No More Mask

A few years ago, I was drowning in depression.  I can’t count the number of times I considered taking my own life which only compounded the depression because of the shame that, as a Christian, I should not even consider that, right?  But in that dark hole, all I could think was that I wanted the visceral pain I felt to stop.  I wanted my heart to stop hurting.  All I could see was the pain.  I could barely function, could barely get out of bed and take care of my family.  I tried to hide from the pain; in reading, in food, in anything that would take my mind off it and distract me for even a moment.  But inevitably, that moment came when I had to take a break from those activities, and there the pain would be again, closer than the breath I was trying to drag into my lungs.  It was a physical vise wrapped around me that I could not shake.  I pulled away from everything.  I stopped going to church because I felt guilty.  I stopped singing because I had no song.  I just wanted it all to end.

Then, I received notice that my sister-in-law had taken her life.  This devastated me.  I knew she was struggling because we had talked about it.  To hear that her despair and loneliness had driven her to such an act shook me to the soul.   Sitting at her memorial, hearing my precious niece express her grief and uncertainty why her love for her mother wasn’t enough to keep her there, I looked to my left and saw my baby boy and knew…I NEVER wanted to put him in that situation.  When we came home, I contacted my doctor and started taking anti-depressants. That was the beginning of my recovery journey.

There is this stigma in the church that if you struggle with depression, or any mental health issue, that you don’t have enough faith. This was part of the shame that kept me out of church. I did not feel free to be able to be open about my struggles, either the pain I felt or the coping mechanisms I had developed over my life to self-medicate. I would walk into church and put on a mask that I was okay, I was a “good” Christian. Until I couldn’t hide it anymore. Then, rather than admit my struggles and ask for help, I hid because I did not want to be judged. I did not want to be weighed in the balance of others’ opinions and found wanting.

Coming to Celebrate Recovery a little over a year ago was so renewing for me. It was hard walking through those doors for the first time, and I was absolutely certain there would be no one there that struggled like I did. What I found was a group of people just like me, struggling with pain and desperate to get out of the bondage to coping strategies that never really worked. I found a safe place where I could be myself; fears, failures, warts, and all; and still be loved, be accepted, be understood and supported, even without my mask. This is what I want for the church as a whole.

So, this is me…taking off the mask…daring to be who I am, discovering who God created me to be, and living it out…one day at a time, one moment at a time.

Celebrate Recovery, even when I don’t feel it

I’ve had enough for today. I am feeling very overwhelmed. Leaning on the knowledge that I go to CR two very specific times…when I want to, and especially when I don’t. I would rather crawl into my bed, pull the covers over my head, and stay there the rest of the day. Maybe sleep until a new day dawns. But instead, I will take a shower. I will brush my teeth. I will get dressed and drive across town where I will rehearse with the praise team. I will sing to my Father because I know He loves me even when I struggle to feel it (thank you, Lauren Daigle, for putting that into a song). I will rest in knowing I am not alone, and I am with people who understand, maybe even some who feel the same. I don’t feel it, but I am doing it anyway.

In the Trenches

Trigger warning: non-graphic mention of sexual abuse. Discussion of the pain of being disbelieved.

This has been a very hard recovery week. I was tempted to not even post about this, but I committed to be real and raw, so that is what I will do.

Working through the fallout of sexual abuse seems to be never ending. It doesn’t matter if it happened 40 days ago or 40 years. Sexual abuse is soul shattering. As a child who was abused, I had something stolen from me. I lost my innocence. I lost my childhood, in more ways than one. I have tried to block out so much of the trauma and victimization of my younger years that I lost a lot of good memories as well. I don’t remember a time when I was truly happy as a child. I lost my security, and that is foundational to what I have struggled with this week.

I watched a series on Netflix titled “Unbelievable”. For those who have been sexually assaulted, it could be triggering so I really wouldn’t recommend it. The odd thing was that it wasn’t the assault scenes that triggered me. Maybe one day I will be brave enough to explain why that is. What hit me the hardest was the story of the main character. There were “inconsistencies” in her story, so she was accused of making it up and bullied by the police into admitting that she had orchestrated the whole thing for attention. I was reminded of the things I was told when I admitted I had been abused. One person told my mom that I was “making a mountain out of a molehill.” One of my loved ones directly called me a liar. I was accused by a number of people, including one social worker, that I was just trying to get attention. And someone very dear to me said something the most hurtful, years later, that no one would ever want me “that way” as their reasoning why I was lying. For someone who has been abused, to not be believed and to be belittled, simply revictimizes them. It compiles abuse upon abuse. And wounds that were already shredding to the soul become compounded and ripped apart even wider.

