Saturday, September 22, was the 3 year anniversary of when I was raped… most recently. Let me explain. This was not the first time. I have a long history of surviving these experiences, starting as early as the ages of 3 and 5. And this is not uncommon. Many people, especially those who started their lives as victims, are victimized again. Predators have a keen sense of who would be a good victim, and those who were victimized in their formative years know no other way of being. It has taken nearly a decade of intense therapy to unlearn the things that I was taught as a child victim.
I hear a lot of people substitute the word “survivor” in place of “victim.” In the years that you are just surviving, this is very accurate. You’re a victim when it happens, and a survivor in whatever you do afterwards to keep yourself alive, moving forward. I developed addictions, an eating disorder, and other self destructive behaviors to survive. My brain could not cope with reality. How could it? Reality was a living nightmare. Pure hell. These are the things I did to survive. To kill this thing inside of me. To get by despite it all. I thought I was doing pretty well. I didn’t realize the extent to which these experiences were destroying my life, until my behaviors came to a head. It was life or death from there. Keep doing what I was doing and let it kill me, or fight and as a result, live. My problem was, I didn’t want to live. I had no interest in it whatsoever. Which is why I nearly died numerous times. But there was some sort of secret spark in me. It was the bane of my existence, and it wanted me alive, when every other part of me wanted to die. It was my incurable hope. And thus, this blog was born, to document it. To explore it.
Today, I don’t see myself as a survivor. I am beyond that. I use the terminology, because it is what people are familiar with. Today, I am a thriver. My life, my success, my flourishing, is my big “fuck you” to everyone who hurt me. Though, today, I’m not angry or bitter. I let that go. It was too heavy. I punished myself with it long enough, believing that I was somehow punishing them by doing it. All I knew was someone had to pay. But I forgive myself for that now. I didn’t understand. I forgive most people, but contrary to popular belief, forgiveness is not necessary for healing. Some things, only God can forgive. I am only human. Today, my heart hurts for that little girl, for every little girl still living and suffering. Not just those who are still being abused, but those who are now grown women, with little girls still trapped inside, reliving it daily. Punishing themselves for the acts of others.
Look, I’ve come a lot further than a lot of former victims ever do. I’ve been blessed. But I do know this: I am supposed to share my experience so that the others know it is possible to not just survive, but to thrive. To use the pain as fuel. To live your meaningful lives. These are things you CAN overcome. As a matter of fact, there’s now even a name for that: posttraumatic growth. And you can achieve it. I promise you, you can.
I don’t want to make it seem like these these things won’t affect you for the rest of your life. They never go away. They will always hurt. At times, they still haunt me. But it is possible to get to a place where they no longer control you. Where they do not shake you. Where you can observe them from a distance that will prevent you from broken by them every. single. time. You’re heart can hurt for the child within, but you will be equipped to comfort her with the compassion you never received. You. Can. Heal. And you can help others do the same. Once you find that love for yourself, you will want to share it with others. ALL of us who were victimized deserve that.
I am a part of a running group that chooses a cause or charity every month as their focus. Everyone in the group donates towards that cause. We get a ticket in a raffle for every mile, or 20 minutes worth of exercise we do each day. At the end of the month, the tickets are drawn for raffle prizes. It is called “good running” because we are using our running to work towards bettering our world.
Everything I do is an attempt at improving the world around me, and this is just one way.
I volunteer for Hospice. I share my triumphs and my struggles. I express my gratitude and apologize for my mistakes. My main goal in life is for the world to be a better place because I am/was in it.
Many people don’t realize this, but my self-care is an integral part of my effort to have a positive impact on the world around me. I believe is was Rumi who said, “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today, I am wise so I am changing myself.” This has become my philosophy. In order to be of any use to anyone else, I must first address my needs. Also, I AM changing the world, by starting with myself. Believe it or not, I have seen that have a HUGE impact on those around me.
