To the Baby I Lost

This is not the blog post I started out writing, I had 1000 words done on a different one, but what I’ve learned since I’ve started writing is that sometimes the story we think we want to tell is not actually the story we need to tell.

And I was going to tell you about when I was raped and found out I was pregnant. And what it was like buying a pregnancy test at 13, knowing it would be positive before I even finished peeing, what it was like for me to walk across the parking lot and across the street to my house, hearing my backpack stuffed full of contraband mocking me every time it hit my back with each step: shame, shame, shame.

And I was going to tell you all of that: the thoughts of a thirteen-year-old who got pregnant and then lost the baby; but instead, I’m writing this. These are words I need to say because I’m trying to move past the shame and guilt I’ve been feeling for the last ten years.

To the baby I never had:

I hope you can forgive me for saying this, but my life is better without you in it. Not that I wouldn’t have loved you if you had been born because I absolutely would have. But I wasn’t ready to have you: I was too young, too naïve, too childlike to be an adult. I grew up in 15 minutes, and I was terrified to bring you into a world where your mother went from being a child to an adult in less time than it takes to watch an episode of FRIENDS or to take a quick power nap.

I hope you can forgive me for keeping you a secret for the last ten years because I’m trying so hard to forgive myself. You see, I’ve been running from you for the last ten years. Running so hard and so fast in the darkness of shame and guilt, I’ve quite literally wanted to drive into trees and jump off parking garages and swallow pills by the handful to try to get rid of the pain.

I hope you can forgive me even more for what I’m going to say next: I would love to say that those thoughts started after I lost you, but to move forward with my life, I cannot. I must be honest: they only intensified after I lost you. The first time I wished a car driving down the side of the road would hit me as I was walking was when I was walking back from the store after buying the pregnancy test I didn’t need because I knew you already existed, were already real. And it hurts me to say that. Because when there’s going to be a new life in the world, people should rejoice. But I felt like my life was over because I was at the age when what should have been sacred was taboo.

I would have loved you. And sometimes the fact that you existed for a brief moment before you didn’t hurts more than the circumstances surrounding your existence. Because the truth of the matter is that I feel like a failure because I lost you. Women are supposed to have babies, but sometimes I forget that I wasn’t yet a woman; I was still a girl, a kid, a baby. And sometimes the shame and guilt I carry for losing you is stronger than the joy I feel that I’m alive.

I feel like a failure because I couldn’t keep you alive.

And I would have loved you.

And I hope you can forgive me for not knowing who your father is: there are five choices, and I have it narrowed down to three viable ones, but every time I replay the events of that day over and over and over in my head, it hurts a little bit more. I can’t keep doing it.

I was raped. But I would have loved you.

I would have loved feeling you kick, feeling your life grow within me. I would have loved hearing your first cry, seeing your first breath, watching you smile, seeing all the milestones that happen as children grow up. I would have loved watching you grow up alongside me. And I miss the fact that I’m never going to see them. Of all the what if’s I need to let go of, this is certainly the hardest.

Because what if:

Would you have light eyes and dark hair like your momma? Would you be left-handed and nonathletic and super punny? Would you be musical? Would you be happy and healthy and laugh a lot?

Would you have loved me as much as I love you?

The truth of the matter is: I do love you.

I love you even though I barely knew you, even though I kept you a secret for so many years.

I love you, and sometimes I find you in the laughter and the new life that comes with each spring. And right now, that is enough.

I love you, but I lost you, which makes Mother’s Day hard. And every year on the date that you were conceived, the guilt and shame I feel become stronger because every year I’m reminded of how old you’d be, how much of life you are missing.

I feel like a failure because I couldn’t protect you. So I try to make up for it by caring for everybody I meet, helping to make their days a little brighter because this life is so beautiful, even on the hard days.

And there are hard days. So many hard days.

But I like to think you’d be proud of me: for how far I’ve come over the last nine months, for finally admitting that I need help, that I can’t do this alone, for learning how to let people in, for accepting people’s love.

Hopefully, someday you’ll have siblings, and I’ll tell them all about you. I’ll let my life be an open book, so they know they don’t have to do life alone. My biggest fear in life is being alone. I’m terrified of being hated, so I don’t let people in, but that also means I can’t be loved. I don’t want that to be there biggest fear.

I want them to know that I’ll love and support them no matter what. That there’s nothing too shameful that’ll make me stop loving them.

They’ll love you the way your family, my family, would have loved you.

And I won’t hide my past from them because I’ve hidden it for so long, and it almost killed me. And I want to live.

I wanted you to live, even if I was 13.

Even if there are school shootings more often than there should be.

Even if this life is so so hard and there’s evil and rape and division.

Even if my fear of letting people know that I got pregnant at 13 caused me to keep you a secret for 10 years.

Even if I know that my life is better right now because I lost you.

And I know that doesn’t make sense; it doesn’t make sense to me because the shame and guilt I have hidden behind for years made me want to die.

But now I want to live.

So this is for you: my life is for you; my future is for you. Because even though I only knew about you for two weeks before I lost you, I’ll carry you with me the rest of my life.

I will do great things because I am your mother, and I’m stronger now because of you.

And I hope, eventually, I’ll be able to forgive myself for losing you before you even had the chance to be.

I am your mother, your mama, your protector until the end, and you will be my baby until the day I see you in God’s arms because I know your life is better there than it could have ever been on earth.

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I’m Sorry: A Reflection on 10 Years

“At least we didn’t get you pregnant,” he said as he slammed my locker shut on the last day of eighth grade, just like he had done every day before.

