I firmly believe God uses every experience we have in this life for His glory when we step out of the way. Often times it takes time for us to see this come to be but when we get a glimpse of the tapestry of our lives that God is weaving we see everything woven into His design and we see how He uses our greatest challenges, hurts, sorrows and wasted years to be a beautiful addition to our lives.
In school I always felt different and it went beyond the fact I was always overweight, suffering by being teased by the kids and the last one chosen for any sports team. I was different inside. I, as did my brother and sister, bore the awful “family secret” inside us and it was not only painful and ugly but heavy as well. We knew never to speak of the secret outside our home, and rarely did we even acknowledge it at home or to one another. The endured rages from our father that often escalated into violence and physical abuse upon my brother and I and the horrific emotional rages our mother spewed out on all of us were more than any kid should have to bear, especially bear alone. But bear it we did our whole lives.
In high school as a sophomore the secrets I was keeping became way more than I could emotionally handle. I would sit in church and pray for help. Pray for strength to ask for help. Pray for a person to ask. But the hold of these secrets was stronger than my faith. Every time I would leave services determined to tell my parents I needed help one of them would lose their control and I knew asking for help was impossible. There was no way my dad would allow the family secret to become known outside our walls.
I had been madly in love with a sophomore boy when I was a freshman. He was dark and moody. Quite like my father. Only our relationship initially was the opposite in some way. When it was just Sam* and I he was sweet and caring. He made promises to love me forever and talked of marriage. He wrote me sweet notes and slipped them to me when no one was looking or dropped them into my locker. But when anyone else was around, Sam treated me as a pest. He avoided my attention. He made fun of me behind my back. He told people they had to keep me away from him. When I would confront him with these things, for kids gossiped and I heard it, Sam would deny he had said anything or point out that he avoided me publically because he was a sophomore and I was a freshman and his friends would tease him about it, plus, he said, he didn’t want our relationship to get back to his parents who would not allow us to date. Towards the end of my freshman year the relationship changed. Sam was no longer sweet to me at all. He openingly ridiculed me and the notes he left for me had knives dripping with blood draw in the background or guns with smoke puffing out. After all these years I can still see those notes.
Over the summer between my freshman and sophomore year I decided to drop band to avoid Sam. I reasoned that playing the baritone wasn’t something I was extraordinary at anyway because I was actually a year behind since I hadn’t been allowed to take band until the 8th grade. Despite the fact it was something that had me involved in school beyond academics I knew I couldn’t handle another year like my freshman year. I did pray about the decision but I willfully walked out of God’s will and decided to take a class in vocational education instead of band. I decided with my interest in writing I would take printing. This was the day before computerized typesetting when type was still set by hand in most print shops. It was a rougher type group of kids involved than I was normally around. The teacher turned out to be far more interested in sex than in teaching. He created a situation in class that ended up with several of us being questioned by the school and the next year the printing option for vocational education was discontinued.
Class was tense and the undercurrent had a feeling I was all too familiar with, it was the one we had at home, the one of expected violence with the slightest provocation. I knew I needed help. I also knew I was helpless to get it. Had I gone to my parents I knew my father would say no. He was too fearful of the family secret being exposed, there would be no way he would allow me to talk to a therapist. My mother was not strong enough to stand up for me to him on something this serious and frankly, she had her own reasons for wanting the family secret to remain secret.
So I did something foolish. At the water fountain in the printing classrooms I took 40 Dexatrim diet pills. Yes, 40. By the time we got back to our high school for lunch I was loopy and afraid. I confessed to a teacher who took me to the office and my mother was called. She took me to our doctor’s office and from there I was carried by ambulance to the hospital. The pills messed up my heart rhythm and I was in intensive care being monitored. My father came in the second day and read me the riot act. He told me he had searched my room, he and my mother had read my journals, my short stories and poetry and he concluded I was living in a “dream world”. He burned it all. I was never to keep another journal, write another story or poem. My dream world, as Daddy defined it, was in ashes. With that news my heart beat went crazy and the nurses rushed in, one hissing at him “Do you not understand you shouldn’t upset her like this right now? Do you want her to die?” My father simply turned and left the room. She must have heard what he had said, he hadn’t bothered to keep his voice down and the nurse’s station was only steps away from my room.
Once I was stable again she tried to assure me that Daddy would surely change his mind and that he had spoken to me like he had and burned those things out of concern for you. But she and I both knew different. The difference was she would not have to go on with her life in this situation, I would.
Everyone pressed wanting to know why I had tried to kill myself. I didn’t have an answer. In my mind killing myself wasn’t the goal. It was the only way to get help that I saw. It was certainly stupid, I realized that then and now, but to my overly crowded mind and shattered heart it was all I had.
The school board agreed to readmit me and take the incident off my school record provided I receive professional counseling. So, every other week for a few months I was allowed to go to a therapist office and talk. I found great comfort in knowing I could be honest with this woman. I didn’t have to hide my secrets. But I also knew the “family secrets” could not be revealed or we would be forced into foster care my father told me. I showed the therapist Sam’s notes, recent ones I had received once I was back at school. Rambling ones where he expressed his deep love for me on one hand and demanded proof I wasn’t Jewish on the other. One note would have pictures of flowers drawn on it and the next knives sometimes dripping with blood.
Both of my parents had to go too, usually one would go before or after me and the other another day. Daddy was almost always the one who would take me. My therapist began to suspect Daddy was listening to our session and began watching the door closely. Once she wrote me a note that said, “Please just keep talking. I need to go to the door.” My back was to the door so I couldn’t see what she had seen but I spun around when she yanked open the door and confronted my father about listening to our session.
My session was cut short and Daddy’s began. He didn’t mention what happened and neither did I, although I was curious. I also suspected I’d never see the therapist again. Sure enough Daddy had Mama call the school board and tell them we couldn’t afford the sessions anymore. Since I’d been, as had they, the school board was satisfied.
I’ve lived a lifetime with this secret. I’ve lived a life time with many secrets. But I’ve found more and more often God is bringing back with amazing clarity events surrounding these secrets. Like this one, a memory I had not consciously thought of for many years.
I could weep for the troubled teenager I was then. I could weep for a father so selfish and out of control of himself he punished everyone who loved him most. I could weep for a mother who as she got older realized her limitations and leaned on God much more so that her emotional rages were greatly reduced. Both of my parents suffered with depression. Mama was the only one who ever sought help.
Had someone intervened, and there were people who knew despite our efforts to keep what happened at home a secret, I might never have taken 40 diet pills as a way to force my parents to get me help. Had Daddy allowed the sessions to go on he might have been able to see his own hurt and pain and find healing himself. Mama might have gotten help sooner.
Life is full of “if only” and “what if”. But it is also now, it is reality.
If someone you know, maybe even you yourself, suffer from depression – be kind to yourself and those around you, get help. There is no shame in reaching for a hand to help you get out of the pit you’re in.
If someone you know, or you yourself, go through your days with a “family secret” of abuse of any kind, speak up. It will alter things forever but surely for the better.
If you’re hanging onto a love for someone that isn’t being returned, let go. Sam never loved me. I’d like to think that somewhere in his messed up mind he did but truth is he didn’t. Sam had his own issues he needed to deal with and his own family secrets to hide.
Consider your life and look back to see where God has woven the sorrowful and toughest times into a spot of beauty in the tapestry of your life. I do. I see the strength God has woven into me when I look back at my freshman and sophomore years. I’m grateful my cry for help wasn’t ignored and that I had someone for a little while to help me through for it enabled me to seek help on my own later in my life without hesitation.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28, NIV.
*Name changed to protect identity.