Books like The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Looking for Alaska shaped my adolescence. Filled with pithy quotes that appeal to angst-ridden teens like I was, they provided an escape from the depression I felt in high school.Read More
Things rarely go as planned for me. I’m in my third year of a two-year program at my college. I’m not even at the college I intended to go to. I’ve lost an astounding amount of friends in the past year, and Jon, my best friend from summer camp, lives an ocean away, and I haven’t seen him since high school, despite our haphazard efforts at arranging a reunion. Meanwhile, my body has ballooned instead of shrinking like I always wanted. I don’t grab a couple of drinks at Hamburger Mary’s with a couple of gal-pals like I always thought I would before I turned twenty-one.
These could all be construed as negatives, but it’s really just a matter of perception. Spending more time at Daytona State instead of a traditional college has given me more time to make sure my major is right for me. The main reason I am so far behind my peers in my education is because I was hospitalized almost every semester for mental health reasons. A community college like DSC gives me the flexibility to retake classes, withdraw late from courses I won’t be able to finish, and establish a rapport with my instructors so I can let them know what’s going on with me.
As for losing friends, well, I’ve drifted apart from the clubs I was once involved with at school, partly because of other commitments like work and synagogue (It seems like EVERY event is on a Friday night!), and partly because I’ve grown and changed a lot, and I just don’t vibe with some of the people who used to be my friends. It’s important for me to explore various types of friendships with a multitude of people so that I can determine what does and doesn’t work. Am I a little lonely at school? Yeah, sure. But this pushes me to get outside of my comfort zone, talk to the people in my classes, and it challenges me to be my authentic self, regardless of whether or not people like that.
Jon and I will always be best friends. He stood by me through anorexia hell, multiple rounds of treatment, and even the time I got unhealthily obsessed with a crush for a solid six months and drove him nuts asking questions about the mystery of the male mind. We email each other all the time, just to share anecdotes about our lives and our plans for the future. Jon is one of those special friends who will always be in my life. He’ll be in my wedding, either as the groom or as my maid of honor. He’ll look so pretty in a dress!
My body? Forget weighing 98 pounds. I’d rather be able to keep up with my kindergarteners, walk across campus, and eat some freaking fries when I want to!
And as far as not going out for drinks with friends on the weekends? That’s my choice. I can decide to start drinking whenever I want to. I don’t know what would happen if I did, and that’s why I choose not to drink.
I went back to school towards the end of March, and I’m taking a very easy class called Managing Your Success. The intention of the class is to teach students how to thrive in college, how to manage time and money, etc. It’s really basic stuff, but sometimes it’s good to get back to basics. My professor recently included the quote, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul,” in one of his slides. Curious, I Googled the quote, and found the poem “Invictus” by William Earnest Henley.
I realized I’d heard the poem before and scoffed at it, but my take on it was different this time. One of the key lessons I learned when I was in treatment at Magnolia Creek was that no one can “make” you feel anything; rather, your reactions are a choice.
I had trouble with this concept at first. I thought it was normal and natural to feel bad about being abused, for example. I thought that “bad” things happened to me, and I had a right to feel ashamed, dirty, depressed, and helpless. In short, I was being a victim. I wanted to feel that way. I thought my abuse “didn’t count” unless I tortured myself emotionally over it.
It’s not my job to decide if the things that happen to me are “good” or “bad.” I can perceive them however I want, but I am only human, thus I have a finite perception of the events and course of my life. Labeling things that happen to me is another example of the myriad ways I try to play God in my life. I’m pretty sure God has this whole “running the universe” thing covered. I don’t think He needs my help with that. I am probably not the literal “master of my fate.” I think that probably falls under God’s jurisdiction. However, I do believe that I have a choice when it comes to how I feel and what I do. No, it’s not my fault that I have anorexia. However, every time I engage in an eating disordered behavior, I’m making a conscious choice to act on that impulse, just as when I overcome a relapse or an ED thought, I’m taking charge of my own mind. If we are responsible for our successes in recovery, we are also responsible for our failures. I certainly don’t want to admit that it’s my fault when I weave an elaborate web of lies about why there are bloodstains on my sleeves and razors hidden in the bathroom. I don’t want to take responsibility when my breath smells like vomit after meals and I’m losing weight. However, I want all the credit when I pick up another milestone chip at AA, when I listen to my hunger cues and eat a snack even though it’s against anorexia’s rules, or when I end an unhealthy relationship.
