Let’s just dive right in. This is my story. This is why I am where I am and why I do what I do.
I was born in a pretty small, pretty racist, neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. I was born into a family with 4 older brothers, a mom, and a dad. Apparently I was born at a good time because I missed out on the “bad days” as we call them. My mother had some pretty severe addiction problems which led to 15 minute trips to the store lasting 3 days. But I was too young to know or understand or even remember. What I do remember, and actually is my earliest memory, is that when I was two years old and she and my dad finally got divorced and my mom went into rehab (again). My mom was leaving, it was late at night, and I was crying. She came up to me and said “Don’t worry sweetie, I will always be here.” And pointed to my heart. I remember that making me cry even more.
So after she left it was me, the 4 boys, and my daddio. My dad was a very hard working man. He worked 2 jobs to be able to support us. Our house was always a mess. We joke about it now, but the reality is that we actually had to use snow shovels to clear out garbage. Like, multiple times. But what do you expect when there’s 5 kids, ranging in ages, and a parent who’s busy working to keep the house?
I could go on and on about my dad, and I probably will, but first let’s talk about the boys. I love my brothers, always have and always will. But, just because I loved them, doesn’t mean they were perfect growing up. My oldest brother Mike had some pretty bad anger management issues. His explosive temper was frequent. Then there’s Matt who had Aspergers. Which, honestly, I didn’t know until I was in highschool, which made me resent him for a long time. Next is Dan. Dan has been said to be the one most affected by my moms addictions. One story includes my dad finding him draped over the side of my moms car, crying, because she left him in a Walgreens parking lot while she met up with her dealer. The youngest of my brothers is about a year and a half older than me. Tom. Tom and I were best friends growing up. He had a few issues too, but, like me, was fortunate enough to be too young to remember most of those days.
Now here’s where things get tough to write. The 3 oldest boys were at a different school then Tom and I were at, because of being in different grades. So while my dad was at work, and the other boys were at school, instead of staying home alone Tom and I had a babysitter. Our babysitter was a woman my dad knew from a karaoke bar who also had 4 boys and a girl. I’m tempted to use their real names just so everyone knows how terrible these people are, but I will refrain. To make a long story short, starting in preschool Sam and I would go to, let’s call it Hell House, and for 3 years straight, almost daily, I was sexually abused. Sometimes it was through comments, sometimes actions, and sometimes extremely violently. It was done by 3 of the 4 sons and physical abuse came from the father. The Hell House inhabitants really screwed me up. I was never threatened by them, never told not to tell anyone, and still part of me knew what was happening was wrong. So I remained silent. It wasn’t until 2012, when I was 18, that I finally spoke about it. That’s a whole story on its own though. These few years are forever stuck in my mind as my strongest, most vivid, memories from childhood. And there’s even a lot of repressed ones in there. This time in my life was the time that pure shame was instilled in me.
Like I said, this went on for years and happened nearly every day after school. It wasn’t long before the dad also started hurting me, separate from his sons although I wouldn’t be surprised if they were in together. There were some days that we didn’t go to the Hell House and instead Tom and I stayed with our grandma or our aunt. Both of whom were, obviously, very close to my mom. They took her side on everything, including the divorce. So, every time we were being watched by other family, we were flooded with negative words about our dad. Terrible things.
Eventually, their messy divorce got settled and my mom got custody. I was excited because I missed her so much. I had still seen her every now and then, but it was always in the context of a rehab center.
So there it was. What I always wanted. Me, my brothers, and my mom. We lived in a suburb west of Chicago. Sam and I did summer camp that year and I made some friends and also got bullied a lot, including by these friends. I started school and surprised my new friends with the fact that I moved there. Things were fine. I had less friends than I did growing up, but I still had friends. In 4th grade I had my first sleepover at the house right next door to where we lived. They were townhomes so right next door was connected to us.
Around that time things got pretty stressful at home. My stepdad was living with us and he wasn’t exactly…. stable. My brother, Matt, had been having some outbursts that ended up giving me nightmares that he would kill my mom. These nightmares were weekly. Usually the same way.
Also, Dan had started rebelling. Drugs, sex, and skipping school. He was in junior high. He was already forging our moms signature on things and calling himself out of school.
My mom decided it was time to move. So we moved to a town about 20 minutes away from that one. It was the middle of my 4th grade school year so I became the “new kid” and it was possibly the worst thing to happen to me. The bullying became so intense. I had absolutely no one. I met a girl who would soon become my best friend, but as immature 4th graders we didn’t always get along.
