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

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

Yes, Brandon, but I don’t know how.  

. . .  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He took it all. 

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

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

Wallowing in brokenness worsens the lack of identity.  

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

Aren’t we all? 

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

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

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

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

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

I’m willing and ready.  

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God Friended Me

O Come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide. 

My heart stirred. A quiet voice was speaking to me, go to the altar. Let it out. Let it go. 

Please don’t make me do this, I hesitatingly prayed. I don’t want to be one of ‘those’ people—the hurting, the broken. What must it be like to be unafraid to come forward and kneel and ask for healing, for forgiveness? The truth is, I am one of ‘those’ people. I am hurting; I am broken. I don’t know how to be anything else.  

O Come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide. 

I made my way down to the altar, body shaking, trying to hold back the tears threatening to fill my eyes: I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to exist. I don’t want to be broken anymore. As I kneeled down at the altar, the dam broke: I started sobbing and shaking. I felt people gather around me, one on either side. And then, the pastor said words I never expected to hear, not at this church: I’m feeling God move in this place; those who are able, please come forward to the altar and gather around your brother and sisters. Step into the aisles as we become a family. 

O Come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide.  

It was in that moment that God moved, that the Holy Spirit moved, as people flooded around those kneeling, I felt one of my other pastor’s place his hand on my shoulder. I heard the voices of some of my biggest supporters whispering prayers behind me. And I felt God move. Sometimes I doubt God. Ok, actually a lot of the time I doubt God. But I always manage to find Him in the doubt, moving through me like the wind. Oh, there He is. 

O Come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide.  

Last week, I relapsed. Hard. I cut myself badly enough that it could’ve killed me, should’ve killed me. And I felt guilty. And I felt dirty. And I felt unforgiveable. But God, God met me where I was, kneeling at the altar, tears streaming down my face, my brokenness and shame on display for everybody to see. And He didn’t judge. And He didn’t leave. And He didn’t call me unlovable. He opened His arms and said, Oh, there you are. I’ve been waiting for you. 

O Come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide. 

I felt God move in that place, in the sanctuary with a hundred of my closest friends gathered around me, around us. In that moment, I let it go: the guilt, the anger, the shame. I let the miscarriage go. I handed it over to God, and He whispered, Finally. 

There’s still a lot of work for me to do, things for me to let go of, things for me to hand over to God. I’m codependent. I feel as though my only two choices are self-harm and suicide. There’s so much pain and heartache. But sometimes it’s not about what God’s going to do in your life; it’s about what He’s already done in your life. God trusts you enough to make it through the difficult moments, so He can make beauty out of the ashes. He makes ministry out of misery. He uses broken people to help broken people because we’re all broken in some way.  

He changed my life yesterday. It took five minutes at the altar, kneeling, panicking with, tears streaming down my face. People whispered in my ear, I love you. I’m praying for you. For the first time, I believed them.  

God was felt in that place yesterday.  

As I got up from the altar and started to walk away, I was embraced with so much love by so many people. I have never been more acutely aware of the fact that I’m not doing this alone. We are not doing this alone.  

God friended me yesterday. He’ll friend you too.  

Kneeling at the altar. Crying in your bed. Driving in your car. Walking through the woods. He’ll meet you where you are. He’ll love you as you are. And when you turn your eyes towards Him and surrender your burdens, He’ll say, without judgement, finally.  

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

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

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

I’m healing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I pray.

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

I pray: Lord, help me through this moment.

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

Lunch in an empty office

And still I thought I was ok.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______

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

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

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

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

______

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

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

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

­­­­­­_______

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

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

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

­­­_________

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

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

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

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

It’s Ok to Not Be Ok

Do suicides go to heaven?

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

Do suicides go to heaven?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is this what drowning feels like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s ok not to be ok.

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

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

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

Do suicides go to heaven?

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

Dying is easy. Living is hard.

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

Do suicides go to heaven?

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

The Trauma Tree

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

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

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

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

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

At least I have.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m valid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Sorry: A Reflection on 10 Years

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

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

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

And I’m terrified of being loved.

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

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

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

I had a miscarriage, and I feel ashamed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if

What if

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

Sorry for telling you; sorry for not.

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

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

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

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

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry..

I’m sorry…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, I’m stubborn. And I’m scared:

scared of living.

scared of loving.

scared of being loved.

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

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

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

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

Not alone.

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

Many friends make light work.

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

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

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

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

And to me, that is inspiring.”

This is real. This is raw.

This is me.

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

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

I’m working on so many things.

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

I can’t hide in the dark forever.

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

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

But I’m not going to stop living.

stop loving.

stop being who I am.

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

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

So I’m sorry.

But I’m also not.

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

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

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

Sorry it took me so long to catch up.

