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.

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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.

Jack, Death, and What I’ve Learned

One of my classmates died this week.

I’m still trying to figure out how to process this sudden, heart-wrenching loss. It’s hit me pretty hard—harder than I thought it would because we weren’t particularly close. Once upon a time, sure; maybe in Elementary school–when there are approximately 35 kids in your fifth grade class, everybody tends to be at least semi-friends with everybody else. And then Middle School happens, and suddenly you are introduced to 400-and-something other kids your age, and the relationships between the original 35 become weaker and weaker because there are new people, new relationships. So the semi-friendship between him and I became non-existent.

But then High school happened. And I began to see more of him because we were in the same classes. Our “once-weres” became our “are nows.”

From Kindergarten to BC Calc our Senior Year of High School, I knew him. For thirteen years of schooling, plus the four years since: seventeen years he’s been somebody that’s orbited around the edge of my world.

So, no, we weren’t close. But, I guess when you’ve known someone for seventeen years of your life, losing that someone can be painful.

That someone’s name is Jack. And let me tell you, he was one of the smartest, yet, most humble people I’ve ever known.

Even in Kindergarten, I knew he was probably one of, if not, THE, smartest person in the class. He was the pudgy kid with glasses, with a big brain and an insatiable hunger for knowledge. He asked all the right questions, and never made any one feel stupid for not knowing something. He helped those who needed help, and he worked with those who didn’t need help. And it was always a race to see if anyone could finish their classwork before Jack did. When you did, you felt like the second smartest person in the room. (I don’t know if he ever knew people raced him to complete their work, but I like to imagine he did, and that maybe he sometimes let people win—that’s the kind of person he was.)

And as he matured, he grew into his pudge, but his big brain and insatiable hunger never disappeared. I remember so many classes in High school where he would get into mini debates with teachers about themes in the books we were reading in English, the ethics of an idea in Economics, what really caused an event in History, or even the best way to solve a problem in Calculus.

Speaking of calculus, he was probably the biggest reason I passed that class because when I would tell him I didn’t understand a problem, he would explain it to me in a simpler way.

He pushed everybody around him to be better, to work harder, to never grow tired of learning. He was always good for a laugh, a witty comment, encouragement, and a simpler explanation.

He was the most intellectually curious person I’ve ever meet. And everybody knew he was going to do great things with his life, and he did. He did so many wonderful things in the time he was here on earth.

It’s painful to know that there are so many things he’ll never get to accomplish, and my world’s been a little bit darker these last few days, as are so many other worlds as well I am sure. But in the midst of this darkness, there’s been some light. My Facebook has been flooded with tributes to Jack by so many people who knew him: family, high school classmates, college classmates, people he’d met along the way. And it’s been amazing to see that the Jack to one person was the same Jack to another person; despite the relationship, he treated everybody the same way. The people who knew him better than I have so many of the same thoughts about him. He was so true to himself. He was humble. He made sure others were encouraged in difficult time. He helped others understand difficult things.

Death is difficult to understand.

Death is cruel because the world keeps on spinning even in the midst of tragedy. In a heartbeat, so many people’s lives are changed, but the world doesn’t stop. Death is cruel because it’s universal. It happens to everybody, and it’s not fair.

Grief has this way of making us nostalgic for memories we thought we had forgotten. It has a way of making us nostalgic for the people and places of our past.

When I heard the news, I went back through all my old Elementary school yearbooks, reminiscing on the good times and the bad times, wanting so much to relive—in a way—what once was, wondering what the relationships of the original 35 would be like now if our lives had played out differently.

But grief also has a way of making us nostalgic for the future. It has this way of making us do things differently—how am I going to live now that this has occurred? Am I going to live life differently? Can I do it long-term?

I don’t know any of the answers to so many questions. But I’m going to keep asking them anyway.

Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that questions are the way to learn more about this world.

I think we all have to ask more questions like Jack did because the only way to change the world is by learning about it.

The only way we can change our lives is by dreaming big and following our dreams.

