No. 52 – Someone’s Always Looking

No. 52 – Someone’s Always Looking

I am a person who when working out, wants NO ONE else around. I don’t dress cute, style my hair or wear make up. My shoes and outfit don’t match or even coordinate for that matter. I wear loose, over-sized shirts, whatever pair of clean bottoms I can find, and strap myself down under three sports bras so I don’t knock myself out while jumping or moving. Some days are better than others, but usually I have to drag myself there, and I try to get in and get out as quickly as possible.

The past few months, I’ve been boxing. Which is completely empowering and makes me feel like an all around bad ass. Until I see myself in the mirror that is. In my head I’m much faster and more agile than I am in real life. Cue why I don’t like anyone else around while I’m practicing.

But for the past few weeks, it seemed anytime I frequented the gym, so did this middle-aged gentleman. He almost always attended with his two young daughters, neither looking to be over the age of five. Put out that other humans besides my husband and best friend could witness my total lack of skill and athleticism, I cringed every time they walked through the door. Not to mention that the young girls were full of energy and very talkative. My initial thought was “why would you bring these two kids with you while you work out? They’ll just get in the way.” But to my surprise, this stranger was exceptionally considerate and went out of his way to ensure neither he nor his daughters interfered with anyone else’s workouts.

One day, the man and his daughters were in the gym before us. Immediately after walking in, the man offered to leave if his daughters presence would be a distraction to us. I reassured him that they were not and we each went about our separate workouts. And in trying to avoid the mirror while doing some squat jump things, I observed the man interact with his two daughters. He was seated on a bench set up at an incline while doing some shoulder press moves. All the while, one daughter was propped on each knee. Giggling, smiling and interacting with each other and their father. It was an extremely touching encounter to witness.

It was apparent these girls adored their father. And he clearly reciprocated. Never seeming irritated or frustrated at the modifications he was forced into utilizing while trying to entertain his two young girls. Never scolding if they needed to be redirected. Keeping them close while making it appear they were getting just as much benefit of the the gym time as he was.

The more times I ran into this family, the more I looked forward to seeing them. Not really interacting much, but a definite positive impact on my day. We’d exchange pleasantries, and the father would always make sure their attendance didn’t put any inhabitance on our gym time. Which I assured him it didn’t.

About a week after I truly began to respect and admire this family, another third party observation shifted my perspective even further. Jess and I were rotating through some boxing circuit reps, taking turns working on different skills. I was yet again doing some fashion of squats and drifted away from the mirrors that seemed to surround me. Jess was on the boxing bag looking like a pro while doing some round kicks.

But what caught my attention was the father and his two daughters. Again, they were seated on his knees while he managed to do some dumbbell presses. The look of awe in the young eyes is what first zeroed in my focus. “Do you see those girls?” He questioned both his daughters. It was apparent they noticed, because their eyes were wide with curiosity. “These girls are strong. And when you get older you will be strong like they are too.” Grins flashed across their sweet faces and they looked in amazement as Jess continued to kick the bag.

Even throughout the remainder of my workout, I couldn’t shake that brief conversation. What an impact that father made on his children. Not only by showing them what a priority their health is by creating a positive relationship between his daughters and the gym. Even before they are old enough to work out. But also by pointing out a stranger as a positive role model. Not a pointing out a particular physique or workout method. This father recognized strength in another female and created a foundation of awe to support it.

Now, in the grand scheme of these young girls life, this encounter may be forgotten in a few weeks. But as a stranger who overhead a personal conversation by being a semi-creepy eavesdropper, I have a good instinct these types of conversations are not the exception. They are the normal for this father-daughter relationship. And what a beautiful lesson to be teaching young girls.

All this to say that you never know who’s watching. Or listening. You have no idea who is around. So to Jess, keep it up sis. Just by you working out like you do every week, you taught two young girls (and a girl a month older than you) that strength is awe-inspiring. You had no idea this family noticed you being your usual bad ass self. And yet just by showing up, made a positive impact.

And to this exceptional father, I am encouraged by your interactions with your daughters. You’re instilling traits in them before the age of five, that this 27 year old is still trying to sort out. What was most likely a brief conversation between a father and his daughters was also such a positive experience to a complete stranger.

