If had to choose a phrase that encapsulates my story and the pain and suffering I’ve experienced, it would be: “collateral beauty.”
Several years ago, I lost my best friend (who was also my roommate) to suicide. It turned my world upside down.
There are no words to explain the devastating grief that washes over you after a complex loss like suicide; it’s as unpredictable and relentless as waves crashing over the seashore. I wrestled with the never-ending questions and the monstrous-of-all questions, “why?” I broke time and time again over the feeling that I somehow failed her and didn’t love her enough.
I wanted to be angry with her for leaving me that way and giving up.
I wanted to be angry with her for leaving me to pick up the pieces of her life.
I even wanted to hate her, at times, because I just hurt so damn much.
But as much as I wanted to hate her for it, I never could…because the reality was that I loved her so much. That’s why it hurt so damn deeply.
I wanted to talk about her, but felt the unspoken and awkward silence of those who couldn’t bear the darkness.
I felt the influence of shaming stigma, though every ounce of me knew that the way she died did not define her, or speak to the wonderful person she was. Without preparation, my world was forcefully exposed to the nature of “complicated grief” in suicide loss. And through my grief and love for her, I started to find a passionate voice inside of me- a voice that desperately longed to make a difference.
I have also battled my own personal wars
With depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, and trauma.
There were seasons in my past that, truthfully, I should not have survived
There were seasons where I felt the darkness would surely overtake me. Seasons of deep loneliness, desperation, grief and loss, defeat and hopelessness.
Seasons where the light at the end of the tunnel seemed like a cruel joke of a dangling carrot on the end of a stick.
I found help through therapy and treatment, yes. But for me, my healing came through my faith, and in knowing the Lord. He truly changed my darkness into light before my eyes. And it was then that I witnessed just how beauty can truly come from even the most desolate of ashes.
Was it easy? Hell, no.
It was a journey of strenuous mountaintops and a hell of a lot of valleys. But through the journey, I was able to see that we are stretched the most-and can tap into our passion/purpose the most-in those valleys, where we are the most vulnerable and the soil is most fertile.
It was a hard reality for me to wrestle with-– that beauty can come from pain and suffering. In regards to my best friend’s suicide, I struggled with accepting that because it felt like embracing something beautiful would equate to me saying that her death was OK. And it wasn’t OK; it never will be. But I’ve learned that both suffering and beauty can co-exist.
I’ve learned I can simultaneously know that her death was not good-that it was devastating, wounded me deeply and changed me forever- while also knowing that there can be collateral beauty from it.
For me, that collateral beauty has been many things- big and small.
A big thing was the opportunity I was given to help write a book on surviving loss by suicide, and another book on how to help the newly bereaved. I also launched a community in my city (a branch of a larger, international community), that creates a safe space and point of connection for young adults who’ve faced significant loss in their lives.
Through my own struggles with trauma and depression and anxiety, I’ve felt compelled to seek out ways to help others who are suffering. And I’ve found even more healing, myself, through that. Because I’ve learned how much our stories matter; our stories have the power to help others.
I’ve volunteered with a ministry that helps survivors of sexual abuse and sexual assault. I’ve mentored middle schoolers and made it my mission to love on the ones I could see were hurting and struggling. I advocate/write about things I’m passionate about making a difference in (grief, suicide, mental illness, addiction, trauma, relational support, faith), hoping to do my part in starting conversations that matter.
I recently started volunteering with an organization that combats sex trafficking in my city and helps rescue victims from trafficking.
Sharing all of this is in no way an attempt to toot my own horn, because most of the time I truthfully feel so inadequate and ill-equipped to do whatever it is that I’m doing. I share all this, because I want people to know: no matter what we have gone through and experienced, there IS hope for healing and purpose, through our pain. And healing does not equate to moving on or forgetting.
I look at healing in certain ways that we are able to continue living, while using the pain we’ve experienced and honoring the memories of those we’ve loved and lost.
God has shown up in my deepest depths of darkness, and shown me that there is always hope for me, no matter how broken I feel. And the greatest gift I’ve been given-the collateral beauty-is seeing that my story matters, and can help encourage others who feel they are too broken to ever truly live or see beauty, again.
If I had to describe myself in one word, it would be fighter. Throughout my whole journey I have had to fight day in and day out to find happiness. I have had to fight for the one thing I have always wanted the most, full recovery.
For those who don’t know me, here is my story
I’ve always had insecurities and struggles–the biggest was separation anxiety from my mom.
In elementary school, I remember running to my mom who worked at the school, and clinging to her as my teacher pulled me off. I know now it was the start of my anxiety; even to this day I like to be around her because I feel safe.
On the other hand, I’ve never had the best relationship with my dad. He comes across like any normal dad– involved and supportive and I so desperately wanted him to be those things. This fantasy dad was a happy and loving person, when in reality he wasn’t.
I believe 100% that my eating disorder fed off of how he treated me
Not only that, my Dad’s treatment of me has made me feel unlovable and unworthy.
From a young age, I was never what somebody would consider “skinny.” And to be honest it never really mattered to me. I would occasionally get bullied, but for the most part I was OK with who I was. But that came to a halt in 7th grade.
This whole journey started with a case of whooping cough which lasted 3 months. Three months of coughing, 3 months of homebound, 3 months of being stuck at home with my thoughts. Then I lost my appetite.
For me, it turned into a cycle of eating less, and less, and less and I soon realized that by restricting my intake, I was losing the weight that I never previously had been able to do.
This is when the monster that is anorexia took over my life
If I thought 7th grade was bad, I could not have imagined the outcome of my 8th grade year. At the beginning, my parents were still together, which didn’t help the already troubled situation.
My father is a very angry person, something that really hurt my heart. It was so hard to come home because I never knew what mood he was going to be in. Sometimes it was good, other times it was bad.
My mom on the other hand is the complete opposite. She is an angel, only wanting the best for other people. As you could imagine those two very different personalities didn’t click well. I remember my anxiety and depression would be so out of control that I would just crawl into the fetal position next to my bed and cry.
One day after school, my mom told me to go straight to my grandparent’s house who lived only three streets from our house. That was when I found out they were divorcing.
Living at my grandparents house was so much more relaxing than living with my dad. While that situation was looking up, my eating disorder was slowly grasping more control over me.
The restricting wasn’t the only thing I was dealing with.