This week’s post is by Emily Routt, who describes herself as a 30-something Catholic who lives in Texas and loves to read, marathon shows on Nexflix and hang out in any combination of coffee shop and bookstore. “As someone who has survived and as someone who works in psych now, I would love to help change how survivors are treated,” she wrote in an email.

“How did I get here? How did things get this bad? Why am I still alive?”

As I lay in the emergency room, this was all I could think. The lights were off, and a nurse was there with me because they were worried I might try to kill myself again. My entire body ached from hours of throwing up, my mind was clouded and all I wanted was sleep, and to be alone.

I had wanted to fall asleep and never wake again. I wanted the pain to end. I wanted my mom to not have to worry about the child she didn’t want. I wanted my friends to be happy and not have to worry about me. I wanted to disappear.

I was just 16 then, and I had spent years in a hell few can imagine. I grew up hearing that I was worthless. Then my parents divorced, and it went from my father beating me to my mother beating me and telling me she should’ve aborted me and I was the worst mistake she ever made, even though I took care of her. I made sure the bills were paid, that there was food in the house and that she got up for work. My family blamed me for her issues and for the divorce. I had been an adult for three years, going between school, work, soccer and taking care of my mom. I had started cutting, drinking, doing drugs, anything to temporarily take away the pain. None of it really worked.

I didn’t leave a note. I didn’t tell anyone.

In the ER, the doctor knew to put a tube down my throat and pour charcoal down it. The psychiatrist told me I should have died, and left. My parents fought about whose fault it was. Problem was, no one knew what to do with me. No one knew how to talk to me, how to touch me, how to reach me. I had become completely isolated. Everyone, instead of talking to me, talked around me and looked at me like I was some sort of exhibit imported from a faraway land. The only people who actually saw me and saw my pain were my nurses, Grace in the ER and Hope when I was admitted.

The next day, my psychologist came in and sat on the end of my bed. He told me about his wife and how when they were dating she had attempted suicide, how he rushed to her house, how he held her through the night, how he understood, that he was sorry he couldn’t have helped me like he did her. When he was done, for the first time, I wanted to speak. I wanted to tell him about the abuse, about the pain, about how I hated voice, my eyes, my body. How I wanted to destroy everything about me that made me who I was, because if I was someone else my parents might finally love me. But I couldn’t. I had no voice because I had never used it, because I had never developed one, because no one had ever taught me how. In that moment, I finally realized how lost and little I was.

The day after I was released without having been committed, my mom took me to see my psychologist. I curled up into a ball on his couch and just stayed there. I don’t remember really talking. I nodded. I showed him where I would cut myself. I was still emotionally and physically exhausted. I sat and cried, and he sat beside me. He tried everything to help me feel less alone and isolated, but without me talking, he couldn’t. The last time I saw him, he gave me a copy of “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl.  I read that book over and over because, for reasons I could not have expressed then, it made sense to me.

I had no idea how to deal with the reality I was living in. I had no idea how to change any of it, and I found myself back where I had started: drinking, cutting, doing whatever blotted out my reality, even temporarily. A few months after my suicide attempt, I came home one night to find my mom barely breathing. She had attempted suicide.  I called 911, and by the early hours of the morning she was was committed to the psych ward.  She spent a month there, and I spent a month bouncing from one relative to another.  I wandered aimlessly through life until I found myself at 17 sitting on the edge of my bed, exactly where I had been just a year before.

No one, including my friends, knew what to do with me anymore. No one wanted to talk about it. People either ignored me or acted like nothing had ever happened. I was something to be discussed in whispers, not someone to be talked to. I was an art piece that no one understood.

The edge of that bed was where my life was going to end or begin.  I sat there and took a deep breath and closed my eyes.  I kept thinking, “This is it, this is my only way out.”  Then I exhaled and looked in the mirror and saw a girl far older than her years and thought, “There has to be something better.”

The next day, I went to my first AA meeting and then went to rehab for the first time. In AA, I found the family I needed.  I worked the steps and found friends who understood me. I found a God that made sense to me, and I got to heal so many of the wounds that had been open and infected for so long. I eventually decided, with the help of my sponsor, to separate from my family for a while. I got a job. Slowly, over many years, I got better. It wasn’t easy. Eventually, and ever so slowly, I did find my voice. I started working with an amazing psychologist who helped me break the pattern of violence in my life. I learned that not only could I say “No” to people, they had to respect my “No.” I learned that I am stronger than I think and that I deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. I learned to love all the things that I had hated about myself, all the things about me that I had tried so hard to destroy for so long. I learned that my kindness and my compassion did not mean that I was weak. I found that my overwhelming emotions and my ability to empathize with other people were amazing gifts.

Eventually, I decided to go to college and pursue a degree. My psychologist, who had seen me cut my arms and thighs, who had watched me struggle with the traumas in my past, who had watched me curl into the fetal position in his office, suggested I major in psychology. I was strong and independent. I had walked through so many things that would have scared adults to immobility, and yet I still loved and trusted and cared. I wanted to make sure no one had to go through the things I had gone through alone.

Now, 18 years later, I still struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, but I tell myself, “Wait for tomorrow, something will change tomorrow.” I never could have done any of this on my own. I owe so much to my AA family and to my amazing friends who stayed with me in my darkest times. They love me regardless of my past or my struggles; they love me because they see an amazing person worth loving. Because they see all the good in me, I can see it, too. My family still acts as though I never attempted suicide, and the few friends I retained from then get nervous if I ever try and talk about it with them. I still keep my family at arm’s length because I know the harm they can do.

I am truly sorry for the hurt I caused the people who loved me, but I must move forward and not be bound by my mistakes. I have learned from my past, but I will not let it dictate my future. And so today, I sit and look back at all of it and marvel at the woman I have become, and I am so grateful for those experiences and those mistakes, painful as they may have been.