The Road Between Abusive Behavior + Becoming A Healer

The night I tried to kill myself was the first time I had a mystical experience. In the numbness, in the fading, in the still pulsing shame and grief, in the silence of an empty apartment I felt a hand on my head and a hand on my chest. I felt the presence of something warm, and steady, and unashamed. I knew, if I could open my eyes, I would see them. I knew The Divine were moving all around me like a flow of energy. I knew I was being held somehow and I can still, to this day, feel the weight of that relief. My heartbreak was held here. My deep loneliness was soothed here. Shame faded, but so did I. 

It’s important to know why I was at the end of myself, why I wanted to die. I had been raised in the christian church, in Sunday school, in youth groups, in ministries, in youth conferences, in christian internships, in prayer meetings, in bible studies, in obsessive quiet times, in the laying on of hands, in highly emotional worship experiences, in the gift of tongues, in the rejection of anything considered secular, in prophecies, in purity culture. 

I had been raised in purity culture. 

I had been sexually assaulted twice before I was 10 years old, once when I was 16, and multiple times after that. Purity culture preaches virginity - the mythical “gift” that can be given or taken, but once it’s gone it’s gone. You sit in blue padded chairs in the fellowship hall while youth leaders give you visuals that represent sexual purity. The crushed flower that can never regain it’s shape and beauty. The torn paper that can never return to it’s wholeness and integrity. Too many people carry the trauma of those teachings, too many people have to heal themselves from the bullshit of purity culture. The first time I heard that message I knew I didn’t stand a chance at being pure, I had already had that stripped from me. But I didn’t talk about it, didn’t confess it, didn’t think about it. I had survived it when it happened and I thought I could survive the growing shame of my deeply broken self. I was the equivalent of a dry drunk; nothing had been healed or processed. I was just barely hanging on by modifying my behavior to match the expectation of a good christian girl. I was slowly dying, consumed by loneliness, anxiety, depression, and shame. I was fading away long before I took half a bottle of Tylenol PM. 

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When I was 17 I met Kenny. He told me later that it took him awhile but at some point he said, "That girl. I'm into that girl." We started dating the summer we were at PrayerStorm in Colorado Springs and there we were, completely immersed in purity culture together - terrified of breaking the rules that we definitely wanted to break. We were good kids, you guys. We truly loved each other and from day one we had some kind of psychic, energetic connection. I thought I wanted to marry him (because that's what you do in the church - you get married as fast as you fucking can). He was present with me in a way that no one else had really been before. If we were in a room full of people I always knew I was seen and that tapped into a hunger I didn't know I had. I needed to be seen and known and Kenny did that for me. 

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Not long into our relationship I found out that someone who had a lot of power over Kenny was abusing him. It was hard to see and I didn't know what to do other than try to heal him. I remember closing his bedroom door while he sat tense, angry, and scared. I would curl up with him and try to absorb the pain from his body, feeling every spark of it. We were so young and he didn't know what to do with the abuse, because who the hell does? So the pattern started to develop: he would get fucked up, I would try to heal him, he would go cold or get angry, we would fight, and I learned what gaslighting was. We went on like this for months, swinging between loving each other and angry fights. At the same time, purity culture was a motherfucker. He was desperate for someone to tell him HOW to do this and he was met with "You're not touching her, are you?" around almost every turn. He needed someone to father him and I needed someone to take me away from all of it. Of course patriarchy assumes that boys are sexually deviant and girls have to be convinced to be sexual, so he was confronted and shamed much more than I was. But no one knew that I was the one constantly asking him if we were gonna do this or what. He had spent far too long being bullied by the church and that boy kept us from doing the damn thing, which often felt like a rejection for me. I wanted to heal him. I wanted to heal me. For the first time in my life I WANTED to have sex. I wanted to be able to give consent for once. But we were already unraveling and there was too much shame already filling the air between us. I started to feel like I couldn't get out of bed in the morning, like I couldn't figure out how to keep showing up with him. I was running dry, but I didn't know that leaving was really an option until he told me it was. In one of our fights I remember telling him that I wanted to be with him, but not like this. And, in his hurt and anger, he told me that I had a big decision to make. So I did. We broke up and the dam of pain opened up and swallowed us whole. It was hard to see him without touching him, hard to talk to him without wavering. I couldn't get my footing so I packed up my car and moved to the PNW to live with my family. 

Living there was all healing and it was all heartbreak. I would have panic attacks in the middle of the night, dreaming that I hadn't really ended the cycle. I would spend most of my mornings staring out the window at the water and crying. I was so fucking alone and I didn't know if I could survive it. The awakening came for me in a Glamour magazine article on emotional abuse. I read those words detailing what it was and felt my heart drop into my stomach. I felt sick for a long time, but I also felt alive. I got it. I had a name for what had happened and that meant I could start healing. I started practicing yoga there, I stopped having panic dreams every night, I stopped feeling so afraid of stepping foot off the island. 

So I went home and I asked Kenny to meet me. We sat at a table at Wendy's with all of our friends at another table so we weren't alone. I told him about the article and I asked him if he thought he had been abusive. He didn't even blink. He made eye contact with me and said, "Yes. I see that and I'm so sorry." I for sure didn't expect that response, but it gave me a little sliver of peace. We left that Wendy's and only saw each other again once before the week I tried to kill myself. 

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He came back into town to make amends. Someone told me he was here and he wanted to see me, but I was bleeding out. I was so dark, so lost, so broken. I was barely hanging on and I was SO MAD at my friends for hanging out with him again like nothing had happened. But I let him come over one night. He walked past my boyfriend, the guys hanging out in my apartment, the beer bottles on every surface, and sat at the foot of my bed. He wasn't mad or disgusted, he just looked into my face and said, "What are you doing? This isn't you." I wanted to hurt him then. I wanted to hurt anyone other than my own already barely beating heart. I told him I was sleeping with my boyfriend and asked him how he felt about it. He just kind of shrugged and said, "I don't love it. At all. It's not great, but where are you?".

