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.
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.
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.
IF YOU ARE IN CRISIS, CALL: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Contact the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for more resources.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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. 🙂
Continuing Treatment: A Matter of Life or Death
There are days when I can’t understand how anyone couldn’t love me. I think I’m beautiful, funny, creative, and intelligent. Some days this is part of a healthy balance of recognizing my value and appreciating my positive qualities. Other days, this is a symptom of my mood disorder. They can probably come off interchangeably, but I can tell the subtle difference. On my manic days, I feel undeniably sexy, confident, and virtually unstoppable. I quite frankly believe that everyone wants me.
Then there are the days when I my heart sinks at the thought that I’m completely unloveable. I think everyone has days when they feel unloveable, whether it be because they are having a rough hair day, or they realize they’ve said something they didn’t mean to a friend. For me, days like today are more heart breaking… far more gut-wrenching. It can be painful to hear a love song, and feel personally affected by the adamant belief that no one could ever feel that way about me. It can often be agitated by blemishes or physical imperfections, but the reality of what I face day-to-day with mental illness make love seem so distant, partly because I have a lot of work to do before I can get there, and partly because of the ways I can lose control of my mood when I am out of whack.
Neither the enticing confidence of mania, nor the crippling distance of love during depression are often issues for me. I admit that so much time had gone by since I had felt this way, that I had come to question my diagnosis of bipolar disorder. The past few weeks have been quite an obstacle in these aspects, though.
It isn’t completely uncommon for the things you do during mania to come back to weigh on your insecurity during depression. All of these symptoms have been absent for so long, that they almost feel new this time around, and yet, at the same time, they feel naggingly mundane. It all starts to feel as if any effort previously put forth was just a method of buying time, or delaying the inevitable. When I was well, the fear that these symptoms would resurface would haunt me. Now that they are back, it feels as though they never really went away.
I cannot pretend that life seems like the most viable of options in times such as these. All of my senses mislead me. Every single thing that happens is riddled with a slight paranoid urge to question. “Did that thing just happen, or was it orchestrated by someone with ulterior motives?” Everyone’s words are the opposite of what they really mean, and their actions are digs at my sanity. I cannot honestly approach the question of whether treatment is a viable option, because in my head, there are cheaper, easier, and more immediate solutions.
And then, all of my effort toward recovery is always riddled with side notes of the times I tried before, and relapsed. And relapse in my head is really just failure. And failure is really just a waste.
Considering recovery isn’t easy. Recovery takes time, money, and effort, and beyond that, it takes an initial desire to be better, to move forward… which in this state, really just feels exhausting. The times I’ve written here, I’ve been feeling hopeful, but I figured that my transparency might help people understand my journey better.
I cannot say that considering suicide is easier, though. Suicide, when done in a conscious state, requires effort. It requires motivation, and calculation. You have to consider what methods will work most effectively, and weigh the risk of survival after an attempt. You have to consider your loved ones, and funeral arrangements. I can’t speak for others, but I cannot fathom that most who take their own lives, don’t (no matter how irrationally) weigh the affect that it will have on loved ones, and decide it is still the better option. It is difficult in the thick of despair to look at your situation and know if it would be more practical and efficient to die, or if it would make more of a mess than already exists… more of a mess than one can even fathom. And the irony is, that those who haven’t faced that situation, can’t even fathom honestly believing that there is some clean efficiency to suicide. In my head, it sounds logical, but when I see it typed out, it reads as completely absurd and thoroughly insane.
In either situation, you have to think about the things you’ll miss. For instance, if I go into treatment now, I’ll miss my birthday and my trip to visit my sister and my nephew. But if I die, I’ll miss the rest of my birthdays and my nephew growing up. I’ve spent birthdays in treatment before. Once, I missed a concert of my favorite musician for treatment. Also, if I go into treatment now, I’ll miss graduate application deadlines for the upcoming school year. If I die, I’ll never know if that could’ve gone anywhere anyway. The fear the perpetuates thoughts of suicide is that you will go forth and continue to face the same failures of the past… that you will live and it still won’t be worth it in the end anyway.
