Open Letter to Wide-eyed freshmen and eager seniors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

continue reading: Unsolicited Advice to Incoming Freshman and Returning Students

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The End is Nigh: Graduation

Tomorrow is a big day for me: I graduate from college.

It’s a terrifying prospect, really, because the future is a great unknown, an expanse of uncertainty, a looming sea with uncharted waters.

It’s terrifying when you don’t have a plan, and you probably should.

For years, people have looked at me incredulously when I’ve told them my major: English?! What are you going to do with that?

I’ve always responded the same way: I have no idea.

Now, here I sit, on the eve of graduation, and my answer hasn’t changed. In the long-term I know exactly what I want to do: I want to write. I bleed words: sentences and stories run through my mind, records on repeat. I want to write because words have power.

There are so many stories out there in the world that are waiting to be told. There are so many stories inside of me waiting to be awoken.

Psychologists and neurologists have studied the power of the mind to think, to feel, to connect, to create. Imagination is a powerful thing, and it can provide insights into a person’s brain, which is why Art is so important.

Since I’ve started this journey of writing, my stories haven’t really changed, at least superficially, but when the layers are peeled back, the true meanings are revealed. They’re like an onion: multi-layered, can make you cry, and are sometimes smelly.

Writing has been my therapy; it’s been my way to process life, and there is so much more life out there to experience, not just mine, but others’ lives, too. Stories have a way of changing the world, and so I want to write.

But with the way this economy is set up, writing is not a practical short-term solution (to the chagrin of budding writers everywhere whose sighs are heard all over the worlds). So I need a job to help supplement the writing, at least for a while. And on this brink of adulthood and all the responsibilities that come with it, I don’t have a plan.

And that’s ok because I’m looking, and I know life has provided me with a toolbox full of tools and knowledge to help me along the way.

Tomorrow, I graduate from college. I’m not the same person I was when I graduated from High school. Words cannot express how thankful I am for that.

As a senior in High school, I thought I knew everything. I was cocky and arrogant and so sure of what I believed.

Life has a way of knocking you off your feet when you get too confident. Mostly it uses gravity.

As a senior in college, I relish in the fact that I don’t know everything; there’s always more to learn. Thank goodness for that because life would be pretty boring if there was nothing else to learn.

I enjoy the fact that our finite human minds can’t comprehend the infinite nature of the universe; it keeps the appeal of mystery and wonder.

College has taught me how much I enjoy learning, how much there is to know. There are so many things to learn about other people, literature, history, philosophy, history, math, science, and the universe. One person can’t possibly learn it all.

If you’re not learning, what are you doing?

Emily Dickinson wrote: Lad of Athens, faithful be / to Thyself, / And Mystery – / All the rest is perjury.

Life is a mystery; embrace it. Learn, learn, learn.

College is the perfect place to learn from other people. And boy, have I learned.

I’m not the same person I was when I graduated High school because I’ve learned so much from the people I’ve come in contact with. I’ve learned more about the world, more about people. I’ve become more open-minded; my beliefs have changed because of the people I’ve met, and I couldn’t be more thankful.

I graduate from college tomorrow, and it’s bittersweet. I’m ready to move on and to handle what’s next. My Liberal Arts education at this private Christian college has taught me more about myself and the world than I ever thought possible.

However, it’s going to be hard to leave people behind. In the past few years, I’ve found my niche, my posse, the place where I fit, the people who have taught me the most. And for that I’m glad. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the friendships I’ve made along the way.

I graduate from college tomorrow, but I didn’t do it on my own.

And I have so many people to thank:

My family for their endless support and love. My mom for helping me get to this point. My dad for the coffee dates. My grandma for making sure I was always fed. My grandpa for letting me “borrow his knowledge.” My sisters for showing me how to laugh in the midst of stress.

My friends for letting me vent, for showing me what it’s like to have people who truly understand you, for letting me into your lives while you share your struggles and hardships.

My advisor, Prof Q, for being that guiding light, for knowing what to say at the right time, for giving advice, for listening to me pour my heart out when I was having difficulty, for encouraging me in my writing and in life.

You, the readers of this blog, for letting me share with you my struggles, for your feedback and encouragement, for sharing your stories with me.

The whole Roberts Wesleyan Community for showing me that not everybody is the same. There are so many reasons why I didn’t want to come to Roberts, but I’m so glad I did.

These last few years have been a blast (while also being a struggle, a nightmare dressed like a daydream, a daydream dressed like a nightmare, and so much more).

So, yes, I graduate from college tomorrow. And it’s terrifying and bittersweet and everything in between. I’m 50 shades of anxious disguised as cool and collected (at least most of the time. I’m sure tomorrow there’ll be a few gallons of tears). But for now, this is it.

Time waits for no man. The world doesn’t stop spinning for you when you’re life is about to change. Change is inevitable, and I’m welcoming it with open arms. (Even if I have to wear a hefty trash bag in 90 degree weather)

(Not) Enough

I’ve been a Christian for as long as I can remember, but somewhere along the way, I think I was taught something wrong. And I know it’s not just me because other people my age who I’ve talked to believe the same thing I did: if you’re a Christian, you won’t suffer.

