This is not what I wanted to write.

I don’t know what I wanted to write, but this wasn’t it. I started writing about trauma and memory loss and how four years of my life are missing. Then it was a poem about OCD and WebMD and how, like oil and water, they don’t mix.

And now it’s this. What is this?

I don’t know exactly.

It’s confusion and pain and anger. It’s me trying to make sense of the mess going on in my head. If you heard the conversation between my anxiety, my OCD, my depression, and me, you’d laugh too. Or go crazy.

Maybe I’m crazy.

I told him that once, sitting in his office, as we discussed God and trauma. Maybe I’m crazy for believing that there can be a God in spite of what happened to me. Maybe I’m crazy for feeling the need to drive into trees, for feeling the insatiable urge to cut my wrists open and watch them bleed.

Maybe, he replied, we’re all a little crazy.

Is craziness doing the same thing over and over expecting different results, i.e., insanity. Or is craziness not having it all together, pretending to be ok when all you want to do is collapse into a pool of nothingness.

Nothingness.

Nothingness sounds good right about now. I have to feel things in order to heal.

Heal. Heal. I want so badly to heal. Right now, I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m hurting.

I’m hurting, and I want so badly to just stop. Maybe self-harming would help.

No. That’s dumb. That won’t accomplish anything except more pain.

Is it the OCD telling me I need to cut?

cut. cut. cut out like paper dolls. strungtogethersodelicately.

Delicately, some days I feel like I’m hanging on by a thread. Somedays I’m afraid that the thread tethering me to sanity will break

and

i’ll

fall

fall

fall

down

into

nothingness.

I’m a frayed knot.

This isn’t how it’s supposed to go. It shouldn’t hurt this bad. I’m celebrating how far I’ve come, celebrating recovery and all that means.

Yet still. Still I hurt. And I question. And maybe I search for answers in all the wrong places, but this thread hasn’t broken yet.

Still. Be still.

Be still and know.

I know.

I’m ok.

I’m 4-years-old, seeing a dead body for the first time.

I’m 5-years-old, having my body traced discreetly on the ride home.

I’m 6-years-old, wondering what it would be like to be dead.

I’m 13-years-old, wondering if I’ll forever be dirty like they said.

I’m 24-years-old, trying to undo what’s been done, trying to accept that I’ll never be what I’m not.

But I still hope there’s more than this: more than pain, more than suicide, more than self-harm.

Will I ever again be able to sleep without fear? Not have parts of me try to race me to the grave? Will I ever really be ok in my own skin?

Forgiveness is not forgetting. It’s letting go.

Progress is not forgiveness.

Maybe progress is what this is: taking my racing thoughts and writing them out.

Progress is breathing.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Just. Just be.

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How do you title something you should’ve written a long time ago?

In the stages of grief, I’m at the anger stage. Or the acceptance stage, I’m not sure which, yet. Some days, I think maybe they go hand-in-hand. You can’t accept what happened until you get angry at it; you can’t get angry at it until you accept what happened. Grief is like a Möbius strip: I’m not sure where one stage ends and the next stage begins.

I write to you, not because I’m fond of you or the memories, but because the seasons are changing. The leaves are vibrant golds, oranges, yellows, and reds. It’s getting colder and darker earlier. And my season of life is changing, too. I have plans, big plans. For the first time in my life, my one-year plan does not involve me lying 6-feet underground. Neither does my 5-year plan.

I’m healing.

But I write this with a fire in my belly and tears in my eyes because the healing doesn’t make it hurt less. Healing makes it hurt more, at least for a while. And boy, has it been a while.

I write this with forgiveness in my heart and hope in my chest: I’m praying for you. Not because I want to, but because I need to. I need to. I’m praying for you because of the love of someone that loves all of us enough to die for us, and that to me, is more powerful than any other action. What someone did for me is more powerful than what you did to me.

That unconditional, indescribable type of love does not take the pain away. But still I pray for you.

I pray for you because people love you. You belong to someone: someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s cousin.

I pray for you because Jesus called out on the cross, Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do.

I pray for you because I’ve seen one of you attending local church services with some of my High School acquaintances. Sometimes you even come to my church to check it out.

I pray for you because I’m tired of feeling guilty for an action that’s not my fault.

I pray for you because, through it all, God is good.

