Saturday, March 1, 2014

My Broken Record - The Story Behind My Scars

And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
Revelation 12:11

I really don't know where to start here. I have been dreading this post. I've known that God has been pushing me to write this though, and I am going to trust Him on this. Very very few people have heard this story. I have kept it hidden because there has been so much shame preventing me from sharing it. The scars are still fresh and they're still sensitive. Covering them up does me no good, but sharing them, as risky as it may be, could help someone else. A dialogue in Thornton Wilder's play, "The Angel That Troubled the Waters" reads, "Without your wounds, where would your power be? It is your melancholy that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men and women. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love's service, only wounded soldiers can serve."

My story is a gift. One of infinite value, and I often don't treat it that way. I am littered with the scars of my journey, physically and emotionally. I shrink back from sharing the truth about my past because I really don't know where to start or even how to go about disclosing it.

"What happened?"

My stomach falls through the floor every time I hear those words. It's not even that I care that someone knows. It's the fact that for a split second, I am completely naked before them. That's how I feel. I'm caught. I don't know how to explain it. I can't. Honesty is the only way out. I am forced to own up to my weaknesses.

So where to begin.....

Growing up, my life was pretty normal. I had a really good childhood. I lived in your typical American family - a mom, a dad, and a sister. I'd spend my days playing in the mud, exploring the woods that surrounded our neighborhood, riding my bike up and down our old country road, and bringing home any critters I laid my hands on. Snakes, frogs, birds, a deer... My parents loved it.

Throughout my elementary years, I attended a private Catholic school. I was taught the foundational rules of what it meant to be a "good" person. How do you measure what's good? To me, it was through the people I interacted with. As long as everyone was happy with me, I was "good." That lie took root and began to grow.

As I entered middle school, my parents made the decision to pull my sister and I out of Catholic schooling. The transition into public school was awkward and a little bumpy for me. Bodies are changing, hormones are raging, everyone smells, and they're all just trying to fit in. Middle school is rough for everyone. I was the new kid and I was so shy. I was timid and nervous. I didn't know anyone in this new school. And I was naturally awkward. Fitting in was hard for me.

I eventually found people to call friends. I did everything in my power to gain their approval and their friendship. One day, I came to lunch and found that they had brought broken glass to school. They were cutting themselves with it. My first thought was If I do it, they'll like me more. I came to school the next day with freshly scarred wrists and bandaids covering them. I will never forget the reactions I got. Those friends were happy about what I had done the night before... So I continued to do it.

As the years went by, I lost touch with these people, but the cutting continued. I found myself turning to it when I was overwhelmed. Anger always seemed to get the best of me. I carried this secret with me into college.

My freshman year of high school, I went on a diet (another one). Food had always been an issue for me. I had been on and off diets since third grade. By the time I was a sophomore, I had lost a lot of weight. I felt good, and people were telling me I looked great and praising me for how well I was doing. I liked the attention and it fed into my need for approval.

As high school continued, I started to stray a little out of my comfort zone. Well... Actually... I was pulled out of my comfort zone kicking and screaming. Someone invited me to this Young Life thing. I thought it sounded dumb. But my parents had been looking for opportunities to get me involved in something. So they made me go.

I actually ended up enjoying it and those Young Life folks who were once the weird strangers became my weird friends. So kudos to mom and dad.

If you've never heard of it before, Young Life is a Christian ministry focused on reaching middle school, high school, and college students. Young Life changed my life. It's where I learned about Jesus. This ministry showed me what better love looked like. It demonstrated real genuine Christianity. And ultimately, God used Young Life and the people in it to save me.

As I continued to get more involved in Young Life, I found that I was growing so much. Mentally, socially, emotionally, and... Physically. It was the summer after my junior year of high school. I was looking through pictures that had been posted on Facebook from summer camp. I came across pictures of myself and was overcome with shame. And the more pictures I looked at, the more shame I felt. I was disgusted and embarrassed. All of the weight that I had lost my freshman year, I gained it all back. I felt like a failure. I felt inadequate. I had to do something about it. I began to watch what I ate and by the end of that summer, I had developed an eating disorder.

I became obsessed with my weight and what I was eating. As time went on, it got worse. I would spend hours counting calories and planning meals. Numbers clouded my thinking. I knew I had a problem, but I was finally beginning to see results in my weight. I was headed toward my target and I was not about to give that up. I was determined to see this through. As the number on the scale decreased, people's compliments increased. Once again, I was receiving praise and admiration for my weight loss. I loved hearing those words. They made me feel valuable. They made me feel like I was doing something right. I felt loved. Eventually I began to believe that I had to be skinny if I wanted anyone to like me. I thought that if I gained any weight, I would be disgusting and alone. That no one would want me.

As the eating disorder progressed, I became more aggressive with the self harm. People would ask why I was wearing long sleeves when it was so warm outside. I would ignore them or change the topic or lie.

I became a Young Life leader when I started college. Within 6 months of my placement, I was asked to step back. The eating disorder had taken over my life and the self harm was out of control. My secrets were starting to leak out. My friend asked me about my eating habits and I came clean and told her the truth. My parents saw my scars and suggested rehab or counseling. I had finally come to the point where I had to make a choice. Was I going to keep slowly killing myself or was I going to accept the help that was being offered? I only saw one reasonable option.

The first few months of recovery were rough and ugly. I developed bulimia. I would binge on huge amounts of food and spend hours in the bathroom trying to throw it all back up. I was so angry and so frustrated. The only thing that seemed to offer immediate relief was hurting myself. I can remember sitting in the bathroom counting each cut I made. 1, 2, 3... I reached 1000 a couple times. If you look at my wrists, you can see those memories. There was so much pain, but I didn't know what to do with it all. I was numb. I began to withdraw and my thoughts took a dark turn. I didn't want to live anymore. I felt like a burden to those around me and thought that my death would improve their lives. I believed that had I died, my death would have gone unnoticed.

I was hunched over the toilet one night and I couldn't get up the food that I had eaten. Humiliation began to flood my thoughts. To this day, I can't explain that kind of guilt. I laid there, curled up on the floor, and just cried and prayed. I was cringing in my shame. I wanted to die. I was ready to give up. On everything. It wasn't worth it to me anymore. Nothing was.

In that moment, I heard, "You're not as big as you think you are. But your life has purpose."

I began to heal. The eating disorder began to recede. And I started to see the light at the end of this dark dark tunnel.

Over time, that light became brighter. God has shown me that my life was planned in advance. He had a purpose for me before the beginning of time. He showed me the amount of intention in my existence. I have been incredibly blessed with the gift of being, rather than not being. Psalm 139 has taken on a whole new meaning for me:

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

Psalm 139:13-16

My words don't do my story justice. This is just a glimpse. My life has much more substance, much more weight. As heavy as these things may be, I would never trade them. They're hard, yes, but so beautiful when held under the light of Jesus. I have only Jesus to thank because had He not intervened, had He not saved me, I would not be here to tell this story.