Jack followed his dreams. He would want everybody (even those he didn’t know) to follow theirs.

 

 

 

 

There’s a Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rape Joke

“Hey, did you hear the one about the girl who got raped?”

The punchline is that she was 13 years old.

The punchline is that he slammed her locker shut every day because he liked her.

The punchline is that when he asked her out, she said, “No.”

The punchline is that he decided to take matters into his own hands, along with the hands of four of his closest friends, to show her what she would be missing.

After it was over, the punchline tried not to make eye contact with her reflection in the bathroom mirror. She tried to clean herself off and hide the bruises shaped like hands and teeth as best as she could. She exited the bathroom, walked down the hall of the deserted middle school, opened her locker (half expecting it to be slammed shut immediately, and when it wasn’t, breathed a sigh of relief). She exited the building, lonely footsteps echoing behind her, got into her dad’s car, and pretended it didn’t happen—everything was fine.

The rape joke is that he sat behind her in English class. His breath on her neck was the only thing she could focus on, making it very hard to concentrate on whatever work of art they read that last month of class, especially that first one: that poem by Emily Dickinson, “My life is like a loaded gun.” 7 years later, she thought it would be fun to take an Emily Dickinson class. She’d be fine. And she was, until that poem when she found herself transported back to that moment.

The rape joke is that her professor asked her what she thought it was a metaphor for. She didn’t know how to say she thought about all the memories this poem brought back, how it could be a metaphor for all of that. “I think it’s just about a loaded gun,” she said.

The rape joke is the way he didn’t threaten her, at least not really. He just said, “no one will believe you.”

The rape joke is that earlier that year, she was taught in Health class how to not get raped. Fat lot of good that lesson did her: she wasn’t drunk; she wasn’t wearing revealing clothes; she wasn’t outside, at night, alone.

The rape joke is that his locker was right next to hers because life likes cruel irony and alphabetical order is the most convenient way to organize everybody (a terrible thing really), and he still slammed her locker shut every day.

The rape joke is that on the last day of school, when they both opened their lockers at the same time, he didn’t slam hers shut. Instead, he whispered in her ear, “At least I didn’t get you pregnant.” And then he dared to smirk: an insult to injury, really. Maybe if you had, people would believe me when I’m ready to tell, when I’m ready to stop pretending this didn’t happen, she thought to herself. Which is a terrible thing to think, but when you’re 13, you sometimes think terrible things.

The rape joke is that the first time she told somebody who wasn’t a close friend or family, they responded, “Don’t feel bad. It could’ve happened to anybody.” Translation: Lucky her; close call, everyone else who’s last name is similar.

The rape joke is that a few years later, she had to break up with her boyfriend because of this joke. Because every time he put his arm around her, she was transported back to that bathroom. And even though he knew what had happened, he didn’t understand she needed space. But she blamed herself really for believing she could be loved in the first place.

For the longest time, she thought she was going crazy. And she was.

No offense.

No offense (that it happened to her).

No offense (that she buried the pain so deep, it took cutting her skin open to feel anything).

No offense (that the words said would echo in her mind for years to come: Bitch. Slut. You’ll never be loved. You don’t have to cut hard enough to leave a scar in order to draw blood).

No offense (that she went crazy, that it took her years to find her voice again but eventually she found it when she started writing about monsters and darkness, caves and loneliness).

No offense (it took a long time for her to forgive).

No offense (it’s just a joke).

The punchline is that she’s not the only one this has happened to. Among her acquaintance group, she knows of at least six others. That number grows every year, standing in solidarity, alone together.

The punchline is that she knows guys this has happened to. Nobody believes them, either.

The punchline is that we have to feel pain to become stronger, but does it have to hurt this bad?

The punchline is that our past doesn’t define us, but it does help make us who we are today.

But no offense.

The rape joke is funny because the punchline is me.

The punchline is at least I was pretty enough for it happen to me, but then how come sometimes it makes me feel so ugly?

The punchline is that this joke doesn’t define who I am.