Even though you may think no one notices all the little things you do. Someone is always looking. You may never see your impact on others, but you are making one just the same.

Be encouraged friends.

xxx

No. 50 – Holiday Perspective

No. 50 – Holiday Perspective

I looked at the calendar today and couldn’t believe that Mother’s Day is this Sunday. I find that most holidays are difficult for me to decipher emotionally. Some holidays are hard and gut wrenching. And in those moments, I don’t even want to be a part of this planet. Some holidays I feel indifferent and neutral. Just another regular day on the calendar. And other holidays I am able to reminisce and bask in good memories. Memories that make me laugh and brighten my spirits a little.

As my mind wondered, my fingers searched through old notes in my phone, hoping for some perspective. I was brought back to this reflection written three years ago. Obviously penned from a place of pain and grief. I’m instantly taken back to that pew, overwhelmed to the brink and feeling like the only person in the world suffering a strained relationship.

05.09.16 : I still struggle with the concept of forgiveness. Have you truly forgiven someone if it still brings you to tears? Have I really begun to heal when old scars continue to reopen?

Another Mother’s Day came and went leaving my heart entangled in emotion. As I sat in church listening to my pastor’s wife talk about a mother’s relationship with her children, even my greatest attempts couldn’t suppress the tears. The war within me had waged and regardless of the winner, I would be the one at a loss. I felt guilty for still having a broken relationship with my mother when I also had an opportunity to make amends. Meanwhile, others had lost their precious moms and I was letting mine go to waste. More often than not, I felt a lack in our relationship. It always felt incomplete; I was left in constant yearning. 

Social media in fluxed with sweet words and tender photos capturing the love between a mother and her children. I was jealous of the photos and statuses because I had never felt what was expressed: an unconditional love. I spent the entirety of my childhood, young adulthood, and college years striving for that genuine love. Time and time again I failed in my attempts. One of the most difficult lessons I am still trying to wrap my head around is that love without restraints cannot be earned. It is given freely. In my quest to seek out love, I neglected to embrace an important relationship. While I would never attain the unconditional love from my mother, I could freely give it to myself. 

Self-reflections are my favorite compass of growth for this very reason. My relationship with my mother has not changed. It has not improved and is virtually non-existent. Everything that I wrote in this entry three years ago is still a true feeling. But what has changed is my view on our relationship.

I am learning that emotions are endlessly complex. It’s okay to miss someone and be in a current state of upset with them. It’s okay to love someone and actively choose to separate yourself. It is okay to feel one million different ways about one person at the same time.

When you’re in a broken relationship it’s okay to feel everything and nothing simultaneously. It’s okay to not know how to feel. Or to experience feelings constantly shifting and by the time you pin a name on a face, the old one has morphed into something else entirely.

So if you’re someone who is currently in a strained, broken or geographically separated relationship, I see you. I see you struggling and wanting to smile. To be happy for everyone smiling around you, but you can’t. I see you trying to hold it all together and get on with your day like you do every other day. But today, in this moment, it’s just too much to bear. I see you locking yourself in the bathroom, burying your face in your hands not knowing what else to do. Because you’ve been holding it all together for so long that today it has to escape.

And that’s okay. You’re okay right here even in your mess. You don’t have to have it all together. You don’t have to have all of your feelings organized and sorted. The beautiful thing about being a human is that we are constantly changing. Growing, evolving, shifting. Learning.

I love my mom. I know she loves me. I have so many good memories with her and because of her. And our lack of a relationship now does not negate the good in the past. It does not mean I can’t laugh when a funny memory flashes through my head. Or savor a Riesen because I saw them in the store and they are her favorite candy. We can agree to disagree mutually. I can actively love from a distance with boundaries and peace. My relationship with my mom may never change. But I can continue to change my perspective.

Our human heart is marvelous. Able to withstand heartbreak. Rejoice in triumphs. To long suffer difficult situations while also possessing gratitude. So this Mother’s Day I hope you are able to find solace. Your feelings, no matter the depth and breadth, are acknowledged. Feel the entire gamut. No justifications, explanations or vocalizations necessary.

