Becoming What I Might Have Been

What I Might Have Been

As I passed my 50th birthday, I wondered if I would ever be able to complete some of the dreams I had carried with me for decades. So many things had happened to me. I had been sent to juvenile hall at fourteen, got myself kicked out of school by fifteen, and married by sixteen. We had our firstborn son when I was seventeen, and my husband abandoned my son and me by my eighteenth birthday. Thing went downhill from there. I experienced abuse and trauma. After a gang-rape by six young men I turned to drugs to try to cope with the emotional pain.

By the time I hit my twenties, I was seriously mentally ill. Soon I would lose a brother and three years later, a father, to suicide. I went through another abusive marriage and divorce.

But I worked very hard to recover. These events changed me, but I grew as a person and changed my life. I eventually married a wonderful man. My children grew and became husbands and wives, with families of their own. I had the joy of a house full of grandchildren. My Christmases were no longer the nightmares of drunkenness of my childhood, but instead full of light and peace and the sweet laughter of children.

But now I had fallen down a flight of stairs and broken my neck! It seemed as if life was over.

Then one day I saw a quote by a woman named Mary Ann Evans. She used the pseudonym George Eliot because in her era women authors were not well received. She said, “It’s never too late to become what you might have been.” Since this quote was on an illustration in a magazine, I snipped it out, framed it, and hung it on the wall above my desk. Could I dare to think I still had time to make my dreams reality?

One dream I had since I was in my early twenties was to become a psychotherapist. I wanted to help others as I had been helped. I had attempted some classes at the local community college, but the trials of life kept getting in my way. I eventually gave up. Was it too late? Not according to George Eliot!

I entered college at 51-years-old and began my journey. I worked hard and won a partial scholarship to an award winning four-year liberal arts private college. At 55-years-old, I graduated Maxima cum Laude. I won a much-coveted spot in a masters program at the University of Montana. I was on my way to fulfilling my dream.

Then, in the month I was to begin my new studies, a strange circumstance changed everything. I had torn my rotator cuff and needed surgery. When I woke up in the recovery room, the anesthesiologist leaned over me and said, “Mrs. Hoenigsberg, I need to tell you something. I saw a large mass in your throat. I’ve never seen anything like that in 25 years. You need to have a CT scan right away!” You can imagine the fear that coursed through my body.

Two days later I had the CT scan. There was nothing at all in my throat! But in the very top of the scan, they noticed something disturbing. There, on the very edge of that scan, was a spot. It was a brain tumor.

I was sent to two neurosurgeons in a larger city. Both told me it was inoperable. I had approximately one year to live. This tumor sat close to the brain stem on the underside of my brain and it was growing rapidly.

Something told me that this was not “it” for me. I called a famous neurosurgeon in Los Angeles and asked if he would look at my MRI. He agreed. I’ll never forget the call I got a few days later. “Linda, I can help you.”

The recovery from a very risky six-hour brain surgery was horrendous. I had double vision. I lost the hearing in one ear. I couldn’t walk without help. I had terrible tinnitus and a horrible buzzing in my head that woke me up many times a night. The fatigue was the worst. But if I had learned one thing in my life, it was to never give up.

So I began my master’s studies lying in bed with a patch over one eye and a laptop on a pillow on my lap. For the next three years I studied diligently. By the time I went to my first weeklong residency, I needed a power chair to get around. By the following year I had one reserved for me at the hotel, but I did not have to use it. My tinnitus and the buzzing in my head had disappeared. Then I had enough energy to do my practicum and internships. Soon I had to work a full time job at an agency in order to earn my hours for licensing. It was hard, but I was determined.

Now I am in psychotherapist in private practice. I work with teens and adults and focus on problems similar to those I faced as a young teen and adult. I worked hard to become certified in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, which treats seriously ill people who have suicidal or self-harm behaviors. I did not think I could deal with suicide, since I had been a witness to the suicides of my own family members, but it has only strengthened my resolve to help.

It is my belief that no matter what a person has experienced, no matter how old a person is, they can still become what they might have been. It is never too late.

