Bad Childhood. Good Life!

Apr 2, 2024

Survivor of violent childhood achieves personal and professional success.

Agatha “Aggie” Tuxhorn was born in a Mennonite community in Northern Mexico in 1979. The Mennonites are a cloistered group that pledge to live a simple life, rejecting many modern conveniences and following strict biblical teachings.

“We lived in very primitive conditions, especially by today’s standards,” Aggie explained. “Even during the 1980’s our family’s home lacked running water and other basic conveniences. We washed our clothes with an old fashion wringer washer from the 1930’s and shopped at the outlet stores to buy expired foods and days old bread.”

Mennonite families are large and traditional in structure. The father figure rules the household, generally with an iron fist. When Aggie’s father decided to move the family of eight to the United States seeking more opportunities, there was no deliberating.

So, at the age of four, Aggie and her family headed to the United States to start a new life. Only to find it quickly became more of a nightmare. The family moved often looking for work and  the stress of the growing family responsibility was taking  a toll on Aggie’s father.

“My father began to change about this time. His behavior became very violent and unpredictable. He began hearing voices. It didn’t help that he also began to drink heavily,” she said.

Her father’s mental illness meant unpredictable and often dangerous conditions within the house.

“Life was a constant struggle, and our living conditions created even more stress. I still remember my sister and I chasing cockroaches out of our beds each night. One night when I saw a cockroach come out of my sister’s ear, I stopped sleeping for fear it could happen to me,” she recalled.

Her father’s mental health continued to deteriorate. Violent outburst became more common. His rage escalated to the point where he once chased his family throughout the house wielding a butcher knife and then tried to break down the door to the room the family was hiding in. The police were called…often.

One night after a violent tirade, Aggie’s father kidnapped her and left the house for an undisclosed location. The police tracked them down and Aggie was returned safely home. To this day, she can’t remember all the details.

“I have no recollection of this incident… which is probably a good thing,” she said. “My subconscious was at work to protect me. Ironically, all this time my mother should have been my protector but was often powerless to impact our family circumstances. I felt so alone at such a young age. I quickly came to the conclusion that I would have to be responsible for my own life. Nobody else was going to save me.”

Aggie threw herself into her schoolwork and worked hard to routinely finish near the top of her class, but it wasn’t easy. She was often bullied by other students because she was “different.” Her thrift store wardrobe fueled the criticisms from other students, and she was often ostracized by the kids in her grade.

But her teachers loved her. She was the ideal student that many wish for…conscientious, bright and driven.

“I was nerdy and odd, in a way,” she chuckled. “But I poured myself into school and learned early that the good grades I received came from hard work. There was no shortcut. I figured that a college education and a good job would set me free.”

But as she entered her freshman year in college, the path she created to escape her conditions began to unravel. It wasn’t just one thing but a series of events.

“It’s hard to explain,” she says. “It was like I was on a treadmill. All throughout my childhood I was working so hard and pushing myself to escape my conditions. My father had just passed away, which was a relief. But the years of abuse, repression, and being bullied — having no safe haven at home or school—suddenly felt consuming and crushing.”

It’s not uncommon for a rush of feelings to come over someone that has pushed away emotions for so long while in a “survival mode”. When the feelings start returning, they can be overwhelming. And that’s how she found herself waking up in a hospital room with her family surrounding after a complete breakdown.

“I was sitting in my hospital bed and thinking, I can either take these life moments and use them to go up or further down,” she says. “I chose to move forward in a positive way. I had a lot of anger. I was angry at everyone and angry at the cards I was dealt.

However, I realized, that using the anger in a positive way would be the fuel that would continue to push me towards my ideal life. I now had complete control of my life and I knew I could do it.”

Aggie continued on with her education and worked her way through college, often holding several jobs at once. True-to-form, she graduated college with honors.  Today she is the proud wife and mother of three daughters, holds a senior executive position in the financial industry and stays involved with her community.

“I learned that even a bad childhood can teach you good life lessons,” she explained. “We all have the power to overcome. I teach my children and colleagues to stay focused on the right path. Don’t let anyone diminish who you are. You are worthy and loved. If you stay positive and think positively, you will become what you believe.”

Note from Mark: What’s in a name? The name Agatha comes from the Greek word “agathos” meaning good and honorable. I think Aggie lives up to this definition.