After a traumatic event as recent as December, I resorted to purging to deal with my feelings of shame and depression. It was symbolic for me; kneeling in front of the toilet represented apologizing to God, the universe, or the person who hurt me for whatever I’d done to “deserve” what happened, while the act of vomiting represented “purging” the painful memories out of my mind. At first, I told myself I’d “just purge once.” Then it became purging once a day. Pretty soon, I was purging as often as I could and eating as little as possible in the meantime. I knew something was wrong when I found myself in the employee bathroom at work while I was supposed to be taking out the trash, heaving up whatever low-calorie morsels I’d had for dinner on my break. Mid-barf, I was being paged over the intercom because the front had gotten busy and my supervisor needed an extra cashier. I had no choice but to finish vomiting, clean myself up as quickly as I could, and drag my shaky, pale, embarrassed self to a register.
It’s not my fault that this is how my brain taught itself to deal with stress. It’s not my fault that I was the victim of a crime prior to this and it caused a great deal of stress in my life. However, it was my responsibility to be good to myself (and to fulfill a duty to my employer), to make healthy choices, and to my best to resist these self-destructive impulses. The ex-boyfriend who violated me was neither directly nor indirectly responsible for what I did that night. Yes, his actions were inappropriate and wrong, but so were the ways I chose to react to them. He wasn’t “making” me purge. I was doing it to myself.
These days, I have faith in a God that has granted me an “unconquerable soul.” I will never say I am grateful for the abuse I went through. Many people, even a few therapists have told me that I should be grateful to be a victim of childhood sexual abuse, dating violence, and rape because it’s made me so much stronger, and I will be able to use these experiences to help other people going through the same thing. While I am grateful for the outcomes of the traumatic events I’ve experienced, I am not grateful for the road I had to take to get here. However, I am the captain of my soul, and I choose not to dwell on what brought me to this place. Rather, I will look forward and see what the future holds.
Before I begin, let me back up. On Wednesday night, I went to an AA meeting at the clubhouse at 8:00 PM. It was an 11th Step meeting, so we read from the 12&12 about how we “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”
And it pissed me off.
I’ve been known to twist people’s words. At the meeting, it sounded like here was a roomful of people telling me how to pray. Don’t pray for yourself. Don’t beg God to relieve some of this unbearable pain. Don’t ask Him to quiet the trauma storm inside you, to soften your heart, to help you be kind. Just ask God to do His thing, which He’s going to do regardless of whether or not I ask Him to. That’s not how I want my “conscious contact” to be.
I have conversations with my Higher Power. She wants me to make good choices, to be the best version of myself that I can be. Sometimes, She makes mistakes. But She never abandons me. She is always listening.
Sometimes, I forget this. I get hung up on the patriarchal, Old Testament version of God, and I think He is vindictive, cold, not listening, and punishing. I hadn’t been maintaining conscious contact with God, regardless of whether God is male or female or something else entirely, so that night, I told God to fuck off. I turned off my faith for a little while, and it was like vomiting right out of my heart.
I didn’t pray for the next few days. I didn’t go to synagogue on Friday. I went to a meeting instead and left early because I was angry at the people there for having faith.
I felt so empty. Alone. In free-fall.
So after a couple of days of reminding myself not to ask God for help, not to reach out to God, not to pray, I broke down in tears and prayed. “God, it hurts so much,” I cried. I begged Him to ease the pain, to show me that He loves me. I went to a meeting, where I saw an old friend I haven’t seen in months. Stubbornly, I didn’t say the Serenity Prayer or the Lord’s Prayer at the respective beginning and end of the meeting.
I asked myself, “Why?” over and over. “Why did God allow me to be abused at such a young age? Why did He put abusive people in my life over and over? Was I put here just to be hurt over and over?”
The way I choose to make sense of these questions is by telling myself that God has all the answers and is keeping them safe for me until I die. The answers are so much more perfect, beautiful, and complex than anything any mere human could comprehend.
I am okay.
I apologized to God for telling Him to fuck off. When I was a teenager and I’d slam the door in my parents’ faces, eventually I’d have to apologize and make things right. My parents always knew that I didn’t hate them, that I was just having a “moment.” God knows my heart. He made it, with all it’s flaws and imperfections and character defects–all the awful things that are inside me, but He also gave me so much goodness, a little spark, ruach, or, Divine magic.
I am okay.