Photo by anurag agnihotri

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103 thoughts on “Becoming What I Might Have Been”

      1. Agree with Sherri, thank you for posting your story and making me think about what I really want to do (At 42 it is certainly not too late)….
        Simon

        1. Thanks Simon. I actually learned how to windsurf when I was 40! I got into the best shape of my life and had a blast doing it. Breaking my neck certainly put a damper on that but I am so glad I got to do that for a few years. God bless and keep going!

  1. What courage you displayed throughout your life…very encouraging to me and I’m sure countless others! It’s amazing that each person’s story somehow enriches the lives of others. Thank you for your bravery, your desire to help others, and your willingness to lay it all out there and not give up on what you wanted!

      1. Linda,

        My name is Purna from Bali Indonesia.

        I had a background in domestic violence and it affected my mental health.
        I cannot afford a shrink because it costs $70 per half an hour.
        But reading your story, I feel inspired.
        I am feeling scared with how my life will unfold since I do not really have a supportive family.
        You are strong and thank you for sharing your story.
        I need it.

        Sincerely,
        Purna

  2. I have been so depressed about the mess I have made of my life, just 4 days ago I turned 35 and felt like the world had ended for me. Your story has given me hope , god bless you for sharing!

    1. Jamie…I hit that spot at 40, so I know the feeling. I was 40, single again, and lonely. That was when I met some windsurfers and mountain bikers. I learned how to windsurf and became passionate about it…the first time in my life I had been athletic. I ended up in better shape than when I was 20! It was a fantastic time of my life. It is truly never too late. Don’t give up! You deserve a wonderful, joy-filled life and your past will help many others.

  3. Wonderful story and so glad you made your dream come true. I felt compelled to comment on this topic because I have the same quote on a picture I bought at a dollar store. I am 53 years old and on disability because of severe arthritis in my hips and spine. I asked my daughter recently if she thought I would be able to go back to school and pursue my passion if interior design. She said “Mom, I’m afraid you are just in too much pain to do anything anymore”. While she is right about the pain, it saddens me that I’ll never be able to make my dream come true. I feel like I am just waiting to die and that certainly is no way to spend what should be the best years of my life. Your story has me thinking of ways to overcome my disability and become productive again. I’m telling myself that if she can do it, I can do it. Thank you for the inspiration.

    1. Hi Jennifer. I’m in chronic pain too. The broken neck injury gave me arthritis and chronic upper back muscle spasms. I deal with it every week in some way shape or form. I cannot even grocery shop anymore…carrying a half gallon of milk is too much. I don’t carry a purse. Yesterday my wallet caused me to go into pain. I cannot compare my pain to yours, obviously, but I am determined not to let it stop me. I think if we are doing something we love, the pain seems minimized. It’s when we stop that it is hard to not concentrate on it. I hope that helps, because I believe you can do it!! :o)

      1. Oh dear Linda,
        Do I ever know what you mean about grocery shopping! I have to use one of those motorized carts to shop anywhere. I feel like I’m 20 years older than I really am. I’m terrified to have anymore surgery (hysterectomy in 2009) but I’m terrified to go on like this too. Heartfelt gratitude goes out to you for sharing your miraculous story and proving to us all that the best is yet to be. Gentle hugs to you. Oh P. S. I also have Fibromyalgia which is no fun. I’m used to giving and receiving gentle hugs.

        1. Hi again! I have a handicap placard and feel kind of embarrassed getting out of my car and “walking” into the store, but I cannot carry anything far! It makes me feel older than I am too..know the feeling. I also got chronic fatigue syndrome after the brain surgery…I think it’s similar to fibromyalgia. No fun is right! There was a time I had to stop going to church because the hugs would feel like they were shattering me! Now I can take stronger hugs…but not too strong! Ouch! ;o). The best is yet to be, Jennifer!

          1. Linda, just wanted you to know I am reading your life story and I am originally from California too. Your story is so detailed and fascinating. I grew up in California in the 70’s and although I am a bit younger than you, I somewhat remember the culture. I cried when I started reading your website because I could have written your words about how horrible anxiety and depression feels. Reading about the path your life has taken has reassured me that healing can still take place, even at this stage of my life. I have feelings that I have intentionally buried because allowing them to remain at the surface is just too painful. With your permission, may I consider you to be my mentor? I would be honored if you would consider becoming my friend on Facebook. Thank you for opening my eyes to a whole new world. You are a fascinating and very wise woman.