So, basically you’re telling me that if I do suffer, I’m not a strong enough Christian.

You’re writing off my sexual assault, battle with depression, and my eating disorder as nothing more than a lack of faith. Let me tell you about my faith and how I would get up every day praying that the floor would hold firm beneath my feet. I had faith that I would make it through the day, that the weight of the world would be light enough that I wouldn’t collapse under the pressure of it all.

So don’t tell me I’m not a strong enough Christian because I’ve suffered.

I have told myself I’m not enough enough times on my own.

Not pretty enough.

Not smart enough.

Not good enough.

Not worthy enough.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say Christians will be free from suffering. In fact, the Bible explicitly states that those who believe in Jesus will suffer greatly, which should come as a surprise to approximately no one.

I mean, if you think about it, Jesus went through the Ultimate Suffer for us.

The Bible says a lot of things about a lot of things, but saying that Christians won’t suffer is not one of them.

One thing I’ve learned as an English major is that context is important. When analyzing a work, we all have our own interpretations, but we can’t forget the historical context of the work. Where it was written and when it was written are the only true ways to know why it was written.

My story is the same way. I have a story, but it’s only a smaller part of a larger story. It is this larger story that is the most important; and it’s determining where I fit, how my story fits into the larger story, that I am focusing on.

How can you tell me, then, that my suffering is because I’m not enough?

I know I’m enough because of what I’ve been through and how my story has impacted others. My story transcends language barriers because when I went to Guatemala, I was able to lead a young girl to Christ because I was brave enough to share my story.

Brave Enough.

I graduate from college in 9 or 10 days, depending on how you want to count, and I don’t really have any concrete plans yet.

I have all these big plans for my life, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever accomplish even half of them. And I’ve come to learn to be ok with that. I’ve learned that my life really isn’t my own. Yes, I’m living it, but it is a gift, on loan from the ONE who knows the end of this script.

Time is a weird, mind-boggling concept, and I don’t know how much time my life has been given.

5 years ago, I thought I was out of time, but God decided my story wasn’t finished, my job wasn’t done. I can’t pretend to know the inner workings of God’s mind, so I don’t know why I was called back.

All I know is that God decided I wasn’t done yet, and I have to be ok with that, despite knowing many people who aren’t given second chances.

Just because God has a plan for my life that doesn’t mean my suffering ends.

And no, suffering wasn’t part of the Plan at the beginning, but sometimes plans change. And the plan for humanity changed after the whole incident with Adam, Eve, and the devilish serpent.

The greatest downfall of man happened because of something the Greek Tragedy writers refer to as Hubris: excessive pride.

The pride of the first two people on earth doomed them and the rest of the human race to a life of suffering.

Suffering is hard to understand in the moment, but after the rubble begins to clear, you start to understand how strong you are.

I’ve started to understand how strong I am.

I’ve been sexually assaulted.

I’ve battled depression.

I attempted suicide.

I self-harmed.

I fought an eating disorder.

And I’m a stronger Christian now than I was before because through it all, God never left my side.

Because I am enough.

Graduation: I’ll Be Ok

On Wednesday, I ordered my tickets for my College graduation. It’s crazy to think that in a month and a half, I will be a college graduate. But, here I am standing on the threshold of adulthood and adulthood. And people keep asking me, “What do you want to do after graduation?”

I don’t know what to say to them. So I tell them, “I’m not quite sure. I’ve started looking to see what’s out there, started looking to see what kind of jobs I can get with an English Degree. I’ll probably go to Grad school at some point, but that costs money that I don’t have. So I’m looking for a job, any job I can get really. I can’t afford to be picky: there are student loans to pay off, a car to buy, my future to save for. Everything’s being thrown at me all at once, and I can’t avoid it no matter how hard I try—I’ve never been good at Dodgeball.”

Except I don’t actually say that because, well, it’s pretty obvious.

The truth is, I have no idea what I’m doing after graduation. I know what my end goal is: to be a writer. But that probably, realistically won’t pay the bills that need to be paid (at least not right off the bat). I’m looking for a big-kid job that will pay the bills, but it’s a terrifying process.

And Depression isn’t helping.

Every time I sit down to work on my resume or work on an application, depression brings his cousins anxiety and doubt over for a visit.

It’s really hard to work on your future when the three cousins are interrupting you:

No one is going to want to hire you.

You didn’t do as well as you could have in college, and now you messed up your future.

Hah! English majors. What good job will that give you?

And maybe their right. Maybe I did mess up my future. Maybe I didn’t do as well as I could have in college because maybe I was too busy focusing on my mental health to worry about getting all A’s.

But maybe their wrong.

Because I didn’t necessarily do as well as I could have in High school, but I still got into college. And not doing well in College is not any indicator of how well you will do in life.