“Come on. Lighten up. It was just a joke.”

If it’s just a joke, shouldn’t I be laughing?

It took me years to really truly laugh again.

I’m finally laughing again.

But not at this because nothing about this is funny, especially when it happens to you.

 So, yeah. I’ve heard the one about the Girl who got raped.

Have you? 

Recovery: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

(a continuation of my last blog post, “Bear Hugs From God”)

One of the biggest problems I have as both a reader and a writer is romanticizing things that should not be romanticized. I write poetry and use metaphors to try and make sense of my feelings, without actually acknowledging my feelings. It’s not really even that, though. What it really is, is that I’ve written about my past so many times—I’ve tried to lessen the pain by using metaphors—that I’ve forgotten to write about my present and my future.

My past isn’t beautiful. What I’ve been through isn’t beautiful.

There’s nothing beautiful about rape, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, and suicide attempts.

What’s beautiful is the fact that I’m still here. I’m still fighting. What’s beautiful is God’s grace—his mercy.

But, if you know me and my story, you already know all of that.

What’s beautiful is where I am now, and where I will tomorrow and 5, 10, 15 years from now.

What’s beautiful is recovery and healing, but even those aren’t always beautiful.

Sometimes recovery means hospital stays and feeding tubes and uncomfortable conversations.

Sometimes recovery means mending bridges you burned, going back to the people you’ve hurt with your tail between your legs to say, “I’m sorry.” It’s knowing that while you were hurting, you may have hurt others, too.

Sometimes recovery is learning that total healing doesn’t always come on this side of life. It’s having to be ok with that.

Sometimes recovery is being angry, and then sad, and then angry again. It’s about learning to use those feelings to motivate you to live every day, not just survive every day.

Sometimes recovery means grasping for straws, hoping that you can find one to hold on to. If you can find one reason to stay alive, no matter how small, it makes day-to-day life so much easier.

Sometimes recovery means doing things you don’t want to do. It’s like my sister talking about the Super Bowl: “If the Patriots and Panthers both make it, I’ll cheer for the Panthers, but I won’t be happy about it.”

I’ll ask for help if I need it, but I won’t be happy about it.

Sometimes recovery means not being afraid to fail and having faith that God knows what he’s doing. You know like Peter. “Ok, God. You called me out upon the waters, but I sunk. Now what?” And God replies, “Have some faith.” Oh.

Sometimes recovery is a bear hug from God, but often times it’s more like Him carrying you while you’re kicking and screaming, “But I want to.” You know like how a parents tells a child not to touch the stove because it will burn them, but the child does it anyway? And then they get burned. Or how a child throws a tantrum in a store because mom won’t buy them candy, and then when they get home, they’re put in time-out. It’s sort of like that—learning from your mistakes.

Like you’re standing on a bridge, and God says, “Don’t you dare jump.” But you do anyway. And then of course you hurt yourself. And God picks you up, wraps your ankle, and says, “What did I tell you? This time you just sprained your ankle, but next time, it could be worse. Don’t do that again.” But of course you do it again, just to make sure gravity works. And God keeps saving you over and over and over again. He doesn’t have to, but He does.

Sometimes recovery means remembering how great God’s love, grace, and mercy are. It means being grateful because you are so unworthy of any of it.

Sometimes recovery is trying so hard not to revert to old habits. Repeat after me: “I will eat today. I will not pick up that razor. I am beautiful.”

Last night, I was angry—don’t ask me why because I have no idea—and I was being mean to myself. I knew that if I went to bed with those feelings, it would lead to a terrible today, and a possible relapse. So, I went to my happy corner: the corner of my room, under my bed, next to my desk, in front of my bookcase where I have blankets and stuffed animals. And I curled up there, and I wrote for a while, and then read Edgar Allan Poe for a while.

After about an hour of this, God and I had a conversation. The exact details don’t really matter. But it played out like a parent talking to a child:

“Do you know why I put you in time-out?”

“Yes. I was angry and being mean.”