I suppose the logic driving madness is to consider the affect that my life has had on the lives of others, and what does any of our lives come down to, if not that? I cannot say, in my current state, that my life has contributed anything of value to this world. From where I stand, all my effort has been in vain; and all my lack of effort has be cruel and spiteful. If you asked my loved ones, it is probable that they would argue that my life was of great value; but possible that none of them could back that up with evidence or specific instances in which I contributed something valuable.
I realize that relationships are fluid. People come and go. The time we have to connect with one another ebbs and flows. Our moods shift. Our locations change. We take up new hobbies, and grow tired of old ones. We become different people.
Over the past few weeks, I heard a song on XM radio that made me laugh. It is called “High School Never Ends” (by Bowling for Soup). It is an amusing song about the ways that the so-called “real world” functions very similarly to the way high school did. There’s a line in the song that stings a little for me, though. The chorus says: The whole damn world is just as obsessed with who’s the best dressed and who’s having sex, who’s got the money, who gets the honey’s, who’s kinda cute, and who’s just a mess. But the end of the song adds: And I’m pretty much the same as I was back then… HIGH SCHOOL NEVER ENDS. And I get this, its not uncommon for people to feel as awkward as they did in high school and maintain similar behaviors. But that last line gets me. When I look around at the people I knew back in the day, the truth is that, for better or worse, most have changed. They’ve gotten married, had kids, are managing careers or going to school. What I see all around me are people working toward their potential. And yet, I feel completely stagnant. I have a BA that I somehow achieved since high school, and little else to show for the nearly 11 years that have passed since then. I’m single, unemployed, depending on my parents, and struggling on a daily basis with emotional stability. I do have to say that I’ve made achievements in conquering disordered eating. I no longer use self-injury as a method of coping. I’ve overcome addictions, and learned a lot. I’ve met tons of people with a wealth of stories and backgrounds. When I face myself at the end of each day, though, I feel empty-handed. I feel as though I have little to show for the time that has passed. Everything I do feels like existing in a constant state of planning for the things that I could one day accomplish, but never actually accomplishing them. There are days when I consider having a kid just to muster some sense of accomplishment, but I know that in the end, my failure at that endeavor would just pour salt on the wound of my lack of accomplishment. I’m not suggesting that reproducing automatically equals accomplishment. I wouldn’t even say that of a career. These things do, however, suggest some sort of movement forward. I don’t feel like my life has lacked in experience, I simply feel as though I’ve done nothing with all the experience and wisdom that I have acquired.
I have to stop, I know this all sounds like a pity party. I can hear the hard-asses out there groaning and mumbling some bullshit line referring to my boot straps… yadda yadda.
I want to add that the burden of disappointment in myself doesn’t extend solely to what I have or haven’t accomplished as a result of challenges I have or haven’t had to face. Being faced with moments when suicide seems viable isn’t my biggest obstacle. What is worse, and what feeds those very flames, is the way I am to those I love when times are hard. I can’t even explain it. I become absolutely beside myself with not only rage, but disdain for the people who care for me the most. Maybe it is bitterness. I suppose it is possible that I am resentful for their efforts, whether I feel unworthy of them, or because I just want permission to leave this God-forsaken life behind and move on. There are times when I suspect that the only way to move forward is to succumb to this illness. There are points when I want to surrender myself to God, and moments still, when I fear the only way to surrender is to quit trying altogether.
In a day, I can change from being genuinely convinced that, despite all my failings, I have a good heart; into a monster, who can’t control her actions, or the fiery words spewing forth from her tongue. No matter what I do or say, the resentments that I feel for others, consistently translate into self-loathing after the storm clouds have broken.
