I am the youngest of 4 children in my family, with 2 older sisters and an older brother. I was raised in a “Christian” home, we went to church every Sunday and we “said grace” (a memorized, scripted prayer) at dinner every night. But I never really saw my parents walk out their faith, they never prayed with me other than a scripted prayer at bedtime. They never read the bible in my presence nor encouraged me to read it. To the outside world our family was the “perfect Christian family,” but we all know the sayings “looks can be deceiving” and “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” right? Keep it all in the family and don’t talk about it with anyone! Well, what happened in my childhood home stayed in my childhood home, at least for the first 16 years of my life. Some of my very earliest memories are riddled with screaming, fighting, both of my parents threatening divorce, and my father physically abusing my mom and both of my older sisters. He never laid a hand on me simply because he was told by one of my doctors when I was a baby that if I were ever hit on my back or head, it could kill me. I was born with a birth defect called Spina Bifida (open spine) and have a myriad of other health issues related to it, including a ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunt implanted in my brain for Hydrocephalus. The guilt that I carried, from the moment that I was able to comprehend that my disability was the thing that saved me from my father’s strong hand, was often unbearable.
My oldest sister experienced her first psychiatric episode when she was 13, I was 4 years old. As far as specific, detailed memories go this is my very earliest memory. While I was spared my dad’s strong hand, I experienced emotional, verbal, and sexual abuse from both of my parents throughout my childhood. These dysfunctional interactions with my parents laid the foundation for my older brother to sexually abuse me for 4 years from age 10 to 14. On Christmas Day 1998, just a few weeks after my 16th birthday, my brother confessed to my parents about his abuse of me and several other children. My parents’ way of dealing with the situation was to take my brother to a psychiatric hospital to have him diagnosed with a mental illness and put me in tutoring for school because my grades were slipping. Their thought process in taking my brother to a psychiatric hospital was to get him diagnosed with a mental illness so that if I were to ever say anything to anyone outside of the family and it were to be reported to police, he would avoid jail time. What they did not expect was that my brother told one of the staff at the hospital what he had done and was consequently arrested from there just 2 days after Christmas. All my family became enraged, started blaming me for his arrest, and called the abuse “childhood curiosity” to take the blame away from my brother and essentially place it on me. I was told that my brother’s life was in my hands, and I better make sure that he did not go to jail. I was also told that I was destroying my family and I needed to put it back together. I had to fix it all! The stress of the “cat being out of the bag” and my family blaming me for it, along with the pressure to fix it all caused my first attempted suicide at 16 years old. I would attempt suicide 2 more times in my late teens/early 20s and threaten it several times into my 30s.
At 20 years old I moved out of my parents’ house, largely in secret, because it was the only way to escape. Thus began my coping skill of “running away” from my problems, pushing God and everyone close to me away for several years, and living life the way I wanted to… but, riddled with guilt, shame, and regret. Rather quickly I found myself heavy into the partying and drinking scene to numb the pain of my childhood trauma. But this behavior set me up for more trauma and heartache. 2 instances of rape in my early 20s, and a physically, emotionally, and verbally abusive 1st marriage and subsequent divorce, all before my 24th birthday. And then another move, to run away from those problems. This time a move halfway across the country from Southern California to Houston, Texas on New Year’s Eve 2009. I lived just north of Houston for a year and a half before moving to Wythe County, VA in early August 2011. My current husband, Josh, and I met online on Halloween 2006, just 2 months after I married my first husband. We became instant friends when we learned that we both have the same disability. That friendship, that later turned into so much more, I truly believe, was instrumental in saving my life on more than one occasion between 2006 and 2011. Josh and I married in November 2011. But my battle with depression, anxiety, and PTSD intensified with every situation that I ran from, and alcohol was always my quick fix to numb the feelings.
