The following article was written by our guest blogger Aimee Nanney. Aimee spends her time sharing the testimony of her past, her mental health and learning to love every part of herself. She is avid cat and coffee lover, an amazing friend and a loyal listener.
Have you ever wanted to go back and tell your younger self words of advice for the seasons they were about to walk through? It’s one of my favorite questions to ask someone I am meeting for the first time.
What would you tell yourself 10 years ago? Would you warn them of the heartbreak they would face or the victories and obstacles they would overcome? Would you tell them to not sweat the small stuff and push harder for what really matters? Would you stay silent and watch yourself walk into something that would shape the rest of their life but would bring a season of struggle?
The truth is I wouldn’t change a thing. The only bit of advice I would give myself is to learn to forgive yourself and let go of the shame you carry.
Everything from the past 34 years of my life, regardless of it being good or bad, has shaped who I am today and I like the woman I have become. My scars have made me a better person and helped me to see people differently, not to judge by what I see rather love people simple for who they are.
I was raised in church, not by my parents but my grandparents. I grew up believing that there is God who sent his son to die for me. I had prayed the prayer asking Jesus into my heart many times. My grandma would pray with me and taught me that I could simply talk to God as if he was sitting in the room with me. He was a friend, father and a Savior who loved me simply because I am who he created me to be.
My faith has been a cornerstone throughout my entire life, a safe place for me to lean into. Just out of high school I can remember standing on a stage sharing what God had done in my life and telling people “I don’t know how someone can experience the presence of God and walk away” not knowing that a season of my life would be exactly that.
In the summer of 2008 I had just finished up a week of Vacation Bible School at my church and soon would be working as the assistant director of a bible college internship that I had graduated from. I was living my dream. Everything seemed to be falling into place and then the guy that I had spent the last year praying he would notice me, did.
He took me by the hand on 4th of July and we started dating and nothing could change my mind that this wasn’t God’s plan for my life.
Over the next four years my life would be turned upside down and I would have no one to blame but myself. The choices I would make and the lies I would believe about myself would take me down a path that would shape me into who I am today.
I want to say to the man in his story, I do not blame you and now I understand that we made these choices together. We both made mistakes and I forgive you. I was young, naive and unwilling to let you walk away because I thought that staying together was what was best for both of us when it wasn’t.
To you, the reader, I want to share this part of my life to encourage you, to remind you that you’re not alone, to tell you that the choices you made that brought you shame you can let go of. You can forgive yourself.
I am far from perfect and I have fallen and shattered completely only to put myself back together again. We as women find it hard sometimes to forgive ourselves and let go of the past. I'm here to tell you, you can only be free if you show yourself grace.
When I started dating this man I was ready to marry him, which at the age of 23 I realize now was way too fast. I didn’t have much experience in the dating world but I knew we both loved Jesus and to me that was good enough. However within a year and half of our relationship we both were making choices that weren’t healthy and very quickly we started to remove God from the center of our relationship. I didn't recognize myself most of the time. It wasn't the "me" I envisioned.
The toxic relationship that formed, quickly led to other toxic behaviors and actions in my life. How I viewed life and myself completely changed. I wasn't happy. The things I found joy in before, barely existed. Before I knew it, I was no longer working at the church or even attending church. I started drinking a lot. It seemed so easy. It felt good and for brief moments the shame I felt would fade with every drink I would have.
Drinking became almost a daily thing in my life. I loved how I felt and how accepted I was at the bar we would go to. I didn’t have to feel or face my choices as long as I was drinking and making friends. I was reckless and had no regard for the life I was living.
I moved into my grandma's basement because I had nowhere else to go and continued to spiral out of control. I would go to work, get drunk with my boyfriend and then crash, wake up, repeat, wake up, repeat. We would break up and get back together multiple times. It’s like we were tethered together and couldn’t escape our choices.
I was literally gripped with fear that we would end and no one could possible love me after all the choices I had made.
Looking back I don’t remember the moments of being on top of the world, the moments dancing with strangers, moments of being in bliss. I just remember the fear of not being loved ever again. How could anyone possibly love me? I was broken and the pieces of my life were scattered so far apart that it seemed impossible to repair.