I guess I just needed to get that off my chest. It certainly does help to have a chance to articulate what I am struggling with, but also to offer that insight for those who don’t understand or who suspect that they are alone in such struggles.
All that aside, I want to end with the fact that I am currently making an effort to seek residential treatment. I have been hospitalized a total of 6 times, 3 of which were involuntary after suicide attempts. These hospitalizations have lasted the length of 2 days to 2 months. The kind of treatment that I am seeking now is not emergency care for my safety, but an effort for a consistent, lengthy, ongoing treatment. Residential treatment can last between 20 days to 9 months, and is sometimes followed by intensive out-patient treatment.
The ultimate goal of such treatment is to get an oft derailed train back on the tracks, and to maintain it there for the purpose of transitioning into independent daily living. It is often necessary for people whose trauma, illnesses, or addictions are such that daily living is interrupted on a continuing basis, and weekly therapy can do little to offer the stability needed to move forward.
A close friend sent me several links to different residential facilities, and of the choices, I picked one. I have already emailed them, and will speak with them further today to make plans for admission and discuss cost options. The facility that I am looking into is an all women’s center in Illinois. The length of treatment in this facility varies from client to client, based on individual need. It is possible that I will be gone for several months. It is also very possible that the cost of treatment will be overwhelming, with or without insurance assistance, though I am hoping my insurance will assist in a substantial way. I do feel very blessed to have this as an option, and it irritates me that such treatment is so expensive, and as such, is out of the realm of possibility for many who face mental illness.
I suppose that this has become the critical moment at which I must decide between facing the uncertainty of both the future and the end, and deciding which is a safer bet. Neither decision is ever easy, straight forward, or without its costs; but I suppose we act despite that, no matter which road we choose to take.
I do not feel it just to ask anything of anyone, especially with the responsibility that I feel placed upon my own shoulders in the effort of recovery, but I am graciously accepting prayers by any who read this and feel inspired to lift me up in that way. I also want to ask for any encouragement that anyone out there has to offer. Obviously, you can comment here. If you wish to send me a private message, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org –Beyond that, I don’t know what else will help at this time. I myself am praying that one of these days, I will know success, and feel myself consistently moving forward. In this moment, I want to shake the feeling of stagnancy that plagues me, and to reach a point where I know that I am loved and supported, even in the depth and silence of the night.
I suppose that it eventually comes down to seeing my purpose playing out, rather than simply suspecting that it exists.
The Awakening: August 2nd and the Days Since
(Finding a Balance Between Jesus Christ and King of the Hill)
I was initially hesitant to post too soon after my last entry, but after really evaluating, I decided to try to catch my audience before they disperse.
I’m not even sure where to begin. My last two posts were about people we lost too soon to tragic circumstances, though my perspective in each instant contrasted starkly. One was written 5 days before my most recent suicide attempt. The last post was written a month and a half after that attempt. My thoughts seem transparently similar, but there’s a mystery smeared between those two posts, like something spilled on the few pages of a book that contain the climax. The pages are stuck together, and everything between “before” and “after” is almost inconsequential; or at least, that’s how it seems.
Let me plead that this is not so. I realize the posts are eerily similar, both addressing people I only knew at a distance, after their lives were lost in tragic circumstances. Both even pose my conflict about why some lost the battle, and others like myself, have a chance at survival.
It seems as though, since my post about Amy Winehouse, her parents have suggested that she lost her life from complications attributed to alcohol withdrawal. In my opinion, these circumstances make the story that much more tragic. She was making an effort, but the addiction consumed her in the end. I was almost astonished at how long it took most media outlets to come out with these details. When I got out of the hospital, I googled the story and found this explanation, and yet it was 2 or 3 weeks later before the media spoke about it.
