“Pieces of Me,” A Short Story

(This story of creative fiction, told through imaginary diary entries once a decade, was originally submitted to Transition magazine.)

19 April 1999

Dear Future Me,

Today is my tenth birthday and my class went on a field trip to the zoo. I saw three big gorillas behind the glass. Mrs. Remington says we come from the apes, not the monkeys. One of the gorillas was by himself. He stared at his feet and the floor and the sky while his friends swung from the ropes and ate lots and lots of fruit. I put my hand up against the glass. The gorilla put his hand up against the glass, too.

20 March 2009

Dear Future Me,

There is a pulse in my head like a hummingbird, relentlessly flapping its wings. I think too much. I am thinking too much. I have thought too much.

I am supposed to know now what I want to do for the rest of my life?

Tell me, you the older and wiser, who is it I become?

4 August 2019

Dear Future Me,

Sometimes I wish I could be a spectator of my life; I wish I could just sit back and watch. I want to press play and fast forward; I want to rewind and relive falling in love over and over and over again to remind me what it feels like. I want to taste my first kiss. I want to smell his department store cologne. I want to see us smile. God, I can’t remember the last time I really smiled.

People keep telling me everything happens for a reason, like my future is already decided so I should just breathe and stop worrying that I’ll end up alone. I think it’s supposed to make me feel better to say that, to believe that. But that’s just it—I don’t. I don’t for one second believe that my destiny is written in the stars, read on tea leaves and the veins running through my palm.

Those people who say that chase fantasies. I am not just a passerby. Our love won’t just stick because it’s real and true and meant to be. We have to work at it. We have to work so goddamn hard to keep it fresh and alive and functional.

Functionality. That’s what we’ve been reduced to.

Tell me, is it going to work out in the end? Should I keep on watering or leave it to rot?

17 November 2029

Dear Future Me,

I see pancakes every time I close my eyes. I feel the crumbs in my hair, taste the maple syrup on my tongue, breathe the smoke in my lungs. I see her tears, I hear her screams. The air is thick with failure. The air is thick with pain.

Fear is beating in my ears. How do I explain to him that I didn’t mean to hurt her? Why does my husband keep yelling—so much yelling?

He tells me I am her. No, not my daughter. Her. He says I have resurrected her, that I have made her come alive with my self-inflicted misery. He says it’s my fault I burned my baby girl.

It was an accident! I swear on my life it was an accident.

On my life…

I guess that doesn’t say much.

I’ve never hated myself more.

7 December 2039

Dear Future Me,

Today is her tenth birthday. I took her to the zoo. I don’t remember her joy or mesmerization at seeing any of the animals except the chimpanzees. I only remember them because they’re so like us.

She leaned close to the viewing window. Her breath fogged the glass, spreading quickly in the cold. She wrote her name in the fog.

One of the chimpanzees touched the window behind her name.

My head hurts. Thoughts keep trying to invade but I keep pushing them out.

1 January 2049

Dear Future Me,

Happy Fucking New Year. In light of new beginnings, I raise my glass to tomorrow. I cheer to my bank account hovering at five hundred fifty six dollars and forty three cents. I clink to the engine that’s giving out in my Honda. I even salute to the woman I am, the man I married, the mother that shaped me and the kid that celebrates what I could have become.

I once cradled my dreams in my lap. I fed them, nurtured them, stroked them. I now see those dreams out of reach, and I spit on them, punt them, pierce them with the daggers of my windowless eyes.

8 May 2059

Dear Future Me,

I always knew he would go first. My heart feels something but I don’t think it’s sadness. Maybe it’s that feeling I’ve feared all along. Loneliness.

11 September 2069

Dear Future Me,

We have forgotten. The world is as broken as me and we have forgotten. We no longer grieve. We have stopped raising our flags in unity and hope. Directionless, everyone. They are as pathetic as I am. We, us, they, them, me, I, all putting one foot in front of the other in front of the other in front of the other.

