How do I even begin to write the story of my faith? Well, I have to start somewhere. (I apologize for this being super-long, but I feel it’s necessary).
I grew up in a Christian home, although definitely not a perfect one. My father has long suffered a mental disorder of bipolar that unbeknownst to me at the time would afflict me as well someday. Things were tough growing up, never knowing if my dad would be up or down or scream at us or make us laugh. There were many nights my older sister and I would cry ourselves to sleep because of the cruelty of my father. My mother took a backseat and was very passive when I was growing up. I was unable to stand up for myself to my father. He viewed any disagreement as rebellion and disobedience in me. Sunday mornings were not joyful at all. It was a painful process getting ready to go to church every Sunday. There was no choice at all; we were forced whether sick or the weather was bad, come rain or shine. As a kid I was extremely restless in church and unable to pay attention or absorb anything the pastor would say. I came to view church and Christianity as something painful that was forced on me. Is it any wonder that I would stray at my first opportunity?
My parents finally divorced when I was 13. I was heartbroken. Even though my father could be emotionally abusive he was still my father and I longed for the family I once knew. My sister was abused the most because she was the oldest. By the time my parents divorced she had attempted suicide and was anorexic and bulimic. I remember knocking on the door while she was in there throwing up and begging her to open the door. She wouldn’t of course, and that also hurt me. My sister I had grown up with and loved so much was so emotionally destroyed that she was a shell of her former self. She entered in and out of psychiatric hospitals for several years while I was a teenager. By the time she was 20 she became pregnant and was adamant about keeping the baby although she wasn’t married. She has said many times that her son is what has kept her alive even though she struggled to provide for him through the years. I pray for my sister to this day to come back into the loving arms of our father God who is the perfect unconditionally loving father that we never had.
I was around 17 when I first sought treatment for depression. I had an extremely negative attitude and very low self esteem. I felt extreme anxiety at all types of social activities which was a hindrance for someone in high school whose life revolves around social activities. I had gone to a Christian school from kindergarten through 8th grade, so when I switched to public school in 9th grade it was a shock to me and I didn’t have many friends. A lot of people in my new school had all grown up together and known each other forever. I sat with the “rejects” at lunchtime. And that was truly fitting for me because I really did feel like a reject. By the time I entered high school I had gotten to know more people although never “popular” but I joined the cheerleading squad and then met my best friend Maureen who was my best friend for probably 15 years.
I think the majority of my high school days were painful for me because of my anxiety and low self esteem. Someone would compliment me for how I looked but I couldn’t really accept it.
I was still that lost little girl looking for acceptance in all the wrong places.
By that time my mother had remarried a stepfather who all I could see was a replica of my father, harsh and a disciplinarian. And it was the same old story. I COULD NOT disagree or I was shut down and talked to harshly. It was “his way, or the highway”.
At the first chance I got I left home and went out on my own. I was supposed to go to college in NYC but my parents decided they couldn’t pay for it, so they left me to fend for myself as far as college and a career goes. I went to community college for a little while but stopped shortly after, not finding any major that really kept my interest.
I began to waitress, but that was a disaster. I was an emotional wreck. I would cry at work because of my depression. Around this time my dad came back into my life. I thought he was a changed man; he was so much more mellow and kinder. I still wasn’t open to hearing about Jesus although I pretended to be. I think he knew better. So I decided to take a trip to California with my dad to move out there. The idea of just picking up and leaving and starting over really appealed to me at the time. Also my dad was in a sense my “savior”. Also around that time I met another girl who worked in the same store I previously worked in that I had known in high school. We became extremely close, very fast. She was a devoted Christian and I was open to hearing about God through her. I was even starting to possibly get closer to becoming really saved. But then our friendship was cut short by a disagreement because I felt she started bossing me around. It was another painful moment in a life where I felt like at every moment I was told what to do and no one trusted me to make my own decisions.
