For the second installation of the Broken series, we have a personal account from Christina. Her story of damaging relationships starts with childhood insecurity and a sexual assault. I ask you to take a moment to pray for all young women with poor self-esteem and experiences with sexual assault, that they may find healing and strength that lead them away from abusive relationships.
I want to tell you a little bit of my story, because I think it's relevant and I don't want to see you step into the dark places I have already been. I suppose my tale doesn't really have so much of a beginning except to say that all my life I can't remember being told I was beautiful. I heard a lot of superficial words like "pretty", "cute", "hot", and others, but nobody had ever bothered to tell me I was beautiful until I was seventeen, and then it was because he was getting something from me which he wanted to continue getting. In fact, for most of the time I can remember, I was told (mostly by boys my own age) that I was ugly, undesirable, and just plain unlikeable. This was mostly something I could brush off until I hit puberty, and all my friends started hearing they were beautiful, and I was still getting the reactions I'd always gotten.
I was desperate to feel the love that I saw my friends receiving, but because I wasn't getting it, I hid my desire for it behind a facade of tough cynicism. I made it known that I didn't want or need any boy talking sweetly to me to make me secure in who I was, and I became sort of a mama bear to my friends. When they got stuck in tough places with depression, thoughts or attempts of suicide, pregnancy scares, abusive relationships, I was there to listen and to make sure they were as okay as I could help them be. I took that role very seriously, and that was how I contented myself to live. I was the scary friend who could make sure that a boy stayed in line, mostly because he knew I meant business, and I wasn't afraid to prove it if I had to. Time progressed, and though I was counseling friends about the dangers of their situations, I had no idea I was about to wander into one which was exactly the same.
The summer of 2008 was when I worked my first job, and I was lucky enough to work at the summer camp I'd gone to for ten years or so. I knew almost everyone, and the transition was easy, even if the days were long and the pay wasn't great. I had a blast working with the kids, and I was glad to take on a more positive mama bear role which allowed me to try to be the best role model I could be to a group of eight and nine year old girls to whom I might as well have been a goddess. I relished the opportunity to take care of them for a while and to try to steer them away from Miley Cyrus at all costs. Toward the end of that summer, I was working the PM shift sign out desk when one of the camper’s father sexually assaulted me. I knew his daughter and I knew him, and I was too shocked at first to say anything to anyone. It took a week for me to tell my mother, and after that my coworkers started to notice that I would act strangely whenever he came around. I had no idea how to deal with what had happened, and from what other people have told me, I spent the next year or so acting almost bipolar. Because of the assault, I was more desperate than ever to feel like someone, anyone, loved me.
That winter, I had a short-lived relationship with one of my friends, and the next summer I got together with my first boyfriend, whom I'll call Zach. Zach had been introduced to me by a mutual friend with whom he was infatuated. She introduced him to me because we had a few things in common and because she and her boyfriend of almost two years wanted him out of their hair. From the beginning, Zach didn't treat me very well, almost instantly asking me to do things which were way beyond the ken of our relationship. Almost instantly I obliged, because he told me it would make him like me more. Because of my assault, I had set up walls around my heart, and Zach asked me to break through them and open up to him. Something told me not to, but I did it anyway. When he finally asked me out, he began to compare me to the girl who had hooked us up, saying he would like me more if only I was as voluptuous as she was. The first time he saw me in a bathing suit, Zach told me I could stand to be skinnier, and it wouldn't hurt if I worked out more.
We were among the most intelligent friends the girl who hooked us up had, and so I thought that it would maybe be better if I could get Zach to like me by showing off how smart I was. I had always been assured of my intelligence since I was very young, so I was sure it would win him over. This wasn't so. Although I was to all appearances the smarter of the two of us, Zach would constantly put me down, telling me (or texting me, if we were apart) that I was dumb because I wasn't as good as he was at math and science. It was funny to him, but he had me fairly convinced that I was about as sharp as a bowling ball. He also had a fixation on pornography, and pestered me to be like a porn star. He wanted me to look, act, and dress like the girls he watched on the internet every day, and in my desperation to stay with him and please him, I submitted. His treatment of me got to a point where my friends who had been in bad relationships were the ones telling me to get out. They told me to look at the way I was being treated, to listen to what Zach was saying to me, to leave him in the dust where he belonged, but I wouldn't hear a word of it. I was certain that if I just kept doing what he told me to, he would finally like me. This also wasn't so. About six weeks after we got together, I finally got so desperate that I forced Zach to dump me. I couldn't let him go, but somehow I was able to force him to let me go.
