My body betrays me, again.
I jolt awake from another nightmare. My ears are ringing and my back is sticky with sweat against the sheets. My eyes take a few seconds to get adjusted. I look at the clock - same time as always. I’m back in my high school bedroom. Plenty of dates gone too far in here, but that’s not why I shoot awake at 4 AM tonight. And every single night for the past ten days. That memory lingers a short 50 yards outside my front door where just last week a friend pinned me against a tree and raped me. It’s a blur as it flashes in my head. Talking – kissing goodnight – their thumb digging into my left elbow – their other hand ripping down my pants ...
I slip off my bed and load a bowl of weed, chasing a high that could calm my racing mind. It simply doesn’t exist though; this was a different type of shock. They penetrated my circadian rhythm. I could smoke a hundred bowls and still not feel safe in my own body.
as a child
I look down at my elbow and see the faint remnants of bruising – large spreads from their hands and smaller ones that line my vein from countless needles that had graced my arms in the past month for various tests and procedures. It feels like a sick joke seeing them interwoven on my arm, leading to my utter despair. The rape is a hopeless diagnosis for my soul while the Lyme disease is a hopeless diagnosis for my body. I’m exhausted and in pain. My present is unbearable and I don’t see a future. I want to die.
The first assault on my body took place when I was sexually abused as a child. When I did come forward I was mostly dismissed. Formative, to say the least. My voice: too young, too quiet, too wrong. My body: to be played with, experimented with. What followed was years of continued neglect of my body and soul.
Multiple health issues as a teenager led to my official withdrawal from my dream college. I was crushed. Everything I had built crumbled. The basket I put all my eggs in vanished. All because my body just couldn’t perform. If I had any pride left, it was squashed with that. I was in debilitating pain and unable to eat anything without throwing up seconds later. Nothing could explain what was causing me to wither away, one pound at a time. My shot-in-the-dark attempts at regimens acted as such. I was watching myself die with seemingly no answers.
Doctor after doctor, every appointment seemed to end in another dismissal. Once again, I found myself too young, too quiet and too wrong. To be unwell and trying to prove it was thoroughly discouraging. After continual negative results, a friend recommended a test for a disease nicknamed “The Great Imitator .”
A few days later I sat in a freezing office with my first positive test in my hand: Lyme disease. Finally, a name put to my pain (or so I thought it was that simple). I felt a rush of emotions. I felt relieved and grateful, but as she continued to explain how it was attacking my nervous system, hope dwindled. My mind wandered; I wasn’t worried about specifics. It was as if she was writing a prescription for a half-life, which might as well have felt like a prescription for death. I didn’t want this. The ink on the paper looked more like writing in stone: “Your body is broken, probably too broken to ever fully heal.”
Only two nights before I had another writing in stone moment – this one for my soul. A late-night chat ended in a violent rape. Only when I began to retch did they finally acknowledge my cries and step away in disgust. After being confronted by someone about the bruises, I began to share. The follow-up questions quickly became overwhelming and led to feelings of shame, guilt and regret. I began to wonder things of my own. What if I hadn’t been up late in the first place? What if I wasn’t underweight? What if it happens again? My mind was unrelenting every waking moment. When I did sleep it was far from restful, tormented with flashbacks or foretellings of twisted future versions. This was a deep breaking unlike anything I’d experienced.
I was shattered. Hopeless. Toying with thoughts of suicide shifted to contemplating. If I even believed in God anymore, where was he? Where was he when I received the stage 3 Lyme diagnosis? Where was this father at 4 in the morning as I was pinned to a tree? On the other hand, maybe it was my fault because I had “lived outside the lines.” Maybe I was too messed up for it to matter. My questions were numerous and unanswered.
I filled the void. Cheap food, cheap drugs, cheap alcohol and cheap sex. I was reckless with myself and others, chipping away my soul to strangers with hookups and ingesting unknown poisons for a few-hour high. Between my destructive habits and the self-attacking disease, my biggest enemy seemed to be myself. I hated who I had become. I felt too far to ever be good for myself or others. I guess I understood why my God had “forgotten” me, or so it felt that way.
But, he didn’t.
People began pointing to Jesus as the answer to my life of problems. Ironically, I pointed to my life of problems as evidence that Jesus could not be trusted. I was unwilling to give up control – my deadliest poison. I was stubborn, bitter and hopeless, suppressing all the above with whatever I could to not be sober. I hated my reality. My body continued to reject everything while I continued to reject the idea that my physical pain could be hinting at a deeper inner thorn. This living was unsustainable. The symptoms were unbearable for me but also undeniable to those around me. My life wouldn’t last long this way.
My close friends sat with me and simply said, “This is serious. You need help.” Initially, I was angry that it was happening and that they were probably right. I was gripping so tightly to my pride and fear and it had led straight to death’s door. I felt far from God – maybe too far to be restored. But, I could see his love in the devotion of my friends. I could see his love in his pursuit of my life. Clearly, what I had been trying hadn’t worked. And I was so, so tired. I agreed to get help.
While seeking, God began asking me to look past myself and my doctors and look to him as The Physician. I had to throw away my ideas of what healing might entail or look like. I had to believe I was worth more than blurred lines and experimenting, that I was made for order, intention and boundaries.
God was asking for my heart, for radical surrender - maybe that could save me. I was so sick I didn’t even know what I needed. I had to be retrained to function as designed. Who better to lead than the designer himself.
Slowly but surely, my body began to respond. And then my brain. And then my heart. He showed me where I had been fractured and could no longer neglect it. My sickness went deeper than I had known, but God was doing a deeper work than I knew. After years of not trusting people with myself, it was the biggest display of love I’d personally experienced: more thorough than any doctor, more empathetic than any counselor.
God offered new insight on my sickness. That at 22, I had been given the opportunity to start addressing the ways that my life was out of alignment with its intended design. Without his intervention, I would still be sick through and through. On the inside – trying to prove my worth through frivolous things – and on the outside, having no care for the things I put in and around me. The most worthy one had heard my cries and stooped low to listen. He brought order into my life one thing at a time – diets, medications, forgiveness, counseling, relationships – and naturally the realignment began to yield life.
I used to see two options: sick or healthy. Now I see myself in a separate category: healing. Wholeness is a journey, not a destination. A journey where Jesus is beside me and guiding me. He always leads to life, to more wholeness. He’s the Creator – how illogical to think I could find those things elsewhere.
This journey is a decision each day. Though I often stumble, Jesus never gets angry or impatient. He knows my fears and leads with care. He reminds me that I am more than what I’ve done or the things done to me. I’m learning how the sensitivity I’ve gained can actually be used for good – as empathy, guidance and hope.
I share my story as a way of pointing to the life I’ve found – life that waits for you, too. You were made with purpose. Don’t put limits on what healing and wholeness in Jesus can look like. He created every layer and cares about addressing each of them.