Forged Through Fire and Baptized With Water

“I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

As my pastor and friend lifted my submerged head out of the water while saying those words, I felt an immediate need to run. Run away. Run out of there. Too many people were staring at me, and now they all knew my secret. But, he touched my arm and said, “Wait, I need to pray for you.”

And as he prayed, and I heard his voice crack for the second or third time in the last three minutes, I felt the weight I carried with me for so long become just a little bit lighter.

Yesterday, I was baptized. And I had to share my testimony, or why I wanted to be baptized. And in that minute that I shared, my voice trying not to break, and the tears trying so hard to escape, I was the most vulnerable I’ve ever been. You see, readers of my blog and friends, you know my story: you know how much I’ve struggled over the past few years, especially over the last few months; you know about me being raped and all the struggles and stigma that have come with it.

But, so many people in my church family were hearing this for the first time:

I’m suicidal. And I tried for so long to ignore that part of me. But, in July, my life fell apart, and the trauma of being raped came rushing back, and I started having panic attacks so vicious, I was no longer passively suicidal. I became actively suicidal. And I can’t ignore that part of me any longer; I have to let it have its voice. All I can do is make the part of me that wants to live, that loves life and laughter, louder. I’m going to therapy twice a week and I’m taking meds, and I’m being open and vulnerable. And I’ve finally realized that I’m not traveling this road alone. I’m reclaiming my identity, reclaiming my story. Because I’m not just a victim and a survivor. I’m a Child of God, and all I can do is say “Here I am God. I’m broken, and hopeless, and shattered. Do with me as you will.” This is me, letting go and letting God do the rest. Because I’ve finally realized that I don’t have to do this on my own. I am a Child of God.

And then I shared my story with a group of college students last night, college students that have hurts and pain so deep that I can feel it as they walk into the room, college students I care for and love deeply, college students I so desperately want to know that they’re not alone.

Yesterday, I was baptized with water because I’ve been forged through fire. I’ve fought the voices in my head every day. There have been so many times when I’ve almost lost that fight, but at the last second, something always pulls me back.

And, as I explained to the students last night, that voice is God. He’s the calming voice that whispers in my ear during the middle of the storm “You’ll be ok.”

And yes, sometimes I have doubts that God is real and that God is love, but at the same time, I know he is real. Because if he wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here. If he wasn’t real, then I have no hope.

But here’s the thing: here’s why I was baptized yesterday. I have hope. Sometimes the hope is clouded by the darkness and the storm, but I know it’s still there, waiting for me when the clouds pass and the rains stop.

I know that this blog post skips around and probably doesn’t make a lot of sense, but sometimes the voices in my head don’t make a lot of sense either. Today, while I was in therapy, Brandon and I discussed how I’ve been emotionally over the past few days.

If I may be honest with you, I replied, Which is why I’m here. I’ve not been doing well. Yesterday I experienced some of the highest highs and some of the lowest lows I’ve ever experienced. Because yes, I was baptized and I reaffirmed the hope I have, but at the same time, after the service, so many people came up to me and started telling me their stories. And my heart broke for them. And then I shared my story with the college kids and I started reliving it. So last night, I didn’t sleep a wink because I was too scared to close my eyes.

And then I said this: Yesterday was the first time I’ve said the words “I was raped” out loud to a significant group of people. And it is terrifying.

It’s terrifying to have your baggage out there, to have this label that you’ve tried for so long to hide. Because writing about it is one thing, but speaking about it is a whole other monster.

A year ago, I would have been able to talk about it. No problem.

But, right now, I can’t. But I want to. I want so desperately to say “Hey. This is what happened to me. I want to be able to say they did this and this and this and this and this, but I’m ok.”

But the truth is: today, I’m not ok. And that’s ok.

Today, I couldn’t even make it through a therapy session without becoming super suicidal–so suicidal I had to sit in the parking lot in my car for fifteen minutes before I felt even a little bit comfortable to drive.

I can’t hold my truth in forever. And over the last nine months, I’ve let it out piece by piece, but somedays it’s so hard. Being vulnerable is painful and it makes me feel things so intense, I become suicidal because I’ve never dealt with emotional pain well. I started self-harming because the emotional pain hurt so much, and it’s easier to deal with physical pain than emotional pain.

One day, I’ll be able to stand up and say my whole truth and nothing but the truth without it making me want to die.

But right now, I can’t. Right now, I’m in the middle of working through my demons and my trauma, and until I work through it completely, it’s going to hurt.

Because here’s the thing: I’m speaking my truth more than I have ever before, but I’m also hurting more than I ever have before. And some days it’s so hard for me to stay alive because the pain I feel seems like too much. But I share anyway. Because sharing and being open and vulnerable is the only way I know how to stay alive.

One day, the pain will be more of a dull ache than a mighty roar.

And I want to live to see that day.

I want to live to see the day when I can stand up in front of a large crowd of strangers and tell my story without wanting to drive into a tree.

I’m not there yet. And that’s ok. Because the battle I’ve been fighting over the last nine months, is a different battle than the one I’ve been fighting for the last nine years. It’s a harder battle.

But it gets harder before it gets better.

I’m living for the better.

Because, yes, I was baptized. But that didn’t fix me. That didn’t heal me. It just made the hope I have a little bit louder, the light on the horizon a little bit brighter, the voice of God a little bit stronger.

And right now, all I have is hope.

Hope, Prozac, faith, family, and friends.

I was forged through fire, baptized with water, and I am loved by a God who can calm the storm.

And even if the storm is in full swing right now, the waves are calm just often enough for there to be that whispering voice in my ear, the heartbeat that proves I’m alive You’ll be ok.

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20 Hours in the Psych ER: 6 Months Later

“Get off me! Get off me! Get off me!” The words echoed down the hall of the Psych ER as they brought in a teenager, restrained against the gurney, screaming for his life. It was just over six months ago. It was a Tuesday at 5:30 am. I remember it vividly.

The only clock on the floor, the only sign that time was passing, was right through the double-paned windows to the left of the borrowed bed from upstairs (there were no beds available in the actual psych ward, so everybody was camped out in the ER; by the time I got there on Monday at 5:00 pm, there were people that had been around for two days. So, they had to bring up beds because they ran out of couches and chairs). My “bed” was right by the Nurses’ station because I watched the Monday Night Football game between the Giants and the Lions (surprise: the Giants lost). After the game was over, I was too mentally exhausted to even think about moving so I stayed put, pulling two chairs together to make a makeshift semblance of comfort, of home. Eventually, they brought one of those reclining hospital chairs for me to use, hoping I could get some sleep.

