Why Lent Gives Me Strength and Matters To Me


 

First —- Happy Easter! I hope today was a wonderful day for you. 

Second —- I had a very different approach to this post when I originally wrote it and so this is a new post that I wrote today, based on my feelings right now—- the message was the same, but the way that I viewed the situation changed while I was sitting in church this morning listening to a sermon about Jesus Christ dying on the cross, followed by the resurrection 3 days later. Walking out of the church, the message that came through to me was that the point of this season is to reflect on our deepest darkest times; we need to face the things that scare us, that control us and don’t allow us to be free —- we need to “bear our cross” and participate in the resurrection ourselves. And of course, as always, LOVE! (but that doesn’t necessarily relate to this post —- although self love is pretty important and very relevant…)

12 years ago I started to participate in Lent. I would give something up fo 40 days, or decide to dedicate myself to a project or a subject. In the past I was not participating for myself —- I was not participating to grow or to learn more about my religion —- I was not participating to heal. I have participated in this tradition every year to remind myself of how strong I actually am. How I can survive the worst times and the darkest days. And this reminder, every year, the season of Lent, keeps me gong until the next season when I wake up on February 13th and spend the next couple of months in a funk that won’t go away until after Easter Sunday.

You can do the math on the year, but right out of high school I started dating a guy a few years older than me. I was 18 at the time and this guy went to my high school — he was popular, a jock, and lived in another state going to college on a sports scholarship. Why wouldn’t this appeal to me? I was young, innocent, wide eyed, and completely naive to the ways of the world.

Have you ever watched a movie, heard second hand stories of abused women who never leave their spouse (domestic parter, boyfriend / girlfriend) after the very first instance of abuse, in any form…. Well, it’s not that black and white…. It doesn’t break down to a simple stop, drop, and roll out of that relationship… here is why. 

After moving out of state, in with a boy for the first time, and onto a college campus where there were parties every night—- all the time! —- and you only have to be 19 to enter the bars (well most of them) and while the drinking age was still 21, the bars knew how to make money —- when you entered the bar you got carded by the bouncer, naturally, and after they have confirmed that you are old enough to enter they would mark you in a way that the bartenders would know if you were 19-20 or of you were 21+. H O W E V E R … the “idiots” (good bar owners?) would 99% of the time, would mark you in a way that you could switch it up and everyone, regardless of their age brackets, would be able to drink; and the other 1% of the time, the 19-20 year olds would just have their older friends buy them drinks + if the cops showed up you just put your drink down + try to act as sober as possible. The other drinking option is to avoid the bars —- pre-game with some friends —- then head out to a big party. 

Parties at this campus were segregated. There were always divisions in the parties —- specific sports had specific parties with a specific guest list. There were sports teams that were “friends” and would co-mingle at these parties; however, even the jocks were not on the same team. But I can tell you that the jocks are not friends with the frat boys 100% —- 100%. Party drinks mostly consisted of a “delicious” cocktail called Jungle Juice, which is liters (yes, liters) of the cheapest vodka you could find —- and I’m not talking about Skyy or Smirnoff —- I am talking Everclear —- mixed with Kool-Aid in some form of large container, such as a garbage can. Of course, the point of all of these drinking options is —- to get as drunk as possible. 

DUHHHHHH! 

It’s college, it’s what you do, you party and you have fun and you get all the wild and craziness out of your system before you have to grow up and become a real adult. 

My 19th birthday started off with my car getting towed, after I specifically asked to have my car moved - or at least to be able to park it somewhere else. Of course I / we couldn’t afford to get it from the tow company and had to call his (back to my ex and the real story here) parents, who probably couldn’t afford it either, to wire us some money ($400) to get the car out and to be able to pay our bills. Side note —- none of the extra money was used to pay bills, it was used for eating and drinking, and the call for more money was made again… this would not be the last time the call of desperation was made, it was a relatively routine call that we made —- always asking for money that was rarely used for the purpose it was intended for which would only make the entire situation come full circle and finish right where it started, begging “mom” for more money. After finally getting the car back into our possession, we went to dinner and then hit the bars, because of course, I could finally get into the bars and wanted to take that ID out on the town!

I couldn’t tell you anything about the places we went or who we were hanging out with —- my memories include the car tow, dinner at this place that I loved to eat at. The next and most memorable part of my birthday was when we got home and I was pinned to the floor as he was straddling me from shoulder to shoulder, sitting on my chest making it hard to breathe, as he started to repeatedly hit me for what seemed like an hour.  The incident was probably over in 10 minutes, but I remember crying for hours after it was over. I was so sad and so upset, of course with the situation, but mostly at myself for putting myself in such a vulnerable position, I thought I was safe, and I swore that I would never be one of those women who stays in an abusive relationship —- I was upset about what happened. I was broken physically. And I was prepared to wake up in the morning, pack up, and leave, go back home, and never look back. My heart was broken because I thought I was going to have to leave the man I loved. It was confusing; my mind was telling me one thing about the situation and my heart was telling me another… In the morning, the sentences that came out of his mouth “I am so sorry. I was drunk. I love you and I will never treat you like that again.” —- OK, I’ll stay.

