When Healing Feels Like A Lie

I’ve been lied to. It was all fake. All that work for nothing.

This is what I say to myself when I wake up angry. I sit up in my bed and see that I failed again, and the evidence shows in the red scabs on my thighs. I thought I was doing so well, and one bad day, a terrible night and a flooded mind and I’m right back where I started.

This is what it’s like trying to recover from a mental illness. This is what it’s like for me every few months. At the beginning of 2019, I was diagnosed with PTSD. A diagnosis I never thought would be applicable to someone like me, but I was wrong. In 2017 I was sexually assaulted by a man I knew as a friend. The couple of years between then and my diagnosis was filled with denial and repressed memories, thoughts and feelings. It was filled with emptiness.

When I started to have flashbacks of these events, that’s when I knew I wasn’t okay. I have been dealing with depression and anxiety from a young age, but this was different. This left me frozen. The flashbacks caused migraines and nausea so severe that I was given tests and brain scans because I showed symptoms of a brain tumor. But it was the PTSD. Not a tumor, not a disease, not an infection, but trauma that made me feel like I was dying. Before researching the physical effects of PTSD, I believed and felt like my body was failing me. It left me tired and sick. I was, and sometimes still am, so exhausted that getting out of bed or brushing my teeth feel like it might be the last thing I do. My muscles would give and I dropped things, broke plates and cups just trying to load the dishwasher. I looked over my shoulder constantly, thinking he could be there at any moment. I was angry and sad and tired and I didn’t know why. I have fought depression for so long, but this was not the same. This was worse. This was more violent. It was sharp and cold, and so sudden.

I finally mentioned my trauma to my doctor, and instead of more blood tests and brain scans, I began therapy.

Therapy always scared me. I only talked about my feelings and my experiences through writing, that was my way of unpacking these things. But it wasn’t enough. I needed to learn more about why I felt the way I did, I needed to learn how to help myself. I remember my first appointment. Walking into a waiting area with a long, curvy connect couch, signing in and describing my need for the appointment. I waited and waited until my new therapist came out and called my name.

She was younger. She was pretty. She was smart. She told me she specialized in trauma and sexual assault. I sat in her office, looking out the window at the view of The U, it was raining. I didn’t feel like I deserved to be there. The thought that I was a “survivor” was surreal. Then I began to speak.

It was like I was a shaken bottle. Every bubble ready to blow once that cap was twisted. Things I didn’t even know I remembered came out when I told this woman why I was there. This was the very first time I had ever described in detail what had happened to me. I told her about the threats of violence he promised if I told anyone. I told her about the time he sent me a Snapchat video, captured from a distance, of me leaving my apartment, getting into my car, with a target drawn on my head. The video ended with the sound of a gun. I told her about how that video plays on repeat in my head when I see someone in the grocery store that might look like him from behind. How when I hear loud noises, I feel like he’s there, watching me, ready to take his shot. I tell her about the fact that I wish I never remembered what had happened. That I wish I couldn’t still feel him behind me when I walk alone at night. That I’m scared to be alone outside in the dark because I feel like I’m running through his apartment complex parking lot again, scared, wanting to be home.

I told her I felt like I was being dramatic. I felt crazy that I couldn’t even remember what happened until almost two years later.

That day I learned I wasn’t crazy. I wan’t the only person with PTSD that repressed their trauma for so long.

I went to therapy every week from March to July, and every other week from August to October, and it saved my life. Therapy allowed me to spill my guts, but only clean up the parts I still needed. I learned that I am not a burden, I am not crazy or pathetic, but that I was strong and I was here. I learned to use a container.

The container is a tactic my therapist used so I could talk about and process my trauma without taking that burden with me everywhere I go. During therapy, and times when I needed to talk, I would opened the container, pull out the trauma and assess it, then put it back in, and lock it away until next time. Although it was heavy, I did not have to carry it like I had been for the last two years.

My last regular therapy session was in October, 2019. I left that day feeling so powerful. My therapist moved my appointments to “as needed” and I had this new grip on my life that made me feel more in control than I think I ever had been. I was perfect. I had it handled.

Until recently.

You see, I was not healed. I wasn’t fixed, but I really wanted to be. I wanted to go down that elevator and be done. I wanted to be strong for the rest of my life. But I was wrong. I underestimated how powerful trauma can be. I underestimated how dark and lonely PTSD can be. I caved.

I relapsed with old coping mechanisms. Starving myself. Hurting myself. Because the build up was so much, even screaming at the top of my lungs could not get it out.

I woke up after one of my worst breakdowns in a very long time, ashamed, regretful, and empty. I saw the marks on my body, I felt the soreness in my throat, and I felt the same panic I did before. I told myself that I ruined everything. I was doing so well, now I have to start all over. All that work for nothing.

But a very supportive person in my life reminded me that is not true. They reminded me that this only shows that progress is happening. And they were right. I was not lied to, I wasn’t tricked, I hadn’t failed. I had simply hit a speed bump. I left the container open for just a bit too long. But this did not mean I was still broken, because I remember that I was never broken in the first place. I was doing better because I knew I needed to get back up the moment that I slipped.

This process of healing will take the rest of my life. I will never be fixed, because I don’t need to be fixed, I just need to rebuild the parts of myself that were taken without permission. PTSD does not disappear overnight, let alone 10 months. It does not stop just because you tell it to. It persists.

But so will I.