The truth is: I was going to wait to post this. I was going to wait to post it until May 19th, 2018. 10 years to the day after I was raped in a school bathroom by some guys I thought were my friends.

But in all actuality, the truth is: I never wanted to post this, never wanted this story to get out. I wanted to keep it under lock and key in a trunk, buried away under the deep recesses of my memory, never to be open. Because people can’t hurt you if they don’t know you, can’t hate you if you don’t let them in. People can’t love you if you don’t let them in.

And I’m terrified of being loved.

Because the truth is, as much as I’ve spent the last (almost) 10 years trying to outrun my past, trying to forget it, there’s a part of my story that I never wanted to admit, too painful even for myself. What happened in that bathroom is one thing: I relive that every day with flashbacks and triggers and panic attacks and random encounters at Dick’s Sporting Goods. And I’m almost to the point where I can say, “This is what happened to me. This is what they did. But I’m stronger now.”

“At least we didn’t get you pregnant,” he smirked at me, his hazel eyes and nicotine breath forever seared into my mind. But what he didn’t know, what I’ve spent the last 10 years trying so hard to outrun, the secret that’s literally killing me is this:

Just a few days before the last day of eighth grade, just over a month after being raped, I had a miscarriage.

I had a miscarriage, and I feel ashamed:

ashamed that it happened; ashamed that I’m sometimes glad it did.

ashamed that I wonder what my life would be like if the baby had been born; ashamed that I think my life is better right now.

ashamed that I was 13 years old and terrified to tell my parents, my entire church community what happened because how would they respond?

ashamed that I was 13 years old and secretly glad that I lost the baby because I didn’t want to face the stigma of being a pregnant teenager, especially in the church.

ashamed that at 23, I’m still worried about what my church would have thought 10 years ago if I had shown up to Sunday morning worship pregnant, the whispers, the stares, the shunning. What happened? Are you going to put it up for adoption? This could ruin your life you know.

ashamed that at 23, I still feel ashamed for feeling guilt and shame over things that aren’t my fault.

And I’ve gone over the “what if”s in my head over and over and over again. What if

What if

What if

And now that the cat’s out of the bag, I feel as though I have to apologize:

Sorry for telling you; sorry for not.

Sorry for feeling guilty; sorry for knowing it’s not my fault.

Sorry for feeling shame; sorry for knowing that I’ve come so far.

Sorry for letting you in; sorry for feeling like a burden.

Sorry for regretting not jumping off the side of the parking garage that Monday back in September when I drove myself to the ER (because there are days when I regret that, and then feel guilty for regretting it).

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry..

I’m sorry…

I apologize a lot because I’m scared of living, scared of taking up space, scared of breathing.

I know how fragile this life can be, and I know how delicate the line between life and death because I walk it every day.

And maybe, if I apologize enough, invalidate myself enough, my impact on the world will be lesser, the crater I leave behind won’t be as great: a great void narrowing instead of expanding.

People can’t miss you if you don’t let them in. People can’t miss you if you never existed in the first place: invalidate yourself into oblivion.

I’ve come so far in the last nine months, the last four months specifically since beginning work with my current therapist.

And what we’re working on is Radical Acceptance: it is what it is.

My life is what it is. My past is what it is. My future will be what it will be. This moment is filled with me typing this post, backspacing again and again, trying to get these words right. Maybe lessen the blow because, after all, words do hurt, despite what that childhood adage might say.

And last month, I got baptized, signifying that I was ready to let go and let God. I was going to give up control, give up my story, give up my past, and let God work in my life, through my life, in spite of my life.

But, I’m stubborn. And I’m scared:

scared of living.

scared of loving.

scared of being loved.

scared of giving up control because I’m afraid I won’t be able to find my way back out.

I’ve spent the last (almost) 10 years of my life just surviving: moment by moment; too scared of the future to even plan for one.

But I want to live. I want to thrive. And holding on to these secrets, the parts of me I’m sure will scare people away if they knew, the parts of me I deem unlovable or too ugly or too broken are literally killing me.

“You want to drive into trees a lot,” the full weight of these secrets are on the gas pedal, and I’m not strong enough to pull them off.

Not alone.

Because that’s the thing about secrets: they weigh a lot more than the truth, and they’re harder to carry over the distance of life.

Many friends make light work.

And all I can do is shine a light on my broken parts, reveal them for what they are, for who I am. Because take me or leave me, I can’t keep apologizing for who I am.

(I’ll probably still say sorry a lot and continue to invalidate myself because trying to dig through 10 years worth of garbage to move what I know to be true from my head to my heart is a long process, painful, sometimes unending process.)

“You inspire me,” my therapist, Brandon, said to me today. “Do you realize how strong you are? That you have a purpose in life?

Because I don’t look at you and see your baggage. I see a young woman with a bright future who’s trying her best to navigate the storms of this life, who’s trying to process her past and move forward, who’s fighting so hard to stay here, who loves deeply and cares fully and feels wholeheartedly, who’s unabashedly wholehearted: who gets up in front of people and says: This is me. This is what I’ve been through. This is how I’ve been hurt. But I still get up in the morning and try my best to get through the day.

And to me, that is inspiring.”

This is real. This is raw.

This is me.

Love me, hate me, pray for me, complain about me. It doesn’t matter.

Nothing you say to me can be worse than what the voices in my head say to me on the daily, but I’m working on it.

I’m working on so many things.

And right now, what I’m working on is this: fully illuminating my past so that it can be a light for my future.

I can’t hide in the dark forever.