The road crumbles beneath the weight of the earth. The asphalt caves in with the weight of me.

27 June 2079

Dear Future Me,

It turns out what I wanted to be was not the same as what I’d become.

You could have saved us both a lot of anguish if you’d mentioned that before, don’t you think?

19 April 2089

Dear Me,

Why the hell did I make it this far?

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22 Things I’ve Learned Through Dating & Dumping

1. Honesty is the greatest attribute in a significant other, down to one’s selfless ability to tell the truth even if it means they are the one that causes pain.

2. Trust between two people should be earned, and trust between two people should be respected. Unfortunately, should be is not the same as will be.

3. Beware of taking things for granted. Gratitude never gets old, no matter how long you’ve been together.

4. You can be friends with some exes. You won’t likely be friends with all your exes.

5. There will be times you put your faith in someone and they let you down. If they let you down in the form of cheating, get out.

6. If you and your partner aren’t communicating, work on fixing it or else your relationship is doomed.

7. If he keeps you a secret from everyone else, run for the hills.

8. Learn each other’s love language.

9. Do not lose yourself in a relationship and don’t be anyone but yourself in a relationship.

10. If two people aren’t in the same place feeling-wise, the one who wants less always wins.

11. You have to get past the honeymoon phase before you’ll know if you two are really compatible.

12. Both people have to compromise in order for the relationship to flourish.

13. When you’re in a relationship with someone else, you’re still in a relationship with yourself. Don’t neglect that. Alone time is vital.

14. Sometimes a person will awaken your love without the intention of fully loving you. Sometimes that’s cowardice, sometimes that’s cruel, and sometimes that’s just life.

15. If he says he wants to focus on his career or isn’t ready for a relationship now, he’s really just not that into you. Find someone who would, if it came down to it, tell you if he’s just not that into you.

16. You can’t force someone to love you back.

17. There will be people you take a chance on, and there will be people who you know you can’t take a chance on. Not everyone deserves a chance; sometimes you’ll give chances that shouldn’t have been given. And that’s okay.

18. Dating is about learning what you want and need in a relationship. Your wants and needs might change, and so might theirs. What you can give might change, or it might not.

19. You deserve to be with someone who lifts you up, not someone who pulls you down.

20. Sometimes you’ll grow together. Sometimes you’ll grow apart.

21. You never know how many firsts you’ll have before you have your last firsts.

22. Never, ever, ever, ever settle.

To All the Boys That Came Before

To all the boys that came before,

You were my first kiss and my first slow dance, my first date and my first love.

You were my adventure partner, and you were my relaxing buddy.

You made me smile, and you made me cry.

You believed in me, and you didn’t encourage me.

You were the reason I was afraid to fall asleep at night, and the reason I slept so peacefully.

You made me feel good about who I am, and you made me question my worthiness.

You stood up for me, and you tore me down.

You didn’t compliment me, and you told me I was beautiful and smart.

You were young–we were young. Now you’re older–now we’re older.

You taught me how to love, and you taught me how not to love.

You were the best, and you were the worst.

You showed me what I want and what I need, and what I don’t want or need.

You destroyed my heart, and you prepared my heart.

You were the boy that came before, and the man that came after.

30 Things I’ve Learned in 30 Years

I’m 30 and it feels good.

I wouldn’t change my past, but I have certainly learned from it. So here’s my 30-year-old self telling my 40-year-old, 50-year-old, and 60-year-old selves some words of wisdom that took me three decades to grasp.

1. Self care isn’t all about treat yo self.

It means shedding the parts of your life that are dragging you down so that you can be comfortable in the life that you have instead of running from it.

2. Listen to your heart and your body.

You should always be comfortable in your home, your job, and your relationships. If something about these situations is making you anxious, assess and reassess. It is likely time to move on.

3. Communicate without charge.

Emotions should not lead a conversation. Nothing will be accomplished and someone will likely get hurt.