And after the first time, it became so much easier to brush off all of the incidences that happened while we were a couple. The physical, sexual, and emotional abuse that followed was easily brushed off by the explanation of “I’m sorry. I was drunk. I love you and I will never treat you like that again.” As the abuse became a routine it broke me down little by little until I was so broken and under his control that I couldn’t even see how abused I was. Yes, physical and / or sexual abuse were events that are memorable — they are events that happen to you, and they are recorded into your brain, never to escape but waiting to be faced head on in the future to process, and try to grow from the situation.

You are stuck in a trap that feels as though like you are walking through the most beautiful jungle; there are exotic birds and plants, wonderful animals… you get the point… and while you are so entranced by the scenery around you, you don’t notice the pit of quicksand you just walked into. In the beginning you start to panic as you feel yourself sinking into the ground, but it seems like you are only one step away from getting out of the sinking sand and back onto your journey through the jungle —- as you are trying to step away, out of the sand to enjoy the scenery around you, you realize that you are stuck and there is nothing you can do to get out (it really starts to feel that way) and eventually, as you are paralyzed in the sinking pit, you start to notice the darkness hiding in the beautiful jungle you had been exploring yet never noticed. The shadows, the bugs, the creepy crawlies and the predators start to appear and you eventually see that there is no way out of the quicksand, so you just give up the fight and let it engulf you completely. You are either going down in the quicksand or you will be eaten by a predator.

I was pulled out of the quicksand moments before I gave up completely. My dad came to save me. He flew out to get me after a call begging for help getting home. I called him in the middle of the Lenten season. I had gone to church for Ash Wednesday for the first time, probably ever, and went into the season with the intent that I would be able to give up something that mattered most —- he was going to give up drinking —- everything was going to be ok —- everything was going to be perfect despite what had happened… This was going to fix EVERYTHING!!!

We went to church, we participated in lent, until he didn’t. Within a week we were out at parties again —- the abuse was continuing and we were not only fighting ourselves, but we were getting into fights with strangers on the way home. (yes, I was awesomely involved in physical fights with random strangers as well) Until, finally one night, the precious snow globe  was thrown against the wall; breaking into a million little pieces, and letting me out of the world that had been built around me —- trapping me and not allowing me to escape.

On February 12th or 13th, depending on how you want to count the day… A fight began and I did not want to go home —- I had a few girlfriends there, who also had abusive boyfriends, go figure —- and went back to a friends apartment hoping I could stay the night, letting him have some space to cool down and keep me in a safe place. I was “allowed” to stay for a while, but was told that at the end, me staying there was going to be worse for everyone at the end of the day, and going home was the right thing to do.

When I got home —- my stuff was piled up —- I was getting kicked out. The fight went on and on and on until finally he walked into the kitchen, grabbed a handful of steak knives, and started to stab himself repeatedly in the chest. I called 9-1-1, the ambulance came to take him away, I was forced to call his coach (who already did not like me, and ultimately blamed me for the situation) and his parents. I couldn’t get to the hospital fast enough, and that night a blizzard began, the snow started to get deeper by the minute and when I was walking to the car I was sinking into the snow past my knees —- it felt like I was walking so hard and not moving an inch. It took me probably 2 hours to get there, normally a 15 minute drive. He was incredibly lucky, he missed all of the major arteries and did not hit his heart. I came home alone that night only to clean up the puddle of blood that was in the kitchen and thought I could make it to the other side of this. He came home a few days later, I nursed him back to health, he missed a week of school, but did not miss any sporting events. After everything seemed “fixed” —- we had a great few weeks following his hospital visit —- everything was great, just like it was in the beginning, when there was no one around and we isolated ourselves creating the bubble of naivety that transformed into my prison. It was great of course, until he started drinking again.

The abuse began all over again. It started with emotional, slowly —- it crawled back in so I didn’t notice it until emotional and sexual abuse began again. The mental abuse, and the breaking down of my everything until I was an empty shell. I had one of the worst nights of my life —- a combination of more abuse than I had ever experienced mixed with the feeling of my soul leaving and my spirit giving up completely. I had given up that night, but woke up in survival mode the next morning. I reached out to my dad who arrived within 24 hours to drive home with me. 

I am lucky to have a support system, I had the help that I needed to get out of the situation, but it wasn’t fast enough. 1 year changed my entire life. It changed my belief system, it banished my naive self, it made me an empty body that was able to be refilled, and it hardened me to the realities of the real world. All of my life experiences have made me who I am and I wouldn’t change anything about who I am now or how my life is shaping out to be. But, I do wish that I could have escaped my bad situation earlier. Staying in the relationship until I left it didn’t make me weak. It put me between a rock and a hard place. It broke me down and even though I am still recovering, I make sure to take 40 days (minimum) a year to reflect on how I experienced pain and suffering for a year and how I became strong enough to stand up for myself. I escaped, I got out of the quicksand, and I am starting to build myself back up. 

I am a stronger person for it and participating in the reminder of the pain and suffering Jesus went through for us is a great time for me to reflect on the darkest period of my life —- the time that I went through the most pain and suffering —- to remind me that I can make it, that I will make it and that I am stronger because of the path that I have walked, the path of my life that has lead me exactly to this moment. I participate for the reminder of how I got here and how I made it here and now and into this new self that I love, regardless of the bruises and scars I may still be holding onto.