One thing I’ve learned for sure is that I’m worth more than my GPA. My GPA does not measure how many battles I’ve faced, how many battles I’ve lost, how many battles I’ve won. My GPA does not measure how smart I actually am, just how good I am at studying or BSing my way through essays. My GPA doesn’t measure my talents, my personality, how much I care for others.

My GPA can’t tell you how hard I am trying to be ok.

My GPA can’t tell you how bright my future is.

But my doubts certainly can. The harder I doubt, the stronger my belief is that I will do great things. (it’s counterintuitive, I know. But I’ve been fighting depression long enough to know that this is the case.)

I’ve been doubting a lot lately.

And all this doubting has made the world seem a lot heavier on my shoulders. It came to a head on Thursday night. If I was still self-harming, Thursday would have been one of those nights, without a doubt.

Instead, I wrote.

There were a billion and a half thoughts running through my head, but the only thing I managed to get out was “I’ll be ok.”

I’ll be ok.

I’ll be ok.

I’ll be ok.

I wrote that phrase 150 times, falling asleep half-way through the 151st time: I’ll be.

I’ll be (fill in the blank).

Amazing.

Strong.

Happy.

A world-changer.

But most importantly, I’ll be a writer. That’s what I am meant to be.

And it terrifies me.

I’ve started writing the same book three or four times. And every single time, I get freaked out and stop. But in the past few weeks, more and more people have told me that I need to keep writing. Some of these people have followed my journey from the beginning. Some of these people I don’t even know.

Somebody came up to me on Friday, told me that she read my blog because her friend showed it to her. She then told me, “Thank you for being my voice.”

Thank you for being my voice.

For a long time, I couldn’t find my voice. I lost in the midst of my fear and doubt.

But now I’ve found it, and I have so many stories to tell. Some funny; some sad. Some good; some bad.

And I’m terrified. But that’s ok because I’ve come to realize that fear is a powerful motivator. I’ve come to realize that words have power. Words can change the world.

My words have been my way of making sense of my struggles, and in the process, I’ve become the voice for so many who don’t know how to express what they feel.

And that terrifies me. I want to do myself and others justice. I want to express where I’ve been without losing sight of the future.

And the future terrifies me. My dreams terrify me. But if your goals and aspirations don’t terrify you, they’re not big enough.

I think fear is just your minds way of trying to protect you.

I’ve come to learn that no matter what happens, I’ll be ok.

I’ll be ok.

I’ll be ok.

I’ll be ok.

Me of 2014, Here’s to You: A Year in Review

At the conclusion of every year, I like to make a mental list of things I’ve learned throughout the year. This year, I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve also written a lot. So instead of making a mental list, I decided to write what I’ve learned down. What I’ve learned turned into a list summarizing what I’ve written about, what I’ve talked about with friends, and what I’ve thought about late at night. It turned into a list echoing a letter, partially inspired by a wonderful friend I went to Guatemala with. Do with this list what you will, but I’ve discovered the importance of reflecting on how much a year can change you, on how much you grow over the course of twelve months. Without further adieu, what I’ve learned in 2014.

Dear Me of January 1, 2014,

In 2014, you will:

  • be challenged, step out of your comfort zone, learn so much, cry, laugh, heal, celebrate, and mourn.
  • experience the healing power of forgiveness without expecting an apology.
  • be pushed to the breaking point (again) with one of the most physically and mentally exhausting semesters. You will learn from this and follow it up with one of your easier semesters. Thank yourself for this.
  • receive an unexpected apology.
  • experience God in new ways: through the first sunny day after a long, dark winter; through the cuddles of a toddler on Friday mornings; through the strength you find to get out of bed in the morning.
  • deepen old relationships, discover new ones, and cut ties with toxic people.
  • celebrate milestones marking things you’ve overcome.
  • rediscover yourself, redefine yourself, learn to love yourself.
  • make it through another year. Sometimes you’ll fight an uphill battle; sometimes you’ll walk on solid ground.
  • be knocked down, knocked down, knocked down, but you’ll get back up over and over and over again.
  • stop writing your book after a long period of self-doubt, and then you’ll start writing again after revamping and reorganizing because you have so many stories churning inside that sometimes you can’t sleep at night because the words inside your head won’t stop screaming until you give them live. And you learned a long time ago about the power of words–how they should not be silenced.

In 2014, you will:

  • realize it’s ok to ask for help, to be vulnerable, to let people in. You should not be ashamed of your past.
  • learn more about the world, and in doing so, your views and beliefs will be challenged, but in the process you will become more open-minded. What you believe may not line up with what those around you believe. Embrace this. The world in not black and white; it’s a complex amalgamation of issues that cannot clearly be defined. Life is not a math equation, no matter how many people try to define it as such.
  • learn that you don’t agree with the way everyone lives their lives. That is ok. Some people don’t have the same beliefs as you. Don’t push yours on them. Love is more important.
  • learn to appreciate the little things.
  • have a hard time getting out of bed somedays, but you will anyway. Although it may not be until after you have an argument with yourself in which you way the pros and cons: it’s safer here, but you won’t get to see your friends. It’s warm and I’m tired, but you won’t get to learn. You will learn to have faith that the floor will hold your weight, and when you feel like the burdens of this world are too heavy for your legs, God will carry you through it.

