Survival

It Really DOES Get Better

Take it from someone who has been there, it really does get better.

For those of you who don’t know the It Gets Better Project all started in 2010 when Dan Savage, in response to a rising number of suicides linked to bullying, made a youtube video with his partner to inspire hope for young people facing harassment.

The It Gets Better Project’s website says: “The It Gets Better Project’s mission is to communicate to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth around the world that it gets better, and to create and inspire the changes needed to make it better for them.”

The idea is great, but I also believe it is universal.

It doesn’t just apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, nor victims of bullying or high school students.

Whoever finds this post and is struggling:  It really DOES get better.  I promise.

I’ve recently been following the heartbreaking story of Rehtaeh Parsons, a young woman who was raped, then bullied until she decided to take her own life.  I wish this message had found her.  Because it does get better, even for those of us who have lived through the most devastating, terrifying, and degrading form of violence there is.  Even for Rehtaeh, it could’ve gotten better.

I’m in tears as I write this, because I didn’t make it to this conclusion for lack of trying to kill myself.  I had two life-threatening attempts, but somehow lived to know that these things come out on the other side.

IMG_0493

the light at the end of the tunnel

Life isn’t as hopeless and painful as it can, at times, feel.  I know there is plenty of pain to be felt, and despair to be trudged through, but I know something else too.  I know that as dark as it can get, it can get that much brighter.  I know that these feelings that consume, even they will fade away and make place for new ways of feeling.

I used to be so certain that the darkness would last forever.  For me, it was a good 28 years or so before the clouds started to part and make way for light.  I can look at that time now and understand what growth came from it.  I know that I am that much stronger because I went through it.  And I see now how my experience can benefit others.

That’s everything this blog is about.

Sometimes, in my darkest moments, I had a twinge of hope that kept me alive, even when I wanted so badly to die.  My hope plagued me, because it seemed to work against all the hurt I knew in my life.  I just wanted to let go, and sometimes, I did.  But I know something about that nagging particle of hope still imbedded somewhere deep within.  It was a glimpse.  It was a glimpse at what could be.  And for me, what now is.

I wish Rehtaeh could’ve known this.  There are so many people out there right now, who I wish could know this.  I don’t even know your names.  I didn’t even know Rehtaeh, but right now, I cry for her like she was a dear friend.

If you’re looking for some shred of hope, a reason to stay alive, I pray the words of this stranger can be that for you.

IMG_0482

clouds parting, making way for light

I don’t believe suicide is selfish or wrong, because I know it is not an act entered into lightly.  I know the despair it takes to bring you to that decision.  But it cannot be an option, because your life has worth, and meaning, even if you don’t believe it.  The anguish doesn’t become extinct through your death, it is simply passed on to others.  To those you loved most.  No, the anguish is defeated only through living a meaningful life.  Through sharing your struggles with others.  Through finding your joy.

None of us are as alone as we sometimes feel.

It may feel like it is taking to forever to get there.  But you WILL get there.  It may feel like more than you can bear.  But you CAN bear it.  You may think no one understands, but I do. You may think this darkness is all you will ever know, but you will live your fair share of joy as well.

It really DOES get better.  I promise.

IMG_1781

 IF YOU ARE IN CRISIS, CALL: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Contact the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for more resources.  

Plenty of people are waiting to help you at any time.

Beyond My Power

As adamant as I am about the issue of sexual violence, I feel that maybe my take on it can come off misleading.  See, because of my own history with sexual violence, it is hard for me to actually be a part of the fight.

In 2009, I had a therapist tell me to “stop watching the news.”  So, I did.  Around the time, I had become fixated on the Shanyia Davis story.  A mom sold her 5 year old daughter into sexual slavery.  The daughter was later found raped and murdered, then tossed on the side of the road, like trash.  I was dumbfounded and destroyed by this story.  It pretty much shattered my world, and I couldn’t stop following it.  How could someone do that to a child?  How could a mother do that to her own child?  I couldn’t understand it, and it made a frightening reality come to light for me: there is evil in this world, beyond my comprehension, and even with what I’ve been through, I’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg.

I wish I could tell you that when I stopped watching the news, everything got a little lighter for me.  And maybe it did, a wee bit.  Even to this day, I go online, and pick and choose headlines based on their triviality.  “Reality TV is going down the toilet–literally”  The more serious stories, I avoid.  I know enough just by the headlines.  “Police: Florida man linked to up to 1 million child porn videos, images”  The headline says enough.  I don’t need to read about this pig, and start to mull over the fact that those 1 million videos and images, mean that tens of thousands of children were forced to participate in sexual acts to make that stuff.  I know that already.  Although, maybe some people don’t.  Maybe a lot of people are completely desensitized to that stuff, and don’t even consider those children when they read a headline like that.   For them, I say: READ THE ARTICLE, and think about it.

For those of us who have survived similar experiences, I say: Don’t torture yourself.

