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.
I’ve been going back and reading old posts, which I never do. My mind has been revisiting the things I used to feel, and I happened to be led there. It might not be a good idea, but it is a good reminder from where I came. I’ve been reading a lot of my posts about suicide, and my attempts. One, which I wrote on the anniversary of one of my attempts, I intended on adding another poem to, but it seems I did not. So, I want to add it now.
The Poem I Did Not Write
I see my life in seasons
unfolding behind me
rolling hills with greenery,
the brilliant colors of trees in fall,
or sunsets over water
in my rearview mirror as I drive away,
and it is gone.
I revisit these places
that once were home.
Each previous address.
The walls, they do speak.
The men that came and went;
The labor it takes to remove the smell
of vomit-drenched carpet;
The ghosts that waved good-bye
when it wasn’t my time.
The echoing of sobs.
I am making this journey in solitude,
but aren’t we all?
At the end of the day,
it is only ourselves
And those who drop in for a visit
once in a while.
I’ve spent years wondering
if my wails will rattle these walls
long after I am gone.
Will I haunt this place
like it still haunts me?
When I was 12, I wrote a poem
in which I stated
“I was meant to die by my own hand.”
I have not forgotten the line,
it rings loudly in my mind
like a catchy tune
that you cannot shake.
And the only way to ease the urge
is to listen to it
one more time.
When I was 31,
a medium told me
that I would not wed,
and those words too,
they will not leave me,
though everyone else has.
I never realized until now
That each morning is the clean slate
I was searching for
That each sunrise is my chance to try again.
Each face I meet, I memorize
inside my heart,
appreciating its beauty,
savoring its presence
before it is gone.
Though I am not sure
whether the recalling
either harms or heals.
And this is where I’ve found myself
stopped along the road.
The joy, my God,
It is infectious.
Vibrant and healing!
And I come alive.
It soothes me in the waiting.
It holds me in the dark.
My loveliest companion.
And even so,
I still have times
when I can hear the darkness whisper,
calling me back.
And despite my knowing
how deeply it aches
I find myself tempted
to revisit it as well.
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.
I have an assignment to write about what God is telling me, what God is saying to me right now. Honestly, more often than not, I have no idea. Probably because I listen to myself more than I listen to God. I have a constant narrative of selfish chaos running on loop in my brain.
For those who don’t speak Christianese, there’s this prayer saying that you hear a lot among Christ followers. “Break my heart for what breaks Yours.” Basically, we want to know what breaks God’s heart. We want to know how things going on in the world feel to God. I have prayed that prayer often.
See, sometimes people say “God hates ________.” This drives me crazy. I adamantly believe that God cannot, will not, does not hate. At all. God is love. Love can’t hate. Hate is a very strong word, and doesn’t belong in the same sentence with the word “God” unless there is a negative between the two. But sure, there is a lot in our world that HURTS God. How can there not be? God loves us so, and yet we do many awful things, the worst of which are done in the name of God.
I think a lot of “Christians” listen to themselves when it comes down to the truth about homosexuality. They’ve read the bible, and whatever trivial rules they overlook, they always highlight what it says about the issue. But when it really comes down to it, they don’t see LGBT people as human beings. They think it is a sin, and instead of seeing a human being, they see a sin. Nevermind the fact that if we were going to be going around calling people out by their sin, they wouldn’t be human beings either.
I try to understand it, but I believe I can’t. I believe that God has placed an ache in my heart for the matter. I believe the way people treat LGBT in the name of God breaks God’s heart. We are ALL God’s children. Yes, of course, that means our LGBT brothers and sisters, but it also means the bigoted haters too.
I don’t know what God wants me to do with this knowledge. Feels quite useless, and quite frankly painful. I can’t handle the state of our world right now. In the U.S. we are quickly reverting back to the pre-civil rights movement days. And in the world as a whole, we are seeing treatment of gays that is reminiscent of the ways Jews were treated in the beginning of the holocaust. Why would any of us want to go back to that?
I’ll tell you why, because people make assumptions too much about what God is telling them. People listen to what they are told, or what comes up in their brains, and they honor it. No matter how it makes others feel, they honor it.
I want you to know that there are a large number of God’s children hurting on this planet, and there are a great many of God’s “followers” perpetuating that pain. And as much as either side sees the other as not being human beings, the fact is that they are. The fact is that both sides are just following their hearts.
I do not believe that it is okay, for any reason, to make someone feel, or to treat someone as though they are less than you. You do not know when the day will come when the shoe is on the other foot, when that will be you being thought of as less-than. As long as we’re quoting the bible, remember that it says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'” (Matthew 25:40)
So, as long as your making any human being feel less than, you best heed their concerns of maltreatment. For however you treat them, is how you are treating your God.
And quit telling yourself that you are treating them with love. You are not. They do not feel loved by you. I can guarantee you, that is the last thing they feel.
So, what is God telling me right now? What God is telling me right now, is that God is hurting. That these things hurt God. And I believe that the magnitude of God’s pain far exceeds mine, but this pain is breaking me.
Now, what is He telling me to do about that? I have no idea. Because the situation feels, quite frankly, hopeless. I don’t feel like there’s anything I can do about it. Surely, there is something God could do about it, but short of intervening upon free-will, I haven’t a clue. So, I’ll just keep going on in my daily life, waiting for some great revelation about how to fix the world’s problems.
You take that whatever way you will. I’m pretty sure that this post will piss off either side in one way or another, so I actually hope no one reads it.
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)