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To Amanda, Gina and Michelle, from a survivor

By Ronique Laquette Smith, Special to CNN
updated 10:10 AM EDT, Thu May 9, 2013
Ronique Smith enjoys her 3rd birthday in 1972. Her happy childhood ended with her kidnapping at 4.
Ronique Smith enjoys her 3rd birthday in 1972. Her happy childhood ended with her kidnapping at 4.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ronique "Pepper" Smith was kidnapped at 4 and lived from motel to motel till 12
  • Forty years after the kidnapping, Smith acknowledges healing will last a lifetime
  • Smith says transition from captivity to freedom can be almost as hard as the kidnapping
  • Smith offers Amanda, Gina and Michelle hope, says they will overcome and even thrive

Editor's note: Ronique Laquette "Pepper" Smith is a mother and attends college in Northern California. She was kidnapped at 4-years-old by her baby sitter, escaping when she was 12.

(CNN) -- Dear Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight,

My name is Ronique Laquette Smith, and I, too, am a survivor of a kidnapping.

My sister and I were kidnapped by my baby sitter. In 1974, at the age of 4, I was forced to live like a fugitive on the run, from cheap motel to cheap motel -- sometimes sleeping in cars. I endured extreme abuse and neglect during my entire childhood. I only went to school for a few months or weeks at a time, till we would go on the run again.

Ronique Laquette Smith
Ronique Laquette Smith

I was able to get away when I was 12. My kidnapper died in 1986, when I was 16. I had a very difficult time adjusting to the normal world.

Amanda, Gina and Michelle, it is so wonderful that all of you are alive and survived your ordeal. You are very courageous. My heart is with you all. Hearing about your story, I felt it was important to share with you my journey to healing and recovery from kidnapping.

It is important that you know that you are not alone. You have the love and support of your families, your community and other kidnapping victims who were rescued or escaped. You are all survivors, and you will continue to survive.

It's been nearly 40 years since the kidnapping, and I am still healing. It will be my lifetime work. I was diagnosed with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and anxiety and have learned to manage my disorders with acupuncture and Chinese herbs, which help calm my nervous system after the trauma my body has endured.

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Yoga helps tame my mind by using my breath to find peace and calm after many years of trauma. I also went to the Jaycee Dugard foundation for intensive reunification healing with my family last summer in 2012.

I am learning how to function in society again and most important, learning how to live again. I went back to college and should graduate in 2014.

I offer you hope on this next part of your life journey. It will not be easy, but you can overcome and even thrive. My prayers are with you and your families as you come through this horrible ordeal. I will never forget what happened to me and will never understand how or why this it had to happen -- but I cannot change the past, so I must keep going forward.

During my kidnapping, I lost my entire identity and couldn't remember my real name. I wanted to know who I really was and where my parents were. I contacted attorney Gloria Allred, and we decided to go to the media to tell my story in the hope that my parents would contact me.

That is exactly what happened. "Dateline NBC" aired my story in 2011, and 37 years after my kidnapping, my real mother found me by seeing me on the show. It was a miracle. Despite being my biological mother, she had to formally adopt me.

I believe I survived for a reason, in order to keep telling my story and document my own personal healing process. The healing process has been difficult but not impossible. Sometimes the transition from captivity to freedom can be almost as difficult as the transition from freedom to captivity. That certainly was the case for me.

I am truly grateful to be alive and to be able to share with you. I hope it helps. As you continue to come through your ordeal, just remember to take one day, one hour, one breath at a time. You strong, brave women are in my thoughts and prayers.

Peace, love and many blessings,

Ronique Laquette Smith

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ronique Laquette Smith.

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