I am sometimes caught off guard by the things that I remember. The exact path I’d walk with my dad to go to the local Episcopalian church to serve food to the needy. It was almost always hot dogs and chili, but they never seemed to mind. He was electrified by being in the presence of others and hearing their stories. It’s where he seemed the most at home. I also remember the exact shade of blue the sky was when he died. How it was the first day of Spring, but winter seemed to linger that year. How he looked at his funeral, dressed up in his favorite shirt. How even though I was only 17 and felt lost, he told me he was proud of me.
I’d never felt more alone than in that moment when he passed. I’m not wholly convinced that there is sufficient language to describe the weight that hits you when someone you love dies. The way you have to carry on anyways even though it feels as if a bomb has gone off inside of you. How I just held my breath for the next five years, until one day I woke up sobbing because it finally hit me what I had lost.
I was 19 when I left for college. I was utterly alone, a feeling I am a bit too familiar with. I spent the days hanging out in my dorm room when I wasn’t in class, which seemed to exasperate my British roommate who clearly found me to be peculiar.
I couldn’t sleep.
I couldn’t stop crying.
I was haunted by visions of myself dying in all of these violent and gruesome ways.
I was constantly battling intrusive thoughts.
I’d developed self-harm behaviors.
I counted and checked things constantly, particularly when I felt anxious.
I knew I had gaps in my memory, but suddenly they came flooding back.
At the time, I didn’t connect the dots that these things were happening because of what I’d been through as a child. I just found a way to carry on day after day anyways and tried to hide it.
Yet, none of that compared to the shame I carried from having been abused. Even therapy was complicated. I’d find out a behavior I had formed as a child to keep myself safe was not good for me as an adult. I’d commit to working on changing those behaviors, but in my head I would hear “This is one more thing you’re doing wrong.” I turned myself into a project. Someone to be fixed. I whole-heartedly believed there was something inherently wrong with me and my existence.
I find it hard to confess that as an adult, I have often been a walking billboard for someone who’s endured childhood trauma. I wish I could say that I don’t have a constant battle with shame, that I’ve never drafted a goodbye letter because the inner turmoil eroded away at my core identity; that I’ve never drank a little too much on a rough day; or that I’ve never battled an eating disorder that left me feeling numb. Even more so, I wish I could bottle it up and tuck it away in a drawer somewhere so that the abyss that feels all-consuming at times could never overflow into my relationships.
My difficult past is woven into me just as much as my love for literature, worship music, hot tea, and afternoon naps.
I’ve spent the last decade doing the hard work of untangling myself from the lies that come from having been abused. It’s been an arduous journey that’s felt quite impossible at times. But, God loves His children and cares deeply for them. He’s sustained me through this past decade and helped me to blossom. It’s been tens of thousands of dollars poured into therapy appointments, hospital bills, and medication. It’s been having long conversations with friends and slowly learning to live in community with other people and discovering what it means to belong. It’s been making the difficult decision to walk away from relationships, jobs, and dreams that aren’t healthy. It’s been learning to stay and work things out instead of hiding when things are hard. It’s just been so beautiful seeing how God can take a wounded, broken-hearted girl and make her heart whole again. I’m fast-approaching that beautiful stage I’ve longed for, where pouring into others is so much easier because I’ve dealt with my own stuff.
After all this time, I’ve learned that there’s nothing God can’t sustain you through. Even the most heart-wrenching of moments that feel impossible to get through, He’ll do it. It might break you, but God will carry you through it in ways that only He can.
With healing comes a lot of tears. Some painful. Some brutal. And some are just marvelous. I cry so easily now. After years of feeling numb inside, I’m okay being the person who tears up when I see baby ducklings learning to swim, flowers blossoming in spring, and pictures of newborns opening their eyes for the first time. I’m okay with being sensitive and kind and gentle. For the cosmos to still captivate me. For the way the sun greets me in the morning to fill me with so much excitement I might burst. I’ve been through so much, and these are the little things that remind me of what truly matters: love and loving people.
If you’ve been hesitant to let God work on that hurt you have tucked away in your heart that’s been eating away at you, I want to encourage you to start today. Give yourself space to grieve and to process as you heal. Start by praying. Pray for the person who’s hurt you, for them to know God and to love God. Pray for your heart to soften and for you to be sensitive to what the Holy Spirit is doing in your life. Pray for God to guide you as you heal and grow.