**Disclaimer: I am not a licensed mental health professional and all mental health concerns should be advised by a doctor, therapist, or certified mental health professional.**
Surviving the suicide of my first love and kid’s father was a twist I never thought my life would take. But here we are, three years later, still living on after the whiplash of the tragedy that changed our lives forever.
I am who I am today because of what his choice called out of me. I am hand-crafted to not just endure, but walk through pain with magnificently messy courage. And it’s not just me who was refined by this fire. My kids are resilient, truth-seekers who bravely practice managing some of life’s BIGGEST emotions everyday. I am in awe of them. Of us. We’re nothing close to the family I imagined us being… we’re way more badass! And tender. I would never have chosen this path for us, but I can’t help but see the wealth we have because of it.
I made a choice after he died. I chose to stop being silent about truth. I chose to live at my highest level of integrity all the time. I chose to teach my kids how to be relentlessly honest with kindness, compassion, and vulnerability. One of the ways I teach them is in the way I engage in (age-appropriate) conversations with them about suicide, mental health, and feelings. I, along with our robust circle of support, am training them to not “fix”, stuff, or silence their “big” emotions (anger, shame, sadness, even excitement), but rather feel, manage, and consciously choose what response they’d like to have in regards to what they feel.
Mental illness, suicide, emotional pain–they are excruciating to watch our loved ones navigate. But there are invitations within these situations asking us to grow—to widen our ideas of love and expand our edges of what it means to truly live. These are invitations, not requirements. They are opportunities not all choose to accept. Saying YES to embracing the truth of these storylines takes deliberate courage as living in the hard reality of these brutal situations can be some of the hardest work of our lives. But the reward is this: While there will be pain, there is no suffering in truth.
It’s when we use filters that we begin to lose a grip on reality. When we sift out the “uglier” parts of our life and decide to only show what we know is widely acceptable and valued, we deny our truth. Pretending things are different then they are, wearing masks to hide insecurities, presenting confidence where shadows of shame lie are all ways we live outside truth. I’m not going to act like radical honesty isn’t difficult! Sometimes it’s agonizing to be the conversation-starter on hard topics or calling out the dormant relationship-killers lying under the surface of every word or interaction. But it’s the only way we can live whole.
Truth-telling isn’t easy, but it becomes habitual with practice. And after a while, you’ll realize there’s no other way to live. Jesus was right when he said, “The truth shall set you free.” Living in complete honesty with yourself and others allows you to live fully expressed and one hundred percent authentic! That means you never have to hide parts of who you are or filter what you need to accommodate others. Can you imagine?!
So, whether it’s you or a loved one who is struggling with the decision to live or die, the most important thing to recognize it’s your truth. That might sound like: Life is a complete shit-show right now. I am drowning in shame and agony. No one understands. No one sees me, knows me, or cares. I feel broken beyond repair.
All of those things may be your truth today. And the truth of tomorrow is this (whether you can see it, feel it, or know it for yourself, it’s true): Nothing lasts forever. Not even this moment (or years) of agony. You are not alone. There is nothing new under the sun, and there are others who fight battles like the ones you are fighting. It’s hard to be seen, known, or heard when shame is so heavy, but that doesn’t mean no one cares for you. You are not broken. No one is, though we may feel it at times, we are not problems to be fixed, but rather masterpieces of art unfolding along the way (some of us are splattered paint or mosaic art formed of a thousand shattered pieces, but art, nonetheless). If you have a beating heart in your chest, you are worth the fight to keep living. There is more than what is in this moment, I can promise you that.
Heavy. This is the heavy duty life stuff. This is why Glennon Doyle calls life “brutiful”. Because life is damn brutal and beautiful, all at the same time. The brutality and beauty are mixed up in the same moments. It’s our job as humans to keep trekking through the brutal parts to see the beautiful ones. It’s there we remember why it’s so important to keep living. We weren’t created to be happy. So if you’re not happy, that doesn’t mean you’re doing life wrong. We were made to experience life: the heartache AND the pleasure, the pain AND the joy, the loss AND the gain, the empty AND the filling, the lack AND the love. If you aren’t experiencing all of this, there’s more LIFE for you to find!