This week’s celebrity suicides have brought to the forefront of our minds the issues of mental health, suicide, stigma, and survival. It just so happens, that this month’s cause in my Good Running group is mental health. As someone in recovery from addiction and an eating disorder, and as someone who struggles with the affects of a mood disorder, and the lingering effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, these issues are always in the forefront of my mind. This is my every day battle. This is why I try to go to bed at a reasonable hour, and get plenty of rest. This is why I wake up each morning and make my bed. Why I organize and take my meds religiously. Why I try my darnedest to eat a balanced diet and practice moderate, regular exercise. Why I go to AA meetings, a psychiatrist, a therapist, a dietitian, and work diligently as both a sponsor and a sponsee. This is my life. This is my every day. Even when the suicidal thoughts aren’t present, I am working tirelessly to make sure they don’t have the environment they need to appear or grow or fester in my mind. My mind is like a garden that I tend to each day. And my body and spirit are just as important, in keeping my mind a healthy place. They are all intricately connected. It is hard, constant work, but it is so amazingly worth it.
Words cannot convey how worth it, it is. But let me tell you this… if you’ve ever seen the change of the light in someone’s eyes, when they finally grasp and really begin to pursue recovery, you’ll know. Something changes. It is just as palpable as a corpse once the spirit has departed. Only this is the opposite of that. It is like, for the first time, someone is finally ALIVE!
I have so much love in my life! I cannot REALLY look around at the people who surround me and not start to get choked up. Runners, artists, teachers, caretakers, addicts in recovery, patients who devoted their lives to becoming the counselors, survivors of sexual violence, those who’ve conquered their eating disorders, those who’ve taken back their power, and declared victory over their lives. I’m surrounded by them. Supporters. And when I struggle, a single post on Facebook sends them the battle cry. And they step up. They always step up. They are always there. To run with me. To go to a meeting with me. To combat ed’s voice with me. To remind me to keep going when I just want to sleep. To ask me if I’ve taken my meds, or written recently, or called my sponsor, or had a hug. I’m blessed.
And the exciting thing is… THEY. ARE. EVERYWHERE. And they will help you too. Because that’s what they do. They’re helpers. And when they’re the ones in need, and you’re the one who is able, you return the favor. You can’t keep what you’ve got unless you give it away. That’s how this works.
This is community.
There is a wealth of hope and resources and people ready and willing to tell you how much you matter, and how worth the fight you are. And you are. There are so many just waiting to offer a hand, to lift you up and walk with you into hope. So, don’t give up. Let’s figure out a way to surround you with these kinds of people too. Because life can actually be so fucking incredible. I promise.
Seven years ago today, I sat in church pews long after the congregation had left. Tormented about making a decision to follow Christ or go home and die. I had questions, tons of them. And fears and doubt and hesitation and anger. One thing I did not have was anything left to lose. And that’s how this all began…
My parents like to frequent the same restaurants. They find one they like and go there loyally from that moment on. There was a tea room in a nearby town they discovered, and fell in love with. Once they became regulars, they got to know the family who owned it. The family had lost a son to suicide some years back, and they got to talking about me. I’m not sure exactly what those conversations looked like, but obviously my having lived a suicidal life arose at some point. When I moved back to the area, I became a pet project for that family. No one in the family was more relentless in this pursuit than Kathryn. Kathryn was obnoxiously enthusiastic about Jesus. Like… she REALLY effin loved Jesus. Her spunk drove me insane. I was low energy, grumpy, and wanted to be left alone. I’m not sure how I responded when she started inviting me to church. In my head I imagine smiling, nodding, and shrugging it off. She did not stop asking. Eventually, I decided I’d just shut her up by obliging. “Then,” I thought, “She’ll leave me alone.”
