My Navy Brother

My hometown is San Antonio, Texas, aka Military City. My dad was in the Navy and each of his parents and his only brother were in the military. I think his mom was in the navy and dad and brother were in the air force, or maybe vice versa. I don’t remember. My mom wanted to be in the Air Force, but became a mother instead (thanks, Momma), and her dad and brother (I think) were in the Air Force. Therefore, being from such a military strong family and city, I always knew that at least one or more of my siblings would end up in the military too. Sure enough, my twenty-year-old brother, Cody, just finished A school for the Navy. After being gone for five or so months, he just got home on Thursday. It was fantastic! He always said he’d plan a surprise homecoming should he be in the military, but I wasn’t expecting him to do it before ever being deployed. He did it though.

He told us he’d be home at midnight Thursday night, but the actual plan was for him to be home at midnight Wednesday night. According to our mom, he showed up to surprise his fiancé first. Then he showed up at our childhood home to surprise Momma. In her typical fashion, she looked through the peep hole at the sound of a knock on the door. When she saw that the peep hole was covered by someone’s hand, she knew right away that it was my brother. She rejoiced in excitement and opened the door. After opening the door, she saw my sister-in-love and dad, who was in on the surprise, standing behind my brother on the porch.

After surprising my mom, they all went to down the street seven houses to surprise my mom’s parents. Then momma took the kids to three different schools to surprise our nine school-aged siblings. Sometime during that time, I received a text message from my mom asking me if I could meet her so she could give me something.

At first, I didn’t think anything of it, but then I went on Facebook and was reminded that Cody would be coming home that day. It’s very hard to surprise me, because I’m always thinking about and overanalyzing things, so I immediately realized that’s probably what the surprise was. Still though, I tried not to dwell on it, just in case I was wrong. My mom suggested that we meet at Starbucks and I agreed. When I got there she was already there. Nobody in my family is every on time for something, let alone early. In fact, I’m really ever the only who leaves early or on time. My mother being there before was almost definitive proof that my brother would be with her. When I walked inside, I found my mom sitting alone. I thought, maybe it’s just coincidence she wanted to give me something the same day my brother was supposed to be home. I say down with her and we started talking. Then Cody came up to me and honestly, my heart is STILL smiling!

The truth is that when we were in high school, Cody and I practically hated each other. More times than anything, we fought and yelled at each other over every little thing. There was a time when I thought I would be glad to live apart without seeing each other all the time. That was before I had to go several months without seeing him. If you’ve ever watched the first Cheaper by the Dozen movie, then you’ve heard one of my favorite quotes. Hilary Duff’s character, Lorraine, says to a younger sibling, “Sometimes, I may want to kill you, but I will always kill for you.” It’s a bit dramatic, but it’s true. Even in the days when my brother and I would fight enough that we told each other we hated each other, I know there wasn’t anything that could ever keep us from protecting each other from anyone else. You know, it’s the whole “You can’t pick on my sibling! Only I can pick on my sibling,” scenario.

Anyway, I wanted to write this blog post for two reasons. One reason is that I do love my brother I’m so glad he’s home, for however long that may be. He’s getting married today and that’s super exciting. I’m not one for physical or monetary gifts. There’s too much pressure and not enough sentiment. I’m a writer, so I do what I do best. I write letters and songs and things for the people I care about. That’s why I’m writing this—to show my brother and the world how much I love him!

The second reason is a bit more… political, I suppose. So many people disrespect servicemen and women and their families. They take servicemen and women and their families for granted. If you’re not a serviceman or woman and you’ve never been in a military family, then you can’t even begin to understand how taxing it is. Yes, my dad got out of the Navy when I was only seven and my brother went into the navy nearly fifteen years later, so I haven’t lived with it for the majority of my life, but I do remember. A little part of me remembers what it was like to wait for my dad to get home after being deployed for months on end. I don’t really remember many details, but somewhere in the back of my mind I do remember one thing. I remember being in a crowd of people waiting for my dad and then sitting on his shoulders walking through the same crowd when we were finally reunited. I felt the heartbreak and saw the sadness on my siblings faces as we discussed how Cody wasn’t with us. He didn’t get have Thanksgiving with us. Nor did he get to have Christmas with us. He didn’t even get to be with us for the New Year or for his birthday. We didn’t get to see him in person. We did however, thanks to the new technology of the past few years, get to Facetime him on our cellphones, so that was nice. It was actually quite exciting. So I write this blog post as a thank you to my brother and as a reminder to those who might read it that being in the military and being a family member of the military can be very taxing, so please remember that when you enjoy your freedoms! I certainly remember it as often as I can, especially since I can’t go anywhere without seeing servicemen and women wherever I go!