The thought of going back to therapy is scary. Walking into that office, sitting on that curvy couch, it makes me embarrassed. But it reminds me of all the work that I have done. And I have done so much. To those of you who are healing, know someone who is healing, or if you are too scared to start, know how powerful that is. The work that goes into something like this is tremendous. It is honestly so damn hard. I wish so many times that I could just stop, but that’s what will ruin it. Stopping will be a waste of the work, not the speed bumps.

There is a certain power that comes with making the decision to heal yourself. It’s like a secret, but a good one. Like hiding a surprise party from your best friend. In this situation, you are your friend, and the surprise party is each milestone you hit after each and every hard day. You must keep getting up, you must keep doing the mundane tasks that come with getting better, you must hit those speed bumps. But you also must enjoy the surprise of one day waking up and the load you carry is just slightly lighter. You must enjoy the surprise of not hiding from your life because of your fear of losing it.

You must.

Carrying something so heavy causes so much pain. It causes heartbreak, misery, and loneliness. To be honest, healing does too. But it also carries light. And in the moments when you slip, it’s so dim, but it will be there every time you decide to get up.

Deciding to get better makes that light brighter. Every choice you make that leads you to recovery, it gets brighter. And even when you slip, you fall and repeat the same behaviors you swore off just months ago, the light will be there to guide your way back up.

I am not weak for needing help over and over again. I am not dramatic for looking over my shoulder when I thought I didn’t need to anymore. And I am not a failure for falling after marching on such slippery ice in the first place. I am healing.

And that is not a lie.

The lie is that there is no hope. The lie is that it will not get better. The lie is that I cannot be changed.

I have been changed. I am different from the girl I was ten years ago. I am different from the girl I was three years ago. Even one year ago. I am different. And it’s because I decided I wanted to heal. The only way through it is the thick of it.

And that’s the truth that gets me up from each and every fall. That’s the truth that keeps me from going too deep into the dark that I dread. The fact that I persist is what overcomes the feeling of failure.

It persists. But so do I.

Guests

12:37 a.m.

He opened the rusting, black, metal gate with no hesitation. He didn’t care if it was loud enough to wake the neighbors, the bolts and hinges would grind and squeak together no matter how gently he pushed. He always meant to fix it, but never got around to it.

As he approached the cement steps of his porch, he noticed silhouettes of people from behind the curtains. The lights were dim so he guessed his roommate, Matt, was having a movie night. He didn’t mind, as long as they were quiet and didn’t try to make small talk.

He turned the knob on the white door with cracking paint and to his surprise it was still locked. Matt never locks the door, he thought. He shook his head and swung his bag from off his shoulder and rummaged for his key. After looking closely at three other keys in his hand, he found the right one, and turned the lock. The door was heavy, but opened with ease. After he hung his coat on the chipped wooden hook to the right of the doorway, he turned and stopped. All of Matt’s friends’ eyes were on him. They did not say hello, did not make small talk, it seemed like they weren’t even breathing. It was still.

He raised his eyebrows, gave a toothless grin–the kind you give a stranger on the train after accidentally looking them in the eye–and made his way past the guests. Their eyes followed him as he moved swiftly through the living room and into the main hallway. The house was cold and felt empty. The rental had always been old and creepy, but it was different this time.

He entered his room and shut the door, and immediately after, he heard hushed chit-chatting in the living room. He fell face first into his bed and thought about the guests in his home. They were old, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but why would his 23 year-old roommate be hanging out with a group of people old enough to be his grandparents? They all looked alert. Like they were expecting him. They knew he was coming but they were quiet, secretive. Their eyes were dark, and even the flickering flames from the fireplace were not enough to show the contrast between their pupils and irises. They sat in chairs, old wooden chairs from the basement, facing the door. There were perfectly good couches just feet away. They held their hands in their laps and crossed their feet under their chairs.

Their hands. They were so pail, almost translucent. Their veins, so visible. Like thick webs under the skin.

They weren’t surprised when he walked in, but they were waiting for someone else.

He couldn’t think about anything else. Despite being exhausted from his shift, he had to get one more look.

1:06 a.m.

He slowly opened his door, he didn’t want anyone to hear him this time. Trying his best to listen to the guests in his home, he leaned further out into the hallway. The guests were speaking so fast, he tried to make out what was being discussed, but no luck. It was harsh, hissed words back and forth, like no one bothered to take a breath in between. He then realized that what they were saying was not in English. Matt could barely spell out the word “restaurant” let alone have conversations with people speaking who knows what language that was. Who were these people?

He was out of his doorway and into the hallway by now, and took a step forward. He took another step and Matt interrupted his sneaking with a loud yawn behind him.

“What are you doing?” Matt moaned while rubbing his eyes.

“Who are these people? How do you know them?” He half laughed.

“What? Those people?”

“Yeah, the one’s in the living room. The old people.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, I just woke up cause I heard noise in the living room. I thought you brought people over.” Matt had been playing pranks ever since they moved in together, but when he said this, it wasn’t a joke.

“Who the hell is in our house?” Nate whispered back.

Matt disappeared into his doorway and emerged with his baseball bat in hand. He marched into the living room while Nate followed.

Only this time, the living room was empty. The guests were gone.

The fire was still going, lighting up the backs of the old wooden chairs. The guests left them facing the doorway, like they were waiting for something. This time, it wasn’t Nate, or Matt. Something else. Something important.

Matt went to the door and turned the knob, bat ready to swing. “What the hell?” He shook his head and backed towards the living room.

Nate was confused as he walked toward the entry way wondering what Matt had seen. He looked down at the knob on the exterior of the door to see a red key still in the lock. He looked closer and reached to pull it out, but something stopped him. The key was not red, it was covered in blood.