So, that Saturday night, I went. I was planted in my chair through the entirety of the ordeal. My arms were crossed. I had a scowl on my face. I did not sing. I did not stand. I said nothing. “I’ll go, but I don’t have to enjoy it.” I guess I thought if I was enough of a jerk, it’d scare them away. Or maybe I just assumed I knew how church went, and I thought it was all a crock of shit, and all Christians were the same, predictable. As I heard the pastor preach, though, something in my heart started to open. I was certain he’d say something to piss me off, but he did not. Everything he said, I could get behind. It was hopeful, and beautiful, and inspiring, and yet, I was dead set on never going back after that. Kathryn, on the other hand, had different plans. Kathryn kept inviting me back. So, eventually, I surrendered and kept going.
I’d heard the “altar calls” many times, before the night of March 27th rolled around. I don’t know if it had crossed my mind. It probably had. But I’ve always been one to question authority. If this Jesus had so much hope and love and forgiveness, why were Christians often the worst of the jerks? Is God a man? Why is God a man? Men had never done any favors for me. If EVERYONE has access to the forgiveness of Jesus, then that means that the people who abused me when I was a small, helpless child had access to that forgiveness. “Some things,” I believed, “are simply unforgivable.” Where was God in all of that? The altar call came and went that night, and I wanted to go up there, but I wanted answers to all these questions and more, first. As ridiculously impulsive as I’ve been all my life, I wanted to be certain before I committed to this nonsense. I let the call pass, and after service, I started assaulting the pastor with questions. Eventually, he had to go. I sat in the pew, the church now empty except for Kathryn, her sister, and myself. I looked at the clock, then the door, and thought to myself, “If I go home tonight, I’m going to kill myself.” I figured, that this decision could not hurt, so I was going to try it.
With Kathryn and Bekah by my side, I bowed my head and prayed out loud.
Someone recently asked me what exactly it means to “accept Christ.” Here’s the thing, I didn’t really know at the time either. Truth is, its pretty simple. All it takes is a prayer, you’re own version of, “God, I’m tired of doing this alone. I need your help, your forgiveness, and your love. I believe that Jesus did all these awesome things to offer me that, and I am accepting that gift now, and accepting you into my heart.” Feel free to paraphrase as your heart guides. You could do it right this second, if you want.
God is not imposing. He waits for us. A lot of non-believers wonder where God is. God will not interfere in your life if you do not wish to have him there. He’s just waiting for an invitation. After you’ve offered that, he will take care of the rest.
I’d never doubted God’s existence. That belief came naturally to me, although the Jesus thing seemed weird. I didn’t get the death and resurrection concept. Seemed odd, zombie-like, and also there’s the cannibalistic symbolism of the last supper. It was pretty far out to me. I had been told numerous times in high school that I couldn’t be Christian if I didn’t do X, Y, and Z, and I thought “guess I’m not Christian, then.” So, for years I had left it at that. “Guess I don’t qualify.”
What Kathryn, and others in that church taught me, is all the hope that is found in Jesus. I had heard all the zillion things Christians are against, but not once heard about all the hope Jesus had to offer. Hope was something I could get behind. Hope was something I needed desperately. And who doesn’t need unconditional love?
After that night, things did not change instantaneously. It was a process, but it changed my life forever. I still had struggles, and sometimes still do. But the ball was set into motion. That was March 27th, 2011. In July, I had a near death experience that opened my eyes to spiritual truths I had previously been uncertain of, which led to my sobriety. By November, I was off to residential treatment, for all of my issues. Five months of treatment was covered 100% by my insurance. There, my meds got straight, I let go of my addictions, and my eating disorder. I had a chance to process a lifetime of trauma and grief. I moved to California on my own after that (somewhere I’d always dreamt of living), and started my life in recovery. I met a wonderful sponsor with whom I am still very close. I became strong in my recovery, and built a community. In the years since, every time I think things could not possibly get any better, they do. They get better to a new extent to which I had previously thought impossible. I have an incredible life. I have everything I need, do all the things I love, and have accomplished new goals, and set my sights on new heights. It is unimaginably awesome, and it only gets better. God certainly had way more in store for me than I could’ve ever dreamt for myself. I had previously believed I’d just be suicidal until I eventually succeeded in that, and that would be my life.