Sending you all a virtual hug.

xxx

No. 41 – Masks We Wear

No. 41 – Masks We Wear

Why is it so much easier to put our “fake” face forward rather than our real one? Is social media to blame with its influx of filters and highlight reels? Is it Hollywood’s fault with our idealized celebrity lifestyles? Or perhaps it is a deeper issue that lies within – a heart problem. I do believe that there are many contributing factors, but at the core is a flawed heart. One that seeks gratification through the approval of others.

I didn’t grow up with social media and wasn’t much apprised on celebrities and Hollywood. In fact, I grew up sheltered, but aware of appearances. Not necessarily how people looked – attractive v. unattractive – but how a lifestyle appeared. Did the family appear happy? Christian enough? Conservative? Generous? As long as all appeared squeaky clean on the outside, that was all that mattered.

Yup, we appeared to be an ideal family. But underneath, issues ran amuck. Issues that were never addressed and continuously swept under the rug. And from a young age, masking became ingrained and innate. I did it without even realizing I was doing so. Feeling anything but joyful? Mask it up and smile so no one catches on. I mean I perfected this art! So much that I often fooled myself when I looked in the mirror. Forgetting my smiling mask still adorned my downtrodden face underneath.

This lens through which I viewed the world and myself was no different when I first embarked out on my own. Battling what was familiar, albeit wrong for me versus the fear of breaking out of my old mold and growing independently.

After almost nine months, I still lived in a state of shock that thiswas my life. Thisbeing the current state of my situation and well-being. The state of complete disconnection from what felt like my entire family. Living in my own apartment, working two jobs, barely able to pay my bills and afford groceries. Scraping through each day, wondering how it all changed so quickly and drastically.

This was not the life I had planned or pictured for myself. I felt I had done everything right.

Go to college

Find career with job security

Get my own place to live

Start career

Find amazing guy √√

Checking all these boxes=happy life, right? Wrong. I had followed the steps, but my equation did not add up. My life was a mess. What would others think of this colossal failure I turned out to be? Drowning in a position I felt underqualified to teach, a poor excuse for an “adult” and a sorry excuse daughter that was convinced to feel like nothing more than a disobedient wild child. It didn’t feel right to call myself a contributing member of society. I felt more like a black hole, obliterating anything that crossed my path.

But my mask? Vacuum-sealed across my face as soon as my eyelids witnessed daylight. Making me feel safer and appear as less of a fraud. As well as one of the most familiar items in my recently changing life. Well my mask and the incessant guilt I was also attempting to cover up.

When I embraced my alter ego – perfect Sarah – I felt better. Always temporarily though, until I was home, alone, in the dark. Checking twice to make sure no one was around to witness, in horror, my disfiguration upon removing the mask from my skin. And as soon as I removed my mask, my true reflection flashed back at me. For on the backside of my beautiful mask was a mirror, revealing my authentic self. And I’d grown to loathe what I saw looking back at me.

Because of the shame I carried around with me, I never felt comfortable in my own raw skin. Fearful of what others might think. Unsure if anyone could accept and embrace the real me. Torn between the debilitating guilt I felt for going against the grain of my family contrasted with this newfound freedom to grow into the person I was truly meant to be.

And yet…

I didn’t want to entertain my next thought. I tried to push it down, back into the depths of my stomach. But even the distaste it brought to my tongue wasn’t enough to keep it down. Like bile, it purged ever upward. I missed my family.My father, mother, sister, brother. My grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. The whole side of the family I had grown up with and into had so quickly been severed from my life.

It felt unnatural and perverse to miss the same people who rejected me. Rejected me and left me deeply wounded. How could I miss the environment that was so toxic for so long, that it clouded my view? That now, almost a year after I was still experiencing the aftermath.

A tragic scene played out before me. I stood on one side of the canyon facing the North, yet I couldn’t help but to look back, tears welling in my eyes. Scanning, even for the tiniest glimpse of a silhouette on the other side. But we were so far away now. All I could see was the tattered remains of the bridge that once connected both canyons. Now, limp, sliced to ribbons. The unstable bridge made of rope and slatted wood was a place I frequented. Often traveling between the two sides. While the bridge was meant to connect, it seemed to only further divide. For I was the sole traveler back and forth. Always compromising, striving to be who I knew I never could. Journeying to the other side, never met in the middle. And each trek, extracting more toll than the prior.

