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?

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.

Self-Injury: Do You Know the Facts?

Twelve and half years, at this point, half of my life. That’s how many years self-injury was a focal point in my life.

I remember the first time. Clawing my arms with my nails seemed like nothing, it was just how I dealt with the emotions and thoughts I didn’t know how else to express. Just like it seemed like nothing, it quickly became to amount to nothing; scratching myself lost its strength and I quickly moved on. The thin pink lines began to transform into emergency hospital visits as I hoarded medical supplies in an attempt to mend my wounds on my own. Long sleeves covered a story untold and my life began to look exactly like an addicts. I didn’t dare to go anywhere without the safety of razor blades that I had strategically hidden. I didn’t only want to self-harm, I needed to self-harm; sometimes multiple times a day. My thoughts told me no one cared, no one understood, and life would always be painful. I was desperate for healing of the gaping holes of hurt in my life; I was desperate for control.

No matter how many people begged me to stop, no matter how many tears loved ones cried, I couldn’t stop because I didn’t want to stop. Something was finally working to “fix me”, or so I made myself believe. I told myself I had control, when in reality I was completely out of control. I wanted help, but I didn’t want to make myself vulnerable. I feared being judged, thought as weak or be seen as a bother, or even worse, be hospitalized.

As I left my teenage years I swung back and forth between trying to stop but not wanting to let the safety of self-injury go. I’d quit for a day and occasionally a week. Within a year I went from quitting for a month, to quitting for three, to quitting for six months. I came to a point where I knew the timing was right, I was finally ready.

A year into being self-harm free I despised the remaining scars that no amount of scar cream, oils, or vitamins could fade. I hid them with make-up, jewelry and long sleeves. I didn’t want to be reminded of all the years of pain.

Now, I wear my remaining scars with pride. They tell a story of healing, even more, they tell a story of survival.


 

March 1st is National Self-Injury Awareness Day – Do you know the facts?

* Research shows that self-injurer’s do so for emotional regulation

* A person that self-harms does not have to have a mental illness

* Males and females self-harm

* Self-mutilation is not necessarily a suicide attempt

* Self-harm is not “just attention seeking”

For more information including on recovery and support, visit:

Self-Harm MythBusters

Self-Injury Outreach and Support

Why I Stayed

A while back ago #whyistayed was trending across the media in regards to domestic violence. It’s easy to throw around “why”, but understanding why is a completely different level. One of the reasons I’m not very transparent with the world I’m in contact with everyday about my abuse is because I fear the “why” questions.

Why did you stay?

Why didn’t you do anything?

Why did you believe them?

Why didn’t you know better?

Where I am in life now I don’t blame myself, nor do I think I would if I had these questions thrown at me, but it does take vulnerability to a new level. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with my abusers, both as a coping mechanism and because of their way of twisting the world around to fit their goals. By the time I was an adult, my time away from them, my education, or “common sense” had zero power over what all of the years with them had told me. The trauma bond between myself and my abusers were alive and well.

Traumatic bonding is a powerful emotional attachment that is seen to develop from two specific features of abusive relationships: power imbalances and intermittent good-bad treatment (as cited in Dutton & Painter, 1993).

March will make four years of what I like to call, sober of abuse. I use the word sober because in many ways I needed my abusers in my life like I needed air; I couldn’t live without them. And just like someone being sober from alcohol may have urges to drink, there have been a number of times that I have stayed in bed having withdrawals, wanting to contact the very people that nearly took my life from me. As time has passed, I’ve learned time really does heal. The aches and pains of wanting to return became shorter in length, decreased in how often they showed up, and created in me a sense that I can do this. When I’m in my pit of despair I can’t guarantee this surging urge to run back will not return, but I can guarantee, in the words of Taylor Swifts “Clean” –

I won’t give in, now that I’m clean, I’m never gonna risk it.

Living in the Present

In January 2013 I started my new year out by vowing not to let flashbacks, memories, lack of memories, and heartache over dealing with my past take over my life. I had just completed a 4 month intensive counseling program for survivors of sexual abuse who were experiencing post traumatic stress disorder and was confident I could overcome the nightmare of my past. It was haunting being with friends who could easily reminisce over middle school and high school memories, but I was left to just laugh around with them without remembering the majority of these times we shared. I felt stuck. Pieces of my past were flooding back, but there were so many good and bad things that I couldn’t recall. No amount of therapy could bring back the time I lost and I reasoned that this was my brains way of protecting me. It was either work with what I had in the present, or continue to drown in anger, sorrow, and confusion over these empty spaces in my brain.