I pray for you that one day you’ll find happiness and forgiveness for yourself, the way I’ve forgiven what you did to me.

I pray for you that one day, you’ll admit what you did–because I see the way you look at me when we run into each other from time to time–guilt fills your eyes, and you can’t meet my gaze.

I pray for you that you’ll let go of that guilt. It’s been ten years. Find some healing.

I pray for you and the baby I lost because I don’t know what else to do: I’m human, and I fail, and I fall, and prayer’s the only way I know how to make it through, even though the thought of God sometimes makes me angry, makes me sick to my stomach. I pray.

I pray.

In the hard days. In the ‘want to drive into tree’ days. In the moments when I’m sobbing and all I can say is, ‘sorry.’ In the moments when my heart feels like it’s going to beat out of my chest. In the ‘self-harm or suicide are the only options’ moments.

I pray: Lord, help me through this moment.

I pray: Lord, help them find you and seek forgiveness, not from me, but from you. Father, forgive them.

Lunch in an empty office

And still I thought I was ok.

She sits in his office, his kids’ drawings to her right, his workbooks and diplomas to her left, signifying that yes, I am certified to help you. She starts crying again. The third time today. She can’t go more than 24 hours without crying lately it seems. Maybe that’s good, one of her support people told her, you have so much built up that needs to be let out.

She lies on the floor of her room because climbing into bed seems like too much work, requires energy that she does not have. She’s been lying on the floor a lot lately—the world seems studier when there’s more than just your feet touching the ground. It’s safer. Nothing can hurt you if you’re lying on the floor. Unless the ceiling collapses. What if the ceiling collapses?

She knows she needs to text somebody because nobody’s home, because she’s getting bad again; the depression is back and louder than ever. And even though she learned a long time ago that people get mad at her when she doesn’t reach out, she still feels like a burden, like everybody just ‘puts up with her’ because it’s the decent thing to do. I really want to self-harm right now. It seems like the only answer.

She only has two answers for when the pain becomes too much: suicide or self-harm. She’s learning how to live in the in-between. There’s a middle ground somewhere called Life. Use your skills to survive this moment. Hold an ice cube in your hand until that sharp, cold pain is all you can think about.

Sharp, cold pain. It’s getting colder these days, harder to get out of bed. She only gets out of bed now when she has just enough time to get dressed, swallow her Prozac, and drive to work without being too late. Maybe I should call in sick today.

She didn’t call in sick today. Or the day before. Or the day before. There’s too much work to do, too much to be done, too many people to let down. Swallowing the pain in her throat, choking back the tears in her eyes, she stands in front of the copier, watching it spit out paper faster than she can count the reasons to stay alive. Breathe. Just breathe.

She stands in the doorway of his office, not quite sure if she should enter or not. Maybe she’s not quite bad enough to interrupt his emails. But then she remembers what he said about using her voice to stand up for herself, to make herself heard. Ummm.. sorry to interrupt, but I just need to stand here for five minutes. Something about the darkness and the books makes me feel safe and protected, and I need that right now.

They told her she should get a dog, something to pet when she’s feeling too much, something to keep her company when she feels alone in her own house. She hasn’t stopped looking at dogs since, falling in love with each face, dreaming what it would be like to have a companion of her own. I couldn’t decide between a boyfriend or a dog, so I’m getting a dog.

She uses jokes to mask the pain she’s in. Humor has a way of lessening the blow. She’s not allowed to make dead jokes, though, it’s too familiar, too uncomfortable because there are times when she holds pills in her hands wondering if this won’t be the time that the feelings become too much.  You’ll be ok.

She thought she was ok. She thinks she is. But there are so many times, without warning, at the drop of a hat, when her anxiety takes over. Where memories take over, where she closes her eyes, and they play on repeat in her mind: a highlight reel of things she wishes were outtakes, bloopers, things that weren’t supposed to be in the script. I was raped. I got pregnant. I had a miscarriage all before I was in high school.

She’s so happy to be alive. Despite her constant not okayness, she is alive.

_______

She tries so hard to hold it together, not to cry in front of people. But after church on Sunday, someone came up to her and said, “Call me when you need to, even if it’s 3 in the morning.” And at that moment, all the weight of her unworthiness fell on top of her, and as the tears fell out of her eyes, slowly and then all at once, all she could say was, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

You have nothing to be sorry for, they all tell her, this isn’t your fault. You’ve been strong for so long, now it’s time to let people help carry you.