Let’s rewind a second. There was one day in 3rd grade where I was at a friend’s house and she asked me what I weighed while we were playing around and dancing. I told her the best guess I had (which I did knowingly cutting off a few pounds) and she said “that’s too much! You should weigh xxx like me!” I was no stranger to being fat shamed but this moment, hearing it out loud from a friend really struck me. It was around then that I started to “forget” my lunches at home.
Back to my 4th grade year where the bullying intensified. When this happened my restrictive behavior also increased. But it was fine.
Time went on and the chaos at home did too. Jim ended up getting sent to a… well I’m not exactly sure what it was. Essentially a behavioral health center but not exactly. Dan continued falling deeper into trouble. I realize now just how much their actions influenced mine. In 5th grade I had my first kiss, with a boy who was 4 years older than me, during a game of 7 minutes in heaven. He didn’t just kiss me in that closet and it didn’t just happen in that closet. I also smoked my first cigarette in 5th grade.
6th grade was pretty uneventful except for one night. May 9, 2006. I had a choir concert and came home to celebrate by having an Oreo ice cream cake. 10 minutes after we got home my mom got a phone call. It was Dan’s friend telling her that he had taken a mix of drugs; cocaine, Vicodin, and some benzos. He wasn’t breathing. Shortly after, a van pulled in our driveway and they rolled his body out and drove away. The ambulance my mom called was there waiting. One of the most painful memories I have is of me sitting in our bay window hearing my mother, who was a nurse, giving him CPR while yelling “BREATHE, DEAR GOD PLEASE BREATHE.”
By the grace of God, he did. He began breathing once the paramedics took over and after a short stay in the hospital, he was home and, more importantly, he was alive.
I started junior high and thought I had made some friends. After a couple of weeks, however, I became the center of a lot of rumors. Tom had started experimenting with drugs as well at this point, despite everything that happened to Dan. All the focus at home was on them. I quickly slipped under the radar. At school there was so much attention on me for being the size I was, being tall, and having the reputation of the druggie brothers. I can’t tell you how or why, but it was then that my eating disorder really kicked in. I started purging. I became a vegetarian as a way to cut out food without it raising suspicion. I started drinking. I also started self harming. I heard a lot of my friends talk about how depressed they were. In my mind, depression was something you only say you have when it’s serious. I didn’t know why but I didn’t like the overuse of the term. I had a feeling I had depression but I never wanted to believe it. I couldn’t be depressed, I was just sad.
Freshman year of highschool started out as the greatest time of my life. I had an unbelievable amount of friends. I equated this success to the success I had in engaging in my behaviors. So those ramped up real quick. I would skip breakfast and lunch. Some of my friends knew that I was doing this but for a while it was just… normal I guess? Then the time came where it wasn’t normal anymore. I went to lunch one day, as I did, and was ready to spend the entire period joking with them about things. They had other plans. They sat with me for a little bit and one finally said “Listen, we’re your friends. We love you. And we don’t want you to sit with us unless you can agree to eat lunch.” I laughed. I remember being so heartbroken that I laughed and cried and left the cafeteria immediately. If I couldn’t be friends with them, I would just find a new group. So I did. The party crowd. Drinking became my sport. It also made it easier to purge so, obviously, it was the perfect fit for me.
Towards the end of that year I started going to a nondenominational Christian-based youth program. Little did I know what was in store for this 14 year old atheist little girl. I’ll save you some time and tell you that I, reluctantly, went on a white water rafting trip that summer that changed my life. I had a very stereotypical “come to Jesus moment.” And I can’t express how much I needed that. Sadly, the weekend I got home from that trip I was invited to a pool party at my friend’s house and by pool party I mean me, her, some guy, and lots of beer. My friend was a very loud person when she drank so my rational thought was “well, if I drink it before she can then she won’t drink, won’t get loud, and we won’t get caught.” Sure, it worked. But that night I was sexually assaulted by that guy as well as her. He was sober, I was drunk, and so was my friend. He used this to his advantage.
Still, I started going to church. I started cleaning up my act in school. I even opened up about my disorder to a leader/mentor/friend who I respected (and still do). And that’s how sophomore year went. It just went. I continued to be more involved in my faith, I played soccer, and I did some after school clubs and theatre. I was never home. I had something each day of the week and made it my goal to never be in the house while my mother was there. Why? Well, that year, Sam ended up in rehab for substance abuse. As if I didn’t fly under the radar enough as is. I ended up disclosing to my mom the ways in which my eating disorder was present. Her exact words to me were “your brother has more important issues right now.”
I guess that was okay though because it didn’t matter anymore.
