Baby Steps

If someone were to ask me, I would probably say that in the last 10 years of my life I have been who I truly was for only about 10 months. 

My life has been filled with crosses. I recognize fully that my crosses are not the same, nor perhaps as burdensome, as some others – but these crosses are mine, and are therefore difficult for me to bear.

As is the story for too many children nowadays, I grew up too soon. My parents are wonderful, hardworking people who never wanted anything more than to give me and my siblings the life they never had. What happened was something that none of us saw coming, and so I cannot blame them at all for that. There is a certain nefarious someone who I know was involved in the years of pain that ensued (the enemy, of course), but I believe that even he cannot operate without God bringing good out of it somehow.

Since I was about 14, I had to play “mom.” Each of my parents was working the equivalent of 2 full-time jobs, which meant that I was the delegated babysitter, homework helper, dance coach, and everything else my younger siblings needed… every day, while I myself was learning how to be a teenager in a public school (which was completely new for me), a student in advanced classes, and a championship level Irish dancer. It was a lot for me to handle. I can distinctly remember times when it was all too overwhelming, and I would simply leave my siblings on our basement’s dance floor and go upstairs to be alone and cry.

The only times I saw my mother during my 8th grade year were in the dead of night, after she finally got home from work. I got very little sleep that year because I tried to absorb as much of her as I possibly could. She was the only person I was able to tell about my day, about my frustrations, about the hurts I felt because, let’s be honest, middle school kids can be mean. But after that year, even those conversations disappeared. I rarely saw my father at all, even through high school. His job was exhausting and stressful, and when he came home, he came home weary to his bones. He would come home, fall asleep on the couch, and then wake up to go to bed.

I wasn’t ready to be a “mom” yet. But I had to – who else would, or could, be there for my younger siblings? But as the years went on, I found myself even becoming alienated from them. I was dealing with things that they weren’t, yet. They were all still perfectly happy playing with toys, stuffed animals, action figures, and Nerf guns. I was trying to be an adult when I hadn’t even learned to be a teenager.

Perhaps it comes as no surprise, then, that I attracted guys who had problems. After all, I have heard from many a psychologist that humans are attracted to the familiar. My self esteem began fading fast as soon as I entered 8th grade. I had struggled with self image since 3rd grade, when I was bullied, but it really escalated once I began attending public school for the first time. I was utterly unprepared for the world that I faced: drugs, sex, alcohol, pregnant classmates, and a climate that was hostile toward practicing Catholics. Before that, I was homeschooled. I first learned about sex when I was 13, because my mom wanted me to find out about it from her before I went to public school. I was unexperienced, naive, sheltered, and innocent – with an unhealthy twist of low self esteem.

Not only did I attract some pretty manipulative guys with dangerously low self-esteem, I was attracted to them. I thought that I could save them, and then we could have a happily ever after. I craved intimacy and safety, to be taken care of. And to be honest, I thought they really did love me. And every time it fell through, I blamed myself. I wasn’t strong or good enough to save them. I disappointed my parents for getting involved with them. I was a failure.

And then, my most painful relationship. Three years of horrors that I would never wish on another person. I’m not sure that there is enough room in one blog post for me to elaborate on everything that happened, but in a few words, I can try. Emotional abuse. Manipulation. Pregnancy. Miscarriage. Rape. And, with the exception of my miscarried pregnancy, just keep repeating the cycle. Over and over again.

I finally cut him out of my life in September 2012, the beginning of my sophomore year of college. This was the year that I had a chance to figure out who I was. It was the year that I immersed myself in dance, that I went to Mass and Adoration multiple times every week, that I prayed and prayed and had real friends for the first time in I don’t even know how long. I still cried a lot, I still had plenty of breakdowns, second thoughts about breaking up with my abusive ex, and PTSD flashbacks… but I was me.

For the last 2 years, I have been struggling to get back to that version of myself. I have not been truly happy since that first summer I spent with my now-fiancé, the last few months of the 10 that I would count as me being myself. My battles with depression and PTSD have been hard to survive. Like my freshman year, in the midst of all that pain and darkness, I have consistently struggled with the temptation to self-harm and to commit suicide. Unfortunately, the unrelenting stress of my attempted fall semester in the ELMAC program only exacerbated these symptoms, which is why I had to leave.

But I’m starting to see a little bit of light again.

Today was the first day in two weeks that I did not cry hysterically (which is a huge improvement). Yesterday I made the resolve to start parenting myself, with my Lord’s help, and so I went to confession. I stayed at Adoration for over an hour extra than I had planned. I wrote in my spiritual journal for the first time since August. I reasoned my wounded inner child into exercising. I convinced myself to go to the Carmelite meeting today, which included Mass, fellowship, and study of spiritual writings.

After all this time of pushing myself just to survive until the next day, I think I’m finally ready to try living again. There is no doubt in my mind that when I chose to leave grad school for now, I made the right choice for me.

Please pray for me. I have a long journey ahead as I seek healing. And thank you… even you reading this means that I’m not alone.

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