My dad and I headed to California by car. I packed up my car with everything I owned and started a cross country road trip. Things were going well until we finally reached California, then my dad forced me to go to church there and publicly embarrassed me in the church itself by saying some outlandish comments. It was the same old story. He was still my old dad rearing his ugly head. He also had an episode while driving through the mountains of Montana, where he put us both in a very dangerous situation and drove on the blocked off lane of the mountain speeding past all the other cars on this mountain with zero visibility. I was scared out of my mind and even though I was screaming for him to pull back to the other side of the road he ignored me and then started yelling at me harshly to be quiet!!!
Another thing that happened in California was my dad brought me to a Christian rehab type center for drug addicts and really messed up people and told me to go through the program because it would help me. I was scared out of my mind. They told me they would take my cell phone and for the first few weeks I would have no contact with the outside world. Needless to say I decided against it. When I take a look at all of this, it really opens my eyes to some of the reasons it took so long for me to come back to God. I had so many really bad and scary experiences that were so far from the truth of what God really is.
I decided that I needed to get as far away from my father as I could, and also away from my heavenly father, or what I knew of him. We drove back home and I was relieved to get away from him, but then I began out of desperation something I would battle with for over ten years which was working in a strip club. It started off innocently enough. I bartended and didn’t have to take my clothes off. But when I started seeing how much money the dancers made I wanted what they had. I coveted the money. I was greedy.
So then began a decade long cycle of dancing, which at times I loathed and at times I loved. I loathed the pain it caused me when I didn’t feel pretty enough or good enough but I loved the money and deceiving “attention” it gave me at times, false self esteem. It was a roller coaster of emotions. I stopped and started back up many times. I struggled to keep it a secret from people, especially my parents. My sister knew from the beginning and recently she told me she regrets the night I first came home from dancing and she was over my house and I started balling my eyes out. She wishes she would have stepped in and kicked my butt to go back home and go to school. But at that point would I have really listened or just rebelled and did what I wanted to do anyway?
At about the age of 25 I was burned out emotionally and physically in every possible way. I was dangerously close to suicide and as close to a mental breakdown as I have ever known. I had been on antidepressants since being a teenager, but thanks to a prescription for Adderall for my ADD it triggered a manic bipolar reaction in me and then a deep severe depression that lasted for a whole year after a failed long term relationship. I was devastated and actually was admitted to a hospital on Christmas day one year because I was suicidal. Christmas was supposed to be a happy day and the contrast of what I felt to happiness made me feel suicidal.
I moved back home with my parents and the truth came out about my dancing. You would have thought that during that time I would have really reached out for the Lord, but no I guess it was not his timing for me yet. I believe I was so tormented by my emotions at that point I could not even feel God’s love in any way. It was the worst year of my life and also the hardest. Slowly, and I do mean slowly I worked at getting out of bed and began the challenge of going back to work even before I think I was really ready. I was pushed by my parents every step of the way. They simply would not allow me to sleep if it was not bedtime. It was torture, but somehow I made it through and had many long tear filled talks with my mother. She has been such an amazing blessing to me many times just listening to me rant and rave, and go on and on. That was true love to do that. She was willing to sit with me through my pain and just be there with me. I felt like nobody knew the real me. I felt like I couldn’t be “the real me” because my depression and anxiety made me a withdrawn shell of who I really was. People would comment about how quiet I was and that really hurt me because I knew I really wasn’t a quiet person and didn’t want to be that quiet person. I wanted to relate to other people but didn’t know how.
I started going to an outpatient program after I left the hospital. It was there that I really started to slowly get better. At first I thought what has my life come to; I’m surrounded by mentally disabled people and I even wished at that point that I was old and was jealous of my retired neighbors and wished I could be them because at least no one expected much out of them. People expected a lot out of me. I was young and my physical health was fine, but at that point I was pretty much hopeless. I felt ugly and like my life was over. When asked my plans for the weekend I told the staff in somewhat of a joking manner I had plans to jump off the bridge. No one knew the depth of my pain that I seriously did feel like jumping off the bridge. At that point in my life the one thing that stopped me was it was winter so the water would be icy and freezing. I didn’t comprehend death was forever, or if I jumped I most likely would be dead as I hit the water and would never feel it. I just wanted to escape the pain I felt somehow. Slowly as the doctor found the right “cocktail” of meds for me and through this treatment program I started to get better and even got a job at a local convenience store.