No, I understand enough without subjecting myself to it.  I heard tidbits about the Steubenville rape case.  Enough to get a gist.  I cannot read an article about it.  I simply can’t.  Maybe this makes me a hypocrite, or maybe it makes me self-preserving, I don’t know.  All I know is, I just can’t stomach it and hold my world together.

Similarly, I write about the fight to end this stuff, because I cannot actually participate in the fight.  I’ve been on the front lines of the battle, and I know how hopeless it is there.  For those of you who can stay there and fight this battle, I thank you.  I know what it feels like to notice that the army is lacking in numbers, and that all the people at your side are survivors.  A lot of times, it is survivors like me, who cannot manage to stay and fight and hold their own lives in tact, but they fight anyway, their very livelihood falling by the wayside.  I understand that.

It feels like screaming endlessly in a sea of people, who know you’re there, but choose not to acknowledge you.

I cannot actively delve into the numerous cases of sexual violence and survive.  This is what I learned in recovery.  If I want to survive, I have to take a step back.  Sometimes, this makes me feel helpless and useless.  Most of the time, I know it is what keeps me breathing.

I learned that in recovery, but I also learned something from my relationship with God:  This battle isn’t just a physical one, or an emotional or mental one.  This is a spiritual battle too.

Now this is where my two worlds collide.  I know a lot of feminists working without God, and a lot of God-loving people, working without feminism.  For me, these two worlds are not mutually exclusive.

I cannot be out there fighting emotionally, mentally, physically, or judiciously, but I can fight like hell spiritually.

I’ve started praying feverishly on the subject of sexual violence.  I learned from my relationship with God, that the fight to end sexual violence isn’t hopeless, it just can’t be fought alone.  Human beings simply don’t have the power to end it based on the sure will of the fight.  We aren’t that powerful.  But I fully believe, that with God at our backs, this battle can be won.

I pray for the victims, that they find healing and wholeness despite their experiences.  And I pray for those who are on the front lines fighting, that they have the strength and ferocity to not back down, no matter what.  I pray for the un-listening, uncaring world, that their eyes and hearts are opened to this battle, and that they join in the fight.  I declare miracles over this battle, that it be won by the side that is good.  And I rebuke evil’s grasp on so many of us through such violence.  I declare victory against evil, and an end to sexual violence.

For those non-believers, you probably think this is useless.  But that’s ok, we all have our opinions.  Maybe prayer isn’t for you, but luckily, there are plenty of ways to join in the movement.

For those believers, I hope you’ll join me in prayer.

We have the power to end this battle.  We just have to claim it.

 

Lessons I Learned in 2012

I see a lot of blogs doing years in review.  I would do that for you, but I feel that, although I have learned a lot and accomplished a lot in 2012, I haven’t done anything exceptionally noteworthy.  I was looking back over my year, and what I realized is a year summed up in learning.  I have grown a lot this year, through experience and through trial and error.

In the spirit of a new year, I will share my top ten lessons from 2012.  I pray that the next year is full of new lessons, exciting growth, solid accomplishments, and exceptional love, for all of us.

Top Ten Lessons I Learned in 2012:

10.  Life is worth living.  I know this sounds like a pretty basic concept, but it is one I did not believe for a really long time.  I felt like every day was just a repeat of the one before, and every situation was going to end grimly.  Let me emphasize, every situation will end badly, if that is the intention you place upon it in the beginning.  Your world, your life, is what you make of it.  Keep deciding that you are cursed, and you will be.  Place positive intentions on your day-to-day life, and on your goals, and they will manifest before your very eyes.  This year, I took one of my business cards and on it, I wrote down what I want for myself in the next year.  I carry it around with me daily, and I believe these things will unfold in my life.  You can do the same with a dream board.  Take a poster and create what you want out of your next year.  Watch it happen.  I did this during my hospital stays, and I always conveyed stability, health, balance and love.  These things are now ever present in my life.  It is like magic.  Whatever you put your energy into, you will have.

9.  Doing what you’ve dreamed of is worth the experience.  I always dreamed of living in California.  I was just sure I’d feel at home there.  This year, after treatment, I had an opportunity to move out to California.  I took the opportunity and have been here since.  I love the weather, and having access to beautiful beaches and sunsets.  Living here does have its pros and cons, but I am so glad I took the opportunity to come here.  I’m acutally living out one of my wildest dreams.  How amazing is that?  I’ve also learned that this particular city isn’t somewhere I plan on settling down.  I wouldn’t have known that, if I had not tried.  I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be here.

8.  Distance makes the heart grow fonder, but traveling is hard.   As a result of living out my dream, I’ve been transplanted a very long distance from a lot of people that I really love.  Being here has made me realize how much I truly appreciate these people, but it has also made me realize that I’d like to be closer to them.  Traveling is difficult, I’m sure most of us would agree.  And expensive.  I love my loved ones that much more, but the added cost and stress of being away… is it worth it?  I’ll keep you posted.  I have, in the meantime, made great friends out here on the left coast.  So, I have multiplied my love.  That’s always a good thing.

