This is the first in a series of posts that will tell the secrets I carried for so long and the process I’ve gone through to heal. Before I even begin I want to thank my family for their unwavering support. In telling my secrets, I tell some of theirs as well. I’ve offered to edit on their behalf, but they have done nothing except love and support me.
My mom, brother, step-dad, and my dad in spirit, have walked with me. My friends have shown up time and again. My faith in a loving God is not based on anything I have read, it is based on the reality I’ve experienced through their mercy and love. And with that foundation….I begin:
For most of my life I lived two lives simultaneously.
I grew up in small town America with baseball and bicycles. My idyllic childhood was spent outside. We left when the sun came up and didn’t come home till after sunset. I had tons of friends and a big loving family. I even had a bonus Grandma that loved me like I was her own. Although my parents divorced when I was very young, they both worked hard to parent us together. My mom is funny and kind, my dad was wild and adventurous. My brother and I were spoiled with great restaurants, the theater, and lots of cultural experiences through my dad. My step-dad has given us humor and support. We were nurtured and loved by my mom, who has been a steady rock all our lives.
I grew up a child of divorce and alcoholism. My mom and dad divorced when I was 3 months old and my dad would battle alcoholism throughout his life. My mom remarried when I was seven, and my stepdad was also an alcoholic. Alcoholism makes for a secretive and chaotic life, where the adults and kids without a drinking problem desperately want to make everything ok, or at least seem ok. You learn how to make things look normal and good, even when they are far from normal or good. The next blow came when I lost my bonus grandma when I was barely a teen. A steady rock and force of amazing love, she was gone in six short weeks to cancer, leaving a gaping hole in my life that I couldn’t even comprehend. Then, at 18, I learned that my mom and dad’s divorce was because my dad was gay. Something that no one ever really talked about….ever, even now.
So, I have always seen myself as a living contradiction:
– Straight A Student, AND loved to drink and party.
– Super silly, happy, voted most comical my Sr. year, AND promiscuous.
– Very confident and self assured, highly opinionated, AND insecure, scared, looking for ways to exert control.
– I was a really good, kind, loving girl who just wanted to have healthy and strong relationships, AND
– I was a hurting child who didn’t know she needed help and certainly didn’t know how to ask for it.
To my detriment, I excelled at making everyone around me, even those who loved me dearly, believe that I was fine.
I lived in the real world, which means that gossip and judgement, from peers to parents, was readily available. This only served to exacerbate those parts of my personality that wanted to keep anyone from thinking I needed help. I would show everyone I was fine. I was full of (false) confidence. It was classic co-dependence.
A good counselor could have predicted how my life might progress if I didn’t do the work I needed to do. I know that now. But at the time, I believed I was very unique. No one could understand me. No one could counsel me. I had read enough and researched enough to be oh so dangerous. I believed my decisions were sound and unencumbered by my past. If anything, all the pain and chaos had made me wise – this is what I believed. I had heard that all my life…I was a wise old soul.
And then, if I did have any wisdom available, I abandoned it with a fury. I would eventually find myself far down a path I never imagined. So much of it, in hindsight, was so frustratingly predictable.
At 21 I became the third wife to an alcoholic, drug abusing, bar manager who was 10 years my senior, and step-mom to his three small children under the age of 6. Text book.
He moved me several states away, far from any family and friends, and became both physically and mentally abusive. Text book.
When I tried to leave, he would tell the kids I was leaving because I didn’t love them, they would beg me to stay, and I would. Text book.
The few times we did go to visit my family, the visits were tension filled, with threats to leave from the moment we arrived. Text book.
I was not allowed to have any friends on my own and my evenings were spent defending any time spent with girlfriends during lunch times at work. Text book.
Seven years passed and I became numb. I could not believe I had let this happen to me and I was too ashamed to tell my family what my life was really like. I put on a happy face at work and in my calls home. I made it seem like my life was normal and ok. Text Book.
I painted pictures of a false reality that was far from my actual life.
By the time I was closing in on 30 years old, my decisions had only compounded the feelings of inadequacy and insecurity I had carried all my life. Not only did I not believe I had inherent value as a person, I thought I had ruined any possibility of even earning value because of the horrible choices I had made.
What I didn’t know, couldn’t know, was that the worse was yet to come. Just when I thought I had come to my senses, I began making yet another series of choices that would drive me further from the truth and distort my understanding of who I really was. By the time I hit my rock bottom, I would be so mired in despair and condemnation that it seemed impossible to ever be happy or whole.
Before the next post where I will finish telling my secrets and the lies I believed about myself, I should tell you who I finally realized am. It is who I’ve always been:
I am a beautiful and loved child of God, created in the very image of an incomprehensible Love that knows no bounds.
I have been this child since the day I was born, and so have you.
All my mistakes were not made prior to my becoming this child, they were made because I was unable to recognize who I already was.
But now that I know, I wake every day to a banquet of Abundant Life that is prepared in my honor, and I take part without shame, as a full heir in the ultimate Truth:
I am wholly accepted and wildly loved.
It is in the living of this Truth, my pain is redeemed.
First of all – please hear this – I love and value my mom, dad, and step-dad a tremendous amount. I do not hold them accountable for my actions, and I forgive them for any mistakes they made that impacted my life. One of the reasons I have struggled with sharing my story is because of that deep abiding love I have for them, and my full and complete forgiveness. I would never want to hurt them. I would never want anyone to think poorly of them. Despite their struggles, they have all worked so hard to better themselves throughout their lives. My step-dad hasn’t had a drink in over 30 years. My dad quit drinking in my twenties. I love them. I love spending time with them. They are such good and amazing people. They forever try, and they taught me to forever try. If you know them and love them, let this just be further confirmation of the beauty you see in them. They are amazing, strong, good people. And now, looking back, I am so thankful for the lessons I learned from them. Lessons in forgiveness, acceptance, and the incredible joy that lives on the other side of darkness. I may never have learned these things, in my marrow, were I given a smoother life.
Secondly – my dad. Oh how I love him. There are so many people who didn’t know he was gay – or weren’t sure – until just now when they read this. And I have struggled mightily with whether or not I even had the right to talk about it. I’ve called family, and his dearest friends, to see what they thought and received an overwhelming amount of love and support. I wish I had the words to express what I’m feeling in this moment… so many emotions, so many tears. To be clear on this, I have no shame of my dad, I only regret that he didn’t live in a world that made him feel completely accepted. I am an ally and an advocate for the rights of all marginalized people. I include this fact about my dad for one profound reason – his inability to fully accept that part of him was the catalyst for my healing. As I struggled to understand his life, his faith, and his faults after he passed, he gave me the greatest gift of my life. I know he has walked with me through every milestone these last two years. It is in honor of my dad that I am going to live the most authentic and honest life I possibly can. I will lay down any shame, and I will accept the unending mercy and grace available to me.
No more secrets. No more shame. I am enough, just as I am. It is my daddy’s final lesson, given after his passing. I will honor it with my life.
And I’m here to remind you – You are enough, too.
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