    2. Jennifer,

      Do not let anything, or anyone trying to protect you, to keep you from your dream. My husband’s doctor wanted him to retire for years with a really bad back and problems like yours. But he didn’t. He just persevered and blessed so many people. I would so encourage you to start back to school next semester. Focusing on something else will be the best medicine.

      Penny

      1. That is truly fantastic. I thought my grand-mother became a grand-mother at 39
        and I thought that was young!!!

        My big 5-0 is next April and I now have even more confidence in MY future. You are an inspiration.

  4. Linda,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I recently got a client for ghost writing and when she expressed that she fears she may be too transparent in her writing my response to her was readers appreciate transparency and vulnerability. We read to get to know the writer for getting to know others is how we get to know ourselves.

    What a wonderful resolve you have. I love it! Again, thank you for sharing. Firstly, because others like me have been there. Secondly, it reminds us that we can’t judge a book by its cover.

    Rock on, sister!

    Jule Fobert

    1. Thanks Julie. You are so right. I know that people would never guess about my past, knowing me now. In school I was taught to not be very self-disclosing, but I find that my clients sigh with relief. I “get it.” You do too! Thanks so much for your comments…precious to me. :o)

  5. Wow! Absolutely inspiring and written with such clarity and grace and not an ounce of self-pity. I’m in my 40’s and slowly changing my life. A reminder that if someone can do it in the face of such tremendous obstacles, anyone can.
    Thank-you for such an honest piece of writing.

  6. Linda,
    Thanks for this article.I have been through several challenges to my dreams and this has continued for over 20 years now.But your ability to achieve your dream after the terrible days is quite inspiring and encouraging.
    Thanks for sharing.

  7. Linda, I am so proud of you!!! How anyone could read your story and still complain that they are too old to start anything I don’t know. Amazing what we can accomplish just by changing the way we think. I never tire of reading more of your story!!! ♥

  8. Reading your headline gave me a bit of a shock. That used to be my motto. My personal mantra sort of speak. I even used to tell others about it. Now I am stuck in a rut. Living under difficult circumstances. I had completely forgotten about that quote. I have forgotten my dreams and I have in the back of my mind thought it was to late.
    I must admit I cried reading your article. In sympathy for your pains and in recognition of my own. I have been through a lot as well and in my current situation I had given up. Tired of the beating life have given me.
    So thank you for this Sunday of reminding me of this quote. I am going to find my dreams again, even if it seems such a long time ago.

    1. Hettie, I am so glad you found this, this morning. I know there have been many times in my life that I felt like giving up and letting my dreams go. I know God has helped me so much. I know you can find your dreams again as well. ((HUGS))

  9. Linda… your story is incredible! You are incredible! I am so proud of you! You are an inspiration to me & have already helped me move up a few rungs from where I sit right now. Your courage, power & inspiration has moved me to my dreams, & up & out from what looks & feels like a slim escape to where this 50ish woman wants to be:) Thank you for that! And for sharing your story, God bless:)

  10. after all the comments people have given, i have not much to say.

    I am amazed. I am simply amazed.
    I found this personal story of yours in the crossroad of my life in my thirties when I feel everyone gave up on me, and giving me useless advice, yet there is still so much i want to do, and i feel time is running away and i’m getting older. I know it sound ridiculous comparing to your story.
    i will frame YOUR story, as a reminder for me, not to give up. and come back even stronger.

    thank you millions!
    you are wonderful and a bright light. many love.

    1. I am SO happy you were inspired by my story! I love it that you will frame it and remind yourself not to give up. I hope I am growing and changing and learning and helping others until I take my last breath…it is never too late. Much love to you, too!

  11. Linda, your story has given me renewed hope. Thanks so much for being vulnerable. I also want to become a psychotherapist. At 30, I don’t even have a BS. This is often considered pretty disappointing for someone of my generation. Anyway, I signed up for Psych 101 at my local community college and dropped out because I felt like I was over my head. I love psychology but didn’t feel like I could really dig in and absorb, just rote memorization. I lost the confidence to continue since I didn’t even complete a basic class. I lost more confidence when I realized that it will take a long time to get my degree since I work full time. Reading your story is so inspiring. I was literally crying as I read it. I’m going to print it out and post it as a reminder to not give up. It is a blessing that I your story popped up in my inbox. It will be a lot of hard work to get my degree but if you can do it, I can do it.