Friday, my sister and I discussed the multi-faceted nature of mental illness, and the mystery that is our brains. We talked for a moment about how various mental issues seem to have similar characteristics. Though it may stir controversy, I’ll give an example. My dad recently saw the HBO film “Temple Grandin” about a woman born in 1947 with autism. It was very enlightening. I didn’t realize that autism was even acknowledged back then, but it also irked me to realize how much more misunderstood it was. I thought it was bad now, but it was far more misunderstood then. The doctor’s initially blamed Temple’s mother for her condition, but she refused to accept the accusation. With diligent attention from her mother and aunt, Temple excelled in life, and even more so in academics.
My dad was moved by the film, and sent a copy to my sister and myself. As I watched it, I identified things about Temple that I related to myself, and that I had observed in others. For instance, as is an issue with autism, Temple was overwhelmed and anxious in situations that offered an excess of audio, visual, and tactile stimulation. I completely understand this. I was recently started on a medication for ADHD because I had been withdrawing, and increasingly irritable in social situations for the very same reason. I ended my day on Saturday with a grocery store panic attack due to this issue. So many people, noises, products, and the agitation of my shirt shifting, and my purse strap rubbing against my neck.
Similarly, one of my former boyfriends was diagnosed with schizophrenia toward the end of our relationship. The illness didn’t present itself blatantly as hallucinations and paranoia, like most assume. It started progressing in his speech, which was disorganized, and indirect. It got the point where I just couldn’t understand him. Also, he started to become hyperaware of details. If in a room full of people, he would notice the way a dust bunny in the corner of the room was dancing atop the hardwood floor. When sitting with his mom in a diner one day, he started talking about a rabbit, as if his mom should know exactly what he was referring to. It wasn’t until she turned around and saw the painting of a farm with a rabbit in it, that she understood the origin of his thoughts. Temple was similarly observant, noticing and understanding things that no one else really had the awareness to note, or the ability to care about.
The brain certainly is a mysterious thing. Being as such, I am often frightened by what the brain can do.
Alzheimer’s is another example. It has been arising in the news more and more. I told my sister that I couldn’t cope with losing a loved one to Alzheimer’s, because it would be so similar to how I lost my ex to schizophrenia. I cannot stand the feeling of having lost someone who is still physically right in front of you. I do realize that they are making many great strides with Alzheimer’s… I just wish they’d do the same with mental illnesses like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
There is so much we have yet to understand about our brains. The brain is simply powerful, and being as such, it can either serve as a powerful motivator or a powerful hinderance.
When I look at my post on July 25th and compare it to my post from September 16th, it would seem as though the same person wrote it. And yes, in literal terms the same body sat at the same computer to bang her fingertips against the keys and make words. Perhaps even the same brain was behind what was thought and said. I suppose you could determine though, that the difference was completely spiritual.
I had gone down to Asheville with my parents for my cousin’s wedding. As I mentioned earlier, social situations are not my forté, though I manage surprisingly well most of the time. July 29th was not one of those days. I went to the rehearsal dinner at a local restaurant, greeting old friends and family members whom I have not seen in a while. The room was hot and crowded, and I had already been stuck in a car for 4 hours with my parents, which is quite a feat. The drinks that night were incredible! Freshly squeezed mojitos, margaritas, and sangria with fruit. I’m not sure how many I had, but I remember the food being equally as satisfying. There was so much commotion, that I don’t recall much else besides that and the heat. After eating, and feeling like was about to die through the sentimental slide show, I grabbed the car keys and split. I went to the car and sat with the air conditioning full blast until my parents left and we headed back to the hotel.
The next evening was my cousin’s wedding. We had been warned about the heat and mosquitos, so I had already decided that I couldn’t do it after my anxiety the night before. The situation seemed pretty simple to me, sometimes, social situations can just be too much. My sister gave me positive feedback for my boundary-setting, and the rest of the day is a blur. The only thing I remember from that day is getting car sick while my dad explored the wealthy neighborhoods of the city. Besides that, I recall that my dad took me out to a Mexican restaurant after they returned from the wedding.
I’m uncertain as to why everything else is a blur, but I remained in that state until Tuesday morning, when I woke up completely back to normal in a women’s psych unit.