I have two encouragements for those walking painful paths right now:
1. Find out how you can love yourself well. Do you need to practice hardcore self-care, build rock solid self-trust, discover helpful resources? Do it. These are the first steps for you to find unshakable peace. But only take on what is YOURS—you are never in charge of someone else’s choices or actions. There is so much power in choosing what is yours and gently handing back what is not. This is part of living in integrity. Examples of things that are your responsibility to manage: your emotions, truth, triggers, needs, self-care (health, emotional/mental well-being, boundaries), integrity, and your own best interest. Examples of things that are NOT yours to manage: other people’s choices, truths, integrity, responses to life/you/your truth, emotions, needs, self-care. I get it, there is a teeny, tiny fine line between what is yours and what is theirs when we’re talking about mental illness (especially suicide), addiction, and abuse. All I can say is there is FREEDOM in recognizing what is yours to carry. The way you get crystal clear when everything seems foggy and blurred with panic and surging emotion is through radical self-care. Learning how to hold space for yourself and practicing hard core follow-through on commitments to self will help you identify every little “thing” (things that upset you, misplaced blame shifts, codependency, toxic relationship dynamics) very quickly. This online course is a GREAT starting point for clearing up emotionally muddied waters.
2. Speak truth. Do not pretend what is happening is NOT happening. Name the elephants in the room. Call them out and face the fears these elephants try to suffocate you with. This takes an incredible amount of courage to do. I do not underestimate how terrifying this can be. No matter what “elephant” we’re talking about here (be it suicide, toxic relationship/family dynamics, domestic violence, child abuse, infidelity, etc.), it is vital that you navigate these conversations with your safety as the number one priority.
In regards to a loved one who is straddling life and death, speaking your truth might sound something like, “Listen, I know things feel out of control. I imagine you’re not feeling seen and known by anyone right now. That’s got to carry a lot of heavy feelings like shame with it, I bet. While I don’t want to pretend to know what you’re feeling right now, I want you to know that you matter to me. You choosing to live or die matters to me. I am here to support you however you prefer, but if you’re going to talk about ending your life—whether slowly with substances or by suicide—I am going to take that very seriously and seek help for and with you.
You are very important to me and I believe that as long as you have a heartbeat, there is hope for better solutions for what’s happening inside your head right now.
What can I do to help you today? Do you want to talk for a bit or can I look up some resources online to help you?”
Again, regardless of what the circumstance is that needs the steel blade of truth to slice it down the center, your safety and well-being should not be compromised in doing so. If you are feeling the weight of responsibility for a person’s life, a certain outcome, or emotional state, you have some work to do. This “work” includes clearly identifying what is yours and what is theirs to change, fix, or choose. (Hint: Remember, you’ll never be in charge of another adult’s life choices.) If you are struggling to figure out what is your responsibility, I recommend working with a therapist, coach, or practicing some radical self-care until you feel confident in deciphering your emotional world from other’s. This online course is a wonderful tool to learn the basics of finding where your power is, even in the most seemingly powerless situations.
Life is never what we imagine it will be when we start out living it. That’s universal (whether people admit it or not!). Mental illness is not a failure to thrive, it’s part of some of our journeys in life. Our work, whether on the inside or outside of mental illness, is simply this: to gain understanding. Sometimes that means seeking to understand our own emotions and sometimes that means seeking education on how to help or get help. If there is one thing I’ve learned from walking beside my husband through a decade of depression, anxiety, and undiagnosed bipolar, it’s this: We all have more to learn about ourselves and the ones we love. So, don’t close the door to knowledge and perspective. Keep searching to widen those perimeters and expand your view. The greatest treasures in life are born on the edges of what we understand.
My heart is standing with all those treading in the depths of life and death today. I promise, with every heartbeat, there is hope.
I am not a licensed counselor or expert on suicide. I only have my experience and the many stories of others who have walked the stormy waters of suicide with. It is important to seek professional guidance (@national_suicide_prevention lifeline 1-800-273-8255) for yourself or your loved one if ending one’s life is mentioned. I believe that every mention of suicide should be taken seriously.
Self-sabotage keeps you from being able to receive love. It’ll leave you empty, searching and always wanting more.
