Change can be frightening and difficult for some people, but for others it can be empowering.
This is her story.
This world of mine changes so quickly and drastically, I can hardly keep up.
A year ago I was physically in the same location as I am now, but I can hardly recognize my past self.
A year ago, I was in a serious, long-term, committed relationship. I threw myself into it, determined and convinced that we would be together forever. I was going to marry this boy.
A year ago, I was so delighted to have my best friend back in the country that I spent time with no one but her. My weekdays were spent with the boyfriend. My weekends were reserved for my best friend. We were each others' top priority.
A year ago, I knew exactly what classes to take and what my career was going to be. I had steps A to Z planned out. I knew precisely where I was going and how I was going to get there.
A year ago I was preparing for a semester exchange, viewing it as a charming diversion. I would romp around the East Coast for four months and then Come Home and Resume my Real Life. It was supposed to be a detour, an adventure before continuing down the well-lit path of my Real Life.
But here we are.
One year later.
That trip ended up changing everything.
My world that I thought I knew so well was turned upside-down and shockingly enough, I see my life more clearly than ever now. My life path is not as brightly lit as it was a year ago. But I feel the light from the inside now, and my brightness is enough to give me the courage to keep walking forward.
The boy I was supposed to marry and I are no longer together. It was devastating when it happened, but the further away I get from the relationship the more I see how deluded I was. I loved him and he is a good man. But not the right one for me.
On that "charming diversion," I met an amazing girl. A person who came to know me inside and out and vice versa. And our friendship gradually became something more. I never imagined that I'd fall in love with someone while on that trip and I certainly never thought I would fall in love with a girl. But I wouldn't change a thing.
Our path is anything but clear. We're on scholarships to specific schools, stuck states apart. We're not officially "together," and circumstances prevent us from changing that anytime soon. But I know that the love we feel for each other is different from anything I have ever experienced. And I trust in that.
The best friend and I are still the very best of friends. But instead of focusing on each other as intensely as we did before, we've got different priorities. She is building an incredible career for herself and I am finding my way. We support each other every step, though. She is still my rock, my foundation that I can always count on.
But since I've been back, my other friendships have grown. I've rekindled old relationships and began others. My friends love and support me more than I deserve. I came home and I am grateful everyday for the people I rediscovered here.
That career that I thought I was destined for, I realized I was pursuing for the wrong reasons. I had plenty of time in my semester away to reflect and pray and the more I did, the more I realized how deep down I felt that I was making a huge mistake.
I found the courage to embrace my passion and live my life according to it. I still have a plan but it's more flexible now, and I've slowed down a bit. My life and career isn't a race. I want to take steps when I'm ready, not when I'm "supposed" to.
Last year, I had everything and everyone in my life planned out to a tee. But I think I was doing that to avoid looking inward. The exterior factors in my life were dazzlingly clear. My interior being? Far from it.
I have prayed more in the last year than I did in the previous three. As I write this I am struck with an immense gratitude for all that God has provided for me in the last year: new people, new experiences, and new goals.
Most importantly He gave me inner peace and faith. So much has changed in the last year that I never expected; how can I begin to predict where I'll be a year from now?
But I found my light.
I found what I'm capable of, who I am, and who I want to be. I learned so much about myself this past year and that knowledge is invaluable. I believe in Him and in myself. No matter where I'm headed, I know I can get there.
The path I'm walking is not as illuminated now. But I can feel the light emanating from within me. And I know that light will guide me, step by step.
Such a simple word with such a variety of implications, not a one of them simple.
This month, the Band is focusing upon recovery- from anything. Part of getting through the traumas, the addictions, the mental illnesses is to focus on the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel and focus upon new coping mechanisms, new ways of life, and recovery.
So, The Band, how are YOU recovering? What are you recovering from? How are some ways you cope while recovering?
Part of my recovery and healing has been helping others. I suppose every person who reads, writes, volunteers and comments here on Band Back Together is familiar with this concept as that's what we're doing every day.
An extremist, I've taken it a step further and made it my occupation, so I'm blessed enough to take a paycheck home for helping others.
I've been in full-time ministry for six years, and a chaplain for the past four. Mostly, that means I seek God with other people, listen to their stories, as we all try to heal together with His/Her help.
I want to share one of those stories here:
She was a fragile arm and peeking eyes, a nest of hair on her pillow.
"I'm Joannie, I'm a chaplain, here. Remember me?" I said, as she nodded and wiped tears from her eyes. The slight arm brushed the tangled hair a bit and tears spilled. I sat down close to her and she said, "I'm so scared."
"I would be scared, too. Right now, they are just testing for cancer, they don't know it's cancer yet - but I would be scared, too," I said.