After my junior year of high school I went camping with my mom and her AA friends. We had gone to this campout for years. This year I was 16 turning 17. Which meant that Brian, the 18 year old cutie two campsites over, noticed me. This is a long story. But, again, I’ll spare you the details. He had taken a handful of xanax and brought me (willingly) to the bench. The bench was the place to go and makeout. So we did. He began tugging at my black shorts, and then the tugging turned into pulling. It became very scary and as this was happening I saw a little glow in the distance. It was Tom, coming up with his cigarette in hand, yelling “GET OFF MY SISTER.” Sam punched him in the face and the police came and I had to give my story. I was told the next day by Brian’s friend that he said “I’m going to get with her, whether she wants it or not. She has no say in this.”
I shut down.
The eating disorder became my best friend, the self harm was constant, and I started trying other drugs.
I graduated. It is beyond me as to how that happened, honestly.
That summer, of 2012, I had enough. I turned 18 and ran away from home. I moved in with a couple from my church. I opened up to Erica about the extent of my eating disorder and self harm. I told her about the plans I had made on August 22 to end my life. I showed her the harm I inflicted on myself and she insisted she was taking me to the hospital. I refused and cried and hurt myself more. I walked into the basement, where she and her husband were. She was crying in his arms and I stopped and looked at her and said “I think it’d be best if you took me to the hospital.” So we went. I was admitted inpatient at a behavioral health center where I was diagnosed with depression, bipolar disorder, ptsd, general anxiety disorder, and an eating disorder.
I was barely 18 years old and I was just starting the journey of acceptance. After a brief stint in inpatient I went back to Erica’s. I was doing php and then iop and on days when I wasn’t in group Jill spent time teaching me to drive, something my mother refused to allow me to do. Erica saved my life. And I ruined hers. She was there for me when I tore up my skin multiple times, came home with hickeys and guilt from another sexual assault, and encouraged me to eat by inviting me to have dinner with her and her husband every single night. They visited me in the hospital whenever they could. They sat with me as I filled out my intake paperwork. I put her down as my emergency contact, not my mom. Writing this part pains me so much because she was truly an amazing person. But I ruined her. My battle triggered memories of her own struggles. She was too busy helping me that she couldn’t keep up with school and ended up dropping out. She and her husband were supposed to move to San Francisco, they even invited me to go with, but they realized they needed to be close by family while she was in a vulnerable place. I don’t know exactly when things changed. All I know is that in November of 2012 I moved in with my dad and Erica and I haven’t said more than 3 words to each other since.
I see her at church from time to time. We exchange smiles and quickly flash a look of discomfort and escape planning. She now has two sons. They’re beautiful babies and she’s doing well. Still, I can’t help but think of how hard it must’ve been for her to have me in her life like that.
In 2013 I was living with my dad, AKA the greatest guy in the entire world. He stayed home from work every now and then just to make sure I had someone to talk to. He bought me flowers on my one year discharge-a-versery. He took me to get my drivers liscense. He helped me, finally, enroll in classes at the local community college. He even brought me food to have for my snacks when I got my first job as a camp counselor. This guy does it all. Never ending love and support.
And that’s how things went.
I had the occasional ED slip but I hid them well. What I couldn’t hide was my bipolar. These days, most people are shocked to hear that diagnosis. They don’t see me in my manias. But I feel them. That summer there was one particularly bad manic episode. I was a prayer partner for a cabin and I stayed up for 2 or 3 days, jumped from bunk to bunk, anxiously talked at the speed of light on our Milkshake Monday hang outs. To this day, I recall that as my worst manic episode. The crash from that was disastrous. I became so depressed that I broke the canvas of a painting I made and ripped out the wood with the plan of stabbing myself. I didn’t want to do anything messy so instead I took some of my klonopin. Not enough to harm myself but enough to sleep off the pain for a while. I told my then therapist. She told me it would be best if I found someone to talk to when I felt that way. I told her I thought I needed to go to the hospital because I didn’t think I could stay safe. She told me I was making a mistake by going because it was nothing.
But I went.
Two years later I went inpatient again for a suicide attempt. The “November Incident” as we call it. I had the internship of my dreams. I had fiends, and I mean the best friends you could ever ask for. I had a roof over my head. I had a crush on the most wonderfully God-centered person.
I was also very sick. I had delved deep into my disorder. I ate next to nothing, kept nothing down, started each day with laxatives, ended each day with a trip to the gym. It worked, I was losing weight. I was also losing my mind. I became so overwhelmed that I decided I just wanted to be done. I attempted. And right after that I called my new therapist and she told me to go to the hospital. My coworker/neighbor drove me. He sat with me all night. Through the night. He prayed with and for me.
Eventually I was allowed back at work. But nothing changed other than how people saw me. I was suddenly a disgrace and at the same time a warrior. I became so distant from my work due to my lack of ability to focus on anything but the disorder. I made a choice. I sought treatment and it meant leaving that job. I knew I needed it.
