Re-written

I struggled  off and on with insecurity of the scars that are splotched across my left forearm. I often questioned cosmetic surgery and hid my scars in shame. Fear of judgment, memories of my past, and disgust were just a few of the battles I fought in my head when looking down. As time passed I fought through these battles, but the battle of judgment flipped from peers and dating relationship to professional relationships.

What will my colleagues think of me?

Will they think I’m incompetent to work in the mental health field?

These types of questions floated through my mind and when I first entered graduate school I covered myself when meeting classmates and professors for the first time. I soon realized I was being more judgmental of myself than anyone else. The more I let my guard down, the more God was able to use me and continue to mold me into what he has planned from the beginning.

Now working in a psychiatric hospital with a high crisis population, every now and then an adolescent will come up to me and say something along the lines: “Ms., you used to cut yourself? You were like me… you get it.” Something that used to bring me so much shame now opens up the door without me having to say a word.

God can use even the most darkest of times; what you think may be a big black mark on your life, is never big enough for God to transform. I think back now about how many times I wished my life were different, how much I fantasized of being someone else, somewhere else, living a life that was nothing like mine. After battling through the messes and taking my life back, I now couldn’t imagine my life any differently.

“Courage is to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.”

Brené Brown

 

 

 

26 & 5 years

Today marked 26 years of life. Every time this time of year rolls around I look back in amazement. Have I really made it this far? Life has meaning, I value life, and I look forward to each day.

Life is no longer a black mass that is dictated by my experiences.

Even bigger than celebrating another birthday, is the week before my birthday. This year a milestone rolled around. Five years of freedom. And freedom has never felt so free. The first few years of freedom from my abusers felt anything but like freedom. The emotional abuse left huge gaping wounds and everything else just topped off the damage. I struggled, sank further, and often felt worse than when I was actively being abused. My escape to freedom felt anything but like freedom. But somewhere between then and now life has evolved, and I can truly say I am free.

That’s something to celebrate.

So I went on a mini vacation with friends to the beach, tried new foods, and reflected on all I have to be thankful. We often get caught up in the stress of life and forget all we have right at our feet. Even on the worst days, I have a bed to sleep, eyes to see the beauty around me, and breath. Instead of retreating inward and shutting down over a week that completely changed my world, this year, I chose to reflect and express my freedom and thanks. I know I’m extremely thankful for a Heavenly Father that never gave up on me, even when I gave up and completely turned away from Him. What an amazing feeling knowing that despite my brokenness, filth, and even hatefulness, Jesus didn’t turn His back. Instead, he broke through my stubbornness, cleaned me off, and made me whole. Are there still broken pieces? Of course. But instead of gaping wounds that spew out darkness, the cracks shine the light that was so graciously poured into me. How could you not celebrate that?

New Chapter

It’s been a while! As 2016 is here I’ve looked back through the past two years; two years of independence, a new journey, facing the fear of being in a town where I knew NO ONE, then becoming part of a family through a church that made leaving one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do.

December 12, 2015 I graduated with a Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a focus in Marriage and Family Counseling. It was one of the most rewarding experiences walking across that stage with a 4.0; knowing the future will be amazing (that is, after I’m done with the painful length of waiting for the state to license me). That same day I left the small town that became home to move back to my big city home. The church that became home, the friends that became my best friends within months who were minutes away from my doorstep, and the professors, classmates, and internship sites who helped prepare me for the journey of becoming a licensed counselor were all in my rear view mirror. Now, it’s phone calls and weekend trips maybe once a month to reunite with the friends that helped me find me – not who they wanted me to be, but who I actually am.

It’s not “goodbye,” it’s “see ya later.”

2015 was one of the best years of my life. What were some of your 2015 highlights? Going into 2016, what is something you want to change?

I’m not into New Year’s resolutions (I’ve failed the weight loss one EVERY SINGLE YEAR!) But, sitting in Sunday school at a new church this past Sunday we talked about these resolutions we all always seem to fail and my table came to a conclusion. We’re not putting GOD in our goals, we’re making it all about us. 

“I want to lose weight.”

“I want to double the weights I lift.”

“I want a boyfriend/girlfriend.”