In 2014, you will:

  • come face-to-face with the ignorance of people. You will be forced to validate your existence to people who make jokes about your past. Look them in the eyes as you ask them to explain how the joke is funny. Watch them squirm as their face turns red. Do not apologize for embarrassing them. Do not accept their apology for cracking that joke. How else will they learn? Somethings are not meant to be joked about.
  • learn that some professors wil make insensitive comments. Next time you hand in a journal about a depressing poem, compare the poem to your own life.
  • learn that some professors are the most caring people on the planet and give so much time to their students. They will stop you on the sidewalk because they know you are having a hard time. You will pour your heart out to them. Tell these professors how much they are appreciated. Don’t take them for granted.
  • encounter people who make you feel insignificant. Don’t speak softly. Assert yourself. Make your presence known. Do not apologize for existing.
  • call people out on their behavior.
  • realize opinions and beliefs you previously held were wrong. That’s ok, because now you know better. You have matured and learned.
  • learn that people are the worst and the best. You will be horrified at the way people treat others, but in the midst of it all, you will realize the good of humanity: out of darkness comes light. Embrace the good. Learn from the bad.

In 2014, you will want to change the world. You will find strength you didn’t know you had. You will start fighting. You will continue fighting.

For 2015, promise yourself you won’t stop. Life is too beautiful to give up.

In 2015, you will:

  • graduate from college.
  • find a job.
  • learn to love yourself more.
  • ?

It’s a blank book, a blank slate. Embrace it. You’ve come so far in 2014, and 2015 holds so much more promise despite the unknown.

“How do you prepare yourself for another 365 days of uncertainty?”

  • pray
  • hope
  • trust.

Sincerely,

The You of December 31, 2014.

Sorry I Punched You in the Face, but Your Ignorance was Asking for it.

To the group of guys in my campus library who said that girls who are raped are asking for it:

Fuck you.

Normally, I don’t swear, because I believe that words are powerful, and I was raised by parents who got mad if I said ‘crap’ too often. But, I’m an English Major, and there are approximately 1,025,109 words in the English language, but I can’t think of a better way to sum up how I feel about what you said than this: Fuck you. I hope you get high-fived in the face with a chair.

That might wipe the condescending grins off your stupid faces.

It’s not your fault that you believe girls who are raped are asking for it. I blame society. I blame the way women have been seen as inferior for years. I blame the phrase “boys will be boys.” I blame the way we teach our daughters that if a boy is mean to her, if he pulls her hair, he likes her. I think that’s why women stay in abusive relationships; she feels obligated to stay. He says he loves her. He beats her up with his words and his fists, and she thinks she deserves it.

But let me tell you a story. It’s my story. Because you say I deserve what happened to me. That some how because of the clothes I wore, the things I did, I deserved to be assaulted. But I didn’t.

When I was sexually assaulted, I was wearing a hoodie and jeans. When I was sexually assaulted, I had the audacity to tell a guy, “No.” I had the audacity to refuse a date from a guy who was more of a jerk than a man. I had the audacity to not be a prize that’s won.

I wrote what’s below a while ago, but I think you need to hear it now. So, I’m sharing it again, because apparently, guys like you need to check your privilege.

When I was in first grade, I was told that if a guy was mean to me, he liked me. I would go tell the teacher that Billy stole the ball I was playing with, and he wouldn’t give it back.

“Kaleigh,” I was told, “He likes you.”

“Sam pulled my hair.”

“He likes you.”

7 years later, I’m lying on a school bathroom floor, and I’m wondering if these guys are showing me they love me. And now I’m walking on egg shells around every guy I meet, not wanting to be loved again, because if this is how a guy tells a girl he loves her, I’d much rather be single forever.

I was taught in school how to protect myself from rape. Don’t walk alone. Don’t walk alone at night. Don’t go out at night. Keep your body hidden. Don’t give them a reason.

If the reason was turning him down when he asked me out, because he was a jerk, then yes, I gave him a reason.  Maybe I gave him a reason because I was too quiet all the time, and too loud at the wrong times. And apparently, his friends decided I was the worst and decided to punish me too. And now I’m stuck keeping it a secret because I don’t want the blaming questions.

“Why were you alone?”

“What were you wearing?”

It’s been 5 years, and I’m still getting told by some people to praise God I don’t remember it all. Let me tell you, I remember it enough to know I don’t want to remember it all.

It’s been 5 years, and sometimes unexpected contact is still the worse, and sometimes it burns as if I’m holding the sun in my hands.

It’s been 5 years, and sometimes I still have to defend myself against judging glances. Because, apparently, has someone who has been blessed with two x chromosomes, instead of one, the only job I have in life is to not let myself get raped.

Hold up, let me tell you something.