I didn’t sleep. Not until my dad left.

That’s when the screaming started, and I was jolted awake from the semi-deep sleep I was in, having a flashback to the day I, too, said those words: different circumstances, but same terror.

I mean, if you’re going to have a flashback, the best place to do it is the Psych ER because there, the guy who’s been there three days already will come sit next to you because he wants you to feel safe, because he noticed the tears streaming down your face when the nurse asked you what was wrong and you said “He just wants to go home.”

Because we all want to go home.

I want to go home, I say as I’m sitting on my couch writing this. Home is where we feel safe. And the truth is, I haven’t felt safe anywhere in who knows how long. And I want to feel safe, and I want to be strong without coming across as weak. I don’t want people to view me as weak, which really is just a sense of pride. But I’m not proud of who I am.

Because, sometimes, I’m ashamed when I tell people how much I’m hurting, how much I’m struggling.

And I wish I could accurately explain to you how much I’m struggling, how much I’m hurting, how much I’m remembering. There are days when I go up to church, even if I’m not working that day, simply because I don’t want to be alone–I shouldn’t be alone, and it’s one of the places I can go where I know there are people around, people who know me and love me and know what I’m going through, but who care for me anyway.

And I don’t know how to describe to you what a blessing that is because right now, as I’m writing this, I’m feeling so many things (my therapist likes to call these “Crisis Moments” where the feelings I’m feeling are disproportionate for the moment), and the tears I’ve been holding in all day can’t be held in any longer.

And I’m ashamed.

This isn’t how I want to be.

I’ll worry about any one else, but I don’t want people to worry about me: I don’t want to be a burden because all I’ve wanted to do my whole life was lighten people’s load, make their lives easier. When my youngest cousin was in diapers, I’d be the one to change them simply because I didn’t want anyone else to be inconvenienced.

I don’t want to be an inconvenience.

And people graciously put up with me (and sometimes I’m not sure why).

And I wrote a blog post last night (and so many people read it, more than I was expecting), and I thought it was the hardest one I’ve ever written, but it wasn’t. This one is.

This one is because there are so many things I want to say, but  I don’t know how. This one is because I want so badly for there to be a future tense in my life, but I’m not even sure right now if I’ll always make it to tomorrow.

Because just over six months ago, I drove myself to the Psych ER. I parked in the parking garage, had a twenty-minute panic attack in my car, and then spent five minutes trying to convince myself not to jump off the side of the parking garage.  And since then, so much has happened: I started therapy, got put on meds, was diagnosed with PTSD after finally opening up to my new therapist. I’ve had panic attacks at the gym so bad that I’ve become actively suicidal, and, my brain, in order to protect me, made me sit down on a bench until it gave me the “All-clear.”

And if you asked me last night if I’d be writing this today, I’d have told you “no.” Because I thought for sure I’d be dead.

Because here’s the thing about suicide that so many people get wrong: it’s not a choice. There’s no thought, no plan; there’s only action.

When the psychiatrist asked me that Tuesday morning after spending 16 hours waiting to be seen if I ever had a plan, I said “No.” Because that’s the truth.

I’ve had moments.

Just moments.

Moments where I’m feeling everything at once: panic and empty and sadness and shame and guilt. And it’s all too much.

Moments that last hours: where my body’s telling me one thing and my mind’s telling me another.

Don’t get me wrong: sometimes suicide is thought out. Sometimes people do have a plan: they have a time and a date and the how scribbled somewhere in the calendar of their minds.

But for me, someone who’s always tried to plan so carefully, someone who always looks at her calendar because she feels like she’s forgetting something, there’s no plan: just a moment.

A pivotal moment: a crisis moment. When the sum of my feelings is greater than the sum of my mental willpower. A moment when there’s action or inaction and I can’t always be sure which is better.

And that’s what scares me the most. Because logically I know that this is not the answer and that life is beautiful and that there are brighter days ahead and so on and so forth and what not, but there’s nothing logical about any of this.

And I’m hurting, even as I sit here writing this, my mind is a million places at once: trying to convince me that I’d be better off dead, planning for my future, working on the next great American novel, wondering what I’m going to have for lunch tomorrow (probably grilled cheese in case you’re wondering). But despite all this distraction, there’s still this dominant feeling inside, a pain so great that’s crying out “DO YOU SEE ME NOW?!?! DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH I’M HURTING? HOW MUCH I WANT TO BE DEAD.”

And it’s terrifying and exhausting: I don’t want to be dead. Kaleigh does not want to die. But the part that isn’t me: the part that’s traumatized, and as a result is suicidal, wants to die, and unfortunately, sometimes that part is louder and stronger and harder to fight.

And that’s where I was last night, where I’ve been so many nights in the last six months. I was so sure I wasn’t going to make it.

(And this is the part where I say I’m glad I don’t own a gun. Because on the nights like that, where emotions take over and impulsivity reigns, where the suicidal portion of me takes over, a gun would make everything easier. Because I took pills: I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I survived.)

I survived. And now I have to be.

I am.

I’m learning to just “be.”

Be in the moment: feel what I’m feeling. Validate what I use to invalidate. Identify what I’m feeling but not let it control me. Learn how to survive the crisis moment to get to a better life moment.

Be.

Finding happiness in the little moments; finding hope in the dark ones. Shining light on the darkest parts of myself to create a future tense.

Because as much as I want to be alive, there’s a part of me that doesn’t.

And I can’t silence her because her voice is just as valid as mine.

But I can live with her: and that’s the biggest irony of this whole thing: I have to learn to live with the parts of myself that don’t want to live.

Finding existence in the face of death.

And six months later, that’s all I’m trying to do.

Continue reading: Flight Risk: 20 Hours in the Psych ER

Here’s The Part Where I Reclaim my Identity

“I was watching some home movies today because I returned home this afternoon after having lunch with Bekah; I sat on the couch and was paralyzed by fear and hopelessness and despair. And the particular movie I popped in started at me learning to walk and ended sometime after Hannah was born.

Anyway.. I dont really know why I started watching home movies, because I haven’t watched them in years, but I think I wanted to find the video of me doing the hand signals the refs use in football.