I began my senior year of high school with a fixation on how much I weighed, and began to restrict what I was eating so I could lose weight. I had no illusions that Zach would get back together with me, and I didn't want him to, but his words stayed with me. I rebuilt the walls around my heart twice as high and twice as thick, and made sure that I would be invulnerable to anyone else trying to get in. I only trusted one person, and relied on myself to do anything that I needed done. I wasn't looking for a boyfriend because I was too busy being my own woman, and college applications and deadlines swamped me until December. In January I got together with another boy, who I'll call Jeremy. Jeremy was sweet and very intelligent, and he really liked me, but I wasn't letting anyone in no matter how badly I wanted to be loved. We got very physical very quickly because I had no idea how to act or make him like me. It was me who introduced him to almost everything we did, and it was after that that he began treating me less well. I was the dominant partner for the most part, but it didn't stop Jeremy from pestering me to get what he wanted. Jeremy would tell me that he loved me for most of the six months we were together, and I would say it back to him, but I never meant it. I didn't suffer from the delusion that what we had was love, because I wasn't letting him in, and if he didn't know me, then he couldn't love me.
I broke up with Jeremy a couple of days before my initial reversion back to the faith, and about two weeks before coming to school here in Washington. We parted ways about as amicably as we could, but the walls I had built were still very much intact, and I didn't see them budging any time soon. Little did I know that the power of God was slightly more than the strength of my walls, and so it was that my full conversion of heart came about. I still got more or less the same reactions from my male peers that I'd always gotten, but I cared less because I was relying on God more and trying to build up my long-neglected relationship with Him.
Fast forward to this year on the women's retreat put on by my school’s Newman Center, and my walls were at their strongest, blocking out everyone except my best friend and God. I had been chastised by my spiritual director to start tuning into the retreat because I'd gone on it in the first place to foster my relationship with Christ. I did as he instructed me, and during an exercise in which we were supposed to be looking at ourselves through God's eyes and facing up to the lies we had been told about ourselves, I nearly fell apart. We had each been given a little hand mirror with which to look at ourselves, and I couldn't stand to do it. Looking into my own eyes and hearing that I was beautiful and beloved was too much for me to bear. I didn't believe it, and I eventually put the mirror down, if only for the sake of what little composure remained. That night, I had gotten a rose at the beginning of our holy hour which symbolized my heart. I was given a choice to place it on a pillow before the monstrance, signifying giving my whole heart to God. I opened the petals as much as I could to show God that I wanted to open my heart to Him, and even though I didn't want to do it at all, I put my rose on the pillow, and my heart before God. I couldn't feel His presence at all, and during that hour I felt completely abandoned. The only sensation I remember feeling was my spiritual director tripping over my elbow as he did Benediction. Thankfully, it was the next morning when I received Communion that I heard a little voice coming from inside me saying, "Would I be here if I didn't love you?"
I'm just beginning to work through this issue. My spiritual director is helping me wade into it, and God is by my side with all the grace I could ever want to sustain me. Already I know the road will be long, and that there is going to be a lot of work ahead of me if I want to heal. Slowly but surely, things are falling into place with me and my healing process. My self-esteem is up, I have much higher standards for myself and for any guy I’d ever think about dating. I’m happily planning a fantastic summer and school year for myself as I progress toward my degree in 2014. I hope one day to be completely healed of the damage these relationships have done, and to be able to help other women to heal from the same pain.
Christina is a junior in college, and studies History in Washington, D.C. She is a revert to her Catholic faith, and blogs about life, faith, and whatever else she can think of at Reflections of a Catholic in Formation.