4. Know your worth.

If a job or a relationship isn’t giving you what you deserve, step away from it.

5. Do what makes you happy.

Find happiness in the little things. Find joy in the common and uncommon, not the large and impressive. Karaoke is one of my favorite things and I stopped caring if people think that’s weird.

6. Learn from your past to live in the present and shape the future.

Neither run from your past, nor regret it, nor dwell in it. Use it to teach, encourage, and inspire others and yourself.

7. You don’t have to finish a book or movie if you’re not into it.

Time is precious. Downtime especially. These activities should be pleasurable. If you’re not into the story or style after 20 pages, find a new one.

8. Slow down.

I’ve become the smallest bit introverted and let go of my FOMO so that I can recharge my batteries and focus on me. (Don’t worry, I’m still crazy extroverted, too.)

9. Learn to say no.

You aren’t on this earth to please everybody. There is a time to put others first, and there is a time to put yourself first.

10. Learn to negotiate.

Hone this skill because you’ll use it a lot in life. Don’t let fear keep you from standing up for yourself.

11. Trust your gut.

It’s usually right.

12. The fear of failure is far worse than failure itself.

Take the plunge. You’ll get through it.

13. Always be curious.

Never stop seeking knowledge. The world is full of it, and we’ll ever only know a piece of it.

14. Be wary of opinions under the guise of advice.

Most people are giving you their opinion when you ask for advice.

15. Try new things.

Don’t let life become monotonous.

16. Find your balance.

I kickbox and I do yoga. 🙂

17. Reply to people.

Call, text, email… don’t leave people hanging. If you have time to pee, you have time to send a quick message. Ugh, and ghosting. Just don’t do it.

18. Maintaining close personal relationships shouldn’t take a lot of work.

They take effort and commitment–especially long distance–but they shouldn’t be exhausting or feel obligatory. But absolutely make the effort to keep in touch with people you care about who mutually care about you.

19. Have friends who are different than you.

Don’t surround yourself only with people who are similar to you. That only creates closed-mindedness.

20. Watch as many sunrises and sunsets as you can.

It reminds you of the important things in life.

21. Make short-term goals to reach long-term goals.

Otherwise, procrastination happens.

22. Sleep and eat right.

Make sure you’re getting enough sleep every night to function normally. It affects so much.  Along with good sleep, eating healthy is fuel for a clean body and mind.

23. Take vacation, sick, and personal days.

You earned them.

24. Build yourself up, don’t pull yourself down.

Constantly work at gratitude and encouragement for yourself. You deserve to be confident in who you are.

25. Spend money on what makes you happy and don’t judge others for how they spend theirs.

Everyone’s budget is different. Don’t force yourself to pay money for something just to fit in, and don’t look down on someone who opts not to shell out their money when you choose to.

26. Don’t put too much energy into trying to fill the holes in your life with things that don’t matter.

Concern yourself with memories, not impressions.

27. Be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

It gives you perspective you didn’t think you needed.

28. You can be strong and fragile at the same time.

You can be a lot of paradoxes, actually. I’m a walking oxymoron.

29. Don’t compare yourself to others.

Live your own authentic life.

30. You are worthy of love and you are never a burden.

I have to remind myself of this almost daily, but I’m slowly recognizing its truth.

What is one thing you would tell an older or younger version of yourself? Share your words of wisdom in the comments below!

This Is What Depression Feels Like AKA The Hardest Fucking Thing I’ve Ever Done

Six months ago, I hit rock bottom. I found myself sobbing on the curb in a gas station parking lot. This is the story of how I got there, and how I’m clawing myself out today.

The overarching themes in the barrage of recent body blows were and continue to be a feeling of not being valued, a feeling of being taken advantage of, and recognition of dishonesty from people I trusted. From a deceiving landlord to a toxic job setting to getting laid off at another job to theft–twice–to a broken heart to hate mail from a stranger to unsolicited criticism from loved ones and most recently, getting hit by a car, the other shoe just kept on dropping.

