13 Things I Wish I Knew at 19

  1. Don’t fall in love with the first person you meet with similar interests. Remember when you were in Grade 12 and you didn’t believe your teacher who said you would find people who thought like you did? Remember how you couldn’t imagine finding someone with the same weird way of looking at the world? Rest assured that he was right. You will find a group of friends who will love you for you and allow you to be you and grow in your passions and mistakes and see you through it all. But before you meet this group of friends you will meet one person who will introduce you to everyone else. You do not need to devote your life to someone who listens to the same music, has the same fashion sense, and shares the same fears you do. You two are not alone in your ways of experiencing the universe. Please never date anyone who makes you feel like you are.
  2. Everything in moderation. This has always been your kryptonite. It will continue to be your downfall for as long as you let it. You do things wholeheartedly or you avoid them altogether. I promise you there is a middle ground. It is possible to eat two Oreos without eating the whole container. It is possible to go for a run and stop before passing out. You have a very all or nothing way of looking at things and it will be incredibly difficult to find a middle ground but I promise you it will be possible. Everything in moderation, including moderation. Sometimes it is okay to mess up. Wake up with a hangover, stay up all night reading a book when you work at 6am, eat something with little nutritional value and enjoy it. It will help you remember that you are human too and not a pariah for being vulnerable. You are loved all the same, but for the sake of your future self, continue to grow into the person you hope to be someday. You are already well on your way.
  3. Feelings aren’t facts. When you’re older you will learn first hand about the wonders of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). You will learn to retrain your brain and how much hard work this is but I promise you it will actually work (most of the time). One of the main things you will learn from CBT is that while your feelings are completely valid (whether they are negative, positive, toxic, indecipherable, etc) they are not fact. Just because you feel like the worst person in the world, not worthy of your friends, and an unloveable bag of garbage, these are not true facts. Google cognitive distortions. Your brain is a muscle and can be trained to think differently. You will need better armour. You have the skills to make it.
  4. While it is possible to drink away memories of a bad relationship it will take more cherished memories with it. Ho boy, do you need to learn this before it’s too late. Remember when you freaked out in your Clinical Psychology lecture that said that your precious IQ could drop because of depression? It turns out that your health teachers who told you drinking would kill brain cells were also telling the truth. Diving head first into a bottle of gin will lessen the impact of a broken heart but it will lessen the impact of everything else too. Flat affect is a thing and it sucks. So does losing your ability to retain information or cherished memories. Your heartbreak is real and your feelings are real but please find some less destructive ways of handling the pain. I recommend returning to that journal that you have been neglecting lately, taking nature walks, and listening to music. When you move out of residence discover the healing qualities of a bubble bath and scented candles. Talk to your friends and listen to your friends when they need to talk. Take time to be alone and take time to be in community. Never stop writing.
  5. If you love someone when you are in their presence and hate yourself the moment they leave, walk away. If you spend your every waking moment thinking about how to spend time with someone and second guessing what they think of you, hit an all time high when you finally see them, only to come crashing down when they aren’t at your side then the relationship is unhealthy. Your world should never revolve around one person. That is a lot of weight to put on someone, and a lot of unneeded stress to put on yourself. They are not an angel or a devil. Neither are you. They are not a salve to every hurt you have faced so far. They are human. So are you. Which brings me to number 6.
  6. Stop waffling. If you want to date someone, ask them. If you want to break up with someone, tell them. Don’t spend months debating the pros and cons of each action. If it is something you truly care about for more than two weeks, if it is something you want to do when you’re not angry, upset, or tired, do it. It might be a mistake. You are allowed to make mistakes. You will learn from them. Your friends won’t tell you this but they don’t want to rehash the same should I shouldn’t I conversations with you for six months anymore than you want to with them. Do the thing or don’t do the thing. Don’t destroy yourself over the what ifs.
  7. Tell people you appreciate them as often as possible. Loving someone is not a weakness. Caring about people doesn’t make you a loser. Tell your friends how much you care about them. Call your grandparents and catch up on their lives. You will wish you had when you can’t anymore. Show your friends how much you care. Make plans and commit to them. DO NOT DOUBLE BOOK YOUR LIFE. There is nothing more frustrating for everyone involved when you make plans with someone only to make plans with someone else at the same time. Give yourself adequate time between events to do both or start saying no. Get better at keeping a schedule. As much as people love being told they are loved they love being shown it even more.
  8. Mindfulness is a skill that takes a long time to learn let alone perfect. Start now. I say this in love. Your friends will agree. You are terrible at existing in the present. You are constantly thinking about the past, worrying about the future, and spending too much time in your own head. You have a habit of only half listening, forgetting important details, and losing focus. Fear not. These habits can be changed. It takes time and practice but it can be done. Learn to be in the moment and when you figure it out send me a letter because I still have no sweet clue.
  9. Don’t hurt yourself in anger and expect that it will teach someone else a lesson. People are often surprised when you say of the Seven Deadly Sins you struggle the most with Wrath. The problem is you direct all of it inwards. He didn’t text you back? Time to run at the gym for 2 hours. Got a C- on your English paper? Time to beat yourself up about it mentally and physically. Don’t know how to handle the overwhelming wave of emotions you are feeling? Hurt yourself in some secret way that no one else will be likely to notice and then become more angry when they don’t mention it. This is no way to live your life, love. Your feelings are valid but they don’t get to control you. Find healthy outlets for your anger like going for a long walk or writing about it. If someone has hurt you talk to them about it. People are not mind readers. Which brings us to point 10.
  10. Don’t be afraid to miss someone. If someone breaks your heart, and you break theirs, don’t be afraid to show you are hurting. Do not do this with the intention of causing further pain but as an acknowledgement that there is a pain. If you keep it all bottled up inside and never show them that you grieve them, that you miss them, that you are sorry, then they will tell themselves that you never cared. You know this is not true but actions speak louder than words and you need to find a balancing point between showing you did care and not causing further damage. It will take a lot of trial and error. Apologize and love yourself in the process. You will get through this and it is part of being human.
  11. Don’t hate the rebound. Don’t feel the need to commit to them either. This will apply to both yours and to your ex’s. If you fill the need to use someone new to stop the bleeding then acknowledge that they are a band aid and not a new limb. Do not tell them you love them if you do not. Don’t treat them like garbage either. You are not obligated to hate the person that your ex dates next. They will likely share many of the same qualities you do and that is because you are both people worthy of love. Self care is also important though as are your feelings. You do not have to make this person your new best friend in the name of staying in touch with your ex. This can lead to a lot of pain and confusion. Allow time for you both to heal. Proceed with caution and allow yourself to make mistakes. Apologize.
  12. Just because one of your friends doesn’t like someone doesn’t mean you don’t have to. Seriously. You love your friend for a reason. If you know them long enough there are also qualities about them that drive you up the wall. Perhaps it is these qualities that draw your friend to this third person that you can’t stand to be in the same room with. Your feelings are valid. So are theirs. Explain to your friend that you care for them dearly and you are glad they have other friends, but you are not drawn to them in the same way. You will learn to share and delegate events and tasks. It will also be much easier to put up with this friend’s friend when it is necessary if it not a daily occurrence. Your feelings are valid. So are those of your friends.
  13. Just because someone else misused your body doesn’t mean everyone else has a right to it. You are so so loved. And I am so so sorry he hurt you. It’s a complicated pain and it manifests itself in weird ways. I can tell you that an ineffectual way to stem the bleeding is to throw yourself at everyone who passes by. Their seal of approval or indifference does not make or break you. You are an unbreakable person with moments of brokenness. You are loved. You owe them NOTHING. You are NOT damaged goods. I promise you this with my whole heart. I love you. You are loved. And baby girl, you deserve to be loved.
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Damaged Goods?