  12. A truly inspiring story! I’ve met so many people whom complained to me that they are too old for doing something but time and time again I read stories like yours that it’s never too late to start living a completely new life. Thank you Linda for sharing your story.

    1. Thank you so much! I’m so glad I didn’t think it was too late for me. When I thought about staring college, I would think, “Well..what will four years from now look like if I don’t do it? It will still be four years later!” You are very welcome!

  13. It is an amazing account of courage, determination and self-belief. Despite the cruel way life has dealt with you, dear Linda, you have done the incredible by resurrecting yourself from agony and despair. You are truly an inspiration for those, like me, who tend to give up at a slight jolt that life and people give me. What makes me going is ,” The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want “.

  14. Hi Linda,

    Thank you very much for sharing. Goes to show what someone can achieve with the will within themselves, when they want.

    Allen

  15. Your story was powerful and confirmation of my personal Mantra .. “never give up .. not even when that fat lady sings!” It brought tears to my eyes and made me proud to be one of the EVER STRONG WOMEN that we are! You’re truly blessed as I am for delving into your article!
    Thank you.

  16. Hi Linda. You are most likely the strongest person I have ever read about. You are remarkable! I am facing some health challenges which were completely unexpected and I am having a very difficult time emotionally. You are truly inspiring. I will remember your story and draw upon it for strength. Thank you.

    1. Michelle, I am so sorry about your health problems. I do live with mine, and it’s not fun, but it has helped tremendously to find what I think of as my purpose and use what I can (my brain) when I can no longer have the strength to do a whole lot physically. Please know that I care.

  17. Wow!
    Just amazing, When I read your story I thought to myself how could it be? How strong a person can become to overcome such terrible problems. My question is how do you find/obtain such perseverance?

    God Bless,

    Alireza

    1. Hi Alireza. I do not know if you have ever given birth to a baby, but one thing that happens a lot is that the woman will feel the strongest urge she has ever had…to push! Many times a nurse or a doctor will tell them to stop pushing…the doctor is not ready to deliver, or the baby needs a baby position, etc. It takes everything in that woman to NOT push in those moments!

      That is how I have felt. I felt like I could not stop pressing forward in my life no matter what. It felt impossible! The analogy of giving birth was the only thing I could think of to explain it. But deep down inside I have always believed that it was a gift of perseverance given to me by God. I felt like the Lord put that gift in me in order to help me fulfill the purpose he entrusted to me…to reach out and help others who are hurting.

      That’s the truth! Sometimes now, that I am actually working, I don’t always feel that same perseverance. But it lasted for years. Thanks for asking me that question!

  18. That’s really inspiring, I started to feel like I have no excuses to be angry or sad with the really silly things that happen to me….

    Good Luck
    Wishes

  19. Linda, as someone who worked with kids in a public school setting for years, and has seen the system by and large give up on the most troubled ones, I want to thank you for all the good you do. It’s rarely what we say to kids. They watch what we do…and who we ARE. You are a tremendous role model…and I’m sure you’re a great therapist.

    1. Thank you so much for saying that, Larry! When I was in my twenties and suffering so much, I thought about becoming a therapist so I could work with the teens who had no one pouring anything good into their lives. It is so rewarding. :o)

  20. Wow, just wow. What an amazing story. Just when things seemed to be getting better, something had to come and mess it all up. And yet you still kept on. Thank you for sharing with us, Linda. I keep this and other stories like this in mind whenever I feel like life is throwing me some trouble, because nothing compares to what others have witnessed, lived through, and been able to rise above.

    1. Thank you so much, Ryan. I will never forget how, back in the late 1970’s when a lot of this was happening, I would read an article in every month’s Reader’s Digest. The column was called “An Encouraging Word.” The articles were about all sorts of “good news” items. Pollution was going down…people were healthier than ever…someone was a hero, stuff like that. I LOVED reading those articles…good news..stories of other’s overcoming…they are life blood sometimes!