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Breaking Free from Abuse and a Toxic Family to find Self-Love and Authentic Happiness

“The abuse expanded over time. My mother could be incredibly kind and would have given Martha Stewart a run for her money. The problem came when her mood and personality would flip on a dime, her eyes in slits, and I would be beaten, almost to the point of blacking out, for what reason I couldn’t understand.”

Hello! Who are you?

Hello! My name is Susan Gold and after living for decades in NYC and LA, I now live in Northwest rural Montana – a short four-mile walk to the Canadian border.

Other than a stint at Fox and a large global talent agency, ICM, I’ve been a consultant or freelancer. I began matching celebrities to brands in my mid-twenties which led me to become a producer in television and film. 

My first deal was to knock on the door of The Factory to convince Andy Warhol, the modern art master, to do a TV commercial for Pontiac that he had no interest in doing.

After a glittering career with household names and much success, the Universe has redirected me into a vocation with a purpose, to help others with challenges and trauma similar to what I’ve walked through.

After a nasty divorce that almost took my light, and after a very long hiatus, I am very happy living with my beau, our two cats, and our rescue dog. My passions are staying fit, evolving from a soul perspective, engaging authentically with others, and leaving a legacy.

Although I did not trust happiness, I am learning to find it more naturally and notice it as a more permanent fixture in my life.

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

My struggle began being born into a toxic family system. Though I didn’t completely understand it at the time, there was no consistency within my chaotic home, rife with addiction, mental illness, and abuse of every type along with ancestral bloodlines containing absolute toxicity. I felt out of place, alone, afraid, unsafe, and my central nervous system was continually on overdrive.

As an empath, I could read the emotions and temperament of others, I was aware of the danger quite young, dating back to when I was 18 months old, left alone for too long in my playpen.

I can still feel my little heels springing off the plastic pad, my tiny fingers gripping the wooden slats and hot tears running down my reddened face. When I was finally met by an adult, it was not with compassion and comfort.

The abuse expanded over time. My mother could be incredibly kind and would have given Martha Stewart a run for her money. The problem came when her mood and personality would flip on a dime, her eyes in slits, and I would be beaten, almost to the point of blacking out, for what reason I couldn’t understand.

The stamp of neglect, abandonment, inconsistency, and abuse of every type have imprinted in low self-worth and esteem among other traits, and though I have been successful, I have experienced a co-dependency that has led to some wicked results. And flashbacks with PTSD have been a maze to recognize and unravel.

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

Happiness isn’t something I really took time to consider. I was very busy surviving, in my youth and through most of my adulthood. To achieve from the outside in, rather than to soothe, trust self, and respond from the inside out has been a long journey.

It has been an unwinding of neural pathways trapped in trauma through somatic forms of therapy that have been most helpful in finding authentic happiness by living from my heart.

My friends, teachers, and even my college boyfriend had no idea I was struggling in any way. They all thought I was thriving; some even envied me.

I was a chameleon delivering what I thought people wanted for my own sense of safety and I covered my own insecurities, issues within my home, and struggles as if my life depended on it. 

That saying, “Don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel” within a dysfunctional family held my allegiance. Even my first therapist who helped me reveal my early childhood trauma did not completely understand the full impact. Specifically when it came to the sexual abuse he at first did not validate my experience but did circle back with substantiation.

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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

The very moment something changed for the better was when I made a promise to myself that I would leave my family home as soon as possible. Barbara Walters was an idol as I would watch her from my belly on my bean bag chair in my basement dreaming of getting to NYC to be just like her.

After graduating High School on a Friday night, I left my family home the next morning at 7:45 am, the car packed, and I did not return often. In that case, 50% of the improvement was the circumstance of leaving and 50% improvement was the result of my taking that brave and pivotal step of leaving.

Later, there would be many levels of “moments when I started to turn things around, a few include:

  • Negotiating my way out of a term in college at 19 to live in NYC for an internship solo. 
  • Confiding in Barbara Walters, my idol as a child, who actually became my personal exercise client when I had a side hustle as a trainer. Barbara offered to come with me to confront the boss who had sexually harassed me in the workplace the day before.
  • Sealing my first deal matching celebrities to brands and convincing Andy Warhol to do a Pontiac commercial which eventually led me to producing for TV and film.
  • Realizing red flags of my own addiction, clinical depression, codependency, and narcissistic abuse to confront and change my behaviors.
  • Surrendering to the covert abuse in my marriage and becoming determined enough to hold the no contact it took to free myself.

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

A willingness to be humble has been essential to my recovery as has a willing and open heart. Shifting the focus to understand my challenges, and challengers have actually been gifts of soul evolution has taken the sting out of hurdles I’ve walked through. 

As far as my suicidal ideation, which actually began at the age of six, what I learned as an adult and at the tail end of a nasty divorce when thoughts of suicide began to surface was my salvation.

I assigned 7 close friends to one day of the week, including weekends. I committed to calling and checking in with the assigned friend. If I felt suicidal and the friend did not answer, I committed to calling the next friend on the list. That got me through a very tough two-month period and kept me grounded to Earth. I’m grateful for that specific tool.

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

Well, my book is titled Toxic Family: Transforming Childhood Trauma into Adult Freedom. Now that was not my original title, but it is my publisher’s. Talk about taking a taboo topic and broadcasting it – I would wake up in the night feeling I was throwing my family under the bus. 

I worked very hard to tell my story with truthfulness, authenticity, and with love.

What I came to understand is that my experience is precisely that, my own. My story could not be written and shared by the committee, as it too is my own. 

My reason for talking about my own struggles is to reveal judgment of others is not necessary and compassion has been essential for my comfort and ultimately my freedom. 

By openly discussing the taboo, I am breaking toxic ties and clearing ancestral bloodlines. I’ve walked for too long carrying shame and guilt that does not belong to me and acting them out repeatedly rather than living from my own authenticity and truth in freedom.

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

What I wish I had known earlier is that I have worth, value, and purpose, as do you. 

I believe I am here for a purpose. And while I’ve had an illustrious career working with household names and what seems to glitter, I am now living my true purpose which is to spread light, to emanate joy, and to help others suffering with similar traumas I have walked through.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

  • Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child helped me to understand I did have a beautiful piece of my soul or my own inner child inside of my heart and the beauty within was priceless.
  • Melanie Tonia Evans’ Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Program helped me to somatically move through ties that bind me to darkness and outdated programming, shift my beliefs, and deliver me to a newfound place of living in peace.
  • Matt Kahn’s teachings helped me to find self-love and to come from that place regardless of outside circumstances.
  • Lee Harris taught me compassion and gentleness as well as how to release grief and find grounding.
  • Shinzen Young taught me the value of meditation and a way to practice it successfully.
  • Adam Balogh helped me live from the heart, trust, and find that authentic love is possible here on Earth.

Where can we go to learn more about you?

The following links might help you:

Is there anything else you think we should have asked you?

This worldly walk is not for the faint of heart. It takes tremendous courage to be here now through this time of great change and ascension. Please trust your own path and understand you are not alone, there is help and there are many experiencing similar struggles with you.

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

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