Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My Senior Year

On Friday, my post included this sentence: "Part of me thinks my last impression left at high school was that I was the crazy girl because of how my senior year went (that is a long story for another day)." That piqued some curiousity.

So I'm going to come clean and tell you about high school for me and why my senior year was so wonky. Some basic points you need to know going into this. And a fair warning- this is an intense and serious post. 

1. I was born in CA, grew up in KY, moved to OH. I attended 4 different schools- elementary in KY, junior high on one side of town in Cincinnati and high school on another side of town in Cincy.

2. I am a survivor of sexual abuse. It lasted about 5-6 years and happened regularly and was at the hands of an older male cousin (by older, I mean I think he was entering adolescence when he started molesting me). Lots of really bad stuff was done to me. Lots. It ended because we moved away. I kept it a secret from my family the entire time it was going on and for several years afterwards.

3. I am very open about my childhood and growing up experiences and such. But I see no purpose in laying out horrific details on a blog. If you want to know more or if you are dealing with abuse issues of your own, please e-mail me and we can talk privately.

In junior high, I had a great group of friends. I forget what all the groups in junior high were called- preppies and what not. I forget what my group was thought to be... but we weren't what they said we were. We were good kids and many of us came from harder situations in life. I didn't yet know what my damage actually was- I just knew I wasn't all pretty in pink lip gloss and tied up with a shiny preppy bow. We didn't cause trouble or party in those days- but people thought we did. My grades were a big issue, too. I wasn't reaching my full potential, I was smart but not applying myself. My parents decided I had to make a change because I was just going to get lost in the public high school. I had an algebra teacher who didn't reach me in terms of math but her belief in me has stayed with me a long time- she encouraged my parents to move me into the private system so I could blossom.

I was very much part of the selection process for my new school. I ended up choosing a private school that was small, full of smart kids, full of rich kids, had no religious affiliation, and didn't have uniforms or anything. I still have a lot of very fond feelings towards my school and the environment it offered and the experiences I had there. I made some great friends who stood by me through some very hard times and some of those relationships have remained through the years and some have been reconnected to thanks to Facebook. The only problem was that I had abandoned my friends from junior high over the summer since I knew I was changing schools. And all my new friends lived on the other side of town (my school was a 30 minute drive each way and most of the kids lived closer to the school and definitely on the other side of town from me). I didn't have much of a social group at first. I had friends- but only at school.

Then I started working at McDonald's and I started hanging out with a different church youth group and I started connecting in to social groups on my side of town. I primarily hung out with kids from a local set of Catholic high schools (one for girls, one for boys). I dated boys from that school, eventually dated boys from the public school I would have gone to if I hadn't changed schools. I knew that I was a messed up kid but I wasn't ever sure why. My memories of my childhood were sketchy at best- lots of holes. I had an idea that something had maybe happened to me but I always brushed it off and figured my issues were just tied in to being raised by a single mom and we struggled financially.

Junior year starts up. And life took a huge change in direction. My past couldn't be ignored anymore. I knew it was all bubbling up. My behavior was getting worse and worse. I was working so hard to push people away from me. I wanted my outsides to match my insides so I would be mean and hateful and steal from the people who loved me most- my parents. I didn't feel like I deserved that kind of love so I worked hard to make them stop. Thankfully, they never stopped.

Middle of junior year, in the midst of a flurry of fast and furious dating, I was set up on a blind date by a friend. We doubled. Went for pizza, to a park, and then back to the house of one of the guys to watch a movie. I still remember the movie- "Glory." My date wouldn't keep his hands off of me. I was ok when we sat together on a love seat and even when we cuddled. But then he started sticking his hands down my pants and up my shirt. I pushed his hands away and told him to knock it off but he wouldn't stop. My friend and her boyfriend were close by, thankfully. I have no idea what would have happened if they hadn't been there. I loudly proclaimed that I had to use the bathroom and I rushed upstairs, looked in the mirror, and a huge flood of memories slammed into my body and brain- all of the things that my cousin had done to me were flying through my memory in that bathroom. I threw up. A few times. I went downstairs and told them I was sick, had thrown up, and needed to go home right away.

The following Monday, I went to my school's guidance counselor and told her what had happened. By this time, my memory had clamped down again and all I could remember was that my cousin had touched me and it had happened more than once. And I knew that there was more to it and I couldn't remember. She encouraged me to talk to my parents, to keep talking to her. She did and said all the right things. When I got home from school that day, I immediately told my mom what had happened and she immediately believed me. I started into therapy. This was pretty common, actually, in my school. Seemed loads of peeps had therapists but I didn't know what for or why.

After a year of weekly meetings with my therapist, we aren't getting anywhere. I can tell you that I did that as a defense mechanism. I talked about dumb stuff that was typical teen complaints and not about the stuff I really needed to get out. Everything came to a head over Christmas break my senior year. I got into a huge fight with my parents and moved out. I moved in with my then-boyfriend's brother and sister-in-law. After a week or so, my guidance counselor and parents and I met together to discuss how to get me back home. New rules were made and I did move back. But it was an obvious cry for help. A team meeting was held- without my knowledge. It was clear to the adults who loved me and the professionals trying to help me that I was in a more dire situation and needed more intense help. Plans were made for me to be admitted to an adolescent psych unit at a local hospital. I was 18, so if I would just agree, admittance would be smooth. 