God definitely didn’t have anything to do with my wanting to lose weight in the past. In fact, it had more to do with wanting to look good for OTHER people or fulfilling my unhealthy body image views. Instead, this year I want a stronger relationship with God and the dedication and trust to listen and wait on him instead of rushing things and following my own agenda. 

Ouch, that’s a difficult one. It sounds easy to just trust and listen, I mean, He has never failed me before…. then why is this something we all continuously struggle doing? Here is my guess: We hate giving up control. Or, our sense of control. Because in the end, we have absolutely zero control and it is all in God’s hands anyway. Does that mean be a bad steward of what God provides, don’t try, or just sit aimlessly waiting to hear this big mighty voice saying “DO THIS” every single time? I don’t think so…and if you’re waiting for the writing in the sky, you’re probably going to be waiting a long time. For me this means spending more time with God. Our relationship with Him is one of the most important, yet it’s one that tends to get neglected the most. We spend so much time spending time with our friends, colleagues, and family, but how much time are we spending with our Father? I will be the first to admit, not enough. And to have the ability to LISTEN to what He says, I HAVE to spend time with Him and in His Word.

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”     Romans 10:17

He has a way

Two weeks ago marked much more than turning 25. It also marked 4 years being free from my abusers. It has always been a week of mixed emotions…excitement of my birthday, and utter fear at the same time. The previous past 3 years were marked with grief or struggling to not return. This year was different. Society says this is something to stay quiet about, but I’ve come to realize that being away from people like that is just as big as if I were to say I’ve been sober or cancer free for 4 years, I’m having a baby, getting married, or graduating. All have different paths but I can undoubtedly say I know how hard it is to stay sober from something deadly, the grief of losing a part of yourself, and the excitement of a celebratory life event. I’m finally at the excitement part. I don’t need the world to know, and I’ve over-prided myself on being able to do it on my own – the one thing I would tell anyone not to do. But this year was different; I finally felt free.

ladybug

Ladybugs serve as my reminder that God has everything under control. Sometimes I forget this, you know, when things are stressful or difficult and I’m stuck in that “why me” stage or running around in panic mode. Much to my surprise when I was outside with my dog March 16th I turned around to admire the beautiful azalea bush in front of my front door. Looking closer I noticed over a dozen lady bugs spread across the large bush. I couldn’t help but stop and smile, thankful for the reminder that God is in control and that He is always with me. Peace spilled through me and I knew this anniversary would be different, I wouldn’t be crying and in pain this year, but rejoicing and praising Christ who saw me through and has already begun to use me in ways I never thought possible.

Speak Boldly

A few weeks ago a friend asked me a question I’ve never been asked, and one that completely caught me off guard if I’m honest. My friends come from diverse backgrounds, but all of them know the role Christianity plays in my life. As much as I would love for my non-Christian friends to give their lives to Christ, I don’t preach to them or shove my beliefs down their throats. The most important thing to me in being a Christian and being with non-Christians is to show them Christ in me; not force my beliefs upon them.

Although I have many friends and peers that aren’t Christian, I’ve never had anyone ask me why I believe in God. That was until I was sitting in the passenger seat of my friends car one night and he asked me. I was completely taken aback – an atheist wanting to listen to me share why God is so important to me? Without thinking twice about how to put it in a way that would sound “good” to someone that completely rejects my beliefs, I looked at him and shared how God had saved my life. How my life was in shambles, how abuse and pain led my life; until I gave God a chance. Silence fell in the dead of the night followed by his rejection of God and all religions. I got out of the car thinking I had gotten no where, I felt defeated.

Reflecting back on that night through the weeks I’ve come to the realization my friend may always deny Christ, but that night I stood up against what the enemy wanted me to do – stay silent. Our world has come to be a very “politically correct” place where so many people fear speaking up. Let me say this very clearly – never be afraid to speak the Truth. If you can boldly speak out against animal cruelty, war, child abuse, or the long list of other things, don’t waiver in speaking about the One who will always be by your side.

A Message that Stuck

Have you ever had a sermon speak directly to you? I’ve heard many sermons that touched my heart, that I could relate to, and one’s that I thought were just incredibly amazing. However, I’ve never had that “God is speaking to me right this second through this sermon” moment while at church; until this past Sunday morning.