To say I started this blog because of a singular event would be incorrect. To say it was started because of a string of events would be closer to the truth. In reality, it was a string of mentalities that really brought this blog into being.

Allow me to set the stage.

I grew up in a Christian home. My father grew up in a United Pentecostal church and my mother was a Wesleyan. My siblings and I were raised in a Baptist church in a small conservative fishing village. Given the remoteness of our community along with other psychosocial factors we had a tendency to cycle through pastors fairly quickly. One thing all these men had in common was weekly altar calls and warnings about hell. Every. week. My church went through a period of three years where we pastored ourselves while waiting for the right leader to arrive. These were spiritually some of the best years of my life.

At the age of sixteen my church finally elected a new pastor. He and I clashed from the start. It seemed the focus of every sermon was on the inevitable descent into hell. As someone who had been told at the age of three that if I did not want to pray then Jesus would forget about me when I died and I would go to hell this terrified me. I wanted nothing to do with a theology focused on damnation—the fear of which having already influenced every decision I had made for the last thirteen years. At the age of sixteen I started questioning the beliefs of my church, choosing instead to try and find my own relationship with God. A relationship not so driven by hate and fear.

By the time I entered university I was going through the motions of faith. I was still motivated by my fear of hell but questioned if there was any real significance to anything else I had learned. I went to church sporadically, made an effort to read my Bible daily, and lived my life however I wanted. I dated non-Christians, swore like a sailor and drank like one too.

This brings us to September of 2012. I was a washed up mess. The toxic combination of my drinking and unhealthy relationships had sent me into a suicidal head spin over the summer. I had fallen in love with a girl for the first time. These feelings weren’t returned but I was left to figure out my sexuality all over again. I was mentally, spiritually, and physically exhausted. I showed up to my university’s clubs and societies fair in a daze.

