‘He crept in my room when my mother was working. My stepdad said she wanted me to do ‘those things’ to make him happy in her absence. I was afraid. I could trust no one.’

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“For as long as I can remember I was always overweight. I was always the chubby little fat kid. In my mind it was ok because everyone looked like me. My grandmother, aunts and cousins were all overweight. I went to school and of course I was picked on. I was light skinned, pudgy, and I had this crazy accent because I moved to North Carolina from Staten Island, New York.

Courtesy of Zoey Pardo

Being overweight shaped the dynamic of my personality in many ways. I had to figure out what made me stand out in a group. I wasn’t what society deemed as attractive, but I was honest, caring, and a comedian. I was a plum fool if you ask anyone that knew me. I was funny without even trying to be. I was told often that I was ‘Pretty for a big girl.’ It didn’t take long for me to figure out what that meant. I would always desire, and never be desired. I tried to convince myself I was ok with being fat. That I loved being plus size. Like I was part of an exclusive club that only other fat people were privy too. In all actuality, I was hiding behind my weight. On the outside I was happy, loving, energetic, but on the inside, most days I wanted to die. I hid what I now know are insecurities and trauma behind my weight. I tried to mask it, but like they say – everything done in the dark comes to the light.

Courtesy of Zoey Pardo

When I was about 7 to 8 years old, I was molested by my stepdad. I remember he used to make me watch porno movies with him. He told me my mother wanted me to do ‘those things’ with him to make him happy in her absence. I can remember watching the characters having sex and feeling uncomfortable. I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew it felt wrong. I can remember him creeping in my room at night when my mother was working third shift in a factory. As I got older, I began to understand what was going on and was just thankful I was there so he wouldn’t move onto my younger sister. He threatened that if I ever told anyone, he would harm me. He was very abusive to my mother and occasionally with my siblings and myself. I remember when he beat my mother with a bowling ball because she was sick and his dinner wasn’t on the table. The scariest thing I witnessed was when he held a gun to my mother’s head and threatened to kill her in front of myself and my younger sister and brother. I never told anyone of any of the instances. I kept it to myself, and that is when the weight started to pile on.

Courtesy of Zoey Pardo

I do not know how much weight I gained, but it was a hefty amount. My aunt and grandparents would ask me questions about whether or not I was being abused. Of course I denied it, because I was afraid. There were rumors he had an older daughter who said he’d raped and molested her also. No one believed her or tried to do anything to help her. If they wouldn’t do anything for her, then what could I really expect them to do for me? I was sent to speak to a therapist, but was unable to continue to go because I was being ‘too honest.’ In my family, it was see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

Courtesy of Zoey Pardo

I was taught very early to stuff my feelings. I had no control. I had no one to turn to. I felt there was no one I could trust because everyone talked to everyone. I knew I didn’t want to continue to be abused, but I didn’t know how to stop it. All I knew to do was turn to food. It made me feel good and provided me with a level of comfort I had never experienced. As I got older and realized I wasn’t what one would call a ‘looker’ because I was overweight, I thought that might keep me safe. I thought if I stayed fat, no one would want to touch me and I would be safe. It seemed to work. My stepdad stopped his inappropriate actions. I do not have a concrete reason, but I will always believe it’s because of what I did to my body.

Courtesy of Zoey Pardo

During the years I was using food as a shield, I did not realize how much damage I was doing mentally. I developed negative self-talk that diminished my self-esteem. I saw myself as fat, ugly, undesirable. I was stuck in a tornado. I wanted to be liked because that is what I was exposed to with my friends, but I was afraid of what that may mean at the same time. All the while, food was still a comfort for me. I would eat too much, too little, not at all at times. It was all about control. I could control what I put in my body even if I couldn’t control what happened to it. When I went off to college I realized just how unhealthy I was. I had gotten to my highest weight of 315 pounds and didn’t understand what a lifestyle change was. My life was too erratic for me to maintain any type of consistency. In college is where I also found drugs and learned how to binge drink. Food brought me comfort, but drugs and alcohol brought me solidarity. They made me feel whole.

Courtesy of Zoey Pardo

I started drinking alcohol at very young age. Alcoholism and drug abuse run heavily in my family so for me it, was just a matter of time before it brought me to my knees. I started binge drinking and drinking hard liquor when I was a freshman in college. It made me feel empowered. Liked. Invincible. I felt like one of the gang. I was always around people and my rooms and apartments were where you could always find a party. I was never alone. I didn’t know how to be. I used drinking and drugs as a way to cope. I used alcohol to mask my sexual traumas, abandonment issues, social anxiety, low self-esteem, and mental illness. It was what I thought was ‘fun’ for years. That was the only way I knew how to feel comfortable in my own skin. I was so unhappy and I didn’t always know why. I even went to a few therapists to work through my issues, but nothing ever stuck. Now here I am 32, almost 33 years of age, in California in a sober living writing this article.

Courtesy of Zoey Pardo
Courtesy of Zoey Pardo

On Jan 3, 2019, I attempted to commit suicide. I was so unhappy and overwhelmed with my life. Of course when I made the decision to take my life I was on a 6 or 7 day drinking binge and I was high off prescription Benzos. I was rushed to the emergency room and then committed to a psych ward. It was the first time I had ever been committed. I was there for 7 days. While in the psych ward I realized I really needed help. I decided then and there I would go to rehab. The arrangements were made and on the 12th I was on a plane headed to Sunny California. I spent 30 days in rehab in Palm Springs and when that was completed I traveled to Los Angeles and have been in sober living for 2 and a half months. This experience has been so life changing. Without having gone through this process I would not have a life to live. I would either be dead or drinking myself into oblivion as we speak. I was able to find myself on this journey. I’ve also been working on my weight loss throughout this transformation. I am now 170 pounds lighter, both mentally and physically.

Talking about the traumas of being molested and raped by family members, I have been given tools to cope with life’s challenges, we well as having the luxury of being sober. I am also on a medication regiment to keep my mood stabilized and I am not ashamed. I would rather be stabilized and sober than drunk and unmanageable.

Courtesy of Zoey Pardo
Courtesy of Zoey Pardo

There is a lot of stigma behind mental illness and I used to be afraid of what people would think of me. What I have learned are people are going to mock, talk about, judge, or celebrate you no matter what you do. I made the decision to choose life, sobriety, and a life of recovery. To make sure I stay on the straight and narrow I attempt these four things daily; I am impeccable with my words, I do not take things personally, I do not make assumptions, and last but not least, I always try to do my very best.”

Courtesy of Zoey Pardo

[If you’re thinking about hurting yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionhotline.org to live chat with someone. Help is out there. You are not alone.]

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Zoey Pardo of Concord, North Carolina. You can follow her journey on InstagramDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

Read Zoey’s inspiring backstory of overcoming more trauma in her life:

‘Did he just rape me?’ My cousin. My family. I lay there wondering how could this have happened? I did not tell anyone until 6 weeks later when I found out I was pregnant.’

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