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Something’s Leaking: When We Name It, It Can Be Healed

Something’s Leaking: When We Name It, It Can Be Healed

I love donuts. Like, a whole bunch.

Specifically, Shipley Do-Nuts in Texas. There’s something about the original glaze that rocks my world. But when I was introduced to the snacks in vending machines in middle school, my favorite donut quickly became the small six-pack of Hostess white powdered donuts. Back then, we didn’t have the great healthy snacks in the vending machines like the kids do now. We had the real stuff: soda, candy, and my favorite — the white powdered donut. I couldn’t wait to sit down for lunch with my friends on that hard lunch bench. I’d eat my pizza with the square pepperoni, whatever fruit they’d plopped onto our trays, and my prized possession, the donuts. My favorite memory was when they’d get stuck to the roof of my mouth and I had to take my finger and claw it out. Real attractive!

I remember one day I was sitting with my friends doing the regular routine at lunch, eating my donuts, when I had to use the bathroom. I got up, glared at all my friends, counted my donuts — one, two, three, four — and headed out.

As I skipped back to the table from the bathroom, I squinted at the plastic pack of white delicacies, “One... two... three.” Someone had eaten one of my white powdered donuts. I lost it. I mean I really lost it.

I started yelling at my friends. “Who ate my donut? Who ate my donut?!”

My anger turned into yelling that turned into a wild scream that only rage and hurt could produce. Things escalated and I found myself standing on that lunch bench, yelling at my group of friends to ’fess up and tell me who ate my donut. And then I locked eyes with one of my best friends who hadn’t said a word and whose mouth had been weirdly sealed shut.

I looked over at her and asked, “Nicole, did you eat my white powdered donut?”

She burst out laughing and white powder spewed all over the table.

I lost it. Again. I screamed at her and told her to take her finger and scrape my donut off the roof of her mouth.

Seconds later the vice principal, a slender African American woman who knew me well, tapped on my shoulder and asked me to come to her office. The table filled up with “Ooohs” as I stepped one foot after the other and walked through the cafeteria looking down at the tile floor until it turned into the carpet that welcomed me into the vice principal’s office. As soon as we sat down, the unraveling of the white powdered donut saga began.

“Antoinee’, you’re a great student. What’s going on?” she asked gently. (Antoinee’ is my legal name.)

“Nothing,” I replied. Giving the typical preteen answer that translates to I’m lying and don’t want to tell you.

She was unfazed.

“You’re captain of the cheerleading team, you’re on student council, you’re a part of the drama team’s Thespian Society, and you work here in my office on your off period. I know you and you’re a good student. Can you share with me why you were yelling and standing on the cafeteria table?”

“Nicole ate my white powdered donut!” I blurted out.

“And that’s why you were yelling and crying? And standing on Harris County property? One white powdered donut?” she asked, knowing there was more.

“Well, it was my white powdered donut, and she didn’t even ask and—”

She cut me off. “Antoinee’, I would love for you to share what’s really going on,” she said as she placed her hand on my shoulder.

  • It seems like every time someone does the sentimental touch on the shoulder, the real stuff comes out, doesn’t it?

I burst into tears and sobbed. My head bowed down low; my shoulders were shaking. And even though I could’ve told her everything that was going on, I lied and told her I’d just gone through a bad breakup.

The truth was that my mom had been in and out of the hospital, and there I was, balancing her health and school and seeking validation from my dad.

After my mom’s first stroke when I was in the third grade, sickness had plagued her body. One massive stroke was followed by three ministrokes, blood clots in her legs, her large intestine failing, carpal tunnel surgery in both hands, seizures, and so much more. I’d helped her get to doctors’ appointments, held her hair and made sure she didn’t swallow her tongue during bad seizures. I’d spent nights in the hospital feeding her and making sure the doctors did what they were supposed to. And I was scared. I was scared every night that I would wake up without a mom. That she would be taken from me.

So when Nicole took my white powdered donuts, it triggered me. Those were my white powdered donuts. And with the threat of the most important person being taken away from me being a daily fear, I was deeply attached to the things I could control. The things that I held close, big or small.

If you know what it feels like to be stuck in a cycle of trauma, to be “bossed around” by old pain, perhaps you’re feeling like little Antoinee’ right now.

The way I coped was by trying to control what I could. What were the ways you struggled to survive? Maybe you retreated into a safe space. Maybe you turned your anger toward others. Maybe you bit your nails. Or cut yourself. Maybe today you’re shopping and spending to soothe that pain. Whatever your coping mechanism of choice, believe me, I get it. In fact, I understand exactly why you’d want to keep your pain hidden — from others and maybe even from yourself. As a girl, you were smart about what you needed. And you figured out how to soothe yourself.

But as you matured, those little girl–sized defenses didn’t fit anymore. The ones you thought would help you might now be hindering you, keeping you from a healed and whole life.

But this book wasn’t written to shame you about the decisions you’ve made to survive the pain you’ve been through. Rather, I want to encourage you to bring all your pain to light.

  • We need to bring our pain into the light because it’s in the light where healing and hope are found. The truth is that unhealed trauma will keep impacting us. We can’t run from it. Our minds, hearts, and bodies weren’t made for it, and so we are consciously and unconsciously clawing our way to relief and refuge.

Our bodies want freedom and true hope. And when we don’t find that, the very things we use to numb the pain become the choices that can harm us. At some point our bodies will give out. When we haven’t learned healthy ways to heal from our pain, we end up medicating ourselves to an internal death.

