Most people who know me may think of me as happy and outgoing, mainly because I have only let everyone see the positive in my life. I always thought that I could live by hiding my pain and pretending like it wasn’t there. I thought that if I didn’t talk about it, I could somehow tell myself the events in my life never took place or affected me.
Not long after I was born my parents divorced, but I never let it affect me as a child. I remember spending every other weekend with my dad, and the rest of the time with my grandmother because my mom worked. Even though I knew this wasn’t a normal situation compared to my friends, I never questioned why things were the way they were. When I was 7, my mom met another man and it wasn’t long before they got married. I was never close with him because he was gone most of the time for work, and I also felt like loving him would betray my dad…so I refused to connect with him. When he would get time off from work, we would stay his home in South Carolina.
During one visit when I was 10, his son, my new stepbrother, offered to show me what “big kids” did. Not understanding at the time, I agreed. He sexually assaulted me. I tried to stop it, but he kept telling me to be quiet because it was okay, even though I knew it wasn’t. I never told my mom about the situation because she wouldn’t believe me. He told me that if I told my mom she would hate me because I agreed to let him. He convinced me it was all my fault for wanting to stay up late, and I believed him. Thankfully, we went home the next day. Not long after, my mom divorced. Even though it was tragic that I had yet another family fall apart, I was glad I never had to see his son again.
When I was 12, my mom met yet another man. From the moment I met him, I hated him, but I kept quiet because I wanted my mom to be happy because she deserved it after being in two failed marriages. About 6 months after they started dating, they got married. I didn’t want anything to do with him because I knew it would only end in another broken family. Not only was he an alcoholic, and drug abuser, but he was abusive to my mom, sister and me. He would always call me worthless, and yell at me until I would cry, and blamed me for my mom’s failed relationships. He said we were incapable of being loved. He would tell me to kill myself time after time, and it wasn’t long before I started telling myself I didn’t deserve to be happy.
One night he cornered my mom and beat her while my sister and I watched completely helpless. After we got away, I assumed my mom would end the relationship. A week later, my mom took him back, and things only got worse. He got more drunk than usual and told me something I never expected to hear from him. He told me I was his kid. I assumed it was just drunk talk, until he continued to say it weeks later. He had said he was with my mom the same time my dad was. I figured out that it was true, and at that that point, I hated myself and my mom more than ever. I was so angry at her for hiding that he was my dad, because obviously she knew. I was also angry that I was related to a monster like him. When I was 15, he filed for divorce when my mom threatened to turn him in.
For the next few months, I still slept with my door locked and a knife under my bed. I knew how crazy he was. The thought of him returning haunted me. Even long after, I never told anyone what happened. I was so embarrassed and ashamed. I didn’t want to tell; I didn’t know how to. I didn’t trust anyone after being lied to by people I never imagined. I didn’t believe anything anyone said and I isolated myself from everyone who cared about me. I thought the divorce would fix everything, but no matter how far I got away, the thought alone of him being my father was enough to make me hate myself…and I did. It also ruined the connection with who I was always told was my dad, because I knew he wasn’t.
While all of this was going on, good things were happening too that we’re the only reason I had any hope left. I made the high school cheerleading team and it became my escape, mainly because it felt good to finally feel like I belonged somewhere. I was pretty good at it, which helped me to ignore all of the comments that had been implanted in my mind. I had something to focus on other than my constant pain. I also had a reason to get out of the house for as long as possible. I also met a boy, who I ended up dating, and I was COMPLETELY consumed by him. By the time I was 17, he began to drink and party with his friends and I used that to try to numb the pain. I still told myself I was okay. I had things to distract me, and I didn’t want to come off as weak or needy so I still continued to keep my secrets to myself.