“Is it yours?” Matt asked. He had lost his key months ago, that’s why he never locks the door.

Nate reached into his back pocket and pulled out his key.

“No.”

1:13 a.m.

Why I Have Decided to Scream

(trigger warning: sexual assault)

When I write, it feels like I’m screaming at the top of my lungs from the edge of a cliff. It’s like I’m getting rid of everything clogging my mind. Finally after repressing, recovering, and reorganizing every polarizing thought for over a year and a half, I’m going to scream it.

It seems strange to say something like this to random readers on the internet. But for some reason it feels safer. I don’t have to see the look in my sisters’ eyes when I tell them something I once loved so much broke me. I don’t have to hear my best friend cry because she wishes she could have done something. When I write it down, no one gets to see how painful it still is to relive it over and over.

I recently fell away from the church. Hearing the hurtful teachings of confused men and women who are convinced they speak truth became too much. The white-washed history that is constantly denied became too much. The denial of any fault within the church became too much. But it was not anger that fueled this departure from something I once loved, it was betrayal. It was confusion, and it was heart break.

The event contributing to my apathy toward the church is this “something” I’ve been wanting to scream. It is not a singular event, but it was something that triggered my need for seeking answers, and something that opened my eyes to the worst part of the church that everyone seems to ignore.

In early September of 2017, I was sexually assaulted while attending BYU-Idaho. And I said nothing.

I remember walking over to a friend’s apartment after I had just moved into mine, and we were going to watch a movie. It had just rained, and I loved the smell of the rain. I was wearing the slightly baggy jeans that almost fit, but never fit just right, and an old red flannel mens shirt I had just gotten at DI.

We were in his living room with his roommates, and with a signal from him, they left. Whatever, his roommates were still in their rooms, I didn’t plan on doing anything. He began to kiss me, and I kissed back. Then something else happened, he had managed to unbutton my pants.

I said no.

He said his roommates wouldn’t be coming out any time soon.

I said no.

He said it was fine.

I said no.

He said he’d keep his pants on and he wouldn’t go any further.

I. Said. No.

But that didn’t matter.

He held me down so I couldn’t move. Pinned down my arms so I couldn’t push him back. I didn’t know what to do, I said no so many times I could not give you a number. He was bigger, stronger, and I got so tired. He told me to be quiet, not to cause a scene, so I gave up. He went too far. Farther than I wanted. By the time he was done, I felt sick. He sat on the other side of the couch and told me I could leave whenever I wanted. So I left.

I ran home. I sat in the shower for who knows how long, trying to let the scalding hot water somehow clean off what had just happened. Then I curled up in my bed and prayed.

I told Heavenly Father I was sorry.

We lived close to each other and attended church meetings in the same building. I saw him walking to church the next day. He was holding a bag of bread. And he smiled at me.

Whenever I heard stories about sexual assault, as much as I tried to understand, I wondered why it took so long for anyone to speak up, why sometimes nothing was said at all. How come so many people let their abuser walk free?

Then I understood. There is a common theme of students at church schools not coming forward with these things, whether sexual assault, or mistakes they want to repent for, they hold back. Because there is a fear of being kicked out of school, being embarrassed, or not being taken seriously. This is mostly due to the honor code at each school that can influence students to keep quiet on things that they feel they can’t let out without major consequences.

Although I understand this is a major contribution to so many situations, overtime I’ve come to understand that it can be so much more than that. I’ve realized in the last year and a half that not being believed, or facing consequences I didn’t deserve wasn’t what kept me quiet. It was the guilt that too many are conditioned to feel from too early of an age within the church.

At the time of my assault, I had worked in the Executive Office of the university for almost two years. I worked with administrators and executives that I had come to love. If I would have said anything about it, I have no doubt they would have stopped at nothing to make sure I received justice.

Unfortunately, I realize this is not the case for most victims of assault, and too many are not taken seriously. However, that was my case. And the reason I never went forward was because I felt guilty. From such an early age I was taught that it was my job to keep  priesthood holders worthy. They held the priesthood, and to show respect, we should keep them worthy enough to have it.

The words this man had whispered into my ear as he broke me played over and over again, “What did you expect?”

What did I expect? Should I have expected to give up my right to say no? Was it actually my fault? I did not expect to have my dignity ripped away from me by a man I saw as a friend.

I am going to say it, I have never met anyone more entitled than a mormon man who thinks God made him untouchable. Some of the worst, most terrifying men have come from the LDS church. I say this because it’s the men we are taught to trust that are developing these behaviors. It’s terrifying because I was taught to see priesthood holders as good men, and then I trusted one and he tore me apart. I still trust and see my priesthood holding friends as amazing, and worthy, but they do not see themselves as untouchable, immune. It is, maybe the few, but too many other men who are blinded by their conviction of superiority.  There are groups that justify each others’ actions with the mormon culture they believe is doctrine. I know “not all men” and the next person that says that to me I’m going to egg their house.

The point I’m getting at is that there are too many.

That night I ran home, I prayed. And I said I was sorry. I was sorry. For something that shouldn’t have happened to me. After normalizing this behavior for so long, the harm was so completely done.

I was too afraid for too long because of the idea that I was in trouble. Because of a culture that shames those who don’t want to stay quiet about things that are happening anyway. This is so dangerous. This mormon culture surrounding sexuality, marriage, and women is so dangerous. Let it die. Just because you’re uncomfortable with the fact that entitled men never receiving consequences doesn’t fit your idea of the perfect church you love, does NOT mean it doesn’t exist.