“Correct. And you’re not angry anymore?”

“No, I’m not.”

“And you promise not to be mean?”

“I’ll try my best.”

“That’s all I ask. You can get up now.”

Sometimes recovery is about learning how to keep bad feelings in yesterday to make for a better today and tomorrow.

Yesterday, I was angry.

Today, I am content. Today, I am “Carpe Diem”ing. Today, I will do my best to prepare for a better tomorrow.

I Didn’t Know I Had an Eating Disorder

This picture popped up on my Facebook timeline a few days ago, with a note from Facebook that read: This memory happened four years ago. Share it with your friends!

I thought to myself, “Oh, I’ll share it with my friends all right, but not like this.” So I’m sharing it now, in this form, because there is so much to say about this picture, and I don’t really know where to begin.

I don’t know where to begin, and what I didn’t know then was that I had an eating disorder.

And now I bet you’re wondering how I didn’t know I had an eating disorder.

It’s easy not to know you have something when you know nothing about it, let alone talked about it.

Eating disorders weren’t really disorders as much as they were taboos, the elephant in the room no one talked about. Maybe if we ignore it, it will go away.

Problems don’t usually go away by ignoring them (no matter how long college students ignore their pile of assignments to be done).

Not talking about eating disorders at home is one thing, but not talking about them at school is another and potentially dangerous thing.

Yes, I had the mandatory “unit” on them, but I’m using that term lightly because we spent about five minutes discussing the differences between Anorexia and Bulimia: starving and barfing.

I didn’t think I had an eating disorder because at the time I didn’t describe what I was doing as starving. I was limiting, counting, stressing about the number of calories and the number of pounds. I didn’t think there was anything wrong (which is a classic sign of Anorexia, but they don’t teach you that in school).

I didn’t think anything was wrong until I was in the Emergency room, waiting to be admitted for my appendectomy, and I overheard a conversation my doctor was having on the phone:

I have a 17-year-old anorexic female presenting with appendicitis.

I didn’t think anything was wrong until I heard that one word that hit me like a ton of bricks in the chest, and I wasn’t sure what hurt worse: the weight of that word or the inflamed appendix.

Anorexia.

The shame of being labelled as an Anorexic was enough to keep from talking about it for another year. I didn’t want to be labelled as the “Girl with Anorexia.” People can’t identify you as something if you keep yourself hidden.

School teaches you a lot of useful information: basic math, how to be literate, the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.

It also doesn’t teach you things that could be useful: how to balance a checkbook, how to write a resume and cover letter, how to tell if you have an Eating Disorder

Society talks a lot about the problems occurring today: racial tensions, the Middle East, Drought.

It’s only recently that society has begun to talk about the way media affects adolescents.

I didn’t know I had an eating disorder because I was never taught about how complex they are.

What I was doing didn’t fit the definition given to me, and so I wasn’t anorexic, even though I was.

School didn’t teach me how to deal with my eating disorder, and because I refused to tell anybody for fear of being labelled, I had to deal with it on my own.

School didn’t teach me how complex eating disorders are. Instead, it provided me with simple, one-word definitions that I didn’t even fit.  I didn’t know I had an eating disorder because I didn’t fit the simple definition.

School didn’t teach me about the mental components of eating disorders, just the physical. I didn’t know I had an eating disorder because, for me, it was just as much mental as it was physical.

School didn’t teach me about how hard the recovery process was going to be. It didn’t teach me about how much eating was going to hurt, physically and mentally. It didn’t teach me about how much my self-esteem would be lowered with each bite I took.

School didn’t teach me about how to deal with the effects of this 5-year battle. I can’t skip a meal because habits are hard to break, and the chances of relapsing are higher than I’d like to admit. My hands are cold more often than not. I have permanent dark circles under my eyes, and my eyes seem to be sunk in a little too far in my face. There are stretch marks all over my body from the weight gain during recovery.

These are things I’m coming to terms with. Some days I’m ok; some days, I’m not.