10 Things… That Keep Me Alive

A couple weeks ago, my friend asked me to participate in a project she is doing for “research/polling/social science-ing.” She asked, “Hey would you be willing to make a list of 10 things you live for? Things that keep you alive?” That’s a very intense question. To be asked for ten answers is a bit intimidating. I do want to answer though, so I will in the best way that I know how by writing this blog post. I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of the phrase “what do you live for,” but I do love the question, “What keeps you alive?” As someone who has experienced what it’s like to be depressed, I know firsthand just how many things can drain the life out of a person. On the other hand, as someone who has overcome depression, I also know that many things can bring life to a person. in Basically, you can sum up my answer into three parts: 1) What keeps my spirit alive, what keeps my soul alive, and what keeps my heart alive. With no further ado, and in no particular order, these are the 10 things that keep me alive:

1.      Prayer

2.      Going to church

3.      Friends

4.      Family

5.      Encouraging others

6.      Learning other people’s stories

7.      Listening to music

8.      Writing

9.      Playing Guitar/Singing

10.  Reading books, poetry, and quotes

As a Believer of every word of the Bible, obviously I believe I am only alive because God wants me to be. I also believe though that being alive physically, does not mean I am alive in my soul, heart, and spirit. It’s a morbid though, but from the moment we are born, we’re already dying and that’s why we need things to keep us alive.

I know it seems cliché, but two things that keep me alive are prayer and going to church. These two keep me alive spiritually. I get really bad anxiety attacks sometimes and the only thing that keep me going in those moments is prayer. It can be as simple as just crying out Jesus’ name or as complex as having an all-out conversation with God, but no matter what it gives me life. Every Sunday, I go to church. Each week, without fail, I can feel in my body that I’ve been recharged with new life the moment I pull into the church parking lot. Just being there is enough, but more than being there, I get life from the people at church.

Most of the time, I’d rather be at home in my room by myself. Sometimes though, when I’m with the right people, being with people keeps my heart alive. One of the many ways going to church keeps me alive is by giving a place to see my best friend almost every week. I don’t exactly love my job, but I do love going to work because two of my closest friends are there and seeing them and talking to them adds to the quality of my life. Last year, I moved out of my childhood home and away from my family; now when I see them each week, I get to breathe the fresh air of life. Getting to write blog posts and having the knowledge that there is any chance I can encourage people with my posts and getting to have deep conversations with people gives me a special kind of life. Furthermore, it’s also life-giving for me to get to hear other people’s stories to learn from them and see how far they’ve come.

Finally, art keeps my soul alive. Listening to music keeps me alive. There was a time when I was so depressed that listening to an uplifting playlist saved to my phone really was the only thing keeping me alive. Since then, are has been the main thing God has used to keep me alive. He uses writing—this blog, another blog I have, journaling, music, poems, and two books. Reading books, poetry, and quotes breathes new life into me. Playing guitar and singing also keeps me alive.

So, Anna-Marie, now that you’ve read this, I hope I’ve answered it to your satisfactory. I hope it helps you with whatever it is you’re actually doing. I’m still not quite clear on what your project is. Anyway, if nothing else, it gave me a new blog post, so that’s always nice! It also gave me an idea for a blog series, so we’ll see where that leads.

What Happened to Me?

I shared my last blog post with the friend who asked me what to say to and how to be there for someone who inflicts self-harm. She’s one of my closest friends, but we haven’t ever talked about my “abyss of fire” in detail before. She knows that I inflicted self-harm and that God used her and a few other people to bring me out of the darkness. Beyond that, I realized that I haven’t told her much else about my darkest hours. Nor have I told her much about how I came out of it. Her specific question was a two-part question. What did you begin to believe about God and yourself? What was the process like of God changing your heart? I explained to her that it’s a long story, but that it’s another great topic for a blog. That’s why I’m writing this today.

