Carolyn Hennecy is a survivor and now the Lakeland native is helping other women, telling her story in Orange Blossom Wishes: Child Molested, Woman Abused – Her Victorious Journey to Freedom. The 2008 memoir, available at Barnes & Nobles and Amazon.com, takes readers through her childhood and a nearly 16-year marriage filled with emotional, verbal and physical abuse to her escape. Today, she’s an advocate, bringing more awareness to domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse through her website, www.orangeblossomwishes.com, and community work. She is celebrating 25 years of freedom from domestic violence and aims to help fellow travelers find the hope and happiness they deserve.
Undoubtedly, I fear leaving this big blue marble without having fulfilled my purpose and destiny. I spent time drowning in hopelessness and I have had hope restored. I am now compelled to help others find their own restoration. Knowing how volatile things can become in an instant, much of what I do is for my granddaughters, striving to make this world a bit safer for them.
I seek to educate victims that they have the ability to avoid potentially abusive relationships. Any of us can easily become a victim. Knowledge truly is power. I hope to speak in the area’s high schools, colleges, businesses and churches, educating the public on how to recognize signs of an abusive relationship and escape safely.
In spite of having so many downs and so few ups over the years, there is a happily-ever-after to my story. After 17 years of single life, I came across an old friend on the Internet. We met in second grade, but after graduation lost contact for 39 years. There was never any special attraction or crush, no dates, just two buddies. In 2008, we had our first date, 50 years after meeting, and soon thereafter were married. I never imagined being so happy was possible.
One of my proudest moments came in April, when I was chosen by Verizon as one of only five women in the nation to attend the Family Justice Alliance Annual International Conference as a VOICES representative. What an honor. I participated as part of a panel addressing long-term support, including assistance to victims after they have made the break from their abusive environment. Meeting and speaking with the White House adviser on violence against women was frosting on the cake. This year brings with it the honor of being part of the Sexual Violence Task Force Tampa Bay Speakers Bureau.
One of the greatest fulfillments in life is when, at a book signing or other author event, a stranger reaches out and whispers in my ear, “I’ve been married for 60 years, and never told my husband this. I was molested by my father when I was a little girl.” Then, we hug and weep together, sharing a common factor. I hope I never forget the feeling of being a victim, for you see, the day I lose the ability to feel their pain and empathize with their turmoil, perhaps seeing them as just another statistic, is the day I have begun to fail and lose my passion.
Most of my “me” time is in front of a keyboard. Writing is my sanctuary. The year I spent writing my book was probably the most valuable time I spent alone during my adult life. It was cathartic and healing. I had to go deeply inward, revisiting some unpleasant times and places. Nevertheless, a sense of accomplishment rushed over me the day that first copy arrived at my doorstep. I embraced it tightly, cried pathetically and kept repeating, “I did it! I did it!” The other keyboard in my life is the piano. I learned to play when I was a young girl, and have always had a great appreciation for music, from Debussy to the Drifters, country to oldies. It is an innate part of my soul, and touches me in a unique manner, lifting my spirit and bringing relaxation, as well.
Obviously, my passion is consistently taking a stand against all forms of abuse, doing all I can to prevent it and encouraging others to take part in the work of domestic violence awareness. As a mother and grandmother, one important message I would convey to readers is that love does not intentionally inflict physical or emotional harm or pain. Remarkably, and thankfully, the Tampa Bay area has a vast number of agencies available for victims and recovering survivors. One of my chief goals is to help victims make that connection and get the assistance they need.
I find it heartening to read articles and see pictures that revolve around enriching and strengthening families. Our children are our future and we should learn and share what works or doesn’t as we make every effort to raise well-adjusted, happy children. Knowing this magazine is so readily available with such valuable information touches me.
Well, being a grandma, I don’t get the chance to scoot about with my kids these days. Some of my favorite memories as a child were spent at Lowry Park Zoo and Safety Village. It’s still one of the best places around for kids, not to mention a myriad of beaches and lakes. Here in Lakeland we have the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings at Florida Southern College and the swans on Lake Morton.
That’s easy – my mother. In her profession, she held one of the highest non-elected county government positions, was strong, resolute and established a work ethic many now allow to fall by the wayside. Her message was, “Sis, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well, but always maintain your integrity.” Her most valuable lesson – no regrets. Live life to the fullest each and every day. Seek your purpose and fulfill it. Say “I love you,” and send flowers while the one you love is still able to hear the words and smell the roses. I still miss her, but constantly draw on her examples in life.