I didn’t know I had an eating disorder because society wasn’t talking about them in the right way.

We’re getting better because now we’re acknowledging the complexities of eating disorders: they overlap, there are many than two kinds, they can affect anybody and everybody: girls, boys, chubby, skinny.

I didn’t know I had an eating disorder. I didn’t know how to talk about my eating disorder. I didn’t know how common they are, how many people I know who had, or still have, one.

But now I do.

And I’m making the most of everything I now know.

For more information on eating disorders, and for help for you or someone you know, visit: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

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)

In which I’m open and honest about my eating disorder

“People with eating disorders are so strong” – actual words that came out of an actual person’s mouth.

Wait, what? It’s 2015, and we still have to talk about this? Being me, I couldn’t keep quiet:

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I love food way too much to not eat.”

“I do, too. But that didn’t stop me.”

She had nothing to say after that.

But I did.  I do. I have so many things to say. And I don’t really know how to start, so I guess I’ll just tell you my story. I’ll be open and honest because even though I’ve talked about it, I’ve never really talked about it.

And now is as good a time as ever, perhaps the best: I’ve heard young people close to me make comments that I cannot ignore. It’s time to tell you my story, tell you about my fight against Anorexia, and maybe, in the process, I’ll help destigmatize eating disorders. We, as a society, don’t do a good job talking to our children about eating disorders, but that’s beginning to change.

It’s time to put a personal face on Anorexia.

My name is Kaleigh Distaffen. I’m 20 years old, and this is my story.

I like to think my eating disorder started after my sexual assault. It’s easier that way. It’s easier to blame the root of all your problems on a single event. However, looking back, my sexual assault made my eating disorder worse; it didn’t start my fight with Anorexia.

Puberty did.

It started in 6th grade, Middle School, the nightmarish years of every child. It started when I noticed the changes occurring with my body didn’t match what society was telling me was beautiful. And I just couldn’t accept that.

I thought being beautiful was the most important thing, and I would do anything to achieve the standards of beauty society put before me.

It started with skipping a meal or two here or there. Putting less food on my plate and eating a smaller amount was easy when I ate “barely enough to keep a bird alive” to being with.

All through Middle School I did this: buying school lunches and then not eating them; throwing away money like I threw away calories, not caring about the consequences, not caring about the effects on other people.

And then, at the end of 8th grade, I was sexually assaulted. And everything changed. No longer was not eating connected with being beautiful, not eating was connected with being somebody else. If I could be somebody, anybody else, I wouldn’t have to remember what happened.

They say muscles have memory. You can ride a bike after years of not riding one because your muscles remember how to do it. You can type without looking at the keyboard because your fingers remember the placement of each key.

I tried to starve my muscles away hoping they’d forget the feeling of unwanted touch on my skin. It didn’t work.

It started with skipping a meal here and there, picking and nibbling at smaller and smaller amounts of food. It escalated to not eating anything but a few crackers for weeks at a time.

Ninth grade is a terrible year for everyone, but it was especially terrible for me. After having the summer away from my assaulters, I was thrust back into an environment where I encountered them every day. And, on top of all that, I started to get hips (Gasp)! And breasts (double gasp). That was the moment I knew I’d never be the tall, skinny super model society wanted me to be.

And everywhere I looked I was reminded of what happened. I couldn’t look in the mirror without hating what I saw. So, I skipped meals like an atheist skips church: trying to starve away the memories.

Things food wise started to get better in tenth and eleventh grade: I started taking AP classes, which means I was never in the same class with any of the guys I avoided at all costs. It wasn’t perfect. I never ate three meals a day; I tried to kill myself (which is a totally different, but not unrelated story, but which can be read about in so many posts on this blog).

I wasn’t eating three meals a day, but I was eating all the food I took, which wasn’t much, but it was a start.