"I feel like a little girl," she sobbed.
I smoothed her sweaty hair back from her face. I felt so helpless; wordless.
"It's okay to be scared. It's a scary thing to hear," I said.
"I did this to myself," she cried. "I'm so scared that God is mad at me. When I was younger... when I was younger, I took a page of the Bible and used it to roll a ... cigarette with."
"Oh, honey," I laughed as I took her hand, "He's a big God. He can handle that one."
"I wasn't as good a person as I should have been, you know?" she said through tears.
"I do know, because no one is. He's the Creator, He's the only perfect One. He loves us anyway and forgives us for all of these things."
"I just think that if I have cancer it's because of what I done to myself, because I wasn't a good person," she said crying and crying.
Fiercely, I said, "That is not true. You listen to me. Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people. Life is a series of ups and downs, light and dark, joys and sufferings. You did not do this to yourself. This just happened."
She held my eyes with hers, held my hand with hers and we prayed. We prayed that He would shower His love on her and that she would feel His forgiveness and mercy. We prayed against cancer, we prayed for healing and for peace and for comfort.
"I love you," she said to me and my eyes opened with tears of their own. "I love you and I don't even know you," she said.
"I love you, too," I said as I cried with her.
I spend my days praying for the sick, praying for healing, praying for their comfort, for their strength, for God's peace to infiltrate their hearts, for doctors and nurses, for family member's courage.
At bedsides, I seek God as one who should know God. I seek Him or Her as urgently and desperately as those for whom I pray. I speak as one who knows, but I seek humbly as one who doesn't. I speak of the light as one who lives in it, but I live as one who can see it only in the darkness; one who has hope.
In this journey, I am grateful that my Creator has given me these opportunities to serve as I seek, to serve my brothers and sisters who seek alongside me.
I am grateful that as we seek, we know we are not alone.
Sometimes, we at the Band know that part of owning who you are is admitting it to the world. It's one reason why we at The Band work tirelessly to break down stigmas and find the ties that connect us all, the ties that remind us that we are none of us alone.
Please join us in standing tall and proud as we tell the world who we are.
What are you, The Band, The Face Of?
Nearly 10% of the population struggles with depression.
This is her story.
Depression is crippling. I'm not sure anyone gets that. I've been diagnosed with depression for over ten years, and sometimes even I forget just how crippling depression can be.
Right now, I get it.
For me, depression isn't just about being sad. It's not even feeling really sad for a really long time without a "real" reason. Depression eats your soul.
Depression is paralyzing; depression destroys your future. Or at least, it destroys your ability to see a future worth pursuing. For yourself.
See, I'm not so worried about the world - I think the world will be okay. Christ will rise, there will be flowers and rainbows and sunshine and unicorns.
But for one reason or another, not for me. I know that's not exactly logical, but it's there. I wonder if that future won't exist for me because I won't make it that far. The world won't change overnight, and I'm not so sure I can make it through next Tuesday.
Within my soul a profound paradox exists - perhaps this paradox has something to do with my soul having been eaten and currently residing in the dark, sticky, acidic bowels of depression, but I digress.
The paradox is this: I know that God loves me and wants me to make it to the unicorns. At the same time, I also know that I'll never amount to anything; I'll be eternally trapped in the hell of my mind. These two thoughts would appear to be mutually exclusive and yet they both exist in equal parts within my partially-digested soul.
Sometimes I can only really feel the Hell-reality, even though I know that the God-reality is still there. It feels like there is no hope for today, much less tomorrow. Forget about next year.
Things that I know from past experiences do exist - things like hope, kindness, and laughter - are gone. So is happiness. Happiness, for me, does not exist in the present or future tenses.
I know that there are happy people alive right now, and there will be plenty of sunshiney rainbow people riding unicorns in the future tense. I am just not those people.
When I get to thinking like this, I wonder how the light at the end of the tunnel can be so completely gone. Sometimes, when the depression allows, I think I see the faint flicker of a tiny, incandescent flashlight farther down the tunnel. That light must need batteries, because it's out more often than not.
I need to catch up to whoever has that light, if only to sidle up next to them and nonchalantly punch them in the throat before running away with the flashlight.
I need to share with you, The Band, a worry that's been troubling me for some time:
What if my tunnel isn't the kind with an end from which you emerge blinking in the rainbowy sunshine to mount your unicorn and ride off into the happily ever after?
What if my tunnel simply ends deep within the bowels of some unforgiving granite mountain?
Maybe that's why I can't see the light. If this is true, and my tunnel is a dead end, I wonder, will I have the strength to turn around and claw my way back to sunshine?
I don't know that there is an answer.
This, my friends, is the reality of depression.
