By the time I was 5 years old, I witnessed the man I called “daddy” force physical, emotional and mental pain in my mother’s and his own children’s lives.
By the time I was 7, he had left and came back so many times that it altered my ability to understand what healthy family relationships truly are.
I was exposed to abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, the harmful effects of a father’s pornography habit and un-treated mental illness before I could even read.
I struggled with obesity as a child and teenager because my father chose to spend all his money on temporary satisfactions or getting himself out of jail again and again while my mom had to manage things on her own.
All through grade school, I was bullied and mocked on the school bus for my appearance and poor family life.
I spent every recess in elementary school sitting at the edge of the blacktop by myself, watching all the other kids have fun without me.
I was raised believing that no one, even my own father wanted me. So in order to protect myself, I just became hardened, and submitted myself to the darkness, or, what seemed like the only thing that did want me.
When I was 10 years old, I started turning to pornography because my father chose to take and abuse those feelings before I was old enough to understand them.
By the time I hit middle school, I was placed in handcuffs twice, sentenced to probation and 200+ hours of community service for beating innocent girls because they threatened the people I was close to.
I was angry, mean, and insecure because I was afraid.
Then a few years later, I followed my mother and sister in the effort to escape from our abuser never to let him back in again. We were homeless, carrying just one duffle bag each, only to soon after become aquatinted with two Mormon missionaries.
They taught us about how we had a loving Heavenly Father, who provided a Savior to heal us from the wrong-doings of those around us. They taught me of the precious worth of souls, and what forgiveness could do for me. They said, if I lived the way God wanted me to live, I could be made clean and whole, and I’d never have to live in darkness again.
For the first time, I experienced light and felt like I didn’t have to be afraid anymore.
After graduating high school, I decided to move away from everything and chase that light. I became seriously active in church, transferred to a BYU school, prepared to serve a full-time mission, scored straight A’s every semester after returning home, became passionate about exercise and healthy eating, got involved in service and campus activities and became one of the most known girls on campus for my talents, and a bubbly and loving personality. And in time, I reached the milestone of becoming the first college graduate in my entire family.
The message those two missionaries gave me had truly changed not just my life, but the woman I became.
Given my past, I could’ve easily become a menace to everyone around me. I could’ve repeated all the same patterns of those who came before me. I could’ve hardened my heart and let the darkness take over. But instead I chose to be soft, compassionate and righteous.
I chose to become who the Lord wanted me to be.
In a talk titled, “The Hope of God’s Light,” Elder Dieter F Uchtdorf shares a story of a girl named Jane who I relate to very well. He shared that after Jane found the gospel she chose to go to school a great distance away from her abuser, and in time felt free to enjoy the Savior’s peace and healing.
But just a few years later, Jane was again troubled by the horrible events of her youth. He says, “Profound sadness and anger threatened to destroy the wonderful light she had found in the gospel.”
Although all the things I’ve accomplished and have been blessed to receive over the past decade have been miraculous and incredible in many ways, no one, even myself knew how much I was still running. I’ve been shoving all of these issues under a rug hoping that I could distract myself with achieving success and being a good person in order to help me feel valued and make up for what I didn’t receive growing up.
And over the past few months the darkness has attempted to re-surface because of it. I’ve been faced with challenging tasks, huge transitions, heart-breaking life events and rejection after rejection. I’ve felt alone, abandoned and forgotten all over again. And I’ve been doing nothing but blaming myself, that little girl who wasn’t lovable or good enough for anyone to want to stick around.
Like Jane, the fear of doing all of this on my own has brought all of the trauma and darkness from my childhood back into my head, causing me to fail at almost every attempt I make to move forward. I’ve been embarrassed by the ways I’ve handled certain situations, closed off or too attached to the people I love because of my fears, and I’ve absolutely hated myself for not working hard enough, or not being good enough, and for the unwanted and unfair problems that my father caused in my life. It’s as if I’ve literally felt the darkness and fears of my childhood surround me in a way that almost feels crippling.
But the difference this time my dear friends, is that the light hasn’t left me. I still have my faith, my covenants and my Father in Heaven. I have remained faithful.
Sure, everyone’s past is different, but we’ve all been exposed to something that has caused us to question who we really are, what our worth and abilities are, and where we’re going in this life. We all need help in our own ways, and we need to help each other as best as we can.
In Uchtdorf’s talk, he says that Jane “realized that if she allowed the darkness to consume her, her tormentor would have a final victory.”
“She began to realize that, for her, the best path for healing was to understand and accept that darkness exists – but not to dwell there. For, as she now knew, light also exists – and that is where she chose to dwell.”
I am grateful for modern-day medicine and therapists who have studied the effects of trauma, abuse, and addiction – and are able to teach people like me how to function and process these life events in a healthy way. I can’t hate my father for doing the best he knew to do. He wasn’t given all the knowledge I have, and though his best wasn’t very great, he was simply trying to survive the best way he could. And none of that was my fault.
Honestly it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I am learning to literally change the habits of the thinking processes that were instilled in me as a little child. They are habits that require work, study (both spiritual and scientific), fasting, prayer, and professional accountability to fight. But my mind, my heart, and my thinking can be changed. If I don’t fight them completely in this life, I can learn how to at least manage them in a way where I don’t have to be afraid anymore, and I can live free from the suffering they cause. God has helped people do it before, and I know it can happen for me.
With the help of professionals, and the light of the Savior’s life and gospel, I’m learning how to be the assurance and protection I need for myself. I’m learning not to define my success and worth by the definition of the world or the compliments of others. And I’m learning how to literally hand things over to the Savior. It’s so painful, guys. It’s scary and at times seems impossible. And it’s just unfair.
But God’s plan always includes a happy ending.
To anyone else who’s suffered from any of the unfair events or bad decisions of life, I plead with you: DWELL IN THE LIGHT. Healing and peace takes seeking the right answers, putting in the work, and the process of time. But it’s worth it, and it will come.
The Savior says, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”
Yes, I’m a little bruised. I’ve made mistakes, and I’m embarrassed by a lot of what I’m going through again. But the process is what makes this journey so beautiful. I know I’m not the only one. We all need the Savior.
Of all the truths of the gospel, the one truth I have prayed time and time again to understand for myself is this,
God’s plan is for you to succeed.
He will not abandon you.
His love is always there.
And if you remain faithful to what He needs you to do, all that is unfair about life will be made right because of His Son, Jesus Christ.