Things are about to get real. And by real I mean writing down and sharing publicly some of the things I wouldn’t want others to know about me; a few things I have struggled with personally that I know God is pressing upon my heart to share and be open about. I used to fear that what I am going to share in this blog would completely shatter the perception people have had of me and that I prided myself in maintaining for as long as I can remember, and it just might. But growth doesn’t happen when you can’t or won’t accept and embrace every single thing about you, including the things you choose to keep secret from those around you. I understand what it could mean, or do, by me sharing what I am about to, but I also know how great it has felt to hear another person say “me too” when saying they have shared in the same personal struggle that I have. Hearing “me too” makes you feel like you’re not so alone; like you’re not completely crazy for thinking, acting, or doing the things you do because you believe that no one else could possibly understand you. When we get real with each other, when we become transparent and take off the masks we have made for ourselves that only show what it is we want the world to know and see of us, real healing and authentic relationships can be birthed.
First let me say that I was fortunate enough to grow up in a home where I was very well taken care of, was given almost anything I asked for or needed, and was shown so much love and sacrifice from my parents in order to give me the opportunities I was able to have. I excelled in both academics and a sport, and worked very hard to keep the appearance that I had it all together all the time. I had found a way to live my life outwardly that didn’t reflect or allow others to know what was going on inwardly for myself mentally and emotionally, unless I shared with someone about it. I am not going to give an abundance of detail with particulars of my struggles because I don’t believe it is necessary to convey the message I am wanting to, nor do I believe that just anyone needs to have access to the exact depth of another person’s struggle unless there is a solid relationship built on trust, confidence, love, humility, and has Jesus working in the midst of it all. So here we go…
My own personal struggles date back much farther than when my sexual assault occurred almost four years ago. My first battle began in eighth grade and it was with self-harm and suicidal thoughts. I never once attempted to take my own life because I knew I would never be able to go that far, but the mind games that were played inside my own head, and the battle I was constantly fighting to stop them have gone on for a good portion of my adolescent years and early adulthood. This battle lasted from the time I was in eighth grade until even just this past year. That’s almost ten years of fighting the same battle, the same thoughts, and the same emotions. For the most part, I learned how to hide or cover up any marks that were ever made. But one time, in my junior year of high school, my parents caught on. The conversation that followed was one of the top two hardest conversations I have ever had to have with my parents, my sexual assault being the other. I felt so sad and angry at myself seeing how upsetting it was to my parents to learn what I had been doing and the thoughts that I had been struggling with. I felt even worse about things when they seemed to ask if there was something they could/should have done differently, or how this could be the case when they have provided for me so well. A hard truth parents must know when they have a child who experiences suicidal thoughts and/or self-harm is that their child is not struggling because of anything the parent did or did not do for them. For me, my struggle was completely separate of my parents and how they had raised me, but had everything to do with my mental state, my emotions, and how I was processing my own thoughts in my head.
As I have learned over the years, most, if not all, of our battles begin in, and are fought in, the mind. My mind was telling me that self-harm was warranted whenever I felt I had “messed up”; whenever I felt like I hadn’t measured up to the perfectionistic person I was trying to make myself out to be. For this same reason, my mind would then tell me I deserved to be “punished” for my mistakes. A bigger lie I heard in my own head was that self-harm was all that could suffice as the “punishment” that I believed I needed in order to make up for having “messed up.” The suicidal thoughts would come once I felt that there was absolutely no way to make up for something I had done, said, or had caused to happen, or when I was convinced in one way or another that I was a burden or a problem. What I know now after growing, learning, maturing, receiving counsel, and finding Jesus, is that so many times, if not every time, that I believed I needed to be punished I was actually just being faced with the truth that I am not perfect; this means I will mess up sometimes and I will hurt other people. BUT, this does not make me a bad person and I will still be loved when I mess up just the same as I was loved before. There is great freedom in accepting the truth and knowledge that God did not design any one of us to be able to master perfection or live without sinning because it is in our human nature, and that for every mistake or sin we commit there is grace and forgiveness to meet us in our moment of need.
