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By His Grace, I was Made New

by Caitlin

Honestly, I didn’t ever think I was going to be able to do this.. share my story. For a long time, I didn’t really think I wanted to because of how many wounds it would open once again. But the difference between a year ago and now is that I am 100% able to trust that God is doing something amazing in someone else’s life by giving me the words to speak my truth.

I grew up as a Christian. That’s how I was raised, but my parents always gave me a choice. I was never forced to go to a youth group or church on Sundays, I just started attending activities in middle school because my friends did. I made a lot of great memories at the church I grew up in & I am forever grateful for those. I got extremely involved and even became a worship leader for the college group we had before I moved to Tampa. I was having the best summer of my life but little did I know, my life& that 19-year-old girl was going to change completely. But first, some context.

Growing up, I was known as the “goody-two-shoes” Jesus freak and I got made fun of for that as well as being “too sensitive” and overweight. In middle school, I really started to deteriorate due to the bullying and I think this is what set the stage for the emotional trauma in the years to come. All I wanted was to feel loved and accepted; if anyone would even pay the slightest bit of attention to me, and do the absolute bare minimum, I would consider them a “best friend”, which resulted in a lot of heartbreak and damage to both my mental and physical health. I often wondered what would happen if I just stopped eating. I tried a couple of times but couldn’t do it. Then I wondered what would happen if I forced myself to purge my meals… the same thing.. couldn’t do it. A lot of dark thoughts ran throughout my adolescent mind. Maybe if I was skinnier I’d have more friends. Maybe if I just wore different clothes or put more makeup on more boys would pay attention to me? At the time, I really didn’t know any better. I was too insecure and scared to stand up for myself because then I wouldn’t have ANY friends.. and that was just unbearable to me.

Fast forward to high school, and this insecure mentality I had continued… but it seeped its way into both my friendships and relationships. I thought I was getting better, but I was still silently dealing with the repercussions of middle school. Sophomore year I started what I often refer to as my “dating bad boys” phase. I was still so desperate to feel loved and accepted, that I let a lot of immature high school boys walk all over me, and got cheated on and heartbroken several times because of that. I was crushed, I was broken and I just kept falling apart, but I never really told anyone how bad it was. I just stayed quiet.

The last two years of high school were interesting, full of a lot of ups but also a lot of downs. I started college at the age of 16, while juggling dance at a studio, psychology club, high school dance team, college dance, praise band at church, and… another relationship. This one felt different, but sparing all the details, turned out to be more detrimental to me than the previous ones combined. This started a toxic cycle of being stuck in emotionally abusive relationships for the following years. We broke up after high school and I swore to myself I would never let a boy talk to me or treat me like that ever again. I really thought I was right.

I was finally growing into my own skin: working out, fixing myself and my mental health, getting closer with God, or so I thought. Oftentimes I really just put on a happy face because I didn’t know how to deal with the pain I still felt. So eventually, I got tired of faking it and just completely changed myself, but not for the better. I wanted to break the “good-girl” image. I had enough. I wanted to prove a point, that I wasn’t the person to walk all over anymore. But it got me nothing but a legitimate living hell. I kept going to church but what would happen the nights before didn’t reflect that. I kept going to church but the people I was surrounding myself with, the people I let influence me in several ways… didn’t reflect that.

I finally hit another breaking point and re-evaluated my life and what I was doing to myself and started really getting involved in church again.. for real this time. I stopped going to parties for a while and got more involved in my college group and started hanging out with people that seemed good for me, at the time. Right before moving to Tampa, I got involved with a boy from my church that completely turned my world upside down in a matter of a few months. He said all the right things, held the doors, met my parents, prayed with me and for me.. and yet.. cheated on me several times, manipulated me, broke me in ways that are still hard for me to talk about to this day which made me lose sight of who I was completely.