In December, my pattern of self care began to morph. All I wanted to do was sleep but then I couldn’t sleep. I went back and forth between eating sparingly and eating ravenously. I became apathetic about everything, even cute dogs, and if you know me you know I’m overly empathetic and compassionate. Apart from noticing that I wanted to do nothing except lie on the couch binge-watching Netflix, I realized something more was going on when I saw this apathy in me.

Everything in the present was crashing into me all at once and doors of the past that I thought I’d slammed shut were blowing wide open. I came out of work one night after a particularly distressing day after a particularly distressing weekend to find that my new bike lights that I’d just replaced from theft two weeks earlier had been stolen from right in front of the big glass windows where I could see my bike all day long.

I’d planned to ride to my sister’s that night to tell her I needed help but someone stole my fucking bike lights. This one single act pushed me to my breaking point. Later, one of my friends would point out that I wasn’t crying about the lights. It was just that–a breaking point.

I grabbed my bike and began pushing it a few blocks toward the two-mile hill home, but then I stopped on the sidewalk next to a telephone pole. I leaned my bike against it and just felt like, This it it, I’m done. What more does the universe want from me?

Standing next to a telephone pole with my bike in the pouring down rain, I have never felt so much anguish just trying to exist. It felt like there was a target on my back, like the universe was conspiring against me. I crossed the street, threw my bike onto a curbside lawn in a Shell parking lot, and bawled my eyes out.

That night was the lowest point of my life.

I called a friend to see if she could pick me up and she immediately hopped in the car to come get me. For twenty minutes I waited on the curb, sobbing into my hands, but after ten minutes I heard a soft, tentative voice say, “Excuse me? Are you okay? Are you hurt?”

I looked up to see a concerned middle-aged woman. I told her I wasn’t hurt but I couldn’t get home and was waiting for a friend. She said she would wait with me and repeatedly offered to buy me food or water or bring me a blanket because I was shivering. Her kindness briefly helped restore some of my brokenness. Her name was Becky.

My friend talked with me for a couple hours after bringing me home. After she left, I reflected on the hour-long phone conversations I’d had with two friends the night before, and the phone conversation I was supposed to have with a friend the next day.

It was getting increasingly more difficult to work in the customer service field where I had to always smile despite not feeling like smiling. Some people say if you smile enough you’ll start to feel like you mean it but everything I do in life I do with authenticity. Pretending my smile was real didn’t make it feel more real. It made me feel like a fraud.

I truly didn’t think I was in danger of intentionally harming myself, but I was so incredibly exhausted. I thought I might fall asleep in the bath tub, faint from hunger or sleep deprivation, leave the stove on, or worse. I didn’t want to die but it was taking so much energy to live.

I have been seeking stability ever since the hurricane, but the stability I’m building keeps cracking slowly like a chisel working on a porcelain vase until finally it shatters and I have to start all over again. I keep standing up for myself, molding and holding onto hope, but then I get crushed, and it is making me so very, very tired.

I wanted to be hopeful that night that things would get better, not worse.

But I couldn’t sleep. I cried all night long and in the early morning hours, I texted my best friend who I didn’t want to bother because he is so busy and always so selflessly giving so much of himself but who I needed. He saw the urgency in my words and he did everything in his power to get me the help I needed from afar, including researching doctors. I made the first appointment available that day.

Step 3: Visit the doctor.

Step 2: Get on the bus.

Step 1: Get dressed.

It took me twenty minutes to put on clothes. I stared at my closet for two minutes before grabbing the pair of jeans I knew all along I would wear. I put on underwear and then jeans, then I laid on my bed for another minute. I scooted back to my closet to grab a bra, rested, then grabbed socks and rested again. I laid in bed for another ten minutes before getting up to pick out a shirt.

It took every ounce of faith in myself to get out the door and step on the bus, and every ounce of strength to transfer to the second bus. I cried the whole way.