Are you aware of what this culture is capable of doing? Are you aware that the things so many of you ignore are causing so many of those you claim to love to rot from the inside? Are you going to keep turning away from this conversation because it makes you uncomfortable?

I want to reiterate this to you just one more time; I told Heavenly Father that I was sorry.

Because of someone who I trusted, someone that I saw as a good priesthood-holding young man, I was broken. I felt betrayed. I spent so many nights under scalding hot water, letting it turn my skin red because it felt like I was cleaner. I still spend Sundays zoning out because I remember more details about that night in a boys apartment. I feel cheated out of something I put so much work into. After the assault, I decided to go through the temple. I threw myself into the church because maybe if I did, I could be complete. I did everything I was supposed to do. I studied every scripture I could, I gave my testimony in church, I taught classes, paid my tithing, and I prayed. And as much as I begged myself to feel complete, I never did.

Because after that night, I began to look more closely at those around me. I saw the toxic culture being taken as truth, and I noticed how so many people around me were oblivious to the faults within this ungodly thing they worshiped. They were more concerned with pleasing an institution than being human beings.

I tried. I really did. And like some of my friends have already told me, no, I did not distance myself from the church because “I fell for the temptations of the world” or because a bad man ruined my testimony. I distanced myself because after already questioning the harms of a culture and the teachings of an institution, I saw the ugliest side of something I once though was beautiful.

We talk about “causes of sexual sin”, we argue about the credibility of victims. We talk about how to prevent it, how to defend ourselves, but when are we going to talk about the amount of perpetrators? When are we going to discuss the narrative that makes them think this is okay? When are we going to stop acting like this isn’t a big enough deal? Especially in recent months, the conversation has become larger and louder, but it’s just not loud enough. We are just not doing enough.

To the good men that respect the women they date, the women they’re friends with, and any woman they come across, thank you. But we need you to do more. We need you to listen to us, to believe us, to help us. To yell with us.

It’s not enough to just be a good guy. You need to start a conversation as well. Talk to and educate your friends, roommates, brothers, classmates, and remind them that their behavior isn’t acceptable. Educate one another, and be an advocate for women. This is not just a conversation for victims, but one for those who are willing to listen.

Support us. Support every woman and man who will come to you seeking comfort. Do not let this culture that you’ve grown used to restrict your right to speak up. Don’t let it make you believe that you are less than you are. Let yourself get angry about this, then do something about it. Don’t let that anger sit with you, but put it towards changing the narrative that allows this to happen. This is just too common, and it doesn’t need to be.

There are too many men I’ve had conversations with that think this idea is radical. When I speak up about this terrifying and growing issue in the church, I am radical. When did the notion that your sisters in the gospel deserve to be treated like women of God become radical? When did men who wear white shirts once a week become untouchable? When did questioning the culture forced by people, not a gospel, become apostate? When did conforming to fit the ideal in a toxic culture become more important than having faith in Christ?

I know what too many of you are going to say, “this is not a common thing, there’s just a few bad eggs making a bad image for everyone!” Stop. That reasoning is why it is still happening. Brushing it off because it’s not big enough for you is what is making it bigger.

This behavior and this culture of being untouchable and ignoring the voices of hurt or concerned women is not taught by the gospel. It is taught by entitled men to others.

I am adding this paragraph due to the comments from members of the church stating I let one man ruin my relationship with God. He did not. If anything it brought me closer to God than ever before. I do not blame the priesthood, I do not blame God. I am pointing out the culture of the church that makes some men believe they are immune from consequences. The culture that has conditioned young women to feel responsible for things they shouldn’t be responsible for. I love my God and Christ and I have felt the comfort of Him in my worst times. My testimony of them is not reliant on my testimony of an institution.

I am not radical. I am not apostate. I am not overreacting. I am desperate for others to listen to so many people who have been hurt and silenced. This church is not perfect. The people who lead it are not. Your bishops, leaders, and teachers are not perfect. I have been taught too many times that things the common man teaches should be taken as gospel. But that is what got us here.

That is what got me here.

I would also like to add that this is not the end of my contribution. I’m not done telling these stories, or participating in this conversation. To the brave women and men who came forward and inspired me; thank you.

To the men that have taken me and so many women for granted, harassed us, assaulted us, made us afraid, and kept us from speaking; this is not over. I hope the fear that you will not always be free to walk away from your decisions sits with you. I hope it forces you to see yourself for what you really are. I hope what you have done rots you from the inside, like it has to us. We are not done with you yet.

And as for me, I don’t know if I will ever be brave enough to say his name out loud. He knows exactly what he did. I confronted him, and he mocked me. He still finds ways to contact me, to . patronize me. I understand why it is so difficult to say their names out loud. It was terrifying. But I am no longer afraid of him. I am no longer as angry as I used to be. And although he walks free, and he fools everyone with a pat on the back on Sunday afternoons, I know exactly who he really is. And I think deep down inside, that scares the shit out of him. Maybe this is why the men that are too many, continue to become more aggressive. They get uglier, sneakier. It becomes a common behavior, because if it happens more than once it’s no longer a mistake. The cold, holy exterior hides the fact that they are exactly what they swear they are not.

And because he seems to find me no matter how hard I try to hide from him, I have a strong suspicion that this incredibly ugly man will eventually find this article. So I dedicate this last bit to him.

I won’t try to convince a jury or an institution that you are not who you say you are, because I have found peace in a better justice.

The God you think made you untouchable, is the same one that is going to remind you that you are not.