Anyway… tangent once again. I also may have watched them because I feel lost. I don’t know who I am or where I’m going. Because right now, I’m just the freak who gets to the gym, and just sits in her car for an hour crying because all she wants to do is die, even though she doesn’t actually want to die. She just wants the pain to stop.

I have to hope that somewhere inside me is the little girl I saw on camera today: the blue-eyed, curly-haired, ornery thing who, after being told that dinner was going to be soon, snuck a box of animal crackers into the living room anyway; who, after being caught, just grinned a mischeveous grin at the camera.

I have to hope that somewhere is the little girl who, despite not saying much, laughed a lot, danced a lot, and when she fell down, she got back up.

I have to hope that somewhere is the little girl, who, after being asked if she’d be a good flower girl at her aunt’s wedding, shook her head “no,” and then shrieked in laughter.

I have to hope that someday I’ll find myself again.

Because if you asked me at age 8 what I would be by now, I would have said: doctor teacher lawyer president [no commas because I wanted to be everything]. I never in a million years would have said: fighting to stay alive.

And I have to hope this pain that I’m feeling, this brokenness that I still don’t believe can be fixed, will be used for something great.

Because when you fall, you have to get back up again. Even if it hurts so much.” – Me, to a friend, October 6, 2017

(that above is the number 1 reason why I don’t text a lot of people: I tend to ramble, and then I end up writing essays on platforms that should be short and sweet.)

Over the last few months, I’ve written a lot of blog posts. I’ve written blog posts about (almost) driving into trees, about spending 20 hours in the Psych ER, about panic attacks and suicidal thoughts, about my doubts when it comes to my faith, about not knowing if I’d still be attending the church I grew up in, about mental breakdowns and finding God, and, just yesterday, about sexual harassment and being raped.

(I’m not going to link to any of these. They can all be found on the right-hand column of my blog.)

Over the last few months, I’ve met so many wonderful people: new pastors and their families, college students and their friendships, new therapists and their ability to help me make sense of everything that I’ve tried to ignore for so long.

Over the last few months, I’ve been real and raw and honest and vulnerable with everyone I’ve had conversations with, not just with those I feel comfortable and safe with. I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone so many times, but I’m learning how to find comfort in the uncomfortable spaces. I’ve learned to be ok with not being ok, with exposing my brokenness, with shedding a light on my dark places, with telling people “Hey, I’m really struggling to stay alive today, and I haven’t really slept in a while, and I feel like my heart’s going to pound out of my chest, and I’d really rather be anywhere but here right now. But the world hasn’t stopped turning. The sun came up, and I am here.”

I’ve gotten up in front of my church and said, “If you asked me a few months ago if I’d still be attending this church, I would have said no. Because I felt like I didn’t belong…”

I’ve gotten up in front of college students and said, “I was raped, and the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was tell them to their face that I forgive them…”

And the thing I’ve learned over the last few months is that there are so many people out there who struggle with the same things I do–who have anxiety and depression, who have been raped and harassed, who have doubts and strong faith. I’m not alone with what I’m feeling. I don’t have to carry this burden alone.

There are people out there who love and support me, who encourage me and walk alongside me when I can’t do any of that for myself.

And there are people out there who will do the same for you.

Here’s what I need to tell you, friends, I’m still struggling just as much as I was five, four, three, even two months ago. I still find it hard to stay alive. I still panic every time I go to the gym by myself (I’m so thankful for the friend who decided that that was no good and started to make me go to the gym with her). I have panic attacks and suicidal thoughts, and some nights I can’t sleep.

And I’m hurting in profound and deep ways.

But here’s the thing: it’s different than it was when I started this agonizing journey of healing back in July. Because back then, I was Nobody. I had no idea who I was; I couldn’t find myself past the haze of depression and anxiety. I relied too heavily on other people, wanting them to give me an identity: “Writer Girl; Gringa; Bitch; Slut; A Burden.”

I didn’t know who I was (sort of like the way those guys who harassed me every day never knew my name). I was a generic avatar in a sea of faces, changing who I was to fit the definition those people around me gave me. I didn’t stand up for myself, couldn’t stand up for myself because for nine years I was pretending–an actor cast as myself in my own life.

I was lost and alone and self-destructing.

Until I wasn’t.

And I don’t know when it happened or how it happened or why it happened. But somehow, over the last month and a half, I’ve found myself again. I have this confidence I didn’t know I had.

There’s a power in vulnerability, and sharing my struggles and doubts out loud, not just on paper, has allowed me to find a voice that I didn’t know existed beyond the words I splatter on a page.

And for that, I am thankful. I’m thankful for those who started me on this journey, who encouraged me to get help, who were a listening ear when I was wandering alone in the desert.

I’m thankful for those I’ve met since: who have loved me and supported me and have even encouraged my vulnerability–who appreciate my rawness and real truth, even if it is painful.

Because yes, it’s painful. And this depression and anxiety sometimes seem like they’re going to consume me alive (because between Sunday morning and Monday night, I had four panic attacks).

But, I know who I am now. I’m no longer a stranger living in someone else’s house. I am home, and it’s easier to weather the storm in your own house.

Because for so long I defined myself as:

victim.

depressed.

anxious.

scarred.

broken.

ugly.

But, God. Man, oh, man. He has done some truly powerful things in my life. He hasn’t healed me, far from it. (because I’m going to therapy and I’m taking my medication, but I’m still struggling. Even today, as I sat in group therapy with a bunch of other people who are feeling a bunch of different things, and I absorbed all their feelings, and all I wanted to do in that moment was run out of the room and jump off the top floor of the parking garage, which luckily my fear of being the freak who ran out of the room stopped me, and 2) the parking garage is on the other side of the hospital and I hate running).

But He’s written me a different definition, a different story.

survivor.

alive.

prepared.

stitched together.

strong.

beautiful.

Here’s where I reclaim my identity, reclaim my story.

Here’s where I tell my rapists and those who harassed me, who told me I’d be better off dead: look how far I’ve come. How strong I am.

Here’s where I rewrite my life.

I fall down. I get back up.

I crack jokes and laugh until I cry.

And my depression and anxiety and everything else will not stop me.

Because I, I, am known by a God who called the stars by name, who holds the planets in His hand, and has whispered my name over and over and over again:

Kaleigh, you’ll be ok.”