What did I begin to believe about God? What did I begin to believe about myself? What an interesting question that is. It’s funny actually. Not like, “Funny, Ha. Ha,” more like funny interesting. On my eighteenth birthday, I laid in bed crying like I had many nights before. I cried until after midnight, so maybe for half an hour. Then I started writing a letter to my future boyfriend or husband. That’s why I was crying actually. I was eighteen and still single. My dream was to have true love. I didn’t just want a boyfriend, I wanted a husband to marry and do life with. When most of my friends, even those younger than me, had boyfriends, I turned eighteen and was still single. Halfway through writing my letter to “someone” I started over and wrote a different letter. Over four years later, I still have that letter and this is what I wrote:

Dear Me (Eighteen Years Old)

Here I am now. It’s been four years, four months, and three days since I wrote that letter and I’m still single. You know what I’m not though? I’m not lonely anymore. You know what I am? I am confident. I love myself and I feel beautiful more often than I don’t. My relationship with God could always grow stronger, but it’s so much stronger now than it was when I was eighteen. My insecurities about being single were only a small part of my “abyss of darkness” though. I had much more deeply rooted problems.

What was the process like of God changing my heart? That’s an interesting question too. I was still depressed after writing that letter. I was still hurting myself. Soon, everything changed though. Demi Lovato aired her show “Stay Strong” on MTV and I learned what could happen to me if I didn’t stop hurting myself–I could have ended up in rehab. Then I started listening to BarlowGirl, a Christian girl band. I watched several interviews with of BarlowGirl and learned that one of them—the one I had always thought was the prettiest—had had an eating disorder because she had the same depressed and lonely feelings I had. Learning about Demi Lovato’s stay in rehab for depression and self-harm, among other things, scared me into changing and learning about how God was able to redeem Becca Barlow after she had an eating disorder gave me hope for myself. I didn’t change overnight, but the Lord did start to change my heart a little bit at a time. He gave me Demi and Becca as examples of how it is possible to overcome the darkness. He gave me songs to remind me I wasn’t alone. He also gave me new friends who showed me what true friendship is like.

Realistically, I won’t ever be fully healed, because I’ll always have a scar. Yes, scars make are signs that we survived something that made us stronger, but scars are also wounds that are more easily opened than unharmed skin. Once you give into the darkness, one negative thought or one mistake could put you at risk of going back, but that’s the beauty of healing. It’s also the beauty of grace. For me, God gave me friends and a playlist of songs to remind me that I don’t have to give into the darkness. It’s a beautiful reminder to know that I have people in my corner so that I don’t ever have to fear sleeping into the darkness again. If I do though, I know that it’s okay. Falling doesn’t mean failing. Failing is falling and not getting back up. With the people I have in my life, I don’t think I could ever fall and not get back up, because God knew and still knows that that’s what it takes for me to stay strong. It takes a group of friends who will always help me back up.

How to Care for Someone Who Inflicts Self-Harm

Let me begin this post with a short introduction for myself. I’m a very analytical person. Sometimes that works out well for me, because it helps me to be thorough and passionate. Other times, it doesn’t work out very well for me. Sometimes my analytical tendencies aid to me becoming stressed from over-thinking. During part of my sophomore year of high school and my junior year of high school, I became depressed over the many things I stressed about. It wasn’t long before I became so desperate in my depression that I looked for an escape from the pain it caused. I found my escape by inflicting self-harm. After 2012, when I came to terms with my problems and overcame them, I haven’t kept it a secret. If you read any of my other blog posts, most of them will bring some mention to what I call my “Abyss of Fire.”

Someone recently asked me for advice on what to say to someone struggling with self-harm. She wasn’t sure exactly how to be there for her friend. At first, I wasn’t sure what to tell her. Everyone is different. So I asked whether her friend had come to her about it or whether she just suspected there was a problem. She told me that her friend had come to her and I answered her question the best that I could. I’ve been thinking about her question since she asked. How can someone help someone else who is dealing with self-harm?

