How My Life's Difficulties Ultimately Changed Me For the Better
by Rachel S.
What’s your story, morning glory?
When people ask me about my story, the first thought that enters my mind is . . . which one? I see life as a series of stories that culminate in a certain concept of death. Each story includes the death of something leading to a belief in something greater.
The gain we realize between each story is an increased tolerance or capacity to bear the circumstances that are thrown our way in life. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve asked God how much more crap he thinks I can take, I’d be a rich woman. But alas, I’m a poor writer with a rich soul instead.
The moral of the stories I’ve experienced in my life is one of resilience—or, how much crap you can take and still bounce back to being a whole person. The foundation upon which I built my own resilience is actually nothing more than true grit.
My story is how I got my grit.
In the Beginning . . .
I spent the first three days of my life alone in the hospital with jaundice. Jaundice is a common birth issue nowadays. Today, they will send the mom home with a glow blanket to wrap their little bundle of joy in. Unfortunately, 35 years ago this wasn’t an option.
My mother was one of the "indignant populace." She could only scrape up enough change to call the hospital from a payphone to check on her baby girl once a day. I don’t think I met my father for the first time until several weeks later. So, you could say I’ve been independent since birth.
By the time I was 5 years old, my mother left her abusive relationship with my father and I experienced staying in a safe home, a women’s shelter. It was not a healthy environment for a little lady. I saw several women come in bearing the marks of abuse and feeling lost, lonely, scared, and sad. It was then that I embraced the independence of being my own person and swore off any emotional attachment to a boy.
All I knew in my little girl heart was the equation: men + love = nothing but pain.
My childhood wasn’t awful. I had the pleasure of growing up on Lake Michigan and experiencing all four seasons. I spent every waking minute outdoors. I had some beautiful years of innocence mixed with some not so beautiful experiences of loss. The good parts of my life laid a piece of the story that led me to build the resilience I would need later in life.
The Making of a Misfit
By the age of 12, I was drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. Both were easily accessible and I had no healthy outlet or commitments to anything scholarly. I was trying to survive and never thought I’d be good enough. Shame tormented me. I was rejected by my father who was incapable of being a parent. He didn’t support us financially, so I didn’t have the trendy things required to blend in with the rest of the crowd.
I felt like a rebel, a misfit, a reject . . . so that’s who I became. I was trying desperately to escape the hellish experience of the sexual abuse that happened while I was younger.
I made the poor choices of partying, skipping school, and hanging with the wrong crowd. The choices left me vulnerable to older guys looking to take advantage of a pretty little drunk girl. So I let them. I didn’t know any better. Then in my senior year of high school, I found myself pregnant after a one night stand of blackout drinking. School became a humiliating place.
Friends disappeared after rumors flew like trash in the breeze (which is clearly what I felt I was).
By the time I was 18, I had suffered the loss of a baby—I had miscarried. The pain of this loss—and the pain it caused all those around me—was simply unbearable. The pain could only be cured by a new best friend called prescription pain meds. The pain pills numbed the physical writhing agony of losing a child.
It wasn’t long before I learned the pain meds were capable of numbing the pain I had in my heart and soul. I abused them until I moved on to club drugs. I was addicted to club drugs such as ecstasy for a year. I knew from the first time I got high that I was addicted. I spent the remaining year chasing that first high all over again, only to be disappointed when I never could relive it. The partying caught up to me when I found myself paranoid and depressed.
The anxiety of the lifestyle got the best of me and I could hardly function anymore.
The Transformation Begins
I still remember the call like it was yesterday.
My mother answered the phone that day and passed it to me—it was an Army Recruiter. My hands shook and heart raced as I took the call. I was promised world travel and an education. My life was headed nowhere; I knew I had to do something drastic to change it. In a manner of seconds I had decided to join.
I would ship out just a few weeks later.
Ironically, I had spent the previous 18 years building the resilience and grit I would need to get through basic training.
I had never done a pushup in my life. I had never run. I had never done one, single sit up. Drill Sergeants swarmed me. They screamed in my face so closely that my cheek would catch an occasional drop of spit. I gave them everything I had to give. Turns out I had a whole lot more grit than I thought. I outperformed everyone in my platoon. I was the second fastest running female in my company. There was nothing I couldn’t do; there was no drill I would fail. I believed in myself. I found confidence. I was competent.
I can honestly say that I was quite the badass!
Then I met the man who would change life as I knew it. I had toughened myself by then to give love a chance. I'd never been in love before and never dared to tell a man I loved him, but my husband captured my heart. I know it's cliché to say it was love at first sight, but I knew that I would spend the rest of my life with that man. God blessed me with a vision of it.
Long story short, we married at the courthouse and honeymooned in Iraq. We were both soldiers, military police that deployed for one year in 2003. We followed the marines into Iraq in OIF1.
I can say that war changes the human soul in ways that science cannot explain. We came back forever changed by war, hardened, numb, and in pain. We dealt with the pain of war in different unhealthy and destructive paths. Although we had a couple of wonderful kids along the way, we discussed parting ways. Before we made anything official we turned toward recovery. We knew we had to be better people for our children, regardless if we were together or apart.
Through recovery and a discovered relationship with Christ we were able to mend our brokenness and become one again. Our family became whole and healthy again.
Rolling with the Punches
Years after finding recovery in my early 30s, I was recently blindsided by my father’s death. I had tried many times to mend our broken relationship through the years. Unfortunately I was unsuccessful. His dependence on alcohol and mental illness finally did him in far earlier than when his time should have come. There was no funeral to attend, no memorial service, no gravesite. His wife didn’t even notify the family for 4 months after his death.
Processing his death was one of the most powerful moments of surrender I had faced yet. Submission to the process led to another breakthrough in recovery.
I made my way through college and graduated with a BA in sociology, and am now working on my MA in counseling to become an LCDC. I’m currently a Mental Health Provider for Crisis Services. I could have followed a very different path in life. But somehow through this magical concoction of grit and recovery my story became one that can lead others to discover their own potential.
All these stories of my life built up enough resilience to transform me into a completely new person.
So when people ask me, “What’s your story?” I have too many of them to summarize in one easy narrative. The plot always changes. It seems to thicken, and my story leads to yet another transformation. At these liminal points of change, you experience the climax of growth. What you’re left with is an ability to bounce back, even when the tolerance for the circumstances that life throws at you seem overwhelming: that’s resilience.
It’s said that not all stories have happy endings. I have to disagree. I believe even the sad endings wind up giving us something invaluable. In the words of Dr. Steve Maraboli, “Life doesn’t get any easier or more forgiving; we get stronger and more resilient.”
Where will your resilience take you? Leave a comment below—I'd love to hear about your story.