Still unable to grasp how I could hate and miss something simultaneously. I didn’t hate my family, not even in the slightest. Honestly, it would have made everything so much easier if I could. Because then I could make a clean break and move forward, uninhibited. But with every torturous step forward, a suitcase full of baggage drags behind me in the dirt.

I missed them. Flat out, missed my family. The familiarity they encompassed. The memories they consumed. The idea of being supported: much more present in theory than in action. Regardless of all the hurt and disconnect, I have and always will keep my family in my heart.

smile, maskfree, me

Author’s Note: This is me, Sarah, in an attempt to bare it all with you. No mask, just me.

I get asked often, in person and online how things are with my family now. And truth is I struggle, still, with my family dynamic, which at the moment in non-existent. It’s gone through ups and downs over the past five years, but has flat-lined for about the last 18 months. I wouldn’t say we don’t communicate, because a lack of communication is still sending a message. But we rarely speak. An occasional holiday text is sent, with the standard “thank you,” response. So much has been said in the past, and so much more still needs saying. But with a fundamental, absolute disagreement, commonality seems to go out the window quickly.

 After all this time, emotions are so barbed and intertwined with logic, that feelings are inevitably wounded any time real communication is attempted. Which only further irritates the wounds. So to be totally frank with you, I don’t know exactly how to categorize the relationship other than not good.

Not everyone has a similar family situation to mine, but there are many, many reasons why one might wear a mask. Some wear a mask to fill in the perceived gaps and areas of lack, believing to be incomplete. Others may adorn a mask to dull their full light, afraid of being too much. Or like me, you may garner a mask because it’s all you know how to do. But whatever the reason, don’t fall victim to the lie that you, exactly as you are this second – right now – or ever in the future are going to require a mask.

Somewhere down the road, we’ve rallied behind the notion that we have to shoot for perfection. And when we inevitably fall short, because news flash no one is perfect, we feel the need to fake it till we make it.

Wrong.

Wrong.

WRONG!

If you go through life pretending, all you will ever learn is how to fool yourself. I’ve done it. I’ve lived this lie for years. Merely surviving is no way to live. There is so much more for you, friend. And it’s waiting on the other side of that mask you’re hiding behind. Let me say this again, out loud as I write.

There is so much more life waiting to be lived after you remove your mask.

I know it’s petrifying. I know it’s new and unknown. And yes, it will require work. But that mask that you’re sporting hasn’t served or protected you; it’s been harming you. Stunting your growth, camouflaging your identity, clouding your judgement with the lie that you aren’t enough.

If you’re anything like me and dedicated your life chasing perfection, you must be exhausted. Exhausted and well aware that you’ll never be able to achieve your goal. So instead of presenting everyone with this concocted version of yourself, why not remove your mask and introduce people to the real you? You already know your old method has proven unsuccessful again and again. Give yourself some well overdue credit and just try it and see. I have been amazed at the freedom I’ve gained by stepping into the person I was created to be.

Now that I’ve gotten all rah-rah, I’ll put my pom poms down and leave you with this. You were fearfully and wonderfully made and should live your life in a manner that manifests this truth. You. Not the masked you, YOU.

 xxx

Sarah

 

 

 

No. 36 – Redeeming Love

No. 36 – Redeeming Love

Here I was, a 22-year-old with a free afternoon. A moment of free time was few in far between in my hectic schedule. How should I spend it, I pondered? Being so busy and often weighted down with stress, I wanted to relax and relish my alone time. A recent priority that I needed work on. So I dug out an old book. A favorite that I have read every year since I was in middle school: Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. The title, a clear insight into the overarching message of the book. A love that is powerful beyond imagination and reason. A love that I desperately needed reassurance of. 

The sun was out, but the winter chill was still in the air, so reading outside was not an option. Turning my head from the window, I stared down my living room couch. You. It has to be you. I know we haven’t been much acquainted due to your extreme discomfort, but today, we are going to be friends. I had saved for three months to be able to afford you, and I was not going to let my hard-earned money be wasted. Not only a discomfort, but an eyesore at that. 