I can’t be scared to live, to exist, to breathe, to take up space.

I’m here. I’ve been hurt deeply and profoundly, and sometimes I feel so unworthy of love.

But I’m not going to stop living.

stop loving.

stop being who I am.

Because I don’t want to run from my past for another ten years.

because a) I have asthma and can’t run very far for very long. and b) simply surviving is so very unfulfilling.

So I’m sorry.

But I’m also not.

I can’t spend the rest of my life dodging trees while running from my past.

This is me: jumping fully in, ready to admit that I was raped and lost a baby, and sometimes I feel 100% at fault.

This is me: starting to recognize that I’m worthy of love.

Sorry it took me so long to catch up.

“Hey, Writer Girl.”

“Mira a esa hermosa gringa. No te gustaría que fuera nuestra jefa? Lo que me gustaria hacer a ella.”

Oh my god. They don’t know I speak Spanish.

. . .

I don’t know how to describe to you the terror I felt every time I walked into that warehouse; how hard it was for me to concentrate on all the technical writing I had to do, knowing that there were guys on the other side of the building waiting for me to walk through those doors to meet with their foreman.

I don’t know how to describe to you the way my skin crawled when their eyes followed me, the way I would be sent into a near panic anytime one of them walked within five feet of my desk on the way to the HR office, how one of them would “accidentally” brush up against me as we passed each other in the hall, smirking as he looked me up and down.

I don’t know how to describe to you how excited I was to start this job: not only was I using my English degree, but I was also using my background in technology and engineering. This job was going to open so many doors for me to advance in this field.

It opened doors alright: to Psych ERS and panic attacks. To almost driving into trees and flashbacks. To therapy and medication.

. . .

It started out innocently at first: passing glances as I walked into the warehouse, whispering amongst themselves. And then, like the way one falls in love: slowly and then all at once, it escalated: leering as I walked up the stairs in the warehouse to the print shop, making crude jokes, and non-specific threats (well, actually, they were very specific threats. And I’m not going to repeat what they said here, but I can guarantee you whatever you’re thinking, they probably said).

But I will tell you one of their jokes, one of their very favorites: What did the bosses do when the intern told them that some warehouse guys raped her? Nothing because they didn’t believe her.

Yes, yes. Very funny. See the spleen through the split in my side? I’m rolling on the floor laughing over here.

Everything they said, I believed. And it terrified me–as someone who was raped, but more importantly as one of the only females who worked for this company. Anytime I was alone in the warehouse–because my breaks did not line up with theirs–I wondered, is this going to be the time?

And it escalated and escalated, and they got bolder and bolder, and they got more and more crude and terrifying.

I didn’t know how to stand up for myself or defend myself, choosing instead to use humor to deflect their unwanted advances:

Do you want to get coffee sometime? I don’t like coffee.

Do you want to get together some Sunday and watch the Bills’ game? Why, so you can disappoint me, too?

And when I spent a week at one of the other warehouses, the Hispanic workers were the boldest, most arrogant, talking amongst themselves right outside my “borrowed from a boss they haven’t replaced” office, not knowing that I understood every word of the Spanish they spoke.

And then one day,  at 4:45, it was just me and the ringleader in the office, as everybody else had gone home, as I exited the bathroom, away from the view of the lone security camera trained on the office area, he exposed himself to me, and then winked and said, “I’ve never disappointed a woman ever.” And then walked out, leaving me alone to finish the last 15 minutes of my shift.

That was the least productive 15 minutes of my life, let me tell you.

I never knew any of their names. They never knew mine, which is the way I wanted it. They referred to me as “Writer Girl;” I gave them nicknames–Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber; and Senor Mirador (translation: Mr. Watcher). Nameless avatars in a crowded world; my way of keeping my identity a secret, maybe they won’t be able to track me down.

Because as long as they called me, “Hey, Writer Girl,” I could continue to exist as Kaleigh. I could continue to pretend that everything they said was meant for someone else–someone who wasn’t me.

But, the irony lies in the way I viewed myself: I felt like somehow, I deserved everything they said, all the unwanted touches, all of the crude jokes and innuendos.

I felt like I was two people: Me and not me. My sense of self had been so damaged by the years of hurt, by being raped, and now by this, that I felt like I deserved to feel like a terrible person. I felt like I was a terrible person.

And I just became so depressed and so anxious and so terrified of everybody, including myself. And the worst person to be scared of is yourself.

I was so scared of losing control, of losing my mind. I stopped eating again. I started cutting again.

I let those men say whatever they wanted to say; I took it. I didn’t want to make ripples, didn’t want to upset anyone, didn’t want to get anyone in trouble.

I preferred being harassed every day to standing up for myself, demanding to be heard.

And therein lies the problem.

. . .

I don’t know how to complete this post. Do I wish I handled things differently? Yes.

Do I wish I reported it sooner? Yes, yes I do. Because I did report it, but it only ended up being about a week before I left that job. Too little; too late (but that’s sort of how I feel about myself. Like, maybe I waited too long to get help for my anxiety and depression).

Did the constant everyday harassment lead me to have that fateful panic attack at the gym in July, which lead me to where I am now? You bet your butt it did.

And now, here I am. Taking medication for the depression and anxiety I didn’t get help for because I didn’t let myself ask, couldn’t admit to myself how much I was hurting.

Here I am: going to group therapy every week, and individual therapy every 10-14 days. Here I am: still struggling with suicidal thoughts and panic attacks and depression and anxiety, having panic attacks everytime I go to the gym by myself because I don’t trust a single guy I see there.

