Last week, I posted a piece of my story about my struggle with feeling worthy after my biological and adoptive fathers both abandoned me.

Today, I want to share more of that story. The pain and my struggle with feeling a father’s love didn’t end at my mom’s divorce in 1997. In fact, it got worse before it got better.

When I was 13 years old, my mom met and married a raging, abusive alcoholic and crack addict. The first six months were tolerable. The next five years were as close to Hell on earth as you can get.

They met, married, quit their jobs, started a new business and we moved from suburban Florida to rural Tennessee – all in my seventh grade year. Because seventh grade isn’t hard enough, right?

They decided to buy a 1936 log cabin on seven acres and “restore” it. We lived in a 25 foot motorhome with all of our stuff in a 40 foot metal storage container for the first half of my eighth grade year.

Restoration turned into complete demolition and building a new house. Nothing like the stress of building a new house in a new state with a new family to make an addict even crazier than he already was.

The memories of the first “episode” I ever experienced are burned into my mind forever. We all enjoyed fishing so when my mom and I picked up some fishing gear at a garage sale that morning, I thought we hit the jackpot. Specifically, there were two open-faced reels, still in the packaging. They were the exact same reel, but one was bigger than the other.

That night, we were all in the van driving home. I was babbling on like any normal 13 year old girl who was excited. I went on and on about the reels and all the other stuff we bought. I detonated the bomb by saying, “You can have the big reel and I can have the little one.”

Why?

Well because how dare I tell him what I’m going to do with what he considered was all his, of course.

I’m not exaggerating when I say it felt like I detonated a bomb. It was a violent scene. We lived down in a holler. It was dark and the yelling echoed. Rocks were thrown. My parents wrestled over car keys. My stepdad picked up my tackle box, which was full of my grandfather’s antique fishing lures, and tossed it across the yard. Rods and reels were broken. After spending a few minutes pleading for the chaos to stop and then realizing I had no control, I went and locked myself in the motorhome bathroom. It was the only place I could hide. I remember sitting down on the floor, hugging my knees to my chest and just being completely terrified.

My stepdad ended up leaving that night for a hotel for the weekend. The moment he drove the van up the driveway, any notion I had of him being the man he promised he would be was gone. Why?

Yep. You got it.

He had ALSO promised he would never leave. And yet, he did.

My mom forced me to go into his hotel room the next day. I walked in, sat down and said, “I’m done.”

And while I was done with any dream of the psycho being the father-figure I had longed for my whole life, I still had to deal with him all through high school. He called me names and ridiculed me. He controlled and manipulated me. I was the target of his verbal, emotional, mental and physical abuse.

I was five feet tall and 110 pounds throughout high school, not to mention my already-existing medical conditions. He was at least 250 pounds and a rough, tough guy.

I was strong but fighting him was not a good option. My choices were to run or hide. Once I got old enough to drive, I slept with my tennis shoes on and my keys in my hand. That’s how I survived high school.

Well, that and a very special angel God brought into my life. When it got really bad, I would go stay at Debbie’s house. I won’t forget one day in particular she fought for me.

She stepped in the gap and assertively informed my parents I would be staying with her for a little while. I was a freshman in high school and my stepdad had just shoved me so hard my head left a dent in the refrigerator door.

Guys, the man and I were fighting over a bag of sour cream and onion chips.

Thankfully, time has dissipated the vividness of many of the memories from my teenage years. But the toxicity of the lies the enemy used in those years lingered on for much longer. Actually, I still have to surrender some of the lies I believe about myself because of Robert and his abuse.

“I’m not lovable.” // “I’m a disaster.” // “I’m lazy.” // “I’m a failure.” // “I’m worthless.” // “I’m not good enough.” // “I’m not strong enough.” // “I’m weak.” // “I’m an idiot.” // “I’m a waste.” // “I’m a coward.” // “I’m not worth fighting for.” // “I’m not important.” // “Life would be better if I wasn’t here.”

