needles, getting cut with razor blades — that was Elizabeth Steffel’s childhood.
Her mother was bipolar and her father was schizophrenic, so by the time she was 3-years-old her family had moved five times. When she was 4-years-old, her father thought she was trying to poison him.
“I remember doing the dishes and somehow I got the dish soap into the rinse water and my dad — who’s schizophrenic — thought that I trying to poison him. He grabbed the back of my head and just shoved me into the sink, trying to drown me. It’s weird because I can still remember the pain of the sink right against my chest.”
By the time Elizabeth was in kindergarten, her dad got involved in a neopagan cult and became convinced that she was possessed by an evil spirit that needed to be beaten out of her.
Then there was the knife game.
“[My father and his friend] had their pocket knives that they would throw up above my head, and if they stuck in the ceiling it meant I was good, if it fell down and hit me, it meant I was bad.”
The intense abuse continued into her teen years — everything from broken jaws to beatings. Meanwhile, her parents had a hard time holding down jobs. They lived in poverty that was so bad, she had wear her brother’s clothes, including his underwear.
While she was getting beat up at home (and at school), she found comfort with her school teachers. They noticed something was wrong, so many of them let her come to school early and stay on campus later.
By the time she turned 12-years-old, the abuse worsened. One time, she was hit so hard on her spine that she couldn’t lay down. When she told her neighbor’s mother, the police didn’t believe her. They thought she was just a troubled teen.
Later on, she was finally placed in a foster home. But four months later (under a new law that required her to be reunified with her parents), Elizabeth was forced back into her mother’s home. Within a few months, her mom tried to kill her with a telephone cord.
She was once again put back into foster care and eventually when she turned 18-years-old, the system couldn’t do anything for her anymore. Elizabeth became homeless and thought about stripping after school to make money.
A school counselor intervened and got her involved with a transitional living program. She got an apartment at a very low cost, and the counselor taught her the importance of college and how to apply for admission.
But as her life began to calm down, depression started to sink in.
“Once I was finally living on my own and I wasn’t in survival mode anymore — depression just hit,” said Elizabeth. “My thoughts at the time were, ‘I’m going to be alone the rest of my life. I’m never going to have a family the rest of my life. Everybody around me has support and family and people that care, but it’s going to be just me for there rest of my life.’ I became very suicidal.”
Luckily, Elizabeth’s high school counselor noticed the signs and got her the help she needed and provided her with tools for her future.
“Family isn’t just who you live with — it’s your teacher, your community, your friends. You can actually build your own family. With that I had hope for the world,” said Elizabeth.
Now, Elizabeth is getting her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Southern California. She hopes that through her experience, she can help foster youth nationwide. When she reflects on her past and how things could have been different, Elizabeth encourages people to pay attention and notice the signs. They’re there for a reason and one report, one phone call could change a child’s life.
xx, The FabFitFun Team
In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness month, we’re featuring the stories of brave women who have overcome domestic violence. Read and share these stories so that we can be one step closer to a world without domestic violence.