I am a different person, inside and out.
In the past two years, I’ve lost 130 lbs. Thursday, I’ll celebrate one year of running. April 15th, I’ll be doing a TEN mile race!!! I’ve written this blog, and shared my triumphs and struggles, and helped numerous people. I have several sponsees, and find myself being told over and over that I’ve inspired someone in some way, or helped people out of ruts. All without even realizing I was doing it. And honestly, I feel like the wealthiest person in the world as a result. Sometimes, I pity the people who think they have it all, when all they really have is material wealth.
Did I know ANY of this was possible on March 27th, 2011? No. I had no clue. All knew was I had an option to go home and die, or try something new that could possibly help in some way. So, I took a leap. And this is where I’ve landed. It was literally the best decision of my life.
God has healed my heart of so much hurt. I was so relentlessly bitter back then. I was angry at God. I thought he was punishing me. I wanted nothing to do with a male God. I blamed him for it all. In the years since, I’ve recognized God’s presence in even my darkest moments. He never gave up on me. And I see it now. Little things I was blind to before. Look, I know people have hurt you. Maybe the church has hurt you. Your pain is very valid, but God is neither those people nor the church. Every time you were hurt, it hurt God’s heart as well. He hurts where we hurt. It pains him to see us mistreated and abused. I have learned this to be true. God is not angry at us for our mistakes. He sees us as beautiful works of art, and loves every little quirk about us. No, God is not a man, so don’t get it twisted. God is beyond our earthly limitations. These very concepts are boxes God cannot fit into. Many languages default to the masculine when referring to something ambiguous in that way. Is it right? No, but its easy. If you have a different pronoun you’d prefer, go for it. God does not want to punish us. God just wants to love unconditionally, and help us in this process we call life. God is always there. He is faithful and reliable. Does everyone have access to this forgiveness? Absolutely, but you should know that many people will not choose to pursue it.
I am a kinder, more compassionate person these days. I make healthier decisions. I am a septillion times happier, seriously. I will always be a work in progress, but how far I’ve come is nothing short of miraculous. Anyone who knew me before will wholeheartedly attest to that.
I’ve had all of my questions answered. If ever I have new ones arise, God answers those as well. My heart has been healed. I can attest to God’s faithfulness. I celebrate this anniversary more than any other and always will. It is the longest I’ve committed to anything. There is no turning back, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you have questions, feel free to reach out. There is so much more to say, but this is just a blog, not my memoir. Stay tuned for that. I’m just happy to share this hope wherever I can. It is too wonderful to keep it to myself.
This Valentine’s Day, I held the heart of a guinea hen in my hand. Organs are slippery, y’all. *insert gaggy-type emoji here*
Today, I had the opportunity to be a part of the slaughtering process on a friend’s farm. It was such a strange invitation for Valentine’s Day, I had to accept.
THIS is my life. Welcome. Pull up a chair.
Sometime last year, I was flooded with a scary bout of depression that very briefly threatened my life, and gave me a reminder of our mortality, especially mine, with the history that I have. I decided from that experience that this life is far too short to say “no” to ANY opportunities that come my way. I decided to say “yes” from now on, no matter what, no matter how scared I might be. Actually, I decided to say “yes” ESPECIALLY in spite of how scared I might be. (This is real life, y’all. Live it!) The time that has followed since has included, zip lining, paragliding, sky diving, fearlessly diving into dating, and many other endless adventures. When the new year started, I decided to take it a step further and try something new EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Today, I assisted in the animal slaughtering process.
To be honest, I’ve been teetering on the edge of vegetarianism for some time now. With the spiritual growth I’ve experienced in the past 6 months, I struggled with the consumption of animals that were hurt and traumatized prior to death. I believe that energy affects their bodies, and what we consume affects our bodies and our spirits. I believe that trauma most certainly has some impact upon us. I’ve also struggled with the environmental costs that come with meat consumption. My goal in this life is to positively contribute to the world in everything I do. I want this place to be better because I was/am here. I’ve also been squeamish about meat for several years now, which has made me wonder if I should give it up entirely. I figured today would be a good opportunity to confront what exactly it means to consume meat.