First, I was going to set the mood. So I pulled open the blinds, and let the sunlight cascade into the large room. Lighting the space on the couch perfectly. Ahhh…I sighed in satisfaction. That was all we needed, you and I, the right ambiance. We had just gotten off on the wrong foot, that’s all. This was all a big misunderstanding. With the sunlight illuminating your bold features, you were quite beguiling in your own way. Beckoning me to sit down and embrace the comfort you could offer. 

Gently easing myself into your firm pillows, I leaned back hopeful of your back support. I cracked open the pages of my book and delved in. Ah yes, this was hitting the spot. You must be romanced. You’re not the average couch, available to all. You’re unique, refined…ouch! 

I thought we agreed to be friends. If not friends, at least friendly. 

Okay, fine. I just need to rearrange myself. Should’ve known better than to find the perfect spot on the first try. 

Twist. 

Turn. 

Back to my book. No. Somehow, I was still being pinched or prodded no matter how I positioned myself on this behemoth of a couch. All this room, and there wasn’t one area of comfort that could be found.  

A light bulb. One last idea that might solve our couch sitting woes. I pressed my back up against the flimsy arm of the brown faux-suede coach. If you could even be called a couch. More like a pain inflictor.  

But after about 10 minutes of rereading the same paragraph and not having the slightest of inclinations what I had just read, contorting my body in every possible position and finding no comfortable one, I conceded to the throne of discomfort. 

You win. I scowled at the ugly, bulking thing. I could have just as easily lain across the top of my bed and read in comfort. But it was the principle of the matter. I was paying well over my budget to live in this apartment, and didn’t use the largest room in the place! Aptly named the living room, because it was intended to be the room in which its residents would spend the majority of their time. But at the moment, it was the room I occupied the least. 

Maybe if I sat on the floor, and merely leaned up against the couch, I would find the solace I craved. Baby steps. We could work this out, together, slowly. I planted my butt on the hardwood, and my back on the couch, resting my arms on my muscled legs. My nerves settled and my mind absorbed into the pages of the book. 

Ding! The text message notification sounded on my phone charging in the other room. Breaking my eyes from the sacred pages. I leaned over on my right side, straining to peek inside my open bedroom. As if I would be able to see whom the text was from. Alright, after I finish this chapter, I’ll go check my phone. 

After quickly finishing the chapter, I disconnected my phone from it’s place on the charger. The name illuminated on my screen caught me off guard. Aunt. I hadn’t heard a syllable from her since my extended time in Ohio over the summer. What could she want after all this time? 

After not speaking or communicating with someone for 9 months, igniting conversation can be a rigorous subject, especially when things weren’t left on the best terms. It’s difficult for me to decipher what the motive is for the sudden conversation. Small talk is made while the uneasy feeling doesn’t fade from my mind: what do you really want to know? Do you sincerely care how I’m doing, or is the small talk just a rouse for information that I intentionally keep private? 

After a few brief and forced text messages, just as I anticipated, you asked the question: are you & Kendrae still together? The question was sandwiched between fluff so that it didn’t appear so black and white, but I knew better. At the heart of the question, I’m left with the feeling of conditionality that I’ve been plagued with when dealing with my family.

If Kendrae and I are still together then another year of silence lay before me, but maybe, if I had been cheated on, abused, or grown tired of like my family believed would happen, then they would be there to comfort their broken little girl. Contrary to their statements of hatefulness, none of their predictions came to fruition. I was still with Kendrae and was certainly not ashamed of it, although, I was hesitant to disclose that information. If there was one thing I knew in my heart, it was that I wanted no part of a conditional love. 

The message still sits in my inbox without a response. Even though I opted to take the high road and not stoop down to their level, I couldn’t shake the text. 

Why after all this time did my family want to know if Kendrae and I were still together? Then I flashed back to a conversation my mother had with me right after the initial explosion. She had spoken on the phone with her brother, who lived in Ohio. He was not new to the situation, and in fact was well up to speed. 

My mother asked my uncle, “Would you continue a relationship with a girl if you knew her family was very against it?” Clearly, fishing for support on the decision to ostracize me from the world and control their adult daughter’s decisions. 

To which my mother told me my uncle responded, absolutely not. If he knew her family was against the relationship than the relationship would be over. Because family is too important. 