Depression is the ability to perceive unicorns coupled with the inability ever to ride them.
My first marriage was never perfect. We'd been married six days when he told me that it was a mistake and he wanted a divorce. I wrote it off as damage to his psyche from his ex-wife and moved forward.
We moved out of state; I looked forward to a chance to start our lives together in a new area where no one knew us or our pasts. Life was rocky. He was unstable and spent a lot of time accusing me of doing things I didn't do.
"His ex cheated on him, he has to work through it. I just need to be patient - he'll soon learn he can trust me," I'd think.
I limited my friendships to women at work, but rarely outside of work, so he would never have to question where I was.
Our third wedding anniversary was preceded by an insanely rough period where he was convinced I was cheating on him with one of my male co-workers. I further altered my behavior - spending even more time at home - so he could see that he didn't need to have doubts about me.
He said there were women who told him that he deserved better than me, that he should leave me to be with them. Different women called for him all the time, paying way too much attention to him. I told myself I was flattered that I had such an attractive husband and tried not to let it bother me.
Eventually, I realized he wasn't being honest with me. There were too many weird stories; too many times he went missing without a reasonable explanation. I knew he probably was hanging out with other women, but it never even crossed my mind that he might be having sex with them.
Then his dad died. We decided that we'd been away from family too long and moved home.
In November 2001, he said his job was sending him out of town for a weekend of management training. I was excited at first; going into management meant more income. But the stories around the preparations for this "training weekend" didn't match up.
I wasn't supposed to say anything about it in front of his supervisor because she didn't know upper management was training him to become her superior.
He worked 38 hours that week, but then his bosses were going to pay him overtime for an entire weekend's training. (Highly unlikely.)
He was carpooling with another guy, but he needed to take our only vehicle because the other guy had to leave his car for his wife and baby. (That one really hurt because, I'd gone through almost 3 years of infertility.) He never once told me the name of the guy he was driving with.
The list of odd circumstances surrounding this trip went on and on. By this time, I was more than reasonably suspicious of what was really happening. He'd been in contact with two different women; I suspected he was going to meet with one of them. I started looking around and I discovered some women's lingerie hidden in one of his dresser drawers. After he left, I was horrified to find the lingerie was missing.
He didn't call me when he arrived like we'd arranged. When he finally did call, he called me from a different city than his original destination. He told me there had been an error by the company - they didn't book enough rooms, there was a convention in town, the only vacant rooms were in the next city. He took advantage of my limited geographical knowledge, telling me it was only a twenty minute drive between the two cities. (It was two hours.)
Then, I knew that my suspicions were right. Even without knowing the distance between cities, I knew that the freeway went right through that other town, making it easier for him to meet up with whatever woman he had gone to see.
I didn't know what to do. I loved my husband with all my heart. I was completely committed to him.
So I did the only thing I knew how - I prayed. I prayed all weekend for an answer. Eventually, I received it - I was to pretend I didn't know. I was supposed to stay with him, love him, be patient, and wait for him to change.
It was incredibly hard, but I did it.
When he came home, I greeted him as if he really had been on a training weekend. I accepted his guilt gifts with gratitude. I didn't question why his paycheck didn't reflect the overtime.
I put on a happy face and loved him even when the postcard arrived days later from another state.
It was from one of the women he'd been in contact with - she was thanking him for their wonderful weekend together. I ripped it into tiny pieces and threw it away before he could see it.
I loved him and stuck by him for six years while he continued to cheat on me, making a laughingstock of our marriage.
I stayed, but I regularly questioned God why I had to stay. I learned that I had been chosen to be his wife because I was the only one strong enough to stick it out. I was his only hope to straighten out his life.
I know that many people won't believe my reasons for staying, that I received answers from God that I should stay. But I know that we can talk with God - you just have to learn how to listen. I would never have put myself through six years of torture if I didn't believe that.
Finally, two weeks before our tenth wedding anniversary, he announced he was leaving me for good. He was engaged to his mistress of three years - they were married 64 days after our divorce was final.
I knew that I had done all I could to save our marriage; its downfall was on his shoulders. He will have to answer to God for his choices when his Judgment comes.
Thankfully, God blessed me for my faith and trials. Just four months after my divorce, I met the man of my dreams, and we've been happily married for three years now.
I will always remember July 17th, 1989, the day I found out I was pregnant. I was 17 weeks into my pregnancy when we lost Alex, and I delivered him on October 17th, 1989.
I guess 17 is not my lucky number.
We discovered on October 16th that something was wrong - I was sick with cold-like symptoms and wasn't sure what was safe to take while I was pregnant, so my husband took me to the doctor.