But how do you STOP being your own worst enemy? How do you stop getting in your own way and missing out on opportunities for deep connection?
You clean up your mind. Tackling the MIND-field can seem daunting when it’s been wired by unconscious habits, first-family wounds, and years of practice… but there is hope.
It’s time to be your own savior and ride in on a white horse and claim what’s rightfully YOURS: your mind.
It starts with consciousness (aka mindfulness, aka awareness).
Mindfulness is like stepping back and getting a broad view of your life without the sting of self-judgement, shame, or criticism. It’s observing the reality of the condition you’re in and accepting it fully, just as it is. This acceptance isn’t a free pass to continue living in old patterns that aren’t serving you, rather it’s a call to become aware of where you are.
When awareness becomes the new lense to view your life, growth toward your true self naturally presents itself. And it’s that invitation to grow that will allow you to break free from self-sabotage.
How do you become mindful? Well, luckily, there are many paths to living a conscious lifestyle, but in short, it is the practice of connection with self. Whether it is through meditation, prayer, yoga, breath work, or a combination, the key is to quiet the mind and sink deep into yourself. Past the analyzation, through the feelings, and into the soul.
Obsessing, worrying, over-thinking, criticizing, and judging yourself (and others) will only rob you from actually living your life. You’ll miss the whole thing (LIFE) if you never take the time to clean up your mind.
Seems like a no-brainer, but people spend their entire lives running FROM themselves because it takes a hell of a lot of courage to sit with your TRUE self. You know, the one that you’ve been trying to keep hidden from the rest of the world? The dark thoughts, the emotional instability, the crazy tendencies, the deepest dreams, the rawest form.
It’s going to take you realizing that those fears, deficiencies, wounds, triggers, imperfections are all what make you… just a human. And that what may seem to be brokenness is actually your invitation to bloom into power.
Every single person on earth has them. Even Oprah. And that’s f*cking beautiful.
So, start there. Figure out what being a human actually means. This will take you naming and burning all the bullshit ideas about yourself that you picked up along the way through childhood, church, school, family, work, relationships. (A piece of paper or notebook may come in handy here)
I’m a HUGE fan of lists. My current list is titled: FACT vs. FANTASY. This list is another step in me cleaning up my mind. I’ve been running the list for about a week and I already feel freer, lighter, and cleaner in the head! Which means I have more space to connect with my little humans and the world I’m actually involved in today.
What list do you need to start today? Fear vs. Reality, True vs. False Beliefs, Who They Want You To Be vs. Who You Want To Be, Who You Are vs. Who You Want To Be?
Cleaning up the MIND-field is like going to battle. So go in the officer’s tent (your safe alone space) and start drawing up a game plan (listing, naming, observing). Then watch how your newly keen awareness (free of judgement) begins to reveal the triggers and detonation codes.
A clean mind. Sound. Free. Calm. It’s not unattainable. In fact, it’s just around the corner.
Happy cleaning, friends!
Here’s another excerpt from my book on pain where I’ll be sharing my greatest brushes with pain and how I moved through them in hopes of encouraging you to walk through your own pain with courage. There are two sides to the coin of life: pain and joy. They are stuck together and we cannot have one without the other. It becomes our choice to learn how to flip the coin and make way for joy again.
I locked the door behind me and made my way to our king size bed. I perched myself up on the corner of his side of the bed and crossed my legs. I was ready to intercept him at the door if he tried to run away from this, but I was giving him the impression I was comfortably settled in, ready to listen.
He leaned against the end of the bed and asked, half defeated, “What do you want to know?”
“I want to know everything that happens in your head leading up to you saying ‘the only relief I can ever imagine actually having is dying,’” my heart was steady but fast. The first few times he had said something insinuating his wish to be dead or suicide, I would crumble to the ground in a puddle of tears. His words, and worse – his desire – tore me apart. But it that was years ago. Now I was just a perfect combination of frustrated and curious. So I was ready to force his hand.
He stared at the floor and shook his head. I allowed the silence to build pressure against his thoughts and force him to talk to me. He puffed “pshh” and then pursed his lips and shook his head.
“You don’t really want to know. It’s not good,” he said slowly.