7.  Recovery is a lot of work, but I’ve never done anything this important and this necessary before.  My sponsor always reminds me that recovery has to come first, before everything else.  I know this is true.  I cannot have success in work, school, family, or life, if I do not work on the one thing that keeps me stable and keeps me sane.  Without recovery, all those other things are irrelevant because they aren’t even possible.

6.  Failure may not be an option, but neither is perfection.  I’ve always heard the cliché that failure isn’t an option.  I think it is this phrase alone that birthed perfectionism.  “I’ve got to do it,” turned into, “I’ve got to do it perfectly.”  I walk on a thin line between two extremes.  Balance is crucial for me.  I know I can have an “all or nothing” attitude, and I have to remind myself constantly that an accomplishment is an accomplishment, if I didn’t do it perfectly, at least I did it.  We are always our own worst critic.  Ease up on yourself a little.  Strive to do well, but don’t corner yourself into unforgivable expectations.  I see a lot of people in recovery around me either throwing their hands up, or striving to attain the unattainable.  Expecting perfection is like driving into a brick wall.  It doesn’t matter wether you do it quickly or slowly, eventually, you’ll hit that wall.  Eventually, you’ll be devestated by the fact that you messed up.  We all mess up, it is inevitable.  Learn to brush it off and keep moving.

5.  Doors will open, when you’re ready to see what’s on the other side.  God knows, timing is everything.  If you hold out and have faith, things will turn around and trials will end.  You may think that things are impossible, but I am here to tell you that the impossible is possible.  Lil’ Kim used to be a hero of mine, and now my music taste is almost completely faith-based.  I used to dread waking up in the morning, and now I’m grateful for each new day.  This year, I’ve reconnected with several people that I was certain I’d never hear from again.  Things change.  Doors open.  Anything is possible.  These things hardly ever happen right away, but they will happen when you are ready for them.

4.  Belief makes miracles happen.  Did you know that the true power of prayer is in the belief that those prayers will be answered?  As I said, the impossible is possible.  They key to seeing the impossible unfold before you, is believing that it will.  If you ask God for something, but doubt that He will give it to you, don’t expect it.  If you hope for something, but believe it could never be, it never will be.  The power lies in what you believe.  You are manifesting the outcome with your very thoughts and intentions.  Just believe.

3.  Every cloud has a silver lining.  It wasn’t until this year that I realized, what that little old lady with a walker taught me.  I stumbled, but I did not fall.  BAM!  Silver lining.  I got in a car accident, but I am safe.  BAM!  Silver lining.  I’m struggling with finances, but I believe everything will work out for my good.  BAM!  You get the point.  Yes, hard stuff happens.  Yes, we have our struggles and our trials.  Yes, sometimes we fail, or people fail us.  But we learn from all of these things.  We grow.  Every time you lose someone, there opens an opportunity for someone new to come into your life.  Every time you struggle, you have the opportunity to learn, grow, and know how to change outcomes for the better next time.  Don’t see your losses or failures as a devastation.  They are opportunities for new and better things to unfold in your life and your circumstances.  Don’t look at what you lost, look at what you gained.

2.  The hard moments will pass.  A recent campaign that set out to encourage gay youth struggling with bullying and prejudice has gained new ground.  The concept behind the campaign?  It.  Gets.  Better.  This idea, though it once seemed preposterous to me, is true.  It does get better.  The hard moments will pass, things will turn around.  Sometimes it is a waiting game, but you have to hold strong, because I guarantee you things will start to look up.  Look, if anyone knows this, it is me.  So, trust me.  I waited 28 years for my life to change, and it happened.  I finally see this world in a new light.  I finally love myself and those around me.  I finally want to get as much out of this life as I possibly can.  I finally believe.  Was it worth the wait?  Absolutely.  The hard moments will pass, and as you get used to watching them come and go, they will get more brief and less intense.  The hard moments will be blinks in your vast reel of days, weeks, months, and years of the incredible that your life will become.

1.  God is good.  I have experienced and accomplished a lot over the past year, all of which, I am completely grateful for.  At the end of the day, when my work is done, I thank God that I have had an opportunity to do this work.  I have been treated for the traumas I have endured.  I have met tons of new people.  I have an incredible sponsor and incredible supports.  I have experienced new and exciting things that I never could have imagined.  I am living in a city that I used to think was only a distant dream.  I am living a life that I wasn’t sure even existed.  I have everything I could ever want and more.  All of this, is because of God.  I have done a lot of work, but only because God has provided me the opportunity to.  I was in treatment for 5 months, because insurance covered it.  If that isn’t a miracle, I don’t know what is.  I worked with some of the best therapists in the country, because God gave me that opportunity. I am grateful for all the support I have received, but none has been more important than that of my God.  I could sit here and try to claim this has all been because of my hard work, but that would be a lie.  Without God’s timing, ingenuity, and grace, all of my hard work would have been worthless.  At the end of my year, as I reflect, I am certain that this is the most important lesson I have learned.  When I had no faith, belief, or hope, desperation stepped in and gave me God.  God restored my faith, belief, hope.  God instilled in me a gratitude for my desperation.  God gave me a life worth living, and the desire to live it.  Without God, I’m not even sure I would still be here.  At the end of the day, I know that everything I learned this year, I learned because of lesson number 1: God is good.