I was always encouraged by my mom to keep quiet and pretend like I didn’t have problems. In all fairness, like everyone else, she didn’t know about my struggles. But even when I would try to ask her for help with anything, she never wanted to be there for me. She wouldn’t make time to talk to me. She always blamed me for everything, and I hated the fact that I felt like I couldn’t even talk my own mom. So I also tried to continue ignoring my problems even longer, assuming it was me against the world. I would refuse to talk about my feelings because I didn’t want to be judged. I didn’t want to be blamed again. I didn’t want anyone to know everything that had happened to me. Don’t get me wrong, I did have a great life, I just couldn’t move on from all the bad events that took place… And it kept me from being happy, even though I had so much to be happy about. For some reason, I still wanted to be strong and fight the world on my own.
Attending church every week as a kid with my grandmother and dad, I thought I knew what God was about. When I thought I got saved at 8 years old, I still didn’t really understand. It never meant anything to me, but I felt like they would be upset if I told them otherwise. I thought pretending was enough to fix it, so I kept it a secret. As I grew up, I still didn’t care enough to do anything about it. I thought admitting my sins was enough, even though I never truly accepted Christ. I never felt the Lord inside my heart. All around, it was a tough subject to talk about because I was so guilty about pretending.
Throughout high school and into college, my coach and other people around me would try to help and share God’s word with me. I pretended like I already knew because I still told myself and everyone I was saved because I was embarrassed. It wasn’t long before I started really started going downhill and scaring everyone who cared about me. But I didn’t care, and I still hid my pain, as if the people who really knew me couldn’t see me hurting. During my moments of weakness, I would pretend that I gave my troubles to God….As if he didn’t see me bluffing. The memories kept coming back to haunt me, stronger and more painful than ever. Even if I wasn’t thinking about what happened, it affected my life in ways I didn’t even notice.
During my freshman year of college, my mom took off to Mexico with her boyfriend for 6 months. I took up even worse drinking habits. I also tried to use drugs to numb the pain, even though it only made it worse. I still didn’t stop hurting, and I still didn’t get help. After all, I had been so strong, I had been through so much, what couldn’t I handle? I continued going to parties with my friends no matter how dangerous the situation, because I felt like I had reached a point of no return. During a temporary breakup with my boyfriend, I went with a friend to a Halloween party.
That night, once again, I was sexually assaulted. I kept telling him to stop and he wouldn’t. Thankfully, I was able to get away. For a short time after he blamed me saying it was my fault for being a tease and that he assumed I wanted him, even though I told him I didn’t. Once again I was told it was my fault for letting guys take advantage of me. As if it was my fault that saying no and pushing them off wasn’t enough. After that I convinced myself I was worthless. Why did this happen to me again? Why can’t anyone listen to me when I say no? I was more than certain it was my fault. It brought back all of the pain, heartbreak, disappointment, hatred, any feeling you can imagine, I felt it all over again. All at once.
As a few months passed, I still tried to ignore all of my problems. I still had cheerleading to distract me, and I was back with my boyfriend again. I was able to keep it together for a while, but it wasn’t long before I lost control of my depression. I lost interest in absolutely everything. I didn’t care about myself, friends, family, my grades, even cheerleading. My sport was all that carried me through for so long. When I let everything going on in my personal life affect my love for it, I felt even worse for performing poorly. I constantly compared myself to everyone else. I never felt good enough and I developed an eating disorder and it made it worse. I lost every ability to do things, even when I tried. That broke me. It was all I had left. It was a continuing cycle of hating myself, destroying myself, picking up the pieces, hating others, feeling guilty, and hating myself again.
During this I was dealing with yet ANOTHER breakup and a death in the family. ALL of those obstacles and yet none of them hurt me as much as I hurt myself…. And I saw that, so once again, I pretended to let God take over… but I still didn’t want to believe he loved me. I felt like I was too far gone and wasn’t worthy of love or forgiveness. I felt angry with people who saw that I needed God and I lashed out at them because I didn’t want anyone to care. I was even more mad at myself for saying things to them that hurt them, but I continued to blame them for nothing in hope that it would make ignoring God easier. I didn’t believe anyone could possibly love me enough to forgive me for everything I had done. Either way, I didn’t want him to because I didn’t want to live at all, let alone a life for him.