“I do want to know. I want to know what torments you. I can help you. I love you. Just tell me what kinds of things you think about,” I was begging him to let me in.
“Fine. As soon as I wake up every day, it starts. ‘You’re worthless. You’re trash. You’ll never amount to anything. No one cares about you. You’re stupid. No one loves you because you’re so stupid. There’s no point in you continuing to live. Everyone you know would be better off without you. You’re nothing. You’re a burden. You cause problems for everyone. Just die already.’ And it only stops when I’m really drunk or asleep. But even in my sleep it happens sometimes.”
He was pacing back and forth across the carpet beside the bed where we lay together every night and wake beside each other every morning. This bed we’ve shared for seven years. Seven years I’ve laid beside him peacefully sleeping in my blissful ignorance while he tormented next to me, battling his mind. Fighting in a war for his life.
I was weeping now. Tears pouring out of my soul. But my cheeks were dry. I was in shock. My insides were twisted and contracting. How… why could I not see this? I’ve been so selfish, so naive. All this time I’ve been so focused on our relationship and trying to build intimacy and he was over there silently trying to keep breathing another day. All my prodding and pressuring him to give me more – more time, more affection, more attention, more help with the kids – he was hiding the torture in his mind. I cannot believe how wrong I’ve been about this – us, him, marriage, life.
“Oh my God, babe. I had no idea… I am so sorry.” I didn’t know what to say. What’s the proper response when a human – your human – tells you that your whole perception of what your life together has been was only a fraction of what really playing out underneath the surface?
I was put in my place that day. Everything shifted. He fought it for almost eight years, knowing what it would do, but he finally let me in. I would never be the same after that afternoon. I have had several reality shifts in my life: my mom marrying my stepdad when I was 11, the birth of my little sister when I was 12, my parents’ splitting up when I was a teenager, going to college, moving to Colorado alone, getting married and starting a life with someone, but I had never been shaken down to bare bones like this. I felt exposed, ill-equipped, out of place, incapable, helpless, and alone. I had never heard anything like this before, yet at the same time, it explained so much of the confusion, disappointment, and brokenness we had experienced in marriage. I knew it was real, but it was a reality no one ever talked about in everyday life. I had no idea where to go from here. What kind of help is there for this kind of thing? Who do we talk to in order to find the resources we need? This is going to scare people like it’s scaring me. But what other choice did we have but to start telling the right people and get help?
“Our friends and family, my boss and colleagues – they would all freak and make a huge deal out of it if they knew. I can manage it, I’ve done it my whole life. So, don’t worry and don’t make a big deal about it. I’m seeing my psychiatrist and the mood-stabilizers are helping. It’s just something I need to continue to pray through and surrender to God.”
His response felt flat and generic, completely disconnected from the gravity of what he just disclosed. He had a pattern of diminishing things, though – his feelings, my feelings, and apparently now life crises too.
“Well, I don’t know what to think or how to respond yet, but this feels like a big deal, like something you deserve help managing.” Was I trying to persuade him to do something specific? If so, what exactly?
“Trust me, I know how to work through it. I’ve had a lot of practice.” He was almost smiling. Was that pride I sensed in his tone? Was he proud that he has spent every waking moment of his life being bloodied and beaten in the secret torment of his mind, managing to come out alive every day for as long as he can remember? It made sense now why he minimized my “petty” emotional outbursts about exhaustion and feeling disconnected when this is what he dealt with on the daily.
“I think there’s a better solution. You deserve to live free and be… happy. I cannot imagine ever thinking one of the things you said about myself, much less all of that (and, who are we kidding, more than that) every single day. Is it always playing in the back of your mind? I mean, isn’t that painfully torturous and exhausting? How do you have energy for actually living?” It was starting to sink in now.
He scoffed at my naivety, “It’s all I’ve ever known. This is normal for me. It’s just the way life is. I’ve learned to accept this as my lot in life.”
