Unworthy. Unlovable. Unhinged. Unimportant. Unwanted.
My life prior to Pathways was ruled by “un.” My day-to-day was riddled with guilt and shame over things in my past and a lot of things that I honestly had no control over. My parents’ marriage was in shambles, the church whispered about how shameful my family was to the image of God, my friends at school distanced themselves from me because I was, both literally and figuratively, becoming a darker version of myself, and I was drowning in plain sight. And the scariest part about it was I didn’t know how much longer I could tread water.
I felt alone to take on the world because I didn’t want to bother my parents; they had enough of their own problems. I was told that my sister needed to be “kept in the dark” because “she’s too young. She wouldn’t understand. We don’t want to burden her with these sorts of things.” I was told not to talk about anything that was bothering me because that showed weakness, it showed vulnerability, it showed the YUCK. I was told that I needed to dress a certain way. I needed to present an image of this perfect teenage person because image is EVERYTHING, despite my world crumbling apart underneath my feet.
I was also told by my boyfriend (depending on which version of him I got that day) that I was annoying, useless, not good enough, and crazy. That I was not AS pretty as this girl, or I was not AS smart as this one, or my body was not AS appealing as that one. My life was also ruled by “as,” I guess you could say.
Because of this constant comparison, I found myself attempting to be like these other people rather than like myself at all. Eventually, my entire identify was lost to a dark version of myself, almost as if I became the Darkness personified as I desperately tried to protect myself from these hurtful things, these hurtful people. I wore black on black, chokers, combat boots, and chains in an effort to shield myself from further hurt and as a warning to others to not get “too close.” Looking back, I feel like the chains were more significant than I realized at the time.
Not good enough. Not good enough. NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
If you were to have looked inside my brain, you would have seen a giant ball of tangled wire constantly feeding my heart these lies about myself. One after another: “You are such a screw up!” “Everyone just tolerates you.” “Why can’t you be normal?” “You know, God’s going to punish you for all of this one day.” “You are so embarrassing to be around.” “Ugh, you are so ________________.” Fill in the blank. And I never felt comfortable. Everywhere I went, I was out of place.
At home, I had no choice but to share space with people. At this point, things were so disjointed within my family that I started calling them housemates. Dad was never home, Mum was depressed, and my sister locked herself away in her room. When I was with my boyfriend, if I wasn’t getting yelled at or terrorized, I was being abused in other ways. Constantly and consistently. It was bad enough that his own mother all but begged me to leave him.
No one was safe to talk to about any of this. NO ONE. My high school class had 15 people in it and I went to church with a good number of them. My mother was a teacher at my school and my father volunteered to guest teach one of my science classes one day a week. If my parents weren’t scolding me about my wardrobe or friend choice, they were yelling at each other. My sister was a human hermit crab and my boyfriend? Well, he was one of the main problems. The only time I felt any sort of life within me was when I would write poetry, but even that was dark and twisted.
The chaos within would eventually swell enough to make me think that the world would be a better place without me.
One day in the early summer of 2011 my boyfriend and I got into a fight while my mother was “sleeping” in her Lazy-Boy armchair. In an effort to not wake her, we stepped out into the garage where we continued our argument over his escalating drug use and his recent trip abroad where he cheated on me. He went so far as to show me pictures of her so that he could compare us side-by-side. Little did I know that while I was shrinking more within myself by the minute, my mother was just inside, making a phone call that saved my life.
And I mean that.
There is an age requirement to begin your Core Training at Pathways (18 years and older). I was 17 at the time and I would be leaving soon, off to college where I would have a little more freedom to explore life without being under surveillance. My mother placed a call to the Pathways office and spoke with the executive director, who was also an LPC and Weekend/Walk facilitator. My mom asked if there could be a way around the age requirement because she was in fear of what he might do… or what I might do to myself if I did not get the training that she got for herself just the year before. There are no accidents. After establishing that I possessed the maturity to play at a heart level I was allowed to proceed with enrollment to Class #291 which was set to start in July.
When I was asked by my parents to go, I all but laced up my running shoes and went out the door. I felt like Pathways had done little for their relationship so why did I need to go through? Was this another effort to make me into that picture of someone they always wished I looked like? Was this an attempt at trying to break my boyfriend and I apart? Did I do something in a past life that deserved this kind of punishment? SERIOUSLY, I HAVE TO GO?
I later met with Laurie Mitchell (my therapist and eventual sponsor) and for two hours I was “encouraged” to give this Pathways thing a shot. I tried every flippin’ excuse in the book not to go, including: “But my birthday falls on the Sunday of the Walk and I don’t really want to cry on my birthday.” DUMB. Needless to say, I found myself walking into a very cold room with loud music playing later that week on a Friday evening, utterly terrified of what waited beyond that door’s threshold.
It was during the Walk that I found my worth. Maybe not all of it, and it was hard to believe it 100% of the time, but I tasted it. It was the purest thing I had ever experienced. I had cut through all of the tangled wire that my head had insisted on feeding my heart for YEARS. The yelling inside my head stopped. I started to let myself get close to people. I was MYSELF. Without apology. A tear in the darkness that had surrounded me for so long allowed a glimmer of light through. A light that I thought had long since extinguished and the wick destroyed.
I had HOPE.