I chose to relish in the present; make new memories and live to the fullest at being absolutely thrilled about the “now”. I went out, bought a large glass mason jar, decorated Memory Jarit, and filled it with the greatness of life as it is now. The first slip of paper that made its way to the bottom of the jar: “Telling the truth about my abuse, and being believed 1/2013”.

Life is not all rainbows and fields of flowers all the time by any means, but proving to myself that I still have plenty of time to make new memories, and great memories at that, began to make the hurt of not remembering that much easier to deal with. By the end of 2013 my plan was to empty the jar, read the notes I had written about all these great memories, and start all over again. Instead, I continued, and as 2015 has began, I still continue, with pieces of paper dated all the way back from January 2013. Sitting right beside my desk, it’s a daily reminder that I have had many amazing memories in these last 3 years.

Much has been taken away, but I have so much more to gain.

 

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.

Taking Back the Power

“What she needs isn’t death,
there’s no reason for her to take her last breath.
No, what she needs is for someone
to be there when she is full of fear”

(2004)

Summer 2006. The humidity filled the pollution filled air and the scorching sun played tricks on my eyes. Hayley’s phone number flashed on the front screen of my flip phone. She was on her way, on her way to stay at my house for the first time. Home alone and excited to have the company, I flung out the front door. The cement burned the bottom of my bare feet as I ran down the driveway in anticipation. My heart fluttered; this was a first and my heart fluctuated between fear and excitement. As the car she was in pulled up, a sense of power filled me; a sense of control and comfort with her being in my territory. Before the car pulled off, we both jumped up and down. We both knew the chances we were taking with her being there, the secrets of shared hurts were on the line.

Walking inside, I threw her bag down. Twisting the lock on the front door multiple times before we plotted down on the sofa, we began to talk like we were best friends. My overprotective dog stuck beside me, growling and barking at any sudden movements. Holding his small, black body beside me, I apologized for his behavior and reasoned that he was not fond of strangers.

Making herself at home, we watched movies, joked around, and rummaged the pantry. After weeks of preparing for her visit, I hesitated to reach for the junk food that I had been avoiding, her father’s degrading remarks ringing in my ears. Desperate to maintain the extra few pounds I lost, but struggling to ignore the hunger pangs, I dug my nails into my palm as I grabbed ice cream out of the freezer. I covered my loss of control and anger at myself by offering her some of my weakness, delighted to hear that she lacked control just as much as me.

The day wound down and knowing my family would be home soon, we barricaded ourselves in my room by 5 o’clock to prepare for a night locked in. Grabbing for her bag that had been shoved in my closet, she brought out a bottle of Vodka. Without asking, she poured the toxic liquid into each of our glasses that were half-way full with soda. Sixteen and never having alcohol, the butterflies in my stomach began to flutter. Offering me my glass, she tipped hers towards mine and downed it without reservation. Flashes of her and her dad passed out from drinking binges ran past my memory. Holding the glass in my hand I swished the liquid that was nearly to the top from side to side, taking in the strong smell that made my stomach bubble. Putting the glass to my mouth, I swallowed, and hid the fact that I wanted to vomit up the taste that was burning my mouth. Instead, I didn’t utter a complaint and ignored my body as it began to scream “STOP!” Between drinks, Hayley shared her adoration for a child she sometimes babysat. Her phone flashed pictures of a small little girl with dark hair and dark eyes. Her voice filled with excitement as she went on about how smart and sweet this toddler was, and how she would never let her dad know she was around children. Full of alcohol and no tolerance, my room began to spin and everything went black. Familiar with missing pieces of time, I easily slid back into reality when my room came back into focus, her voice filling my ears. Darkness began to fill the arched window in my room that looked out to the street. With little energy to do anything but lay there, I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until the morning, both of us still barricaded in my room.


