To the boys who raped me and called it fun

I was told to write you a letter, an angry letter in which I shifted the blame from myself to those really at fault: you.

But since that letter has language that should not be shared and is so full of anger, I’m posting this more hopeful, still angry, one instead. (Since I know you–at least one of you–read this blog.)

There’s ten years worth of anger and hurt and misplaced blame inside of me, simmering on the stove of my soul, and it takes just a little bit of anything to make the emotions hit a boil and overflow. And that’s not me. Nothing about the last ten years has been me: the neediness and the withdrawing, the saying hurtful things to friends and not saying enough, the oversharing and the emotional turmoil are not me. It’s the trauma tumor–the tumor you caused–controlling me. And it’s controlled me for so long.

But no more. No more.

I can’t do it any longer–can’t hoard these memories any longer, can’t hoard the hurt and the pain and the anger. I can’t pretend to be in control of things that were never in my control to begin with. These feelings, these emotions, these memories are not my fault.

None of this is my fault.

It’s yours. And I could go on and on and on about how angry I am at you, but I’ve already done that not more than five minutes ago. The truth is I am angry. So angry. And for so long I was angry at the only person I thought I could be angry at: me. I was angry at myself because being angry at yourself is easier than being angry at someone else. I was angry at myself because I blamed myself for things that weren’t my fault–aren’t my fault. They’re yours.

And I have to be ok with that. I have to be ok with that because I can’t control the past. I can’t control what happened. I can’t change the fact that you held me down in that bathroom despite my cries to stop. I can’t change the fact that I’ve spent 10 years blaming myself for something you did. I can’t change the fact that there’s so much hurt and pain in my life that I used to rather be dead than face it head on because you told me I’d be better off dead.

I have to be ok with what I can’t control, what I can’t change. But I don’t have to be ok with what you did–I’m not ok with it.

I’m angry and I’m hurting and I’m lost and I’m confused. But I’m also so much more than all of that.

I can’t do it any longer–I can’t hold on to any of the hurt and anger anymore. Because after those are gone, what’s left? Healing and peace. Healing and peace. That’s what I want.

And I know this journey is going to be long, and it means I’m going to face hard, painful emotions head on. And it’s not going to be fun.

But you lied to me: you said no one would ever love me. You said I’m not worth it.

But people do love me, and I have the best support system around me.

But I am alive, and I am worth it.

I’m worth it.

I’m so worth it.

And honestly, I’m sorry that the fun you thought we had caused me so much pain and heartache. Because that’s ten years of my life I’ll never get back. Ten years.

I’m angry and I’m hurting and I’m so desperately trying to figure out how to move forward.

But this I do know: I’m doing it. I’m doing it. I’m doing it.

And you can’t stop me any longer.

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This too shall pass

I took suicide off the table as an option the other day, and I’ve been panicking ever since. Not so much at the thought of killing myself being a solution. Sometimes the thought of living is much more terrifying. For so long, my brain told me that suicide was the only solution to a problem I was too young to even know I had—having passive suicidal thoughts at five-years-old, thinking that maybe a fall down the stairs would kill me and be easier to deal with than trying to live in a world where I felt alone.  

Eventually, the thoughts weren’t passive anymore. They became active without a plan—the most dangerous kind, popping up out of nowhere for really no rhyme or reason. Because as much as I tried to convince myself I wanted to live, there was always this thought in the back of my mind that maybe I really didn’t, and that was enough to keep the thoughts creeping up. That’s the problem with being suicidal: your brain tells you to die even if all you want to do is live.  

So, I took suicide off the table as an option because I’ve spent the last year of my life trying to do all I can to keep going. Therapy. Medication. Learning skills. But sometimes I doubt if I can do life. What if one day, I fail? Not that I have any intention of failing, but even the worst things start with the best of intentions—and I intend to live.  

What if I fail one day?  

And I hate to ask that because as a Christian it seems counterintuitive–why would you fail when you have the best reason to live? But this is bigger than spirituality and sheer willpower. It’s a chemical imbalance, a brain defection. That’s the ugly truth of a depression-ridden brain that uses suicidal ideation as a way to feel less anxiety. It’s a way out. If things get bad enough. It’s so easy to live in the dark, to hide there. It’s so easy to believe that the only way out is to remove yourself from the world. It’s so easy to believe we’re too broken to be saved. 

And in order to stay, to stay here, to live in the light and find the things worth living for, I have to rewire my brain, use my skills, fight until I’m exhausted, fight until I’m sobbing and panicking because I’m undoing the only thing I’ve ever known.  

I want to be able to say that now that I’ve chosen life, living’s going to be a piece of cake. But that’s not the truth—none of us get through this life unscathed. We all have struggles, pain. We are neither 100% positive nor 100% negative all the time. Time is not linear. And we exist in these pockets, and some seem like they last longer than others. And sometimes it seems like the pain is going to last forever, but I promise it won’t. And even though I don’t believe that myself, I’m promising myself that this pain won’t last forever, that it’ll come and go, ebb and flow. 

And sometimes, when the bad moments hit, I give it a beat, a breath or two, a moment or five, and eventually, I find myself in a different moment: when the light shines a little brighter and the weight doesn’t seem so heavy. These moments aren’t always moments—sometimes they’re days or weeks, but i know that this too shall pass.  

This too shall pass.  

This panic at living shall pass.  

This belief that I’m too broken to live shall pass. 

With suicide off the table as an option, life is the only option I have left. The only option.  

And it’s terrifying and messy and beautiful and ugly and tiring and exhilarating, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. Because today I chose life, and tomorrow I’ll choose life. And when those thoughts creep in, I’ll take a beat or two and say, not today. Not today. This too shall pass.