During my Senior Year of High School is when my eating disorder became just that: a disorder that caused order to become chaos. I’ve never dealt well with chaos. My life felt like it was spinning out of control, so I tried to control what I could. I could control the amount of food going into my mouth, and so I did. I meticulously counted calories. I started eating less and less and less. My schedule was perfect: I woke up too late to grab breakfast, so breakfast was usually a granola bar grabbed from the kitchen. I was taking too many classes to have a scheduled lunch, so I grabbed lunch (either snack bars from my locker or something from the cafeteria). The food I bought (which wasn’t much) was thrown away. The food I grabbed from my locker went back.

My locker became a storage facility for all the calories I didn’t feel worthy enough of eating; I gave it away to my friends who needed it more than me.

I swore when I went to college that I’d do better. I’d eat. I’d have a clean slate. I would not worry about others judging when I ate. I would forget the fact that with every bite I put in my mouth, I’d feel less and less secure and more and more judged by those around me.

But it didn’t happen. I walked into my campus dining hall on the first day of classes my freshman year, and then I immediately walked out.

There were so many pretty faces, and I wasn’t one of them.

I can’t tell you when things began to change, but I first noticed a change about two years ago. I was exhausted all the time: physically and mentally. Between the not being and the not eating, I was having a hard time. I didn’t wake up one day and decide to start eating. And I don’t know why I had the sudden change of mind. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide I was worth enough to eat. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide I was beautiful. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide my life was back in control, because it’s not. I don’t have my life controlled. At all.

Every day is still a battle: a battle to get out of bed, a battle to put food in my mouth, a battle to not hole myself up somewhere. But I try my best to do what I can to live. Life is not about surviving; it’s about thriving. I was barely surviving for so long, I want to thrive.

I’m trying to do just that. I still compare myself to others, but I have to not let it affect me: if I start to get anxious about the way I look, I’ll worry about eating. Skipping even one meal is super dangerous for people like me: Recovering Anorexics with a love-hate relationship with food.

I’m not sure how to end this story because it’s not quite over yet. It’s still a work in progress, but I’ve come farther than I ever thought I could. And that’s something to celebrate.

I never thought Anorexia would happen to me. Italians are genetically bred to love food, and I am no exception. However, my love of food was not strong enough to overcome my hatred for myself.

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The picture on the left is from the end of my freshman year of high school (age 14) when my eating disorder was at (one of) its worst. The picture on the right is from last year, end of junior year of college (age 19).

I may not be society’s idea of beautiful, but that’s not stopping my beauty from existing.

I’m definitely 5000x happier in the second picture than I am in the first picture. I choose happiness over being Anorexic.

There’s nothing strong about having an eating disorder. True strength is found in overcoming it.

(if you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, get help.)

Is Happiness Inherited?: The Fault in Our Happy Gene

When was the first moment you realized you were different? Was it in 6th grade when you cried so hard about going to school, you made yourself sick, and your dad let you stay home because giving up was easier than fighting? Was it in Kindergarten when your teacher called your parents asking if you had an ‘attitude problem,’ and your parents had to respond that, no, you did not have an attitude problem, you just didn’t like to talk?

I’ve always thought I was depressed because I was sexually assaulted, but now I think that maybe I’ve always been depressed in a way. Having something to blame it on is easier than admitting we have a fault in our genes. Are we born depressed? Is there a fault in our ‘happiness Gene’ that makes us predisposed to Depression? Or, do we somehow grow to be depressed along the way?

When I was in Elementary school, my parents sent me to a counselor because I didn’t talk to people, not even my relatives. Before my 1st sister was born, while I was the only grandchild on my Mother’s side, I would point to what I wanted; if I wanted milk, I would grab someone’s hand, drag them to the kitchen, and point. I knew how to talk; I just didn’t. My parents taught me sign language so I could communicate from my High Chair: ‘more, food, drink, down, please.’

After Sister 1, and especially after Sister 2, I started talking a little, but I still didn’t know how to ask for what I wanted. I would set up a Board game on my Grandparents’ table and just sit there, waiting for someone to ask if I wanted to play a game. And then I would nod, and all would be right with the world.