Today’s opportunity gave me plenty of time to reflect quietly. The farm I was on gives these animals a full, free life. The animals are treated luxuriously, and the slaughtering process is probably a hundred times more gentle than it would be in a factory setting. The lives these animals lived and the methods of their deaths CANNOT be compared to that of commercial farms. Let me be very clear about that. Today was an excellent chance for me to give that some honest thought. So, aside from the ethical question of whether or not to eat meat, I was allowed a chance to also consider carefully from where I source my meat.
I had friends who asked about pictures from today, but the entire process was treated very reverently, which felt entirely appropriate. I had come from visiting a Hospice patient, and to be honest, when I saw the first guinea hen die, I got choked up. It felt very similarly to when my first patient died. Someone asked me a question, and it was hard to talk clearly without my voice cracking. It is hard not to see death in any instance as a spiritual experience. Death is intense and powerful, and at the same time, it has never been something that I shied away from. If I were uncomfortable with death, I wouldn’t work for Hospice.
I was welcomed to help in any part of the process that I felt comfortable with. I helped with a few parts of cleaning after the death. I do not think that I could, at any time, become comfortable with actually killing the animal. NO part of the process felt comfortable. I started with what seemed easiest. A lot of it is a very delicate and careful process, that I feel too crippled by self doubt to try and approach. I’m not generally terribly enthused about trying anything with too much room for error.
The entire process was quite draining and overwhelming. I am still reflecting upon the experience, but I am grateful to have had it. It actually seemed like a very meaningful way to spend Valentine’s Day. I am grateful to the family that allowed me to be there, and participate at my comfort level. How I will approach meat consumption moving forward is still up for debate, and I will require more time to ponder, meditate, and probably write about the experience, so that I can see further into it and its meaning, and process how exactly it made me feel.
Where your food is coming from, and what exactly it takes to get to your table is something we all need to spend some time considering carefully. Food is not only nourishing our bodies, but also impacting us and our world in ways which we remain comfortably unaware. I’ve learned in eating disorder recovery that food is so important. It is never “good” or “bad.” It is something our bodies and our minds need, and it is equally important to consider how food might be nourishing or harming our souls as well. This world needs us to be intentional about every choice we make right now. Just some food for thought moving forward. Take some time to chew on that. 😉
It has been so long since I wrote a blog post, that WordPress has changed their format, and so I’m writing in a completely unfamiliar page. Which is great (sarcasm), because this may be the hardest blog post I’ve ever had to write.
I had a really awesome blog once, with incredible writing. I suspect the writing was so good because I was completely uninhibited about what I wrote. As I have grown more mature, have become a Christian, and am now newly aware of the vast-spreading nature of the internet, I am a lot more careful about what I write, because I never know who my audience might be.
This post is going to have to be on the more uninhibited side, because I’m writing about something painfully personal, and on a topic that many people do not wish to discuss.
At the same time, I recently discovered that I can no longer access that deliciously uninhibited blog I spoke of, because I don’t remember the password to it. I don’t have any proof of ownership either, so I can’t find out the password or reset it. With my motivation to write being seriously lacking, realizing that I’ve once again (this happens regularly) lost a great deal of my favorite writing does not help the situation. I am, however, writing this post purely out of necessity. I genuinely feel like my life could end up at risk, if I do not say what I have to share today.
I will begin by acknowledging that I have lived through some very difficult traumas. When one lives through trauma, we know what it means to live through a situation where your main objective is just to survive through it. And for many of us, we become stuck in survival mode, with our bodies and our minds functioning as if we are living out that traumatic situation every moment of every day, until something stops it. This is why I now realize that when I was living out a pattern of self-destructive behaviors, I was a survivor of trauma. When it happened, I was a victim, and in the years I spent in limbo, I was a survivor. I did whatever I could do cope with the reality in which I lived, and it was killing me.