Apparently, in the wee hours of July 31st I decided to end my life. I say apparently, because that’s how it appears. I do recall being somewhat melancholy, mainly about my future with regards to relationships and my chances of survival with mental illness. Other than that, it really wasn’t much out of the ordinary. A friend of mine was alarmed by what I had said to my ex, and my sister reflected that she should’ve been alarmed by the things I said to her. When I had a chance, I glanced back at those conversations, and if I had been them, I wouldn’t have been alarmed initially either. I’m typically a dark person, with an even darker sense of humor. Despite my recently blossoming spirituality, I have a significant past of depression and suicidal tendencies. It would appear to be a thin line with me.
The truth is, though, that I haven’t felt that way since March. I made a significant spiritual commitment to God in March, and dangerous depression hadn’t really been an issue since. I’m uncertain as to why, 4 months later, I would decide to end my life without much of a warning. In the past, the spiral downward for me has been lengthy and gradual. This was sudden.
My only medical explanation is that I had started a mood stabilizer a week and a half prior. Many psychiatric medications can have unintended counter-effects; so that is a possibility. I had taken the medication in the past, but only in the context of a complete medication cocktail. I had not been on any psychiatric medications since March.
As for spiritual explanations, I have a few. I’m not sure this is the time or the place to delve into that. If anyone has questions, I’ll be willing to answer them, and I’ll probably stick with basics for now.
So that Sunday around 3 am, without explanation, I overdosed on 100 dramamine and 40 ativan. My dad and several police officers found me the next morning. Everything until Tuesday morning is a blur, and most of what I know now is what has been told to me by people who were with me. I was taken to the ER in an ambulance, and stayed there until midday on Monday, August 1st, when I was transported via ambulance to another local hospital to be admitted into their psychiatric unit.
When I woke on Tuesday morning, and as the day wore on, I started to realize everything that I had been through. What started to really dawn on me, was the miracle of my survival. I spent the week that followed, bonding with women in similar situations and in prayer. I also spent a good amount of time reading the bible, and was diligent about attending morning devotions. It was unusual to be in the unit at that time, because when I woke up, I went back to being my “normal” self and otherwise basically “sane.” I recognized within a few days that I was good to go home, but it doesn’t really work like that in psych units. I was patient, and participated a lot. At one point, I started to feel so desperate to get out and do stuff, that I thought being there might make me crazier. This is a big contrast to the times I’ve gone in before. My previous experiences in such a setting left me fearful of returning to life, uncertain if I could handle life’s curveballs after being in such a controlled environment for a week or two. As eager as I was to get back to life, I made an effort to utilize and appreciate my time there. I developed friendships with some really incredible women, and learned some new things about myself.
Spiritually speaking, I will contribute this: prior to this experience, I made a commitment to God, but after doing so, carried on with life as usual. I suppose I expected things to unfold like I’ve heard people promise… “make that commitment, and all the baggage you’ve been carrying will dissolve.” I basically spent about a month and a half on my couch, watching “King of the Hill,” and waiting for my issues to go away.
It didn’t quite work like that.
I had gone to 6 am prayer at my church a few times in the 2 weeks before my suicide attempt, and spent the time praying, but also in meditation, focusing on developing my bond with God. I focused closely on the prayer that the people around me wouldn’t become distractions in my relationship with God.
See… basically, I’m a bit different from the majority at my church. I think outside of the box, and I’m far more liberal than most. No… like FARRRRR more liberal. As for politics, though, I really don’t see how that should affect spirituality and vice versa. My problem was that, I was capable of putting myself in that setting and being open enough to listen to what had to be said about God, but in casual conversation, I allowed minor opinions to affect how I felt about everything that I had grown to love. I also felt like I was often overlooked and invalidated because I am so liberal. The gist of it is: I could open my mind enough to go there, and they could open their minds enough to welcome me, but it stopped there. If they couldn’t otherwise accept my views, then that wasn’t really my problem, and it was just another opportunity for people to get between my relationship with God. I started to feel like the people around me wanted me to change my ways of thinking to look more like theirs. That’s when I bailed, and turn to “King of the Hill.”