I learned a lot about addiction in this time. My stepdad was a charmer. People naturally liked him. He threw a lot of money at problems. He had a good heart. His love just didn’t extend to me.

I felt like I lived in a house full of demons. Everyone was always so exhausted. We worked so hard to protect my stepdad’s reputation as the small town hero. Why? I’ll never really know.

Abuse lies. No matter what kind of relationship or the abuse itself, it lies. It sneaks in, fills your head with all kinds of lies about how you deserve it or you should be strong enough to handle it. It isolates. It devours your soul. It rips people and confidence and dreams to shreds.

For more than a decade, I lived in the grim reality of those lies. Every single relationship I had and every single thing I did was affected by the lies that I knew to be true about my very existence. And because of those deeply-rooted lies, I learned to survive by developing destructive behavior cycles just to get through each day.

If you knew me back then, you heard me quote all the scripture and God’s truths. I could preach a message about your identity in Christ. I didn’t have a freaking clue what that really was. Not until just the last few years.

You know what I found out?

There is a gigantic difference between knowing something in your head and believing it in your heart.

It wasn’t until I got the opportunity to go back to those years and those lies and confront them in the safety of therapy that the shackles began to be broken off. That I began to learn not just about God’s love for the world but His love for ME. It was then, and only then, that I could build my life upon His love. Let me tell you – it is a FIRM foundation.

So where am I today? I’m free. My shackles have been broken off. I’m living redemption in ways I can’t even find words to explain.

Why? How?

Because Jesus.

Jesus sent people along in my journey to jack up the house and help me replace the foundation I built my life on. Individuals who said it was okay for me to not be okay, but committed to being a community that wouldn’t let me stay that way.

Slowly but surely, I learned how to replace the lies I believed to be my truth with the truth according to my Heavenly Father.

“I was work Jesus to God.”

I am worth being protected. I am unconditionally loved. I am made in God’s image. I was worth Jesus to God. I am a child of God. I am a coheir with Christ. Friend to Holy Spirit. God has designed me for a unique plan.

But how? What’s my secret formula?

It’s not so much a secret, but it does require commitment and a willingness to be stripped of everything familiar. It requires daily surrender.

There’s a God, and I’m not it.

I became a minimalist. I sold it. Gave it away. Donated it to Goodwill. Or trashed it. By the truckload. Giving up my stuff required me to give up my dependency on it to fill voids only God can fill. Instead of being distracted by what I own or what I want, I now have so much more room for God.

I have a new routine based on spiritual disciplines. I wake up every single day and hit my knees in gratitude. Prayer is a really important component to my life. I spend time in the Word, listening to worship music, writing and being sown into through reading books and listening to podcasts. It all helps keep me focused and reminded of the Truth, according to God.

I write affirmations and promises on little index cards and post them all over my house. Scriptures, good quotes and encouraging things my friends have said to me hang on my refrigerator, my bathroom mirror, the doors, etc.

And quite possibly the best thing I do –

I invest in authentic community and submit to a team of people who are committed to loving me better than I love myself until I am capable of seeing the truth of who I am in God’s eyes.

Team Felicia, for the win!

Isolation is the absolute worst thing for human beings. There’s a reason why it’s considered one of the greatest torture tactics in human history. Our creator designed us for community like he designed fish for water. Lies breed in isolation. DO NOT LET THEM. Find your people.

It takes a whole lot longer to heal from pain than it does to feel it. Recovery isn’t easy. I am years into intense therapy, and I still get it wrong sometimes.

Just this week, I had a few hard conversations with various people on Team Felicia. The key is to be able to catch it before it causes mass destruction in your heart and life. You are worth more. Be aware that the enemy wants to steal, kill and destroy you. It is his only mission. He’s vindictive, conniving and just pure evil. The only way you win is to acknowledge he has already been defeated and remind him of that often by standing in the confidence of who you are as a child of God.

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