Here I am: working at the church I grew up in, at a place that makes me feel safe and confident and encourages me, with people that support me through my brokenness.

Here I am: on Monday, every time a father signed out their child when their hand touched mine as I handed him the “a-ok to pick up your child” ticket, my anxiety would start to rise, little mini panic attacks every five minutes.

Here I am: talking about something I never ever thought I would talk about it.

But that’s what I’m trying to do right now:: be honest and vulnerable, despite how much it hurts. Because one thing I’ve learned over this long process of healing is that it has to hurt before it gets better.

And I’m hurting so much, but if you don’t think I won’t continue to carpe the diem as many days as I can, you’re wrong. I won’t let my fears and struggles stop me.

Because despite all the pain, despite all the hurt, despite my doubts and insecurities, there are people who never left my side, people who have encouraged me along the way, and for them, I am so so thankful.

I’m still struggling as much as I was three, four, even five months ago. But it’s a different kind of struggling. Because a few months ago, I didn’t know who I was–“Not Me” was struggling while not having an identity. Today, I know who I am.
 
It’s easier to struggle in your own house than it is in a stranger’s.
Here I am: I am home.

To Dan and Brock Turner

To Dan and Brock Turner:

Here’s the thing: I’m not a parent, so I don’t know what it’s like to want to protect your child, to want to defend them when they are a victim, to want to soften the blow when they do something wrong. I don’t know what it feels like to raise a child and watch them make mistakes, watch them do terrible things. But I do know this: I know that sometimes the best way to protect your child from future harm is by letting them face the consequences of their actions today.

Humans are not perfect, nor we should we pretend to be. We all do terrible things, and we all face punishment for our wrongdoings, or at least we should—it’s how we learn, how we become better humans, how we become more sympathetic to someone else’s plight. As a child, I was punished if I did something wrong, even if the only person hurt by my actions was me. If I hurt someone else by my actions, my punishment was more severe. As it should be. That’s how I learned not to hurt people, to respect them.

We all hurt people; it’s just a part of life. The question is: do we learn from the hurt we cause, or do we continue to allow it to happen? By defending your son in the way that you did, I don’t know if he has learned anything.

But I know who has: future victims—the young people who have watched this case unfold. The young girls have learned that if they’re raped, which approximately 1 in 4 will be, they’re better off not saying anything. They’re better off not pressing charges, because even if there is evidence, their attacker will get off lightly. It’s better to suffer quietly than to be publicly attacked, to have your name dragged through the mud, to have every decision you make questioned because society needs to justify what happened. Girls who are raped can be as brave as they want, but in this culture, bravery is not enough.

The young boys have learned that if they are white, middle-class and above, athletic, smart, and have a “bright future ahead of them,” they can rape someone and have consequences that do not match their actions. But if you’re a black man who’s wrongly accused of rape, good luck, dude. No one’s on your side either.

I hope I’m wrong about both of the above. 

I also know this: your son is not the victim here. You wrote in your letter to the judge about how your son used to be compared to how he is now. As you put it:

As it stands now, Brock’s life has been deeply altered forever by the events of Jan 17th and 18th. He will never be his happy go lucky self with that easy going personality and welcoming smile. His every waking moment is consumed with worry, anxiety, fear, and depression. You can see this in his face, the way he walks, his weakened voice, his loss of appetite.

That, dear sir, is what guilt looks like. I’ve seen it before. I’ve felt it before, usually in the twilight period between doing something wrong and confessing, the period where I’m sick-to-my-stomach terrified that I’m going to get caught. The only thing your son is a victim of is what he did to himself. He made a choice that night, and I know you and he blame it on the alcohol, but the alcohol is not the problem. It’s not a drinking problem; it’s a societal problem. Rape can happen alcohol or not, “promiscuous behavior” or not; rape can happen, as it did for me, in a Middle School bathroom; a place where I, arguably, should have been the safest, besides my own home.

A murderer can still get the maximum sentence even if the murderer only took “20 minutes.” A rape is still a rape even if it was only “20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.” Mine took less than 15 minutes, but it took more than 15 minutes for me to heal. There is no timeline on healing. 8 years later, and I’m still not fully healed. But I’m getting there, and your victim will, too.

I read her letter. All 12 heart-breaking, gut-wrenching pages of it. It took me three days, a new record. And I read it again and again, letting the words wash over me as my heart broke, as memories resurfaced. I read it first as a sign of solidarity: “I’ve been through this too, and I want to support you the only way I know how.” I read it again because I was amazed at the strength your victim showed as she faced you in court, publicly sharing her letter. I read it again and again because I see something in her I recognize—the sleepless nights, the wanting to leave your body behind, the strength it takes to get out of bed every day–and even though I’m farther along on this journey than she is, I am amazed at how far she’s come.

I don’t know the kind of person she was before you raped her; I’ve only gotten glimpses by the words she’s shared, but I do know who she is now: she is someone who’s walked through one of the toughest things imaginable and has come out on the other side stronger than she was before. I do know who she’ll be: she’ll be amazing; she’ll be shining bright; she’ll be someone who touches the life of everybody she has come in contact with. She’s touched mine, and I’ve only read her letter.

You had a bright future ahead of you. So does your victim. All of us victims do. You were great at swimming. She is great at something, too. I was great at school, until I was raped, and then just thinking about school made it hard for me to breathe.

And, yet, here we both stand: she and I, on the other side, each telling our own story about the same thing. And I’m angry—not about what happened to me—but that it keeps happening, that we have to keep saying the same things over and over and over again.