I think a lot of people have that sort of reaction. Most of the people I know who cringe at the thought of “Christians,” do so because of people they’ve encountered who use their faith as a weapon of judgment and condemnation. I don’t blame them. Until recently, that had been my main experience of Christians too. I realize now that my experience of “Christians” really has nothing to do with my experience of God, and how I feel about Christ. Nope, those were two TOTALLY DIFFERENT THINGS.
My experience of survival after my suicide attempt, however, made me realize that my relationship with God was far more important than any judgment I had previously faced from people who claim Him, as well as any judgment I had previously put upon people who claim Him.
I realized a lot, actually. In the days after my literal reawakening, I had an increasing spiritual reawakening.
I had always heard the quotation that said “It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself.” (Eleanor Roosevelt) I came to understand that giving up on people because of the ways they judged me was hypocritical. If I expected them to not give up on me, I had to offer the same. My experience was sort of like God whispering in my ear to add, “people aren’t the point of spirituality anyway.” I do appreciate fellowship, but I also realize that I’m never going to fit into the mold of what people associate with followers of Christ. That’s fine by me. I had previously grasped onto all my bad habits, addictions, and toxic patterns because I assumed they held my identity. I didn’t want to lose my empathy, my creativity, and my quirkiness for the sake of dropping the negative. My experience made me realize that wasn’t an issue anyway. I realized that my past wasn’t haunting me anymore, and yet, I was still unique. I was focused and unmoved by things that used to break me, but just as determined to be an advocate for people with mental health issues and survivors of sexual violence.
I could pretend like it was “just” a suicide attempt, and nothing more, but it was more for me. When I got out of the hospital, I was surprised by people from my past who reached out to me for support. I also had a new outlook on life, and new thoughts on spirituality and mental health.
I used to think that suicide was a conscious and calculated decision. In my past experience, that was the case, but this was different. For whatever reason, I was in an altered state that went beyond not thinking rationally and became more dissociated. I realized that there are times in people’s lives when they will be in that state and take that drastic action without ever having made any decision at all, and without having much, if any, control over their actions.
For this very reason, I realized that I’m only in control of so much. I can take my meds, stay on schedule, respect my boundaries, and still fall short of taking care of what I need to survive. That’s when I realized that God is far more necessary than I had ever admitted. It is also when I realized that people are too insignificant for me to accept them as obstacles between God and myself. And on top of everything, I finally let go of the baggage I had lugged around for so long, because I knew that there are things that I can’t explain, things that are far bigger than myself. I had enough of a glimpse at the bigger picture to understand the purpose of my suffering for personal growth, and yet, the insignificance of it on a universal scale.
I would lie, and tell you that everything has been hunky dory since, if I thought compromising my integrity could serve some greater purpose. It won’t. It has been a struggle. I have faced speed bumps in my day-to-day life. I have argued with fellow church members. I’ve gotten in fights with my parents, and had moments when I felt helpless.
I see those moments as fleeting more than I ever have before, though.
I used to think that upheaval was a constant state of being. I used to feel resigned to my plight. These days, I’m more of a fighter. When conflict or turmoil arise, I reach out. I talk to loved ones and I pray constantly. When I’m being completely honest with myself, I see the obstacles as insignificant, and I’m overwhelmed by gratitude. When the past starts to creep back in to haunt me, I simply acknowledge that allowing it to haunt me will serve no greater purpose in this world, especially if I aspire to help those who have been through the struggles that I have been through.