62 Degrees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know. I’m sorry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Life Beyond: the Psych ER and My Faith

Those of you who have read my blog over the past few months, or even the past few years, know that this is a place where I am open and honest because sometimes I have a hard time doing that in real-life. But lately, I’ve tried this new approach where I’m open and honest, telling people my real truths–the truths I tried for so long to hide–engaging in the tough conversations where I’m raw, exposing my broken and hurting soul to those around me.

You see, four months ago, I ended up driving myself to the Psych ER because all I wanted to do was die. I saw the exit sign on the road directly in front of me, blinking green as in “GO.” And I wanted so badly to take it: the road not taken.

I didn’t take the road not taken, and that has made all the difference. Instead, I took the road that lead me to get help–a road that has been filled with panic attacks and flashbacks and broken relationships and great new ones. It’s a road that took me to the parking garage of the hospital I was born in, where I promptly had a 25-minute long panic attack in my car and then stood looking out over the concrete wall, trying to convince myself not to jump five floors down.

It’s a road that has lead me to where I am now: trying my best.

I’m trying my best. I’m going to group therapy once a week and individual therapy every 10-14 days. I was put on medication for the depression and the anxiety and the panic and the suicidal thoughts, and when the first medication made me too tired during the day to function if taken at night and too nauseous to eat if taken in the morning, I got put on another, and I haven’t really slept in a week, so I have a medication for that, too–and if I have a panic attack, it helps with those also–it’s a kill two birds with one stone type of deal. Which is helpful because I’m big on multitasking.

But the medication and the double therapy and the heart-to-heart raw moments haven’t fixed me. If anything, it’s made me more aware of my pain and the demons I battle. It has to hurt before it gets better. And I am trying my best to get better, or at least make all of this more manageable.

But, I have to be honest, friends, there are days when I wake up, and the first thought that comes screaming into my head with a screeching halt is: Are you kidding me with this? I woke up again? I have to keep living? And then I instantly feel ashamed for thinking that thought because there are so many people out there who didn’t get a second chance, and I should be grateful for this life I’ve been given.

I am. I am. I am. I am grateful. But I’m also living with depression and anxiety and suicidal thoughts, and sometimes I’m at the gym and sit on a bench for longer than I actually worked out because my thoughts are so bad, I don’t trust myself to drive. And sometimes, I think to myself I wish someone would just shoot me. Or, I wish someone would come up behind me and slit my throat. Because then I could die without being blamed.

I wish I knew how to explain to all of you that I don’t actually want to die, I just want relief: relief from the voices screaming in my head that I am not good enough; relief from the pain and the tears and the sleepless nights; relief from the panic that sets in; relief from what’s going on inside my head. Because mental illnesses are so exhausting, and I’m so very tired.

. . .

I got an email yesterday from someone who was referred to my blog by a friend of theirs asking me how I can still believe in a loving God despite all that’s happened to me.

I responded: for the longest time, I didn’t. All the way through high school and into college, I doubted. But, if anything, these last six months have made my faith stronger. You see, if God wasn’t real, I wouldn’t be here right now. The night I attempted suicide, He saved me from myself. I never ever would have found the strength to ask for help, to be so honest and open and raw and real about what’s been going on in my life these last few months if I didn’t have faith. Believing in hope when all seems hopeless takes tremendous faith. I believe in God because He’s strong when I am weak. I believe in God because He helps me through the days when I can stand. He holds it together when I feel like I’m going to fall apart.

That’s why I believe–why I still believe that God is good–despite, or maybe in spite of, my brokenness.

I believe because I have no choice. And honestly, I’m not sure I’d be a Christian today if it weren’t for the battles I’ve faced. My doubt has made my faith stronger. My struggles have made hope that much more beautiful.

You see, I’m not sure I’d be a Christian today if it weren’t for what I’ve been through–if I wasn’t raped, if I didn’t develop an eating disorder and start to self-harm, if I didn’t live with depression and anxiety and suicidal thoughts. (But don’t you dare quote “Everything happens for a reason” to me because I will not let you diminish how terrible and hurtful what happened to me was.)

You see, I was hurt by the church and Christianity in general. I don’t think it was on purpose, or that they even knew they were doing it. But I grew up being told, and subsequently believing, that good Christians lead good lives. Good things happen to good people; bad things happen to bad people. If I prayed, God would grant me what I asked.

So when bad things happened, I believed it was my fault. I wondered what I did wrong? Was I a bad Christian? Did I not pray enough, read my Bible enough, love God enough? Did God not love me enough?