This was how the Christian Fellowship at my school found me. I had meant to join when I started university but there was a conflict in my schedule and each time it became easier not to go. I knew a few people in the IVCF (InterVarsity Christian Fellowship) from church, but not well enough for them to know who I was outside of church. Those who did know me thought I was eccentric if not outright crazy. Nevertheless they invited me to their first event and I found myself saying yes. I slowly because more involved with the group and started making friends. All the time looking at myself—a queer, recovering alcoholic, self-destructive, feminist—surrounded by all these Good Christian Kids and silently asking myself, “what the fuck am I doing here?”

I kept my insecurities to myself. Some days they ate at me more than others. Some days I clashed with my Christian friends even when I didn’t want to. Over time however I came to see that my friends weren’t perfect either and this helped. I still felt like damaged goods, but I came to realize that maybe I wasn’t alone in these feelings.

All of this is a really long lead up to Easter Sunday 2014. On Psalm Sunday we had watched a video in church of people holding up cardboard signs saying what they had struggled/were struggling with and how God had helped them. Our pastors told us that they would like to see something similar happen at our church for Easter Sunday. They asked us to spend the next week thinking about what to say if we wanted to participate.

I spent the next week wrestling back and forth with the idea of saying anything. I love being there for other people but I am terrified of being vulnerable. I was worried that the friendships I had worked on for the last two years would be taken from me. That I would be seen as the damaged goods I always knew myself to be. I was terrified.

Sunday morning as I was enjoying Easter breakfast with my church family I gathered up the courage and decided to let myself be vulnerable. I grabbed a piece of cardboard and a permanent marker. On one side I wrote in big bold letters ”DAMAGED GOODS”. Along the edges of the sign I put “self-medication (pills, alcohol), depression, self-harm, eating disorder, sexual abuse, suicidal ideation.” On the back of the sign I put the words “being transformed by Christ.” A little shaken I returned to the breakfast table and waited for church to start.

I was surprised by the amount of people who came forward with signs. Some of them I knew and some I didn’t. When it was my turn I stood at the front and unloaded my insecurities on the church. As I flipped the sign I started crying. I stood there with tears in my eyes on the stage with the rest of the sign holders for what felt like an hour. I was still crying when I returned to sit with my friends. I was met with hugs, not ostracization. One of my friends thanked me afterwards for my honesty and bravery. I didn’t feel very brave. It just didn’t make sense to keep it inside of me anymore.

Thankfully my friends did not abandon me upon hearing The Truth (as I so dramatically put it at the time). My friendships remained strong and having not been accepted into grad school I decided to stay in town another year. Some of my reasons for doing so were healthier than others. This town is the first place I’ve ever felt at home. This is the first place I’ve ever had a strong group of friends. I was still worried that if I left my friends would say “Thank God” and no longer feel the obligation to talk to me. I would be alone again and that terrified me. I trusted these people but not enough to test it apparently.

A summer apart taught me that real friends stay in touch. You might not talk to them everyday but you know that not only would they care if something bad happened to you, but they care and are there in the good times too.

Which brings me to the night I decided to make this blog once and for all. I am sorry it has taken me so long to get here. I’ve never done anything like this before.

As I mentioned, I decided to stay in my university town after graduation. There isn’t much work outside of the university. I was working in a coffee shop two towns over. I had graduate friends visiting and the only exciting news I had was I had found a job working at the coffee shop in the university town instead. My friends showed up with the young adults who were working as counsellors at a Bible camp for the summer. Even though they were all very friendly, once again I felt like a dirty penny, like everything I said was wrong in some way. This mentality was no one’s fault but my own. I managed to shake myself of it by the end of the evening. After the late teens/young adults had left I wandered the streets with my friends and reminisced on the last four years. It was empowering to see how far we had come, how much things had changed since we first arrived. I momentarily stopped beating myself up and conceded that maybe I wasn’t a lost cause after all.

So here we are, blogosphere. This isn’t a recovery blog, per se. It’s not a Dear Abby blog either. It’s just a place to spill out some thoughts and try to make sense of my own headspace. Sometimes it’s not enough to keep a journal but posting somewhere that all my friends can see it doesn’t feel right either. As time progresses people I know will hear about this blog, but we’ll both just have to deal with that when the time comes. This space will not be perfect and for the most part it will not be apologetic. But it will be my own. My words to share with whom I please and if you made it to the end of this incredibly long diatribe and still wish to stick around then I applaud your patience.

Welcome to my self, perhaps still salvageable after all.

September 10, 2014 (posted September 23 because I am a slacker)