Old Friend

Hello old friend.

It’s been a while since I’ve looked at you.
I’ve seen you, from the rear view mirror,
Or maybe I’ve glanced upward when leaving a job that
Makes me tired.

The craters in your face, like wounds,
Make me wonder how much you’ve seen.
How much you have looked at, studied.
Witnessing things that have made you tired.

I’m sorry you’ve seen so much.
I’m sorry we’ve made you look at us hurt.

I know the feeling of being forced to witness unbearable hurt.

But in a way, I am jealous.

I am jealous of you because
Although you see so much bad,
You get to see all the good.

What is it like to see two people
From far away
Who’ve never met
Never spoken
Never known one another’s mind

What is it like to see them lie down
And look at you
To look and wonder at the same time?

What is it like to watch two people
Who do not know each other hope
For the same good you get to see?

What is it like
To witness that most human thing
Of wondering if someone is looking
At the same thing you are?

To see them love something
The same way?

That must be what keeps you around
When the world gets ugly.
It hurts to keep looking
But you can’t stop.

I don’t think I’d be able to look away either.

Spots of Light

you remember that night when
I was sick to my stomach and the world made me sad
and you held me until my wet, tired eyes could finally rest.
and you touched my face and intertwined your hands with my hair
and I don’t know if you knew that I was still awake.

you don’t remember that I can remember.

I remember getting the feeling that you wished
my hair was actually my hands.
I remember peeking through my hands
to see you looking at me.

and I remember how much I could feel.
not the sickness in my stomach or the hurt the world caused.
but I could feel electricity in my spine
as you held me
after such a long time of feeling nothing.

but I never told you.

now you are so far away but when you call me
to ask me what kind of juice to buy
or to just sit in comfortable silence until I’m tired
I feel like you are next to me in the front seat of my car
looking out to the world that hurts to see
but it’s so beautiful.

and when we speak
it’s like we’re counting each individual spot of light in the sky
like we are never going to be done
because there will always be more

and while sitting in those front seats
I’m waiting for a dying comet to come along
to let me know that it’s okay to tell you how numb I wasn’t.
I look at you like the way you might have that one night
when you thought I wouldn’t remember.

sometimes when I look at you I swear
I can see you searching for that same comet,
but I can’t tell if it’s real or because I want you to.

so I won’t tell you.

because this is not as easy as I’ve seen in the movies
and it’s not cute or romantic
but it hurts.
but not in the way the world hurts me.

because although it hurts to feel these things
it is a privilege to be hurt in this way
not because it feels like I can’t breathe
or because it feels like my legs will give out beneath me

but because in those moments
when I might catch you looking at me
it feels like the electricity in my spine.
the kind I felt that night when all I did was cry.

I know you were probably never looking for the same thing I was
and that you simply loved the way the night looked
from the front seat of my car.
but it was a privilege to want something that bad.

I hear all the time
that wanting something you’ll never have
is a waste of time. of energy.
of feeling.

but I don’t feel like this is a waste
because now I know what it feels like
to love so hard you ache.
to love so hard it feels like you can’t breathe.
to love so hard that suddenly the world doesn’t hurt you
as bad as it used to.

so I’ll just sit in this seat
watching you enjoy the night
until you find something
that makes you feel the way I felt that time you held me.

even though I know you might not be watching me
or wanting me
or wishing my hair was my hands.

I will never tell you
any of this.
not a word.

because the comet never came.

Sunday Afternoon

I know that my heart is light and eyes are calm
I know my fingers are gentle and my spine is delicate
I know that when I want to be,
I am in no way fragile or small.
I know that I am a gentle force.

And even though I know these things
I still wonder why.

Why I’m never the one you call at 2 am
While looking at the ceiling, feeling sad but not knowing why.

I still wonder

Why I’m not the one you stare at
While my eyes are not looking.
Why my gentle fingers are not intertwined with yours
Or why my spine is not the one you trace
On a Sunday afternoon before falling asleep.

I know that someday I will be this person,
Not to you, but to someone.

I know this someone will look at me
The way I wish you would now.

I know that I will be everything.

I know this.

I know these things.

And even though I know these things
I still wonder why
You do not.

Student Death Letter

When I heard the distant sound of sirens,
when I saw the faint blue and red flicker
against the white sidewalks,
making the rooftops bleed,

When I was forced to peer out my window
and wonder what it was like
to see the night sky
for the last time,

I began to catch my breath.

I became silent enough
to hear the working parts inside of me
keep themselves alive.

I looked upward
and saw my breath leave my body
and I was there.
I was alive.

And I could see snow begin to fall
and I looked even closer
toward the home of each tiny flake that eventually
fell to the ground.

Each tiny piece of the sky fell onto my tired eyes
and I wondered if it was falling
so someone who would never see the sky again
could at least feel it one last time.

And I wondered if the pieces of the sky missed
being up that high,
watching everything below,
instead of turning red then blue.

Continue

I look at my tiny blue veins
Running from one end to another
And I think about how there really is no end
To the streams in my body.

They move constantly. They do not stop.
Even in the lowest of lows
They still run.

And I think about how we are like
These small blue endless rivers
Constantly moving. Never ceasing.
And we are the veins of this existence.

Maybe one day we will stop
Flowing. We will stop rushing.
But as for now we circle around this body
Creating life.

And we will continue to do just that
We will continue to run and move
Until this body becomes too dry and tired
To continue.

I Want You To Live

I don’t even like kids. They’re sticky and loud. Plus, if anyone deserves to be yelling in the frozen pizza isle at Wal-Mart, it’s me.

