Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Drowning in a Sea of Life Jackets

I remember going through a pretty intense time about 16 years... I was 16 and still living at home with my folks at that time. As I have said in the past, every night was a "let's get drunk and point out Tilly's flaws" night, so you can imagine how much I tried to avoid being home at all costs. But I couldn't stay away forever, so I always found myself at home each evening getting my daily dose of degradation. It got to be pretty bad. One night, I don't know why or how I worked up the courage, but I shouted at my father, "Why can't you just STOP DRINKING?!" And you know what he said? "I will STOP DRINKING as soon as YOU stop your FAT MOUTH from EATING!" Yep, that pretty much sums up my self esteem vault. But you know what? A little part of me believed my father would stop drinking if I weren't fat. A little part of me prayed that what he was saying was true.

That was about the time I began my first serious diet. No, not just calorie counting mind you, I mean the big D-I-E-it. (I call it that because there is no way I would have been able to keep up what I was doing to myself for any greater length of time without dying!) I wouldn't eat more than 400 calories in any given day. I would take laxatives, about 9 a day, to move food through my system more quickly. I began popping diet pills like they were another food group and I watched my bones start to pop up against my skin. I remember thinking how much I wanted to be a size 2... it was all about that number. Of course, now I realize that with my bone structure I would have been dead long before reaching my goal size, but I think a part of me didn't really care. I think a part of me wanted it all to fall away, for me to be an invisible face in the crowd melting into nothingness.... but that's not what happens when you become thin.

When I began to see the physical effects of my diet, I felt pretty good about myself. I was finally in control of something! It was all up to me! No one could take the power away! I ruled over my own body! In time, however, I realized that I didn't much like the effect it was having on those around me. I started to notice guys looking at me who never paid me much attention before. It wasn't genuine attention though, I suddenly had become a conquest to them. It didn't mean anything to them - not really! That made me feel sick inside. I placed a fake smile on my face wherever I went. People thought I was a really happy person, but I wasn't. I was a great actress and I stared in a magnificent play every single day. No one suspected how miserable I had become.

One day, while working at one of my jobs, one person began to reach out to me. He was older than I was (about 43), and really seemed to like me for who I was. He worked at the same store I worked at and, at first, showered me with attention I didn't know I craved. We began seeing each other outside of work.... a movie here, a dinner there. How could this have been wrong when he made me feel so great about myself?! We were "dating" for about three months when I found out that he was actually married. Yep! I felt horribly crushed! I couldn't believe that this person who made me feel so great could be wrong for me! We discussed his marriage and, of course, he promised me he was planning on leaving his current wife really soon and then we could be together. I wish I could say that I slapped his face and ran away from him that very instant, but I didn't. I stayed. I believed him. I WANTED him to be mine. We continued dating for about three more months. I started to feel so disgusted with myself for constantly sneaking around with him... but those few stolen kisses made me forget... for a while. I think part of me knew it was all wrong. I KNEW all the wonderful attention that I basked in for all those months was never truly meant to be mine. Deep down, I knew it... I just didn't want to face up to it.

One day, after feeling too overwhelmed with my emotions regarding this person, I reached out to a friend for advice. I told her how he made me feel. How I wanted, no needed, to be with him. Do you know what she said to me? "Tilly, you have to end this. He is NOT good for you!! He is married and he can't be yours!" I wish I could say that I took her sound advice, but I didn't. I knew she was trying to help me, but that wasn't the help I wanted. I wanted someone to say, "hang in there Tilly! He'll be yours soon enough! Surely he'll be leaving his wife for you soon, right?!" But my friend, who loved me more than I deserved to be loved, couldn't say that to me.... she told me the truth and I ran away from her. I was drowning, she threw me her life jacket, and I threw it back at her. I would rather have continued flailing wildly in the sea of my own downfall than to accept the help she was offering. So stupid! To this day, it is one of my greatest regrets.

After my friend gave me her advice on running away from this man who was basically preying on my weakness, I began to look for advice from other people in my circles. It didn't take long before I found someone who gave me the advice I wanted to hear. I shook my head agreeing with a second friend's thought process on how this man would be mine some day. I swore to her that I cared about him enough to wait. And wait I did.... I waited for another three months. That's when I found him kissing another girl, who was younger than I was (14 years old), in the parking lot after work one day. I was devastated. Once again the man in my life that meant the most to me had thrown a dagger at my heart. It wasn't too long after this happened that this person moved on to another store. I cried when he left. I knew he didn't love me, but I sure did miss that attention...

I have learned so much from that experience. Sure, I messed up. I committed a horrible sin and to this day wish I could have done things differently. Sure, I could blame it on a pedophile of a man who worked with me, preyed on my weaknesses, and took advantage of me. I could blame it on my father, who pushed me to "better" myself to the point that I was desirable for this type of person. Or, I could even blame it on the second friend who encouraged me to pursue this relationship... but I can't. It's not their fault. It was all me. I am the one who made that choice. I am the one who, after seeing the truth, did nothing to fix things. I was in sin, and I loved it. Sin is nice. Sin is comfy. Sin gives you exactly what you think you need. But you know what, sin never made me truly happy. I was thin, desired, pursued, pleasured... but I was NEVER happy. Even WITH that man, I still felt completely alone.

But you know what?! God is so MARVELOUS! After my weakened heart began to heal from that first "relationship", He brought another man into my life. This man was smart, charming, funny, witty, and to this day remains one of my all time best friends! My hubby loves me just as I am. He even tells me how much he loves my chubby cheeks!! And no, I am not anywhere near a size 2... but you know what, I am happy to be the size I am! I am finally comfortable in my own skin! Not because of the man in my life or the church I go to or the job I work at.... but simply because I wake up each day knowing I don't deserve God's love and grace, but He gives it to me any how! If He can love me enough to see through my many faults, than I must be a pretty okay person! And no matter what happens in my life, I can always take comfort in the knowledge that I will never be alone again!

What sea are you drowning in today? Do you feel the weight of the world pressing you down? Stop and look around. You may be surprised to see quite a few life jackets just waiting to pull you free. Don't allow your pride to look beyond the help that loving friends can be offering. Don't allow the superficial pleasure of sin to blind you from those lifelines! Grab hold! Hang in there! God loves you where you are, but He refuses to leave you there!

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