My parents picked me up from school. I remember them telling me there had been a meeting. And what the recommendation was. And I remember there being this huge sense of guilt, shame, and relief sweeping over me. I cried and said "yes" to the offer of help immediately. This was near the final quarter of my senior year of high school. I remember over my 4 years there that there always seemed to be a kid who was labeled as "crazy." Someone who had gone away for a year and rumors swirled about that they'd tried to kill their parents. Talk of eating disorders and cutters and suicide attempts made it sound really shameful to have problems. Then, senior year, I up and get locked into a hospital. I can only imagine what the talk was. I can only imagine if my absence even left an impression on the minds of those kids I had come to know.

So I was inpatient at this hospital for around 2 weeks and then went into the full day outpatient program. I did eventually get to transition back into school for the end of the most important year of high school but everything felt odd to me by then. I was going through some seriously intense shit and dealing with some seriously nasty demons and hearing people complain about the senior lounge or a fight over curfew just felt so hollow to me.

I stayed outpatient through most of the summer. I had to change my college plans. I had intended to go to Concordia University near Chicago and major in Lutheran Education. I had reconnected with a friend from several years ago and we were going to be roomies and everything. But then the hospitalization happened. Thankfully, I had to dump the college plan before she had a chance to dump me as her roomie. We looked at a school that had been on my list that would only be an hour or so from home. But that felt too risky for freshman year when all of this healing process was still so fresh and raw. So we decided on a local university that had smaller classes, offered a liberal arts education, and was close to my therapist and support network. I lived on campus and saw my therapist twice a week for a while. I ended up with a tight little group of friends who were amazingly understanding and compassionate about my story and helped me tremendously in terms of moral support and also the logistics of getting to my appointments.

And as the years went by and my life moved forward, I eventually stopped needing to see my therapist. I forgave- him. I forgave- myself. There is a part of me that really regrets not having a normal senior year. I wish that prom had been what we all want our senior proms to be. I wish that I had memories of cramming for those last finals and scrambling to write papers and having tear filled moments with friends in the final days. But I was doing something far more important at that time- I was finding pieces of me and gluing them into place as best I could.

Life happens the way it does for a reason. I wish I had the words that could adequately describe how good my life is and why the normality of it all is such a blessing. When I say that I have grown out of chaos and confusion and pain... I truly have. I've survived hell. And I'm a pretty awesome person who does a lot of very awesome things. It meant being The Crazy Girl my senior year... but it means that I am Me now.


Joanie said...

Wow. You have been to hell and back. It's the journey back that has made you the strong woman you are today.

Thank God your parents believed you! That is huge!

Mellodee said...

It's wonderful that you made it through and arrived at a place where your life can be satisfying and meaningful. You were fortunate to have people around you who didn't let you fall through the cracks and so many do!

Karen M. Peterson said...

You were so fortunate to get the help you needed when you needed it.

It's really sad (and a bit scary) how many people are walking around in a similar situation and unable to get help.

I'm sure it also helps that you're open about what happened to you. Thank you for not being afraid to share your story.

Nancy said...

Hugs Liz!

michelle said...

you are one strong and amazing lady


Lisa said...

Thank you for being strong enough to share your story, Liz.

Garret said...

I'm with Lisa on this. So brave. You're awesome Liz.

It's unfortunate that stuff ever happened to begin with but without it you may not be the strong person you are today. We're all glad to have you just as you are.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone told you lately that you are an amazing woman, mom and friend? Cause you are really amazing! Hugs!

CH_BeBestMe said...

(HUGS) I knew you were tough, but are strong and beautiful inside and out, Liz.

Ashli Moore said...

You are one amazing woman...the song that is going through my head right now is Stronger...

You are Stronger
You are Stronger
Sin is broken
You have saved us
It is written
Christ is risen
Jesus You are Lord of All

My prayers to you and praises to God for saving my beautiful friend.

Alison said...

Wow. It's easy to forget how much you've lived through, and how lucky you are to be worrying about Teagan's tantrums or Zach's eating habits. I'm so very impressed that you've been able to open up to another man--lucky Jeff, lucky you.

Definitely worth missing the prom. (The rest of it was better in college, anyway.)

Shell said...

You went through a lot: but look at how strong you are now.

And I'm convinced that a normal senior year only happens on sitcoms and movies.

Missy said...

Liz, you are amazing. To go through all that and be the positive, encouraging woman you are today is amazing.

Thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

You're are a pretty awesome person who does a lot of very awesome things. I think one of the reasons we've connected easily is because of the qualities you have where you life a TRUE life. You don't fret over silly bullshit things. You deal with the issue at hand and move on. Kudos to you for having the balls to put it out there.

Di said...

What a great outlook you have after having gone through all that. So brave of you to share that too. I'm sure that its going to help someone out there going through the same thing.

Amy said...

Thanks for putting that out there. I know that had to be hard to write. Normality is a blessing, for sure.

Angie @ Just Like The Number said...

You are so brave for sharing, and I know that it's going to help other people.

Shannon said...

I admire the woman, mom and friend you become through all of the pain in your teenage years.

Mrs4444 said...

There are "Crazy Girls" in high schools everywhere. I hope you don't take this wrong, but I find it comforting to know that such a girl can turn out like you :) That makes me feel more hopeful, in general. Thanks :)