This was crushing to hear. A slice to the jugular. My whimsical, dreamy heart was beginning to bleed out. It was changing me. Sharing this experience with him was changing who I was. This is what he was trying to spare me from in all those years of his silence. He knew I would have to shed parts of my beliefs about life if I was ever going to truly wrap my head around the kind of life he maintained behind the pulpit and microphone, the trendy clothes and cool hair, behind the perfect family photos and cute house. He learned long ago that he was different from other people. He didn’t think the same, sleep the same, or believe the same about the world and people. He was darker, jaded, broken. But he was also extremely intelligent and charismatic. Over the years, he watched and practiced how other people behaved and he began to mimic that. By the time he met me, he was a master of disguise – concealing the dark torment that only increased with every promotion, success, or stride forward he made. Because “it wasn’t the real you that did so good, it was just the persona you created to fool everyone into thinking you have some value. But you don’t. The real you is twisted and decrepit, and no matter how much you pretend, your life will never be worth living.” So, the longer he lived, the smaller he became. And small, tormented people make for dangerous, unpredictable spouses.
Understanding mental illness in all its dysfunction and horror is necessary to have a chance of reaching those it plagues. We have to do our best to learn and remember how to properly care for the ones silently struggling to live everyday. Doing so will test the limits of our humanitarianism, our grit, and our beliefs, but it’s far worse for the ones battling their twisted kind of normal. They can’t imagine how “normal people” don’t have to fight like hell just to stay positive, sober, or alive every day. For most of them, it’s been a war for as long as they can remember. Battling to live another day even though they have no hope that their reality will change. They beg for their perception and feelings about life and about themselves to change, but so often there is no hope for it. Without hope, however small, it is unbearable to keep living. This is their normal. They’ve never experienced anything else.
Storytelling. We all do it. Every day about every interaction, reaction, or action we’re a part of. It’s the way our minds are wired. Some (i.e. me) tell five million stories a day in their minds, others only a handful. However many we tell, as we process life we develop stories about ourselves, the world around us, and the people in it. We tuck them away nicely, and often unconsciously, in the back of our minds clueless to how much they are directing our lives and relationships.
There are a few elements that have a lead role in the kind of narratives we tell ourselves. Over time, these narratives become subconscious second nature to us, so it’s important that we are aware of the kind of foundation we are building our stories upon.
The first lead role that defines the voice of our stories is credited to our past experiences. The way we were treated, betrayed, or loved becomes a powerful influence for the narrative of our thoughts. Then our own assumptions about other people will play a heavy part in structuring our inner voice. How we judge, empathize with, or see others will ultimately take a lead role in the stories we tell. And finally, the third lead is our perspective. From childhood on our perspectives of the world and people, and therefore ourselves have been shaped little by little. This is perhaps one of the most forgotten elements in parenting. Perspectives are completely moldable, especially in the early years, but rarely noticed or intentionally shaped. Perspectives are never permanent even though they often feel like core truths. And with just a slight perspective shift, we can experience incredible breakthroughs and freedom in our lives. Perspective is extremely powerful. It’s the difference between racism and love, rock bottom and second chances, abuse and normal.
Each of these three elements that help write the stories we create in our thoughts are heavily influenced by our associations. We associate certain types of people, food, ideas, and things we don’t have enough data on with what we have experienced before that’s either similar or somewhat related. This is both helpful and dangerous, depending on the association.
Let’s look at some examples of my storytelling in action!
When I was going into my sophomore year in high school, I transferred from the small Christian private school I had attended from the third grade to a massive 5A neighborhood public school. To say I experienced a solid dose of culture shock would be an understatement. Imagine a very sheltered, kind, Christian teen entering a lively circus of heathens. I had no experience or data to draw any conclusions from, I didn’t know if I would be loved or hated, noticed or unseen, accepted or rejected. All my teenage dignity was on the chopping block for these hooligans and I was at the mercy of this unfamiliar and unstable institution. Anything that didn’t profess Christ as Lord was to be approached with caution. This life-long teaching now created a mountain of fear in me as this school, the teachers, and all the students were not only disassociated with God, they were forbidden to speak openly about him. I was forced to adapt to this new environment or disappear altogether.