Fast forward to June 2015, I had just had my second major spinal cord surgery in 21 months, and I found myself backed into a corner by an employer who, at 6 weeks post-op, chose to terminate me from my job because I was not medically cleared to return to work yet. I ended up having to apply for Social Security Disability. By early 2016, enduring a difficult recovery from what ended up being a failed spinal cord surgery, and losing my job because of it, caused me to slump into a severe depression and I ended up in a Partial Hospitalization Program after excessively drinking and threatening to drive my car off a bridge. I had been in and out of counseling for 17 years, but this was the first time that I had received any psychiatric treatment. After spending almost 4 weeks in an intensive psychiatric day treatment program I was able to manage my anxiety, depression, PTSD, and panic attacks so long as I was taking my prescribed medications and attending weekly counseling sessions for about the next 2 years.
And then, 2018 came and things started to get difficult again (as life does!). I was in way over my head with a past that I could not shake the guilt and shame of, despite going to counseling regularly. I was struggling with panic attacks on a regular basis despite medication, and my sleep was riddled with screaming nightmares almost nightly. I had been on Social Security Disability for 2 years by the end of 2017. At that time (2017- mid 2018) Josh was still physically able to work full time (Praise God!). But by September 2018, Josh found himself in need of the same spinal cord surgery that put me out of work in 2015. When the neurosurgeon told Josh that he would not do the surgery because it was too risky since Josh has already this surgery 4 times in his life, he was forced to apply for Social Security Disability. I began to feel like I was living the movie Groundhog’s Day. I was watching my husband’s life go down the same road that I had been down just 2-3 years prior. I could not bear to watch my husband deal with the emotional toll that this major life change was having and going to continue to have on his and our life. So, what did I do? Panic, find a way out, and RUN!
Our combined health issues have been a major stressor in our relationship despite being the very thing that brought us together to begin with. Since I went out of work in June 2015, I have had 12 surgeries (2 spinal cord, 8 brain, 1 bladder surgery, and a gallbladder surgery). The stress of our health issues along with the financial burdens that all the doctors, tests, therapies, and surgeries created just added that extra little push of “overwhelmingness” (ha-ha!) to life that helped to push me away from Josh and my marriage… and God for a short while too. I found myself in yet another cycle of severe depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and severe “flight mode.” As much as I wish I could say we fought through the fire, Josh tried… I DIDN’T! I completely fell apart. But I didn’t just fall apart within myself, I took myself, my husband, and our marriage down a HORRENDOUS path of destruction that continued to spiral out of control until late March 2019.
During that time, June 2018-March 2019, I did everything possible to destroy everything good in my life. I didn’t think that I deserved any of the good things: my husband, our home, or our marriage. So, I ran from all of it, but in the process of running from all of it I literally destroyed it. Like, ran it over with a bulldozer and then backed up and ran over it 100 more times kind of destroyed it! I allowed outside influences (those people who don’t really have my best interest in mind) to infiltrate my heart and head. I allowed one little TINY, insignificant, MISTAKE (honestly a true ACCIDENT) on the part of my husband to dwell in my heart and mind and build up into something extreme and totally out of character for either one of us. I did everything I could to make this accident fall in line with my history of dysfunctional relationships and abuse. Even though it was FAR from any of that, I allowed the influence of other people, my anxiety, depression, thoughts of my past, and Satan’s whispers in my ear, to completely blow a non-issue up into a MAJOR, marriage-destroying issue. In June 2018 I left my husband for the 1st time and ended up spending 4 nights in a domestic violence shelter. After a week of living separate from Josh (he spent a week in TN at his mom’s house per my request), we came back together and decided to try to work through things. I knew then that I had messed up, but because of my past there was still a part of me that had that “I don’t deserve this, I need to find a way out” kind of attitude/thought process going on in my head. In early 2018 when I began having some issues with scheduling appointments with my psychiatrist, I took myself off my psychiatric medications and thought that I could handle life without them. But by mid-2018 I found myself slumping into that severe anxiety and depression again and I threatened to overdose myself on pain medication that I had been on steadily since 2013 due to severe pain from spinal cord and other medical issues. In November 2018 Josh and I decided to get baptized, as a renewing of our faith and our commitment to God, and in his eyes a new commitment to our marriage (I was still “secretly” straddling the fence, one foot in my marriage, the other one looking for a way out because of my past).