Somewhere in the midst of the chaos I decided to move to Kansas City, Missouri, because running from my destruction made more sense that actually facing it. I remember the night before I left I stood in the street hugging the man I loved crying in his arms knowing that goodbye was the best choice but it felt like I was losing a best friend. The next morning I made the 12-hour drive and had full intentions of making changes in my life. Without fail my good intentions fell apart within the first two months and I continued down an extremely destructive path.
There was no limit any longer to what I would allow and how far I would go to try and bury the shame and regret I felt.
I hit a really low point when I was there and had a one night stand with a guy I had just met at the bar. I remember driving to work the next day and I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t figure out how I had become this person. One of my few friends that was a Christian was in the car with me that morning and he kept saying “This isn’t you. You are more than this.” He was trying to encourage me but I just couldn’t see how I would come back from this.
I just wanted to silence the voice telling me that I wasn’t good enough, that I was broken, that I was dirty, that I was torn and beyond repair. The destruction didn't end. One night I drank to the point I blacked out and needed to be taken to the ER due to alcohol poisoning. I thought the nurse would judge me for this very broken moment of my life. Instead, she was so gentle and kind. She simply said “Aimee, you know if you don’t stop doing this it’s going to kill you.”
And the way she said it was so reassuring and loving. I knew this truth already but I 100% believe God put her in my path to remind me that my life is worth saving. I am so thankful for that moment, she was one of many that God placed in my path on my journey of restoration.
Shortly after, I moved back to Michigan. I had a crappy job, no place to live and no money. The first few months were difficult. Did I make the wrong choice? A couple months later, I knew that this church was having a prayer night and I felt this urgency to go. I didn’t want to be there. In fact, it was the last place I wanted to be, I was angry and hurting.
That night changed everything for me. I felt extremely alone and misunderstood, but I went. I pulled into the church and went inside and sat in the very back with my arms crossed, I simply said “OK God I am here…what more do you want?”
I felt he was saying to go to the front and sit by the alter. It took a good 20 minutes for me to move from that seat to the front and when I did I just sat on the floor. I felt so alone in my life, no one understood me, no one knew how to be my friend and that loneliness felt like a bottomless pit.
I felt nothing but those four years of shame, hurt, regret and so much more. Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder. A woman I don’t know knelt beside me and quietly said “I don’t know you but I heard God saying "You are not alone.” All of sudden I felt like everything within me shattered into a millions pieces. All of the choices that left me broken, confused, hurt, shameful didn’t matter anymore….God began to remind me that regardless of what was behind me, He still chose me.
I was not alone. You are not alone. You may not know me, but I promise, you are not alone.
Over the next few years I would get connected with people from all walks of life that became family and walked with me in the season of restoration. I began to forgive myself and let go of the shame that gripped me and I started to see myself as someone of value and great worth.
Some of you reading this may be a believer and some aren’t, regardless of your beliefs I hope the one thing you can take from this is to forgive yourself.
Three things I would encourage you to do if you relate to my story:
Walk away from toxic relationships. Toxic relationships will always bear toxic fruit. Always.
Surround yourself with women who look past your choices and see the value of who you are. My tribe keeps me focused and lifts my chin when I don’t have the strength.
Allow yourself to fail. It’s a lifelong process and you are in no way required to be perfect in every moment.
You are a person of value. You are loved. You are not alone. You are beautiful. You are strong. Don’t define yourself from what happened yesterday or 10 years ago.
Regardless of faith, race or gender, we all make choices that have a negative impact on our lives and others. Learn from them but don’t live in them. Love yourself enough to walk away when needed. Love yourself enough to forgive yourself. Love yourself enough to change the patterns of your life so you can thrive.
My journey includes my faith and what God has done for me. Your journey may include something else. But I urge to find the thing that helps you believe the beauty that's within you, the thing that gives you purpose.
It’s been seven years since that night I sat on the floor of that church and God restored my life. It hasn’t been the easiest journey. There have been moments I wanted to give up, I am so happy I didn’t. I have forgiven that girl I used to be and I am determined to make her proud of the woman I have become. I have forgiven that man I stood on a street with and cried as we said our goodbyes.
I am determined to be vulnerable and open up about my journey in hopes that someone out there living in the shame of their past will find hope, forgiveness and grace. You deserve it. It's time to let go.