So my parents and my doctor sent me to a counselor to help me out of my shell. But the thing is, I liked my shell: it kept me safe; it was my own personal sanctuary of the mind, where I could be some where else, and be someone else, and I didn’t have to deal with being me. I know other kids didn’t like me much, but did I ever like me much? Was I just super shy, or was I unsatisfied with myself? Did I not talk because I didn’t want to, or because I felt as though I wasn’t important enough, as if my thoughts weren’t valuable enough to be vocalized?

Because sometimes I feel that way now. There are so many things I want to tell people, things I’m thinking, opinions I have, but I keep them to myself. And I think, I think… I do this for two reasons: 1. I know I talk too fast and am hard to understand. It’s easier to remain silent than for me to have to repeat myself. I saw a speech therapist for a while; it didn’t really help. 2. I think I’m scared of rejection. Not the “No, I won’t go out with you” Rejection either. I’m terrified of the “Your Thoughts Aren’t Valuable” type of rejection.

Sometimes, I don’t think my thoughts are valuable, which is why I write. There’s no awkward silences, no unnecessary “ummmms…” while I try to figure out the exact right words for what I’m trying to say. When I write my thoughts, I don’t have to share until they’re perfect. When I speak, I’m not assertive; I don’t know how to make people listen. I’ve never been good at standing up for myself (but I’m getting better). When I write, it doesn’t matter because the people who are reading are the ones who want to.

So back to the question, “Are we born depressed and somehow grow into it along the way, or do we wake up one day and realize we can’t get out of bed?” Was born depressed? Did wake up one morning and decide I wasn’t beautiful? Or have I never felt comfortable in my own skin? I’ve always enjoyed playing dress-up. Did become depressed all at once, or have I become depressed slowly over my life? Because if I was born with a fault in my happy gene, that would explain a lot.

Like why I read so much as a child, choosing to read rather than engaging with the world around me. I’d get five books out of the library and have them all read by the next night. Reading is an escape for so many, and I was no exception. I would be the characters in those books. I’d be going on their adventures, and for a little while, I wouldn’t be me.

It would also explain why I didn’t talk, why I didn’t let people get to know me, why sometimes I still don’t–there wasn’t/isn’t anything worth getting to know.

It would explain the way I’ve always dealt with anxiety: picking at scabs until they bleed, turning a bug bite into a scab–self-harm before I knew what self-harm is. I remember one time when I was little, and my anxiety had gotten a little out of hand. My mom walked into my room at midnight because my light was on, and I was crying. I had 7 bleeding scabs that night, and all I could do was mumble, “I need help.” I need help. Three words I never uttered before, because I was too ashamed to admit I needed help. I used to always try so hard to be perfect.

(Those 7 bleeding scabs and the 3 words that followed are why I think I live my life at a 7.) Eventually, I started cutting and then stopped. Eventually, I stopped eating and then started again. But I haven’t quite learned how to stop picking, picking my scabs as the nagging voices of my anxiety are picking away at my self-esteem. It’s like an old, itchy sweater of bad habits that was once too big and is now too small to take off.

One day I’ll figure out how to stop this, too, but it’s like a security blanket for my anxiety; it’s how my Dad knows I’m in over my head and can’t handle Finals Week. I’ve been finding I do it less, which must mean I’m learning how to deal with my feelings.

I wish I could blame my Depression on my past situations, because placing blame is always easier than accepting the fact that we have a character flaw because of a fault in our genes. But I don’t think there’s blame to be placed. I thought about disappearing many times when I was little, years before I attempted suicide. I’ve never felt ‘normal.’ I don’t even think I’d recognize Normal if he ran into me at Starbucks, causing me to spill my coffee all over his jeans and t-shirt. I don’t think I’d recognize Normal if he was the hottest guy on my college campus.

So was I born depressed and felt it slowly and then all at once? Or did it happen all of a sudden? I don’t know. But I do know that normal is overrated. Normal makes life boring. And I’m beginning to accept and love myself: Depression, Flaws, and all.