I played victim for so long…Blaming my mom for all of the events that happened because if SHE wouldn’t have allowed it, it wouldn’t have. I was convinced she didn’t love me because she let my step dad abuse me. I blamed her for my trust issues because she was the one I though I could trust. I blamed everyone who did me wrong for my pain. I also blamed the people around me that cared the most, as if they were at fault and could somehow take the hurt away. I blamed absolutely everyone, and it only made it worse because I felt even more guilty. I was so mad at myself for all of the people I hurt with what I said, even though I didn’t mean to. I felt like they would never forgive me. I thought the damage was done and there was no hope for fixing it. I was completely ashamed and embarrassed of my past and how I let it control me. I was mad and bitter with the world, and I hated myself more than ever.
Early one morning I decided I was going to commit suicide and end the battle for good. I was sitting in my car in a parking lot writing letters to apologize for everything I had done and all of the trouble I had caused. I finished the letters and I was going home to put them on my bed when a van pulled right in front of my car. I read the words on the side of it and it was a church van. It was as if God stopped me in my tracks. For some reason, that completely changed my mind. It was like God was telling me it wasn’t too late. That was when I realized God had never left me and that he STILL loves me unconditionally even though I rejected him.
I opened my Jesus Calling daily devotional book that was in my passenger seat and that day’s devotion said,
“Your life-path has been difficult, draining you of strength. Come to me for nurture. Let me fill you up with my Presence: I in you, and you in Me. My power flows most freely into weak ones aware of their need for Me.”
I was convinced. Those words changed me. I knew I was too far gone to pick myself up, and it was in that moment that I realized I couldn’t do it without him. HE was the strength I needed. I knew that no matter what happened in the past, my fault or not, he would set me free if I allowed it. I couldn’t take it anymore. For the first time in my life, I was willing to surrender COMPLETELY. All the bad memories, all the pain…I didn’t want to hold onto it anymore. I couldn’t. I immediately broke down and prayed. I will never forget the first thing I said.
“Okay God. You win. I need you.”
This wasn’t easy for me to admit… because for the first time, I meant what I said. I finally took responsibility for everything and asked him to forgive me. As I continued praying I was able to forgive myself and the people who had hurt me too. I didn’t feel worthless, guilty, or an overwhelming sadness. Once I accepted Christ, I didn’t feel weighed down by all of the things I had been carrying for so long. It felt as if I could finally breathe again. I didn’t have to pretend anymore. I realized I had an identity in Christ and not in my past. No matter what I do, he forgives me. No matter who failed me in the past, MY God won’t disappoint. No matter who left me, MY God won’t leave. He sent Jesus to die for me, and he never gave up on me, even after all the times I denied him. That is unconditional love. He filled EVERY hole in my heart that I thought was going to be empty forever.
Ever since then, I look forward to waking up and starting my day off by praising him, thanking him, and desiring to know more about him. I followed his calling to be baptized and I plan on continuing to follow his voice. I wake up and I thank God for this amazing new life that I no longer want to put an end to. I feel an overwhelming love that only grows stronger as I learn more. I now feel peace, even in the most stressful situations, just because I know God is taking care of me. I no longer hold onto struggles or try to solve my problems by myself. Take it from a girl who though she could face the world on her own; it’s impossible… I know there are many more battles to come, but I am not fighting them anymore, he is. God is with me through everything.
I still fall short on a daily basis, but I know my God is constantly working in me. I even find myself THANKING him for all those bad experiences that brought me to him. They remind me of his unconditional love and forgiveness, and they show others how powerful he is. My testimony is to show how he healed me. No matter how far away I ran for him, no matter how deep my sins are, no matter how far gone I was, it’s no match for his never ending grace. I am who I am now, not because of me and what I’ve done, but by the grace of God. I am loved. I am forgiven. I am redeemed. I am justified. I am his.