As for who you were before you decided to rape her: it doesn’t matter. You chose your fate. You were a swimmer, now you’re a registered sex offender and a convicted rapist. The only thing that matters now is where you go from here. How do you learn from this? Can you own up to the choice you made without blaming it on the alcohol?  Can people learn from you? Can you teach others, not about the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity, or about binge drinking and its unfortunate results, but about what rape is and how not to rape others?

John Steinbeck wrote, ““I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?”

You’ve already done ill.

I hope you choose to do well. Because that means there’s hope that good can triumph over evil.

And if there’s one thing we could use more of in this world, it’s hope.

Sunrise and Sunset: A Reflection on Six Years

As I was coming home this morning, the sun was beginning to rise. I reached the top of the hill by my house, and as I was waiting for the light to turn green, I soaked in the beauty of the just-beginning-to-stir world.

My world’s not a quiet world. Within walking distance of my house there’s a grocery store, a drug store, five or six banks, a Target, a gas station, two churches, a Kmart, pizza places, coffee shops, and various other ways to spend money. Close your eyes, and you can hear the steady stream of traffic rushing past the house: horns honking, music pumping, mufflers that need fixing. It quiets down at nights sometimes, though (as long as the dogs don’t bark). I live in the “urban center” of my town—like living in the city without actually living in the city. I’ve gotten really good at tuning out the outside world.

My world’s not a quiet world. If it’s not the noise outside my house, it’s the noise inside my head. It’s the insecurities, the doubts, the past playing on repeat in my mind that are louder than whatever is going on outside. They’re impossible to turn off, hard to ignore, but eventually you learn how to cope. I’ve gotten really good at coping.

Here’s the thing: when I started working on this post a month ago, I wanted to give you a month’s worth of reasons not to kill yourself. Because when you’re depressed, life is just a series of days at a time: if I can get through this day and the next day and the next day, etc, eventually you’ll have a month. And then you repeat this step 12 times until you have a year, and then eventually, you’ll have a lifetime.

Who knows, maybe after more writing and rewriting, I’ll end up getting there.

But this is all I know right now: if I had my way six years ago, I wouldn’t be here today.

I’ve struggled with guilt over the last six years, wondering why I got a second chance when so many others have not. And I don’t have an answer. I doubt I ever will.

I’m learning how to be grateful for the second chance I’ve been given.

My world’s not a quiet world. But this morning it was.

As I was coming home this morning, the sun was just beginning to rise. I reached the top of the hill by my house, and as I was waiting for the light to turn green, I soaked in the beauty of the just-beginning-to-stir world.

In the normally heavy traffic area, I was the only car. And through the mostly dark blue sky, streaks of cotton candy pink were beginning to emerge; the sun was beginning to shine through. As I sat there and took it all in: the way the drowsy sun illuminated the world under me, and the way the newly fell snow and icy rooftops dazzled and sparkled under the sun they reflected. As I waited for the light to turn green and marveled at the quiet beauty around me, a sense of calm came over me.

I thought to myself, “What a wonderful day to be alive.”

So, I don’t have a month’s worth of reasons to keep fighting, to keep breathing, to stay alive. I just have one: sunrise.

And I’m so grateful for the six additional years of sunrises and sunsets I have gotten to be a part of. Because nothing is better than realizing that the God who painted the beauty of dusk and dawn decided the world needed me too.

 

Continue Reading: Reasons to Keep Breathing

 

Letter to My Biggest Bully

This letter has been a long time coming—forgiveness has been a long time coming. And it’s not like I haven’t tried to forgive; I have.

I’ve forgiven others.

I’ve forgiven my rapists for what they did to me, for the years of pain and anguish they caused me, for changing the trajectory of my life.

I’ve forgiven God for the injustices I perceived He let happen to me, even though He did absolutely nothing wrong. But when you’re hurting, you need someone to blame.

I’ve forgiven the friends who walked away when I needed them the most, even though they had every right to, because when you’re depressed, you tend to sabotage relationships.

I’ve forgiven those who bullied me throughout Middle School and High School because someone has to. And in order to move forward, I have to step out of the past, even if that means never going to a High school reunion.

I’ve forgiven those who have caused me harm, who have hurt me mentally and physically. But I haven’t been able to forgive you, yet.

Until now.

I had forgiven everybody else, but I hadn’t been able to forgive my biggest bully: me.

I forgive you—I mean, me. And I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for allowing the opinions of others to become the way I defined you. I’m sorry for the way my voice began to echo and mirror what other’s said about you. It’s hard enough to ignore being called ugly, fat, unworthy if it’s someone else’s voice doing the calling, but when it’s your own voice that suddenly becomes your biggest nightmare, it’s next to impossible.

I’m sorry for silencing you. I’m sorry for making you feel like you couldn’t say anything, you couldn’t speak up about what you were going through and struggling with because every time you looked in the mirror, you said something mean about yourself. It’s hard to speak up when every though that sprints (and then trips and hangs around for a while) in your mind is harsh and cruel. You believe in Thumper’s mantra: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all. And you couldn’t, so you didn’t, even if speaking up could’ve saved your life.

I’m sorry for making you hate your reflection. I’m sorry for making you feel unloved and unworthy and how all of that unworthiness translated into not eating. Now you’re stuck learning how to do all of that again, because once upon a time you ate too little, then too much, and now you have to learn how to find the perfect middle. Learning how to love yourself again is so hard, but I promise it will be so worth it.

I’m sorry for making you believe that your whole identity and lovability was definied by your attractiveness.

I’m sorry for allowing you to become some numb and full of hate that the only relief was found in a knife (or a razor, or scissors. Whatever was convenient).

