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I Love Life: A Child Abuse Survivor Speaks Out

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Elizabeth Kubler Ross once wrote,  “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known loss and have found their way of the depths.”  Dave Pelzer, who has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show and a number of other national media programs, is one of those people.  As a child, he endured the horrors of abuse, which included physical torture, mental cruelty and near starvation.  In Dave’s own words, “My mother would starve me at least ten days at a time. I had no food whatsoever.  On top of the starvation, I was the family slave.  I would perform chores during certain regimented time periods.  My mother would also lock me in the bathroom with a mixture of ammonia and Clorox, a mixture of methane gas that will kill you in thirty minutes or less.  It strips the lining of your esophagus and fills your lungs full of fluid.  There was always some form of abuse every single day.”

 As the years passed, the abuse worsened.  “When I was eight years old, I took matters in my own hand.    I was able to mentally control my thoughts with a form of passive resistance.  But, I never fought back.  When my mother attacked me, I would automatically tighten up parts of my body.   If I could survive the abuse without any help or training, I knew I could turn things around if someone came to my rescue.”

 At age 12, Dave’s teachers risked their careers to notify the authorities and saved his life.  Upon Dave’s removal, he was made a ward of the court and placed in foster care until he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force at age 18.    Dave, without question, is a real survivor.   “Here’s a kid without coordination who flew on the refueling team for the highly secretive SR-7`1 Blackbird and the F-117 Stealth Fighter, which played a major role in Operations Just Cause, Desert Shield and Desert Storm.  Here’s a kid who was not allowed to speak for 12 years.  Now, I do stand up comedy featuring impressions of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bill Clinton.  I get to live a totally different life.”

 Although Dave has a distinctive list of accomplishments and personal commendations, he hasn’t forgotten the horrors of his childhood.  “My brothers would try to feed me.  They would be fighting upstairs and my mother would chase them around the house.  All of a sudden, the basement door would fly open and something would smack me in the face.  It was bread.  Days later, my brother would whisper to me, ‘hey man did you get the bread?  We’ll try to feed you again next week.’   The abuse really placed everyone in total jeopardy.”

 In spite of the abuse, Dave was thankful he was alive.  “My mom always called me dumb, stupid and kept ranting, ‘I wish you were dead.”  Yet, deep inside during that stage of my life, I was telling myself, ‘yes, I’m alive.  I was able to push away the pain.  I just wouldn’t allow the hatred and anger to control me.” 

 With an attitude of forgiveness, Dave Pelzer let go of the bitter past and has dedicated his life to helping others…to help themselves.  He is indeed one of the beautiful people Elizabeth Kubler Ross had in mind when she wrote:  “These people have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness and a deep, loving concern.  Beautiful people do not just happen.”

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