I’m nowhere near perfect, which is fine. If we were perfect, humility would be difficult. I tried to keep that in mind when I felt the twinge of humiliation when reflecting upon being found naked in a hotel room, incoherent and surrounded by vomit. We all have our moments, and none of them look the same. It isn’t important to dwell, but it is important to acknowledge what we’ve faced and allow it to be an opportunity for learning and growth.
I feel more capable than ever. I don’t feel limited by my circumstances, because I realize that all things really are possible now. I’ve started pursuing new paths that I’ve known were in my future, but have consistently put off due to a nagging fear of failure.
Are there days when I’m fearful? Not really… but moments? Yes. I do sometimes fear that my past will creep up, like a gaining wave, and overpower me. Do I let that cripple me? No. Well, yes, but not for long. I’m human. I make mistakes and bad judgments, but I’m learning, not only about life, but about what I am capable of as a new person. I’m learning about myself in a spiritual context, and considering more and more who I am to God and who God is to me.
It is an odd thing to carry the possibility of hindrance in your brain, while everything else you feel is completely new. I suppose, in the end, it all comes down to being motivated by your newness, and always keeping your brain in check.
In closing, I want to share some important scripture with you. I focused on Psalm 91:11 while in the hospital, for the sake of reminding myself that God is watching over me. The only translation I had in the hospital was the King James Version, which isn’t my favorite. When I got out, I read each translation of it, and I settled on The Message’s version of the passage. It is awesome, and motivating. Whenever I have doubts, these words help me feel safe.
Psalm 91:1-14 (The Message)
You who sit down in the High God’s presence…
Say this: “God, you’re my refuge.
I trust in you and I’m safe!”
That’s right—he rescues you from hidden traps,
shields you from deadly hazards.
His outstretched arms protect you—
under them you’re perfectly safe;
his arms fend off all harm.
Fear nothing—not wild wolves in the night,
not flying arrows in the day,
Not disease that prowls through the darkness,
not disaster that erupts at high noon…
no harm will even graze you.
You’ll stand untouched, watch it all from a distance…
Yes, because God is your refuge,
the High God your very own home,
Evil can’t get close to you,
harm can’t get through the door.
He ordered his angels
to guard you wherever you go.
If you stumble, they’ll catch you;
their job is to keep you from falling.
You’ll walk unharmed among lions and snakes
p.s. I also want to add that my month and a half with the Hill family of Arlen, Texas wasn’t completely useless. I did learn this:
“King of the Hill: Born Again on the Fourth of July (#13.14)” (2009)
Lucky: You took the wrong message from what that preacher was screaming at you. You can’t go throwing stones at others until you’ve thrown a bunch of stones at yourself.
Bobby Hill: I guess you’re right.
Lucky: Besides, saving souls is not your job. That position is taken, in Heaven by the Big Man, and on screen by Morgan Freeman.
To Those We’ve Lost To The Current That Swept Them Away In The Silence Of The Night
One of my sister’s best friends from childhood was lost to suicide this past week. You can find this story at this link. I was going to post this comment on her blog, but I do understand that suicide is a more taboo subject than I sometimes realize. (As Sinead O’connor recently pointed out on twitter.) I’ve been meaning to post for sometime, about my own experience over the past couple of months, since I nearly lost my own life, but I’ve had a hard time forcing myself to do it. Hopefully, I can muster up the strength to do it soon.
Her most recent post was titled “Will She Remember?” and contained a poem she wrote about her daughter, posing the question of whether she would remember these days of her youth. The post is prefaced by this quotation: “In the happiest of our childhood memories, our parents were happy, too.” ~Robert Brault …and a photo of her daughter.