There have been plenty of times where I have either been angry or overcome with anguish over the complete lack of support I’ve received through my journey of facing and dealing with 9 years of abuse. I reasoned with myself that I didn’t need support; I didn’t need anyone to hold my hand, calm my fears, or protect me. I could do it all alone. I told myself these things, but I desperately wanted understanding and support. This year will make 4 years being away from my abusers, and Sunday morning reinforced that although I have felt extremely alone in this journey, I’m not fighting  overcoming my past on my own. God given courage has carried me through, and I can say without a doubt, that these years of being “alone” has made me strong.

“What makes you strong in the valley, is your time with God.”

I’ve learned to completely rely on God through this time. As much as I may want something from man (or woman), I can’t make someone do something. So I should never question God’s plan, right?

Not exactly there just yet.

As the sermon continued, the more I got out of it. For the past year and half or so circumstances and people have pointed me in a direction I feel I am anything but qualified for. Public speaking. I’ve been in school my entire life, literally, and even at this point, public speaking at any level still makes me nervous. I’ve lead groups, presented research and papers, and have taught classes. Each time my stomach drops and I have to maintain awareness of my nerves taking over in my rate of speech. As time has passed and I’ve had to get up in front of people, the less fear engulfed me about this future possibility. But I’m still digging my heels in, because excuses are the easiest way to avoid something, right? I’ve made a lot of excuses to try to get out of the direction God has planned for me because of fear.

Isaiah 41:10 says “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

This is a command that I have continued to struggle with. I look at what my flesh is afraid of, but become uncertain in putting complete faith in God’s promise in the middle of my fears. My flesh may be completely terrified of getting up and making myself completely vulnerable by publicly speaking, but if that’s the direction God is intending me to go, I will not falter.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

Finding my Voice

Two months ago I verbalized my abusive past in about five sentences. Speaking the truth seemed too risky; speaking the truth would make it all so real. Weeks prior I kept hearing that small voice and kept feeling this internal push.

“Sarah it’s time. You’re ready to speak the truth – you’re ready to share your testimony.”

I pushed these words away just as quick as they seemed to come up. I was not ready. I was ready to become a voice for change, but I wasn’t ready to make myself vulnerable enough to speak aloud about my abuse. I feared being looked at like a victim, as someone who would have lifelong problems, and completely inept at obtaining my professional goals after having such an recent abusive background. I argued with God, this time I was right and He was wrong.

I feared people thinking of me as a victim, as someone who would always have problems because of my past, and as inept at reaching my goals because of my past because these are things I fear. Underneath my cloak of “I’m a thriver, hear my roar” there still lies layers of insecurity and doubt. Every time I get out of balance with God and doubt His plan, I’m always dumbfounded when it all works out. I may be continuously healing for the rest of my life, and insecurity and doubt may always creep out, but God always reminds me that it doesn’t take a perfect person to get to where He wants me, as long as He’s in it.

Surrounded by five people, I spoke up without any fear. My voice left my mouth; 9 years of sexual abuse, shutting out God and turning to my abusers occult system for answers, and being saved from all of it by the only one who never left me – God.

 

Peace During the Storm

Twelve years ago my life changed.

Sitting here, at my desk in a town where I don’t know anyone and where the population has just dwindled down as all of the college students rushed home for Christmas break, I’m left to think. Left to think about how much I love Christmas time, but at the same time left to think how much pain December has held in the past. Left to think about how much I love to celebrate the holidays and special occasions, but how much my anxiety rises underneath all of the Christmas decorations, parties, get-together’s, and feasts.

This Christmas time is new for me. Living away from all of my family and friends, occupying my busy mind is challenging. Like all the past Decembers, I was looking forward to a break from my drowning schedule. Nothing has changed from undergrad to graduate school – by December I’m still nearly on empty and looking forward to a break. However, it’s always this break that ends up driving me insane.

Running around the empty campus with my dog this morning I stopped and sat near the school’s large Christmas tree that hovered above me. My dog barked at the leaves blowing by, the sun radiated through the clouds, and the bell tower rang. My chattering thoughts had long stopped and peace rushed through me. Peacefulness over feeling safe and secure in this temporary little town I’m living in – something I had no idea what felt like; peacefulness over the freedom this new life I have has given me, and peacefulness over all the worries my brain typically has no problem coming up with.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

December may always be a difficult month. It will always be the month that my life changed, and there may always be reminders. That doesn’t mean that I have to let these bad memories take over and spoil what is truly a really great time of the year for me. The temporary feel-good effects that I held on to in the past may have worked great, but they were just that – temporary, and I won’t settle for temporary anymore. Instead, I’m holding on to the peace that will always be present, even in the midst of storms.