My job as a female is to do whatever the heck I want to do. I am not part of the “weaker sex.” And I may not be able to bench press as much as you men, but I know how to be strong. I may have wider hips, but I have a fighter’s stance.

And I don’t want to hear these excuses about men having a voracious appetite for sex. The word appetite should only be used when talking about food. I am not food.

Sometimes my thoughts threaten to eat me alive.

But, I will not be silenced. I am a statistic, but that doesn’t define me.

Because one day in my first week of college, somebody said, “If someone hates himself so much they want to die, they’re better off dead.” And then,  ”If someone gets raped, they probably deserved it.” So I told my story, and then he had the audacity to defend the other guys’ actions.

I’m pretty sure the “Bros Before Hoes,” part of the Bro Code does not apply in this situation. Because he wasn’t justified, and I didn’t provoke. I was in the wrong place in the wrong time surrounded by the wrong people. And their touch is woven into the deepest part of my skin, and 5 years later, I still get shivers down my spine. I was told no one would love me, and I believed them, until I realized I have the most amazing friends.

I was told not to get raped. They were not told how not to rape.

Guys tell one another, “You throw like a girl!” Since when is being a girl an insult? Some of the strongest people I know are women. Being a girl is not an insult.

I am not an insult. You are not an insult. I will tell my daughter she is not an insult.

I may be a girl, but I know how to fight. And so will my daughters. My sons will learn the meaning of “no.”

“No” is not “maybe.” “No” is not “convince me.”

And I will teach them both the two best things I’ve ever learned: How to love myself, despite everything. And how to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start again.

Because repetition forms habits.

I’ve found my voice again. So yes, I may be ‘beautiful’ or whatever, but I am so much more.

I am woman.

I am a fighter.

I am a survivor.

And I will teach my children to be the same.

I will teach my Children what love is, and what it’s not. Because you shouldn’t be afraid of love.

I’m not afraid anymore.   -“Afraid in Love”

I’m not afraid anymore, but I still get mad at guys like you. Because guys like you are the ones who wink at girls on the bus. Guys like you are the ones who catcall girls on the street. Guys like you make girls uncomfortable in their own skin. Guys like you are the reasons for some of my sleepless nights and the scars on my skin. Guys like you fail to realize that work of art you’re canvassing is not yours to steal. Girls bodies are not your playground. We are not simply woodchips crunching under your feet.

We are people too.

I’m a person despite being a female who’s been raped.

And I know that the next time a guy lays a hand on me when it’s unwanted, he’ll be on the floor so fast, he won’t know what hit him.

Spoiler alert: My fist will have been the thing that hit him.

So, the next time I hear anybody say that girls who are raped deserve it, I will punch them in the face. And if they get offended, I’ll just say, “Sorry I punched you in the face, but your ignorance was asking for it.”

 

Why (My) College is Important

Today, my college broke ground for the new addition to the Science and Nursing building. This is exciting, not because I’m a science or nursing major, but because this new facility has the potential to impact many future students’ lives.

And I just want to say how thankful I am for College, especially for one that’s challenged me as much as mine has: physically (because as a commuting English major, my backpack weighs close to 500 tons), emotionally (because teenage girls experience all the emotions), and spiritually (because I once doubted God, but all the questions I have make my faith stronger). You see, when I came into college, I was broken. I barely passed one of the classes I needed to graduate High School. In fact, I barely made it through High School. About half way through my Sophomore year, I tried to kill myself. I started self-harming. I became anorexia. I was severely depressed.

And I was terrified of college. I was terrified of failing. I was terrified of being the nerdy girl who had no idea how to make friends. I was terrified of choosing the wrong major and not being able to find a job. I was terrified of the future. Basically, I was terrified about everything.

With one year left of College, I’m still terrified about what the future holds, but I know the college I chose has prepared me for everything that will come my way. It’s funny because the one college I vowed I would never attend became the only place I applied, and that’s the way God seems to work in my life.

I decide one thing, and God’s like, “Lol. Nope. Try again.”

I’m glad He does, because it makes me depend on Him more. He keeps my pride in check.

He called me to this campus for a reason, and I’m glad He did, because it’s changed my life.

The faculty here are some of the most caring and the most encouraging people in my life. You need some advice? No problem. You need to talk about some problems you’re having? Sit down. Have a seat. You want to get into some big theological debate? Bring it on.

I remember one time when I knew a certain book on a reading list for one of my Lit classes was going to be difficult to read and discuss. One day, when we were discusssing the rest of the Semester, I made an off-hand comment about it. When my Professor inquired, I told her my story. She immediately made accomodations, and it was wonderful and beautiful.

There are people on this campus who will challenge everything you once thought to be true. Being open-minded about what other people know is the best way to understand the world differently.

The more I talk to people on this campus, the more my faith grows. I don’t know of anyother school where having a mental breakdown in the library will lead to a bunch of students you don’t know to pray for you.

This campus is so full of love, which is why the squirrels here aren’t afraid if anything: perfect love casts out fear.