Regardless, I know that one day when I’m ready, I’m going to have one or two that I will really love. One of those might be a daughter, and I want her to know that life sucks. Life is, at times, the actual worst.

There are going to be a lot of times where you’re gonna hate it, it’s going to be ugly, you won’t like what you see on the news, what you see at school or on the streets. There are going to be days where you don’t like what you see in the mirror, where you wake up with a headache from crying all night, and there are going to be days where you wonder why it’s worth it.

And to you I want to say this; it just is.

I don’t think I could ever bring someone into this world knowing it wasn’t worth it. I’m still basically a kid myself, but when I’m ready, and when I’m sure, you’ll be here, and it will be worth it. There are some things I want you to know.

First of all, nobody cares. I went through the first 19 years of my life always wondering what people thought about me, what they thought about my clothes, my ideas, my music taste, my hair, my crooked teeth, and everything else. I worried that I had to change things about myself to make people like me. I liked that mustard-yellow turtle neck I found at goodwill, but I didn’t buy it because it was too “out there”. I liked my pink and yellow plaid converse that I threw away sophomore year of high school because they didn’t match with anything. I thought everything was so important. Everything was being watched and critiqued. I thought everyone cared, but they didn’t. I didn’t realize this until about halfway through my 4th semester of college. I found that I didn’t care about what shoes that girl was wearing, or how that other girl wore green parachute pants to class. I admired them for the very fact that they wore them with the confidence they had.

This isn’t just about clothes. I realized that I had not been myself. I didn’t know who I was and it wasn’t making me happy. I changed my standards, my values, my feelings, all for other people. I wanted to be like-able and cool. I was so quiet and reserved because I didn’t want people to judge me. I regret this. Please know that you don’t have to be quiet. You don’t have to hide parts of yourself that others may not like, because hiding them will make you not like yourself. Wear that turtle neck, don’t throw away those converse, and please stop caring so much, the people around you don’t care about these silly things as much as you think they do.

The second thing I want you to know is that you’re worth so much more than you think you are. You are the bees knees, my friend. There will be times when you look at the people around you, and think to yourself, they have everything I don’t. I wish I could be more like them. I wish I had what they had. Stop it. You are incredible. While those people may have things you don’t, you also have things they don’t. Every single person you meet on this earth will have characteristics or gifts that you admire, but never envy them, because you have your own. You won’t look like everyone else. Nobody looks like everyone else. You will have a different face, different body, a different sense of humor, personality, different everything, and that is okay. There are so many times where I wish someone could have told me this. It’s such a simple concept, but so difficult to understand at times. I was so insecure. I was angry at myself for having crooked teeth, I was angry because my hair was shorter than most girls’, I wanted to be funny and flirty and confident. I was so angry because I wanted these things that others had. Looking back, I know that if I had the confidence I have now, I would have been happier. I wouldn’t have starved myself to look a certain way. I wouldn’t have hated myself for the way I looked. I would have been patient. After braces and learning how to fix my hair, I gained some of that confidence. That didn’t solve everything, but learning to love myself began with being comfortable in my skin.

I had to fake a lot of confidence at the beginning. I had to pin down that voice in my head that told me I wasn’t good enough, and tell it to leave me alone. I began to realize that I wasn’t hiding those negative feelings, I was simply letting the positive ones be louder. You will need to remind yourself more often than you’d like that you are enough. You are more than enough. Knowing me, I probably strategically planned your existence, so you are definitely not worthless. Your Father in Heaven has also strategically planned your existence. He knew you, and you Him. He knew that you would be sent to this earth, and He gave you to me with a purpose. He misses and loves you, and will trust me everyday to remind you of that. Know everyday that you are worth more than you could ever know. You may not be like everyone else, but you are you. And that is enough.

Third, I want you to be kind. Being kind, truly, genuinely kind, takes guts. There will be people, events, experiences and ideas that will make you think being kind is not worth the trouble, but you will have to be patient. Someone who knows that this world is not perfect, and the people around them are not perfect, but shows kindness is something rare that this world needs more of. Do not underestimate how powerful this can be. There are people all around you, at school, on the sidewalks, sitting next to you on the train, living next door to you, teaching you, learning with you, that you will never fully know. They will be struggling with things you will never fully understand, so be kind. To everyone you see, meet, love, and learn about, be kind. They will see something in you that they haven’t seen in anyone before, because it is rare for someone to be kind even when they know not everyone will be kind in return. I haven’t mastered this yet, so I can’t tell you that I know everything, but I have experienced the kindness in others that has shaped most of who I am, and who I want to be. I have learned to be patient with others, and to be something the world needs more of, something that I want you to be.

There will be people who take advantage of this. They will see that kindness and take it as passiveness, naivety, and weakness. They will expect you to tolerate things that you shouldn’t, to accept things you don’t want to, and to put your feelings on the back burner. But being kind is not a weakness, so don’t let it be. Don’t let yourself become surrounded by negativity simply because you are a nice person. Be strong, and if you need to let people go who take advantage of that kindness, then let go.

Fourth, you can do anything. This world is too big for you to be what a fraction of this population thinks you should. There are so many different places to go, things to see, people to meet, and things to love. Find those things you love and be good at them. You can be and do anything. Be who you are, and who you’ve grown to be, but become part of something that adds to it. I want you to know that success comes in so many forms, so don’t let others tell you differently. Success is how happy you are with your situation, not the approval that comes from others. If you truly desire to become an art teacher, and you love it and put more of yourself into it than anything else, do it. If you put everything you have into running a fortune 500 company, do it. If you feel that being a mother and caretaker is what makes you successful, do it. Do not think you have to be one thing, either. I’m not only talking about a career, but don’t stop learning and growing because you have found something that makes you happy. The only thing you can take with you when you leave this earth is the knowledge you have gained, so acquire as much as you can.