And then to further cement her stance, I was told that they both agreed “a good guy wouldn’t pursue a relationship with a girl if he knows her family doesn’t approve of it.” 

Was I supposed to agree with them? Thank them for helping me see the light? 

I sat on the couch across the room from my mother, surprised yet somehow not at her constant attempts at manipulation. The smugness in her face felt as real in my memory as it did in the moment. Most of her remarks didn’t warrant my honest response. And this time was no different. My eyes averted out the window to my left, losing focus in the white, tall grass gently billowing in the warm summer breeze. 

I flashed back to the recent text message and the feeling of the cool hardwood floor beneath my legs. How could she? I always felt that my Aunt was on my side. She made me feel comfortable to speak more candidly and open with her. And now she was being used as the bait. The feeler sent out to see if I’d bite. I’d fallen for this cheap trick before. I know enough to realize that not a drop of goodness would come out of a response. 

I felt betrayed. I was suspicious of the ulterior motive lurking beneath this surface level conversation. And I was disappointed to be right, but not shocked. Family, estranged or not was an ocean that even the most skillful sailor could have difficulty navigating. And I had a sinking feeling that the navigation wasn’t going to get any easier. 

Author’s Note: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” –Maya Angelou 

Believe it or not, the golden colored text in this post is my actual reaction to this text message conversation five years ago. 

I’m not sure that I thought I would be writing for others to read, but writing has always been my outlet. I love capturing little snippets in the moment. Not necessarily anything major, but something impactful for me. Sometimes I record voice memos on my phone, so that I can write them down later when I have time. Sometimes I scribble out a few thoughts on a scrap of paper. And most often, I’ll type out a note on my phone. Oftentimes they are unfinished thoughts, but enough to cement my emotions and reactions. 

I have hundreds of them. Even just little tidbits like these, because I want to remember how I am feeling, what I was thinking. And still to this day, I can read those little notes to myself and actually flash back to that exact moment in time. It’s even stronger than looking at old photos, because it’s a mental and emotional snapshot. Those exact same emotions surge to the surface and I feel exactly what I felt back then. While not all of the feelings are pleasant ones, it truly has been a gift to be able to revisit past pain and heartaches. Because the eyes looking back on that memory see it through a whole new perspective. I wish I could tell that Sarah what I know now. That all her pain, confusion and struggles are helping to shape her into a strong, fiercely independent woman. 

I truly believe that all pain serves a purpose. Sometimes to invoke change. Other times to solidify a choice. Refinement. New perspective. Clarifying a poor decision. Growth. And sometimes we may not know the reason for the pain we endure. But I choose to live my life knowing that in everything there is a purpose. A purpose much greater than me. And right now, when I look back, I can see a bigger picture. A pathway that has led me to more joy and contentment that I ever imagined in my state of hurt. 

There is a love redeeming beyond anything imaginable. I know because I’ve experienced it. Be encouraged friends. 

No. 29 – Driving Me Crazy

No. 29 – Driving Me Crazy

I was one step away from absolute independence. The only puppet string that I hadn’t cut was the one attached to my car. Well, I was told it was a “gift” and that it was mine. But I was also told that if I left the house in that car that the cops would be called and a stolen car would be reported. I was living in fear that one day, I would walk out to my car to find it surrounded by police officers waiting to take it away.

I couldn’t continue living in fear worrying that any day I could be without a car. Trading it in wasn’t an option either because the title was in my father’s name. That would require me asking him for a title change, something I wasn’t willing to do. I didn’t want any help or to attach any new strings. Knowing that I used the car they bought to purchase my own would suck any joy out of the experience.

No, I would have to purchase a car all on my own. Except that I was unable to put any money down and had nothing to trade in towards a new one. I hadn’t really put much thought into buying a car, it was not something I had ever worried about before. My father was a car connoisseur and I had never had to think about purchasing one without his guidance and expertise up until the past few months.

Add another item to the list of things I would have to handle on my own with zero experience doing so. I asked Kendrae to come with me to the car dealership for moral support. He knew less about vehicles than I did. But I felt that I should have someone to celebrate this milestone with me. Just because my situation wasn’t one that appeared to be ideal, didn’t mean that I couldn’t celebrate my own mini victories. Buying your first car is a big deal and should be treated as such. So I was happy when Kendrae agreed to support me.

