*Editor’s Note: The “Views from NAU” blog series highlights the thoughts of different people affiliated with NAU, including faculty members sharing opinions or research in their areas of expertise. The views expressed reflect the authors’ own personal perspectives.
By Larissa Wilcox
Wilcox is graduating Friday with degrees in microbiology and philosophy.
I wasn’t born into poverty, but I did grow up in it. My once-thriving family who had substantial income, owned property and ran businesses was destroyed overnight by a heroin relapse at the hand of my birth father when I was just eight years old. My father had been clean for almost 20 years when he saw a physician who prescribed him opioids for a work injury and sent him into a downward spiral.
At the peak of his relapse, my father scammed a church in a business deal for three quarters of a million dollars so he could pay for drugs, and in return we lost our businesses, our house, our vehicle and all the money in every account. All we were left with was the clothes on our backs. My parents then got divorced and though there were multiple attempts at visitation with my dad, they often ended in tragedy and with him doing drugs in the bathroom.
The final straw was when my father nodded off from heroin while driving and drove his truck off an embankment and into a lake with my baby sister and me inside. The only times I saw my father after that were when he didn’t recognize me at a grocery store and asked me for a cigarette, and when I had to sign for his cremation after he succumbed to liver failure caused by Hepatitis C.
After the accident, my mom who was battling demons of her own, became a single mother to three girls. For a while, our life was a roller coaster of highs and lows filled with cheese sandwiches, cold showers, food donations from churches on holidays and hand-me-down clothing. It wasn’t until my mother met my ex-stepfather that our life transitioned to just lows. My ex-stepfather was a physically abusive, higher-ranking drug-dealer who spent most of his life in prison and smoking crack cocaine. Throughout the 12 years my mother was married to him, I learned what a SWAT raid was like, what the difference between county jail and state prison is (including what the visiting areas are like) and what it means to meet a monster in real life.
Three days after I turned 18, I moved to Arizona with the only family member I had outside of New York to escape the abuse and made a pact with myself that I would be different from those I left behind. I chose at that moment to not become a victim of circumstance and to instead use my trauma to grow and do something bigger than myself.
While attending Northern Arizona University, I was able to begin unraveling generational curses through my education. Growing up in poverty, I only knew what I was exposed to, and most of it was morally skewed. Northern Arizona University taught me how to collect and understand information myself and gave me the confidence and information to finally make educated decisions fully on my own, which gave me a chance to be better than those I succeeded. Through university and therapy, I was able to take my power back from my abusers and empower myself, learn what morality looks like, begin to break the patterns that I was so used to, allow myself to have a significantly different lifestyle than what I was raised in and to persevere always.
My educational experience was far from easy, though. During my freshman year I was diagnosed with lupus and as a first-generation college student, the feelings of imposter syndrome were consistently overwhelming. I spent all my time in high school worrying about what was going to happen to me once I got home instead of learning like the rest of my classmates, so I’ve always felt like I was behind. This only worsened in college because I never felt like I was able to catch up. I welcome these feelings, though, because they are what pushed me to break my familial curses by showing me that it isn’t meant to be comfortable, but every struggle will be worth it when I one day have my spot in the sun.
Being able to graduate from Northern Arizona University as a first-generation college student is the first of many generational curses to be broken, and it has proven that my trauma and hardship will end with me. If any of this resonates with you, know that you’re not alone and you’re capable of more than your mind will let you conceive. In the words of Jim Carrey, “life doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you. So, relax and dream up a good life.”