A small note: this post was really hard for me to write. I’ve struggled and prayed about sharing it and I’m trying to be obedient to the Lord. Please bear with me!
I was 17 when I went to college. I still had a childish outlook that teachers were right and people with titles were looking out for your best interest. And I thought that because it was a Christian school it was a safe place, that people would all be trying their hardest to be like Jesus.
So I ended up in a really toxic situation with a psychologically abusive faculty member. And I spent three years internalizing the lies that faculty member and the people around us told me. That I was worthless. That I deserved the treatment I was receiving. That I invited verbal and emotional abuse by speaking in class. That my objections to it were the result of hysteria and over-tiredness. That it was just the way things were. That I was over-sensitive. That I deserved it.
And I believed it. I felt stupid for being in so much pain when my classmates were having similar experiences and handling it like champs. I felt like I was crazy when I told authority figures what was happening and they said, “that’s how it is” and didn’t really seem to care. By my junior year I was severely depressed and I was suicidal. I believed in God, but I was pretty sure that He wanted nothing to do with hysterical, pathetic, worthless me.
And I remember really clearly that one day near the end of my junior year something typically awful and abusive happened in class, and I told my best friend about it, and she said, “That one I can report.” And she did. She found someone she could report it to who listened and who was grieved and who had the power to make other people listen. And she made me go to counseling, because she is strong in the Lord like that.
So my senior year I fought back. I asked for justice. I didn’t get it, but I think that asking for it was important for my own spirit. To be honest, things actually got worse, externally. I spent a lot of time in official waiting rooms. I spent a lot of time defending my character. I spent a lot of time repeating myself to people who really didn’t care about me once they found out that my parents (some authority figures wouldn’t even see me until my parents got involved) weren’t going to pursue legal action against the school.
And there was no reconciliation. Things never got better. I just got the Christian college equivalent of a restraining order to keep that faculty member out of my life and I graduated and I left. I got more counseling.
I’m pretty stubborn, right? And yes, it drives me crazy that I’m here nearly four years later still trying to put the pieces back together. I’m still trying to dig out those lies. I hate that those people still are influencing me in some way. I hate that this experience has warped my ability to trust.
But I think it’s much harder to dismiss the lies of Satan when you’re worried that they might be true. In the midst of the whole mess, things were said about me and my character that didn’t impact me at all. Things to which I didn’t give a second thought, because it was really easy to call them out as lies.
But the idea that I’m worthless? I have a lot of fear that that might be true. I’ve been afraid that’s true since before I went to college. And every time Jesus tells me that He loves me I think, “yeah, but are you sure? Like, have you met me?” So it’s really hard for me to dismiss that lie. And then I spent three years internalizing it from a lot of different authority figures, in a place where I was really vulnerable because I assumed that I was safe.
So I think I have to live with it for a little. I think that destroying that abusive influence is going to take a lot longer than I want it to. I want to say, ‘Yep, it’s a lie, they were all wrong, and I don’t believe it anymore,” and be better. I wish I could make a New Year’s resolution that it’s not going to impact me anymore. But it doesn’t work like that.
It happened. It happened and it was messy and painful and horrible. It was a really terrible experience and I would give a lot to erase it. But I can’t. I can’t go back in time to 17-year-old Kelley and tell her to choose a different major or a different school. I can’t put the sass and the confidence of 25-year-old Kelley into 17-year-old Kelley; I can’t throw my arm around her the first time that faculty member stepped out of line and steer her right to the HR office.
There’s just me, now, with a messy backstory and some unpleasant baggage. And the fact that I’m even able to say that it was an abusive situation that really messed me up is due to counseling. But that’s a victory. And the year after I graduated my university distributed pamphlets to all the students explaining what you should do if your professor is harassing or abusing you. And that’s another victory, because they didn’t have anything like that when I was a student.
When I hear those voices telling me those lies, I also hear the Holy Spirit, telling me the truth. And I’m really grateful to God that I’m in a place now where I am actively rejecting the lies, even if it’s taken me a ridiculously long time and I’m really impatient with myself.
I remember that the first time my faith began to revive was the first time I prayed the prayer of confession in an Anglican service, in the summer between my junior and senior years. I stared at this little laminated card that said, “There is no health in me.” And everything in me said, “Yes, yes! That’s me! What comes next?” What came next was, “Have mercy on me for the sake of your son, Jesus Christ,” and the Holy Spirit blanketed me in peace. I remember thinking, “it doesn’t even matter if I’m worthless or over-sensitive or crazy. God has mercy on me for the sake of Jesus.” And I began to trust His love again, to listen to His word instead of the lies.
I’m sad that it happened, that it’s a part of my story now. But I know that God is faithful, that His truth will endure long after all the lies have perished forever. And I believe that it’s going to be redeemed in some way that I can’t imagine or comprehend. I trust in His goodness. He brought me life in a place of death.
Great is His faithfulness.