I Can’t Talk About It

I admire your ability to be vulnerable. That takes a strength that a lot of people don’t have are words that have been said to me a lot lately—by people who go to my church, by my therapist, by my Facebook friends and social media followers.

I’ve been more publicly vulnerable in the last month than I have in the last 23 years of my life combined. I’ve been privately vulnerable—sharing my struggles with only a few friends and anyone who reads my blog. But it’s a different kind of vulnerable: a “let-me-carefully-choose-my-words” kind of vulnerable, a “let-me-open-up-to-those-who-are-close-to-me” kind of vulnerable. The kind of vulnerable I’ve been lately is a “let-me-be-honest-and-raw-with-you-though-I-just-met-you” sort of vulnerable. It’s the sort of vulnerable that causes me to speak from my heart, speak my truth; it’s the sort of vulnerable that makes others uncomfortable.

And I’m ok with that. I’m learning to live in that space between comfort and uneasiness. I’m learning to find comfort in the uncomfortable. I think sometimes, we all need to learn how to find rest in the hard places where the hard truths can be spoken, where people can live their realness: imperfections, struggles, brokenness and all.

This is the kind of vulnerability that I’ve been living for the last six months. You see, six months ago, my mental health took a turn for the worst: nine years of repressed feelings, nine years of depression, twenty-three years of anxiety came to a head during a panic attack at the gym. And I’m not going to rehash that here because I’ve written about that a few times already. But that was when I decided I needed to be completely, 100% honest about what’s going on in my life, about needing more help than I could give myself, about not being able to do it all on my own: needing to feel, deal, and heal.

This is the kind of vulnerability that allowed me to get up in front of my church on Wednesday and tell people that I’ve known my whole life:

If you asked me three months ago if I’d still be attending this church, I would have told you no. Because I didn’t feel like this was a place where I could be open and honest. Because sometimes I sit in the pews and don’t believe a single word that I’m singing. Somedays, I don’t believe in God. Because it’s hard to reconcile the God I grew up hearing with the brokenness in this world, with my own brokenness. I need to know that this is a place where I can discuss the hard things, discuss the hard questions. I need to know this is a place where I can express my doubt and say, hey, I’m struggling with depression and anxiety, and I need to know that’s ok. I need to know that I’m not alone in this. We all need to know this. And sometimes I feel like this is a place where I can’t do that. Sometimes, I walk in here, see all these faces, and still feel so alone.

This is the kind of vulnerability that allowed me to speak in front of a group of twenty five college students and say:

I was raped in eighth grade, and the hardest thing I’ve ever done was forgive them. And not just tell myself that I forgive them, but to actually tell them to their faces that I forgive them, and not just because it’s what God wanted me to do, but because it was actually something that I needed to do. The hardest thing I’ve ever done was look the ones who hurt me in their eyes and say, “hey, you hurt me. But God saved me. And I still love you because God loves me enough to die for me, and I’m so underserving. SO very very undeserving of his love, but I want you to know that He loves you, too, and I forgive you. I forgive you because I need to, because I want to, because I’m ready to. And I hope someday, God does in your life what He’s done in mine. It’s a powerful thing.

It’s the kind of vulnerability that allowed me to post these photos on Facebook on Thursday, which are me, approximately two minutes after having a Mental Breakdown, which is what this post is really about.

 

I posted those photos with the following description: Ugly truth time: this is me tonight–this is what it looks like after you have a breakdown, after you come home after therapy and then double-booked meetings. This is what it looks like after you spend one night baring your soul to your church body about how alone you feel, and then spend the next night trying so hard to keep it together as you gather with fellow 20-somethings asking the hard questions. This is what it looks like after you spend so much energy trying to hold it all together, and then being pushed over the edge by the cars not being in the right order in the driveway, and having your dad ask you, “are you ok? Are you really crying over this?” is enough to make the tears come. Because it might seem silly, but it’s not just one thing, it’s everything.

This is depression and anxiety. And maybe I’ll get backlash for this post. But I don’t care. Social media wants smiling girls with flawless skin. But they get me with red eyes and smeared makeup. This is me and my struggles: real and raw and unfiltered. Six months ago, I had a breakdown at the gym because trying to hide nine years worth of pain and hurt finally broke the dam. And now I have to live my truth, even if it makes others uncomfortable. This is my life: it’s not perfect. It’s messy and painful and sometimes it’s uncomfortable.

My name’s Kaleigh. I’m 23. I was raped. I struggle everyday with depression and anxiety. And right now, the suicidal thoughts are worse than they’ve ever been. But I’m not giving up because I have faith and hope and trust that life will become more manageable. I have a God of John 11:35 who wept, who cried out on the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And his faith is strong enough for the both of us.

And I wasn’t really ready to talk about what happened on Thursday, and in a way, I’m still not. But, here’s the thing: today marks eight years since I attempted suicide. Eight years since I survived. Eight years since I got a second-chance. But that’s not an accomplishment. That’s really nothing to cheer over because to be honest, it’s not the last time I’ve thought about it, not the last time I’ve had pills in hand ready to end it all.

As I was hanging in my pastor’s office the other day, I made a joke about how I haven’t really slept in three months. And he simply responded, “Kaleigh, I don’t know how you keep on keeping on.”

The truth is, I don’t know either.

I don’t know because it’d be so much easier if I just… didn’t.

Which brings me to Thursday.

And I don’t really know how to tell you what happened, but I’m going to do my best because I’m trying my best to survive.

I don’t know when it started: if it started at group therapy, or the car ride to church for double-booked meetings, or if it was during the twenty-somethings gathering that I attended after my first meeting. But somewhere along the line, the panic set in. The worst panic I ever felt, and I wish I could describe to you what it felt like. But imagine this: you’re sitting in a warm room and then someone opens the door to the outside where it’s freezing and windy and snowy. The warmth has now been sucked out suddenly, and in its place is frigid, icy air.

And that’s sort of what it felt like: all the warmth I was expecting to find didn’t exist. I felt so empty. So close to tears. So full of anger and sadness and fear. And that’s the problem with my life right now: I feel either everything all at once or nothing at all.

Except on Thursday: I felt nothing and everything, like a Black Hole sucking out all my joy and a geyser spewing out every possible feeling ever.