You are growing up in a world that can be so cruel, one that will judge your decisions as if they know who you are, but you are the only one who knows you. There are still people who doubt women, who doubt your strengths and abilities, who have preconceived ideas of who you are, so prove them wrong. Be proud that you are a woman, because you have capabilities that are more powerful and important than some will lead you to believe. While you do this, support those around you who share this goal. You are not the only one on this earth with the worth and potential I described earlier. Help and support those who have no voice, and empathize with those who do not have the same privileges as you. Listen to and understand your brothers and sisters on this earth to help them be successful too. You can be anything, but make sure one of the things you decide to become is an ally, a friend. Someone with integrity.

The fifth and final thing I want you to know, is that you need to live. Although there are billions of people who share that same worth and potential, you are still so important. Do not shape your decisions around others. Do not let the actions of other people dictate how you feel or think. Do not build your life around other people. Build your life around yourself, and allow others to build with you. You are so much more than 1 out of 7 billion, so much more than a friend, an ally, you are so much more than just my daughter. Build your life around that. Let yourself feel everything, do not think that you have to hide what you feel because it’s not right, or because it’s not what people want to see. If you feel something, feel it like you’re meant to. Experience this world in all the good it has to offer. There are terrible things that happen, negativity, people who hurt others and you will see and experience things that will make watching unbearable, but remember to live for the good. Just because there is darkness does not mean there is no light. Do not rush through life to get to the next best thing. Every minute and the minute ahead of that is the next best thing. Go to that football game, to that dance, and dress up for spirit day because it might seem stupid but in that moment it’s something to help you get through it. It is so small, but it’s so much better than the negativity you will see. Go on that hike even though no one wants to go with you, go see that movie by yourself, ask that cute boy in your apartment complex out on a date, eat that fricken cupcake, dump that boy that doesn’t call you back, stop being friends with those people who do nothing but talk about others, learn to play that instrument you’ve always wanted to, go to that zumba class even though you dance like a white dad at a barbecue, raise your hand if you know the answer, join the intramural bubble soccer team, say yes to things that might scare you. This life is not meant to be optional. Yes, you get to make these decisions and choose how you live it, but you still have to live it.

Do not be afraid to jump into that pool. Yes, the water might be cold for a second, but it will feel better once you’re in there. The shock comes from the transition, not the pool. We fear things in life because we anticipate the shock of transitioning. That fear is so temporary. You don’t fear the actual pool, you fear the change. You fear the shock. Let the shock happen. It will be quick, and you will feel so much better after.

I am going to make mistakes, I am not going to know absolutely everything, but don’t let that define you. I will teach you all I can, and I will do everything I can to make sure you know your potential, but don’t rely on me to help you define exactly who you are. You belong to you, and you belong to God and no one else. Live with that knowledge. Live with kindness and confidence and courage, but please just live.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Family Favorite

I was the good one. I followed the rules, kept quiet, did well in school. I was the peacemaker. I made sure I chose the right side, and I was never angry. I was always told I was calm, cool, and collected. I advocated for everyone to respect and cherish their parents, no matter the mistakes they made. Everything I did, I did it for them.

I began to hate it. I hated when I was mocked for being “perfect”. I hated the way others knew the truth but I was too stubborn trying to keep the peace. I hate that I denied the way I felt, and what I thought about myself was always based on the actions of others. It just wasn’t worth it to me anymore.

I began to realize how imperfect I wanted to be. I didn’t have the desire to cause trouble. I didn’t want to be selfish, rude, or loud, I just wanted to stop pretending everything was alright.

The more I thought about the things I have experienced, the more I realized how much I had kept inside, and the more I realized how okay I wasn’t. From then on, I became reluctant to accept the decisions my family made. I loved them, but it angered me that I had to put up with it so often.

After my first year of school, I went back home. I loved being home, but I started to recognize patterns of enabling, guilt-tripping, and ignorance. I left for school early that summer because I knew if I stayed longer, I would get upset and say something I wasn’t supposed to. It was like I was a bottle of pop that had been rolling around in the back of the trunk, waiting to be opened. I decided not to open that bottle.

And then that December happened. While on my way home for Christmas, there was yet another conflict. I became upset, angry, sad, I felt everything all at once and I drove back to school because I was sick of putting up with it. After a phone call and a few guilt-trips, I made my way back “home”. Once again, what happened was swept under a rug. I overreacted, the way I felt was wrong, and I needed to support my family.

I went through the rest of my sophomore year of college not knowing who I was, or what I stood for. I made decisions I would never usually make, and surrounded myself with an attitude and with people who I never would have before. I had no idea what I was turning into. I was nothing like the person I was when I began school, and part of me missed that person.

It wasn’t until after that year of school, while I was at home that I realized who I wanted to be. Well, everything I didn’t want to be.

The way conflicts were handled in my home enabled them to happen again. The ones I love became the ones I tried to avoid. Nothing phased them, and if it did, it only lasted for the night. The next day, it was supposed to be okay, and we’d forget what had happened the day before. It was unhealthy in a way that it did nothing. There was no solution, because after a day or two, the problem no longer existed. Maybe they could see the problem,  but even if they did they were too scared to say it out loud. I was tired of being scared, so I began to pay attention. I was tired of ignoring the bad. It physically made me ache to hide it.