To go along with realizing and beginning to process that I was much more hurt by those words of disbelief than I realized, there is this little girl inside of me, the one who is still stuck at nine years old, wondering why so many people who should have protected me didn’t. Now, rationally, as a parent myself, I know that we are unable to protect our children from every thing that might hurt them. Oh, that I could go back and make a certain car accident NOT happen! We do our best with what we are given. I know if my parents had had any clue what might happen, there is no way they would have left me in that situation. But that adult understanding does not help the very real pain felt by the little girl who is still part of me. So, I keep pressing on and asking Father my questions and yelling at Him (He is big enough to handle it) and letting Him begin to speak hope and healing to my heart as only He can do.

Some might wonder, if these are the things I am having to deal with in recovery, why I pursue it. Wouldn’t it be easier to leave that stuff alone and not dwell on it? In response to that, I will say that I spent years trying not to dwell on it. It is a lie that if we don’t think about something, it doesn’t affect us. Every decision I made was shaped by my abuse. My addictions and compulsive behaviors were developed to help me feel like I was in control over my life, which I increasingly wasn’t (Step 1). I was filled with anger that I tried to suppress but only became that much more explosive when it did come out. And anger, when it is suppressed, is simply turned inward and becomes depression and self-hatred. These were the things that controlled my life and not just mine, but my family’s as well. I no longer want that to be my story. I want John 10:10 to be my story. “The thief does not come except to steal, to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

The enemy has stolen enough of my life from me. Jesus and I are taking it back.

Dealing is the Path to Healing

With the release of Rachel Denhollander’s book What Is A Girl Worth?, she has been on the circuit speaking openly about the abuse she suffered while under the “care” of Larry Nasser. I have been following her and her journey as I am in the process of dealing with my own abuse, and the effect it still has on my life today. Rachel was on CBS This Morning a few days ago, and there was something she said in the course of this interview that resonated with me.

The interviewer read this quote from her book: “If you can’t prove it, don’t speak up because it will cost you everything.” She responded, “That’s a lesson every sexual assault survivor knows. We watch how sexual assault is discussed when it comes up in the political sphere, when it comes up with a prominent sports figure, and we see what people say about the survivors. We see how they rally around the person who’s been the abuser, and we know it’s not safe to speak up.”

I have acknowledged the abuse done to me for decades. I have admitted openly since the summer of 1985 what happened to me. Thankfully, my parents believed me. There were many in my life, however, that either didn’t or told me not to keep making such a big deal out of it. There were even some who spoke sympathy to my abuser. That fall, I started a new school where I was ridiculed and bullied for sharing my trauma. I learned quickly that I would not be believed, so why tell the truth? That nine year old little girl took that to heart, even lying to myself that I didn’t need to deal with it. And there I remained…held captive by the lie that if I didn’t think about it, it wouldn’t affect me.

I am now a 43 year old woman, still dealing with the pain of a nine year old girl who is struggling to feel worth and to accept that she is valued. As many abuse survivors experience, I went on to allow others to manipulate and abuse me out of fear of being rejected. Recovery has led me to face the lies that I have believed about myself; that I am unworthy of love, that I don’t deserve to be valued, that I am worthless and ugly. Digging down to the roots of these beliefs and seeing how the abuse and neglect I have experienced contributed to how I see myself has been one of the most difficult parts of my recovery. The hardest part of the Serenity Prayer for me to accept has been, “accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.” I have spent a lifetime hiding from my pain, avoiding it at all costs. I want to crawl into my DADDY’S lap and not deal with it, but He is lovingly whispering to that little girl that the only way to healing is through the pain. He promises to hold me. He promises to get me through. He promises that I am not and will never be alone.

I can only hope that He will one day use this to speak hope and life and peace to others. That one day, I will walk in freedom and healing and someone will look at me and have hope that the same is possible for them.