The most important thing is to let the person know that you are there for them and that you care. I try to make it a point to ask each of my close friends how they are doing. I don’t just ask them, “How are you?” I ask, “How are you doing? How can I pray for you?” Then I often ask follow up questions. When I was inflicting self-harm, nobody knew I felt depressed and was hurting. I didn’t tell anyone, because no one ever asked me how I was. It is so, so important to ask people how they’re doing. Sometimes, that question could be the one thing that keeps them from going over the deep end. I think if I had had someone who asked me just once how I was, I wouldn’t have fallen so deep into my depression. Sometimes, just asking one time shows the person that you do care and that will lead them to want to tell you. I know for me, when I met my best friends Allie, Holly, and Shelby Lilly, they showed me pretty quickly that they cared. Almost immediately, I felt comfortable enough with them that I told them on my own when I needed to help and prayer. Telling people that I’m struggling does not come easily to me. I don’t know that it comes easily to anyone, but it certainly doesn’t for me. I have three friends now though that I know will hear me when I cry, so I cry out to them when I’m feeling close to the edge. I have two other friends now whom I will honestly and thoroughly answer if they ask me how I’m doing. To anyone else, I might say, “Not well,” but I won’t go into detail. Correction, I do have a few other friends I’d be willing to open up to also. The five are just the people I see and or talk to on a regular basis.

In addition to asking, for real, how someone is, observe them. Don’t be all weird and obvious about it. Just as a friend, watch them with caring eyes. From my experience personally and with other people, I’ve learned that we will say and do things to indirectly tell you how we are. After observing them, do little things to prove you do care how they’re doing. Now that I’m comfortable with who I am, I’m sometimes much quieter than anyone has ever known me to be. Mostly, that’s because when I was in high school and depressed, one of my attempts to stay afloat was to text literally every number in my phone every day after school. I needed someone to ask me how I was doing. In high school, there was only one person who every really asked me. Her name was Demi and we were close friends when I was sophomore and during part of junior year. She knew, just from the tone of my text messages, if something was wrong with me and she would ask. For the most part, no one ever caught on to the fact that I was desperately crying out for someone to ask me if I was okay. Now that I’m better, it’s mostly a habit to talk a lot. I’m good at it, so why not? I also just genuinely like talking to some people. When I am quiet, people will ask me what’s wrong. After a while it gets a bit annoying to be asked by everyone, but I wouldn’t ever ask them to stop. I may not be depressed now, but I was once and sometimes it’s hard not to be afraid of going back there. More times than not, whether something is wrong or not, just having someone ask me how I’m doing reminds me that people do care. I don’t have to be afraid of falling into my “Abyss of Fire” again. I know I’ve got people in my corner this time around. One of my five told me that it might have something to do with my thinking face. I get a very serious look on my face when I’m in deep thought.

It’s the little things that help the most. One of my five, Stephanie, will ask me if something’s wrong maybe once a week, because of said thinking face. So far, there hasn’t been anything wrong when she has asked, but one day there will be. The fact that she asks lets me know that I can be honest with her when that day does come. Another of my five, Vickie, is just my person. It started as a joke, but now it’s real. She makes me feel so special, because I had a day off from work last week and she told me a few times that she missed me. Nobody has ever really told me that. No one has told me they missed my presence, not on their own accord. Stephanie, and another of my five, Shelby Lilly, have teased me about going away though, so in that way they’ve showed me they’d miss my presence. Vickie though, she actually told me she missed me. Vickie and Shelby Lilly both tell me to text them when I get home when we’ve been together and that is another way they show me they care. My mom always did that when I lived with her and I appreciate it now. Then though, I was a whiny teenager who was annoyed by the fact that Mom wanted to know exactly where I was at all times. Shelby Lilly, and the other two of my five, Allie and Holly, have written me many letters for different occasions. These letters hang on my bedroom wall or sit in an envelope on my nightstand to remind me of the ways they care about me. One of my younger friends, Anna-Marie has also written me several letters that remind me she cares. The same goes for our other friend Shelby R., though hers have come via text or Facebook message.

It’s the little things that often make the biggest difference. Without these girls, especially Shelby, Vickie, and Stephanie who are older and wiser than me, I may not have been able to say that I’m a truly happy and healthy person now. It’s nice to have close friends who are older than me, because it’s like having the older sister I never had, but always wanted. God has used all these girls, and many others, so much in my life that I wouldn’t be the same person without them. That sounds cliché, but it’s true.

Ultimately, if you are ever faced with needing to know what to say and how to be there for someone who inflicts self-harm, just be there for them. Be like the girls from my last paragraph. Do the little things to show you care. Be like Shelby Lilly and Stephanie. More than anyone in my life, they notice and remember random things I do and say. They point out little details about me and they prove they remember weeks, months, and sometimes years later.

1.      Ask how people are doing.

2.      Be there.

3.      Pay attention.

4.      Do the little things.

5.      You’ll change someone’s life; I promise.