Who I Am Is Not What Happened To Me
When I was 17, I had a religious conversion experience. I became a Christian, and my faith would define my life for the next 5 years. Attending University of Texas at Austin was a great gift, as I met some incredible people who solidified the idea in my mind that there is goodness and love in this sometimes dark world.
Towards the end of college, my dedication to my faith splintered. My stepmom and Dad were going through a divorce and I struggled to see God’s purpose and goodness through it all. Looking back, I can see where I doubted my self-worth and value.
I turned to alcohol and validation from others and escaped the pain and questions in my heart by moving to South America. I thought new experiences and travel would help me find answers. Because of my dedication to my faith, at age 22, I was still a virgin and planning to save myself for marriage. I definitely believed that if I wasn’t a virgin, no good, kind man would want to marry me.
While there, I started casually seeing someone who ended up taking advantage of my innocence and naivety. For years I never called it rape, because part of me felt responsible. I had liked him, I was drinking, and I never reported anything to the police. I wanted it to be my idea because it was more comfortable to believe that. It was more comfortable to just hang onto the shame and regret than actually have to face the demons inside of me and relive the night.
In the years between 22 and 25, I couldn’t face the church. Whenever I found myself inside, I would cry during worship and clench my fists during the sermon. The shame and regret I held onto was telling me I was not worthy of love or relationship. The fear I had of judgment from fellow church members was eating me alive. If only they knew the truth about me, they wouldn’t love me. If they knew I had failed my vow to remaining pure, I wouldn’t be accepted. So I never consistently attended.
During this time away from the church, I went to the extremes of external validation. I did everything that I thought people would find accepting or lovable or impressive. I got an engineering degree, I climbed the tallest mountain in Africa, I volunteered at an orphanage in Mexico. I focused on becoming lovable, instead of accepting love as a free gift. Because what I had twisted in my mind was the idea that love had to be earned. That I had to keep my vow to purity to be lovable. That I had to earn love.
Years later, I found myself in a serious relationship with my now husband Matt. I found these demons coming out in me telling me I was not worthy of genuine love- but here was this human, loving me unconditionally even when I messed up and tried to run away. Matt kept chasing me, he kept pursuing me, and I finally started to believe that maybe I was worthy of love. So, I decided to seek counseling to figure out what happened. In the first session, after I explained the situation to my therapist, she boldly called it rape. I cried, because I hated the idea of being a victim. I was strong, I was a warrior, I am not a victim.
Throughout the past two years, I’ve learned the power in rewriting my story. I’ve learned that what happened to me does not get to tell me who I am or what I am worthy. I learned that I get to choose who I am. I learned that forgiving myself for not knowing, for drinking, for trusting someone who shouldn’t have been trusted, is the greatest gift I could ever give myself. I finally let go of the judgment, shame, and regret I had of myself for that night. I forgave the person who took advantage of me and I came to a place of gratitude for the lessons I’ve learned.
And finally, I’ve gone back to church. I still cry practically every time during worship because I feel the weight of how loved and forgiven I am. I feel so grateful for Matt and his endless pursuit of God and of me. I feel so grateful for the friends whom I’ve shared my story with, and if this is the first time you are hearing this, I am so grateful for you.
The stories we tell ourselves are powerful. Trauma means different things to different people. If you have some experience that keeps coming up in your mind or heart, or if you have struggles with self-worth, I encourage you to seek help. We don’t have to carry the weight of the pain on our own. We have the power to rewrite the story of our lives- no matter what has happened, we are all worthy of unconditional love. Reach out. We’re here to help, to love, and to hug.
With compassion and love in my heart,
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