HappyNewYearNeonFlash

Surviving Elementary School

“Seeds of faith are always within us; sometimes it takes a crisis to nourish and encourage their growth.”           ~Susan Taylor

I don’t typically watch the news.  I have a computer and a T.V. without cable, or even basic access.  I stick to Netflix, and I get my teeny bit of “news” from Philip Defranco, on YouTube.  That’s about as much as I can take.  In 2009, I had a therapist tell me to stop watching the news.  I took her advice.  I had, at the time, become overwhelmed, baffled, and distraught over the Shaniya Davis story.

I couldn’t understand how, someone could do that to their daughter.  I couldn’t understand how someone could do those things to a 5 year old.  I was starting to drown in a sea of headlines and news reports of just how evil this world is.

And it is true.  This world can be a very evil place.

I have spent a good chunk of the past few years overwhelmed by an issue that the rest of the world seems underwhelmed about: sexual violence.  Such violence is beyond an epidemic in our world, and repeatedly, our response is victim blaming, and sweeping it under the rug.  It makes me cringe to know that 1 our of 4 girls, and 1 out of 6 boys will be the victims of sexual abuse by the age of 18.  How do people walk around in their own little bubbles, oblivious of something so heinous?

I don’t know, they just do.

In some of the work I have done, I have teamed with people who had similar experience and ambition, wanting to do something on the matter.  What have I found?  That there are victims out there working toward solving a problem, without even having dealt with the issue in their own lives.  It is like someone with a still gaping and bloody bullet wound trying to fight for gun control.

First, you need to address your own trauma.

The hard part is, no one else is stepping forward to solve the issue.  All of those people who’ve never had to suffer through the trauma have no interest in dealing with something so dark and ugly.

This is just what I have found.

**********

I look around me, and I see people becoming passionately driven about the issue of guns and asking themselves, “what could of we have done to prevent the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012?”

I would never venture to claim that this question is not important, pertinent, or should not be asked.  I do, however, think that it is too soon to be torn apart by these issues.  Our hearts are still breaking from what happened, and the details that continue to unfold.  Our stomachs are still twisted by what the children of Sandy Hook must’ve witnessed that day.  Chills are still shooting down our spines to imagine what evil it takes to commit such an act.

How have we allowed this to lead to a divide?  What the survivors need right now, is a community to come together in support around them.  They certainly have a long, tough road ahead of them.

Repeatedly, through the past several years we have witnessed tragedy and allowed it to, even for a short time, bring us together in mourning and solidarity.  For the first time in my life, I have witnessed the opposite happen.  That is what breaks my heart now.

I think ALL of us will agree that something has to be done to attempt to prevent these massacres from happening again, no matter what side you’re on.  What that “something” looks like will start to materialize as we work on the matter.  I trust that.

At this point, I don’t care what that “something” is just yet.  I am still far too stricken with grief to start thinking strategy.  Am I alone in this?

U

I look at the faces of the victims, and my throat starts to tense.  I hear their stories, and my eyes are filled with tears.  I cannot look at December 14th with a hard heart.  I find peace in my belief that these children are safe and happy now.  I find strength in the stories of heroism in the adults that fought for these kids with their very lives.

I remember too, those who survived, and I give them this message: you can overcome your trauma and live a fulfilling life.  This may be a struggle, but it does not have to defeat you.  This dark moment in your lives can become a place of strength, and a place of motivation.  You are in the thoughts and prayers of so many, and we will still have your hands when the heavy realization hits you of just how blessed you are to have faced and survived a trial that many will never even have to face.

To the rest of us, I say: stand down.  This is not a fight.  We are worn and we are weary.  We have faced far too much as a country this year.  Yes, we must address this issue, but please, for God’s sake, can we take a moment to grieve first?

**********

To all of us, I plead:  Do not let this destroy us.  We will march forward and we will advocate for the changes necessary to prevent such tragedy in the future, but first allow yourselves to grieve.  Before you stand up to fight, address your own trauma.  Make sure that when your time comes, when your voice rises, that you are in a place where you are strong enough to argue your side.  So many times, I have seen angels fall short here, and lose the drive to carry on.  We can heal.  We can overcome.  But first, we must grieve.

A heart must finish breaking before you can begin to mend it.

It is true that this world can be an evil place, but what is also true is that each of us has the ability to contribute to the good.  If you are going to pour fervently into this world, be sure that what you are pouring is positive.

mended heart

Resources:

Post Traumatic Growth

NY Times PTSD Article

The Difference With God

The argument I hear a lot from people who get offended by my spiritual beliefs is, “What kind of God lets . . . happen?”