And then I got home, and I found that I was the last one home, which meant my car was now in the back, even though I was going to be the last one to leave home on Friday. And that for me was the straw that broke the camel’s back. When I called my dad from the driveway and asked “Where do I park?” I tried to disguise the tears in my eyes. And after I hung up the phone, I started shaking uncontrollably because it’s all a disaster, everything’s a disaster. After a few minutes of sitting in my driveway, I was finally able to turn off the car and walk inside, and when I ran into my dad at the top of the stairs and he asked me, “Where did you park?” I fell apart.

I started sobbing uncontrollably. And in between tears and sobs, I managed to choke out, Behind Hannah, but she has to leave before me so someone’s going to have to move my car, and this whole thing is just inconvenient.

But it was more than just the cars; it was more than just me being an inconvenience. It was about everything and anything. Because the cars being out of order was just the catalyst that caused the dams and levees to break and the city of New Orleans to flood all over again.

Because I just kept repeating, the cars are out of order, and someone’s going to be inconvenienced. But what I meant was:

I was raped—because in that moment, all those memories came flooding back.

I wish I had a gun—because in that moment, all the suicidal thoughts I’ve ever felt came rushing back and all I really wanted to do was die.

I feel so alone—because nobody can ever really truly understand what I feel.

I feel everything I’ve ever felt, and it’s so hard to keep on keeping on.

In that moment, all the pain and hurt I’ve been hiding for years came flooding back, all of the things I’ve talked about in therapy, all the hurt I’ve kept inside came rushing back.

In that moment, I felt the most suicidal I’ve ever felt—even on the night I attempted suicide, I didn’t feel like this. So done. So tired. So weak.

I felt anxious and empty and alone and I just kept sobbing, sobbing, sobbing. And I know that I didn’t really do I great job of describing the complete mental anguish I was in, the complete emotional turmoil that had inundated me, and I hope that none of you ever feel the way I felt for that hour. Because being attacked from every side by your whole entire mind is the worst.

And then I slept for thirteen hours. And then I slept most of Friday. And today’s Monday, and I’m still trying to make sense of all of this: what happened on Thursday? Because it was the scariest hour of my life, and I’m terrified of feeling that way again.

Because depression is a bitch. And honestly, I’m really struggling. Honestly and truly, and I’m on medication and doing therapy but every day is still so hard. Every day I get out of bed is a miracle. And that’s what I want to celebrate—not what happened eight years ago.

I want to celebrate the every day. The “I got out of bed” today. The “I woke up breathing” today. Because somehow, I’m still here.

I’m still here, and maybe somedays I have a hard time believing that God exists, and that’s ok. Because on the days where I doubt, on the days where I use up all my faith just getting out of bed, I keep on going. Because God’s faith is big enough for the both of us.

And I’m going to keep being open and honest and real and raw and vulnerable. I’m going to do what I need to do to survive, nay, to thrive.

And I thank all of you for allowing me to be this way, for encouraging me to do so, for not giving up on me, even if I sometimes feel like giving up on myself.

Because God saved me eight years ago; He saved me on Thursday; He saves me everyday. And sometimes, I don’t know how to talk about it–any of it. But here’s the thing: maybe I don’t always have to have the right words; maybe speaking from the heart is enough.

 

And so I kept living

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, marking the start of Suicide Prevention Week–I feel like a hypocrite for even mentioning it. Because this last month and a half has been the worst time of my life mentally–my depression has come back with a vengeance, and coupled with the overwhelming anxiety I feel on the daily, it’s felt like a hurricane has ripped through my soul: total destruction everywhere, levees broken, the walls of my body destroyed. This last month and a half has seen countless panic attacks and flashbacks, overwhelming suicidal thoughts, me almost driving into a tree, and, unfortunately, it’s also seen me relapsing–self-harming again after not doing it in 7 years.

It’s also seen me reach out more–ask for help. Depression has this way of making me feel like I’m the worst person in the world; that I deserve everything that has happened to me. So, normally, I pull away, revert back into myself. Because here’s the thing: when the demons attack, sometimes I’m afraid that I won’t make it out of the battle. I pull away to soften the blow, to lessen the crater that my departure might leave. I’ve come to realize over this last month that when the bomb drops, people will get hurt whether I pull away or not–I’d rather confide in people and have them care about me than walk through this storm alone, even if sometimes I feel like an inconvenience. Even if I feel like letting people in, telling them what’s going on in my brain is a burden to them.

We all need people.

Even though you’re trying as hard as you can to pull away from people, they just won’t stop caring about you.

And so I kept living despite the feelings of inadequacy, the feelings of worthlessness, the thoughts in my head telling me I should not be here.

And so I kept living despite the thoughts I’ve had for as long as I can remember: I can’t go to school today because it’s going to burn down; I can’t get out of bed because the floor’s going to collapse; I can’t go out for recess because the world’s going to explode.

And so I kept living despite those thoughts that, apparently, most people do not have every day for their whole lives.

And so I kept living despite the shame of my past, the weight of it all, the regret, the hurt of what others have done to me and what I have done to myself.

And so I kept living despite the “I’m sorry”s, the number of times I’ve written and ripped up the words: To whoever finds this.

And so I kept living despite how scared I am of the dark, how weak I feel.

And so I kept living because if I didn’t, I never would have gone to Guatemala and led a young girl to Christ.

And so I kept living because the Buffalo Bills have not won a Super Bowl, and I’ll be darned if I kill myself before I see that.

And so I kept living because I want to fall in love, even though I’m terrified of being hurt.

And so I kept living because I still have so many jokes left in me to tell, so many words within me just waiting to be written, so much laughter left to burst forth from my mouth.

And so I kept living because of the cotton candy that paints the sky during sunrises and sunsets.

And so I kept living because there are so many books in this world I have not yet read, so many places I have not yet seen.

And so I kept living because sometimes all this pain that I’m feeling, all the hurt, remind me that I’m alive.

And so I kept living because the most vicious thunderstorms produce the most beautiful rainbows, and I want to be beautiful.

And so I kept living because I am not alone, and I have a God that is bigger than all my shame, all my hurt, all my fear.

And so I kept living because if I can help just person know they’re not alone, then let me do that.

 

Sister, You’re Going to Kenya

Dear Sister, 

I know that “we” don’t do sappy, but I do. I do. I feel. I worry. You’re going to Kenya. With Bible Quizzers, which are your favorite group of people on this planet.  And I’m so excited for you! But I’m oh so very nervous. 

And I know I shouldn’t worry, but I’m a worrier. I worry about anything and everything, and I always jump to the worst case scenarios. But I’m not going to jump this time, because you’ll be fine. 