I remember the moment young Toni started to die inside. When she lost her awe and wonder for the world and stopped playing. When even her longtime friends who used to call her a “Teletubby” because she was so consistently joyful, saw her light start to dim. It was a distinct and dark turn that took me years to recognize. I was thirteen.

It was the last day of my freshman year in high school. My parents had gone to Louisiana to visit family and were still driving back home when I got out of school. I invited my secret boyfriend, who was way too old for me, over to our house. We’d been trying to have sex all year, but it wasn’t working. The pain was too great.

I didn’t want to be a virgin anymore because I thought if it happened, he would stay with me — that he would show me the affection that I sought desperately. I needed to feel a sense of accomplishment too, and I thought maybe he’d show me that he was proud of me. Then on the last day of school we were in my bedroom trying again as his best friend sat in our living room, and that day it worked. I remember being so happy, so pleased with myself. We kissed one last time before he left. Then I closed the door and locked it. I also closed the door on young Toni. Her childhood innocence, her awe and wonder, were now locked out.

My desire to be noticed and seen turned into twerking at parties so all the boys would dance with me and all the girls would be jealous. I turned to drugs and getting drunk until I couldn’t remember the nights of partying. My rage leaked out as I punched walls and defied my parents. My longing to be beautiful and skinny turned into bulimia, so I could eat what I wanted without keeping it down long enough to absorb too many calories.

Still today, I sometimes get mad that no one saw how much I was hurting or offered to help. And then I get upset with myself about shaking off my tears and lying to the vice principal about where my pain was coming from. Maybe she would have helped me start a healing process the day of the white powdered donut saga and I wouldn’t have sunk even further into a shame cycle, winding deeper and deeper down into a lifestyle of coping that I didn’t think I could escape from.

I became the party girl, but really I was the broken girl trying to escape the realities of her life. I was on social media pretending that life was good so often that I inadvertently convinced my own heart of the same. My dangerous and damaging coping tactics numbed me. I had bought into what the Enemy often tries to plant in our hearts:

You’re too broken to be fixed. You’re too blemished to start over. You’re already canceled.

The Enemy had his eye on me even before I accepted Jesus into my heart. He thought if he could plant these lies into my heart at an early age, I’d never feel worthy enough for refuge and redemption. Boy, was he wrong.

With maturity and hindsight, I can now look back over those school years and recognize how some of my behaviors were responses to the trauma I’d endured. At the time, I convinced myself that I was living my best life, but I can see that the pain I was unable or unwilling to face was driving my behavior. My trauma was still the boss of me.

Today, when I speak from the stage, I’m pretty comfortable naming some of these expressions of the hurt that was bubbling inside me. The donut freakout. The aggressive twerking and dancing at parties and clubs. Soothing my feelings with weed and a Taco Bell chalupa. I can see that because I was desperate for my father’s approval, joining the middle school swim team and coming close to drowning in my first meet was yet another way I tried to cope. And the crowds laughed. But I think I can laugh now because I’ve sat in my counselor’s office and cried about it. The difference? I’ve healed from it now. And I’ve healed from it because I’ve named it. If we’re going to heal from it, we’ve got to name it. I was willing to get down in the trenches of my story and name the things that broke me so I could get to a place of wholeness. I fought through the shame of hiding these broken parts of my story and eventually mustered up the courage I needed to walk into conversations with safe community and counselors that could help me heal. I clawed my way to hope.

And I suspect that the reason you’re reading this book is because you want that too. You want to be able to look back at the stories that have caused you the greatest pain and say, “It hurt like hell, but my wounds are now my scars of honor. I’ve healed from you.”

Maybe you haven’t had the courage and support you’ve needed to name those things that have hurt you deeply. Maybe you’re afraid to name your wounds because if you do you won’t be able to hide them anymore. You might be afraid they will break you if they are exposed. You may have had some incredibly painful things happen in your story, which you have tried so hard to ignore that you can barely remember them. But, friend, I’ve got to let you in on this. If you want to move forward, if you want to live a life of healing and wholeness, you have to name your wounds. Your secrets have more control over you when they’re hidden — I promise.

  • If we’re going to heal from it, we’ve got to name it.

I encourage you to pause, this evening or this weekend, to take inventory of what you endured as a child. Notice the ways you were affected by someone’s presence. Notice how you were shaped by someone’s absence. Notice the places where you needed to be protected but weren’t. Notice the ways you needed to be nurtured but weren’t. This work takes courage, sis. So invite God to be with you in it. Take your time. Grieve the real losses you endured. While this hard work seems like an unlikely way to healing, I promise you that it’s worth it.

You’ve got to be willing to open your eyes and see the depths of your pain. And I know it’s scary. Having eyes to see takes bravery, but I believe in you. I know that if I can do it, you can too. But even more important than my belief, you have a heavenly Father who believes in you — who has not left you. There’s a Savior who came down to earth to choose you in spite of you. In spite of your mistakes, your stories of brokenness, and even your greatest sin,

He still chooses you.

Excerpted with permission from Brave Enough to Be Broken by Toni Collier, copyright Toni J. Collier.

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Your Turn

Are you stuck in a cycle of trauma and being “bossed around” by old pain? Bring all your pain to light. Bring it to Jesus and don’t hide anything. You’re not too broken. The work of healing is worth it! God can and will heal your trauma.~ Devotionals Daily