An Open Letter to the Struggler

Dear Reader,

I have friends who struggle and it breaks my heart. I’m sure you struggle too and my heart goes out to you as well.

I know it is normal to empathize and yearn to help my fellow strugglers but sometimes I want to get on my knees and scream with frustration because I can’t make it better. I cannot miraculously get the strugglers of this world to believe that they are beautiful, that they are worthy, that they are a necessary part of this world, and that they have purpose. I can tell them these things until the world ends but it won’t matter until they begin to actually believe those things about themselves.

Above all else I want to help the strugglers because I have been there. I’ve been in the pit of despair and on my last leg. I’ve felt the world weighing down from above as it crushed me. I have felt the soul sucking pain of loss, abandonment, of being forgotten. There are still nights where all I want to do is crawl under the covers and never wake up because in the midst of it all I feel too tired to move on.

The thing that keeps me going, though, is the fact that I’ve tasted hope.

I’ve seen the brighter days. I’ve overcome exhausting obstacles. I have experienced the light of forgiveness, of letting go. It sure as hell hasn’t been easy and I really hope that I never come off seeming like it is anything short of life’s work to overcome the crap we carry with us every day. But the tastes of joy, of peace, of love, and friendship, they keep me motivated. They keep me fighting. Even when I’m stuck in a valley I know somewhere up the hill there is something worth pursuing and I have the strength to get there.

The crux of it though is the hardest thing to admit and that is this: it’s on us. It is on the individual to make the choice as to whether or not they are going to pursue a new path. It is up to the person to decide if they are going to fight or continue to live with the status quo. I will always remember so clearly the day I was sitting in my chair at church and realized that if I kept doing what I’ve always done, I’d keep getting what I’ve always got, and I was tired of what I was getting.

It wasn’t a friend who made the decision for me. Not my parents or my siblings, and it wasn’t God’s decision on my behalf or any other sense of divine intervention. It was my choice and mine alone and once I made it, everything else could fall into place.

I was sitting in church, during my first year in Southern California, and the pastor got up to speak. He told a story, something he was very good at, and I listened eagerly. He spoke about therapy, how he went to meet his therapist one day and they sat down and started talking. As their conversation went on there came a point where, after the pastor shared his story, the therapist looked at him and said four words,

“It is your fault.”

As a psychology student I was mortified. I felt myself tense up. I wanted to fight for my pastor, and more than that I wanted to fight for the little girl inside of me that objected vehemently to those words. How could the pain I felt be my fault? How could the circumstances of my upbringing which so heavily influenced me be my fault? The bullies, the people who tore me down, how could their actions be any fault of mine?

The pastor continued.

You see, he wasn’t upset about it. He had been at the time, but what the therapist said after the fact made sense. It came down to this: You have to choose to move on. Crap happens. Crap happens every single day of our lives whether it is happening to us or happening to someone else. We can allow the crap to bog us down and make us victims. We can blame the people who have hurt us for our bad habits or our terrible thought processes. We can even blame society for its part in our misery.

But in the end blame isn’t going to change a damn thing.

Waiting for everyone else to change, to apologize, to repent, is stupid. Hoping to control other people’s outcomes and get what is owed to us will just leave us bitterer in the end. As the saying goes, unforgiveness is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies.

Your parents can never parent you the way they should have. You can’t go back in time and change what that boy said to you on the playground that made you feel like you were worthless. It is impossible to erase the harsh words of a teacher who said your work wasn’t good enough, or wash away the feeling of betrayal when a friend left you high and dry when you needed her most. Society will never stop telling you that you aren’t rich enough, smart enough, thin enough, or fashionable enough.

The only thing you can change is how YOU see yourself and others. And that starts with owning up to the fact crap happened but you’re no longer willing to rent out your headspace to it. Tell your father to get the hell out of your head and cover his lies with truth. Tell the image of the bully at school that sits in the back of your mind and laughs at your flaws that he’s done, he’s being evicted. Unfriend the kid on Facebook who makes status updates that make you uncomfortable in your own skin.

Choose to move on. That’s the first step. It has to be the first step. Because anything else we try to do before we choose to really move on is going to fall flat on its face because we’re still clinging blame and bitterness and ignoring our own power to change our status quo.

I’ll end on this note: there are pains that far surpass choosing to move on and I highly encourage people who have been abused, neglected, or otherwise hurt to seek out professional help. Yes, everyone still has to make the choice to change but once the choice has been made you do not have to do it alone. Also find strength in the fact that making the choice to move forward gives you back some of the power over your life that has been taken from you along the way.

Flip those voices in your head the bird and choose to stop letting them be the ones that dictate who you are and how you act. 

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Four Years of Freedom

I don’t really like to talk about self harm. Strangely enough I’d prefer to discuss pornography and the Church than talk about self harm.