I spent the majority of my time in residential treatment, trying to overcome these patterns of self-destructive behaviors, substance abuse, self harm, eating disorder, etc. That time was utilized to stop the survival mode I was stuck in. Once we had accomplished that, my treatment team and I set out to address the traumas themselves. While we made a significant effort, it was all brought to a halt when insurance decided to stop paying. I spent the year that followed, trying unsuccessfully to find a therapist in my area.
Luckily, upon moving to where I now live, I immediately met a therapist who was a perfect fit for me. I have been seeing her about a year, and this month we began, once again, to start addressing the trauma I have experienced in my life.
As a child, I was sexually abused. I would try to skirt around that fact in this post for the sake of saving my family any embarrassment, but a dear friend who I have been in a abuse support group with recently confronted me about the fact that I had never stated this to the group. Am I avoiding it? I thought. How could I be avoiding something without even realizing it? When I went to my therapist a few days later, I thought that I would cleverly elicit a reaction from her to see if she too thought I had been avoiding the topic. When I came in that day, I plopped down on her couch with exasperation and said, point blank, “Well, I guess we should address the trauma… I’ve kinda been avoiding it.” Her response? “Yes, I know.” I was shocked! Even my therapist thought I was avoiding it, so it MUST be true. So, therefore, I must say it. I cannot avoid it any longer. That does not aid in my recovery. I want to be an active part of the solution, not the problem.
I don’t think I ever drew the lines before when I was addressing my trauma in treatment, but it has come to my attention that a common feeling comes over me as I address my childhood sexual abuse. I have an overwhelming, almost paranoid feeling that no one is listening, and no one wants to be bothered with hearing about what I am going through. I now realize that this is must’ve been how I felt as a child whenever I tried to tell anyone about what was happening to me. As valid as it was then, it is very possible that this feeling is irrational in my current situation. I do know that I have plenty of people who hear me, and who care about what I have to say. But even with those loved ones, I have a sneaking suspicion from time to time that they are annoyed by me, or tired of hearing about it. The feeling overcomes me, and it is impossible to ignore. I now recall exploding with verbal outrage on people who talked over me, or who I felt were not listening when I was in treatment. I became very defiant and more determined to be heard at any cost. I realize now that there is still a child inside of me who is dying to be heard.
Now that I am safe, I am recalling these things from an adult perspective, and I have asked myself, “What can I do now to ensure that I am having my needs met in a way I could not have done as a child?” The realization that I have come to is this: I now have a blog and an ability to write. I now know how to ask for help. And I now know exactly what to ask for.
That is my purpose for writing this post. I’m directing it specifically at people in my life.
It is very important in any interactions with me, at this time, and especially when I am speaking about my trauma work or how it makes me feel, that I am heard and validated. This can be as simple as saying, “I hear what you are saying.” or “I care.” or “Your feelings are valid.” They seem really simple and direct, and I know people in treatment who poo-pooed the whole “you’re feelings are valid” line, but I have always felt that there are so many instances when that is ALL people need to hear.
When I reflect upon all of this now, I realize that this could be a core root of why I spent so much of my life suicidal. I felt unheard and ignored… like I was a bother or a burden. Honestly, when I thought of taking my life, I genuinely believed I’d be doing my family a favor. That is why I feel like it is so important, at this moment, for me to hear the things I did not hear as a child. I spent the other night in tears, because I was feeling that same way, and it is so easy for me to come to the conclusion that no one cares, and everyone would be better off without me. I know it sounds extreme, but I have a pretty extreme mind. I’m doing the work I need to change, and it would also be really helpful if the people around me could do what they can to help me in this process.
So, that is what I need. I was a victim, then a survivor, and now… I am trying to thrive. And for me, this is part of the process. Thanks for reading, and for participating in my recovery. Hugs and love.