I progressed and got better and better. It did take time. I can’t stress this enough. As I got better I never forgot what I had been through. I learned to “live it up”. The meds made me feel better, so much so that I went to the extreme. I lived for the moment, enjoying every day. But I was making the wrong choices and living in sin. I had consequences of this sinful life. I was unstable and flitting around like a butterfly living life on the edge, back to dancing and back to relationships and premarital sex and all the pain that comes with it. I stayed this way the remainder of my 20’s, while my family increasingly worried about me. I stuffed my emotions away, unwilling to feel any pain because of what I had been through.
Finally things progressed to what I look at as my rock bottom when I hit 30. I went back to dancing one last time, out of desire for more money. I worked a regular job in retail by day and danced by night. I was burning the candle at both ends. But by this time my age as well as medication related weight gain and slowed metabolism, I wasn’t “what I once was” in an industry all about looks. My money making was more sporadic than ever, and I was really alone and afraid. Gradually I wasn’t able to maintain my regular job at this point because my dancing late nights was keeping me from getting to work on time and my job performance was slipping. So I made what at the time was the logical decision to quit my retail job and solely dance, big mistake. I reasoned that even though I didn’t make as much dancing as I once did it was still more than the retail job, a lot more. I lost sight of the value of hard work and chose what I thought was the easy way out, the smarter way.
Well that was a lie from Satan. He was seeking to completely destroy me. I started using cocaine at that point for several reasons. It became my friend when I was alone, and also helped me lose some weight and control my appetite. But before I knew it I was completely out of control heading down the road of destruction. I was lonely and desperate and started sleeping with random men from the club and partying as much as I could. I was trying so hard to never be alone that I had backup after backup of men I could call to keep me company. I even started briefly prostituting myself. I figured if I was going to do it anyway I should at least get paid for it.
In the summer of 2011 I got arrested for a DWI. I had run out of coke and couldn’t find any, so I figured I would drink instead at work. I left the club and was actually headed up to my sister’s house at around 4AM. I couldn’t bear to be alone and was somehow keeping my drug addiction a secret. Well, turns out I wouldn’t be alone that night anyway, but just not how I ever would have imagined.
I was pulled over and I was belligerent and did not cooperate, refusing the breathalyzer. This led to being arrested and having my car towed. The whole time I didn’t believe what was really happening. I thought they would just let me go. I didn’t think they would possibly arrest me. They searched my car and by the grace of God I had cleaned out all my little empty baggies of coke the night before. This was the most terrifying night of my life. I was dead tired and drunk and scared. That night there was no female officer on duty so they chained me to a bench and a male officer sat directly by my side. I was so tired at that point.
Several hours had passed after they initially pulled me over. All I wanted to do was sleep but I couldn’t on this metal bench, so I asked the officer if I could sleep on the floor. He said I could, so slept on a cold concrete floor with one arm handcuffed to the bench above me. At that point I broke down and started crying my eyes out and the officer didn’t even care. It was really one of the lowest points of my life. I was released the next morning and my sister came to get me. You would think that that would have been a turning point for me, but no I went on a bender for a couple days with an ex- boyfriend who was a coke dealer who first introduced me to coke. He is now in a maximum security prison for violating probation and getting caught selling to an undercover cop.
At this point I lost my license so I needed a way to get to work at the club. I had the phone number of a guy I had met at the club who I thought maybe I could use and take advantage of for rides in exchange for sexual favors. Even in my drug use, in the beginning I found him repulsive and could not do anything with him sexually. That should have been a sign from the start. He got me in the car and would lecture me and make me feel awful about what I was doing to myself and everyone around me.
This guy eventually became my boyfriend, although I wish to this day that I never met him, although what the devil intends for bad, the Lord turns it around for good. He cared about me in the best way he knew how and I do credit him for helping me get off drugs. But in the end it was me who did it with his help. He started looking at me as his messed up little broken bird that he had to mend and incubate. He started acting like my savior. He became overbearing and controlling and jealous. I went from complete freedom during those months to NO freedom and I became depressed and suicidal once again.