I saw my reflection in a mirror at the doctor’s and realized how much I didn’t look like myself. I looked like I felt: a stranger walking around in someone else’s skin. After my appointment with the doctor and social worker, I picked up medication in the pharmacy. While waiting for the bus home, I realized I was standing right in front of a grocery store. I had needed to go to the store for four weeks but couldn’t find the energy to do so. I made myself step inside and pull things off the shelves. It didn’t matter what I put in my basket as long as I put one foot in front of the other.

I cried the entire bus ride home.

I spent four hours outside of my apartment that day, and it was excruciatingly exhausting. My sister came over that night and I filled her in. Like so many others, the first thing she said was, “I am so proud of you.” She said it made her think so highly of me that I was trying to get help, and she could see the strong woman beneath all this pain.

Finding the energy that day to get the help I needed was the hardest fucking thing I’ve ever done. I still don’t know how I did it.

In the days following my doctor visit, I sat down on the floor while cooking because standing required too much of me. But I reminded myself I was cooking, progress that replaced the energy bar meals of late. Small tasks were monumental to-do’s but I made a little-big goal every day until things have slowly started to get better.

People keep telling me how resilient I am; “resilient as fuck” as one friend said, a “stunt woman” according to my therapist. They call me resilient but I feel like I’m dying inside.

But somewhere deep inside me I believe in myself enough to continue to put one foot in front of the other. I’m continuing to fight for my rights, to harness some ethereal willpower, to not let my demons win. Somewhere deep inside me I know they’re right: I am resilient. Not impenetrable. But definitely resilient.

Before I went to the doctor, I read an article by Sandra Marinella in Well Being Journal titled, “Your Life-Changing Story: The Story You Need to Tell.” It caught my eye because that is why I write about my vulnerabilities, and that includes sharing what it feels like to hit rock bottom. I write because it helps me heal and I write because I know I’m not alone. I want to help people and I want people to understand. I think and I hope my writing does this.

I want to thank my immediate support team (they know who they are) and everyone who has been there for me through not only the ups but especially the downs. I want to thank all of you reading this. Mental health has a stigma that it shouldn’t have. It is very real, very painful, and very scary, but we cannot and should not hide from it.

Being the support for someone struggling with mental health is a huge and exhausting task, but it is an honorable one. I have for a very long time not wanted to inconvenience the people I love by unloading my struggles on them, but these very people have helped me see that it’s not a burden–I’m not a burden–and they are honored to be there for me. I am honored to have them be such a present, reliable, and unconditionally loving part of my life.

The First Time (We) Kissed

I remember the first time we kissed. You were still asleep on the sofa bed when I crept past you on my way to the bathroom. I stood behind the closed door for a minute before heading back out, deciding if I should take the plunge, realizing after last night that you definitely reciprocated the feelings I’d tried to keep locked away. I felt it in the way you looked at me, the way you talked to me, the way you were so attentive, the way you accidentally but purposefully grazed my arm with yours.

I opened the door without looking at you and plopped sideways onto the creaky fold-up mattress, my back to you. I heard you awaken, I heard you smile.

You pulled me into your arms, and we laid like that for thirty minutes—maybe more, maybe less. Time became immeasurable. We both silently took in each other’s smell, listened to each other’s heartbeat. And then you spoke.

“You deserve to be cherished,” you said. “I wanted you to know—I intend to show you that.”

Then I did that thing that I always do when I’m happy and excited but also nervous and embarrassed, overwhelmed in the best of ways. I closed my eyes and I nuzzled deep into your clavicle, burrowing into my safety net, that soft pocket of flesh between your neck and your collarbone.

A few minutes went by. I heard your mouth open and close as you tried to figure out how you were going to say what you wanted to say. I waited, patient and impatient.

“I would like to kiss you,” you said, “if that’s alright with you.”

