Straight up: I hated emotions. I hated feeling angry, sad, hurt, or any other emotion that didn’t make me feel good. I thought I was supposed to be happy all the time, and even when I went through hard times, I thought I was supposed to look like I had it all together. Because of those unrealistic expectations, self-harm became a quick fix for me. I could pretend to be happy all day at family gatherings, school, and even church, but when I was alone, I would face the true emotions I was really dealing with. Cutting gave me a release from the pressure to be perfect.

A huge contributing factor to my self-harm was that two family members were sexually abusing me, and I believed I had done something to deserve this. I even remember thinking that maybe if my abusers saw the scars, they would be grossed out and leave me alone. I thought if I made myself unappealing to them, they would stop. That didn’t work—but the cutting seemed to help me. It felt good because it provided a temporary distraction from the inner pain and all the fear and insecurity inside of me. It was a way of escape.

My perception of God was that He was a distant lawmaker. I thought I had to follow the rules. I’d never experienced a personal relationship with Him. The church I grew up in was all about what you could and could not do—I don’t remember ever seeing a display of love or grace.

So, even though I believed there was a God, He wasn’t a personal God to me. I knew I wasn’t perfect, so I didn’t believe He cared about me or the things I did. I certainly didn’t feel I deserved His love. I was looking for someone to blame for all the bad in my life, so if I thought about God, it was only to blame Him for my pain. In reality, He was the only one who could truly free me from pain.

My dad was physically abusive, and my mom was verbally abusive. I struggled daily, wondering if they even loved me. They told me I was fat and that I would never amount to anything. They told me I was a mistake. I figured, if my own parents didn’t want me around, why would anyone else?

It was all too much, and one night I planned to commit suicide. I didn’t really want to die, but I didn’t want to live this way either. Desperate for help, I called a lady I knew as a last cry for someone to care. She picked me up from my house and took me to hers so we could talk. She listened as I expressed all my frustrations and the tangled mess of emotions that I could not sort out on my own.

When I was done, she told me that God had a plan for my life and that He was going to take all that the enemy meant for my destruction and turn it around for my good. She also told me that, someday, I would encourage other girls who were struggling with the same things because I would understand them. But, she told me, I had to let God work in my life first.

At that moment, I knew things had to change. I wanted to stop hurting myself, but I didn’t know how to do that. Even if I could go to church every Sunday and Wednesday and read my Bible faithfully, I didn’t know how to apply what I was hearing or reading. No one had ever taught me what to do when I was struggling or how to handle difficult situations. At that point, I was still living with my family, so I couldn’t escape my circumstances. I had a hard time trusting people and was very guarded. How could I make anything change? Nevertheless, I was determined to fix the problem myself.

My addiction to self-harm had affected every relationship in my life. When I was with my friends or family and needed to cut, I would get agitated, impatient, and angry, looking for an opportunity to be alone. I had to isolate myself from everyone so I could focus on cutting. The process took time, preparation, anticipation, the act of doing so, then cleaning up, bandaging myself, and making sure I had it all together before I went back out with the people.

My life was one big, terrible cycle, and I wanted out! I heard about Mercy Ministries, a place that offered help for girls like me. God opened the door for me to enter the program.

While I was at Mercy, I realized that making a change wasn’t only about choosing new behaviors—I had to get to the root issues that were causing me to want to cut myself. Facing my problems head on and not trying to escape took a lot of work. I did not want to face all those painful emotions and memories from my past that I had spent years trying to avoid, but I had to deal with them so I could heal.

I had to make up my mind that no matter how hard it got, I was going to do whatever it took to be free. That took a lot of humility because it was something I could not do on my own. I had to reach out to God and the people He had placed around me. I also had to be vulnerable and honest.

Learning how to have a real relationship with Christ has opened my eyes to who I really am. I know that my identity does not come from past experience or who others want me to be—it’s found in who God says I am. Knowing that I am loved, cherished, wanted, valuable, and fearfully and wonderfully made gives me the courage, boldness, and tenacity to fight on.

Speaking God’s Word out loud also became an important part of my daily life as the truth began to expose the lies I believed. As I heard myself speak the truth out loud, faith rose up within me to believe it. My emotions were based on so many lies that it was important for me to renew my mind with God’s Word so that I could believe it and my emotions would line up with the truth. I set aside time to do this every day because having structure doesn’t leave much room for feelings. A huge revelation for me was that I am to live my life based on truth, not controlled by my feelings.

Healing and freedom came as I experienced the love and kindness of God. I graduated from Mercy and then got connected in a church. There, God began to use other people to demonstrate His love for me. People would come up and tell me that I was important to them and encourage me.

I was afraid others would hold my past against me, but instead, I have been surrounded with people who are willing to look beyond my past and see me as a new creation in Christ. God has brought people into my life that I have learned to trust. Through them, I have learned that if they can show me love and forgiveness like this, then how much greater is the love and forgiveness of God toward me?

My strength comes from the Lord, and through that strength, I continue to walk in freedom, forgetting what is behind, because I know God has forgiven me. He is a forgiving God—it was forgiving myself that was hard.

God does not hold our past mistakes against us once we have asked for forgiveness, so we shouldn’t hold them against ourselves either. In order to receive God’s forgiveness, I had to forgive myself. This is something I have to do daily—I must live with an attitude of forgiveness, being quick to forgive others as well as myself.

I thought that, when I graduated from Mercy, I would have my life together. I thought that if I struggled even one bit, it would mean that the last year of my life had been a waste. Obviously, this was a lie.

I have to be real and honest with other people and with myself. I have to surround myself with godly people, and I can’t let myself become isolated. I have to avoid setting myself up to struggle. God does not want me to walk in perfectionism. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (NKJV). God understands our humanity. He does not expect us to be perfect! Knowing this brings me peace and an ability to enjoy life.

There is hope. Dealing with feelings and emotions can be scary, but they are there for a reason. God gave them to us to signal that something happening inside of us needs to be addressed. I want you to experience the freedom and victory I have found. It begins by opening your heart to God and to others who want to love you. I did, and I am forever changed.

I’m going back to school to finish my degree in psychology to become a counselor. I want people to experience the true love, joy, and peace that are found in Christ. I want to share with others what God has done in my life. In Mark 16:15, Jesus tells us to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (NKJV). That’s what I’m going to do! †