Part 1: The Dream
A complicated house. People everywhere, an open bar that I’m desperately trying to avoid, chaos, nudity. I just want to be alone. I am lost. (I have variations of this dream frequently. I’m always trying to get to my room so I can be alone. I’m lost, always lost. The dream ends every time before I ever achieve my goal.) I make it to the top floor of the house. It’s a single room, large and round, littered with junk and trash. There is a jacuzzi tub that’s on, but not being used. And T is there. The ex-boyfriend. The meth addict. The rapist. My rapist. I am terrified. I am frozen. I am angry–until I see that he is holding a hairbrush. (I always used to tell him that I wanted to brush his hair. He has beautiful hair. It’s down to his waist, curly, and blond at the ends. It’s always in his face, and he runs his hands through it constantly, but to no avail. It was messy and wild, just like him, just like “us.” It would have been beautiful if he’d let me brush it with a bristle brush and give it body and volume. My hair is too short to brush, so I have no idea where my old bristle brush is. I haven’t used it since I was in high school. I never did get to brush his hair.) So in the dream, I soften. I love him in the dream. We are together again, we are at peace, we are a couple, we are in love. I take the brush from him and begin to brush his hair. I cannot see his face. I cannot make eye contact. His hair comes out in chunks in my hands.
In the days after the rape, I was achy. I carried myself around like a shattered doll, afraid to go anywhere, afraid to stop functioning. My life was already falling apart. Failing classes, missing work, and the emptiness in my heart after breaking up with my ex-girlfriend. (God, she was happy. What was I? Surely not broken beyond belief. Surely…)
At the AA clubhouse, I alluded to the crime that had been committed against my body. I cried on the porch a lot. “Nick” told me I should pray for my rapist, and I bristled. He said I would feel better. I told him that was bullshit. Maybe I just wasn’t willing to “go to any lengths.” Maybe I wasn’t ready.
Part 2: The Dream (con’t)
[Nick seems like he must stand about eight feet high. He has a voice like Morgan Freeman, and dreadlocks that are probably longer than I am tall. He always describes himself as, “A grateful alcoholic,” He has an “attitude of gratitude.”
He doesn’t understand.]
As I brush T’s hair in my dream, the hairbrush seems to weigh a hundred pounds. I persevere. His hair continues to fall out in my hands, and it obscures his face. As I try to sweep it out of his eyes, he darkens; his hair thickens in my hands, and I am face to face with Nick. He is eye-level with me in the dream, his massive height gone, leaving him all hound dog eyes and somber face. I bring a single dreadlock around from his back and arrange it so that it rests on his chest. No words are exchanged, but some of the knots in my stomach come undone and are as smooth and straight as the dreadlock that rests in my hand.
Part 3: Mi Sheberach (A Prayer for Healing)
“May the source of strength–”
Please, God, give me strength to go on. Give me strength to say this prayer. Please, God, soften my heart. Take away this anger. Please, God, make me less prickly. I ask You to make me the soft hair of my dream, not the spiky brush itself. Help me to walk in love.
“Who blessed the ones before us–”
Dear God, thank You for my family. Please bless my father and mother. Thank You for my brother and his hidden kindnesses. For as much as they get under my skin, I need them there in my veins, raging through the body and keeping me tethered.
“Help us find the courage–”
Please, God, give me strength to pray this prayer. For, I don’t want to say it. I am afraid. I am selfish. I am small. I am imperfect. I am Yours. Is it okay to acknowledge these thoughts? Did some man break me all that time ago? Did You create me to be broken–or to be pushed to the breaking point and to rise as surely as the fertile moon? (Someday, my belly will be as swollen as the moon hanging low in the night sky. Someday, my body will wax and wane with a greater purpose. Someday, someday, someday…) God, grant me the serenity to accept this thing I wish I could change, to make peace with the crime scene that is the body You left in my care. Have I failed in some way, or have You failed me? I am sorry, God. I am so, so sorry.
“To make our lives a blessing–”
God, please let it be Your will that T may recover from his addiction. Please mend his body, his mind, and his soul. Please grant him a r’fuach shleimach, a complete healing. Please let him find peace.
“And let us say: Amen.”
I’ve been self-harming a lot lately. It’s not something I talk about much because it tends to get me in trouble, but more than that, I’m ashamed of the adolescent habit that’s followed me into adulthood and turned my life upside down. My bed sheets are covered with blood; I’ve gone through three packs of razors in the past two weeks, as they keep getting taken away by the people who love me. How do I return that love? I go and get more razors, angry at those people for having the nerve to care about me when I don’t even care about myself.
I don’t have a good reason for continuing to cut myself. I don’t think there is a “good reason” that would justify the countless nights spent in the bathroom waiting for the bleeding to let up enough to put on a pair of dark sweatpants that won’t show bloodstains.