I did that thing again, taking in the scent of your neck and this time shifting my head onto your chest. My hand slid up to my face and latched on like a starfish, doing that other thing I do, where I try to hide from the barrage of feelings that I yearn for but also don’t know if I can trust. Not you, though. I trusted you. You’re the only man I’ve trusted like that since.

I fumbled for the words to speak.

“I’m nervous,” I said.

“Why are you nervous?” you asked.

“Because of my past, because of my last relationship, the things with my ex.”

“Understandable,” you said. “I’m nervous, too. I don’t want you to feel any pressure.”

I smiled gratefully, but you couldn’t see me. I plucked the knuckled starfish from my face and continued.

“And because we live oceans apart.”

“Another good reason,” you agreed. “I don’t have an answer for that one.”

I squirmed closer to you and hugged you harder. After a few minutes, you got up to use the bathroom. I heard a flush, heard the faucet running, heard you brushing your teeth. I’d secretly brushed mine before, just in case.

I looked up when you opened the bathroom door, watched as you crawled onto the mattress and slid your legs under the covers. You propped yourself up on your arms and leaned over me, staring into my eyes. I smiled nervously. You smiled beautifully. My chest raised as I inhaled deeply in preparation, anticipation. Slowly, you closed the gap between us, aiming for my lips. Your eyes never once broke away from mine.

My hands trembled as my body remembered what it felt like to be kissed this way by a man. I ran my fingers through your hair, like I always do.

Later, I would ask you to teach me to kiss, because I needed to learn how again.

_______

I don’t remember the first time we kissed. The moment is an abandoned memory, floating past the flood of warnings, so many skirted red flags. I remember you didn’t want to kiss me, but you wanted to be naked next to me. I remember I wanted to be kissed, and I wasn’t ready to be naked next to you. You got naked anyway. I didn’t. You kissed me eventually, but I don’t remember it.

I can count on one hand the number of times I remember you kissing me. I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of times I tried to, wanted to kiss you, but couldn’t, wouldn’t. I remember vividly you laughing when I tried, your lips parting when I closed mine to touch yours. Eventually, humiliated, I just stopped trying.

I remember wanting to be strong and once asking you if we could kiss, just kiss. I can still hear your laughter, see the way your eyes crinkled, like I’d just told the funniest joke known to man. I remember me turning away to deal with my pain because you didn’t see it when it was right in front of you. Or maybe you did see it but simply didn’t care to fix it.

I remember eventually figuring out the only one who could fix this pain was me, but it was too long before I got away.

Who is God?

To believe or not to believe… is that really the question?

In college, I was a devout Catholic, a weekly church attendee and band member, president of a campus Catholic community, and leader of a group of teens in youth ministry. I didn’t often ask questions and so I didn’t often feel lost and I often felt fulfilled.

But prior to the collegiate life, my faith had never before been challenged. For four years, I attended a university surrounded by peers whose views ranged from the same to vastly different from mine. I initiated discussion with far right individuals who I didn’t see eye to eye with. I also engaged in honest, open conversations with atheists about the role and existence of a divine being that oversees the universe. In these tête-à-têtes, my faith was never shaken but rather strengthened.

Then one day I was handed a white rose as I walked past organizations tabling on the campus’s main walkway. The white rose symbolized the pro-life stance. I was 19, a virgin who hadn’t put much thought into the abortion debate. I was an active member of a denomination that was outspoken about it’s pro-life viewpoint, but I realized in that moment that my instincts were on the other side of the fence. I could feel the rose’s thorns in my hands creating a pit in my stomach, nausea threatening to surface, and I very swiftly but discreetly discarded the rose.

I felt uncomfortable never having examined where I stood on this important and hugely personal but politicized issue. I felt like a liar practicing Catholicism yet now unsure if I believed everything the Church preached. However, I continued on with my devout Catholic life.

