Carolyn Colleen

By Judith Munson 

Sometimes life takes people to a place so bad, they figure they will never get out. Carolyn Colleen was right there. Her life was filled with abuse, first as a child victim of sexual assault and later as a wife trapped in an abusive marriage. The birth of her daughter, along with the Family & Children’s Center’s (FCC) Healthy Families program, helped Colleen take the first steps toward a better place.

At age 19, Colleen was expecting her first child and felt utterly alone. Her husband constantly derided her, telling her she was useless, destroying her self-esteem and confidence. He controlled her every move to the point of cutting her off from everyone in her life. Everyone, that is, except one person. When Eve was born, Colleen was allowed a visit from an FCC family intervention specialist. That visit began a life-changing journey from isolation and abuse to healing, accomplishment, and discovering a fierce spirit that changed her life forever.

When Colleen was pregnant, she was identified by hospital personnel as someone who might benefit from the Healthy Families program, which helps participants make sure all their family needs are met until the child reaches the age of 5. One of the program’s specialists visited Colleen and introduced her to all the resources available to her and her baby, such as help with housing, employment, food and clothing.

“My daughter was 1 week old when Deb [with the Healthy Families program] visited me,” says Colleen. “I learned through positive affirmation how to be a good parent, and through that process, doors opened for me—suddenly, I could excel at other things. I realized my situation, and for the first time, I saw how to get out of it.”

Instead of feeling stuck with the cards she was dealt, Colleen, with the help of weekly home visits from her FCC contact, began setting goals. 

“She was strikingly vulnerable, lost, with no one to support her, no one to ask questions of,” recalls Deborah Dobrunz, the FCC staff member who helped Colleen. “But she is so intelligent, and it was clear she was ready for the information. She loved all of it, absorbing it like a sponge. Eventually she felt empowered enough to make her own decisions.” 

Colleen says, “Through the FCC program, I learned to be the best parent I could be, and that evolved into wanting to be someone my daughter could look up to. How could she look up to me if I allowed myself to be in an abusive cycle? I looked ahead 10 years, 20 years. Reading the information FCC provided, I knew children tend to choose our path.”

Colleen’s path changed dramatically during those years working with the Healthy Families program. She graduated from Viterbo in 2008 with a degree in business administration, and in 2010 she completed her MBA. 

FIERCE Cover

Today she is pursuing a Ph.D. in organizational leadership. She is also helping others escape their own bad places with her recently published book, “F.I.E.R.C.E.: Transform Your Life in the Face of Adversity, 5 Minutes at a Time!” 

“F.I.E.R.C.E.” walks the reader through those painful, dark days and into the light of Colleen’s new life. Most importantly, it provides a tool for anyone trying to overcome abuse, addiction or anything else destroying their well-being.

“I didn’t want to just tell my story, I wanted to help others who feel like they’re suffocating from adversity,” she says. “There are a lot of self-help guides out there, but sometimes just getting through the day feels impossible. ‘F.I.E.R.C.E.’ takes on life just five minutes at a time.”

What can someone do in five minutes? Stop. Breathe. Think: Is my perception reality? Ask: Is the situation as bad as it seems? Colleen’s philosophy is: If you can wait five minutes, you can let whatever is challenging your well-being at that moment pass. 

“And five minutes becomes 30, which becomes an hour, and eventually you’ve made it through the morning,” says Colleen. “I wanted to give people an in-the-moment tool that wasn’t overwhelming, that they could accomplish in simple, easy-to-achieve steps.” 

“F.I.E.R.C.E.” is available on Amazon. This five-minute approach is already helping a lot of people, judging by the feedback Colleen has received. “Just recently I was messaged by a counselor who is using it to help her patients transition out of addictive behaviors.” 

Longitudinal studies have shown the FCC’s Healthy Families program is 98 percent effective in preventing child abuse, and saves two taxpayer dollars for every dollar invested. Living proof is found in Colleen and her daughter.

“Eve is graduating high school soon and wants to pursue a degree in engineering,” says Colleen. “And my number-one goal is accomplished: We are very close, and she is proud of me.” 

Colleen will be speaking about her experience and new book at the FCC’s “An Evening in Monte Carlo” fundraiser at the Waterfront Plaza in La Crosse, Thursday, Nov. 3.