I went into residential treatment in January of 2016. I went in knowing nothing about this place. I went in alone and helpless. I spent my first two weeks completely silent while I slept on a black couch hidden away from the milieu. As time passed and I started to accept the care the staff and other patients had for me, it got a little easier. I went from res to PHP and then to IOP. In IOP things got difficult. I wasn’t ready to be in IOP but insurance was ready for me to be in IOP. I got scared and my automatic response to fear is death. So I planned and intended. So they sent me to the hospital. I went inpatient again, and honestly, I could rant for so long about the absolute shit show that was this place. I won’t.
I began to feel chronic. This is my life, forever. I got out and went back to PHP. Things were definitely hard. I can’t even tell you how many times they sent me to the ER to get IV fluids. But I managed. I got myself back to IOP and then discharged on July 29th. The day after my birthday.
That fall I was in school, I had a new amazing job, and I was doing theatre at my school. I made my best friend through that stay in treatment and so I spent a lot of time facetiming her and updating her on the Chicago life. November, which just seems to be a problem month for me, came with one of the largest set backs.
At 22 years old I was a virgin. I held on so tightly to saving myself for marriage as a Christian. Not in a “I’ll judge you for having premarital sex” type of way, but it was something I felt proud of for myself. I’m human, so obviously, I had wants. There was one night that I happened to have the house to myself and because I had been toying with the idea of just doing it I decided I would. I met a guy, invited him over. We both knew why. It was about to happen and I suddenly panicked. I said to him “…please, actually, no. Please stop.” He didn’t. I remember it all so clear. This is a little graphic so please don’t feel the need to read on. It was on my couch in the front room. I was wearing a maroon turtleneck and grey leggings. My blue quilt was laid out on the couch. When he decided to continue I fell silent. Completely frozen. I started bleeding a little bit. When he saw this he stopped and without saying a word, left my house. I sat there shame washing over me. Pure shame. I went to the shower and cried. I threw the quilt in the washer and made sure there was no blood on the couch. People may wonder why I didn’t just throw the quilt away. How could I throw away a “perfectly good” blanket without raising suspicion. I mentioned at the beginning that no one knew about my childhood trauma until much later. It was right before I first went into treatment, in 2012, that it came out. It wrecked my dad. How could I ever let him know that his baby girl was hurt again? So I put on a brave face every day. Every time I come in and sit on that couch, I remind myself that I never want my dad to know my pain.
And so it began. I was already, at this point, completely damaged. So why not? I slept with 8 strangers in a span of 2 weeks. I also had a relationship building with a girl I met from treatment. She became my world. I drove an hour out to see her every week, at least twice a week. She was the first girl I slept with. Feelings grew deeper and I would do anything to keep her close. Including drugs. I bought, sold, did, and traded. She was impressed and I was happy. Although the feelings for her and the drug use began before the rape, they played a big part in a very quick deep spiral.
I had been out of treatment for 3 months or so when my therapist gave me an ultimatum. Go back, or find a new therapist. I went back.
I did IOP because I was still balancing work, school, friends, and the lead in Beauty and the Beast at my school. My very first day back I was sent to the ER. 6 days later I was being stepped up to PHP. 6 days later I was back in res. Step up, step down, step up. I was in res for a third time. This time was different. I was not doing well. In the past, I would get to res and the eating got a little easier. I could go from days without eating to eating close to fine. This time not so much. Everything was so real and raw. I got a feeding tube put in after 3 days. Eventually it came out and with it went my apathy. I needed that third time in res. I have never felt so cared for and genuinely loved by a team of people. The nurses were there laughing with me, and comforting me constantly. One of them literally wiped away my tears when I was doubting my ability to keep it up. The BHCs calmed me, sat with me, encouraged me, and reminded me that I’m not alone. The therapists brought hope and joy to every single day. And the dietitians showed me that eating more than a mandarin orange cup every day is okay to do.
I stepped down to PHP and was rejoined with the therapist I had worked with for most of my previous stay. This woman teaches me about dialectics every damn day because not a day goes by where I don’t both love and hate her. She pushes me. Sometimes to the point where I feel like I’m breaking, but I don’t. I grow.
I guess that brings me to now. I’m still in IOP. I’m still battling disordered thoughts on a daily basis. But that’s the thing, I’m battling them. I’m not just letting them win. Even if they do win for that moment, that day, that meal, whatever… I don’t go down without a fight.
That’s where I’m at. I’m healing. I’m grateful. I’m powerful. I never thought I’d say this, but, I am worthy.
So I guess this is my chance to be 100% honest. Ask me questions, tell me things, this is my vulnerability.