Soon, I realized how many strangers and close friends on the college campus surrounded me from the LGBTQ community. As the fight for equal marriage rights gained steam, I posed zero opposition, and in my head, this was nothing that should ever have been a political matter anyway. I shared my views openly, despite the Catholic Church’s stance and my continued involvement with the religion, but I’m ashamed to say I didn’t fully embrace my viewpoint. I could have been and should have been a stronger, more outspoken ally.

My junior and senior years, I helped launched the Inter-Faith House, one of various themed campus housing options. We promoted religious tolerance. I read the Tao, celebrated Passover Seder, and continued to be a devout Catholic. My campus housing projects included a silent awareness initiative of religious stereotypes and a faith unity quilt patched together from students and staff expressing their religious beliefs.

In my last years at university, I had one-on-one conversations with priests about the concepts of free will, fate, and destiny as well as good and evil. I am grateful to these priests, some of whom are still dear friends, for offering me perspective. I wanted to believe in God, but God was no longer the same man with a face in the clouds in the sky that I pictured in second grade Catholic school.

The summer of my graduation, I backpacked solo around Europe. At the East Side Gallery in Berlin, someone had painted on a preserved part of the Berlin Wall, “How’s God? She’s black.” It was empowering, and I’ve thought about it a lot since that day nearly 8 years ago.

After college, I dove head first into the animal and science world, embarking upon a career in wildlife conservation. While sitting on the couch in my apartment one day, I asked my then boyfriend what he wanted to get out of life. He told me he wanted to be happy. I asked him if he believed in God–a conversation I’m surprised we’d never had before despite this being the start of our relationship. He told me he didn’t think so.

I thought about his response a lot, namely that he simply sought happiness in life. It was such a simple yet solidified answer, one that boggled my mind at the time but has since come to be a beacon in my own muddled travels through life.

As my scientific career began to suffocate me, I started to wonder how faith and science can co-exist. I reached out to religious scientist friends, poured over atheist philosophy, and analyzed the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas. I struggled with the concepts of time, beginning and end, and forever. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to believe in a Higher Power, that I would refer to this power as God, and that, while much of my definition of God was inspired by Catholic teachings, God as I saw him had changed.

Upon moving to Seattle, I stumbled upon a Buddhist temple. I began attending group meditation, discovered I am terrible at meditating, sought to improve my meditation, and still attempt to meditate today. Meditation and writing became my main forms of prayer, and nature replaced a physical church building.

When I shared publicly the story of my sexual assault, I received a wave of support from friends and strangers. However, some of that support wasn’t the best form of support for me.

One person repeatedly reached out to me to offer a shoulder but only from a deeply religious standpoint. I received texts saying how often I was being prayed for, which wasn’t what I wanted to hear but it wasn’t a terrible thing to hear. But when I read the words “God saved you,” I realized these texts were not helping. I responded saying I knew the texts came from a good place, but I needed them to stop. I said, “It’s alright if you want to believe that God saved me, and I know you need to heal from this news in your own way, but I do not believe God saved me. I believe I am a strong, capable woman and I fought my way out on my own.”

I am incredibly grateful for my Catholic upbringing. It gave me guidelines, morals, and values to live by. For a very long time, Catholicism was fulfillment enough in my life, and I never labored over what I believed. I thought this was enough to be happy and whole.

Ash Wednesday is still one of my favorite days of the year. I still feel very much at home on the occasion that I do I step into a Catholic church, especially when I’m alone in a foreign land. I still want to and choose to believe in God, but I’m still figuring out what God means to me.

My definition of who God is has changed dramatically over the years. I’m still perfecting that definition, and I don’t think I’ll ever have it perfect. Faith is a journey I don’t think should ever end. I think it should be challenged daily, and I firmly believe we should come to an understanding of the universe on our own.

In the beginning of my adult life, I was blindly trying to fit into a mold I was handed from birth with which I wasn’t sure if I wholly or partly agreed. Maybe that mold is right for me, maybe it isn’t.

Who is God? He is whatever you believe him to be.