Once again, I was in the constant loop of other people making decisions that impacted me more than they could know. I realized during this time that I was almost not allowed to feel. Because when I did, it wasn’t right. I realized that this is why I stayed neutral. I stayed calm, and I swept it under the rug. When I felt, and when I refused to accept the things that were happening, I was disrupting the cycle. The conflicts lasted more than one night, because I refused to forget them.

I became the problem child.

I became so tired. I was exhausted. I no longer wanted to be the perfect daughter that hid evidence of wrong-doings. I no longer wanted to be quiet. I no longer wanted to keep the peace, because there was little peace to keep.

I was angry, moody, loud, and I overreacted. I punched holes in my door, and I yelled. There was a moment where I became so angry, I threw a bottle of vodka at the bookshelf in my mother’s room. I reacted to everything because if I didn’t, it would go unnoticed. And yet, I still felt guilty for it. In my family’s eyes, I was selfish, spoiled, irate. They were shocked. They didn’t like it. At first, I didn’t know why I was so angry all the time, and I felt guilty. I apologized for it. I was even told that rather than throwing the bottle at the bookshelf, I threw it at my mother. They made me feel as if nothing I said was valid. Nothing I said was true. That bottle never came close to my mother, and I knew it, but once again I felt guilt. I questioned everything. I felt like I was the one causing the problems.

After one event that I will never forget, I finally understood.

I had bottled everything up. I had lived my life following every rule, obeying every command, sweeping every little bit of anger, resentment, wrong-doing, and conflict right under the rug where I stood every day. The bottle was not just opened, but all of its contents were spilled, staining the rug where I hid everything.

How I lived was not normal. How my family lived was not normal. I loved them so deeply and maybe that’s why this frustrated me so much. I loved them and they saw that I hurt but they didn’t like the way that I hurt. They didn’t like that I couldn’t let it go. They didn’t like that it hurt me. I understood that I was a grown adult, but they didn’t understand that I was still their child.

So I left and I never went back.

And this is why I write about it. Because even still, after seven months, no explanation is good enough. No reason is a good enough excuse. They still don’t understand why I ached, why I hurt or why I was angry. They still don’t understand that my life is not meant to revolve around them. That’s not what we are here for, the ones we love so deeply and intensely, are not always the ones we are meant to hold on to. If we are lucky enough, we get to keep these people near us, but that’s not always the case. I wish so badly that I could, but I don’t think I can.

And there are so many days and nights where I fight that homesickness. Where I’m one button away from apologizing to my mother. Where I want to get in my car and go “home”. There are days where I think that I should have kept pretending to be the perfect daughter, that maybe I did deserve to feel that guilt.

But, there are even more days where I can breathe. Where I don’t have to choose sides, and where I can feel so much all at once. There is no bottle or rug. I am in an open space that I have the potential to fill with all of my anger, my sadness, my conflict, my wrong-doings, and every bit of feeling that I have. And although this room is crowded, and I keep filling it, nothing is hidden. Nothing is trapped or collecting dust or housing spiders. These things can breathe and so can I.

And no, I don’t have everything figured out. I don’t know the answer to everything. But I know that right now I am the happiest I have ever been in my life. I know that I am not being selfish for wanting to breathe. Although I love my parents, my mother who came back for me and my step-father who raised the bar so high, they still don’t understand, and I’m not sure if they ever will. I left. And I don’t think I will ever go back, because that is not my home.

I am my home. The space filled with everything that makes me is my home. I wish so badly that they could understand. That they could see how badly I was hurt. How I ached. That I don’t hang onto these things on purpose, or to cause guilt, that I don’t hang on at all. Theses things are permanently attached, because they made me. The things that have happened, everything followed me. When these things happened, as much as I tried to stop it, I was suddenly that twelve-year-old girl again, left, confused. And I think that no matter how old I become, these things will continue to be part of who I am and shape who I have yet to become.

I hate it. I hate knowing that the decisions of others have such an effect on me, but that’s just how it is. No amount of counseling, time, laughter, crying, or forgetting works. It never does. I don’t think it ever will.

I miss them. I miss the fun times when there was nothing to hide. When I did forget. I miss the smell of my mother’s baby lotion, and my stepfather’s hugs. I miss when I could look them in the eyes honestly.

But I miss me more. I’ve never had a chance to be the home that I needed, but I knew that I eventually could. I missed someone I never met, but I knew them deeply. I knew their desires, needs, and fears, and I missed them. I missed myself so much.

Maybe that is selfish. Maybe everything I swept under that rug should’ve stayed. Maybe I have absolutely no clue what happiness means. These things could all be true, but if they were I don’t think I’d mind. I am nowhere near being a perfect daughter, but I can’t remember the last time it felt so good to admit to having flaws. Because in my eyes, in the room filled with the things that make me a home, I am not selfish. I am not self-absorbed, self-righteous, or naive. I am homesick.

Not the kind that makes me miss the tiny blue house in the middle of nowhere, but the kind that hurts my chest when I think about losing myself again. I miss myself so badly, and I just want them to understand. The love I have for them will never go away, but the love I have for myself has grown. I don’t think I will ever go back, but I have found a home within myself.  As clustered and crowded and as messy as it may be, it is my home. I built it, and I’ve rebuilt it over and over again. I sometimes miss the homes that weren’t really mine, but I’ve missed me so much more, and I think I’ve almost found her.