Debra's Story

My name is Debra Sexton. I'm 33, have been married for 6 years, and I have 3 kids. I'm from Sacramento, CA but currently reside in Seattle, WA. I'm a stay at home mom, and I love to work out and cook. I'm a planner and I love discovering new activities to do wherever I go. I'm the middle child with an older and a younger sister. I was a gymnast for the first 21 years of my life. Gymnastics shaped who I am. It was my identity for most of my life. I would never call myself a perfectionist, except for when it came to gymnastics. I mastered the sport, qualified to the Jr Olympics all 4 years of high school, and then went on to compete for Seattle Pacific University on a scholarship. There I became a 9x all American and 3x National champion on bars, floor and All-around.  I held the school record in the All-Around for a solid decade.  Being that dedicated to something at such a young age has really prepared me for some of life's challenges, like raising 3 kids all within four years of each other.  But, what I didn't really realize until recently was why I was drawn to gymnastics. Why was I a little soldier to the sport? My older sister always told me how lucky I was to have gymnastics because I was never home. I trained 6 days a week, 42 hours total, starting in 7th grade.  She was right. I subconsciously didn't want to be home. My step dad gave me the creeps. I felt weird just being in the same room as him. My mom always told me I had a special gift for following my intuition.

I remember the very time and place I was when I first thought to myself, "There is no one else on earth that is going through this and feels this way. It's not fair!" I was 5 ½, and I was sitting outside my house on the curb all alone. It was Valentine's Day. My dad, grandpa, and 2 of my uncles had just died the day before. They were in Salt Lake City to help another relative who just lost her husband. My grandpa and dad both had their pilot's licenses and were flying my grandpa's plane. Something went wrong and the plane crashed into the Great Salt Lake. Their bodies were found frozen in the lake.  My mom remarried a couple years later to a man we thought was fine. But soon after he moved into our home, the home my mother purchased with money she received from my dad's life insurance benefit, things changed. It felt negative and weird being at home. I focused on my gymnastics, it was something I knew would make my dad proud. It took me a long time to stop feeling sorry about my circumstances and It was a long journey to find peace with it. I remember my senior of high school coming across this Bible verse that really helped me. Romans 5: 3-4 "Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope." I was a good student and good daughter. Never really in any trouble. I just lived to make my dad proud, even though he was gone. I focused on the "character" part from that bible verse.

My mom stayed with my step dad for too long. She started sleeping on the couch when I was 11 or 12. I don’t know why they stayed together when they seemed so unhappy. It was awkward to be home. My mom and sisters came to watch me compete at NCAA Division 1 regionals in 2007. That was the day I heard my mom had kicked him out. He admitted to sexually abusing my sister. I was devastated for my family. I never saw him again. He sent my mom divorce papers, but she had to convince him to not get a divorce because she was just diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and she was on his health insurance plan. The whole thing was a mess. My mom fought for 3 years, but she died from cancer a few days before the anniversary of my father's death. We had her memorial on Valentine's day.  We were with her in the hospital for several days leading up to her death. Friends were visiting and we had good spirits when we were in her room. We laughed and shared stories and held her hand, knowing maybe she could hear us. She was known for her loud, contagious laugh and I like to think she was enjoying her last days hearing laughter. When she passed we all were relieved. She was with my dad again and no longer sick. Seeing her in that state left a huge mark on me. I want to live a healthy, happy life. I want to move every day. Run while we can! Our bodies were made to and I'll never take that for granted. I also was taught lessons on what not to do. I don't want to hide from my problems like my mom did. I want to live each day in the moment. You never know when something catastrophic might happen, like a plane crash or a cancer diagnosis. My step dad later tried to take our house. He acted as if he never did anything wrong and it was his to take. My sisters and I won that battle after a couple of years. It really was a time to test our character and to trust that good will prevail.

Everyone WILL go through something in life that crushes their world. My 5-year-old perception that I was all alone was so wrong. We go through these life experiences because it teaches us compassion and it gives us the knowledge for ways we can help others. And whether you believe in God and the Bible or not, I think we all would agree that in the end we just want to be good people with good character. How you handle the hand you've been dealt is up to you and no one else. You can choose to be mad or bitter, but in the end, it only hurts you more. I am thankful for my struggle because without it I don't know who I would have become. If my dad didn't die, would I have stayed in gymnastics?  I would never have gone to the college I did which was where I met my husband. I wouldn't have my 3 beautiful children. I wouldn’t have the life that I love so much today.

All of us go through one or another type of a hardship or struggle at some point in our life. I believe that these tests, these "fires" do not burn us up and destroy us, but rather shape us and mold us into the strong women that we become. No matter the type of obstacle or dark situation you may find yourself faced with, remember that just as lifting weights makes you stronger, going through mental, emotional, or spiritual battle will ultimately create the character that makes you the strong woman you are.

Just when you think you have lived through your darkest days, life might throw you another curveball.  A few days after I wrote my testimony my life was flipped upside down. My husband confessed he’s been battling addiction, and I had no idea. I was in shock, maybe I still am. Every horrifying “what if” scenario popped into my mind. My thoughts were spiraling out of control. I couldn’t breathe, I wanted to throw up, I had auras in my eyes. I quickly snapped into survival mode and together we got him the help he desperately needed. I’ve been feeling every type of emotion. Sad for my husband because he’s been suffering, angry at him for betraying me and putting his life in jeopardy, angry again for making me feel scared for mine and my kid’s future, guilty for feeling mad and him, confused and dumb for not realizing this was happening. Crying more tears than I knew was possible.

A few days after I wrote my testimony my life was flipped upside down. My husband confessed he’s been battling addiction, and I had no idea. I was in shock, maybe I still am.

I sat down and reread my own testimony. If I believe in what I wrote, and I do, then now is the time to practice what I preach. I wrote my testimony to help others going through something similar, but now it’s as if I wrote it for myself. It’s time to trust myself and remember that I have survived a lot and I can survive what’s coming next. This broken road has prepared me for this place. I am ready to be the wife and mother my family needs. I’m surviving each day. I’m learning to live in the moment. I don’t have it all figured out and that’s ok. I know I cannot control what my husband does and how he feels, but I can control how I feel. I am figuring out how to detach myself from a disease that I cannot control. A disease that I don’t understand. A harsh reminder that I need to take care of myself and let my husband take care of his responsibilities without trying to save or punish him. To let myself feel emotions, but not become that emotion. It is not easy. But I can accept help when friends and family offer it. I am amazed by the love and support I have received and I’m reminded again to have faith in God. I believe that difficult roads can lead to beautiful destinations. I am strong, I am a survivor. I will show others mountains can be moved, relationships can be healed, and happiness will be restored.