I chose to become a wallflower for the first year. I pretended I was an introvert. It was fun and sneaky at first but quickly became horribly depressing. When I was finishing up my freshman year at the very safe and predictable old private school, I had people of all kinds telling me what to expect at a huge public school. A teacher (TEACHER) told me, “You need to be really careful. I was substitute teaching at a public school once and saw a big boy walk up to another smaller kid and shove him into the lockers and hold him there for no reason! You never know when someone will just walk by and grab you. Be very careful. I don’t know why you’re going there, God doesn’t call people to go to dark places like that.” I only wish I was exaggerating this story. So it was stories like that that helped me develop a lovely little terrifying story about public schools in my mind: People are mean and unpredictable and God is not present at this school. I am not safe with my beliefs and I have no allies since I don’t know anyone. Trust no one. Fear everyone.
I was scared but deep down inside (beneath the bad story) I was also ready to try something new, so I did my best. To be unseen, that is. I did my very best to be completely unnoticeable. For over a year, other kids would try to talk to me and engage with me during class and I would shyly smile and look down, pretending I was socially inept. I made a couple of friends in choir class, but for an unreasonable amount of time, I held them at arm’s length because I didn’t know if they would turn on me or humiliate me for no reason. After all, there was no standard to be Christ-like at this god-forsaken school, so how could I truly trust anyone? My story was protecting me.
I remember in sign language class this boy would always sit near me and ask me questions about who I was. Where did you come from? Do you have siblings at this school? Who do you hang out with? Oh, God. That last question was like poison in my soul. I didn’t hang out with anyone. I ate lunch alone. I pretended it was by choice, but really it’s because I had created a scary story in my head about this school and all these people and that fear was isolating me from what I really wanted. I wished I had friends in every class. I wished I had lots of people to eat lunch with. I wished I saw people I could talk to in the halls during passing periods. I was lonely and depressed, spending my days alone and without genuine friends.
I know we’re all still figuring out who we are in high school, it’s part of the gig, but had I known about storytelling back then, I could have substituted some different narratives and at least given myself and other people a chance. Instead of walking in with a blank page (no assumptions, judgements, or speculations), I chose to create a story based on other people’s past experiences and perspectives and I lived through that lens. I regret listening to that story for my entire sophomore year and most of my junior year. It was only towards the end of my junior year when I finally realized that school wasn’t that scary and I started opening up to more people. By the time my senior year rolled around I had everything I wished for my sophomore year- friends in every class, in passing periods, and at lunch. I was never alone. I was fully extroverted and free to be me!
I still have to remind myself to enter new experiences or relationships with a blank page. This is extremely difficult after being in an abusive marriage for so long. When someone tells you that you’re too much, too dominant, too talkative, too sensitive for so long, their voice begins to sound like your voice and that narrative becomes the baseline for every single story you tell yourself. It’s instinctual to run through a myriad of possible reasons why someone didn’t respond instantly to a vulnerable text you sent. Maybe she’s working. He could have left his phone at home. She’s probably busy with the kids right now. I bet he’s not the type who always has his phone on him. And on and on and on. Each part of the story we tell ourselves will either validate or debunk our worst fears, but either way, we’re subconsciously focusing on our fears. So, we pick one possible reason why she didn’t respond immediately and we either leave it at that or usually, we keep writing a story. Yeah, I think she’s working. She will probably get my text at lunch. Lunch comes and goes, no response. Maybe she saw the text and doesn’t know how to respond. Crap, I said too much. Or maybe she doesn’t check her phone until after work. I mean, how likely is that though? It’s 2018, who doesn’t check their phone until after work?! She saw it and it was too much to process. She probably thinks I’m crazy. I should have just waited. Dangit! And so we keep telling the story… because that one time that other friend didn’t respond because things were rocky in your friendship and she needed a day to think about it confirmed your worst feeling- relationships aren’t easy, life is difficult, and sometimes texting isn’t the best form of communication. But the story we write usually says She didn’t respond because I’m exhausting her with my sensitivity and pushing for connection. I’m just too much for her to deal with. Our friendship probably isn’t worth the hassle I’m putting her through.
Drama, insecurity, and tension are all byproducts of bad storytelling. And I have about 17,000,000 other examples of storytelling gone bad that I could share with you, but I think what we all really want to know is how to create better stories. Ones that give us peace and confidence; ones that support our true selves and love others well. How do we write those kinds of stories?