Now, let me start by saying this, I don’t argue about my spiritual beliefs, though I often find that people want to argue with me.  I don’t have a problem with people believing or not believing whatever they please.  I’m not here to change anyone’s mind.

I do however, argue with myself.  I pose these questions to myself, and to God, and give them serious thought.  I’ve thought about the question a lot.  Since I’ve been reading The Shack, I’ve had an opportunity to really think about the answer to that question.

This is a bit of a SPOILER ALERT, but the book takes an opportunity to teach us that, due to free will, bad things often happen because people make bad choices.  After a year spent in treatment, healing, and acceptance, I finally do accept that as an answer for some of the bad stuff.  Certainly, life would be meaninglessly dull were it not for free will.  We would all be the same, doing exactly the right things, the same things.  We’d be drones.  The relationship between us and God would be more of a dictatorship.

The truth is that people only come into a relationship with God through a choice, often made in a moment of desperation.  When I chose to know God, I was in a place where I had nothing else to lose.  Well, maybe one thing could’ve been lost; my life.  I knew that I had had glimpses of life, or happiness, and I wanted those more than I wanted to die.  And even though I had NO IDEA what a relationship with God would mean, I walked into the uncertainty knowing it was my only hope.  For the first time in my life, I made a commitment.

We come into this relationship, because we make a choice between what was and what could be.

I don’t want to be a puppet.  My relationship with God means so much more, since it was I who wanted in.  It was never forced on me.  We all, at some point, have that moment, that way in.  We all make this decision.

That being said, free will is both a blessing and a curse.  Because we are not forced into goodness, or perfection, we also have opportunities to choose darkness.  Because of that choice, people can be hurt or lost, for seemingly no reason at all.  Someone chose to hurt me as a child, and I was left to clean up the wreckage because of their choice.  This is common.

I kn0w that in the midst of pain, it is hard to accept this answer, but after a long examination of my beliefs, I do agree.

In my head, I’m still left to make sense of the things that aren’t caused by a bad person or a bad choice:  An illness.  A miscarriage.  A natural disaster.  The list could go on; a list of all the things that cannot be explained away by free will, and the nagging question: why?

What repeatedly arises is the difference, for me, between a life without God and a life with God.

I used to blame God for everything.  Why I even believed in God is still baffling to me, because I was angry at him, and blamed him for everything that went wrong.  Oh the moments I spent actually cursing at God with a grimace on my face and an angry finger pointed to the sky!  I do not understand why I believed in a God that was so horrible to me.  Why not just NOT believe in him at all?

But I did, and I gladly took every chance that arose to hate him.

At this time in my life, I looked at every bad thing as a punishment, or simply an act of a spiteful God.  Because I’ve had a chance to work through healing, I see things differently now.

I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore.  I used to start cursing at God if I dropped my books.  No big deal, but there I was having words with this hateful God of mine.  Those things don’t get to me anymore.  A pause.  A deep breath.  And there I am, picking those books back up.  No. Big. Whoop.  That changes a lot.

I see the value in free will, and I understand that there are people who use that to accomplish negative, and even evil acts.

Most importantly, I see the error of my own ways.  Working the twelve steps certainly gives me some perspective on the destruction I have left in the wake of my bad decisions.  I see now that I can’t control what others have done to me.  Wounds are left behind by sick people.  I was sick once too.  I hurt people too.  My job now isn’t to dwell on fixing what others have done to me, it is make amends for the things that I have done to others.  They call it “keeping your side of the street clean.”  I do my part in making the world a better place, making up for the hurts that I have caused, and doing things differently now.

Yes, I see things very differently now.  And when I think about the things that cannot be explained away by free will, I know that these are life’s experiences that make us who we are.  We have to struggle.  We have to face hard stuff.  Who would we be without these hardships?  These tragedies?  Just as we would be without free will: drones.  We would have nothing to bring us together, or make us unique.  We would be weakly little things, incapable of facing anything.

When I think about how strong I am because what I have faced, I know I wouldn’t trade a single experience.  I have the ability to say that I am a survivor.  I have a faced adversity, and come out on the other side of things; stronger because of it.  I also know, because of my past, that you can’t put anything before me that I won’t be able to conquer.

Staring Down the Pink Elephant

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” –Mother Theresa

On March 27, 2011, my life officially changed in an incredibly dramatic way.  I stayed for hours after church, hesitant to go home, and hesitant to make a commitment.  I stared back and forth at the pulpit and the exit, long after the service had ended and everyone, except for 2 friends and myself, had gone home.  Every time I looked at the doors, as much as I didn’t want to admit it, face it, or act because of it, I knew if I walked out those doors without God, I would die.  The pain was like a wrench in my gut, twisting with the thought of making that decision.  I didn’t want to lose myself, and as much as I felt like I wanted to die in that moment, I knew the truth was that I wanted to live.