You’ll be more than fine. You’ll be great, spectacular. 

But just in case, you know, because you’ll be there and not here where I can make sure you’re safe, and because it’ll make me feel better, I’m going to give you some advice (not that you need it, but I need it because I’ve done a missions trip before, and it’s my job to teach you).

So, here’s what I know, what I hope you learn. 

When you wake up one morning and feel like you can’t do this, like you can’t minister to people, and trust me, you will wake up one morning on this trip and feel like it’s all too much, I hope you remember that while leading people to Christ is important–it’s our duty as Christians–sometimes giving people what they need in that exact moment is just as important. If you can lead even one person to Christ, good. If you can give one person what they need in that moment–a listening ear, a friend, food, water, clothes–even better. 

God works in mysterious ways. And sometimes one simple act of kindness is all you need to open the door. 

Your comfort zone is being left an ocean away, but I hope that by the time this trip is done your comfort zone will have expanded to include the ocean. Because the most amazing, life-changing, heart-wrenching moments happen when we step out of our comfort zones and let God do what God does. And I hope God does some amazing things in your life and on this trip.

If you can do this, you can do anything. And you’ve already done so much–overcome so much. I hope you’re proud of that. 
I hope you hold on to every feeling you have, every emotion you feel during this trip. Embrace the fears, the sadnesses, the happiness, the triumphs. Wrap them up. Put them in the pocket of your favorite jeans. Pull them out when you need a reminder of who God is, what He’s capable of. Pull them out when you want to reminisce. When you want to remember the first time you really challenged yourself. 

Because this trip will challenge you in ways I can’t even possibly begin to describe. And I hope it changes you. I hope it leaves you on fire for God, for His kingdom, for spreading the news that we are all one under Him, for showing his love.

When people ask me if I’d do a Missions Trip again, I say yes. And when they ask, why, I respond, “because of the people I’ll meet along the way.”

The people you meet will change you. I hope they have as much of an impact on you as you do on them. I hope the mark they leave on you will last a lifetime. 
Because it’s so easy to forget that we’re not the only ones in the world. You know, you and me, we’re pretty privileged here. So many of our brothers and sisters in Christ are not, even the ones who live here. 

I hope you don’t forget the people you meet, both those who are in Kenya and those who are going with you. I hope you don’t forget they way they challenge you, inspire you. I hope you learn their stories, help them shoulder their burdens. I hope you share your story, too. 

We all have a story. Nobody’s is unimportant. 

I hope you going into this asking yourself, “What can I learn?” Instead of “What can I teach them?”

They will teach you more about yourself than staying here ever could. They will teach you more about God than you ever thought possible–even if they don’t believe in God, God will work through them like He will work through you.

I hope you remember what they teach you. I hope you leave a small part of yourself in Kenya when you leave, so you remember to pray for them when you return. Because it’s so easy to come back and return to everyday life, forgetting everything that just happened, and return to normal.

I hope the life you live when you come back is anything but normal. Not in a bad way, but in a way that inspires you to change the world, to have an impact, to create a mark, to leave the world a little bit more beautiful than it was when you entered. 

And when you come back and begin college, I hope the skills you learned while in Kenya you carry with you while at college. 

There will be people there who challenge you, whose beliefs don’t line up with what you believe (yes, even at Roberts). Listen to them. Learn from them. Expand your worldview. Believe what you believe because it’s what YOU believe, not because it’s what you grew up believing. 

Go into all of these new experiences with an open mind, allow God to work, allow your views to change if that’s what needs to happen.

Don’t let what you believe stop you from seeing other people’s beliefs.

Don’t let what you see stop you from seeing what other people see. There is more than one way to view the world, and each person has only a very limited scope made up of lenses of their experiences and where they live. Sometimes understanding means putting down your scope and picking up someone else’s, trying to see the world through the eyes of someone else. 

I hope your time in Kenya changes the way you see the world, the way you see God, the way you see yourself. 

But most importantly, I hope this trip leaves you energized, hungry for God, eager to change the world. 

I hope you share your stories of your time in Kenya. I hope you hold close the most precious moments. 

When you become weary of the future, I hope this trip serves as a reminder that you can do anything if you let go and you let God do what He does.

 
I hope I can remember the same. 

So, go in peace, go with joy, go with eagerness. Go with the hope of a life-changing encounter with God. 

I’ll be here. We’ll all be here, praying for you the whole way. 

Six Years and Losing Control

Today marks six years since I last self-harmed. But, if I’m 100% honest, which is what I want to do on this blog, that’s not entirely true. Six years ago was the last time I pressed a sharp object to my skin so hard it drew blood. Six years ago was the last time a sharp object was pressed to my skin so hard that, when I lifted it away, the mark left behind scarred. There have been nights since then, not many of them, but nights that come around once in a great while where I feel every emotion at once, and yet still feel so numb.

And I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense. But imagine this: imagine being burned so bad that every nerve is exposed, and because every nerve is exposed, you feel everything—the changes in temperature, the air pushing against your body, just everything, you feel it all—your body feels so much pain that it shuts down.

That’s how I feel on those once-in-a-great-while nights. Those are the nights when there is so much emotion flooding through my body I can’t focus on anything else: the emotional pain trumps all. So, I need a controlled release—a way of drawing out the pain in a way I can control, not too much, not too little, not too fast, not too slow.  A paperclip rubbed back and forth on the skin a few times does the trick, leaving a scratch raised and red behind which lasts no more than an hour.

And I’m not proud of that, but it’s the only way I know how to control my pain. I can’t control what I feel emotionally, but I can control how I feel physically—what I do to myself. So, it’s been six years since I last self-harmed deep enough to draw blood, but I don’t want to remember forever how long it’s been.

I want to let myself forget—how long it’s been since I was raped, how long it’s been since I tried to kill myself, how long it’s been since I stopped self-harming, how long it’s been since I started eating again. I don’t want to live my life in terms of anniversaries of my past when I know the anniversaries of my future are so much better. I want to let myself forget so I can rejoice in what tomorrow has to offer me without placing it in the context of my past, without forgetting my past.

I’m never going to forget my past, but I want to stop living in terms of it. My past has made me who I am today, and it’s who I am today that will have a bearing on who I am tomorrow. What happened to me in my past matters simply because it happened to me. It’s part of my story, but it’s not the most important part of my life—it’s not the most interesting thing about me. Sometimes I treat my past like it’s the most important thing.

