I shared my deeply personal story with 150 people face-to-face a little over a week ago. It was terrifying. All night I was sweating and shaking. For 2 months in preparation I had been frustrated, scared, and nauseous. When they called my name I thought I would cry and throw up at the same time.
I made my way to the front of the room, sat down my water glass, and went on to make a little joke…and I didn’t throw up. I didn’t cry. People even laughed. And then I dove head first into the hard stuff. A minute in, there was a sense of warm calm that came over me. God hugged me. He reminded me that this was His story and that in sharing I would help others to know that there is hope and no matter what happens to you or what choices you make, you can start again. (If you want to see my full story, email me and I will be glad to share the video with you!)
Without giving you the full recap of that night, here were the highlights from my seat. My first memory of my dad was him bursting through the door and holding my mom against the wall by her throat, feet off the ground, angry as hell. There was a lot of screaming, kicking, and biting. Finally the cops came and took him away in handcuffs. That was the first of many violent and abusive memories. Some we endured and some we witnessed…which was almost worse. It wasn’t until I was 7 I realized that the abuse wasn’t what normal dads do. Even what normal men do. Then I thought, “Why are you doing this? Don’t you love me? What did I do? How can I make it better?” I was confused and helpless and I felt unworthy and angry.
I lashed out at anyone who came near me. I got in fights, slammed doors, kicked holes in walls, and even slapped my mom. I felt rejected and ashamed. I was full of rage. I started drinking and partying out of control. I sought attention from boys since I couldn’t get it from my dad. I had learned early from dad that love was something earned and if it wasn’t intense (if someone wasn’t jealous and angry) it probably wasn’t real. You can imagine how that played out in my love life through high school and college. They say you date your dad…and that was certainly true for me.
I had three abusive boyfriends. Screaming fights, nasty voicemails, threats, and physical violence were what I knew. The last abusive relationship I was in escalated quickly. We moved in together and up to that point we had just been verbally and emotionally abusive with each other. One night we were putting together a futon. I did something wrong and next thing I knew he had thrown a wrench at me and split open my shin. The nights after evolved into shoving, slapping, spitting, and punching. I refused to back down and so one night it escalated quickly to the point I was pinned to the floor with his hands around my throat believing that would be my last night on Earth. Thankfully, I woke up and decided it was time for a change or we would both end up in the hospital or morgue.
In the midst of all my own struggles, my family was really struggling too. They say 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men experience domestic violence, and that domestic violence correlates with a higher rate of depression and suicide. That was certainly the case for us. Together as a unit we had been through several divorces. There was a 3-year span where we put 3 family members in rehabilitation or treatment. There were too many fights, affairs, blackouts, and lies to count. But we loved each other the best we could and we coped in the only ways we knew how.
Meanwhile, I started over. In the middle of my college years, instead of facing what I had been through, I pretended it never happened and I was a different person. When I started at Mount Mercy, I found great friends and I piled pretty and popular on top of what I was really feeling inside: lonely, ashamed, unworthy, and angry.
But it all came back up. You cannot outrun the pain. It will find you.
I was 2 years into dating Mitch (my now husband) when he told me he had to break up with me because he knew I would never trust him. I realized in that moment I had been working so hard to protect myself I never really learned how to love someone or how to trust them…maybe even how to love and trust myself. Thank God he stuck by me as I worked my way through counseling and we figured it out. It took years of unpacking. Digging up and sitting with old stories and old emotions. Looking them in the face. Honoring them and then releasing them. That process turned hate to love and frustration into forgiveness.
I am still working to heal. There are wounds so deep that conventional methods and conscious thought are not able to reach or explain them. Meditation, Reiki, and other energy work is helping me heal. It takes guts and grit to face what you have been running away from all your life. It takes love and grace to face the hurt and release it. It takes gratitude to realize that every single thing that has happened to you and every choice you have made contains a lesson.
What I discovered was:
- There is always hope.
- You can allow pain to chain you down or transform you.
- My dad was doing the best he could (he was abused and he didn’t have time and space to heal).
- Forgiving and loving allowed me to forgive and love myself.
- We need to stop running and stop looking out. Sit and look inside…reflection, solitude, and a relationship with God are secret weapons of our age.
- God’s story and plan are way more beautiful than anything you could dream up. Do your work, surrender the rest to Him, and let Him do His work.
- I am not a victim, neither are you.
- Protecting yourself is no way to live. Heart wide open and arms outstretched brings full glory and joy! Be ALL IN on life!
- People will love you no matter what. I am so grateful for God, my friends, my family, and my husband Mitch. Thank you for showing me what unconditional love really means.
- Who you are today does not define who you will be tomorrow.
Sharing scars gives permission for others to do the same. Showing who you were relative to who you are now is powerful. We all suffer and we all can evolve! I am ready, willing, and able to share my story with anyone who needs to hear it. We are all Beautifully Broken as my friend Lorilei Christner so graciously reminded me before this speaking event. I hope you will cherish the words below from the card on the necklace she gave me. If there is ever a way I can help you or anyone else with my story….I am ALL IN!