Shannon "Beauty from Ashes"

  Photography by  Randy Bacon

Photography by Randy Bacon

Where do I start with my story? I've been blessed with a wonderful, supportive family and yet I've struggled with addiction, self harm, mental illness and abuse. I've overcome all of these and tried twice to get into the same treatment center that several of my friends have been to and that my church supports, but I am one of probably many who has been too sick or severe for their help (and the wellbeing of other residents) but that is not where my story ends. I fought tooth-and-nail to get to where I am today and get back to living a life that doesn't revolve around pain or hurting myself. I was bullied starting in middle school through high school, but the biggest bully was myself. I would tell myself things like, “you're so stupid, everyone hates you, you'd be better off dead”. The biggest voice you listen to is the one inside your head and hearing myself say these things, I started to believe them.

I switched to private school in seventh grade and that was one of the best choices I could have made. I don't want to know what my life would have been like if I hadn't switched schools. When I decided to go back to public school I wound up going to the school my mom was a high school counselor at to avoid the people I left. I was involved in theater and the first two years of high school were great. I wound up switching to the school with the same kids I had left for better choir and dual credit opportunities. I decided to make YouTube videos of me singing just for fun, but there were a group of girls that decided to cyberbully me. I got comments that compared me to a rasping chemo patient or someone with Down Syndrome. While some of the comments made me laugh, others were just hateful and hurtful. These words stayed with me, and in 2012 I became involved in an online, unhealthy codependent relationship with someone I had never met. We became very close but because of my past and what I had went through, I was a very needy person who in turn became a bully. I never wanted to hurt my friend but deep down I wanted to know that someone cared and would love me. I hadn't learned to love myself at this point or accepted Christ's love. Eventually it got to the point where she had to step out for self-care, and I snapped. I went on her Tumblr after she had asked me not to, posing as an anonymous person who had also stepped out of someone's life because I wanted to know that it was hurting her like it was hurting me. I wasn't honest with her when she asked me who I was because I was scared, but I came clean that night. While the verbal backlash I received was justified on her part and completely understandable, it tore me up and actually made me vomit. That was when I vowed to myself that I was never going to let myself forget how I made her feel and started self-harming more severely out of guilt and shame. I had to move off campus and finish out what was left of the semester at home because once again, I was impacting other people and not in a good way.

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On May 21, 2013 I overdosed in an attempt not to kill myself but to get other people's attention as to how much I was hurting and that I was desperate and needed help. I didn't feel like people were taking me seriously at the time. This was my first breakdown. I applied to a Christian treatment center and was dead set that I would get in and when I didn't and was told I needed more serious help, I was really disappointed. Having a Christian community and the support of real people I actually knew, but more importantly discovering Christ's love created a desire in me to get better, heal and do the work from home. I was so frustrated though because I wanted to be one of the girls that was chosen. I didn't think healing was possible for me outside of a treatment center. In 2014, I had made it to about six months without self harming when my dad was in a freak accident that resulted in the loss of his legs below the knees. Him being in the hospital for two months and the process of going into a burn unit triggered my mental illness and resulted in PTSD. I was sleep deprived worrying about my dad and how he was going to live without two legs. There were maybe about five or ten times in two months where I did something for myself instead of being at the hospital. This traumatic experience impacted my work and sales ability. When I switched to fast food, washing my hands all the time and being in the kitchen was too similar to going into a burn unit. I had to quit my job, move home for about a week to get chemically stable because my mind was breaking, and got a job in retail. It was then when I started to be upset that my dad was alive but God chose not to heal him the way I wanted. I became involved in a Bible study, got around a great group of girls and really dove head-first into why God loves me and what it means to be saved. In May 2015, I started to reapply to the same treatment center because I was still struggling with self-harm, guilt, and shame. Things were going really well until I came to realize with the help of a friend that some of the ways I had been treated growing up were abusive, and I started to self harm out of anger. A few weeks later my grandma died, and for three days I was caring for her in the same manner I was my dad with the hospital. This triggered my mental illness and resulted in my first manic depressive episode. I lost a close friend because I could not respect boundaries. She stepped out in person, and what she didn’t know was something she said triggered feelings that I had buried. The episode got so bad I could not sleep, I thought I was demon possessed, and I was a wreck. Finally I realized though that as a child of God I could not be possessed. I had to have boundaries within my church and learn what respect and growing up look like. Although I was sick, I still had to be responsible for my choices. I wound up not getting into the treatment center for a second time but I was at peace with it.

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As of today in 2018 I have walked through yet another breakdown, this time as a result of coming off a medicine with my doctors help and experiencing the withdrawals. I am so proud to say I have put self-harm behind me and have been walking in freedom for a little over five months now. I am here to say that our pasts can be messy; mine is absolute proof of that, but God loves to use broken people and there is no limit as to what He can use. If you are willing to be clay in his hands and do the hard work, He will heal you and restore you. It will be hard and painful, you might stumble and fall, but in the end it will be worth it. I want other people to know that it is possible to thrive and not just survive. You don't have to let your circumstances define you or stay stuck in pain. You don't have to be a victim to your circumstances or live with a victim mindset. People may leave but that does not define you, your worth or the impact they made in your life. I have nothing but respect for the people I have lost and ultimately their choice made me a better person. I may have not shown that with my actions, but in time I learned. Everything I've went through has made me strive to be a better person who wants to help other people. I am finishing my bachelor's degree in Human Services and want to become either a school counselor or an LPC. I want other people to know that you don't have to be stuck with your circumstances. Life is not supposed to be so hard. Ultimately I want to open a transitional living home for people with mental illness to keep them out of the hospital, but I am passionate about seeing people live their best life free of pain and embracing all God has for them! God can make beauty from ashes!

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