Because, yes, this campus is all about higher learning. But higher learning doesn’t just include education. It’s about being part of a community. It’s about forming relationships, personally and spiritually, that will continue to bless your life even after you leave. It’s about instilling confidence in each person, because everybody has value. It’s about learning how everybody is connected–everybody has the power to change the world.

This past summer, I went on a Missions Trip to Guatemala with some of the most amazing people I have ever met. (Shoutout to Roberts Enactus!) And this trip changed my life.

My college has changed my life, because it taught me that change starts with one person.

Sometimes I think I’m in the wrong major, because ‘English is just not practical.’ But if there’s one thing my study of literature has taught me, it’s that words are more powerful than you know.

I will change the world with my words one day. And Roberts has given me the confidence to do it.

 

 

See also: Unsolicited Advice to Incoming Freshman and Returning Students

Speak

“IT happened. There is no avoiding it, no forgetting. No running away, or flying, or burying, or hiding.”

“I have survived. I am here. Confused, screwed up, but here. So, how can I find my way? Is there a chain saw of the soul, an ax I can take to my memories or fears?” – Speak, by Laurie Halse Andserson

In my Adolescent Lit class on Tuesday, we discussed the book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. At the beginning of the Semester, my Professor introduced the book by saying, “It’s a book about Sexual Assault.”

And immediately, right there, my mind stopped. I thought to myself, “Wait, what?” So, after class I went up to my Professor and said, ” Prof Q, I don’t know if I can read this book.” And I told her my story, just like I’ve told it so many times before. And she understood, and she told me I didn’t have to come to class the day we discussed Speak.

I didn’t have to go to class.

Half a semester later, my mind was telling me “Don’t go to class,” but my feet weren’t listening. So, I showed up to class, and was immediately told to write a 10 minute response to the following question, “How accurate is Melinda’s (the main character) portrayal of High School in this book? Use examples from your own life or from somebody else’s.”

I am Melinda. Melinda is me. As I read this book, I was in tears from laughing at Melinda’s scathing wit and biting sarcasm. As I read this book, I was in tears from crying because of the experience we share. High School is exactly as it was portrayed in this book, at least for me. I remember thinking these things. I remember doing what she did. I remember doing it all. This is the most believable book I’ve read thus far to date.

As we discussed the book in class, I felt awkward, compressed, as though there were 4000 pounds of weight on my chest. I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest, unless of course the pressure surrounding my lungs didn’t kill me first. I sat there in silence, doodling in my notebook, checking my phone, analyzing Beauty and the Beast in my head, and doing pretty much anything that distracted me from the conversation at hand.

I didn’t say anything until Prof Q asked the last question, “How did you like the ending?”

I immediately got angry. I hated the ending.

(SPOILER ALERT: The book ends with Melinda confronting her assaulter in her hide-away closet at school. She threatens him with a shard of glass to his neck.

And then some other stuff goes down, but those details aren’t important).

I spoke up, “I hated the ending. It makes for a better story, but it doesn’t actually happen that way. I don’t know, I mean, I do know. But, ya.”

As much as Melinda and I have in common, our stories are just as different. We were both Sexually Assaulted at the end of 8th grade. But it took me two years to admit anything was wrong.

Melinda had one IT. I had 5 ITs, which means I had THEM.

THEM.

And while IT happened at a party for Melinda, THEM happened in a school bathroom for me.

I didn’t have a place to run and hide in school. I didn’t have a place I belonged. I haven’t told anyone their names even though I saw their faces everyday until they either dropped out, moved away, or until we graduated together.

But, like Melinda I know the fear of THEM. I know the not wanting to get out of bed. I know the wanting to tell someone but not knowing how. I know the self-hatred and the self-blaming. I know the grimacing when I hear their names or their voices. I know the thought “what if I said ‘no’ one more time?” I know it all.

I struggled with self-injury for years before I stopped. I struggled with Anorexia all the way through High School and into college. And I’m lucky if I don’t have a mental breakdown anytime I run into someone who even remotely looks like one of THEM.

So, no. I don’t think my story will ever end like Melinda’s. And that’s ok. Because they took a lot from me, and I’ve spent so much time and energy trying to reclaim it as my own.

And it’s taken me a long time to get where I am today, and it’s been a lot of baby steps along the way. I’ve stopped cutting. I’ve started eating. I’ve started believing myself to be beautiful. I’ve stopped wanting to jump every time I’m up high.

Yesterday, I saw a picture of one of THEM on Facebook because of a mutual friend, and I didn’t slam my laptop shut, want to throw up, or take 5 showers. So, ya. That happened, and it was big.

And 5.5 years later, I’ve gotten to the point where I can finally identify THEM by name (but I won’t list them here, because this is the internet, and this is not the place for naming names). And one day, I may even say “Hi” to them if I see them in Walmart, that is if I don’t go cry in the bathroom first.

No, but really though. One day I will say Hi, because I want them to know they don’t have a hold of me anymore. I’ve reclaimed what was mine. And yes, I still have flashbacks from time to time, but I’ve learned that when I speak, people will listen. They told me I would never amount to anything in my life. Clearly, I’ve proved them wrong.