He left that night and I didn't know how I felt about our conversation, but I knew I was completely out of control. I had no sense of myself left in my body. I didn't know what I was holding onto anymore and it was only a few days later when I locked the deadbolts on my door, swallowed those pills, and waited for everything to just stop. I wanted life and pain and ache to just leave me alone. 

I asked him recently why he came to my apartment that night and he told me that he remembers exactly where he was standing and what he was talking to joe about when that psychic connection we have kicked in. His heart started to ache and he knew it was me. So he just left and drove to my house. There will never be an explanation for why the deadbolts were unlocked and the door was wide open, but he came in and knew right away what was happening. He didn't panic. He just started making me drink gallons of water and then pulling me to the bathroom to pee it all out again. I couldn't even feel my legs at that point and everything is so foggy for me, but it went on all night. He flushed it all out of my system and the next day at the hospital they told me that Kenny had saved my life and my kidneys. 

He slept on my couch that night, checked on me every 15 minutes. I remember waking up with sunlight slicing through the window into the world's worst headache. I laid there for awhile watching him sleep on the couch through my bedroom door. I felt this thing shift in me and I knew that I had to get out. Out of all of it. I had to either wake up and stop trying to be something I wasn't or I was going to die. He took me to church that morning and I just sat in the pew and cried. There was nothing for me there. There was no comfort, or answer, or hope. There was just the empty familiarity of a pew I had been sitting on for half my life. 

Kenny stuck around for awhile after that. I was on suicide watch so he would take turns with Joe and Nicole, driving me to and from work. Once he and Joe took me to a BBQ and I just couldn't do anything other than sit on a porch swing outside so he sat with me. He let me feel. That was when I stopped being angry with him. I felt like he had come back and healed something for me, he had redeemed the pain of our past relationship.

But when Joe and I started dating, Kenny left again. He said it would be too hard to watch the girl he loved and his best friend date - and that was super fair. That was it. For the next 15 years I didn't hear from him, didn't seek him out. We moved forward in our own ways and created lives that existed outside of one another. 

But then about 5 months ago I got a notification from Facebook telling me that Kenny had accepted my friend request. I didn't remember even sending him one and he hadn't logged into Facebook in years. He messaged me right away and I went into that first conversation so hesitantly, I had no idea who he was now. We stayed on the phone until the middle of the night, we talked about everything. Legit everything. 

And, babes, here's the thing: I fucking needed this friendship at this exact time. The first time we saw each other in person again we drove out to the desert until there was nothing but stars, and saguaros, and coyotes. That night was mystical for me. I felt something unlock in me that I had been trying to get at for SO LONG. I came home at 5am and knew that I could be alone now. Something about his exact energy, our exact story, and the way he still sees me wherever I am in the room, temple priestessed me into doing something I have needed to do for an epically long time. 

He told me that night that, over the years, he's had that same heart feeling happen like the night I tried to kill myself, but he thought I was happy so he ignored it. I'm never going to forget him telling me that it makes him so sad to know now that it WAS me he was feeling. I was so alone for most of my marriage, knowing someone in the world psychicly felt the pain with me is so valuable. Gina says that this is what needed to happen for both me and Kenny to heal the past relationship and to move into the friendship we were always meant to have. All of the good of who we are still meets each other so naturally. We are clearer, older, stronger, and we've both done so much work to heal the shit that left us so broken. We've had a hundred conversations about what it was like to live through purity culture while we were dating each other, how fucked up that made us, and how free we are from it now. It's helped me heal some of those wounds to hear his perspective now, knowing that we were constantly shamed for sitting too close to each other on the couch or ever being alone. 

We've made amends and built a new friendship. We've aligned ourself with this commitment to be FOR each other for the rest of our lives. We've worked out what we needed to because it took a minute for us to decide if we were going to be friends or more than friends. We read through old letters I had written him and felt those old aches again. We chose each other in a new way, in an unconventional way, just grateful to have healed something that was so monumental for both of us. 

He's one of my very best friends. I love him. I talk to him every day. He holds ground with me when I feel like I can't breathe. He encourages me to stay true to who I am. He reminds me of how he sees me, which is probably always going to be better than how I see me. He honors the hard road of my divorce and he constantly tells my kids how awesome their dad is. 

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Yesterday my brother was telling a story and he said to Kenny, "Really, no offense, but when things went down with you and my sister I had to cut you out of my heart. I had to choose her." My heart jumped a little, not knowing what he would say to that. And true to who I know him to be now, he said, "Of course you did, man. That was the right thing." I almost don't even know how to fully tell this entire story because I only know one other person who deliberately chose a path out of abusive behavior and into being a healer. He truly is a healer. It gives me hope for all of us, for the people I so desperately want to have peace with. He's showing me even more that healing and wholeness are choices we make for ourselves if we're really willing to do the work. Kenny does the work and that makes him a constantly evolving powerful force of positivity. 

So there it is, the first layer of this story. The bits and pieces that all lead to a healing we would both need much later in life. I can't help but see a cosmic arc to all of it. It all led here, where we can hold sacred ground for each other, root for each other, see ourselves in the mirror of one another, grow even more, and heal something I never thought to try to heal. There are a few people I could not get through this part of my life without. Kenny is right there at the top of the list. Shit, guys. I hope everyone has a story like this somewhere along their road. The way it feels in my chest, reconciled and at peace, I want that for you. 

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