Don’t leave me. I’m afraid everybody’s gonna leave me.

But they don’t leave her. They’re there, watching, replying to her text messages, assuring her she isn’t crazy even when she asks the what ifs. What if the ceiling collapses?

______

She’s captivated by sunsets and rainbows and the color-changing leaves of autumn. Life is too beautiful to miss anything.

She’s moved to tears by music and by puppies and by the way her friend’s daughter says her name, growing up in front of her eyes.

She laughs until she cries. She cries until she becomes numb. Suicide or self-harm are the only two answers.

­­­­­­_______

She texts her best friend, you know when you’re taking a test and you know you have the right answer, but then you panic and think it’s the wrong answer? That’s what it’s like to be suicidal.

She writes and speaks in metaphors because a. she was an English major, and b. that’s the only way to express how she feels in a way people can understand. I want so badly to be alive, but part of me also wants to drive into trees. And I don’t know how to fix that.

“You can’t fix that. All you can do is to do what you do every day. You fight so hard, and I know you’re so tired, but we’re here. We’re here for you. Let me be your lifeline.”

­­­_________

She closes her eyes and her mind drifts back to the day she made this decision.

She picked up the phone and dialed the number that is so familiar to her.

Dad, It’s me. I’m in the Psych ER. I was feeling suicidal.

Suicidal with a bright future. She’s come to learn that both can be true.

It’s Ok to Not Be Ok

Do suicides go to heaven?

I was four the first time I saw a dead body. It was my great aunt. My great uncle picked me up at her open-casket funeral, placed his hand on her arm, looked at me with tears in his eyes, and said: “She’s in Heaven now.”

Do suicides go to heaven?

Heaven. I learned that Heaven is a place people go when their bodies are cold; they look slightly different: like at any moment they could come back alive—suspended animation—toeing the line between there and not there. Like at any moment they could start breathing again.

Breathing again. Am I ever going to learn how to breathe again?

Every funeral I’ve been to since, the passage of time has been spent counting the number of breaths not taken for every breath I took. Wondering how it would feel if I too had a crest-fallen chest.

Why won’t they breathe? Why can’t I breathe?

Trauma has this way of sneaking up on you, camouflaged in the shadows of okayness. One minute you’re laughing and smiling and singing in the shower. The next minute it feels like a tree is being pulled out of your chest, unaided

by sedation, burning, screaming, God take the pain away.

Is this what drowning feels like?

It’s easier to believe God doesn’t exist when you’ve experienced hurt or pain. It’s almost easier to believe God doesn’t exist. Because if He did exist, if an ever-loving God exists in an imperfect world, why, why do bad things happen? Why does He allow bad things to happen? Why?

You’re moving forward. Stepping out of your shame, owning your story, living your story.

But maybe those are the wrong questions to ask. Maybe it’s not why do bad things happen? Maybe it’s what do I do when these bad things happen? Maybe it’s how do I move forward? What is my purpose within all this?

You know, somewhere deep down, I feel like this is all my fault. Somewhere, deep down, I feel like I don’t deserve to be here. I can’t remember a time when I wanted to be alive.

You see, trauma sucks. And sometimes, I still blame myself for all that has happened in my life. I feel like, maybe, if I had done something different, none of this would have happened: I wouldn’t have been raped, gotten pregnant, had a miscarriage, had a mental breakdown.

How can I want to die but still be doing everything I can to live?

If none of that had happened, I might not have been diagnosed with anxiety, OCD, and Depression. Things I’ve struggled with my whole life but made worse by life—chemical imbalances exacerbated by circumstances. I would have spent my whole life wanting to die without ever getting the help to fight it.

It’s ok not to be ok.

I’m learning how to be ok with not always being ok. Trauma is not a prerequisite for mental illness. I had one long before the trauma, and I’ll have one long after the trauma is worked through. But it doesn’t define me. I am more than my past, more than my present, more than the battle raging inside my head.

I am suicidal. And for so long I tried to hide that, until I couldn’t any more. I just have to make the part of me that wants to live louder.