We were together six months and during those six months I was hospitalized twice. It may have been the after effects of the drugs, but it also was the emotional abuse I suffered. I felt suffocated by him. The first time I entered the hospital I didn’t want to go back to him when I left. The time apart gave me clarity into the nature of our unhealthy relationship. But after 9 days I desperately wanted to be released so I tolerated going back to him reasoning maybe the abuse was all in my head. After all I was the one in the mental hospital.
Things didn’t get any better and I checked myself in again a couple months later the week before Christmas. I spent Christmas and the whole agonizing week after, and then New Years and a couple days after that, a total of 11 days. These 11 days were excruciatingly hard. Not just because I was depressed. I had experienced that before, but because I felt powerless. I made up my mind not to go back to him and adamantly expressed that to my family. I felt like they didn’t believe me. By that time my boyfriend had gotten their ear and told them EVERY SINGLE THING that I had been doing when he met me, as well as many lies about me. He slandered my name to them, totally wiping away my credibility and any trust they had in me whatsoever. They felt so hurt, like they didn’t even know me anymore and I was keeping everything from them. It took many months to repair the damage that had been done. He had done such irreparable harm. Only by the grace of God have my relationships with them improved and it has taken time to restore trust and it has caused me much pain and heartache that I don’t wish on anyone. My most precious relationships that I held dearest to me had been harmed.
During those last six months with my boyfriend I had started going to church towards the end. He went with me even though I sometimes felt uncomfortable when he would look at me as if to pass judgment when the pastor said something he thought applied to me. But my heart was beginning to be opened again. Something was happening in me that not even my abusive boyfriend could control. Finally I entered into the hospital in desperation. I was feeling suicidal again and hopeless of ever being able to live a normal life. In the hospital this time it was different, although much more difficult in some ways it was the pathway to the beginning of a healing process that is still in motion to this day.
God put some people in there that touched me in a way no one else could have at the time. There was a worker named Ronald who remembered me from the first time I was there months back. He took the time to really talk to me and encourage me into positive thinking. He was not preaching to me but at the time that’s what I needed. God knew what exactly I was in need of.
There was also another patient that was a friend to me at a time when I felt nobody really cared. He listened to me and really gave me some words of encouragement and I felt like he really understood me. There was also a group leader that encouraged me gently to leave any relationship that was abusive. Also there was a lady who was a mentally ill believer who prayed with me for God to forgive me of my sins. I was so confused at that time about God. I didn’t know what I really believed. But I just know I did feel better after confessing my sins and asking for forgiveness. That just goes to show I really believe God can use anyone for his purpose. I wanted something to hold on to and I was willing at that point and open to God again.
The real struggle lied in the fact that I didn’t have a place to go after I left the hospital. My parents did not want me back. My sister certainly would not at this point take me in. I was rejected by my own family at that time. People would ask me over and over about living with my family. I asked and tried, but they at that point they were not willing to take me in. The hospital made plans to put me in emergency housing that temporarily gave me someplace to stay until I could find something more permanent. Only, on the day I got out I called the facility and they said they never even heard of me. The hospital messed up, and left me stranded with no place to go. My sister let me stay at her house one night only. Then the next day by the grace of God I called and found out there was an opening at battered women’s shelter for women coming out of abusive relationships. Only ONE opening and I believe God supplied that for ME.
At this time I had not much more than 3 bags of clothes, a pair of boots and a pair of sneakers. I left all my possessions behind at my now ex’s house with no way of getting them back, but I had myself and I had my freedom. I remember being in that room at the shelter and breaking down into tears being so grateful at that point. Because I could finally see what was most important. I had myself, and I was SAFE and I had what I needed. I didn’t have much but my basic needs were supplied. I was fed and there were staff that was always around to talk at all times. We were never alone. It was not a perfect place, and I had many struggles staying there in the month and a half I was there. But they don’t seem so important now. The main thing is that being there I had nothing but time.