I had stayed after service, hurling questions and arguments at the pastor, who mostly left it up to me, to look inside myself for the answers.  He knew that nothing he could say was going to be easily accepted by me.  And this had been the truth since the moment I had first stepped into this crowd of people who would become my family.

When the moment finally came, it was almost midnight.  In the following weeks, I would buy a little plaque that said “Even miracles take a little time” from the disney film Cinderella.  Without knowing what I was diving into, I dove, because I realized that if I wanted to live, I didn’t have a choice.

That night, I made a commitment to follow God, to be His faithful servant, to become the person He wanted me to be, and live the life He wanted me to live.  It wasn’t an instantaneous transformation.  It took time, and I fought.  I fought everyone around me, and I fought with God himself.  Quite violently, I might add.

The fact of the matter is, though, that I don’t take commitments lightly.  If I say that I am going to do something, I do it.

In the months that have followed, the transformation has taken over, and my life doesn’t even resemble what it looked like a year ago.  I am living in a different home, city, and state, with different friends, a different church, a different perspective, and a different way of living.

When I opened my mind to a church that truly conveyed a life modeled after that of Christ, it was a battle.  I always had this concept “well, if they really followed Christ, it would look like this…”  The difference was, this church actually embodied that.  Did I cut them any slack because of it?  Ohhhhhh no, definitely not.  I gave them hell for dragging me there.  I sat on my seat, arms crossed, scowl painted firmly on my face.  When they sang, I didn’t move.  When they greeted each other, I didn’t move.  Did that make a difference?  No.  They treated me, from the very first moment, like I was family, and that never wavered, even when they learned of our differences.

I wish I could say that churches like that are common, but they are the minority.

I came in with all of my doubts and anger.  I was drowning in resentments of what churches had done to me and my loved ones for years and years.  I hurled this resentment toward these innocent people with my laser beam death stare, and they never once treated me differently.

Eventually, I had a realization.  I expected these people not to judge me.  That is what real Christians would do.  But what about me?  Shouldn’t I be willing to do the same for them?  Why was I taking out all of this resentment on people who had never harmed me.  I judged them before I had a chance to walk through the door, accusing them of judging me.  That was my hypocrisy wake up call.  I had to give them a chance, if I expected that of them.

So, I did.

“Do not condemn the judgement of another because it differs from your own. You may both be wrong.”  –Dandemis

That is when I realized that they were actually everything I had always thought churches should be.

Go figure.

I wish I could say that the judgments stopped from that moment, but as I have grown in my faith, I have noticed the other side of my friend pool shift.  They don’t directly tell me they hate me, but they definitely are weirded out and leery of this change in me.  As though the fact that my newfound relationship with God gives me a reason to live, just isn’t a good enough excuse.  I have, as of late, felt incredibly judged by a lot of my friends who are atheist or agnostic.  They are immediately on the defense with me, as though I am going to show up on their doorstep with a pamphlet.  As much as I understand that feeling, I don’t understand it coming at me.  I am not suddenly a horrible person because I believe differently.  I have started to realize that I feel far more judged now than I ever did when I was spiritually ambiguous.  The funny part is that, though I do have some strong specific beliefs, I am still spiritually ambiguous in a lot of ways.  And as for the current religious/political blur, none of my political beliefs have changed.  In fact, I would say I stand stronger in my political beliefs than I did before, because I believe that, although they are not the norm in my spiritual community, they have been distinctly placed on my heart for a reason.

I guess that, although so much of my life has changed, the only parts of me that have changed were the parts no one wanted here in the first place.  I am not destructive anymore.  I am not as selfish.  I am working hard to live a productive life.  I stay focused on ensuring that I am being kind to myself and to others.  I am learning balance.  I am implementing self-care.  I am capable of so much more.  I am grateful for each day, and I genuinely want to live it.

So yeah, something HUGE changed, but it didn’t change my heart.  My heart is in the same place, I am just learning how to put it into action.  I am learning to act upon the passions that have driven me all this time, and to grow and heal so that I am capable of doing that work.

So this is for those of you out there who think I have been brainwashed or suddenly became incredibly stupid.  This is not the case.  I heard that your IQ starts declining at 25 anyway, so maybe that part is true.  I’m just not the asshole I used to be.  And the truth is, that I am thankful for all of my friends.  For those who do not need a God to give their lives meaning, I do not judge.  I have learned in AA that living a life without a higher power is just a prerogative that some of us do not have the luxury of indulging in.  I need God to take a step further in this life, to march on.  The passions I have for change to come about in this world, are not efforts that I can make alone.  I will surely need God behind the work I want to do for our world in order to make it a safer, more beautiful place for each and every one of us to thrive.

I don’t plan on apologizing to my spiritual community for my political beliefs, and I don’t plan on apologizing to my political community for my spiritual beliefs.  I am going to march forward living in the way that I feel God guide me.  And you two groups can sort that crap out amongst yourselves.

That’s all.