I thought being baptized was going to fix me. It did not. It just gave the negative voice in my head I call Gertrude more fodder: you aren’t worthy of being a child of God. You’re a terrible person who will never get to Heaven because of what happened to you.

Do suicides go to heaven?

Could my purpose be to write about God and mental illness? Because there’s still a taboo about not reading my Bible enough, not praying enough, not having faith enough. Do you know how many Bible verses I quote throughout the day just to keep me going? How each day is one continuous “God help me” prayer? How much faith it requires for me just to put one step in front of the other?

Dying is easy. Living is hard.

It’s so hard to live when every fiber in your body is telling you to die, every memory in your brain is telling you that God made a mistake. But God didn’t make mistakes—He doesn’t make mistakes. Every day I choose hope, but hope really isn’t a choice any more than your heart beating is a choice. Hope is inherent in all of us: our body tries so hard to keep us alive. Our wounds heal themselves; our cells regenerate; our DNA multiplies and divides to keep us living. Having hope is easy. What’s not easy is stepping out of shame into hope.

Do suicides go to heaven?

What about all those people who keep on living even when they want to die? I spent so much time wanting to die, I forgot how to live.

Dear Child,

This is an assignment long overdue, and I apologize for that. What do you say to a 4-year-old child when the 24-year-old adult doesn’t know what to say to herself?

I’ve been told to write this letter many times, to validate you, to make you heard because for so long you thought you had to be quiet, not take up space, not ask for help.

The only way to navigate life was to do it alone.

And you did it alone. For 19 years, you struggled quietly, sobbed behind closed doors, let yourself waste away until you were just a hollowed-out shell where your purpose used to be.

But sweet, beautiful, little girl, who laughed at life and stole animal crackers off the snack cart before dinner, you were never meant to walk this path alone.

Little girl with big blue eyes opened in wonder at the world, your teary eyes were never meant to cower in the dark.

You see, life. Life. Life is alive.

What to say about life except that it’s alive, ever changing, fluid. What’s true one day is not always true the next.

And what’s true is that one day, you’ll be hurt, and you’ll be hurt some more.

But sweet, sweet child, it’s not your fault. And the years of pent-up emotions blocked by numb feelings aren’t your fault either.

You adapted because you wanted to survive.

And survive you did. You made it this far. Farther than you thought you would. Farther then you hoped you would. Farther than you dreamed you would.

Right now, you’re 4-years-old, and some days you wake up and wonder why you’re alive. Sometimes you forget to look both ways before you cross the street. Sometimes you don’t want to get close to the edge because you want to jump.

Sweet girl, I hear you. I see you. I validate you.

One day, you’ll be 24, and you’ll be sitting in your therapist’s office crying because you don’t want to be here. Alive. Breathing. Above ground.

You’ll dare cars to hit you. Hit me. Hit me. Hit me. (There’s a reason you’re not allowed to make dead jokes.) You’ll hold the extra pills in your hand, hesitating before you put them back.

But. You are worth it. Your therapist reminds you of this as you sob in his office. He’ll whisper it through tears as you break down, letting the years of hurt and pain wash over you.

You’ll hear it from your adopted big bro over and over and over as you’re the first one to leave events to protect yourself from trees.

You’ll hear it from within. Because there’s a part of you that wants to thrive, not just survive.

Child, you are worth it. Despite what people will tell you years from now. Despite what the hands tracing your body on the bus tell you in a year. Despite the whispers in your ear 9 years later in a school bathroom. Despite the emptiness in your stomach where a baby should have been.

Child, you are worth it despite all that. Because that doesn’t define you.

It hurts and healing sucks.

And I still don’t know which way healing’s going to go, what it’s going to look like: is it gonna be some bright light, weight lifted, crying because we’re free? Probably not.

It’ll probably be acceptance: radical, life changing acceptance.

Child, I hear your sobs in the night. I see your tears in the locker room mirrors. I see the moments you look in your eyes and don’t recognize me looking back. I hear your whispered no’s. I hear your silent prayer for God to take you in the night.

I hear you. I see you. I’m validating you.

I feel the ache in your heart to be loved, to feel understood, to feel wanted.

Child, you are all those things.

All those things and so much more.

Child. You have a future brighter than gold. You care about others, and one day, you’ll even laugh again (trust me, on this. You’ll be a big punster).

Child. Life will be hard.

