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.