We pulled up to McKaig Chevrolet in Gladewater, TX and I had a ball in the back of my throat. It was hard to swallow and my palms were moist. I was anxious. I felt like the salesmen could tell I didn’t have any collateral and no money in my bank account. I was unsure if it was even possible to purchase a vehicle with no money down, not much credit and nothing to put towards the first payment.

Walking into the dealership doors, I steeled myself and tried not to get my hopes up. I didn’t want a new car. I wanted something low maintenance, with great gas mileage and compact so it was easy to park. I didn’t want something in a loud color. I wanted a car that blended in – a common model that wouldn’t draw any attention. So if my parents decided to drive by my apartment complex, they wouldn’t be able to identify which car was mine. I wasn’t comfortable with them knowing where I lived, but by changing my car, I was adding an extra measure of security. A miniscule measure of security that eased my mind, even if only slightly.

I was greeted by a young woman named Alexus. Her smile consumed her entire face and instantly put my nerves at rest. Her face didn’t strike me as a salesperson who would try and get over on someone interested in purchasing a car. She struck me as warm and helpful, exactly the kind of person I was interested in car shopping with.

Alexus, Kendrae and I test drove three cars. The first two cars were total letdowns. Not at all what I pictured myself driving. Reality was beginning to settle in that maybe I had set the bar too high. It was true, I didn’t really know what my budget was and maybe all I would be able to afford was an even older model than I imagined. And then we walked up to car number three.

“This is it, Sarah,” Kendrae remarked, emphatically. “I can feel that this is your car.”

If this car was anything like the first two, I wasn’t so sure. But I kept my mind open. Maybe I needed to lower my expectations. I needed a car because each day that I kept the Honda Accord, was a day I risked having it taken away. I needed a car. So, I needed to find one today.

As I drove the 2013 Hyundai Elantra down the long stretch of road, I was surprised at how easy it was to maneuver. It rode smooth, had a quiet engine and I definitely took note of the great MPG it clocked on the highway. It was light blue with a soft tan cloth interior. Perfect for the excruciating Texas summers. It was small, with not much room in the backseat, but how often did I really plan to have more than one other person in my car for an extended period of time?

Kendrae was right, this was my car. So long as I could afford it. I crunched some numbers in my head and came up with a figure that was the absolute highest I could afford. If this car was over that number, I would have to find something else. A highly unfavorable option.

An hour later, I left the dealership driving my new car. The payment matched the figure I calculated in my head, I owed no money down and wouldn’t have to make my first payment for two months. An actual miracle! I was soaring. This was it, the last step required to get my affairs in order and begin my new life.

Suddenly my flight was sent hurtling down to the ground by a text from my grandmother from Ohio. A text completely out of the clear blue sky as we hadn’t communicated since I left her house in July.

“I can’t believe you never told us about what happened with your high school boyfriend. Being forcefully made to do something you didn’t want to do. You are damaged. You need to go to counseling. No wonder you ended up with Kendrae. Look what happened to you.”

My jaw fell open as I stared at my phone screen. My mind was blank, still in shock from her vicious words. All the moisture from my mouth instantly evaporated and my throat went dry. I swallowed in attempt to satiate my tongue and allow my brain to come back from that blow.

What…?

That was all I could compute. I read and reread that message what must have been a dozen times and still the shock was just as potent. Unbelievable. I saw it with my own eyes and couldn’t wrap my mind around the contents.

I certainly wasn’t going to respond to her message. I shuddered as the all too familiar feeling of guilt overtook my body. It was MY fault that I was taken advantage of? I did tell my mother about this situation about a year ago. And her response: “You know how to say no now though, right?” No concern, no anger, no solace. Just cold matter of factness. We never discussed it again after that one night.

And now, it was being used against me. It was my fault and just HAD to be the reason I was dating Kendrae, a man that they labeled as unsuitable for their daughter. Who now was also damaged goods.

This vicious cycle of guilt and manipulation had to stop. I couldn’t control what they said and did. But I could control allowing it to have an effect on me.

A few days later Kendrae and I decided it would be nice to take a trip to visit his family in the Houston area. Things had been tense for me and getting away sounded like a nice change of scenery. This also provided the perfect way to give my parent’s car back.