Child. Life will be beautiful.

Child. Life will be tears of sadness and laughter.

Child. Life. Life will be.

Breathe.

You. You will be.

7-1-3; it’s me

It’ll only hurt for a minute, they said. Only a minute and then you’ll be used to it.

It’s been ten years, and I’m still not used to how it feels. I’ve been numb for so long, letting my mind leave my body every time I started to

F e e l anything

My mind’s way of protecting itself from the pain

D I S T A N C I N G itself from the broken/ness.

In order to work through the trauma, you’ll have to feel it. Feel it all. Let it be.

Exist in the moment

(But first I have to survive the moment)

Ice cube

Distracting

Go for a run

How do you deal with the feelings you’ve spent years running from?

You can’t do this alone.

I know I’m opening a door but here’s my number

Text when the feelings drown out hope

Text when the voices in your head cause you to forget all you’ve learned

Text when you forget how to breathe. How to survive

Internal debate: a noun where you decide if you’re worth the text. Bother him at home?

Maybe his job;

Is his job.

Got a phone call at midnight on July 3rd. 4th of July party at church. A young woman on the brink. Talked her off the ledge.

Sometimes that’s me

Walking the ledge

Teetering the line

Dealing with pain myself

Fighting the lion smelling like antelope.

You have to feel to deal to heal.

You deserve to be here, and I’m not gonna let you tread water by yourself. I’ll be your life preserver.

Ice cube

Distract yourself

Opposite action.

For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.

For every emotion, there’s an equal and opposite emotion.

Death. Life.

Sorrow. Joy.

Panic. Peace.

I’m leaving these skill cards here because this is my safe place in this building.

Safe place

Safety

Working through tough things- t r a u m a t i c things hea/rt/break/ing things means safety net

Emotionally

Skillfully

I need to feel things in order to move past this. In order to put my past in my rearview mirror.

Sadness. Anger. Depression. Panic. Suicidal. Joy.

On a scale from 0-5, how high is the panic, the emptiness, the loneliness?

5

5 means suicidal

5 means crisis

5 means alone in a room full of people.

I have to remove the skill cards because you don’t want them there.

They look nice on my books.

If this place stops feeling like a safe place, we’ll start banging heads together.

Together.family.strength.healing.

Feelings intensely pounding like waves.

Waves

Come; g o

E b b; flow

Life. Composed of moments.

Learning to survive each one.

It’ll only hurt for a minute, they said.

A minute. A moment. It eventually passes.

I believe them now.

It’ll only hurt for a moment.

It only hurts for a moment.

Cutting yourself open when you want to be dead but will settle for feeling instead

hurts for only a moment.

Letting the feelings in when you’re trading your ghostly figure for a skeleton?

Hurts for a moment. Kills for a moment.

But in the moment between life and death,

Reach for the phone.

7-1-3, it’s me.

I know you’re shocked. I am too. But you see

Here I am

And I’m ready

Ready to take the plunge

D

I

V

E

In and feel

To heal

Remember the ice cube.

They look nice on his books.

One mindfully be present

I’m glad you reached out.

Inhale. Exhale.

I am too

The Trauma Tree

I thought being baptized would solve the problem. I thought that if I publicly declared that I was “giving it all over to God,” I’d stop wanting to drive into trees.

But the thing about trauma that makes it dangerous, that makes it so hard to work through, is that sometimes the only way to get past it all is to let it destroy you.

Trauma is pervasive and a darn good liar. It gets into your head, rolls around a little, and then sets up roots in the center of the belief that you don’t deserve to be alive, you deserved everything that happened, you’ll never be more than what was done to you.

Here’s the thing I’ve learned over the last 7 months as I’ve aggressively worked through everything: in order to get past the past, in order to start living in the present for the future, you have to actively work through the trauma, digging down deep to pull the trauma tree up from the core of your identity by its roots. And I’ve found that the deeper I dig, the deeper the roots extend–the more damage they’ve done. It’s not just a single event that happened ten years ago; it’s a lifetime worth of things I’ve pushed aside, little things I’ve ignored, big things I’ve blocked.

And each time a new root is discovered, each time a core “belief” I’ve thought about myself is challenged, the more my foundation is shaken. Trauma takes away a person’s identity. We start to define ourselves by the trauma. And as we work through it all, we become more lost, more confused.