I have more to offer this world than my retellings of what happened to me. Sometimes I think people will only like me because of what happened to me, even though I know that’s not true.

So I want to forget. I want to stop framing my present in terms of my past, but forgetting means letting go, means losing control. And I’ve fought so hard to control what I can because for so long I had none.

I had no control over what happened to me in a school bathroom. I got control by not telling anybody what happened.

I had no control over the voices in my head telling me I wasn’t worth anything. I got control by counting calories, by starving myself.

I had no control over the way I felt nothing, nothing at all. I got control by cutting myself open.

I had no control over my body when I tried to kill myself. I got control by fighting like hell to survive, to live.

I didn’t have a lot of control over my past, and I have very little control over what may happen in the future, but I can control who I am now—what I remember.

This all sounds ridiculous, I’m sure. But I’ve fought so hard to remember the dates where I started healing because I want to remember how far I’ve come when the going gets tough, when I feel defeated, when my intrusive thoughts return.

I want to remember what I’ve been through without being tied to anniversaries because when I think it’s been “six years since I last self-harmed,” I think “it’s been six years, and I’ve only come this far. It’s been this many years, and I haven’t done this.”

I don’t want to think about what I haven’t yet accomplished. I want to think about what I still have yet to accomplish. I have big goals, big dreams, big hopes that seem so far away. And I know that thinking in terms of the past isn’t going to get me there.

I know I have to let go and Let God, as they say.

But letting go and letting God requires a level of trust that I’m not sure I have. I think I might, I maybe do, but I want to be sure.

Yes, there’s always room for doubt, doubt is good. But the last time I doubted God, I almost died—almost killed myself. However, I’m going to trust God anyway because he saved me when I couldn’t save myself.

I’m going to let Jesus take the wheel, even though I’m terrified of giving up control (although I might still backseat drive from time to time. Hey, I’m only human).

So, Jesus, take me. Take me as I am. I’ve been broken into pieces and put back together, but there are still a few cracks left to be filled.

I’m giving up. I’m giving everything I am to you. I don’t know if I trust you completely,yet. But I’m trying my best.

Do with me what you will.

I don’t care where you stand on gun legislation or LGBTA rights.

Dear Orlando,

I’ve been trying to figure out what to say in response to the mass shooting that occurred in your city, but how am I supposed to figure out what to say when I can’t even make sense of what happened? How can I figure out what to say when there are communities in mourning—not just within your city, but within our country, within our world? How can I figure out what to say when all the major issues in our country are so divisive, when we can’t even have a civil discussion about the issues events like this bring up? How can I figure out what to say when the two major political parties can’t agree on anything—even when it comes down to the value of human life and how to save it—when their candidates are using this tragedy to advance their own campaigns, draw attention to their own successes?

I’ve been trying to think about what to say, mulling Saturday’s events over in my head all day Sunday and most of day, letting my thoughts fester like an open wound, feeling the pain—both my own and second hand pain from the communities affected by this: both the LGBTA and Muslim communities. And after all this time of reflection and thinking, I’m still not sure that I know exactly what I want to say; I’m not sure that I have the right words.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe there are no right words. Maybe there are just words, opinions really, that are either harmful or good. I’m all for supporting opinions and free speech—after all, it is our right as Americans to say what we think, and because of this right, I posted what I thought last night on Facebook:

response

After sleeping on it (which didn’t actually happen because I was too busy mulling things over to actually sleep), I’m standing by what I said, but I’m also going to add to and clarify things.

First of all, I want to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry that this happened to you—both to your city and the LGBTA and Muslim communities. I’m sorry we live in a world where this keeps happening, i.e., Terrorist attacks. I’m sorry we live in a country where this keeps happening, i.e., mass shootings. I’m sorry we live in a country where certain groups are targeted based on race, sexuality, or religion. And I know that we are not the only country where things like this happen. I know that, but, as a US citizen and a citizen of the world, I am concerned with where we are headed.

Second of all, Radical Islam is our enemy. But so is Radical Christianity. So is Radical anything. The very definition of the word “Radical” proves this to be true. According to Merriam Webster dictionary, Radical is” a :  very different from the usual or traditional :  extreme b :  favoring extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions c :  associated with political views, practices, and policies of extreme change d :  advocating extreme measures to retain or restore a political state of affairs.”

Not all Muslims are terrorists. Not all terrorists are foreign born. Not all terrorists are Muslims. Not all Christians are the Westboro Baptist Church. And yes, statistically in the United States, most of what have been labeled ‘Terrorist Attacks’ have been carried out by Muslim extremists. But there have been other attacks in our recent history that have not been labeled Terrorism that fit the bill. (the Charleston church shooting comes to mind, attacks carried out by a young Christian, white supremacist Male.)

Third of all, this was more than just an act of Terrorism. This was a Hate crime against the LGBTA community, which happened to be committed by a US born citizen who became a Radical Muslim. The attack was planned; the venue was not. He had a hatred of gay people, or at least an aversion to them—an animosity so great he decided to act. It was a terror attack and a hate crime all wrapped into one horrific event. Which makes this whole thing more confusing. 

There’s nothing black or white about any of this. It’s more than just liberals vs conservatives, republicans vs democrats, Muslims vs Christians, the Western World vs the Middle Eastern World, guns vs no guns. This whole thing is a big mess of a murky grey color.

Which means there are no easy answers. And we as a nation, as a world have to be ok with that. Because we have a much bigger problem on our hands than ISIS, Terrorism, and gun violence.

Our biggest problem lies in the rhetoric of our First Amendment right—the freedom of speech. We are each entitled to our own opinion, but over the years our opinions have become so divisive, so polarizing, so stuck.

There is nothing inherently wrong with having opinions; the problem begins when our opinions led to people, actual HUMAN BEINGS being killed.

We have, as a society, become so headstrong, so defensive, we can’t engage in civil discourse about the most pressing issues of our time. We can’t see the “other sides” side of things. Perhaps, most importantly, when it comes to arguing issues, each side isn’t even arguing about the same thing—each overarching issue has many different points, and each side is arguing a different point, which means no discussion can happen.

And this lack of discussion is widening the gap between “us” and “them,” driving a wedge between both sides of an issue. Which leads me back to where the problem really lies: our “us vs them” mentality.