Having my body covered in scars, bandages, and cuts is just a way to reflect how I feel on the inside, cliche as that may sound. I feel unworthy of basic care and affection, even when it pours out of those around me. I simply don’t understand why people treat me with the love that I receive, and I don’t know why I can’t wrap my head around their kindness and love. Cutting myself is a physical manifestation of the negative self-talk that constantly beats me down.
I take most of my bad feelings out on my thighs, which are now covered in scars and fresh cuts from years and years of abuse. So today, I decided to do something different with that part of my body. Today, I got my first tattoo.
The tattoo is partly a tribute to the Orlando shooting victims because my friends and I easily could have been among them. The aftermath of the shooting was an incredibly spiritual experience for me, strange though that may be. Not long after, I started working the Twelve Steps and solidified my connection with God. I believe I was made in God’s divine image, made with care, divine love, and cosmic magic. Who am I to hate something that was made by a perfect Creator? Talk about playing God. Today, I will practice humility and not suppose that I am so great that I can see God’s mistakes. Today, I will practice self-love and take care of my body. Today, I will honor my story of survival and strength by being proud of who I am and loving myself. It’s about damn time.
I have a mild obsession with Tumblr, a micro-blogging platform. I usually just browse it in between classes and sometimes in lieu of doing homework to look at art and pretty girls. I have an extension on my browser that prevents me from seeing any posts that glorify self-harm, eating disorders, etc., and from seeing any NSFW posts.
As I was scrolling today, I came across this post, and it gave me pause. At first, it seemed like the kind of thing I could relate to. But I realized, it’s something only the old Katherine can relate to. Today, I am proud to say that I am not completely terrified of being who I am for the rest of my life. I am okay with who I am. I don’t love every facet of myself, but I’m working on my character defects, and I know that in time, I will have a better handle on them.
Today, I visited a friend from AA in the hospital. Hospitals make me nervous, and she asked me to bring her a coffee from Starbucks, even though you’re not allowed to bring food into the hospital. (Her nurse had said it was okay for her to have coffee, but assumed I was bringing it from the hospital cafeteria.) I was anxious, but I handled a situation that would have baffled me in the past with ease and grace. God gave me the opportunity to do a mitzvah today by visiting my friend when she’s not feeling well and bringing her coffee. It was a small act, but one that made a difference, and one that I am proud of myself for doing.
As I progress through the Twelve Steps, I am becoming more and more comfortable with the person I am. It feels good to take care of myself and make good choices. I don’t feel like I constantly have to make excuses for my behavior, apologize for who and how I am, and I don’t ruminate on how much I hate myself anymore. In fact, I don’t even feel like I hate myself these days. The huge pit of self-loathing I used to harbor is being replaced with something softer and lighter. It feels pretty okay to be me all of a sudden.
I recently started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and working the Twelve Steps. What an experience it has been. I’ve learned so much about addiction in all its forms. I’ve gained friends of all ages and all walks of life, and most importantly, I’ve formed a strong connection with my Higher Power, who I call God.
Addiction is a funny thing. I’m not even twenty-one, so if I wanted to get drunk, I’d have to rely on older friends to supply me with alcohol. For a while, my friends were happy to get me drunk, but soon they noticed that my medicine doesn’t work very well with alcohol in my system. My best friend Colette said that the fact that my desire for alcohol seemed more like a need than a want was worrisome. When she and her boyfriend were drinking around me, all I could think about was how badly I wanted “just one sip,” which always turned into as much as I could possibly drink. Pretty soon, my friends didn’t bring alcohol around me, and Christin, the girl I was dating when I was drinking the most, often asked me to stop drinking, or at least slow down.
So, even though I haven’t been day-drinking for years and years like many of the old-timers at AA used to do before they got sober, I certainly have “the disease of more.” Besides, as they say in AA, “It’s not the drinkin’, it’s the thinkin’.” The way I think about alcohol (and sometimes other substances or activities) is certainly a problem.
But, there is a solution. AA provides, “A fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength, and hope,” with each other to share a common solution to a common problem. You never know what you’re going to get at an AA meeting. AA is a spiritual (but not religious) program, so a lot of the meetings focus on God and other spiritual matters.