At least I have.

At the moment, I have no idea who I am.

And that’s ok. That’s ok because there’s one thing I’m sure of: I am a Child if God.

As I work through dismantling the foundation on which I built my life–the bricks that told me the world would be better off without me, that I wasn’t important, the from the age of 4 told me how I felt would never be important–as I work through all of that, I’m learning how to validate the 4-year-old girl who wanted to shrink herself into oblivion, how to validate the 13-year-old who wanted to be anywhere else but that bathroom. I’m learning how to validate the parts of myself that I’ve invalidated for so long.

Trauma has taught me how to live in a world of disconnect; I can separate my feelings from my existence and live in numbness. Until I can’t, until the weight of all the emotions I haven’t felt come crashing down around me, and I want to drive into trees for no other reason than my head telling me “you need to,” and the deepest hurt telling you that “that’s the only way to make this heaviness disappear.”

I feel alone in groups of people because I don’t feel real, like I’m watching my life play out before me, like I exist slightly to the left. I can’t connect my emotions to my trauma. I know what happened to me, logically. But there’s this disjoint: my emotional connection to what happened is misplaced. I can talk about being raped without getting emotional, but then the smallest thing happens–a guy makes a creepy comment, I do something embarrassing, some one criticizes me a little bit–and I become suicidal: displaced emotions, delayed response, a rush of feelings amidst the numbness of existence.

It’s this emotional disconnect, this traumatic disjointness that has my therapist most worried; that has him scheduling 2 or 3 appointments at a time, not just one. If I can make it this long…

It’s the suicidal ideation that’s always been present. But it’s hard to talk about because “what 4-year-old wants to die?”

It’s a chemical imbalance exacerbated by trauma. A trauma that has defined so much of my life.

And I’m working on it. Because I don’t want it to define my life. I don’t want to be sitting at my desk and all of a sudden think “I should drive into a tree” because even if I’m not thinking about my trauma consciously, I’m thinking about it emotionally.

My emotions are playing catch-up. Because for years I lived in numbness. Not allowing myself to feel was the only way to deal.

But now, I have to feel in order to heal.

And I’m feeling it all: pain, shame, hurt, sadness, anger, humiliation. And it’s making me panic–making me operate at a constant level of anxiety that I didn’t know was possible.

There’s a tension in my head, and it’s all valid.

I’m valid.

And this wasn’t the post I wanted to write. I had another one planned. But I started typing, and these are the words that came out.

Trauma and humor go hand in hand. I use humor to relieve tension (real or made up). And there’s this tension inside me all the time: the battle between the traumatized “you’re worth nothing side,” and the rational “you have value side. And it’s this battle, this constant never ending war that makes the healing difficult. The more I uncover, the stronger the traumatized side gets, and the more energy I have to put into the rational side of me.

Because the fact is: I do have value. I deserve to be here. And one day, I’ll discover my purpose for existing.

I have to reconcile the two parts of myself: the traumatized part and the part that wants to move forward. Because right now, my brain is still protecting me from the past even though the past is not currently happening.

I’m learning how to exist in a world where my past doesn’t define me, learning to live in the overlap of pain and hope.

I don’t just want to exist. I want to thrive.

This tree is heavy and digging it up is painful and dirty and it’s leaving me open and vulnerable.

But sometimes the only way to move forward is by clawing your way out, fighting tooth and nail to ignore the voices in your head, yelling at them: “you may be loud, but I am stronger.”

Because sometimes, the quietness of hope is the loudest thing of all.

And sometimes you find out the tree that was protecting you from pain was actually blocking you from growing.

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.

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.

62 Degrees

Don’t you do it. Don’t you dare make that joke.

Dang it. He knew the joke I was about to make–the morbid joke with death as a punchline. But, you see, that’s the way I’ve always dealt with my pain: holding my breaking facade together with Plaster of Smile; laughing instead of crying; invalidating how I truly feel in the darkness by making a light out of the whole situation.

That’s the kind of person I am, the kind of family I live in–finding humor in the darkness. We cracked jokes at my grandfather’s funeral. And I’ve just sort of adopted that way of thinking, adapting it to fit my ever-growing body over time because it’s grown a lot over the last few years.