A friend of mine said to me the other day, “The awesome thing about creating your own stories is that you can erase them whenever you want.” There lies the key to better storytelling. Erase the bad ones, and start telling new ones. Put a filter on your mind that pays attention to the old story habits and stops them as soon as you recognize the janky narratives. Once you stop them, you can reassess what facts and data you actually have and create a truer, often shorter, story based more on reality and less on your past, your assumptions, and your limited perspective. It’s not complex at all and given a little attention and time, you’ll have a whole new story about yourself in no time.
Unconscious storytelling can wreak havoc on self-confidence, healthy relationships, and mental stability. Tuning into the narratives we play in our minds is the first step to being free from self-inflicted pain, drama, and neurosis. Clear the page, bring only the facts into your narrative. If you don’t have enough data to create a full story, then don’t fill in the gaps with speculation and assumption. Be patient as you get more data over time. A good story is always worth the wait.
Growing up, I always heard the phrase “don’t be a victim.” Ironically, in hindsight, I see that most of the people who said that to me were personifying exactly what they were protesting: being overly offended. This is a common phrase/idea taught in faith-based organizations because it is founded on the belief that God is bigger and he will defend you, whether that relief comes in real-time just how you wish it would or if it happens in a theoretical time long after you needed it. The idea is commonly used as a tool for people to shift their power from the offender/perpetrator and lovingly release it to God. Right out the gate it sounds like a move you’d recognize from “the road less traveled”, like something a person with good character would do. You know, let go of the offense, and remain unjaded by what initially pained you. But, along with numerous other ideas founded on good intention in many faith-based organizations, it epically falls short of carrying any substantial weight when the shit hits the fan.
What am I even talking about?
I’m going to lay out a few scenarios that will highlight common faith-based practices, teachings, or ideals. They are reasonable, even good ideas with pure intentions. But I’m going to show you what can happen to those ideals when they are met with abuse (domestic violence, rape, trauma, etc.), death (sudden, terminal illness, etc.), or any other tragedy (you name it, these ideals will fall short in actual life). Let me be clear that some of these shifty ideas are just assumed or simply observed in most circles, but the point is that they are rarely addressed or brought to the stage to clarify in a capacity relating to all the fine lines that could cause them to be severely misinterpreted.
P.S. These are all actual experiences I’ve had personally.
Scenario 1: Pastor: The Closeted Abuser
Shifty Ideal: Husbands and wives should honor their spouse, attend church/community gatherings together, and support each other in ministry/business/life.
She’s married to a pastor. They are both young and navigating an unfamiliar road as full-time ministers. It’s fun, exciting, and fulfilling to be living this dream together. She loves serving these young people alongside her husband. She hasn’t learned it for herself but feels the pressure to be the involved, supportive, honoring wife of the pastor as an example to the patrons they are leading. But over time she begins to feel weighted by the expectations he has for her: to be at every service he plays a role in, to worship beside him, to make sure their children are the traditional “church kids”- attending long services, catching daddy time in the aisles between services and during greeting breaks, etc., and relinquish all dibs on him when “duty calls” and he needs to leave family time to help a patron in need, attend a meeting, or take care of any other kind of church mayhem.
All of these requirements could reasonably be categorized as “part of the calling”… unless. Unless just before those services he’s requiring her to attend hand in hand with him, he screams at her and tells her she’s “a f*%&ing b*$ch” for whatever reason and tags on a few lines about how she needs to “get right with God and figure out how to honor” him.
All of the sudden those “run of the mill” mandatory meetings and requests for her presence become the lock that seals her fate behind the bars of the prison he has created for her in their home. What should be a simple (and rational) request to show support for her husband can so quickly require her to betray herself by continuing to play by his rules even when he has ripped her apart on the inside just hours before. To his bosses (lead pastors/elders), if she resists the requests for her involvement, she can easily be seen as “difficult” or “not a part of the team”, stacking on the shame and making her feel like even more of a disappointment than she already does. So, she chooses not “to be the victim”, and she does what is asked of her. And every time she does, a little more of her soul withers. She is on a delicate path to losing herself for the sake of protecting his persona.