This was the beginning of my 5th month, so I was starting to show a little. I thought I'd felt the baby move a couple of times (like little flutters), and I'd heard the heart beat twice. I was so excited that my husband was going to hear it for the first time.
I will never forget the numbness that came over me and the sadness on the doctor's face when we realized there was no longer a heart beat. They sent me home after inserting something similar to a tampon and told me I may start feeling contractions that night.
The next morning I had to be at the hospital at 6AM to deliver the baby. The doctor told me I could have mild sedatives, but I would have to stay awake enough so I could help push, but I wouldn't remember very much of the delivery. I was in and out of what felt like a bad dream. I do remember severe abdominal pain, but I don't remember my hands and feet being strapped to the bed - apparently I was trying to kick the doctor.
Finally, I felt a big relief and remember the rush of what felt like a water fall coming out of me.
I heard one of the nurses whisper, sadness in her voice, "It's a BOY!" I remember thinking my arm was paralyzed because I couldn't lift it, and the nurse saying, "Oh, I'm sorry honey, we had to strap you down, and I forgot to undo that arm!"
The next thing I remember was the saddest sight I've ever witnessed: my husband and my mother-in-law standing at the door when the nurse told them it was a boy. Both were trying to be strong for me, but I could see the tears flowing. The nurse asked if they wanted to see him and they said yes. My husband came over and kissed me on the cheek saying he was so sorry to see the pain in my eyes, then he and his mom went to see my son.
I had my husband later describe what our baby looked like, and he started off by saying, "When I walked in, he was laying on a table wrapped in a little blue blanket." He gently picked Alex up and held him in the palm of his hand. He started describing him by saying with a little smile, "Well, you could tell he was a boy, he had all his fingers and toes but no nails. He was about the length as a dollar bill and you could see the crease of his eyes but lashes or eyebrows."
I asked him to describe the unpleasant details. He said, "Since he lost oxygen, his skin color was gray and he was really hard to look at." I felt some regret that I hadn't seen it, but I just didn't think I could handle it.
Before we went home, the doctor told me there would always be a picture of him on file if I ever felt like I needed see it to get closure. I did look at the picture years later. I was relieved to see him - no more wondering - but I wasn't expecting him to look so gray - the color was very disturbing.
I wasn't on the maternity floor. The doctors thought it would be too hard to see mothers with their babies. I agreed. They gave me pills to dry up my milk which made me dizzy. I ran a low grade fever. Two days later, I went home on my husband's 21st birthday.
Before we left the hospital, I told my mom and my husband I wanted to go to the nursery to see the babies. They both tried to talk me out of it, but I wouldn't listen.
So they took me to the nursery and stood there silently at first looking at the newborn babies. Then my mom said, "Awww... look at that little girl, she's so tiny!"
Finally, I started smiling. I was so happy to see so many beautiful healthy babies - I was drawn to the baby boys. Every time anyone said how cute the little girls were, I'd say, "Yes, but look at HIS head of hair."
As strange as it may seem, going to see those babies two days after I lost my son was a way of finding closure.
My friend, who was also in her 5th month, was scared to come see me; she didn't want me to see her pregnant belly knowing we had planned on going through our pregnancies together. I called her and told her she better come and see me. She did, and I think she cried harder than I had.
I finally looked at her and said, "Listen, you're going to have a healthy baby, and what happened to me was God's way of taking care of a baby that didn't have a chance from the beginning! If our son had lived, the doctor said he probably would've had of brain damage from lack of oxygen. So I thanked God for taking him the way he did. I couldn't even imagine losing him after he was born, even if he only lived for a day, week, or years!"
My heart goes out to all the mothers that feel THAT pain!
Before we left the hospital, the doctor asked us how we wanted to dispose of our son, which really upset me. It sounded like they were just gonna put him out back in the dumpster, so we asked what our choices were.
He said, "We could take care of the disposal."
I snapped, "I'm sorry, but our son is not a piece of trash."
He said we could have a funeral and burial for him or donate his body to science.
My husband and I looked at each other, and I said yes. If our son - who never got to experience a single day of life - could save the life of another baby; if he could keep another mother and father from feeling the pain we did, that's what I felt in my heart we should do.
So we did.
As years passed, when I thought about Alex, I'd look up in the sky and smile. I'd say to myself, "You were a special gift from God."
I know that was God's plan for my baby, so I truly feel happiness in my heart that, although God had to take my baby from me, He felt my baby was special enough to save the lives of other babies!
I'm so glad I found Band Back Together. Even if no one reads my story, I think writing about my Alex has really helped me. Even after 22 years, to actually express my true feelings about losing my son - God bless us all!
I always remember - EVERYTHING happens for a reason, even if it hurts! I have faith in God that He will get me through anything!
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