Saturday Spotlight- Denise Marie

Name: Denise Marie
Aka: “The Empanada Maker” / “The Baker”
Age: 35
Current Town: Center Moriches
Marital Status: Single
Pets: 1 African Pygmy Hedgehog (Mr. Miyagi) & 1 Umbrella Cockatoo (Scooter)
Occupation: Assistant Director of SMI Housing for Nassau & Suffolk County. Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC), Certified School Counselor
Hobbies: Running, Reading, Journaling, Collecting Coffee Mugs, Drinking Coffee, Traveling, Exploring Abandon Places, Virtual Challenges, Baking/Cooking

Random Fact? I currently have the chorus to that song “Who’s That Girl” by Eve stuck in my head…Lalalalalalala…

I’ve been more of the silent/quiet observer type (until I get comfortable)…So when Lou approached me with this unique opportunity to be WOTW and to share with you all more of who I am..I agreed.

My earliest memories of running involved running from my parents when things in the house would get really…and I mean REALLY bad. I remember bolting as fast I could out of the house, running around to the tree on the side of the house, scaling it, and then climbing on to the roof where no one could get to me. I would sit on the top of the roof for hours listening to chaos of an extremely troubled/abusive home life while looking down the dirt road we lived on fantasizing about running away. I remember at age of 7 maybe 8 being very confused by my parents behavior and not understanding their actions or reasoning. Turns out both my parents suffer from a serious & persistent mental illnesses and they were a very very VERY toxic combination. They spent more time fighting than parenting. Someone was always walking out, things were always broken, and life was lived on eggshells praying nothing would trigger either of them into an episode of rage. I love my parents. I do. And this isn’t about shaming them. It’s about the facts of what has made me who I am. My parents didn’t know how to love themselves, therefore they had no idea how to love each other, and they certainly had no idea how to love me.

As a result, over my childhood years I incurred every single type of abuse possible (literally). For example, at the age of 10ish when mothers are normally teaching their daughters how to braid their hair, etc…mine was teaching me how to properly make a noose for when I would kill myself. (Seriously.)

The abuse continued all through high school and I remember always being told that every family had THOSE types of secrets. I learned to hold all my pain in. School was rough. I was quiet, kept to myself, had zero confidence, and had to always lie to cover up for things going on in my home. In high school, I always thought about joining cross country but turned my focus to cheerleading full time and working small part time jobs to keep myself out of the house as much as possible. I took care of and looked out for myself from an early age. My parents never supported any of my interests and academic pursuits. I was too different from them…and they saw this.

Right after graduation, I was gone. I never looked back. I worked 3 jobs, maintained immaculate credit so I could take out student loans for myself. I put myself through college and even got married while working towards my BA (Yes, I know…I was so so so young.) He was a few years older and I wanted a family to call my own desperately. Despite knowing in the back of my mind he was not my soulmate at all–I settled. I put my time and energy regardless into that relationship only to then get crushed. Right after my graduation, I announced at the age of 24 I was getting a divorce.

At this point Dad had disappeared out of the picture entirely and my mom? Well mom had decided she “didn’t want to be a mom anymore and never really loved or wanted me” (I’ll never forget those words). I still tried to win her love and affection after she ran off. When I came to her about my decision to divorce…her advice? “You really should just kill yourself. If I were you, that’s what I would do.” She caught me when I was weak, vulnerable, I had been searching for love in all the wrong places, I was defeated….hopeless…and alone. A couple of days later, in the bathroom of my Manorville apartment, I consumed every single prescription and over the counter pill I had in the cabinet…and hysterically crying…I waited to die.

Thankfully—I was found/rescued and from that rock bottom moment I started building my way back up. I sought out counseling to work through the trauma I had experienced, my mother dropped all contact the moment I started actually taking care of myself and putting me first, I got divorced, paid down some of my students loans while also saving up for grad school, AND I started running. Each night, for about a mile. There was something about the sound of my feet on the pavement, and stillness of running at night that I found very soothing. Not to say—everything was wonderful—I still had my pitfall moments.

I pursued grad school full time doing a dual program in Mental Health & School Counseling, worked full time, and interned 25 hours a week. Through my education, I learned how to forgive my parents and release the resentment. Holding onto such negativity would only weigh me down. I cut my losses and set myself free. Now I could turn my attention to helping others with similar traumatic experiences, etc.

Running picked up with more intensity in 2010 and I was looking into doing my first half marathon that spring. Unfortunately a knee injury occurred which rendered me for the next 2 years in and out of knee brace contraptions. I remember watching an occasional runner go by the house and feeling a longing/wishing I could be out there too. I graduated with a solid 4.0 GPA from my masters program, was president of the honors society, and received various awards/recognition. I did it!

2014 ended up being a roller coaster of a year. I had gotten engaged that year, bought my first house with my fiancé, was planning a wedding, and was working on establishing a healthy relationship with my dad who had re-entered into my life again for the millionth time. Emotionally other issues (not mentioned here) were taking a toll on me and I threw myself into running hardcore. I didn’t care what doctors or physical therapists had said. I was going to find a way to run. And run I did. Every.Single.Day. My first half marathon was the Suffolk County Inaugural Marathon/HM in September 2015 on the hottest, muggiest day ever. I did it & finished. A week after completion…I learned the man who had been literally a father figure to me and took me under his wing was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This news killed me. He was my rock. The only one I ever really counted on for advice.

Life didn’t seem fair and the proceeding months I was very depressed as I was watching him slip away. It’s amazing when you really start to go through something how quickly you realize who is really there for you and who never really was. My fiancé, unfortunately, being one of the ones who wasn’t there when I need him most and couldn’t understand my sadness. It put strain on the relationship as he avoided entirely even comforting me about watching the most important person in my life slip away. In all fairness to him, maybe he didn’t know the right words, or actions, but what occurred the weekend I lost the only person I’d ever really consider a “Dad” was unfathomable.

I took a break from running again in 2016 to focus all my energy back on my relationship. But eventually realized making a full time hobby of making him happy was making me more and more unhappy. 2017, I went back out after a year hiatus from running more determined as ever. I ran whenever I could and started doing smaller races, virtual races, and more half marathons. Getting back to me was my goal.

In January 2018, I was approached at a gas station in I think Wading River? Maybe Riverhead? by a warrior. He told me all about the Selden Hills and about the famous Selden Hills sticker. He had just gotten a new red prius and hadn’t attached his new sticker yet to the car so he had to grab it from his glove box.(If you are the warrior reading this who recruited me—I’m so sorry I forgot your name!!!! Please say Hi!) I apprehensively requested to join the Facebook group a few days later and was messaged by Lou informing me I had to run the course first. Well…it was the dead of winter and at the time…I was NOT a winter runner (ha…amazing how much changes in a year). April 29th, 2018, I showed up to the hills knowing not a soul (except Lou) for the Sunday 8AM Run Group…I completed the course that day in 59 minutes 41 seconds and the rest is history.

I’m a firm believer that everything in life happens for a reason. Finding this group when I did was the perfect timing for when my whole life took a drastic shift that summer (more to come on this later in the week).