This next part is for every girl who has ever felt like she needed to be in a relationship to be complete, successful, or truly loved. I have been in relationships for a good majority of my adolescent and young adult years, all of them somewhat long-term, with what I would have considered three out of four to have been “serious.” This meant that at one point or another, in my female fantastical mind, I thought that the guy I was dating was “the one.” Of course lucky number four is the man who I am meant to be with, who I know God designed to love every part of who I am, and who has completely captured my heart. But I tended to believe throughout my other relationships, and the times of singleness in between, that I was most happy when I had a man to call mine. I thought the identity I was wanting to create for myself could only be complete when there was someone to call boyfriend in my life, who would hopefully become fiance and then husband somewhere along the way. I yearned to feel loved and accepted by another person so badly; to hear that I was special and wanted so much that they would want to be with me forever. I was basing my happiness and identity on another person, and I know now this is not a healthy mind set. Even now, with the man I have, I have learned to accept the fact that he will never make me completely happy and that if I depend on him to complete me, I will sadly be let down and left feeling empty. Wholeness that comes from a relationship with another person can only come from a relationship with God. Yes, my relationship here has and continues to teach me more about God, who I am, and who I want to be, but without God as our foundation, neither of us would be able to compliment, love, or take care of the other person how we are called to by God.
In my short six months of singleness before meeting Jon, I embraced my lack of a counterpart for the first time in my entire life. I was happier than I had been in a long time, and I was able to pursue my heart for God, as well as my own heart, more than I would have had I still been in another relationship. My time of singleness, and almost any period of singleness I have been through, have always been the times in my life that I have grown the most. I was always challenged to finally care about myself and my own happiness first, rather than always trying to meet the needs of the other person before myself. I was allowed the freedom to grow on my own in order to become who I am today. I am still growing every day, but I wouldn’t have been as prepared as I was when meeting Jon if I hadn’t had that time to grow beforehand. If you are someone who is longing to feel whole, blissfully happy, and content, and you have come to believe this can only happen when with a romantic partner, then you are sadly mistaken. You must first find and love yourself before you can give any part of yourself away to another. You must first pursue, and yes even look at it as date, God and establish that relationship in your life before allowing your heart to go to another person.
The last bit of getting real that I’m going to share with you is something that I don’t believe many people my age, or maybe even people of any age, consider as something that could become a problem, or can often acknowledge and realize is a problem they have. This is the struggle of alcoholism. I was never an alcoholic, but I was on my way down a slippery slope of alcoholic tendencies and habits just a little over a year ago. I had become an evening wine drinker in order to relax from a full day of classes, work, and homework. I would have one or two glasses a few nights of the week, and every now and then my wine would be traded out for a Jack and Coke, and a fairly strong Jack and Coke too. Shortly after I was confronted about this habit of mine and how unhealthy it was, and could still become, I began to realize that I wasn’t just enjoying a glass of wine to enjoy it with a movie, popcorn, or something like I had kept telling myself I was doing that made my habit “okay” in my mind. No, I was using it as an agent to help numb myself and “check out” for a little while. At the end of a long day, when I was done feeling emotions and dealing with different thoughts, I would find the quickest way to change my state of mind, and that was by consuming alcohol to the perfect point of feeling relaxed, carefree, and even happy. But consumption of alcohol doesn’t actually change anything except to temporarily give a person a “break” from the things you want to escape. The next morning, or once the effects of the alcohol wear off, the thoughts, emotions, and problems you were drinking in order to escape are still going to be right there waiting for you. This temporary fix of consuming alcohol will do nothing for your long term happiness or ability to cope with, handle, or manage the trials, stresses, and problems you will face in life.
I believe it is entirely acceptable to enjoy a glass of wine or any other alcoholic beverage with a meal, or to celebrate a special occasion, but when this consuming becomes excessive in the amount poured or the number of glasses had, that is when poor habits begin to develop. Once I began to assess my relationship with alcohol after having been confronted about the habit I had been developing, I realized that I had never learned to drink alcohol in a healthy way. From the moment I was out of high school and onto college, my drinking habits were to always consume as much as I could, as quickly as I could, until I was in the state of mind I desired. Alcohol was never made or learned to be enjoyed or used to celebrate, but instead used to let loose and party on the weekends. I realized I needed to learn the right way to consume alcohol, but only after first giving it up completely for a period of time. I needed to first learn how to let go of the way I had been consuming alcohol, along with what I sought while consuming it, before I could re-learn how to simply enjoy and be social with it. What I needed to learn is that sometimes one drink is all you need if you’re drinking strictly for celebrations or enjoyment of the taste, and not to get drunk.