I no longer have the eating disorder that ravaged my body for five years, and I haven’t been to the gym for a few months on the orders of my therapist, so I’ve been learning how to manage the weight with what I have.

I’ve also been learning how to manage the wait with what I have. Because right now, I’m in the in-between phase: the “Look how far I’ve come but look how far I still have to go” phase. The kind of phase where people ask me You’re not healed yet? It’s been years.

Technically, yes. It has been years. It’s been almost ten, in fact. Ten years since the initial trauma. Ten years since being raped. Ten years since the voices in my head became theirs and not mine. But it’s also been ten years of repressing and ignoring. Ten years of shame and guilt. Ten years of you’re not worth enough to take up people’s time.

In reality, it’s only been about nine months. And extra fact: it’s only been the last three-ish months that really count. Because it’s really only been the last three-ish months where the stars have aligned in my favor, where people have come into my life at the right time to make the burden I carry just a little bit lighter.

It’s frustrating, Brandon said to me in therapy on Monday, you’re using all these skills you’ve learned to get better, but you still don’t view yourself as worth it. 

I fill spaces with I’m sorry. Apologizing for existing, apologizing for opening up, apologizing for taking up space in a crowded world.

And I know I need to stop: need to stop invalidating myself, need to stop apologizing, need to stop thinking I’m too much–too broken to be fixed, too much of a mess to be useful–and simultaneously not enough–not good enough, not worth enough, not enough to be taking up the space I’m taking.

You need to stop apologizing. Don’t be sorry. You’re family, and we’re here for you.

I know. I’m sorry.

Today was 62 degrees and sunny. Tomorrow it’s supposed to be warmer. Yesterday it snowed. That’s just the way life is right now.

It’s 62 degrees and sunny, but I still wanted to die, not actively, just passively. Because, yes, there is a difference. Because here’s the thing: I want to be here in the world with the sunshine and the flowers and the laughter, but most days, I don’t feel worth being in the world, like somehow the world would be better off without me because I don’t add much.

And I know that the voices in my head–the voices that are not my own, the ones of the guys who raped me, who called me worthless and unlovable, and bitch and slut, the one of my ex who told me I should have completed it after he found out I tried to kill myself.

I told the guy that I wouldn’t go out with him. So it’s my fault.

He was angry because he doesn’t like talking about feelings, not since his parents divorced. So it’s my fault– I know that these voices are lies because somehow I found enough strength to reach out with all the faith I had left to one person who urged me to get help: the right move but the wrong life preserver.

It’s 62 degrees and sunny, but I’m tired of people telling me to “buck up” “find the bright side in all of this” “find the silver lining.” Because it could have snowed today. It snowed yesterday, and then three hours later, it was 52.

Yes, I’m happy to be alive and all that jazz. But there are moments, brief fleeting moments when I regret not jumping off that parking garage back in September. But those are just that: moments. That’s all life is: a string of moments held together by hope. Hope that the darkness won’t last forever, hope that the next moment will be better than the last, hope that even if it’s not, I have the tools I need to survive.

Because sometimes I feel like I’m not strong enough to survive the moment I’m in, so I reach out, looking for a hand that can pull me up just long enough for me to catch my breath. And I hope you do that too.

Sometimes I have to be reminded over and over and over again that I’m not a burden. That I deserve to be here. That hear is something people are willing to do. Because everybody’s pain and sorrow and grief and hurt and whatever feeling they may be feeling deserves to be heard, deserves to be seen. And most of the time, I invalidate mine. But I’m working on it; doing the best I can with what I have, trying to make it from moment to moment.

I want to be here, and I want you to be here, too.

I want to help carry your burdens, even if sometimes I feel guilty for letting people help to carry my own.

It’s 62 degrees today and I have hope because it’s easier to just be when it’s sunny. And being is beautiful.

And breathing is beautiful. And laughing is beautiful. And doing all of these things when it’s -10 and snowy, when it’s darker than night inside your head is especially beautiful.

Believing in hope when hope seems hopeless is the reason I am here. Because people believed in me and hope when I couldn’t.

Because despite my past, despite the shame and guilt I carry, despite the feelings of inadequacy I spew with I’m sorry, there are people who still love me and support me, who encourage me on in my weak moments.

And to me, that’s more beautiful than any day that’s 62 and sunny.