I didn’t realize how toxic this “relationship” was to me until I ended up going to counseling at my college (as a request of several people close to me) and getting a psych evaluation where I was officially diagnosed with acute PTSD, anxiety, OCD, and depression. I kept going to counseling after that, and got involved at my local church in Tampa, FL and started to feel a lot better. I was healing in a lot of ways and meeting a lot of amazing people.. but instead of letting God heal that emptiness I still felt.. I jumped in and out of “flings” with guys for the next year. I was stuck in the same toxic cycle, just letting it happen because I was so numb. The vile things that were said and the things that happened make me tear up to this day, but I didn’t have it in me to walk away from any of it. I was drained.. little by little.. until I was empty and had nothing left to give. Tossed around like I was nothing. Treated like an object instead of a person, and broken into the tiniest pieces.

Over the next year, I lost myself again, and I didn’t know if I could get her back this time. She had been utterly destroyed. She was damaged goods. She had experienced forms of trauma, more emotional abuse by several people she thought she could trust, narcissism, verbal abuse, PTSD flashbacks, toxic habits, abuse of food, months of deep depression, anxiety, negative and detrimental thoughts, she was so close to giving upBut GOD.

July of 2019 broke the bondage to the toxic cycle that I was stuck in for several years… but I didn’t know it then. I started to get involved in a small group at my local church, started serving more, wasn’t focused on relationships at all, but rather focused on myself and both my mental and physical health. I got a gym membership after not having one for several years. I started fueling my body with things that were good for me instead of things that would “numb” me for a bit. I had made a complete turnaround, but then in January of 2020, I got laid off from the best job I have ever had. This sent me into a dark place once again. My grades completely slipped in school and I didn’t care, I stopped eating and I didn’t care, I could barely get up to shower most days and I really didn’t care. I was destroying myself from the inside out, and I truly didn’t care. But I didn’t tell anyone. I suffered in silence because I was known as the “positive, happy girl”; a lot of people looked up to me, I couldn’t disappoint them. I made so much progress!! I couldn’t possibly regress again. So I stayed quiet for a while.

I was getting a little better, going with the motions and just accepting things as they were, but then the world shut down. The rest of my senior year of college was taken from me: graduation, spring dance concert, seeing my friends, making memories. Gone. I was so ready to give up once again, so I just slept. That night in late March of this year, I woke up from a deep sleep and had a panic attack. I could not stop crying. I was hyperventilating, I couldn’t breathe or calm myself down. I hadn’t talk to God in a while, but I didn’t know what else to do, I just got on my floor and started praying. Tears rolling down my face, two hours had gone by, I was still praying. I just kept saying “God please, just please take it. I can’t do this by myself anymore. Help me. Please help me.”

This was that moment that I had been waiting for my entire life. I finally let go of the things that hurt me, and let God fill that hole in my chest that had been empty for so long. I let myself be vulnerable. I stopped trying to be so strong and just gave it all to Him. I let go of the reigns, I let Him in, fully and completely for the first time in my life, and everything started to make sense.

I am now a co-leader to a small group of amazing young women: my world changers. I am more involved at my church than I have ever been before. I graduated from college with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and am working on getting into a Masters program for Mental Health Counseling. I am a part of a research program dedicated to ending the stigma towards mental health. I still do not have a job, but am trusting God has something great for me when it’s time. I am closer with family and friends than I have ever been in my life. I am surrounding myself with people that are good for me. I am single and waiting for the man of God to pursue me so we can pursue God together. I have fallen in love with fitness and giving my body ALL the nutrients it needs, both physically and spiritually. I am a woman of God. My past does not define me, it is not WHO I am, but by the grace of God it got me where I needed to be, trusting Him, even when it seems hopeless. None of it was easy, but it was not impossible.

He suffered so that I could be free. Even when I didn’t realize it, the chains and bondage that kept me hostage for so long were finally broken. I am forever grateful to the people He put in my life, the blessings He continues to provide and His amazing love for me, every single day. I could not have gotten this far without the amazing support system He provided my with. Thank you all, from the very bottom of my heart for loving me through it all.

God is so incredibly good, and He WILL bring you through it if you just trust Him, even when it’s hard. Exodus 14:14, always.”

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