How trying to drive into a tree taught me to let go

You have to let it go; in order to move forward, you have to turn it all over. 

Yes, Brandon, but I don’t know how.  

. . .  

I look out over the sea of faces before me, and I recognize what is looking back: brokenness. It’s as familiar to me as the back of my hand; I could pick it out in a crowd, just as easily as I could pick out myself on my good days. I recognize it because I, too, am broken. I am them.  

I stand on the platform in the sanctuary singing songs about how great God is, but half the time I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it somedays because the trauma is too loud, shouting my past at me through a megaphone, and it’s in those moments that I forget how good God is. I forget how good God is because I’m too focused on the anger I feel. 

I sit in therapy, and I talk about how I’m angry: at myself, at them, at God. I’m angry at myself for all the hurt I caused myself and others along the way, angry at them because if I wasn’t raped, who would I be? Angry at God because where was He in all of this?  

I sit in Celebrate Recovery and I have to admit I lied. The answer I wrote down is not the real answer I should have said. I thought I had let the anger go, but I hadn’t let all of it go–I was still as angry at myself as I was a year ago. 

Anger is destructive; it destroys that which is beautiful, corrupting happiness, sabotaging the future before it even happens, eroding your identity away before you even recognize it’s happening. Anger is blinding, forcing you to focus on the past instead of looking towards the future. 

Or, in my case, it causes you to try to drive into trees.  

You see, friends, anger has this way of sneaking up on us; one minute we’re fine; the next, we’re sobbing on the side of the road because we tried to drive into a tree. I thought by now I’d be done with that, should be done (but that’s a negative self-judgement, and I’m not allowed to make those).  

And I didn’t know how to let it go—how to hand over the anger, the trauma, the depression. I didn’t want to let go of it because letting go means giving up control. Meant giving up control, and I don’t feel in control. 

Driving home last night, my world changed forever. The anger consumed me so much, I tried to drive into a tree. Last night, I saw the faces of those who hurt me the most, and felt peace, not anger. Instead, I was angry at myself for not being able to let it go, and it was in that moment of suicidal anger that God took it all.  

He took it all. 

It took directing the anger at myself for me to let it go—fully and completely. And for the first time in my life, I felt that everything was going to be ok.  

Defining yourself by the past does not allow you to move forward, makes you fearful of the future, makes it hard to establish an identity.  

Wallowing in brokenness worsens the lack of identity.  

It’s so easy to let our brokenness define us that we forget we can be healed. It’s so easy to isolate ourselves in our suffering that we forget that Jesus himself wept, that He cried out on the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He, too, felt forsaken and dejected, rejected and disgraced. He, too, was trying to find God in the midst of the pain and brokenness, trying to find hope in the darkness. 

Aren’t we all? 

Aren’t we the same ones who wandered in the desert for 40 years trying to find the Promised Land? 

Aren’t we the same ones who wondered if God could calm the storm?  

Aren’t we the same ones who walked on water to Jesus and started to sink when we started to doubt? 

Aren’t we all the broken ones, the hurting ones, the weary ones, the ones who wonder if God really cares, if He’s really there at all? 

Sometimes, I do. And it took me trying to drive into a tree that God really is there—He really does care, and He can take it all. He can take it all. You just have to be willing and ready. 

I’m willing and ready.  

Kierkegaard, PTSD, and Reclaiming My Self

…why bother remembering a past that cannot be made into a present?

Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

I don’t know who I am right now.

Reading Kierkegaard probably hasn’t helped. 

. . .

It’s easy to romanticize the past, let yourself be defined by the past, let the past dictate your path in life.

For so long, that’s all I’ve done. I’ve let myself be defined by what was done to me, by what other people told me I am… was (is there a difference?)And I don’t know how to step out of that–how to separate myself from the trauma, the PTSD, the depression, the anxiety. Outside of those, who am I?

Who am I?

That’s a question I’ve been asking a lot of people lately. My friends, my pastors, my therapist, even my dog have all been on the receiving end of my identity crises. (Yes, there’ve been more than one.) I’m trying to heal, to move forward, to move through, and the only way to do that is to face the monster head on, to weather the storm, to stand your ground in the fire, let it burn you, and then rise from the ashes–stronger than you were before. Than was before.

I feel so lost. I’m terrified of the future because I don’t know who I am right now. 

I don’t know who I am right now, but I know who I want to be. Because I know who I once was.

I am laughter. It echoes down the hall as we discuss how our other coworker cannot win our fantasy league. It reverberates off the walls as I make fun of myself for being how I am.

I am a fighter, a survivor, delivered, redeemed.

I am healing and recovering and rewriting my definition, no longer letting things that aren’t personality traits define me. I have depression and anxiety and PTSD, but I am not those things. I cannot be those things because they’re not adjectives.

You cannot be what aren’t.

I am my father’s daughter, an adopted sister, a child of the King. Beloved, chosen, called, loved.

I am not defined by my past or holding on to it any longer, but I’m using it to make a difference in other’s lives.

I am present. I’m here, fully engaged, feeling the feelings as they come, surviving the moments by using what I have.

I am loud and I’m quiet, and my emotions don’t always fit the situation. Sometimes I overreact or under react, but I’m working on that, too.

I’m a learner and a questioner, a writer and a leader. And sometimes I don’t know how to be everything that I want to be.

I don’t know where the path I’ve been on is taking me, but life is understood backwards and lived forwards.

And there are problems in life I can’t solve: like why do I try to die when I so badly want to live?

Why does healing have to be so hard?

I am fearful of the future because I can’t control it.

I am living for the future when for so long I wasn’t.

I am doing what I can because I am.

I am. I don’t know who I am, but it’s as simple as this: I be. I is. I am.

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.

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