Fine lines are so easily misinterpreted and can have catastrophic repercussions. They’re so hard to see when you haven’t experienced them. But just because you haven’t seen them, it doesn’t mean they aren’t playing out right beside you.
P.S. This is the second excerpt from the book I’ll be self-publishing SOOOON. Want to read more? I’ll post again soon!
I mentioned in a recent blog (To The Angels On Earth) how I had slight emotional breakdown as I sometimes do, back in August. Well, I have always been a fairly emotionally sensitive person- regarding myself and with others- and when it’s a personal thing, I continue to process until I reach some sort of conclusion. Some would call this introspection. There have been a few layers to my most recent topic of introspection, and after several weeks of keeping this in mind, I think I have discovered the root.
I was in an abusive marriage for ten years while in ministry at two different churches. My husband also battled mental illness on a level I never fully understood until last year when he took his own life. I gave every ounce of emotional energy, love, time, and commitment to my marriage that I could possibly muster- and I nearly lost myself doing so. The level of pain and disappointment I endured in what was supposed to be the closest relationship a person could have left me scattered and lost. Needless to say, I have had some very dark days. And you can bet your boots, I have asked myself all the questions that have crossed your mind too: “Why did I stay so long? Why didn’t I say more, do more, put my foot down and insist on change? Why didn’t I get help? Why didn’t I respect myself enough to demand to be treated well?” The list goes on.
Here’s the thing: When you’re in a dysfunctional, abusive relationship… you don’t know it. You don’t know it, until it’s time for you to walk out of it. You may have an inkling… you may wonder… but you have NO idea how bad it is until you decide to stop the cycle. I tried every single thing I knew to try as a twenty-something year old wife. I was young, naive, and ignorant as to the gravity of the situation (a.k.a. marriage) I was in.
Once I did finally step away from the bond of that relationship (only mentally, at first), the realization of the last ten years of my life finally hit me and I was devastated. I could barely breathe or speak or move for days. It was unbearable to finally understand what I had been living under for so many years. And, that right there is why I have recently realized I have a very difficult time forgiving myself. The root of my latest emotional burden was this:
I just can’t seem to forgive my younger self.
I have wanted to punish her and chastise her and talk about how stupid and foolish she is! Because if I punch her in the face enough, then maybe the new me won’t forget how capable I actually am of being so ignorant and blind. If I constantly snarled and scowled at the younger me, maybe then I wouldn’t repeat all the mistakes I made.
I know it’s awful to read such hateful words, but I bet if we were all honest, I’m not the only one who has been on this train of thought about myself! So, for almost three years, this little philosophy has kept me warm and cozy, all tucked in tightly to my walls and guards and boundaries and “I will never’s”. Yeah, it’s been a real peach living like that (she says, lips dripping with sarcasm).
I have chiseled a very protected… and limited version of life for myself for a while now. Yes, maybe that was fine to get me out of the storm, but the wayward emotions as of late have led me to believe this is not a sustainable way of life for me anymore.
It’s time to change, to heal, to free my younger self.
(This might get weird…) When I see old pictures, when old memories pop up, or I think of myself back then, here is what I will say to that younger version of me from now on:
It’s OK. It’s OK you fought and bloodied yourself in battles you didn’t know were not yours to fight. It’s OK you didn’t have a hand to hold to guide you out of the mess you found yourself in. It’s OK that you didn’t know what resources to tap, numbers to call, actions to take. As you’ve always said, “You cannot rush maturity.” And just the same, you cannot rush experience or knowledge of relationships. These are tools that come with time, failure, and rebuilding. There is a lot of life ahead of you, and absolutely no reason to keep whipping your back for everything you lack. You have been pardoned. You can roam and explore, heal and learn, mend and grow.
You are free.
As always, if this particular sequence of words moved you in heart, mind, soul or spirit, please follow my DrinkerBelle Blog and FB page, comment, and share the post. My story is not just for me, and neither is yours. #everymindmatters
Hashtag #everymindmatters and share this blog, your story, or how you’ve seen mental illness. Join the fight against ostracizing those who suffer where you can’t see. Let’s learn how to create a safe place in our society for truth, help and support. We are not alone.