By referring to those who are as “us” and to those who aren’t as “them,” we are doing a disservice to those who are different—we are isolating them, ostracizing them, making them afraid to live their lives.  After 9/11, attacks against Muslims in the US rose, rising again after the Paris attacks. Attacks against the LGBTA community are also prevalent in today’s culture.

“Us vs Them” is dangerous, creating divisions, Grand Canyon sized rifts and wedges between populations of the world—wedges which really allows ISIS to be the most effective. Westerners aren’t the only people affected by ISIS; Muslims in the Middle East are affected more than the Western Countries are (I googled it for you). ISIS capitalizes on the rift between Western Christians and Muslims because our tendency in the West is to loop all Muslims in the “Terrorist until Proven otherwise Category,” which allows ISIS to swoop in and save the day for the Western Muslim. (Picture a street kid who is bullied joining a gang for protection and a sense of identity.)

So, no, there are no easy answers. No, I do not have any of the hard answers. Nor do I have any suggestions on how to change policy because at 21, I am too young to even know where to begin. But at 21, I am old enough to see that we have to do something because I’ve seen enough violence to last a lifetime.

I don’t even know how to begin to enact the change as a world on the macro level. But on the micro level, the change begins with me. And it begins with my words.

As an English major and a writer, I have learned to be very careful with the words I use when writing—I try my hardest not to use words that will isolate my reader. As a Christian, I am even more so—because there is no “us and them” in the eyes of God. There is only us; We the people; we the Children of God.

So, no. Now is not the time for frivolous arguments that will get nowhere—you can only beat the dead horse so many times with the same useless stick.

No, I do not care, nor do I want to hear about your opinions about guns and the LGBTA and Muslim communities today. Our opinions have caused so much hurt already. Now is the time for unity.

And to those who are hurting today: my friends in the LGBTA who are afraid to hold hands with the person you love in public, who are afraid to come out to you family and friend; my friends in the Muslim community who are now afraid to leave your house, I want to say I am sorry.

I’m sorry for everything.

And I know words can only do so much. But I want you to know that you are my neighbor.

We are one People; one body.

Sometimes we forget that we are not the only victims. The same things we suffer from, you do, too.

I will try not to forget anymore.

And I am going to try my hardest to help you in any way I can, even if that means reaching out, being a friend to those who are different from me. If there’s one thing my life has taught me, it’s that those who are different from us are the ones we can learn the most from.

 

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

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.

There’s a Light

Darkness has surrounded me recently. Depression has shrouded me in a cloak of insecurity and doubt so thick, so heavy I’ve forgotten what it’s like to breathe normally, without this heaviness in my chest. It’s like I’m walking through a maze, and the deeper I go, the darker it gets, the closer the walls seem to be. And to top it all off, it’s raining in this maze. It’s been raining long and hard for days, and the maze has standing water–not enough for normal people to be concerned with, but enough that I’m starting to feel anxious.

And I know that probably none of this makes sense, but hear me out.

My two biggest phobias in life are small spaces and drowning, but they didn’t use to be. Once upon a time, the bottom of the pool was my best friend, and I could play hide and seek in the closet for hours. Once upon a time, I was more scared of heights than anything, but I’m not afraid of jumping anymore (at least not most of the time). As we grow up, we change, and I hope one day I will grow out of these two fears, out of the memories they bring. Right now, they’re things I carry with me.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, and I can tell you the exact moment this all became luggage on my life trip.

It was a school bathroom, late afternoon, one day in the middle of May, almost eight years ago. I was alone, until I wasn’t. There were suddenly too many people, too many hands, too many demands. As the room started to close in, I felt too big, too small, too everything at once. And I wish I didn’t remember what happened next. I wish I could tell you I don’t remember any of it, but I remember most of it.(As I’m sitting here writing this, it’s playing over and over and over in my head. I wish it would stop, but I know the only way to make that happen is to keep writing, get the words out.)  And if you haven’t experienced this, I hope you never do. My world became so much smaller that day. They were everywhere. If they weren’t, they could’ve been around the next corner, or the next one, or the next one.

So, no. I don’t like closed spaces–they remind me of that time when the room I was in suddenly became too small for the memories it carries.

But what does water have to do with anything? It has to do with everything. I can still hear the drip, drip, drip of the bathroom sink I didn’t have time to shut all the way off. (Good thing I didn’t because when it was all done, I cleaned myself up that much faster. Ironic, right?) And I know you’re thinking, “What about the drowning?” So am I. This is a more of a “fill-in-the-blank association” than a direct correlation.

You know how people get you to open your mouth when you don’t want to? They pinch your nose closed.

And I tried, I tried so hard to keep breathing with my mouth closed and my nose pinched. But things started swirling and spinning and fading, and my lungs were begging for air. So, I opened my mouth and started gasping for air, which is exactly what they wanted. (But this isn’t really the time to discuss that.)

So my brain did the math and concluded that “gasping for air” plus “struggling” plus “water dripping” must be what drowning feels like. I became a fish out of water: the Little Mermaid never wanting to go back in the sea, never wanting to feel that feeling again. Even though I know it’s irrational because a) I wasn’t drowning and b) I’m a good swimmer. But, hey, there’s nothing rational about any of this.

I’ve tried so hard to not let my past define me, become me, influence me, but it’s so hard when so much in your life since that day has been directly or indirectly affected by it. It’s so hard to cut ties with the thing that is pulling you down on your bad days when it’s also the thing that allows you to fly on your good days. Because on my bad days, the pain in my chest, my racing heart when I remember this day remind me I’m still alive.

I know none of this makes sense. But I also know that none of this is permanent: this pain, this life, these memories.

I went on a road trip this weekend. And twelve hours in the car gives you a lot of time to look out the window and think. It also gives you a lot of time to compare unfamiliar places in the dark and in the light.

Unfamiliar places are a lot less creepy during the day, they’re a lot more beautiful. But there’s also something about the night that is just as beautiful. 12983928_10209209651944281_5671617332364340475_o

I took this photo as we were driving over the Ohio River, the lights of some city in Pennsylvania can be seen clearly.

This is what is so beautiful about the dark: it’s the light that can be seen shining through at a distance.

I may be in a dark place now, but this is not unfamiliar territory. I’ve walked this road before; I’ve sailed these seas; I’ve made my way out of this maze too many times to count.

I can see the light up ahead, and with God’s help, I’ll make it through this.