The process of giving up alcohol was both a challenge and a milestone for me. Once I decided to give it up, I got rid of all of the alcohol I owned so it wouldn’t be available to me when a craving would set in; I had to learn how to confidently refuse a drink from both friends and family, even when I wanted one; and I had to learn how to fight and push through the times I wanted to “check out,” the same kind of times I had previously used alcohol to help me do so. Pushing through cravings and the feeling that I “needed” a drink to help me was more difficult than I expected it to be, but over time it became easier. I gradually grew very proud of my ability to say no to an offered drink, and even more proud as I found myself not wanting or wishing that I was drinking with everyone else. I had gotten to a point of contentment that while others were drinking around me I was able to maintain the mindset that I did not need a drink to be happy or have fun like I used to believe I did. Once again, I had to re-train my mind, and find a way to battle the mind games, that used to rule my actions and habits with alcohol.
In my opinion, there is nothing more beautiful than when two people accept each other fully; knowing every flaw and failure of the other; knowing every mistake they have made; knowing the dark thoughts they may have and the games and tricks their mind tries to fool them into entertaining; knowing their deepest struggles that leave them feeling beaten down… and yet this other person still accepts and loves them without bounds. It is a treasure when you find yourself in a relationship like this, but they also seem to be extremely rare. I believe this is because many of us don’t dare to take off our masks long enough to let someone see us in our most real and raw state. We are too afraid of being judged, abandoned, lonely, criticized, or made a joke of to be honest about who we are with other people. We long so badly to be accepted and loved that we build up our lives and our identities around an idea of the kind of person we want others to see us as being. But then they don’t really love and accept YOU, do they? They love and accept only what you give to them and show them of you.
It can be really scary to take off the mask and invite people to know the most real and raw version of yourself, so first spend some time getting to know who that is on your own. You won’t be able to show someone else who you truly are until you know who you truly are. You must first dive in and uncover those parts of you that you have kept buried down and covered up for so long; trying to hide the parts of you you wished were different or that you could change. Learning to accept all of these hidden parts of who you are, and then learning to love them as well, will help you later when you decide to share them with another. You cannot give to someone else what you don’t own, so until you own who you are, you cannot give the most authentic and real version of yourself to another person.
I have slowly begun the process of removing my own mask, but I still struggle at times fearing what others will think of the unmasked version of myself that I am putting out there. I have done some uncovering of who it is I really am, but I am also still trying to work on learning to love and embrace every part of me that was left covered for so long.
But what I can say to you today about part of my unmasked self is this:
I am not perfect, but I do not deserve or require punishment for my mistakes because Jesus paid for every transgression with the punishment he took on the cross. I will fall short and I will sin, but grace and forgiveness are offered to those who believe when you bring your struggle forward and lay it at the foot of the cross.
“He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed.”
– 1 Peter 2:24
I am not made whole by anything or anyone other than God and my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. True, blissful happiness and contentment only come from knowing Him and being in relationship with Him. He must come first in all things, and you must acknowledge that it is only in Him that your identity can be found.
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
– Galatians 2:20
I am not dependant upon a substance to feel at peace and know that with God, I can handle and manage any trial or stressors that come my way. No substance, of any sort, can do for you and your life what God can do for you. The blessings and miracles He will put into your life when you depend only on Him, rather than depending on a drug to temporarily give you relief, will do so much more for you than you can fathom.
“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
– Psalm 18:2
“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord In the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.”
– Psalm 27:13-14
There is sure to be someone out there to offer a “me too” to the authentic you when you find the courage to take off your mask. Someone you never would have expected or imagined could relate to you; someone that you would have never guessed was experiencing the same struggles that you have, will be able to come to your side when you take the risk of being real and raw. We can accomplish much more together than we can accomplish apart, and these accomplishments can be things such as healing, raising awareness, being advocates, or even creating support groups to help handle life’s hurts and struggles. But we can only come together and be the strongest we can be when we know, appreciate, accept, and love each other just the way we are, and not how we believe we should be, or how we expect others be. Allow yourself to be free from the ideal version of yourself you have created and embrace who it is that God created you to be. We are fallen and sinful by human nature, but redeemed and beloved to Him.
Be brave, have courage, get real, and take the risk of removing your mask…
“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”
– Romans 15:7