About twenty-one years ago, I was sitting in a bar quietly crying in my beer. Not literally, of course, back then it was more than likely a Jack and Coke. And it wasn’t likely that I was actually crying; perhaps only on the inside. Most nights, I’d get to the bar early and head upstairs to sit in one of the darkened booths where no one could see me. I hated life. I hated everything. Nothing was working and I couldn’t see the point of continuing to do this day after day. I was alone. I had no goals. I had no interests. I had been struggling with the emotional aftermath of having been raped a few years earlier. I hadn’t been able to tell anyone what happened; instead, I’d turned to alcohol to drown the pain and that’s where I’d stayed. As I sat there, thinking of how badly I wanted it all to end, I was also thinking about how badly I just wanted something to change. What had happened to me? In less than five years, I had gone from a girl who was adamantly opposed to drinking alcohol to a young woman who couldn’t get through the day without drinking everything in sight. This wasn’t me. I wasn’t the kind of person who ran away from problems. I was a fighter. But the last round of battle had nearly killed me and I had been so caught off guard that I wasn’t ready to accept the healing I needed to fight another day.
Have you ever gone through something that you weren’t sure you could ever recover from? Most of us have. And most of us struggle with whether or not it’s worth the effort to put ourselves back together and move past it. Some of us can’t move at all. And when we do, we move in the wrong direction. That’s how it happened for me. My idea of trying to take back my power after it had been taken from me by an opportunistic “friend” had been that I would go out and do all of the things people had always told me not to do. I drank, I was promiscuous, and I even smoked some marijuana on occasion. Although none of this behavior matched up with the person I was on the inside, I couldn’t stop doing it. In my post-traumatic stress induced state, I was determined to take back every bit of what had been stolen from me. One night, a person I had trusted had taken advantage of my weakened state and raped me while I was unconscious after I had stupidly drank enough alcohol to black out. A man I had known for years as a friend had taken this opportunity to do things he had no permission to do. And later, he’d acted as though he’d done it all out of love for me. I was so messed up by this that for once in my life, I hadn’t known how to respond.
What do you say to someone who is so convinced that there was nothing wrong with what they had done? How do you make someone like this understand that you can’t just take what you want from someone even if you think you love them? I hadn’t wanted it. I would never have asked for this. Yet, after everything happened, I was so confused by it all that I hadn’t known how else to handle it except to act like a damned fool. The only intelligent thing I managed to do at that time was to put that person out of my life and dare him to try and approach me again. From that point on, anger fueled everything I did. When I went out (which was every night), I drank from the time I walked into the bar until the place closed down for the night. I had bad relationships. I did stupid things. And I was pretty much determined to keep throwing my life away. So what stopped me?
I’m one of those people who believes very strongly that God works in ways that most of us cannot even imagine. He doesn’t follow a script. He doesn’t have a set formula. He just does what He needs to do with us, when we need Him to do it. And if adversity is part of our story, He allows us to be deeply engaged in that struggle until He is sure that we’ve gotten the message. That’s when He begins to orchestrate whatever plan of healing He has in mind for us. And sometimes, it doesn’t even look like healing. Sometimes, it just looks like another challenge. Sometimes, it looks like a lot of little challenges. Or big ones. But we can be sure that He is right there, through it all. As with anything that grows, our growth doesn’t happen in an instant. Although we may have an epiphany that happens in a moment of lucidity, it may take a while for that bit of wisdom to take hold and actually manifest in our lives. Something we realized ten years ago may seem to suddenly take root and begin to blossom in our heart and mind, but rest assured, it’s been growing slowly all along.
And while all of the broken places begin to heal and strength begins to return, we are changing in ways that we don’t even realize. Places that used to be a comfort in our darkest days may begin to seem like reminders of something we no longer want to identify as part of ourselves. People who once seemed like safe places for us may now be just a vague memory of a time in our life that was not safe at all. And we finally see the big red danger signs that were not so obvious to us when we were blinded by our own fear or stupidity. What we once saw as shelter, we can now see for what it truly is; a trap.
I was trapped in what seemed like an endless cycle of self-destruction during those years. But through it all, God’s hand was still on me. He was still taking care of me. He was guiding me as I stumbled through the obstacles that were strewn along my path. Some of which I’d put there myself. He hadn’t given up on me as I had thought for all those years. The abuse I had suffered had been partially my own making; and partially the result of someone else’s brokenness. When I finally stopped being self-destructive long enough to think about this, I realized that I needed to make a decision. Would my brokenness be the reason that someone else had to stumble? Or would I get myself together and see what good I could make of the whole mess? Could I rise from these ashes and do something worthy of the love that God had always given me? Could I at least stop hurting myself?
Yes. The answer to those last few questions was a resounding “Yes.” And that’s what I did. I didn’t fix any of this myself, though. And although it took me years to get to a place where I began to develop a strong relationship with God, He worked with me until I was ready to learn more about who I was made to be. And He’s still working with me today. Most likely, there will never be a time when I’ve figured it all out. But that’s okay. This idea of faith; this concept that I had struggled to grasp for most of my life…it’s something we’re supposed to grow into. No one is created with perfect faith. Jesus was the only one who was ever perfect.
Looking back, I’m not sure I would have understood any of this if I hadn’t gone through those things that hurt me. I’m not sure I could have figured it out without the challenges that He helped me overcome. It’s not that way for everyone, but for some the hardest of lessons are necessary. For some, faith will only grow from pain. I don’t know why. And it’s not for me to know. I just know that no matter how difficult our challenges are; we cannot get through them without Him. We can choose to stay stuck there in the storm or we can seek His shelter while we wait it out.