Content warning: The following story tells of a survivor's experience of what it was like to come out as a lesbian woman, the story contains references to self-harm, bullying, and mental illness that may be triggering for some readers.
“By Your Side,” Julia
Note: All survivors who reach out to The Art of Survival are given the option to remain as anonymous as they prefer in sharing their story. Any specific details about the survivor are shared at their discretion, and not the creators of the page.
The majority of my adolescence, the time when you “grow up” was not spent worrying about if I could to prom with the “cute boy from my science class”, it was spent worrying everyone around me would find out my secret. I realized I was gay when I was in fifth grade. We had an incident with some girls at recess calling someone “gay” and when the principal came in to reprimand us, she explained that gay meant when two people of the same sex loved each other. She told us we weren’t supposed to talk about it, this was a small catholic school.
At that moment, I knew that she was talking about me, that was how I felt, but I had to hide it. When I started dating my best friend in middle school, we kept it a secret. I was confused, I knew I liked her, but I also knew I wasn’t supposed to. Things only became more complicated.
For her, it was about keeping the secret at all costs. As I became more comfortable in my sexuality, I wanted more people to know about my relationship. When I was 14 my parents found out I was gay. They did their best to understand, but they could not. This was the worst nightmare of every catholic family. They forbid me from seeing the girl, my heart was broken. I kept seeing her though, I kept the secret. She didn’t want to talk to me at school, in fear people would suspect something. I was being told I was loved, but I was being shown that I was something to be ashamed of. We fought every day. I wanted a real relationship, she wanted me to disappear. Soon, I wanted to disappear.
At 16 I met someone new. Someone who wanted me for me, and was not ashamed. I broke up with my long time girlfriend in hopes that I could start a new relationship without having to keep it secret. The problem was, I still lived at home, my parents did not want me to date a girl. My first girlfriend retaliated.
She told everyone at our school about me being gay. I walked down the halls every day of junior year, knowing that people were talking about me. I had eternal knots in my stomach. I stopped eating because I lost my appetite. At night I would log onto facebook and see five to ten messages telling me how disgusting I was.
Things came to a head the day before senior year started.
Girls from my school came to my house, they vandalized my car. I woke up that morning with a text message from one of the perpetrators saying “you think that was bad, you just wait, bitch, just wait.” I had to tell my parents about the harassment I was getting. I told them I would not go back to school. I showed them messages where people told me to kill myself. My parents had seen the cuts on my arms, they knew I was struggling. They told me I could start at private school for my senior year.
After listening to a lecture on bullying one day at my new school, I was saddened to think that was what had happened to me. (I had since broken up with the new girl). I texted my ex girlfriend. I told her that I was sorry for anything I did to hurt her. I still felt like it was my fault, for existing in her life to cause complications. She asked to meet up, and when we did, she wanted to get back together, she said she was ready for a real relationship, after all we were going to college soon. I agreed.
That year, she was possessive. I felt like I was constantly tied to her, everything I did was in reaction or anticipation of her reaction. I stopped eating again. This time to get her attention, to get her to realize that I was hurting, that I needed help. It didn’t work. I finally found the strength to leave. Single for one year, my anorexia became unbearable. I was down to about 200 calories a day. I needed help, I needed to come out, I needed people to love me and I needed to know my worth, but the only place I could find it was in being skinny. When I went over my caloric intake for the day I would cut as punishment to myself. I told a friend “at least if the anorexia kills me, people will say the disease killed me, not that I killed myself.”
I was at an all time low, when my ex called me again. She saw my vulnerability and took advantage of it. She asked me to come back to her, I was seeking something, and I said yes. This time was worse though, her emotional abuse became unbearable.
I started to go back to church. We sang a song with the lyrics “I may be weak, but Your spirit’s strong in me. My flesh may fail, but my God, you never will”. I knew in that moment that I had to give it up to God. I was dying, I was killing myself. I asked the Lord for help. I broke up with my girlfriend for the last time. After seven long years of emotional abuse, I was free. I started to gain weight, and be honest with my therapist. Since that day I have not cut. I have not counted calories. It has been three and a half years.
Looking back, I know that this was part of my story. This season of my life was given to me to grant me a compassion. I am now in a counseling program. I am working with college students who struggle the way I did. I have a healthy relationship now with a woman who chases the Lord the way I do. Her family and my family are close, they love us well. I am thankful everyday that I survived, but I almost didn’t. I am an advocate. I share my story so that others at their low will know that there is hope, that happiness is just around the corner, and that even when you think the whole world is against you, God stands by your side.
About the art:
So, I started Julia's piece with an idea of where I wanted to go with it, and drew a bunch of filigree. I like doing my style of filigree, it's fun and elegant. I chose the words for this piece based on the lyrics Julia references in her story. They come from the song, "Give Me Faith," by the Elevation Worship group.
But when I added all the words to the painting, it felt a little empty. So I decided to go in after having completed the words and added in some splatter and splotches! This gave the piece a little more of a pop! This also meant that I had to go back through the entire piece a repaint the letters a redo a bit of the filigree. But it looks great!
I'm thankful Julia shared this piece with us. I had a similar struggle in my own coming out as a person from a religious background. So I can relate to Julia's path a great deal.