Today, though, I get to celebrate four years of no self harm. So I’m going to talk about it. 

I have a difficult time being proud of that because there is always a little voice in the back of my head that tells me it is a dumb accomplishment. Every year I feel as if I’m able to conquer that voice just a little more and this year I’m shoving this blog post in its face because four years of no self harm is something to celebrate.

So if you haven’t figured it out yet, I used to be a self harmer. I had some dysfunctional family dynamics growing up that led to some unhealthy coping mechanisms. One was porn, which I’ve blogged about before, but another was self harm. Out of a place of utter desperation and frustration I used to cut myself. It is hard to even type that because it seems so irrational. Even as a former self harmer I have a difficult time explaining exactly why it helped. All I know is that it did. It was not healthy, but it got me through moments where I felt like I had no other choice.

There are a lot of stigmas surrounding self harm. The biggest one is that people self harm for attention. I hear a lot of people use this one when they see teenagers hurt themselves and it breaks my heart. Even if there is some truth, maybe it is time to give that hurting teenager positive attention, because if they need attention so badly that they resort to harming themselves then odds are there is a deeper issue.

Don’t just dismiss the deeper issue because someone is doing something for attention.

Another one is less of a stigma, more of an assumption. When I talk about self harm most people think it refers to cutting. In my case that is true. It is not, however, true in all cases. There are many other ways people hurt themselves and unfortunately a lot of them are easy to hide. Some people bruise themselves (“Oh, I just ran into a door”), others burn themselves (“Yeah, hurt myself baking again”), others pull out their hair, bang their heads into things, claw and pick at their skin, and a million other things that constitute self harm. Self harm is more than cutting.

So on the fourth anniversary of my sobriety, I wanted to bring attention to something that is very much a problem. I also wanted to share because I know there are strugglers out there who need to hear that they are not alone and that there is hope. I won’t lie and say that everything is perfect. There are moments where I feel like I am spiraling out of control and all I want to do is track down a knife and cope in my old unhealthy ways…but those days are few and far between, and thanks to the people in my life I don’t have to go through them alone anymore.

My biggest advice to anyone struggling, whether it is with self harm, pornography, or anything else that hinders your ability to find joy in life and brings you shame, is to reach out. Tell someone. E-mail a pastor anonymously, post it on an anonymous board, tell it to your dog, to your hamster, or if you’re brave tell it to a friend, an adult, a parent. The first step to learning how to cope in a healthy manner is this: Learn to cope with people, not alone.

As always, my e-mail inbox is open to anyone who needs to share: rdlenix@yahoo.com

Above all else I give thanks to God for being with me every step of the way. Here is to year five. 

On High Mountain Peaks

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I have a very difficult time accepting blessings in my life.

This past week I had a lot of things confirmed that I had mentioned being stressed out about in my “The Art of Play” blog entry. Both of my jobs for the summer have been confirmed, so I won’t be having to scrimp and save to survive living in Southern California this summer. I was able to book a flight home to see my family. Due to the fact I will be staying down here in Southern California, I can officially say I’m going to Comic Con 2013 in San Diego, CA. To top it all off, I checked in my mailbox here at school and found out that I’m getting some sort of award at Honors Convocation Chapel on Thursday.

In short, I’ve been insanely blessed this week, so why do I feel so anxious?

You would think someone who has seen everything come together in a single week would be on cloud nine and without worries. In a way I am and did my best to celebrate throughout the week as each new thing came into being. Yet there is this deeper inner dread that something is bound to go wrong. I can’t help but worry that the second job I got is too good to be true and will fall out from under me, that something will happen and my plans for Comic Con will fall through, or that I won’t be able to see my family for some reason.

Even when everything is going well I still fear that it will all go to hell in a hand basket because I don’t trust.

Trust is a daily struggle for me and one I imagine I will take with me to the grave. Can I trust my paychecks to come through? Can I trust people to do what they say that they will do? Can I trust myself not to screw up along the way? There are all these questions that drown me and suck the joy out of me just as soon as I find it again.

The beautiful thing is, though, that I realize how silly a lot of these fears are and I can start combating them. I can reach out to God in times of fear and doubt and he helps me limp through. I’m learning to accept the possibility that I might fail and that if I do, the world will not end.

I have a hard time trusting because I’m petrified of failing if I put trust in the wrong people or things. There is an inherent need to protect myself at all costs, even if it keeps me from enjoying the blessings that are raining down around me. I have to shoulder everything alone because no one else is dependable.

How silly is that, though? How much trouble could I save myself if I just came to accept the fact that I will fail somewhere along the way and that will be okay? The worst part is, I’m so focused on everything that is going wrong I forget to rejoice in the things that are going right.

So this week I’m going to accept that good things happen and that the bad may come, but it does not have any place in my life when I am so richly blessed. Focus on the good and let the failures come when they will, because in the end it will all be okay anyway.