TRIGGER WARNING: Childhood sexual abuse
I have never in my life wanted to die so badly.
As I heard him pull in the driveway I froze in fear, shame, and guilt. “Get up, act busy, wipe your face girl!” I tried to tell myself. But, I just laid there frozen. I listened in horror as he gently walked up the seventeen steps it takes to reach our bedroom. I held my breath so tightly and for so long that I almost passed out.
Is this it? The moment he sees, me - not the put together me but the mess of me?
“What do you need?” My husband asked me as he gently laid his warm body over my weak fragile, trembling one. What I wanted to say, was that I needed to die. I needed to be free from this torment. I needed so desperately to leave this physical body that overtook me with pain and discomfort.
But, dying isn’t an option for me.
I know the truth. When one ends their life, their pain doesn’t go with them, it stays behind with those who loved them. Who would get this pain, this torment that I carry? I know this sad truth because my own mother died by suicide. I can still feel her pain. Suicide, it’s not an option for me.
“What do you need?” he asked.
“I don’t know, but I can’t do this life anymore. I’m not fine any longer.”
He knew what this meant. Because I’m always fine. Always. It’s kind of my thing.
I've never been more humbled. Completely shattered, broken and confused. What would he think of me? Then, the most beautiful thing happened; grace. He heard me, right there in my muck. In my own failures and disbelief, he heard me.
Going to the Hospital
The hours that followed that moment were brutal. I went into a full-blown panic attack when I realized the reality of my situation. I was going to be admitted. I fought for every breath as I tried to answer all the hard questions.
“Do you want to harm yourself?”
I wanted to scream in her face, “YES I absolutely do, you don’t understand, I CAN’T!”
I didn’t say that, but I did admit that I wasn’t living. I had stopped eating and sleeping. I was so weak and thin that eventually, possibly, I was hoping I would disappear. The nightmares, the grief, the anxiety I was hoping would disappear.
Grace covered me, like a warm blanket that day. As the mountain of trauma that I had been stuffing all my life erupted, grace covered me. Even on my very worst day.
My Very Worst Day
What my culture won’t accept is that my very worst day was not the nightly intrusions where I was woken up by a grown man who did unthinkable things to my body, while continuing to ask me if I liked it.
My worst day could have been why I didn’t scream. The day he told me that if I did tell, he would shoot my mother in the head. My mother’s drunken nights? Nope. All the times she was thrown in jail? Nope. My own mother’s suicide, my father’s death? Nope.
My very worst day was the day that I couldn’t carry all of this alone any longer.
I thought that this was my job, my role, my lot. What a lie! The culture around me ignored my broken existence and told me to be strong instead. I was told to suck it up. Pray harder. Repent again. I was shunned by the church because they didn’t know exactly what to do with me because I didn’t look the part. I was taught how to wear a mask instead of embracing vulnerability. This only lasts so long, friends.
I thought that what was done was done and that maybe I was just permanently damaged. But the next eight days changed my life. The work I chose to do there was brutal and life-altering. It altered my perception.
When it comes to my childhood trauma, he did things to me that would make your stomach turn. Things I hope you cannot imagine. I tried to leave it all behind, the nightly intrusions, the bathroom, the fondling, the rejection, but they wouldn’t leave! I sucked it up like a champ for so long that it became a part of my identity, to be so strong.
What a joke. What a phony, what a fraud.
I was not fooling anyone any longer. I had a new perception. I was actually quite weak. I was fragile and sad. I didn’t much enjoy my existence at all. Not my life, but my existence. It was actually freeing to be allowed to say that I wasn’t fine. That I was actually quite a mess. That life was really, really hard for me.
One particular psychotherapist helped me on this journey. She sat across from me all casual and classy. She gently engaged with me as if we were not actually sitting in the psych ward. Woman to woman, she genuinely helped pull out the dagger that was stabbing my soul. I saw my parents, my life, my existence from a different point of view. It was a brutal, gut-wrenching reality.
My parents did all this to me. It was them. They caused the abuse, neglect, and shame. It was her boyfriends and his absence. It was their drug addictions and the refusal to treat them. It was an untreated mental illness. There is that brutal reality that was now mine to bear. That it was their untreated mental illness that caused all of it.
Grace, it’s such a beautiful thing and I had a lot of work to do.
The Work of Recovery
I finished out my treatments, all of them. First for my kids and then gradually for me. Seriously, seven years later and I’m still rocking my skills and learning new ones. I found hope and direction in the psych ward on my very worst day. I found a diamond in the muck of all that horror. I found life. I found joy.
Growing up with sexual abuse and drug-addicted, neglectful parents really set me up to challenge my worth. I spent my youth trying to figure out how to be wanted. I looked intently at others trying to see what gave them worth and did my best to mimic them, hoping it would turn out for me. I looked in the mirror my whole life and didn’t know who I was looking at.
On my very worst day though, I was seen. Like really, seen. Maybe for the first time even. Grace; it’s such a beautiful thing. Search me, oh God, and know my heart. And there I was, staring back at me, broken but somehow whole, open wounds throbbing. But, something was different. I learned that even though I’m all these things, I’m desperately valuable. Valuable to my children, my husband, my friends. They need me.
I would later learn that my worth was far greater than this.
Oh, what strength I’ve gained from that horrible day. There is something extremely humbling about being on the psych ward (some even call it “the looney bin”). In our shame-filled culture, it symbolizes that you are crazy and out of control. Being admitted means that you suck so bad that you can’t even do life.
When I openly talk about my experience I see their faces, their judgments. But what they don’t know is that it is actually my greatest strength. Allowing myself to spend time unraveling all the trauma that was stuffed in me like an old bag of yarn at a garage sale, was the most courageous thing I could have ever done. Not just for me but for my family who watched me do it. I’m not crazy at all, well, maybe a little. And yes, I admit, I kinda suck at the everyday tasks of life but, guess what? Those everyday tasks that we stress over so much, don’t actually matter if you’re not living.
The good news? I can breathe now, maybe even for the first time.
Do the Hard Things
So, my advice: do all the hard things anyway. Fall apart anyway. Ignore the screaming culture around you and fight for your life. Hurdle every obstacle out of your way. Borrow the money if you have to. Allow yourself you be uncomfortable for the sake of healing. Because I promise, there is healing.
I promise there is life through all of that pain. You were formed in a sacred secret place, intentionally by the Creator of the universe. That’s kind of a big deal if you think about it. You are needed and adored. You are valued and cherished right where you sit today. Forget about where you want to be or where you once were. Just for one moment, be where you are. Embrace, who you are. Allow the mess, the chaos, the confusion to lead you home - back to your true self. Grace is a breathtaking, life-altering, mountain-moving, most beautiful gift. Embrace all of it my friend.
Join me in forgiveness and freedom,
Share Your Story
Do you have a story of surviving your very worst day? Share it here!
After surviving childhood sexual abuse - and eventually - a suicide attempt, here’s what I’ve learned: the acknowledgement of our wounds leads to the most authentic version of healing. Because we live in a polarized either/or culture, it’s easy to believe that admitting dark truths will invalidate our greatest hopes, but it’s not true. Deep sadness and intense healing can coincide - one doesn’t invalidate the other.
If you'd like to share the story of how you're healing from the most unthinkable experience of your life, I'd love to share it here on my site.
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