02 Oct BEAUTY FROM BAGGAGE
For most of my life, I would’ve told you that I had a near perfect childhood. I lived in the same tight-knit community with both sets of grandparents. My parents are high school sweethearts who are still madly in love. I loved my schools and my church and my neighborhood. My home was a place where I felt loved, happy, and safe. So it was almost 30 years before I understood why I was such a mess.
I hardly remember my life before “the incident,” because it happened when I was only about three years old. And for years, I was convinced that those hazy mental snapshots must’ve been a dream. Yet, there was no denying the effects; I began to act out from a very young age. There was never a time I didn’t crave the approval of the opposite sex. Once at daycare, I got in trouble for letting a boy stick his head under my skirt, although I didn’t understand why. There were times I would lash out in rage if I felt threatened or cornered. I would take it out on myself with cutting, or I would lose my temper with a friend and begin hitting them. Next came the struggles with body image. I was overly concerned with my appearance by elementary school and began dieting around age 8. By middle school, I was already struggling with an eating disorder. By junior high, I was switching back and forth between bulimia and anorexia. I was diagnosed with depression at 12 and put on antidepressants.
Around this time, I began jumping from one unhealthy relationship to another. I felt as though I had no choice but to engage with any guy that showed interest, even if I wasn’t attracted to him. I believed my “no” didn’t matter. In fact, I dated one guy for four years despite the fact that I was sometimes downright repulsed by him and his behavior – but I was afraid to break up with him. He was emotionally abusive with a violent temper, and I feared that his violence would eventually be directed at me.
It seemed that certain guys could sense my vulnerability and some took full advantage. The summer after my freshman year of college, I was at a get-together full of youth from my church. I ended up playing pool with a guy who was a friend that I thought I knew well. At some point, he lured me away from the crowd and into a bedroom and tried to convince me that since he had won the pool game, I owed him a kiss. I resisted. He kept pushing, and I kept saying no. Finally, this 6’4” football player picked up my 5’4”, 120 lb frame and threw me on the bed and held me down. I froze in terror. My mind raced. What was he going to do next? What could I do? I couldn’t move – couldn’t even scream. Someone knocked on the door and he leapt off, so I managed to escape. But the fear still lingers, and to this day, I freeze up when I see him.
That same summer, I started seeing a guy for whom I fell head over heels. I got butterflies every time we were together. In the beginning, I thought he was perfect, and I believed I’d finally found my soulmate. But not long after our relationship began, things started to change. When he got angry, it was severe and over the smallest things. And if I became angry with him or caught him in a lie, he would “gaslight” me – manipulate me with his words so that I began to believe that everything was my fault. He had initially told me how beautiful I was, but then he began to make suggestions on how to “improve” my appearance. Soon, he was criticizing everything from my hair to my body, to the way I walked, talked, and dressed. Before I knew it, I was entangled in an emotionally, verbally, and sexually abusive relationship. I was the proverbial frog in boiling water. Although I was a Christian, I kept Christ out of that part of my life because I was filled with shame and believed the lie that this was what I deserved.
Through the rest of my college years, I was living a double life. On one hand, I was actively involved in a Christian organization on campus and leading Bible studies. On the other hand, I was partying, piercing my body, and dressing provocatively – desperately trying to win my boyfriend’s approval by striving to be what he told me I should be. My sense of dignity was at an all-time low. My disordered eating was now out of control and I was the thinnest I’d ever been. I felt this relationship was the best that was attainable for me, so I needed to make it work. After all, despite everything, I loved him. If we just got married, things would be different. Everything would be OK.
As you can imagine, it was not. Between his alcoholism, porn addiction, and rampant infidelity, there were times I considered driving my car off the road to end the pain. And although I had biblical grounds for divorce, God kept telling me to wait and to demonstrate Christlike love toward my husband. I assumed that meant that God was going to restore our marriage and my husband was finally going to have a real relationship with Christ. So, when he filed for divorce instead, I was devastated. After seven years of marriage, I found myself starting over as an unwilling divorcee at age 30.
I dove head first into DivorceCare and Celebrate Recovery at my church. It was there that God revealed to me that what I had experienced as a small child was real and was sexual abuse, and suddenly everything clicked. All of the poor decisions I had made; the anger, cutting, depression, and eating disorders I’d struggled with; all of the damaging relationships I’d had; my willingness to get into a toxic marriage – all had been set into motion by feelings of unworthiness and brokenness that stemmed from the abuse. Having that perspective was a complete game-changer for me.
Toward the end of my time in Celebrate Recovery, I reconnected with an old friend from high school who was in town for work. After weeks of suppressing our affections for one another, we went on our first official date in February 2011. What started out as dinner ended with us talking until 6 a.m. Over the course of our twelve-hour date, I could feel myself falling for him, and that terrified me. I was still certain that no godly man would want me – especially with all of the baggage I was carrying now. Surely the other shoe was about to drop. So how did I handle that? At 2 a.m. on our first date, I pulled out my Celebrate Recovery inventory and told him everything. I decided that if he was going to run, it was better for him to run now before I got too attached. Instead, he held me and kissed away the tears running down my face. I knew that night I was going to marry him.
We got married in November 2013, and he is the kind of man I always wanted, but never thought I could have. I had also believed that I was unworthy to be a mother and that was why God hadn’t allowed me to be a mom. Yet, here I am spending all my days with my funny, smart, adorable toddler.
As you can tell, the Lord has done an incredible amount of healing in my life over the last few years. I’d built my whole life on a framework of lies, and one by one, He disassembled them all and rebuilt something lasting and beautiful. And He is repaying me for the years the locusts have eaten! (Joel 2:25). Thank you, Jesus!
A note from Ebenezer Collective:
If you are currently in an abusive relationship, know God does not condone the abuse. He never wants his beloved children to be hurt in anyway. Any kind of abuse is not of the light, but of the darkness. Share your struggles with someone, get help to get out of the abusive relationship. God desires for you to live in the light through Christ-centered community, prayer, and recovery. Below are some resources.
Celebrate Recovery: https://www.celebraterecovery.com
Divorce Care: https://www.divorcecare.org
Shelter (local to Dallas): http://www.watermark.org/dallas/ministries/shelter