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The story I am about to share with you does not come without a lot of thought and prayer. For quite some time I have felt God pressing on my heart to share my story. I have, for the most part, resisted. Oh I’ve shared a snippet here and there, but never really just laid it all out on the table. To be honest, making myself that vulnerable has been far too scary.

I was recently challenged by another writer to write not just what I think my readers want to hear, but the things I have been too afraid to write. It frankly scares me to death to know that sharing this story could change the way my friends look at me, or hurt the people that I love. Even so, there is a part of me that knows it must be told. Because for as difficult as it is to tell, it is ultimately a story of redemption and sweet, infallible, Amazing Grace, and if there is just one person who can find hope in the midst of great struggle, then it will be worth it.

I do feel the need to warn you that this story I am going to tell has a lot of ugliness. It will be hard to write and perhaps even harder to read. It is also too long to share it all at once, so I will be splitting it into multiple parts. This is only the first part, so it doesn’t end well. Please remember that it was a long time ago, and I am okay now! Thanks for bearing with me.

Part 1: Falling

Eleven and a half years ago, I woke up in a panic, unable to breathe, with some unknown object blocking my airway. The only thing that mattered was getting it out as quickly as possible.

I soon found out—as the alarms began sounding and my ICU hospital room instantly filled with a half-dozen stunned doctors–that the thing I had just pulled out of my throat was the ventilator keeping me alive. I had just woken up from a coma that doctors had given me less than a 10 percent chance of surviving.

3 days earlier I had lined up 6 full bottles of prescription sleeping pills on my coffee table and downed them like shots, one after the other, washing them down with a bottle of Absolut vodka.

Against all odds, I survived. But incredibly enough, that near-death experience was not a turning point for me. In fact I felt nothing but disappointment that I was still alive.

I still had such a long way left to fall.

*   *   *

My descent into clinical depression started almost a year earlier, in the fall of 1999. Hindsight is 20/20, and looking back it is easy to see the perfect storm that was brewing. I was young—only 21 years old—married to a man I didn’t love, caring for my 14 year old adopted brother, and attending college as a full-time honors student.

The stress of those three things alone probably would’ve been enough to make most people crack, but it was little more than a casual conversation that put me over the edge:  My dad happened to mention in passing that a man we knew had recently passed away.

Perhaps I would’ve remembered anyway, perhaps I was destined for mental breakdown no matter what, but that one seemingly insignificant comment was the thread that began my unraveling.

This man who was now dead had been our babysitter. He and his wife would stay with my brother and I while my parents travelled. At the time, my parents owned a travel agency, so they travelled quite a bit.

This man was a monster who sexually abused me for 4 years, starting when I was 6 years old. It finally ended when my 4th grade teacher noticed something was wrong—though I honestly don’t think he suspected to what extent—and recommended to my parents that they stop travelling for a while.

I never told anyone. He warned me over and over not to tell, that if I did he would hurt my family and burn my house down. So I never told. Instead, like many victims, I found a way to block it out completely. At least for a while.

As soon as I learned he was dead the memories started flooding back, in bits and pieces at first, then in vivid nightmares and flashbacks that terrified me during the day and kept me up at night.

I didn’t know what to do with it all, couldn’t fathom talking about it, and spent a lot of time doubting the memories were even real. I thought I might be going crazy. I stopped eating and barely slept, started staying out all night so that I wouldn’t have to face the demons inside.

Within just a few months I lost almost 30 pounds, developed permanent dark circles under my eyes, dressed in all black, and watched my grades slip from straight A’s to failing. I couldn’t bring myself to care.

I ignored my textbooks and instead began reading nothing but existential philosophy—Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Sartre,  just to name a few–and determined that God was nothing more than a figment of my imagination.

A God that was real wouldn’t have let those things happen to me. I was too angry to even know I was angry so I reacted by rejecting my faith completely. In the absence of God, however, life lost all meaning. So I began planning to die.

It seems almost ridiculous now, but my then-husband was oblivious to it all. We were leading separate lives and barely speaking. He had no idea anything was wrong.

My college advisor was more astute. She encouraged me to see a counselor to talk about the depression she could see was eating me alive. I refused. She knew I was on the edge and attempted to intervene, but there was nothing she could do.

On March 9th, 2000 I tried to kill myself for the first time. I was involuntarily committed to Forest View Psychiatric Hospital in Grand Rapids. After a month of refusing to talk to anyone about anything, I finally told my psychiatrist about the abuse. By then she had already guessed.

Sexual abuse is sinister for so many reasons, but most of all for the deep sense of shame it creates in its victims. We blame ourselves. We are shamed or bullied or threatened into silence until we can’t tell for fear WE are the ones who are bad. Then we don’t tell for so long that when we finally do, no one believes us.

I can tell you from personal experience that the worst thing you can ever say to someone who tells you they’ve been abused is “I don’t believe you.” That deep sense of shame is compounded and becomes so overwhelming you will literally do anything to make it go away. Even so, I don’t blame those closest to me for not wanting to believe it was true. Even now I don’t want to believe it was true.

I spent several months at Forest View and then they let me out. I wasn’t better but insurance—even good insurance—only lasts so long. I separated from my husband, got an apartment of my own, and attended “classes” at the hospital during the day. I had gone from full-time college student to full time crazy person, and I was failing that too. I hadn’t been on my own more than a few weeks when I lined up those pill bottles. My first suicide attempt had been full of rookie mistakes; this time I was playing for keeps.

My therapist was the one who saved my life that night. He called to check in and when I didn’t answer, he immediately called 911. They made it just in the nick of time. The fire department broke down my door and found me barely breathing. My heart stopped in the ambulance, and though they managed to revive me, my family was told to say good-bye, that even if I did survive, which was unlikely, I would most likely be permanently brain damaged.

But I didn’t die and I wasn’t brain damaged. I had just experienced nothing short of a miracle and I was too depressed to see it.

Instead I got worse. I began to self-harm, cutting my arms, burning my legs, and experimenting with any kind of risky behavior I could find. Physical pain took my mind off the despair, but the relief was only temporary. I spent another year in and out hospitals as the doctors tried one anti-depressant after another. Nothing worked.

I spent 6 months at McLean Hospital in Boston in in their highly acclaimed Women’s Treatment Program. I was not a model patient. I continued to self-harm, which was against the rules, and ultimately they kicked me out of the program.

Finally, desperate and out of ideas, my doctors recommended electroshock therapy and for almost 3 months I was anesthetized three times a week so they could attach electrodes to my head and zap my brain. Thankfully I don’t remember much of that.

Almost two years to the day after my first suicide attempt, they finally gave up and sent me home. Of course by then I didn’t have a home anymore. I was divorced, bankrupt, and completely alone.

I had finally hit rock bottom.

{Read Part 2: Clouds Lifting}

 If you are suffering from depression or PTSD, please know that you are not alone. It is so hard to see the light when you are in the midst of the darkness, but it doesn’t mean the light isn’t there. If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, there is help available. Please talk to someone as soon as possible–a counselor, pastor, doctor, or friend, or call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).