I’m sorry for making you believe that you weren’t beautiful the way you were, and are, and will continue to be.

I’m sorry for becoming your worst enemy when you needed me to be your biggest advocate. I’m sorry for abandoning you, for causing you to lose yourself when you really needed to be found.

I’m sorry for the tears cried, the blood shed, the scars gained, the pounds lost. I’m sorry for trying to die.

I’m sorry for all of it.

But mostly I’m sorry for taking so long to realize how much I hurt you. I’m sorry for taking so long to apologize. I’m sorry for taking so long to forgive you.

It’s hard to forgive others, and it’s even harder to forgive yourself.

But I’m ready now. I’m ready to say: I forgive you. (I forgive myself.)

Most of all, I’m ready to accept your apology. (I’m ready to accept my own apology.)

I’m ready to step into the future together: past me and present me. I’m ready to combine the two to prepare for future me. I’m ready to learn from my past mistakes and apply them to what I will encounter down the road on the journey ahead.

Because I don’t know where this future leads, but I am ready to take that journey—together.

RIP Alan Rickman: Mourning in the Age of Social Media

Yesterday was one of those days that I wanted to end before it even began. Opening my eyes, I instinctively rolled over, grabbed my phone, and looked to see if I had any breaking news notifications. After skimming the numerous headlines on my lock screen, I decided it was in my best interest to roll over, go back to sleep, and hope it was all just a dream.

Alas, when I woke up, a brief 20 minutes later, I was dismayed to find out that what I had read earlier was not just a dream as I had hoped, but was in fact real. There are a few things you don’t want to read when you wake up: first, is that you did not win the Powerball Jackpot. Second, is that there was a terror attack in Jakarta, because even though it’s become almost commonplace in our world today, you still feel pain for all of those affected. Thirdly, you don’t want to find out that one of your favorite actors while growing up, Alan Rickman, died.

It’s this third event that I want to focus on for two reasons: firstly, I wasn’t expecting to win the lottery, so I didn’t even waste money buying a ticket. Secondly, it’s easier to make sense of a single death than it is to make sense of multiple deaths. I haven’t yet been able to make sense with what is going on in this world.

So, I mourn Alan Rickman, while also talking about him.

I know him best as Professor Severus Snape from ­Harry Potter. He’s the actor who brought the not-so-good, not-so-bad, morally ambiguous character to life. You can read a story so many times and still not fully understand a character. Such was the case with Snape. I didn’t love him, didn’t hate him, wasn’t quite sure how to feel about him.

And then I watched the movies. And BAM! Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Snape caused my eyes to open. I understood the character in a way I didn’t before. I understood why he did what he did. He did right things for the right reasons, right things for the wrong reasons, wrong things for the right reasons, and wrong things for the wrong reasons. I understood his actions, but I couldn’t justify them.

Which was ok, because I was still sad when (SPOILER ALERT) Snape died.

I’m even sadder now that Alan Rickman died.

Death is a private event, reserved for a party of one, but sometimes witnessed by family and close friends. Death is intimate. Mourning is public, a collective experience. Especially in the case of a beloved celebrity like Rickman. When a celebrity dies, the earth seems to stand still, like a pillar in the community has died.

The earth stands still, and people begin remembering. All my social media newsfeeds were filled with tributes to Alan Rickman. Twitter and Tumblr were perhaps the most personal, with users sharing how Rickman’s characters got them through a tough time in their life, sharing quotes of Rickman’s that mean a lot to them, sharing stories of interactions they had with Rickman by chance. Celebrities, too, got in on the collective remembrance. Those who worked with him sharing personal anecdotal memories of what it was like to work with Rickman: how funny he was, how truly he cared about the characters he portrayed, how he impacted the lives of his costars.

This sharing of memories is not just reserved for celebrities. I’ve seen it happen at funerals. When my grandfather died almost ten years ago, I distinctly remember a portion of the service reserved for neighbors and friends to share stories about him, stories I wouldn’t have heard otherwise, stories that made my grandfather a full-fledged person, and not just a person with a title: he became a man with a name, in possession of a whole identity other than “Grandfather.”

I’ve become more aware of this with my remaining grandparents, gathering stories about them from anyone who knew them when they were younger.

With celebrities, I don’t’ have that luxury—we don’t have that luxury. We don’t have the luxury of hearing stories first-hand. All we have are the roles they filled.

So we gather stories and memories anyway we can, from whoever we can—memories and anecdotes of how their roles impacted lives, but perhaps, most importantly, who the celebrity was as a person.

It’s easy to place celebrities on pedestals, forgetting they are real people with real lives, real families, real friends. We strip them of their humanity, judge them solely based on their artistry.

Collective mourning as a group, over the internet, allows family, friends, and fans to combine artistry with humanity, creating a whole person.

We forget that people aren’t immortal, sometimes we hope that our favorite people are immortal because dealing with death is difficult. Death is easy; it’s the mourning that’s painful.

I’ve found mourning to be easier when stories are shared. Perhaps Rickman himself said it best, “. . . it’s a human need to be told stories. The more we’re governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are, where we come from, and what might be possible. Or, what’s impossible?. . .”

We tell stories to keep memories alive.

We told them yesterday; we told them today; we’ll probably keep telling them for a while.

And that’s ok.

The people who knew him best—his friends and family—have stories and memories.

We, the fans, have the characters he left behind, the memories of what they brought us through. We read books and watch movies to temporarily forget what we’re going through, to be transported somewhere else.

So, let us mourn.