Being raped shattered me, and when I tried to pick up the pieces, I had nothing to hold them together with. If I didn’t have God, I didn’t have anything. So, I entered into a relationship I definitely should not have been in–one that was emotionally abusive (probably on both sides), one that gave me panic attacks over and over and over again because I just didn’t want to be touched, ok? Didn’t want to be poked in the sides, and definitely didn’t want to be snuck up on from behind. And because I no longer believed God loved me, I tried to frame my identity around those around me–putting all my eggs in very holey baskets, instead of the Holy Basket. For so long, I had no idea who I was.

Sometimes, I still don’t. But I’m trying my best to figure it out. I’m learning to deal with my thoughts and feelings, not push them aside. Because for so long, I kept everything pushed down and bottled up, not letting myself feel the hurt and the pain, not allowing myself to feel, deal, and heal. Until six months ago when I reached my breaking point, culminating in a flashback at the gym (Notice how everything happens at the gym? Maybe I should stop going).

I’m going to be honest, guys. These last few months have been the toughest of my life–filled with panic attacks and sleepless nights and countless thoughts of ending it all.

But, here’s the thing: I’ve also cracked more jokes in the last few months than I have in my entire life. Sometimes I may not feel like there’s a lot of hope, but I know there is as long as I’m still laughing.

If you can’t laugh at where you are in life, it’s like you’ve admitted that there’s no hope of anything getting better. And I refuse to believe that life won’t get better.

I’ll never be normal. I’ll probably never not struggle with Major Depression, General Anxiety, Social Anxiety, PTSD, and suicidal thoughts. But I have hope. So much hope.

Because life is about embracing the crazy, embracing your weakness, giving a name to the darkest parts of yourself. I’ve done that, and I’m letting God–with the help of therapy and medication–help me manage the rest.

Because my faith is stronger now than it ever was, than it ever has been. It has to be if I want to keep living. And I do. I do want to keep living. Because life is so beautiful and laughter is so precious and there are so many wonderful conversations out there to have.

And I want to see a Christianity where we can have the tough conversations. I want to see a Church where we can share our stories, shed light on our dark, dreary places because things left in the dark dreary places tend to be ruined. And I don’t want people to feel ruined.

Because sometimes I do. Somedays I feel ruined. Somedays I feel like there’s no hope. But I want everybody to know that there is always that whisper in the back of my head, the whisper that comes on my hardest nights, that carries me through the tough places: You are my Child, and you’ll be ok. I’ve got this.

I want a Christianity that isn’t perfect because life isn’t perfect. I want a Church that isn’t afraid to be real and raw and honest. Because I have to be in order to carpe each diem. I have to be to survive.

And I think we all occasionally need to be reminded that there are people out there who understand our dark places. We need those willing to help us shed some light: to feel, to deal, to heal.

What I Wish I Could Say

Preface: I’ve been trying to write these thoughts down for a while now, but often times the hardest part of being a writer is trying to figure out how to best tell the story. And I don’t know if this is the best way to tell this story; I don’t know that there ever is a “best way” because, in the search for perfection, we all fall short. I’m telling it anyway because I have to. It’s a compulsion of mine: I want to be heard, and maybe with being heard I can give a voice to those who feel like they don’t have one. Depression, anxiety, and mental illnesses in general steal so much, and sometimes they steal our voices. And I refuse to let them steal mine. What is below are bits and pieces from conversations I have had with my therapist over the last few weeks, clipped together in a way that’s orderly and coherent–unlike what’s going on in my head, unlike my conversations with her. Therapy is wonderful on so many levels: it’s made me more observant of my own behaviors, allowed space for me to be self-reflective, to ask the tough questions. But it’s also made me feel worse because now I’m talking about what I’m feeling and the thoughts in my head instead of just ignoring them. And maybe, by sharing this, it will help someone else.

I went out and looked at the stars last night: climbing out of bed at one in the morning, a blanket wrapped around me as tightly as possible, tiptoeing down the stairs, trying to avoid the squeaky spots, opening and closing the kitchen door as quietly as possible to avoid detection. I do this a lot: look at the stars, especially when I’m panicky, anxious, on edge. There’s a beauty about them, illuminating the sky to make it appears as though it’s 50 different shades of grey as they dance around the wispy clouds. Unfortunately, there’s too much light pollution where I live to get the full effect of their beauty, but it’s enough.

I do a lot of the other thing too: tiptoeing around, walking as close to walls as possible to avoid detection, making myself smaller–hoping to take up less space both physically and metaphorically. Maybe if I pretend I’m invisible, I’ll actually become invisible; invalidating myself and my feelings to hopefully leave fewer footprints behind.

It’s not that I don’t want to make an impact on the world. I do. But there’s this constant fear in the back of my head that I won’t make it out of this cycle; I’ve been down this spiral so many times, and maybe this is the time I won’t make it back up. So, maybe, if I pull away, stop talking to people, stop letting people in, they won’t be affected by my absence as much. Erasing myself from their lives because it’s harder to miss someone if they never existed in the first place.