“We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation.  It’s the one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path.”  

–Paulo Coelho 

God, Guide Me Home

I don’t know where to begin with the struggles I have recently faced and the miracles that have blossomed out of them.  I know God has blessed me with a gift for writing, but I ironically believe that words can never suffice.

I kind of feel the need to fill you in about my journeys over the past 6 months.  November 20th of 2011, I entered residential treatment for bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, an eating disorder, and substance abuse.  Over the past few years, I have struggled with intense depression.  I experienced depression most of my life, but it had intensified over the past 3 years, and I was being hospitalized pretty regularly.  That was the main reason, I decided to look into residential treatment.  That is how things seemed from my perspective anyway.  Looking back on it now, I see so clearly how God had His hand in everything.  He chose where I was going to go, and the moment I would arrive and leave.  He carefully chose my treatment team, and my fellow survivors that I would meet along the way.

The work that I did from November 20-May 1 was the most intense work of my life.  It was incredibly difficult to face the most trying moments of my past head on, and conquer them.  We worked from 7 am to 10 pm daily, on dissecting and addressing our traumas.  In that process, we were strengthened and equipped to move forward.

I worked with some incredible therapists while at Timberline Knolls.  My primary therapist was a Christian therapist.  At first I was uncertain as to whether or not I could share the ugliest parts of my past with her, but we built the trust and she constantly reminded me that I needed to push forward.  She helped me to stay focused on the tasks at hand, my purpose of a life spent serving the God who had saved me.  He pulled me through before, she promised, He won’t desert me now.  Sometimes she was the only person who I could listen to, the only person who knew just what to say.

My family therapist sacrificed so much time to care for me directly, and was moved when she witnessed me evolve.  I worked with specialists, art therapists, expressive therapists, and DBT therapists.  We took every single angle in addressing every single issue.  I was blessed with a team that I felt truly cared for me and believed that I was capable of overcoming.

Aside from my team, I met so many other residents who proved to me that survival was possible.  They proved to me that some of the most beautiful people in this world, are the people who have been through the most.  And you would never even know it.  We would spend our brief bouts of free time, laughing, coloring, knitting, or in fellowship.  You would never look at these women and know the horrors that they had lived through.  Getting to know them on a personal level made me realize why I am so passionate about working against the issue of sexual violence.  It helped me face the need in this world to build women up, to help them know that they are valuable, lovable, worthy, beautiful, and strong.

I cannot say enough about the impact that these women had on me.  Through high school, college, and even in church, I feel like my strongest friendships were built with the women who were there to witness me break and rebuild.

May 1st, I left to go to “transitional living” in the Los Angeles area.  After a week, I left.

The weeks since have been incredible, difficult, reinvigorating, transformative, and inspiring.  It hasn’t all been fun.  I have had moments of incredible stress.  Two weekends ago, I started to fold.  I wasn’t finding a job.  I wasn’t finding a home.  I was starting to believe I wasn’t capable of accomplishing everything I had dreamed of doing.  I quickly felt as though the presence of God was draining out from around me.  I started to lose faith.  I started to lose hope.

Last Sunday morning, I went to a church that I had been looking into since I arrive in San Diego.  I was certain that I simply needed to find a spiritual community.  Initially, I found myself trapped in one of those, “Seriously?! Really?!” moments.  You know, like the Saturday Night Live skit.  Almost as soon as church started, I was worried.  The sermon was on TRUTH, and I started to consider what my pastors would say on the issue.  I imagined them saying that the enemy will lie to you, tell you that you are weak, or try to convince you that you are the person you used to be.  I imagined them reminding me not to listen to the lies, that the voice that told me I was capable and worthy and loved was the voice of truth.  That voice was the voice of God.  This sermon didn’t go anything like that.  If you can consider for a moment every single controversial political issue that has ever arisen in which churches felt moved to comment, that was in the sermon.  Abortion.  Homosexuality.  Other religions.  Evolution.  The pastor even fit the justification for rape into his angry rant, explaining that men have and natural reaction to scantily clad women… “they’re just wired that way.”  That was the point when I started frantically looking toward the doors.  Just so you know, if you ever start to question whether or not doors will be barricaded if you try to make a run for it… you should probably make a run for it.  I calmly headed to the doors, as if I was heading to the bathroom, but I just kept walking.

Let me tell you something that I genuinely believe.  I believe there are people who are directly being used by the enemy (satan, evil, etc) through the church.  The media has highlighted several of these recently in North Carolina.  I believe that this can be the devil’s strongest tool against God.  They are puppets for evil who hide behind the guise of Godliness.  On a daily basis, they are driving more and more people away from the love of God.  They are IN THE CHURCH, but working for the devil.  It is a perfect set up.  I am probably going to pay for this, but I am calling them out right now.  They do not work for God.

I have been in churches whose motives are genuine and true.  I have experienced churches where miracles are started, and hearts and minds are opened.  It is true that they are rare, but they are out there, I promise.  I didn’t not know, until recently that they even existed.  I did not know that church could be a spiritual experience.  I thought church was a punishment, a bore, and a waste of time.