Forgiveness

“Forgiveness has nothing to do with absolving a criminal of his crime. It has everything to do with relieving oneself of the burden of being a victim – letting go of the pain and transforming oneself from victim to survivor.” – C.R. Strahan

I’ve quickly realized forgiveness is not a hot topic when talking to survivors of abuse. Forgiveness can seem impossible in the midst of pain, and in the aftermath. How do you forgive people that have torn you down to nothing? How do you forgive people that ignored your pleas of help? How do you forgive yourself? In the middle of reliving my past I was filled with raging hate. Hate towards myself, towards every person that hurt me, and towards people that didn’t believe me nor did anything to protect me. I didn’t care about someone understanding; I wanted revenge. I wanted the people that hurt me to hurt the way I had been hurt, I wanted them to suffer like I had, like I still was. I wanted them to lose the time in life I had and to feel the feelings that gripped me by the throat. I wanted them to feel empty, used, and broken.

Contradicting the hate I had inside of me, I was fearful of the consequences of my unforgiveness. I grasped for answers; listening to anyone that could give me an explanation, anyone that could pull me out of the pit I was in. I’d sneak in questions about forgiveness in conversations trying to form my own opinion, but also trying to get down to the truth – what is forgiveness? The idea of forgiveness yelled out giving up and I saw it as screaming to the world and everyone in it that I was ok with what happened.

Battling with my contradicting thoughts and feelings, I heard both sides; my anger wanting to accept those that reasoned forgiveness is not necessary to heal. As bitter and hurt as I felt, the twisting of my stomach and core beliefs told me differently. I felt stuck and immobile with the negativity that flowed through me. Anger was running my life, following me around like my shadow. The more I tried to push it away, the stronger it came back; voices whispering in my ears “They did this to you, it’s their fault you’re here. You’re miserable and their life is great!”

Continuing to question forgiveness, I wondered if I was even capable. I fought with being angry, hurt, and betrayed by everyone around me. Being let down by school administrators, family, the police, and doctors – the signs were all there. How could I possibly forgive? As I worked through counseling, my walls continued to come down, but it took more than just counseling for my self-hate and shame to begin to diminish. The combination of counseling and my counselor’s effortless way of not seeing me as I saw myself took me by surprise. I couldn’t understand how someone could know the truth and not shun me, not want to throw me to the side like trash. While I struggled to accept the person other people saw me as, my heart and rough exterior began to change. God’s grace began to flood my heart, and the more I fought it, the more I pushed it away, the stronger the waves came.

“[You] are loved.” John 3:16

“[You] are fearfully and wonderfully made, all of His works are wonderful and [you] are one of them.” Psalm 139:14

“[You] are His masterpiece, created to be new in Christ so that [you] can do good things He planned long ago.” Ephesians 2:10

I fought with these words, words that surely couldn’t be true for me. I was the exception. But the more I could see these words working in my life, the more I began to think, “Maybe I’m not that bad.” The walls around my heart started to tumble down to the point where I was either going to be an open target for the enemy to use, or an open vessel for God to heal.

As I started to hate myself less and less, I started to let go of the self-blame and shame. I pleaded with God to take the heaviness and anger I had towards myself. I wanted to forgive myself for the things I did wrong, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t let go of the anger or disgust I felt towards myself. I couldn’t, but God could. And so another boulder I was carrying around began to be lifted. Although the feelings of self-blame and shame didn’t disappear forever, I learned how to combat them when they did come up. I refused to let negative feelings and thoughts about myself run my life. Those “you’re filthy and can never be made whole” lies were replaced; replaced with wisdom and a forgiveness that only God can give.

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12 (NIV)

New Direction

“The two important things I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavor is taking the first step, making the first decision.” -Robyn Davidson

In ‘The Last Bandage: Finding Healing‘, I talked about having finally reached more than just a temporary feel-good, but at the same time, finding this healing didn’t make life instantly magical.

