She relied on her instincts to survive an abusive childhood. And she has thrived — an inspiration to all.
It was 5:30 on a Saturday morning this past June when Monica Castillo, a 26-year old account manager at Cisco, was woken with a start by her phone ringing. “It was one of the most earth shattering calls a person could receive: my mother had passed away. I was speechless. There was no plan for this moment. In an instant, the woman who had never been there for me, who seemed to have nothing but hate for my very existence, was gone — disappeared from the face of the Earth. She could no longer haunt my everyday existence. All I remember was putting down the phone and then falling to the floor and sobbing uncontrollably.”
“It was one of the worst moments of my life, yet, it also reassured me that I was exactly where I was supposed to be in my life. Being a part of an amazing team of people at my job really helped me get through.”
“You see, ‘family’ should be a relatively simple word. Most people take the word for granted. Yet I can’t say I have ever truly understood the concept. My whole life my mother was an addict, and I don’t think she knew how to care for anything else but that addiction.”
“This means I grew up in trailers with the floors falling out, or even sometimes cars. I endured beatings and verbal abuse from the people who were supposed to make me feel safe. I was orphaned at 13, put in the foster system, then sent to a group home. When I was turning 16 the state decided to give me back to my mom, at which point she kicked me out, and I was on my own again. I raised myself. There was no one else. I had to rely on my instincts to survive.”
“I always knew in my bones that something good was in me, that I wanted to be more than my situation had forced me into.”
What kept her going? “I always knew in my bones that something good was in me,” says Monica, “that I wanted to be more than my situation had forced me into. And to do more for other people. This drove me to keep going.”
That June morning when she received what she calls “the ‘phone call from Death,’” what came into Monica’s head was that she needed to call family. “That’s what you do when you receive this kind of news, right? But what was ‘family’ to me?”
“I dialed a number and Heather answered, my team lead. The second call was to my manager Francisco. My work team had become the family I have been searching for so desperately. I knew I could seek comfort in their words and arms at any time.”
“My whole life I was told by my mother I would amount to nothing, but that’s not anywhere close to the truth. I’m successful at a hugely rewarding job. I’m in a relationship with a great guy, and his family treats me like gold. It has been a long road, but worth the wait. Now, I no longer need to focus on surviving immediate dangers; instead I get to focus on the people and the goals that I’m passionate about. I see life goals I want to achieve. To be the best at my job that I can be. To one day, becoming a great mom.”
What advice would Monica share with her scared and lonely 16-year-old self?
“It’s OK to not be OK. Whatever challenge you face — whether it’s a family crisis, a health crisis or a financial one — you will at times feel absolutely helpless. That is normal. You have to have faith that this time will pass, AND you have to have courage to face the challenge head-on. Don’t give up on yourself. Not ever. That’s what living fearless means to me.”