Updated: May 28, 2019
A year ago, I found myself in a random coffee shop, unconsciously seeking conversation more than I was looking for a warm cup of coffee. Fortunately, I found conversation and eventually community. Coffee became hours of talking about the doubts, skepticism, and questions I held with the owner of Wildroot. It became a place where there was room for the weight I carried -- Something I hadn't experienced in such a way.
I have had to figure a lot of things out. Being adopted, I desperately tried to figure out how to effectively exist in a family that I knew wasn't mine fully through blood. There was a dissonance that even I at a young age could sense. As time ventured on, I had to figure out how to exist in brokenness, how to be apart of things that I felt stifled in. Even in what felt confining, in the rules and expectations, eventually I couldn't contain the questions, the doubt, and the pressing curiosity that longed to know more.
I had never been one to venture out beyond what was familiar -- what was safe. I valued the feeling of safety. That is how I was raised; to believe that “safety” was most important.
In a different world, maybe I would still be there. Maybe I would be okay if I hadn’t dipped my feet in the waters of ‘I need something different.’ Maybe I would be satisfied if I hadn’t embarked on the journey of ripping out my roots and wandering around.
But that world, is not this world.
Traditional faith, traditional family, and the things that are supposed to fit together and work out, don’t always do. And that is okay.
This world is learning that a variety of perceptions and beliefs are subjective and debatable. There are no black and white answers that work for everyone. Traditional faith, traditional family, and the things that are supposed to fit together and work out, don’t always do. And that is okay.
The traditional life I had pictured unraveled and it started with a cup of coffee.
In reality, the life I was living was a masked image of what it was supposed to be. It was never an image of wholeness or harmony. It was hiding, pretending, dealing with darkness alone. It was screaming, yelling, and sliding down against the wall in tears.
I had a family, I had a roof over my head, I went to church, I sang the songs, I prayed, I did all the right things. But believing that the traditional way I was raised, was the only way, was more damaging than affirming. I found myself dealing with mental illness and trauma in the shadows of what I was supposed to believe. There didn’t seem to be scripture on how to deal with not being able to get out of bed and uncontrollable thoughts. There didn’t seem to be devotions on destructive coping skills, feeling like everything is on fire yet ice, and what to do when you want to die. When I desperately tried to open beneficial discussion about my experience, a lot of it was met with "pray more," "lean into God" and "dwell on what is wholesome and pure" -- And I did. I prayed obsessively and recited scripture over and over. I was trying to lean as far as I could into God and "good things," but mental illness and trauma is not an easy thing to tame with "good things."
Some recommended counseling and professional help, but as a child, I didn’t have control over all the obstacles in the way. I didn’t have the advocates I was supposed to and when one thing didn’t work out, I wasn’t given the opportunity to find something else. It was pushed to the back burner and "something we’ll get to later." Mostly, I was expected to change, to get it together, and figure it out; figure out something I, myself, couldn’t understand. I wasn’t sure what was happening in my brain and google was only so much help. So I tried to change, get it together, and figure it out -- and it was back to denial, darkness, and trying to manage it in the shadows. That’s the way my life stayed for while. I had good days, but even they were polluted by raging thoughts I couldn’t control. The bad days turned into bad months in bed and I had been staring at a TV show more than I had seen the damn sun.
I listened to the girl inside me that begged to be heard.
The traditional household that went to church and prayed before dinner wasn’t working out. The "you need to have more belief" and "maybe if you prayed more" wasn’t working out -- And so years later, I left home and the church I had come to know. Now I live with wonderful people that took me in when I needed it most and gave me a safe place to live. Not because I hate where I came from, not because I hate my family, not because I hate the church, not because I gave up, not because I am unforgiving -- I left because I was suffocated. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t heal. Sometimes family is different, and that is okay. Sometimes faith is different, and that is okay.
I listened to the girl inside me that begged to be heard. I listened to the girl that deserved to heal and feel safe. I listened to the girl that deserved healthy relationships with others. I listened to the small, quiet voice that plead with me to do something that would benefit the girl I was, the woman I am, and the woman I will be. I listened to the girl that was brought from Russia across oceans to be here in this very moment. I listened to the girl that dreamed of traveling, art, poetry, and knowing more than the pain that tore her apart and none of that would be possible without first learning to heal. I listened and fought for myself because she deserved more.
Maybe my decisions don’t align with what everyone thinks is acceptable and right. It’s not the traditional way. It’s certainly not the way I had planned out for myself.
And I have heard what people think of it -- a mere act of teenage rebellion, a turn on the wrong path, an example of what not to be. But what works for others, doesn’t always work for everyone. Faith and family is not a cookie cutter situation, where it always comes out perfect. Nothing about leaving and ripping out roots is easy. It’s heartache and heaviness. It’s doubt and questioning if I even did the right thing. I am certain that my perceptions and understandings will continue to change and transform. I grapple with it often and I don’t know if I made the ‘best’ or ‘right' decision. But here’s what I know:
I am okay with the journey I am on. It’s messy, confusing, but it’s beautiful and it’s me -- because I refused to give up on myself.
I fought for the girl that deserved more and I feel confident that my efforts were towards that. I fought for her future. I fought for my mental health. I fought for growth and I am still learning. I am learning about what faith looks like for me. I am learning about what family looks like for me and I do not have it all figured it out, and that is okay. I never will. I am okay with the journey I am on. It’s messy, confusing, but it’s beautiful and it’s me -- because I refused to give up on myself.
Fighting for myself started with a cup of coffee and I encourage you to do the same, to fight for yourself whatever that looks like for you.
Written by Sveta Petty