(Trigger warning: this post contains descriptions of self harm, suicidal ideation, and sexual trauma that may be disturbing for some.)
I first started fantasizing about committing suicide around age 11. Nothing particularly horrible happened that year, just the usual comparing myself to everyone around me: the troubled group home kids that lived with us, the couple of friends I had that had more exciting social lives in public school, or anyone that seemed capable of being themselves, which I did not. My boobs started to grow that year, so that was pretty awesome. I just knew that when I became a woman, things would change. People would notice me, and I would finally feel like a person.
My sister and I shared the attic on the third floor of the group home (it wasn’t as bad as it sounds; it was a finished attic.) My half was on the far side, once Bob (our neighbor and church friend’s dad) built the wall to split it for us. I spent many a night unable to sleep, looking out the window and imagined escaping. There was a tiny roof that I would sometimes climb onto and knew that I could end it in a couple of seconds. I pictured diving off and smashing into a puddle on the sidewalk. Then maybe they would notice. The only thing that kept me from doing it then was the thought of my poor dad walking outside in the morning to take the group home kids to school and having to see his daughter a crumpled, bloody mess on the sidewalk.
There was one trip to Delaware to visit Memere and Pepere (my mom’s parents) where I couldn’t keep the tears back. My mom was asleep in the front, dad was driving, and my siblings were asleep on the floor of the van. I was laying down on the back seat and couldn’t stop sobbing. I don’t even know why. I wanted to open the back window and roll out onto the highway. My dad looked at me in the rearview mirror and shushed me. His only concern was for me to not wake the others. We were going to a Pentecostal church at the time and my mom believed my depression was from Satan. ‘Bad old Satan!’ She told me when we were at a rest stop. Umm get me some therapy please?! (She finally did when I was 15 or so.)
I was homeschooled until the 9th grade. I thought that when I went to school, my life would get better. I would have friends, maybe even a boyfriend. I would grow up and be cool, but I had no idea what challenges lay ahead of me. The problem with going to a tight-knit school where the kids have all grown up together is that it’s hard to squeeze in and find your place, especially when you don’t talk. A couple of girls introduced themselves to me the first couple of days. What’s your name, do you have any siblings? The usual boring questions people ask the new girl out of obligation to be friendly. I never got past that first day awkwardness in the three years I went there.
My self-esteem was so low, I believed I had been tricked when I was invited to a girl in my class’s goodbye party. We talked sometimes, meaning she was nice and talkative, so I walked next to her so it looked like I had a friend. There were a couple of other quiet girls that I would walk with and sit next to, even though I hardly ever spoke to them. Thank you Joy and Kim for letting me at least appear to not be completely alone.
My only social outlet was the church I went to. Holly, the one friend I had held onto went there too, and I felt I had a way in because I could hide behind her. I couldn’t reconcile being a ghost at school and being someone that people talked to or at least noticed at church, so I started saying bizarre things like talking about wanting to be a prostitute. Holly and I clung to each other like two girls drowning. Our lives sucked, but at least we had each other. I can thank her for any pop culture I actually learned!
We started a clique without realizing it, just wanting a small group of people to feel safe with. We talked about letting this guy or that guy be one of ‘our people,’ and someone complained to the youth pastor. Got to love church people, huh? Bob, the youth pastor of my church, called us into his office. I can’t remember much of the talk, just that parents were concerned. What I remember was the fear I felt of having to give up the couple of people I had gotten close to. It felt like abandonment. ‘It’s not healthy, you need to branch out and spend time with other kids in the youth group.’ But I don’t know how to talk to those other kids. They are too cool for me. They couldn’t possibly want me. Bob spoke to my heart and told me he knew my pain and could “lead me to his daddy” (God).
That began another unhealthy attachment. He started “counseling” me some, though he didn’t know what he was doing. I was seeing an actual licensed counselor who gave me a little plastic doll and told me to nurture her and give her what I had missed as a little girl. Bob thought this was stupid. He rolled down the window of his truck as we were driving to breakfast, and threw my inner child doll out the window! He then said, “A Christian going to therapy is like a dog licking its wounds.”
Bob told me that another young lady in the youth group was cutting herself and if I didn’t stop going down this road of depression, I would end up there too. That put the idea in my head that I wasn’t depressed ‘enough.’ Now, I was the kid that would always pass out if I had to get blood drawn or get a shot, or see someone else go through a medical procedure. But one day after school I was tired of feeling nothing all day long, of being no one all day long. So I picked up a razor on my dad’s sink, put it against my left arm and moved it sideways. Lightly at first, then harder, just putting everything I hated about myself into it. I drew blood and immediately felt faint. I walked to the recliner in the living room and fell down into it, my head dizzy. After that passed, the pain I felt on my arm justified all of the failures and things I hated about myself. I had a way of release now, a secret pain to give me comfort.
I know now that cutting is not a solution. It took me deeper and darker than I had ever been in a matter of a couple of months. Around November of the year that I was 16, I was tired of talking and thinking about suicide, so I finally just took an action. I read the amount that you should take of Tylenol, which was no more than 8 in a 24-hour period, so I took 15 all at once and lay down on my dad’s bed to wait. My tummy started rumbling, and I got scared. I realized I wasn’t ready to ‘meet my Maker’ yet. I paged Bob 911 and told him. He told my parents, and insisted that my dad take me to the emergency room. I found out later that my dad didn’t want to take me and said “It’s just Tylenol.”