I tend to hear a common reoccurring theme from survivors of childhood/adolescent sexual abuse, that being that they lost their innocence. I held this same belief just up until recently. Although I went from being overly sheltered to being sexually abused for a number of years, my innocence was something that never left me, in fact, in some regards it probably grew because I desperately wanted what I felt had been taken. There are certain things I labeled myself else even after being away from abuse that created a victim mentality. I walked around feeling impure and had lost all of my innocence, when in fact, my innocence and purity had just become very twisted and mutated.

A few months ago someone said to me “if you think that, you’re naive” about a guy I was going out with as friends. I’ll admit, it hurt. In fact, it hurt so much I had to bite my tongue to hold back the tears because I felt like it was a hit to my personality. As much as I felt hurt by this remark, later that day I realized I am naive to men’s intentions with me because I lack healthy experience, or any experience at all short of abuse. I used to label all men as dangerous, only wanting sex, and self-centered. Having moved past this stage, I no longer use this all black thinking and find myself either in the white or grey area; either way, I’m hopeful. Jumping from one extreme to the other, or even to the middle area, I won’t deny naivety or possibly even innocence because of lack of experience and knowing. While this can be a potentially dangerous factor, instead of becoming fearful of it, I promised myself, at this stage of my life dating and opposite sex relationships are the one thing I need to talk about with trusted others for my safety. Abusive background or not, we all have our pitfalls. Acknowledging these pitfalls and reaching out for support rather we think we need it or not can sometimes literally be a means of safety.

Abusers are mastermind manipulators, and while you may feel like your life has been stolen, you have the reigns to take back the power.

 

Family Secrets: Vocalizing the “taboo”

“Those endless times of laughter,
stopped and turned to tears
I began to have much more worries,
no longer only those monster fears.”

(2004)

Like all the previous years, Christmas of 2002 was great. Family made long drives or short plane trips to fill my grandparents home with well over twenty people. With plenty of cousins near in age to occupy my time, I had a lot of catching up to do with family that I didn’t see nearly enough. In a family primarily made of boys, when we three “big girl” cousins were younger our grandparents always got us pajamas for part of our Christmas. Even better, we all matched but had different colors in the same pattern. Being the youngest aside from my sister, times like Christmas were the best because the older kids hung out with me and treated me like their little sister. I had the best cousins and they all adored little ‘ole me!

Eight years of being the baby, my cousins would crowd around me as I was growing up all jumping at the chance to entertain me. From playing peek-a-boo with me as a baby, helping me learn how to roller skate when I got a little older, to just running around and us all playing together; I truly did, and still do, have great cousins.

This Christmas was no different. Running outside in the cold crisp air, we tackled each other, ran around with no worries, and pulled pranks on each other. We each had a stocking with our name hanging in our grandparents dining room that was overflowing with Christmas goodies. The tree was filled with presents underneath, and there was enough food to feed an army. “Famiglia” and “cibo” always makes for a good time, and with a house full of people and tables of food we tend to live out the importance of family and food. We hold the traditional roles of the women staying in the kitchen cooking and cleaning while the men stay in the living room to watch sports, and the kids just being out of the way playing until called in to file in for food. While my feminist side wants to fight this, I’ve learned to embrace it and now take pride being in the kitchen being part of making family get-togethers a success.

As it came time to open gifts we ripped through wrapping paper, oohed and awed, shrieked, and gasped. The gift wrapping paper crinkled beneath our feet as we each jumped up to hug and thank the gift givers. Even after opening presents, playing with new toys and running around for hours upon hours, I didn’t want it to end. I deeply wished that time would rewind and the day could just be replayed over and over again like my favorite movies. Christmas was the one time of the year I was able to see family that lived what seemed thousands of miles away. I wanted to spend all the time with them that I could so I pleaded to spend the night.

With a house full of people, finding somewhere to sleep was a challenge. Each of the three bedrooms along with both pull out couches was full. That left the attic with two beds for my cousin and me. After hours of playing video games, we were finally given no choice but to get into bed. Trudging up the stairs to the coldest part of the house even in our mild winters, I was elated by the day. In my new purple plaid pajamas I got in the smaller bed and piled on the blankets.

Lying in the pitch black staring in the dark, my mind replayed through the day in between the shivering and “I’m freezing” thoughts. With the heat barely making it through the one vent in the room over the bigger of the two beds, the large room just wasn’t warming up. Cold to the bone, I wasn’t going to go to sleep without complaining…and complaining more. On the other side of the room I heard “come get in this bed, we’ll keep each other warm.”