During that time I fostered a relationship with my loving creator that I have learned to rely on because my life depends on it! My ex had packed my bible for me among the few possessions I had left. That itself was a miracle and I was so thankful to have that. I believe God ordained that and stepped in to give me his word. I immersed myself in it. It has been the greatest thing in my life. For the first time I realized that I could truly develop a relationship with the Lord, and he would tell me things and give me insight and clarity into things I couldn’t make any sense of on my own. I got a notebook and began to write what I was learning. I can’t even begin to describe the changes in me that have taken place since I have really given my life to the Lord, placed my bruised and battered and broken life at his feet and given him my will.
I started attending a church within walking distance of the shelter on Sunday and went to prayer meeting during the week. If the church doors were open I was there. There, I met the most welcoming loving church family I ever could have asked for. I believe it was meant to be for me to go there. My relationship with the Lord has grown since then. I have had some bumps in the road, but ultimately come back to the loving arms of my heavenly father who patiently waited for me, I believe, the whole time I was away. I believe he grieved in his heart for me, but he patiently expectantly awaited the day, the perfect day when I would return to him and he would welcome me with out-stretched arms. Since then, my parents have by the grace of God let me come back to live with them again, to which I am forever grateful and I have started a job working at that same convenience store I worked at previously after my depression. It has been a thoroughly humbling experience. I have gone to the depths of hell and back again I feel. But I believe my life is a miracle and the fact that I’m here at all brings tears to my eyes.
Did I have to go through all of that to finally see the light? I believe yes, I did. It is my personal story. Everyone’s different. I have gone through the beginning phase of a relationship with the Lord and then fallen and started back again. I have cried out to God and gotten angry at him and screamed and yelled and felt the relationship was one sided. But I never gave up hope.
I think the one thing that has kept me trying is the fact that if there is no Jesus, if there is no God, then my life means absolutely nothing and it was all in vain. And something inside of me, the holy spirit in me, makes me aware that this wasn’t all for nothing. My life does mean something. With God in my life, my life suddenly has a purpose and sweet meaning. And I feel God’s undying love for me that touches the depths of my soul and brings me to tears. How he could ever love someone like me. The concept that he could somehow love me after all the terrible things I had done and abused my body, my very self and also others, is the one thing that keeps me going. I could look at my life right now and feel bad about myself, and feel I lost everything and wasted the last ten years of my life. But truly the way I look at it I didn’t lose everything; I may have lost my earthly possessions, but I gained something greater than anything on this earth I could ever dream of possessing which is a relationship with the living God of the universe. He has helped me in so many ways to heal and improve and make progress in every area of my life.
I could go on for days. But I would rather you find out for yourself what God can do in YOUR life. Don’t take my word for it. I want you to see for yourself. And the last ten years weren’t a waste. They have made up my story and were what it took to get me where I am today standing humbly before you. And they have given you a story to read that perhaps you could be inspired by or touched or moved in some way. If there is any piece you could relate to that could help you in some way I am happy to help and share with you. I hope you find the same peace and love and relationship with our heavenly father that simply cannot be replaced with anything else in this world. We are so desperately in need of him at every second of every day. He is the very air we breathe. He is always there waiting for you waiting for your eyes to be opened and sometimes things have to happen a certain way to make that happen.
Perhaps the most amazing thing of all was the fact that my relationship with my father that perhaps turned me off to Christianity was one of the very things that led me back to Christ. See, life is so much more complex than you could ever know. My father miraculously has been there for me through the hardest periods of my life. I can see the love of Jesus through him. He has never been perfect, but he has been there for me sometimes when nobody else has. And I forgive him for what happened in my childhood. That is the power of forgiveness.
When I was staying in the shelter I talked to him EVERY night for a month straight. He has inspired me in many ways. He is a wonderful witness for Jesus and has been for his whole life. Yes, he has had problems and hurt others unknowingly but who in the world hasn’t? This testimony is not to put the blame on anyone. If anything it shows how un-perfect we all are but somehow God finds a use for us. So it really is true that the Lord has the final word. God can turn ANYTHING around for his purpose. He can make perfection out of rubble.