Yesterday, I had an absolutely horrible day. A very long time ago, I met an extremely drunk girl at a gay club. She told me that “lesbian drama is too real, baby girl,” and I’ve recently discovered that she is right, even if the drama is all in my head. (If you don’t know what lesbian drama is, watch a few episodes of The L Word, and you’ll get an idea.) I had been around people who were drinking a drink I used to love, and I was “romancing the drink,” thinking about how nice it would be to sit at the table with the rest of my friends and casually sip a mimosa. However, every time I think about how nice that would be, I have to remember that I never “casually sipped” my drinks. I slammed them down and got a refill as soon as possible. By the time my friends were buzzed and tipsy, I was falling-down-drunk.
So, instead of trying to rustle up some booze, I went to the AA clubhouse and sat through a meeting, surrounded by friends and strangers who, in some small way, understood what I was going through. I bring a journal with me that I write in during meetings. Sometimes, I write down good quotes from speakers and readings, but a lot of times, I write down my personal thoughts and feelings while I listen to what’s being said at the meetings.
My journal entry at quickly devolved into, “I hate myself, and I don’t want to be here anymore,” and by the end of the meeting, I was crying. I said the Lord’s Prayer, and then completely melted down when my friend “Mack” asked me if I was okay. Mack is a big, rough-and-tumble, Italian guy who’s probably been smoking since birth, and sounds like he’s made out of sandpaper. He said, “Aww, Katherine, baby, don’t cry,” and handed me off to a woman who talked me down and hugged me.
I stayed at the clubhouse after the meeting and talked to another friend. We just sat around complaining about how hard relationships are. When I got home, yet another friend from AA called me, and we talked for about half an hour about our concepts of God.
This friend, “Connor,” describes himself as a “recovering Catholic,” who has defected to Eastern religions, but is interested in Judaism. It’s so refreshing to talk to someone who has a strong faith in God, whoever that God may be to them. One of the amazing things about AA is that unlike organized religion, there’s no right answer for who God is. I told Connor, “My God is not perfect. She makes mistakes just like me. She’s learning and growing all the time.” I’ve never articulated that idea before, and it felt good to say it out loud.
I actually got that idea from a footnote in my siddur. The siddurim my synagogue uses are full of rabbinic notes and ideas, as well as traditional prayers and modern interpretations of the ancient liturgy. During a service a few weeks ago, I saw a footnote that said something along the lines of, “Instead of a perfect God, what if there is a growing God, a growing universe, and we’re all learning together along the way?” This idea resonated with me. Believing that God is a work in progress just like myself helps me practice forgiveness. Instead of wondering why an all-powerful, perfect God would let something horrible and life-altering happen to me as a child, wondering what I did to deserve such a terrible punishment, and why God would abandon me like I thought She did, I can accept that God made a mistake in my life, that for a moment, I fell through the cracks. I was not abandoned. I was not being punished. I was never, not for a moment, unloved by God.
The first step of the Twelve Steps is, “We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable,” and Step Two is, “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” It’s easy to admit that your life is unmanageable. I was getting home past my curfew, trying to hide my intoxication from my parents, stealing alcohol from Christin, Colette, and her boyfriend, Trevor, and backing out of prior commitments because I was either too drunk or too hungover to function. It was obvious that I was a slave to my impulsiveness and penchant for bad decisions.
But giving up that control to a “Power greater than ourselves,” isn’t as easy. I want to have control of my life. I want to be responsible for my decisions. And in a lot of ways I am. It’s my decision to act in accordance with my understanding of God’s will. God and I are a team, working together to keep my life on track, to keep me sober and happy, and to do mitzvot.
I recently changed my major (again), and I’m now studying elementary education. As part of my class credit for my Introduction to Teaching class, I had to observe for fifteen hours in a classroom. I observed in a kindergarten classroom at my synagogue’s elementary school. It was such an amazing experience. I formed a relationship with every single child in the class, and I came to love every single one of them.
I also got a job teaching Religious School on Sundays at my synagogue. I have a class of five-and-six-year-olds, who are the strangest little humans I have ever encountered. I love them all dearly, and I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to share my knowledge and love of Judaism with young people.
Being around those kids gives me motivation to stay sober, to make good choices, and to take care of myself. I want to be an example of what a good Jew, responsible person, and good role model is for my students. I don’t ever want those kids–especially the little girls–in my classes to grow up thinking it’s okay to do the things I have done. I pray that those little girls will walk in love, value and treasure themselves, and respect themselves and their bodies. I pray that those little boys will grow up to be gentle souls, who walk in kindness and understanding.
Now that I have a little bit of time in AA, I’ve gained a genuine understanding of who my Higher Power is to me, and how She acts in my life. Maybe God isn’t for everyone. But I believe that God made everyone in Her divine image, that She loves all of Her creations, and that my faith in Her is going to carry me down the road to happy destiny.