“And love, it’s not the easy thing.”
Love isn’t something I receive very well. I never understood why my friends stuck by me or people who continued to believe in me, because I never even loved myself. I think some of that stems from being adopted and this overwhelming fear of being abandoned because I felt that I have never belonged. The fear might have made me sad at first, but I grew accustomed to it over the years because it was what I knew.
I was at home with my depression. The self-hate tore my life apart and was written on the surface of my body. There were nights where I numbed myself to the world around me, trying not to feel anything, and mornings that I regretted waking up. In my sport, pain was a good thing, so I associated putting myself through agony as an okay way to cope (despite the fact that I don’t believe it made me a better swimmer). I carried this darkness with me at all times, reluctant to let anyone in because I wanted to paint a mask of perfection. The mask didn’t fool many people. I defined myself by my perceived failures, and I couldn’t shake it, the truth coming through even when I wouldn’t own it out loud.
“And if the darkness is to keep us apart,
And if the daylight feels like it’s a long way off,
And if your glass heart should crack,
And for a second you turn back,
Oh no, be strong.”
I centered my life around this concept of complete and utter self-loathing, which I used as a shield so that people couldn’t get near me. Like self-loathing was a contagious disease that might spread if someone got too close. I kept telling myself that no one needed to rescue me because I wasn’t worth saving anyway. It got to the point where I had to be removed from my swim team because I was sucking the good out of everything around me.
Here I was living this dream of being a successful scholarship athlete at one of the best programs in the country, but I didn’t even care. There were few moments of brilliance as my talent took over my stubbornness, but mostly I just wallowed in darkness. One of my coaches, who I thought the world of, told me that I was stronger than I knew, but I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t find any strength, and I was too tired to look.
“And I know it aches.
How your heart, it breaks.
You can only take so much.”
I don’t remember if there was an actual rock bottom moment. I felt like I had been settled at the bottom for a while. Then, Frank showed up, and I couldn’t stand him one bit. As my new coach, he was honest with me and refused to put up with my attitude. He challenged me to make a change. On multiple occasions.
It’s not that people before him hadn’t tried to help me build a way out of my depression, but he was there when I was mature enough and ready to listen.
“All that you fashion, all that you make.
All that you build, all that you break.
All that you measure, all that you feel.
All this you can leave behind.”
Frank and his wife created a sort of safe harbor for me and opened my mind up to the possibility of recovery and the idea of healing. When I started actually fighting for my life, I became aware that there were so many people around me who had been there, patiently waiting for me to see that they would try to understand. People who loved me all along — through the storms and brokenness. What a miracle that seemed to me.
“Home, I can’t say where it is, but I know I’m going.”
I don’t believe I am defined by this struggle, but it is a part of what shaped me into the person I am today. I’m still working hard to understand grace and forgiveness, but I’m in a place where I can let those ideas inside.
One foot in front of the other, and one day at a time.
There are times when I feel weak, but my community shares its strength and reminds me of my own. I am forever grateful that I had those people in my life who believed I was worth fighting for and taught me the true meaning of love. That’s what makes all of this so beautiful, because now I get to share it.
This isn’t just my story.
Spring 2012 Intern
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