In January 2019 I thought I had “found my way out” so I approached Josh and told him that I thought I needed to see about getting back on some medication for depression and anxiety. I ended up entering Cornerstone, a voluntary treatment program through Mount Rogers Community Services, to “get the right meds.” When I checked myself in the plan according to what Josh knew, was that I was just going to get meds and I’d only be there 3-4 days and then I’d be back home, and things would be good. Well, 3-4 days turned into me staying for the maximum 15 days and then refusing to go back home with Josh. Instead, I had a “family counseling” session with Josh on day 4 and told him that I would not be coming home, I had made other arrangements for somewhere to stay. I “needed time to work on myself and did not feel like I could do it while in a relationship” (as if I could just walk away from my marriage like that with no repercussions!). Josh walked out of that meeting completely blindsided, shattered, and heartbroken. And I had allowed my heart to grow so cold and hard that I honestly did not even blink an eye to care what I was doing to him. While at Cornerstone I got to explore my artistic side and found that drawing is very therapeutic for me. I also learned how to create a WRAP plan that was very helpful in identifying my needs, wants, likes, dislikes, things that help me and things that harm me, as well as creating a plan of action if my mental health were to get out of control. This was probably the most helpful tool that I learned at Cornerstone. It is something that I need to go back and update now that I am further along in my recovery.
I left Cornerstone after 15 days and went to a second “domestic violence” shelter where I stayed for 7 weeks. This shelter ended up becoming a very unsafe environment for me given my history of abuse, as well as my previous struggles with alcohol. The Friday after I was discharged from Cornerstone, I was scheduled to have major brain surgery in Hershey, PA. I planned on going by myself because there was no way I was going to set aside my pride and ask Josh to go with me after all I had just done to him. BUT Josh insisted that he was going with me whether I wanted him to or not (Oh the grace he showed me that day when I know I did not deserve it!). I was in the hospital for 3 days and then we drove the 6 hours home to Virginia. When we got back to our apartment I got in my car and without even saying a word I drove myself (high on pain meds, driving against doctor’s orders!) back to the shelter that I had been staying at and then did not talk to Josh at all (no calls, emails, texts, NOTHING) for 2 weeks. I refused to let him know that I was even alive, and I had just had major brain surgery and had 22 staples in my head for 4 weeks! All the while he would message me or try to call and leave me voicemails “just checking on” me.
In Early March I began feeling a tugging on my heart and a whisper in my spirit that said, “go back to where I called you at home.” So, one Wednesday night I found myself in my car driving to the church that Josh and I had been attending for the previous 2 years, just in time to make it to their Wednesday night service. I pulled in the parking lot and instantly began crying. I sat in the back of the sanctuary where I wouldn’t be seen by most people, and I cried through the entire service. I went back to the shelter that night and spent the next 5 days doing nothing but crying! I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I didn’t want to talk to anyone, I just cried! I even went back to church that Sunday and I cried through yet another entire service. I prayed and prayed and prayed asking God to show me what to do. To give me peace. To open doors that He wanted open for me and to slam doors shut that were leading me in the wrong direction. But still I was finding ways to continue to run from my marriage, my husband, and the problems that I had created in our life, and the past that I could not heal. Finally in late March I had been up all night one Saturday night, unable to sleep and feeling completely unsettled about the path that I was going down. By this point I had so deeply severed my relationship with my husband that literally the only thing I had not done was to file legal divorce papers. (Thank You Jesus!) But I had already done plenty of damage. I had closed our joint checking account without telling my husband. I had taken his car off the car insurance and got an entirely new insurance policy with just my vehicle, again without telling him. I attempted to have my name removed from our apartment lease agreement but was told that I needed Josh’s signature too. I had put a hefty deposit down on a rental home for myself. I was DONE! I had run so far away I didn’t think Josh would even care to try to fight for us anymore. But God was not done was not finished yet! By late March, after days and days of crying and not being able to figure out why, I again found myself at church. This time I was sitting in the front row by the drummer’s cage where Josh and I have sat since about a month after we began attending our church, in the chair next to my husband. We sat in the sanctuary for 2 hours after service ended and talked and cried together. I went home with him that night, but then the next day when I told Josh I was “just going to go get my stuff” from the shelter and I didn’t go back home that night, once again Josh was shattered. I knew at this point it was over. There was no hope of ever restoring our relationship. Trust was gone and we would never get it back. I was gone for 2 days and then I showed up at church again that Wednesday, but I “knew” there was no way Josh would even want me to come home at that point. I had gone too far. I had done too much to destroy him. People around us had been talking for months. Rumors were spread like wildfire, and I fed into them rather than trying to wipe them out. But God was not finished working yet! Josh saw me at church that Wednesday night and he immediately put his arm around me. I went home that night and have been home for 3 ½ years.