 

 

 

Unsolicited Advice to Incoming Freshman and Returning Students

Students are beginning to move back onto Campus. And even though the most moving I’m doing is the 7 minute commute to school everyday, I am being fed glimpses of the hustle and bustle from my on Campus friends via Facebook and Twitter. I can imagine the heaving of boxes and crates, and the unloading of suitcases and backpacks. I can imagine the unpacking of childhood memories, the storing up of hugs to save for a rainy day when things aren’t going the right way, the parents lingering in the doorway–not quite ready to say goodbye, but wanting to see you spread your wings and fly–the hushed “I love you”s, and the long, drawn out “Goodbyes.”

Freshman, eventually this feeling will become familiar. Right now, the car is unpacked after numerous trips of carrying things one at a time, but eventually the car will be unpacked after two or three trips of stacked up boxes that defy physics and gravity. Right now, you want your parents to help (or maybe you don’t), but eventually you won’t. And it’s not because you don’t want them to stick around; it’s because little-by-little, step-by-step, you grow up. Don’t fight this feeling. Embrace it. Embrace your independence, but also be time conscious. Because, yes, you have all the time in the world to complete that project, but eventually you will realize that all the time in the world is less time than you think.

Just like things in your room will find a niche, you will too. But before you do, you will walk into the Dining Hall the first day of classes and feel overwhelmed with the amount of faces you don’t know, the number of places you don’t fit. When this happens, do not walk out. Do not retreat to the library. Push yourself out of your comfort zone little-by-little by sitting with people you don’t know. Join clubs. Get involved with activities on Campus. Eventually, the places you don’t fit will be outnumbered by the places you do. And eventually your dorm room will become your “home away from home.” You will find comfort in the rearranging of beds, the sound of the person breathing 5 feet from you, the closets that aren’t really closets but they get the job done, and the mattresses that aren’t quite as comfy as yours at home. And maybe you won’t sleep well at night, but that’s what naps are for. Because in college, everywhere is a bed if you try hard enough.

Speaking of bed, you will learn there’s a time and a place for decaf coffee: Never and in the trash. I’m just being serious. No, but for real: caffeine and Ramen noodles will become your best friends. But don’t complain about the food. I know it’s not as good as your Mother’s or whoever’s, but it’s certainly better than going hungry. And speaking of hunger, you will feel this ache in your stomach from missing your home no matter how near or far home is. Call your parents. Call your friends. Call your family. And when the nights are great, and the days are going right, write a letter addressed to you. Mail it to yourself. Walk to your mailbox. Open the box of metal. Pick up that letter, and save it for a day when the nights are longs, and the days are going wrong. And know that present you might not be your friend, but once upon a time, past you was on your side.

And if you’re not into the whole letter writing thing, have your family write you one. Have your family write one about what they’ve been doing with their lives. Because when I went to Guatemala, I knew my family missed me, but they carried on their lives as if they didn’t. Because missing someone is a sign of loving someone, and it’s better to be missed when you’re gone than not to be missed at all. My friend told me once about the best letter she received from her Dad. He was telling her about going to McDonald’s and ordering a large fry, and not having anyone to share it with. And it wasn’t about French Fries and throwing away the excess. It was about being missed in absence.

This journey is about losing yourself and finding yourself. And one day you may wake up, look in the mirror, and not recognize the face staring back. This is ok, because one day you will find yourself again. You will find yourself in the friends you make, the friends you leave behind, the choices you make, the laughs you share, and the hearts you break. And success doesn’t depend on grades, but that doesn’t mean don’t try. Because, I don’t want to sound cliche, but you don’t know what you can do until you try, and sometimes you need to spread your wings and fly.

And life is filled with disappointments, believe me, I know. This journey is hard, but I want you to know people are willing to walk it with you, willing to be a crutch when you fall hard, willing to lend a helping hand or a listening ear, and willing to be a friend.

And don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, because the most rewarding friendships I’ve made are the ones that have sprouted out of my openness. Don’t be afraid to open yourself up, because you are braver than you believe. Some days you may feel small, but you are big enough–big enough to make a difference, big enough to matter, big enough to succeed.

Game of Comparisons

Note: I wrote this piece in January, and I’ve wanted to share it so many times since then, but I’ve never found the courage. I’ve shared most of my story, but I haven’t shared all of it (except in hint form). And I believe that now is the time to share all of it, because over the last 6 months I have worked so hard to overcome this problem, and I’m pretty sure I have it beat.

Remember that this is a judgment free blog 🙂

 

Game of Comparisons

By, Kaleigh Distaffen

I have never been particularly fond of myself, and my self-esteem has always been relatively low. So, I believed too much, was too over trusting, and was too naïve to know any better. In other words, I believed what people told me I was, I trusted everybody was my friend, and was too naïve to know that I was worth more. It came as no surprise, therefore, when I was sexually assaulted that I believed everything those guys told me.

“You’re not pretty enough. You’re not good enough. You’re worth nothing.”