Releasing my stuffed Tigger I had pressed against my face, I sat up and swung my feet to the side of the bed. Pressing my feet against the outdated linoleum floor, I slid my fuzzy socks across the floor in hopes of not banging into any of the heavy wooden furniture. Making it to the bed, I pulled the comforter and sheet back and slipped into the sinking mattress that had long been past its eight year life. He pulled me beside him and wrapped his arms around me as I lied there on my back shaking from the cold that filled me to my core. In the dark of the night we reminisced about old memories and talked with excitement about a fantastic Christmas. My voice was filled with giddiness and exhaustion as I kept trying to adjust my eyes to at least see his shadow. As the conversation drifted we started talking about school, the differences between middle school and high school, and how he would soon be graduating. He went on about “how boys are”; certainty filled his voice as he voiced how he was sure the boys at my school wanted me.

“You’re crazy, they don’t want me.”

His attempts to get me to realize I was wrong failed each time I nervously laughed and brushed his comments off. As attention starved as I was, I did not have the entire 7th grade male population after me. I had a bad habit of flirting, but turning around and running in fear if they attempted to approach me. There was a fear instilled in me from my previous “relationship” that kept me from wanting to date. All I saw in boys was that they wanted one thing, and I wasn’t giving it to them. I refused to fall into that trap again. As persistent as I was, my denial didn’t dissuade him of his certainty. There to prove a point, one of his hands made its way to my leg. With fear rushing through me from the previous year, that one touch meant one thing to me – “it” was coming. My heart was racing as I braced myself by denial; nothing is happening and everything is okay. His voice, strong and confident, spoke of things my friends had never mentioned about sex, things that were so far from what I could grasp that his words began to run together. I stared into the dark as I focused my attention on the Mario Kart video game we were playing just hours ago. Music played through my head; calming melodies to calm my fears. Numbness shot up from the tips of my toes to my shoulders and like a feather, I floated away into the darkness, my lifeless body held tightly by the mattress. Cold and hollow, even the heat from his skin couldn’t put out the chills that ran through me.

Time was a mystery as I found myself lying back in my own bed. An empty space filled my memory as I turned to face the mirror on the wall by my bed, a mirror that picked everything up when the lights were on, but was just a black mass in the night. Holding my stuffed animal to my face, there were no traces of emotions. I didn’t cry, nor was I angry. I lied there and stared into the dark until I fell asleep.


 

Incest. Not a popular topic. Sexual abuse as a whole is majorly under reported, leading to skewed statistics. Even though 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys being sexually abused prior to 18 may sound like a high number, I wouldn’t doubt that in reality, these numbers are inaccurate. While sexual abuse often goes unreported, most cases of incest are never reported because of the intense feelings of shame associated with this type of sexual abuse. Victims often fear speaking out about “family secrets” because there is increased pressure to not disrupt the family dynamics, leaving the victim feeling stuck, alone, and possibly continuing to endure the abuse. In other cases, victims do reach out and are denied help or aren’t believed.

The social and emotional problems that often plague sexual abuse survivors are endless. Conflicting messages alter the way the victim begins to think, believe, and feel, and as an adult you either continue to be plagued by these messages, or relearn and build up new coping mechanisms. As one who denied the effects of abuse and bottled everything up, my message is, avoidance is not recovery. I deceived myself into thinking that gave me control, something I desperately wanted. In actuality, I was completely out of control. If you spend all of your energy pushing everything back inside of you, self-medicate or self-harm, have to be in control of everything around you, find yourself in abusive relationships, are overwhelmed by intense and frantic thoughts, relive your past, experience deep depression, or can’t establish closeness to anyone – you’re not “over it”, and that’s okay.

Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, you will rise up again

Recovery work is undoubtedly painful. There were days my brain ran in many circles, attempted to go back to its hiding place of denial, and my emotions definitely screamed out “MAKE IT STOP!” There were days I could keep myself so occupied to distract the flood in my head that the only thing I would stop for was just enough sleep to get up and get back going. To think I was doing that every single day just to keep the past and what at the time continued to be the present “in my control”, is exhausting just to think about. Recovery is definitely hard, and it’s something that may very well be a lifelong project, but as hard and tiring as it is at times, it is nowhere near as exhausting or debilitating as fighting off the truth.