But I crafted a plan so that I wouldn’t have to see them to give it back. I didn’t want a fight. Or a guilt trip. Or anything for that matter. I just wanted to give the car back and move on. So I found a public place halfway between Longview and Van Alstyne. Kendrae would follow behind so that once I dropped off the car, we could make our way to Houston.

It seemed so cold and final, but I couldn’t think of any other way to give it back that wouldn’t rip my heart out.

I pulled up the pre-written text message and hit send.

“I dropped the car off at Walmart in Terrell. The key is under the back-passenger floor mat; the back-driver side door is unlocked. Thank you for providing me with a car for as long as you did. The Walmart address is 1900 West Moore Ave. Terrell, TX 75160.”

I stared at my screen as I sat in the passenger seat. It had been 30 minutes since we left that Walmart parking lot, but I wasn’t sure we had enough distance between us yet. Maybe in 15 more minutes, I would feel a little safer. Wrong. As each minute ticked by on the dashboard clock, I grew more and more anxious. Why did it seem like making any choice was so difficult? Why did every situation feel like I was the only one losing?

“Did you send it yet?” Kendrae asked.

I nodded my head yes. I sent it. Kendrae reached over and grabbed my hand. We sat in silence. Tears poured down my face as my body gently shook in resistance to my suppressed sobs. I kept reassuring myself that I was making the right decision. I shouldn’t feel guilty. But I did. I was so programmed to feel guilty, feeling any other emotion would seem foreign.

I was snapped back to reality by the vibrating of my cell phone. Dad read across the top of the screen. My heart sank. I anticipated that they might call in response to my recent text message. I stared at my screen and let it go to voicemail. It rang again, and I clicked the button on the side of my phone to silence the vibrations. There was no sense in answering. My text had said everything I needed to say. They had lost their privilege to speak to me in a non-controlled environment. And I wasn’t sure I possessed the strength to speak to them over the phone. Not yet.

A notification that I received a voicemail lit up my screen. I handed the phone to Kendrae. “You listen to it. I can’t,” I squeaked out, my voice quivering. I stared out the window, my eyes scanning as if there were answers in the grass. The sound of the road was the only audible sound in the truck as Kendrae listened to what I couldn’t.

“They’re confused why you dropped off your car,” Kendrae said.

I gave it back because I didn’t want it anymore. I didn’t want anything with a string attached to it that could be ripped out from under me at any given moment. A car that could be reported stolen because I wasn’t coming home. This was the only remaining string of the tethered rope of my parents’ hold over me. Any car payment in the world was worth paying for my independence. The knot in my stomach uncurled slightly, as I reassured myself this was a step in the right direction. I sat up straighter, gazed back out the window and let the feeling of ease wash over me.

I had started at the bottom. With absolutely nothing, but now I had taken one step forward. One slow, small painstaking step. But forward progress is progress all the same.

Author’s Note: We are all the same. Your struggles. Your fears. Your dreams. Your story. You are not in this alone. Of course no two situations are quite identical, but what you’re going through is not unique to you. You do not have to suffer in silence and think that no one knows what you’re going through. Don’t let your pride prohibit your healing process. Don’t believe the lie that you can handle it all on your own.

 True strength does not come from muscling through something, gritting your teeth and suffering through. Strength comes from identifying and admitting your struggles. Strength comes from allowing others to support you.

I spent so much time in my own head delaying my overall health and well-being. I was so worked up, stressed out, heart broken and lost. All because I believed that I had to handle everything on my own. Partly because I was embarrassed, partly because I was raised in a family dynamic that avoided confrontation at all cost and partly because I was prideful. I was more concerned with what people would think when they learned the truth that it prevented me from telling it.

So I struggled and struggled to find the surface of the water. Frantically panicking in every direction but up. Consumed in a sea of darkness and self-doubt. Only hurting myself. Only stunting my own growth. And not gaining any strength because of it. It was not until I vocalized my struggles that I was able to learn from them. Somewhere along the way we are fed this idea that we have to have it all together. We have to fix all our own problems, self-inflicted or not. We have to have all the answers on our own, without any help or guidance. When nothing could be further from the truth.