We’re not only mourning Alan Rickman, the man. We’re also mourning for the characters he left behind: Hans Gruber, Colonel Brandon, the husband who bought the necklace, Severus Snape, and whoever else he had been. We mourn for the characters he never will be.

And I think there’s beauty in the way Alan Rickman was different things to different people, and how, despite the varying degrees of intimacy we may have had with him—whether personally, emotionally, or artistically—all of us are mourning at the same time.

“The pain we all feel at this dreadful loss reminds me, reminds us, that while we may come from different places and speak in different tongues, our hearts beat as one.”-Albus Dumbledore

Hello From the Other Side

Here’s the thing about time: it marches on.

Every day, the earth moves through the cosmic background, ending the day 32 million miles farther than it began. It moves around the sun at a speed of 100,000 km/h, and somehow, you’re still clinging to this planet that is mover faster than you can even comprehend.

Gravity is holding you firm to this earth.

Please remember that when the weight of your past is compressing your chest, and it feels like you can’t breathe: gravity is keeping you’re here.

Trust me when I say that gravity is one of the universal constants. Please don’t test it by jumping.

One day you’ll look in the mirror and see stretch marks zig-zagging across your body, like the cuts you used to inflict on yourself.

Don’t fight them. Right now, you think stretch marks are the worst thing that could ever happen to you: as if saying, I don’t want to be if I’m fat. A million miles later you’ll see them as a sign of recovery because, once upon a time, you took the greatest pride in yourself after someone said, “Oh my gosh; you’re so skinny.” And in that moment, you will realize just how far you have fallen.

Right now, you’re trying to get rid of the skin in places you’d rather forget being touched. You cut yourself open because you can’t remember what it’s like to feel something, anything. You’d rather feel pain than nothing at all. I need you to know that cutting yourself open, leaving your own scars, is not going to cancel out the emotional scars left by your rapists.

Right now, you’re wondering what happens if you let your guard down. What will happen if you stop fighting against the thoughts that threaten your life? You can’t remember the last time you slept because every time you close your eyes, unwanted memories play on repeat in your mind.

There will come a day soon when you are so tired. You just want to sleep. You will let your guard down. What happens next will not be your fault. You will lose control of yourself. You will take some pills, and time will slow down.

This slowing of time will be what saves your life. It will give your true self time to regain control of the self you try so hard to hide. Three little whispered words are enough to snap out of it, allowing your light thoughts to shine brighter than your dark thoughts. You’ll be ok.

And you will.

Hello from the other side.

I’m writing this from the future, more for me than for you. But time itself is a confusing topic, and scientists still don’t understand how it works—if it’s linear or not.

There is this theory called Eternalism, which, in basic terms, is the idea that the past, present, and future occur simultaneously. So maybe, somewhere, this reaches you before you begin to waste away, to lose yourself.

I don’t know what I believe about time, what theory I subscribe to.

But I do know this: it marches on. It waits for no one.

It can also heal you, strengthen you, but only if you let it.

Please let it.

2016 has arrived, a year which you never thought you’d see. But you’ve made it.

Here’s to another year of life.

 

Rejoice in the Lord . . . Always?

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”- Philippians 4:4

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s hard to rejoice all the time. It’s easy when everything is going right, when life is smooth sailing, when the sun is shining bright. It’s a lot harder to rejoice when everything is going wrong, when life is choppy and bumpy, when the darkness has swallowed the light.

It’s a lot harder to rejoice in these times because it feels like God has abandoned you.

I used to feel this way. Sometimes, I still do.

In my darkest moments, I may feel like God abandoned me, but I know God exists because I have experienced immense pain, and I’ve come out to see the other side. In the deepest, darkest time of my life, God was there. He heard the cry of my heart, and he spoke to me—not with a thunderous boom, but with a gentle whisper: You’ll be ok.

Sometimes the quiet is more powerful than the loud.

So, He called out to me, and He rescued me from myself, and I’m still trying to make sense of the why. Why me? Why did I get a second chance at this thing called life? Why me when so many others do not?

I don’t have an answer. I don’t know if I ever will.

But I’m thankful for this second chance. And I’m rejoicing because of the way God has worked through my life, the healing that has come.

I believe God exists because my experience has answered that question. But there other questions that are a lot harder to answer.

Like, for instance, where was God when I was being raped? (There are no metaphors for this—nothing suitable enough to cushion the blow, nothing deep enough to distance myself from my memories.)

Where was God when I was dealing with the aftermath: the depression and the eating disorder?

For years, I wondered if it was easier to pretend God didn’t exist because then I wouldn’t have to blame Him.

For years, I was angry at him because being angry is easier than admitting that He never walked away—I did.

I was the broken one who had so much faith in a Mr. Fix-it-All God that I forgot about who God really is.

I thought if I prayed hard enough, cut deep enough, ate not enough, God would swoop in and make everything ok again.

And then I wondered if I believed enough because I still suffered.

It took me a while to realize that the God I was raised on—the God who wouldn’t let His people suffer—is not the God of the Bible.

Suffering was never a part of His original plan for mankind, but c’est la vie. Because of the Fall of Adam and Eve, we are all destined to suffer at some point in our lives because of the sin of mankind.

Out of the suffering, grows strength. Out of the ashes grow beauty.

And so I thank God for this. . . this. . . whatever it is. Because I can’t call it a gift, but I can’t call it a curse either, because I’ve learned so much, grown so much, helped others so much.

God isn’t “Mr. Fix-it.”

God is “Mr. Redeem It.”