I feel like people have given up on me–we can’t fix what’s going on, so we might as well not bother doing anything. Even though there are so many things people can do if they just ask the right question: what do you need?

But maybe it’s not other people who have given up on me; maybe it’s me who has given up on myself.

I’ve been broken for so long, been trying to pick up the pieces, and I keep dropping them. Maybe I think there’s no hope left for me because I’ve felt hopeless for so long. Because the anxiety and the depression keep coming back, and every time they come back, they become harder and harder to beat. And I’ve written so many suicide notes over the last four months, I’ve lost track. And I’m trying my hardest to stay alive; I’m doing all I can–going to the store, having coffee with friends, writing as much as I can, leaving my house, going to the gym–but this unbridled panic won’t go away. I can’t leave my house without my anxiety shooting sky high, can’t go to the gym or the store without having a panic attack, can’t have a panic attack without it being accompanied by suicidal urges.

But the point is that you’re trying to stay alive. Your sense of self-preservation is kicking in. 

But what if my self-preservation isn’t enough to stop the thoughts in my head from taking over? Like I can eat food and not self-harm and go to the gym, but what’s the point if I can barely make it through a workout without feeling like the world’s going to collapse around me? What’s the point if I don’t feel safe anywhere, not even in my own home or my own head? If I feel this hopeless right now when I’m doing everything right, what happens when something goes wrong?

You handle that when you get to that. One step at a time. 

My favorite mixed idiom to use is: I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it. My brain has always raced to the finish, trying to think up every possible “what if” that could ever happen, trying to solve problems that probably won’t ever happen. I talk myself out of doing more things than I talk myself into doing. But the point is: I don’t feel safe. And maybe I should have given up a long time ago.

But you didn’t. You reached out. You got help. You checked yourself into the ER the last time you felt suicidal.

It wasn’t the last time. It wasn’t even the worst time recently. I’ve thought about checking myself in again. There have been nights, many nights, where I’ve thought I wouldn’t make it through, where I should’ve asked for help, and I didn’t. I don’t want to inconvenience anybody, be a burden to anybody, which goes back to the walking as close to the walls as possible, not making eye contact. I don’t want them to see me the way I see myself.

How do you see yourself?

I feel like the worst person in the world. Even though I know it’s not true. I’m afraid to let people in, to tell them what’s going on in my life, the thoughts in my head because I don’t want them to hate me the way I hate myself. Which is ridiculous because I know that what’s going on in my head are lies and that if I keep things to myself, they will eat me alive. But I’m afraid people will give up on me because “I’m too far gone, too broken, not worth enough.”

I think those things about myself all the time, feeding off the lies told to me by the people who broke me. And I feel shame and guilt for thinking those things, for feeling like I deserved what happened to me, that it’s all my fault. Some of the time, I still feel shame and guilt for what happened to me.

I know it’s not my fault, and that nothing gone in my head is rational, but I don’t know how to tell people what I feel without sounding crazy. Maybe I am.

But maybe it’s the world that’s crazy, maybe it’s the world that’s broken, and maybe I just feel that chaos and brokenness more because I’m more sensitive: I feel what people around me feel. So not only do I feel what I’m feeling and my own hurt, but I feel what they’re feeling and carry their hurts with me. And that’s a lot of hurt for one person.

It is a lot of hurt for one person. So how do you deal?

 I don’t deal, not always. I used to block out what I was feeling until I became numb, and then I would self-harm to feel something, anything. Physical pain is easier to fix than emotional pain. And now I write, and sometimes I still self-harm. But I’m learning to deal.

After my dad left the ER, one of the other patients came and sat with me as I slept, not in a creepy way, but in a “We’re all in this together. Pretty girls with sad eyes shouldn’t be alone here.”

But maybe it’s more than pretty girls with sad eyes who shouldn’t be alone. Maybe none of us should be alone. We should know that we have people in our court supporting and encouraging us, praying for us and loving us.

And right now, I’m drowning. Trying to tread water as I keep my head above the waves, but I’m oh so tired. I’m oh so weak.

But you’re recognizing your weaknesses, and you’ve given a name to them.

That’s all any of us can do, really. And right now, I’m having panic attacks and suicidal urges, and I’m feeling hopeless and like I can’t find my way out, and that’s ok. It’s ok to feel these things, to admit that I’m struggling, to admit that my life isn’t perfect. And the only thing I can do is what I’m currently doing: trying to stay alive despite what the thoughts in my head are telling me, despite what I’m feeling.

Because sometimes, when my soul is heavy, when the depression and anxiety are too much, I look at the stars. The same God who painted the night sky in all of its shining glory created me, and that is enough.