And then the next train wreck hit. Three days after the end of my Walk – three days after my 18th birthday – my boyfriend at the time could tell he was losing his grip on me. I was raped. The worth I had worked so hard at finding again flickered and faded. I thought I was on the right path? I thought I did the hard part? I thought I was better?
I thought. I thought. I THOUGHT.
This isn’t how this goes.
Trust the process.
Trust. Trust. Trust?
NOPE. Bury it.
WHAT DO I DO?
This is the part where I tell you that I put on my superwoman skirt and fought for my justice because of the magical training I had. WRONG. This part of my story is still in the healing process, seven years later. HOWEVER: What did happen in the immediate aftermath is I continued my training and FINISHED. And I actually found the strength to clip another piece of tangled wire: the wire that kept me tied to him. All because of that worth I tasted in my Walk, I knew it was impossible for that light, airy, pureness to exist while tied to its polar opposite.
Without this training, I would have eventually done the very thing my mother was terrified to come home to: Me – or rather, what would have been left of me.
That was now OFF THE TABLE.
My “A” to “B” process throughout my original training was simply acknowledging the fact that I am WORTH that glimmer of HOPE. And from that glimmer came a change worthy of a lifetime. I was asked a question in my original training: “How long do you give yourself to live like this?” The “optimist” in me said: “20 years?” Their response? “You’ll be lucky if you make it 2.” Reality sucks when you meet it head on. But he was right! And it was within that epiphany that I realized that fearing that his statements might be true was worse than the thought of being vulnerable, of being REAL, of allowing myself to feel that worth.
So I did something different.
My heart now has hope. It has worth. It has forgiveness. It has permission to love, to be silly, to be unique, to be peaceful, to be loved, to be… and to share intimacy with others. My heart now has identity. Before, I was this imposter living in a costume made of darkness and smoke in an effort to conceal what I so desperately wanted: Connection. And by living my truth, the quality of my life has skyrocketed.
Shortly after I graduated with Class 291, I attended Step Beyond where I was able to rid myself of a bunch of lies that the church had fed me growing up. One of the most powerful things I had ever heard from a preacher was this: “I grew up in the church and I only ever heard two sermons on grace, both with the same title: You can fall from it.” That preacher put into words my greatest fear…which was also the greatest lie I ever believed. It was through Step Beyond that I learned differently. I learned that my Higher Power did not WANT to punish me, as I had thought for so many years, but rather He wanted to show me that the punishment had already been taken by someone who loved me more than can be comprehended. I learned through Step Beyond that I am forgivable.
I have been out of my original training for almost seven years. Notice I said original. I knew immediately after graduating that the way to keep my training, and to improve upon it, was to help others find the hope that I had wanted for so long. So I donned a dark suit.
I have been invited back into the training rooms as an intern and a TA since 2012. There is nothing more rewarding than being able to stand in the gap for others who are going through what you went through and showing them a different way. I sit here thinking about how differently my life would have ended up without people loving me where I was at, chains and all, and I am truly at a loss. Volunteering has allowed me the opportunity to see myself at various stages of my life, various aspects of my life, through each person I stand up in the circle. Volunteering has given me the chance to call myself out and say, “Hey girl, you’re slipping up again. And look at the junk that’s waiting for you if you revisit that old choice in behavior.”
If you were to ask me what my training has done for my relationships, I would say it has given me some. Prior to my training I was so set on believing that people were out to get me and not to be trusted that I made myself look like someone who did not need anyone.
Another lie. And after a lot of hard work, perseverance and pursuing healing, my parents have also managed to repair their relationship and continue to grow together because of this training. Our family is committed to fostering connection and reconciling our bond in healthy, life-giving ways.
Interestingly enough, I met my now husband through Pathways and, because of this training, we are able to hold each other accountable to what we both earned during our respective trainings WITHOUT FIGHTING. Yes, it is possible. I now have someone who wants me to pursue my dreams, to be healthy and happy, and to call him out when he’s not standing in his truth. AND IT IS AMAZING. More importantly than any of that, though… he makes me feel safe and he gives me a space where I can be my authentic self without fear of judgment.
As far as my other relationships go, I am able to nurture healthy relationships now and place boundaries within not-so-healthy relationships. The training and the community who holds it dear has also given my heart the gift of connection, the very thing I was so terrified of but wanted so desperately at the very beginning of this journey.
My Life Plan is unfolding before my very eyes. I have made several “goal” lists in my time, but at this stage in my life, my Life Plan continues to grow. In my personal life, I have goals to travel with my husband, to continue on my fitness journey, and to purchase our first home by mid-2019. In my professional life, I am currently working towards obtaining my LCSW and plan to have that completed by 2020, along with being completely debt free (yes, student loans included) by the end of 2018. In my spiritual life, I have goals to spend quiet time meditating daily, placing official membership at the Hills Church by summer 2018, and praying with my spouse through daily devotionals.
I think the word that stands out to me the most in the HOPE acronym for the place that I’m at in my life is elevate. Where I currently stand, I am on FIRE, figuratively speaking. In my day-to-day life, I help elevate others as a social worker. At home, my husband and I push each other to be better versions of ourselves. In quiet places, I am learning to be gentle with myself and embracing the peace that comes with accepting being human. My life compared to what it was has been elevated beyond what my 17-year-old self could have ever imagined.
And I’m just getting started.
I am a worthy, carefree piece of my own poetry who is an accepted, forgivable, lovable woman whose poetry is written by the hand of GOD.