I had enough faith, but I was expecting the wrong outcome, so I failed to see what God was doing right in front of me and within me—the strength he was giving me.

There are different kinds of healing.

I was expecting complete and total healing, but that’s not what I received.

Instead, I am at peace with the fact that the struggles I face every day will never go away. I will have to battle these demons, face them head-on, as long as I continue to breathe.

There are different kinds of healing. And as Christians, and humans, we expect healing to mean life. But sometimes healing means death. And we have to be ok with that.

So where was God when I was being raped? When I was dealing with the aftermath?

He was right there with me, carrying me—sometimes dragging me, kicking and screaming—through it.

He waited for me to cry out of my brokenness, before He answered, “I’ve never left you.”

And so I rejoice.

It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with all of this, for me to understand it all, for me to be content with the cards I’ve been dealt.

I rejoice because He saved me.

I rejoice because He redeemed me.

Rejoice in the good times because God is evident in the way He blesses your life.

Rejoice in the pain, not because it is a gift, but because God is right there with you in that present moment.

 

Open Letter to Wide-eyed freshmen and eager seniors

Sitting at the reception desk this morning, watching all the new students stream into the building for their first day of classes, my heart aches a little bit. I want to be a part of it all: the hustle and the bustle, the reunion of friends after a summer hiatus, the meeting of professors and new classmates.

It is when I look at my bank account and realize I didn’t spend hundreds of dollars on books and supplies that it hit me I’m not a part of it anymore—college life continues without me. I can stay on campus as long as I want, but I still won’t be an active participant: my friends will go to class and will leave me sitting alone. And they did. And they do.

I am now that alumni that refuses to leave, the one who, maybe, doesn’t even know how.

So, I sat in the café for four hours after my shift ended, taking it all in—the sights, the smells, the sounds—like a person on a diet, trying to quell their cravings by immersing their senses. Or, better yet, a reader who lives vicariously through the characters in a favorite book.

Looking at the sea of faces in front of me, I don’t recognize half of them. The ones I do, I say ‘Hello’ to. The ones I know well, I hug. The ones I don’t, I say a prayer for, asking God to bless their time at college like he did for me.

I’m a whole different person now than I was when I started college—thank God for that.

I was a wide-eyed freshman who thought she knew everything, and somehow along the way I turned into an alumnus who realizes she still has a lot to learn. Life would be pretty boring if I knew everything.

One day, you wide-eyed freshmen will turn into eager seniors who are just ready to be done: ready to be done with all the all-nighters, ready to be done with the 2 am fire alarms, ready to be done seeing that one professor you just don’t agree with.

Embrace the time you have in college. Trust me when I say that someday that ‘one day’ will turn into tomorrow. Tomorrow comes sooner than you think.

Wide-eyed freshman, there will be at least a few times when you doubt everything. The first will come when you meet someone whose life challenges everything you thought you knew. You may go to a small, Christian, liberal arts school, but the people here are as diverse as NYC. You will meet someone who causes you to question every belief you learned growing up. Embrace these people. Learn from them. Listen to them with an open mind. It’s only after your beliefs have been truly questioned that you can stand firm.

I believe what I believe not because it’s what my parents believe. I believe what I believe because I have questioned.

Wide-eyed freshman, you will doubt yourself again when your senior year draws to a close, and you wonder if you are going to make it in the ‘real world.’ You will. The skills you have learned along the way have prepared you for this moment: you are eager to learn, you can cooperate well with others, you’ve learned how to manage your time. The things you haven’t learned yet, you will learn along the way.

You will doubt yourself many times between these two and many times after. But, remember this: there are people around you cheering you on, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.

Wide-eyed freshman, it might take a while, but you will find the place where you fit. You will find friends you encourage you, challenge you, laugh with you, cry with you, rejoice with you. Hang on to them. The friends you make in college will be some of the best friends you ever have.

Wide-eyed freshman, there will come a day when you stop feeling homesick. Don’t forget about your family. Write them, call them, text them. Let them know how you’re doing. Don’t be afraid to tell them about the hard things, the parts of yourself you’d rather keep hidden. You will make mistakes. It’s ok. We all do.

Eager seniors, you’ve done it! You’ve made it this far, and now you’re ready to be done. I was too, and now I realize how much I’m going to miss (not syllabus week, or finals week, or the all-nighters trying to write the paper that’s due tomorrow that I procrastinated on). I’m going to miss seeing my friends every day. I’m going to miss having conversations that challenge me to grow as a person and an intellectual. I’m going to miss taking time away from studying to go to Taco Bell (because sometimes taking a break is the best thing you can do).

Eager seniors, don’t forget what you’ve learned along the way. Dream big. You will do great things with the talents you’ve been forgiven. When you become rich and famous, don’t forget about the people who helped you along the way. Don’t forget to keep learning, exploring. There is so much world out there to explore, so many different kinds of people to meet, so many cultures to experience.

The best advice I ever received came from one of my favorite professors. One day he said to my class, “Trust me.

Wait, don’t. Don’t trust me. Question everything.”

I went from a wide-eyed freshman to an eager senior to a college alumnus who is still trying to figure her life out. And that’s ok. Because the more I question, the more I learn; the more I learn, the more risks I take; the more risks I take, the harder I fall; the harder I fall, the stronger I become; and the stronger I become, a better human I will be.

That is what college is all about: becoming a better human.

I stayed on campus for four hours after my shift ended, trying to take everything I could in because I’m still trying to become a better human. And the people I met in college have helped me along the way.

continue reading: Unsolicited Advice to Incoming Freshman and Returning Students