My parents were separated at this time, so it was just dad and I living in the same house. My brother and sister lived with my mom in her apartment. Mom rushed over when she heard. When she got there, I was playing Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C# Minor on the piano, and I just wanted to finish the song. She insisted I stop so we could go to the hospital. In the moment she saw my cuts for the first time, I felt all of the nurturing I had been missing. She wanted to put Neosporin on them, which is kind of against the point of self-inflicted wounds, but I always loved the attention I got from her when I was sick, and this felt no different.
The nurses at the hospital gave me something chalky that made me throw up. One lady asked how she thought my brother and sister would feel if I died, and I said I guess they would be sad and would miss me. I couldn’t promise them that I wouldn’t hurt myself again, so I got to spend Thanksgiving of that year in the psychiatric ward at Baptist Hospital. I remember looking out the window onto the highway that night and talking to God as I always had, just putting my feelings and thoughts exactly as they are out into the air. “I don’t want to be here anymore. This hurts too much. Why can’t I be ‘normal.’ “ What I heard or felt back in my spirit was that I hadn’t lived yet, and that I would understand one day.
It was a long climb out of that depression. I lived with my mom for a couple of weeks when I got out of the hospital, and had to get rid of all of the music I had been listening to at the time. Bush, Tori Amos, Leah Andreone and Paula Cole. There were certain songs or lyrics that made me feel okay. GooGoo Dolls’ Iris, “You bleed just to know you’re alive.” I only listened to Christian music for a little while after that, thinking that was the only way God would save me from the depression. It probably helped, but only because it was completely different from what I was listening to, and music is very powerful like that.
Holly and I were told we shouldn’t spend as much time together. Allie, this new girl at Kerwin High School, befriended me and it wasn’t out of obligation, but because she really did see me and like me. We bonded over South Park and she became a good friend, my saving grace at that horrible school. I started hanging out with April, who I had known since we were small kids from homeschool band and another church.
I’ve struggled on and off with depression, social phobia and substance abuse my whole life. I have tried different substances, but marijuana was my substance of choice from the time I was 22 or so to 30. It put me in a state of mind that was completely different from my normal one, and I loved it. It helped me create music without my usual anxiety.
I used to get triggered if someone looked at me the wrong way, and it could send me spiraling down. My current therapist, who has made the most difference in my life, explained to me that it was post-traumatic stress disorder. We’ve done years of work together, including EMDR, tapping, visualization techniques, imaginal nurturing, and energy work.
I realized the source of my pain and fear when I was 27. I found a photograph of me as a two year old pointing to a clown’s genitals that Memere took, instead of my dad who had been taking all the pictures. I understood the concept of age in that moment and realized I was a new one of these creatures, and would one day be big like my mom and would need this information. Memere called my name, and she had the black box in front of her face so I knew this moment would be frozen in time. I put all the fear on my face that I experienced when he touched me, hid what I was doing from my dad with my left hand, and pointed to the clown’s genitals with my right.
That moment saved and destroyed my entire life. I couldn’t sing, which was my biggest passion but caused me so much anxiety; not because I wasn’t worthy, but because dad was inappropriate. My toddler squeal of being touched and then the shame immediately afterwards tainted my voice in my subconscious. I never felt seen because my dad is literally incapable of seeing me.
My depression got much worse the year I discovered my truth. I got on Effexor because I was depressed every day. I would see dads holding their small children and just be terrified, because are any of us ever safe? My whole world was turned upside down, but I was given what I needed in order to heal. I had also been trying to quit smoking marijuana, because my therapist told me that all the work we were doing wouldn’t stick until I quit. I kept quitting, then running into someone who had it, or wanted me to buy it for them, so I’d end up slipping.
On June 3rd, 2012, I smoked some roaches a friend from work gave me, and felt totally lost in my tiny one bedroom apartment. Clutter was all around me, and my head felt cluttered with me lost inside. I didn’t know what to do. I saw on two separate pieces of paper as I opened different drawers or sorted through mail: Get help. Letting go.
I met someone at a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous that week, and started their program. I knew if I were to successfully quit smoking pot, I had to quit alcohol too, which I usually only drank with other people, but certainly to excess. I found my voice in AA. I overcame my fear of speaking in public because of talking in meetings. I found my tribe of people that got me. I haven’t smoked any weed or drank any alcohol in 9 years.
I somehow found the courage to set a very strong boundary with my dad despite him claiming that what I remember never happened. The day I turned 31, not even a month after quitting all substances, I asked him not to contact me anymore. He told me I was believing a lie. My body doesn’t lie.
Today, I take care of myself. I’ve been on Effexor now for 12 years, and am okay with being on this medication for the rest of my life if I need to. It took me several tries to get the right medication. If one makes you feel worse or stops working, please don’t give up! It is possible to feel better and still be you.
Routine keeps me sane. I have a wonderful life today with my husband who sees and believes in me, and understands my struggles. I’ve always been able to be completely myself with him. I want to share my own struggles, past and present, in hopes that other people dealing with them will know they are not alone. We are all given a path to walk. My path looks different from yours, but we all have the opportunity to help each other along the way.
The only way abuse or trauma defeats us is if we bury it and pretend it’s not there. Then it controls your entire life, and will come up one way or another. Bringing it to the surface can be scary, but it’s the only way to be free of it. Just remember, it’s over. What you’re afraid of is in the past. It has already happened. You are in control. You didn’t have a choice as a child, but you do now.
And the hurt, neglected or abused child within you is worth fighting for.