Separating myself from abuse I imagined no more suffering, no more wanting to die, and no more fearing for my life. I pictured happiness and a sense of relief that only purging my burdens could bring. Quite the contrary, my life didn’t suddenly become some magical fairy tale where everything was just alright. I was determined to live a new life, and for me, that meant everything from my past would have to cease to exist.

And so it did, for a little over a year.

Continually fighting to keep the walls built up in my head, the memories were too much, and slowly busted through. Flickers of my past ran across my mind long enough to catch my attention. As fast as these sensory details flashed across my mind they disappeared from my memory until days later. Sitting at a computer in the library at my undergraduate university in 2011, the short, less than half a minute flickers that had flashed across my mind for months were combined together. In an open room filled with hundreds of students my past came to life as my twelve year old self flashed before my eyes. The same memory I had continuously pushed away came back to life as my hands clammed up and my eyes welled up. My clammy hands banged against the keyboard in front of me as I tried to continue working on my research paper. Head spinning and throat closing, I gasped for breath, overwhelmed with emotions. With everyone around me occupied on the computer, I sat in silence as I relived my past. The hurt I needed so badly to get away from was happening all over again, and with each passing day the hurt I hid away ran through my mind.

Despite what I was feeling, I stayed optimistic. I felt the safest I had in years and could see the future I never let go of. I was sure life had better things for me and somehow, my past would be worth it. Unwilling to open my heart in fear of not being believed all over again, I kept what I was going through to myself. I battled the tears, shame, self-blame and hate on my own. My emotions were all over the map and it took every bit of strength I had to stay on track. I hated remembering, but I hated the blanks in my memory that continued to exist even more. What I spent so much time and work on forgetting, I wanted to know. I needed to remember my life; I needed the control that knowing my own life could give me, even if it made me feel absolutely out of control.

After months of banging my head against the wall trying to go back and fill the empty spots and getting nowhere, more flickers flashed through my mind, only slower than before. The same motions played out: flicker, forget, same flicker, forget, same flicker, remember. As my mind played with this back and forth motion of memories a compilation of flickers eventually played like a film. As the memories got stronger, I felt like the life was being sucked out of me. I was too ashamed to tell, but my past felt as if it were starting to eat me alive. Getting out of bed became a chore and anything outside of school and work was too much to care about. I felt like a limp ragdoll that had its stuffing ripped out. The lies depression screams weighed me down, but glimmers of optimism and hope still managed to shine through. The stubbornness that had gotten me through so much stood firm; I refused to be a quitter. Even though I was hopefully, the lies people, myself, and society told me filled my head.

“You’ll never be whole; you’re too broken.”

“No one will ever want you.”

“You’re not worth saving.”

“You’re damaged goods.”

I compared myself to people around me and accepted these debilitating thoughts. My self worth didn’t change when I broke the chains my abusers had on me; I still believed the lies rather their physical presence was there or not.

My self thoughts, society, and my past were telling me I would always be a prisoner and I would always be broken. I was looking for answers to feel whole, but the world was telling me otherwise. Instead, I had to look at the only One who could heal me. The promise of a hope and a future that I held on to for so long was becoming more and more noticeable; I was certain if this was true there had to be more than accepting the lies if there really was any future for me.


 

I’m a true believer of “change your thoughts, change your world.” I’ve talked a lot about how powerful words are. Not only are they powerful in the moment, but they can literally be a life changer.

“Let go, and let God” is a powerful statement. One for me that I haven’t exactly mastered, even though I know how much easier it would be on me if I would just let go. Taking my hands off things means letting control slip away, and the thought of not having control still makes me edgy. But, when it comes down to it, do we really have control? Or do we just do things to try to make us feel like we have control? I wonder how life would look if everyone just took their hands off of their problems, worries, fears, et cetera, and trusted God to handle it. I want to get to the point where I not only trust God, but I trust Him to the point where I won’t worry, fear, or stress out when He’s pushing me in a direction that would make my flesh try to run away.

All of this probably sounds contradictory to my last post, but regardless of how you heal, it doesn’t happen over night. The difference between the me portrayed in this post verses earlier posts of my journey? I wasn’t alone. Although depression and ptsd plagued me, there wasn’t an emptiness within me anymore.