When last Sunday morning unfolded, I was pretty pissed.  I didn’t resign myself to the disappearance of God, like I might’ve in the past.  I let the experience infuriate and motivate me.  That was NOT going to be my first experience of church in San Diego.  I was NOT going to let go that easily.  I set out for the rest of the day, focused on my recovery, and on turning things around.  I had a healthy, balanced lunch, and came home to find another option.  I recalled that I had looked at a church with a Sunday evening service, and I decided to try that one out instead.

I have missed my church back home dearly.  I was almost certain I wouldn’t find a comparable church anywhere else.  That being said, I was wrong.  My church in NC is awesome.  They are loving, welcoming, and intentional representatives of Christ.  Their hearts are moved from truth.  Their lives were saved by the purpose they found in God.  One of my church’s focuses has been children with special needs.  The Pastor’s sister is a special education teacher, and one of the most devoted families in the congregation is a beautiful family whose son has autism.  The issue is close to their hearts.

Being that my passion has long been the issue of sexual violence, I have dreamed of finding a church who was committed to working on the issue.

See, it was my work in Women’s and Gender studies that led me to God.  I was driven into the area of study by personal experience and a motivation to change the world.  The passion to do this work has been powerful and unyielding.  It is the very reason I titled this blog “Incurable Hope.”  Because the issue of sexual violence feels hopeless, but the glimmer of a hope that things can be changed is the only thing that has kept me going all along, even when I wanted to give up.  I could have easily given up on myself, but I couldn’t give up on the masses of people across the world whose lives are devastated by such violence.  There were times when I felt like one of the only people who cared about it.  I grew overwhelmed, daunted, and weary.  I was in a perpetual tug-of-war between letting go, letting go of this purpose, of this life, and of this fight; and holding on.  Just before midnight on March 27, 2011, I gave it all over to God.  I had come to the point where I wanted to quit, and I knew that faith would be the only thing that would pull me through.  It was quite a stretch.  I believed in God, but I was cynical, jaded, and bitter.  I was irritated by all this “He” talk, and I thought “God” was the hateful dude who was hatin’ on the gay folk.  I surrendered anyway, and hoped for the best.

What I have found on the other side of that commitment has been incredible.  It has not been easy, but behind all of it, I have found purpose.  I have seen grueling struggles give birth to huge life changes.  These are changes I have been craving for years, growth that I have yearned to experience.  I had been stagnant, and God had been waiting.

I had considered residential treatment, but God made it happen, with nearly 100% coverage from my insurance company, something that is incredible, and sadly, very rare.  I made plans in the months before treatment and in the weeks since, but God constantly reminds me that he has more in mind for me.  I have met people who have blessed my life.  I have heard stories that have fueled my drive and reinforced my compassion.  I have pushed through and overcome trials that can often cripple or kill people.  In short, the blessings have been numerous.

Last Sunday night, I found a home church here.  It is a different kind of church, a church focused on changing the world in a positive way… “not by making a point, but by making a difference.”  By being living examples of Christ’s love in a world that doesn’t know it.  Keep in mind that this world is not unfamiliar with that love due to a lack of churches.  Oh no, I come from a town where there are almost more churches than people.  They have had a KKK rally and a cross burning in the past couple of weeks.  Lack of churches is not the problem.  The truth is that church is completely useless if it is not conceived from the genuine nature of Christ’s love and compassion.  And how many churches do you know that are like that?

The church that I found has a ministry that is committed to working against sex trafficking, both here in the U.S. and abroad.  The moment I saw that, I knew God had led me to my church.  He led me home.  Thursday night’s service focused on impacting the world around us, being kind, lending a hand to someone in need.  Simple gestures that are huge in a cold and distant world.  It helped me realize why I had been guided here.  I have been driven to do this work, and what I found in doing it, was that I couldn’t do it alone, in fact, as Alcoholics Anonymous puts it, “No human power could…”  It is true.  Doing it alone would’ve killed me.  The world is largely unconcerned with the issue of sexual violence.  It is just too much.  I honestly believe that things can change with a sturdy spiritual foundation, with God behind the work being done.

I have been very active in AA, doing step work with a sponsor, and attending meetings regularly.  The entire concept mirrors how I came to believe.  We couldn’t do it alone.  We needed God to help us overcome.  And it is true also with other change.  I have watched women devote themselves to the work of fighting sexual violence, and drowning in the hopelessness of the issue.

What makes me laugh is that, as I reflect on my old view of this struggle, I see that I wanted to change the world.  The task seems far less daunting when I consider that it was already saved.

I don’t presume to know where things will go from here.  God’s plans for me are irrelevant until they come to fruition.  I move forward in pure faith.  I know he will not let me down.  I know he has my best interest at heart.  I know he has my back.  With that knowledge, what more do I need?  With God, all things are possible. 🙂