We spent the next 2 1/2 months trying to “move on” from that tumultuous year. I carried a heavy burden for all that I put us through, and I could not shake it. I continued to struggle with anxiety, panic attacks, and nightmares. Until one night in June 2019 while attending a conference at our church. As soon as we entered the building that night, I felt God’s presence and I knew that something big was going to happen. But I had no idea how big! When the preacher got on the stage and first made eye contact with me sitting on the front row, I knew God was going to speak through her, directly to me. And He did, all night long! I was the first one to the altar at the end of the night when the preacher asked if there was anyone there carrying a burden. I knew I needed those chains broken to heal my marriage. That night changed EVERYTHING for me and our marriage. I was so broken at this point, and I had tried everything that doctors and therapists told me to do to “recover” from trauma and “manage” the mental health challenges that the trauma caused. But for me, there was still a piece of the recovery process missing… SURRENDER! Face down at the altar that June 2019 evening, crying out to God and finally realizing what it meant to truly surrender EVERYTHING to Him, I felt a big weight lift off my shoulders and I finally felt free. Free of the desire to run away from my marriage. Free from the stronghold that my past had held on me for 26 years. Free from the overwhelming negativity that I felt enveloping my soul for the previous year. I finally had an overwhelming sense of peace deep in my soul that I had honestly never felt before! That night was a major shifting point in my recovery. It truly took me reaching rock bottom and nearly losing everything to get to the point of being able to fully surrender everything that I had spent my whole life trying to “manage” or “fix” on my own, to God and allowing Him to take care of it. The last 3 years have brought so many challenges with my health including a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis 2 weeks before Covid shut the US down for 3 months in March 2020, and many of the struggles we had back in 2016 and 2019 have not really changed, but my ability to cope with them without turning to alcohol, popping pain pills, or running away has drastically improved over the last 3 years. I am proud to say that Josh and I are stronger than ever, and we have been able to fight through the battles this life throws at us much better than ever before. We have worked hard on communicating and we have strengthened our support system. I have continued regular counseling sessions and taking my medications as prescribed. I am no longer taking the narcotic pain medication that I had been on since 2013 and have found other ways to manage my pain. Yes, I still struggle with anxiety and depression at times, but with a stronger support system than I have ever had before, productive coping skills, and the daily decision to surrender my pain and my struggles to God, I have been able to manage my anxiety and depression more effectively and less destructively. For me, my recovery is dependent on more than just psychiatric medications, counseling, coping skills, and making different choices. My recovery is equally dependent on God and my conscious decision to surrender my life to Him every single day and allow Him to do the work that I cannot do. So long as I am doing my part, I know that God will do the rest and with Him, though I may stumble, I will not fall. My hope for the future is that my story will help other people who are struggling with their mental health due to trauma. If I can help just one person see their worth and overcome their past, I will have made a difference in this world.
They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. – Revelation 12:11
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. – Romans 12:2
Christina is a PRS intern with Robin’s Hope and the founder of Redeemed & Restored Recovery.