These words repeated over and over again in my head, never shutting up or slowing down. The Game of Comparisons started, and I lost every time.

She’s pretty; you’re not pretty enough. She’s skinny; you’re not skinny enough.

 Soon I became so full of self-hatred I was virtually incapable of feeling anything else. Every laugh, every smile, every tear was forced out. I felt dead—a human void of emotion is no human at all. In order to feel something, anything at all, I began to cut myself. And every time I cut myself open with the razor of hate, you’re worth nothing echoed in my mind. This routine continued day in and day out for six months. Eventually, cutting wasn’t enough anymore. So I stopped eating.

Well, ok. Technically, that’s not entirely true.

I stopped filling myself up. I started eating less and less, only eating enough to stop my stomach from rumbling. Sometimes, if I completely hated myself, I would skip a meal here and there. The cutting, not eating, and the voices continued for another year and a half. Until one day, I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted to die.

And I almost did. But there was a quiet voice in the back of my head whispering, you are good enough. That tiny voice was enough to give me hope that things could get better.

Over time, I stopped cutting. But I didn’t start eating again. It got worse. The summer before Senior Year, I went two weeks without eating anything but a few crackers every day. Senior Year I didn’t eat lunch: Partly because I was taking too many classes to have a lunch period; mostly because I couldn’t stand the thought of people watching me putting food in my mouth.

If I didn’t like myself, how could I expect anybody else to like me enough to want me to eat?

Graduation came and went, and for the first time in a long time, I almost, kind of, maybe a little, liked myself. I started eating a little bit more than I had before, and was pretty much excited for college.

Until I went to college, that is. It’s funny. College is much like High School, at least my High School. There are the same groups of people—the popular kids, the athletes, the music nerds, the nerds. If I didn’t fit in before, how was I supposed to fit in now? At a College like Roberts, where the number of girls heavily outweighs the number of boys, I have found many more people to compare myself to.

When I walked into Garlock on the first day of classes, I was terrified by the number of people sitting there, talking amongst their groups. I saw many beautiful people. And I wasn’t one of them.

Sitting alone at a table the first day, I was overcome with feelings I hadn’t really felt in a few months. So, I retreated to the library; there among the books, I felt comfortable. Nobody cared how much food I ate, or didn’t eat. Nobody cared that I sat alone, procrastinating on important things, while scribbling away in my notebook.

But the Game of Comparisons continued, and I lost every round, even the ones I didn’t participate in. Only this time, it was different; the voice wasn’t saying “you’re not.” The voice was saying, “I’m not.”

I’m not good enough. I’m not pretty enough. I’m not skinny enough. I’m not ‘insert adjective here’ enough.

And trust me when I say that telling yourself you’re not good enough is a whole lot worse than having someone else tell you. It’s true, you know. You are your own worst critic.

Every day I would look in the mirror, hate what I saw, and would compensate by being someone I’m not. And it was physically and mentally exhausting. Between the not eating and the not being, I was having a really tough time.

But when you spend all your time in the library, among the books and the silence, you have a lot of time for soul searching. Towards the end of November, I was sitting quietly sitting at my table, trying to study when the quiet voice was back. Then, it hit me. I wanted to stand on my chair and tell the world, “I am having some major epiphanies going on up in here.” But, I didn’t. I was in a library, and shouting in the library is highly frowned upon.

So, I went in the bathroom and cried.

Three things hit me that day.

  1. I am capable of so much more. In the battle between Who I Think I Am and Who I Could Be, Who I think I am won every time, because that’s what I let get a hold of me. That’s what feed off my energy. It doesn’t have to be that way.
  2. We are all capable of doing something great. I am, you are, we are all. But, we all have something holding us back.

Every mirror tells me something different. I can tell myself that I’m beautiful over and over again, until I’m blue in the face, but there is an irrevocable flaw ingrained deep into the recesses of my brain that refuses to let me believe it. And even though deep in my soul I know I’m capable of greatness, there is something holding me back. And until I figure out what it is, until I figure out how to overcome it, I am destined to live in my own shadow.

I have figured out what mine is: fear and self-doubt.

3. I decided I shouldn’t spend so much time in the library, because it was making me all emotional (but that will never happen because I love books too much).

Even though I have figured this out, it’s still a struggle. I’m only ‘fine’ 20% of the time, which is good but not great. But it’s a whole heck of a lot better than 10%, which is how I felt before. There are still many days when I don’t want to eat (which is more than I’d like to admit).  Often times, I can eat a little bit every meal; but some days, I don’t like myself enough to force myself to eat (At the time that this post was written, that was the case. However, since I’m Italian, and therefore genetically bred to love food, I have decided that food is too delicious to not eat). 

Sometimes, when I’m sad, hate myself, and don’t want to eat, I look at the lines on my hands. They remind me that I have been stitched together by the master sew-er, and I’ve learned that sometimes, that is enough.

 

 

 

Related Posts:  “Accidental Inheritance”   “Your Body is Not Your Own”  “Testimony 2.0