This was my response:
This is a very haunting question to have as a final post. Amanda, my dear, I wish that I had words for these moments, but there simply aren’t any. I have had many friends of friends who have been lost to this battle, but I felt pretty distant from each of those instances. You were one of my sister’s best friends in middle school, and I remember that. I also recall seeing you on the park and ride at UNCG, and pretending not to notice, because I’m sure you understand how awkward it can be to talk to people from your past whom you were somehow distantly connected to. Now, I feel a slight twinge for not saying a simple “hello.” It makes me wonder if we could’ve hit it off. I almost died this past July 30th from a similar incident. I was grateful and humbled by surviving, but now I’m left recognizing that some don’t survive, which makes me wonder why. I know you are already missed terribly, I can see that from the memorial page they made for you on Facebook. I also know that few will really understand. I wish I could offer you that understanding, but I suppose it’d be of little value now. My heart breaks for your daughter. I want her to have the understanding of how much you loved her, and the understanding of why things happen as they do, without the pain of personal struggle. I’ll pray for her. My heart breaks for you too. I know what it is like in those final moments, when the world becomes a dream, and you decide to slip away. Sometimes you feel a stirring beneath your feet, as if the ground is about to open up. Sometimes you feel nothing at all. Every time I learn that someone has taken their own life, I pray for them. I pray for them, just as I did for myself in the moments when the fear set in, the final seconds before you hear the door shut behind you. I pray for their souls, though I can’t honestly justify the idea that a loving God could punish people so desperate, so consumed by the darkness… for caving under the pressure. I pray they find peace, love, protection… and strength. I prayed for you today, Amanda. I heard the news at lunch, though my parents were afraid to say the words in front of me, my own past being so fresh behind me. I had a moment alone to go to PetSmart for rabbit food, and I prayed as I walked into the store. I almost felt as if I was floating, and I could almost feel your presence there. I understand the loneliness. I understand being overwhelmed. I’m one of the few who can comprehend a moment of crisis, when you are certain you have no other options. I don’t know why I’m here, and you aren’t. I am torn between feeling blessed and feeling guilty. I’m also left with a nagging fear that I could still lose the battle one day too. I pray you are lifted gently to God without judgment or bitterness. Most people don’t understand the desperation, mainly because they’ve never felt it. I wish they could understand it without having to feel it. I know a lot of people make promises to themselves, though, a promise that they would never do such a thing, but who is to say where life will take us? How can any of us rest assured in what our future holds? I wish I could stop it. I wish, for everyone out there at this moment with a gun in their hand, a bottle of pills, a razorblade, on a bridge, or with something wrapped around their necks… I wish it would stop. And for their sakes, as for my own, I wish it would stay stopped. The truth is, it ebbs and flows, and we never know when the current may take us under, even when our feet seem planted, and steady. I wish, when people heard of suicide, they didn’t place judgment. I wish it allowed them an opportunity to stop and consider with gratitude, how blessed it is to live a life so distant from dismay that you can’t even comprehend such actions. My heart goes out to you, that you are safe now, wherever you are… I pray you are finding respite. My heart goes out to your family, friends, and students; that your life and their loss fills them with gratitude and allows them to realize the responsibility of support that is placed upon the stable who dwell amongst the troubled. I know I never said hello, but I hope my prayers find you now, and you are warmed by my understanding and reassured by the numbers of hearts going out to you and yours tonight.
If you, or someone you know is struggling with mental illness & contemplating suicide, there are options:
If you NEED HELP NOW… Call the NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
If you are a survivor or have survived an attempt, you can find resources from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).
To take a stand against the stigma associated with mental illness, you can find out more from BRING CHANGE 2 MIND.
You can find out about suicide prevention from the AMERICAN FOUNDATION FOR SUICIDE PREVENTION.
Please don’t wait until suicide affects you personally, find out how you can help. The AFSP does a walk to raise funds for suicide prevention research called: OUT OF THE DARKNESS. It is an 18 mile walk that ends at sunrise. In 2012, the walk will be in San Francisco. Sign up, raise money, train, and do something to not only save lives, but improve them as well. I’m hoping to start a team, and do the walk in 2012.
Please feel free to leave a comment.
Share your story.
Do what you can to start the conversation, and take the first steps on the road toward healing.
(this video was made to raise funds for the overnight walk that happened in NYC this past June)