So, I am on to high school now. I am going to be covering this time as all one period instead of dealing with each grade. This is mostly because it was a long time ago and I don’t necessarily remember the timing that clearly but also because a lot of it spanned more than one year.
Most people from my high school probably remember me as friendly, outgoing and overly involved in extra curricular activities. All of this was true. (You may remember other things about me but I can’t speak to any of that.) I am one of those sad adults whose best times were when they were in high school. I hate to admit it but it is the truth. There are aspects of that person that I am desperate to get back but there are also a lot of things I am glad to have left behind me.
First, I am going to cover the boyfriends, for the most part. I look back on myself then and I think that I was probably a nightmare as a girlfriend. I apologize for that. I was insecure and jealous, I was often too busy to give of my time and my friends were always more important. Most of my friends probably thought of me as being very loving but a few boyfriends didn’t see me that way. I wasn’t able to easily fall in love and often refused to become very emotionally invested. I had 3 guys break up with me all citing the same thing; I wasn’t a very loving person. I think that is all in who you ask but this is something I have struggled with a lot since then. All and all, this is what I have to say about my relationships from that time; I was usually the one found lacking. I wasn’t always the one being dumped and I know I broke a few hearts. But the fault really was often my own. I was a teenager, that is really the only excuse I feel necessary to put forth. Generally, I was incredibly lucky to have dated some of the guys I did. Most of them were very kind, gentle and most importantly; funny. I did in some way or another love them all. Were they all wonderful, hell no. There were a couple complete jerks that hurt me deeply and cruelly but those few are certainly the exception and I chose not to focus on them. I know I was a pain in the ass and worse yet I didn’t even put out (well not to 99% of you) and I am sure that to a teenage boy that made me even less appealing. Again, I am sorry. I couldn’t have been too bad because I did usually remain friends with almost every guy I dated and it is really that of which I am most proud.
Now I can’t talk about the boys I dated in high school and not mention the most important boy I never dated, my husband. Half of the people from high school just read that and think it is a typo but it isn’t, Dan and I never dated in high school. We were together a lot and yes, I did wear his class ring but we never dated. Strange, I know. Anyway, this fairy tale will unfold throughout the rest of the story but here is some general background. Dan and I met in middle school. Was it love at first sight? I have no idea. I honestly don’t recall the exact moment we met. At this point in my life it just feels like Dan as always been around. I do know for a fact that I did have a crush on Dan from the beginning as I have found hearts around his photo in more than one old yearbook as well as doodles of him in old diaries. We really became friends in 7th grade. He was one of the first boy’s bedroom I ever saw (hey, it was a big deal). We talked on the phone and went to each other’s houses a lot. We started a tradition our Freshman year that we do our Christmas shopping at the mall together. We have only missed 1 year since that started 18 years ago. He was my go to guy for opinions on how I was screwing up whatever current relationship I was in. Poor Dan had to listen to my boy problems and help me sort them out all the while wishing that I would open my eyes and see him. The fact was, I did see him. I saw him, very clearly, but I didn’t think he felt the same way. To be fair, it isn’t like he ever asked me out or made any move on me at all. I, one the other hand, did try to make my feeling known. He still claims I wasn’t clear enough. After he broke up with this girl I got his class ring back from her and refused to give it back to him until he “made better dating decisions.” I have had it ever since. I wore that ring often while we were in school and was even dumped by a boyfriend because I wouldn’t take it off (I don’t blame him). I wrote Dan a poem one year. He thought it was lovely and kept it for many years but assumed it was only about friendship, apparently the title “I Love You” wasn’t clear enough. To give Dan’s argument: I never flat out asked him out nor did I do apparently the one thing he always dreamed of me doing (I mean dreamed literally) that would have shown my devotion to him; I never jumped on top of him and disrobed. Silly me.
The fact is, even though it does seem like a lot of wasted time it is certainly for the best that we didn’t date earlier. We wouldn’t have likely made it this far if we had. The thought of Dan being included in my earlier paragraph about the guys I dated in high school is more than I can stand. Dan is more than a paragraph in my life. He has been a main pillar of support to me for 20 years now. So, just keep in mind that through all of the rest of my story Dan was there. Not just in the background but an active part of my everyday life. How it transitioned to what it is now gets more bizarre than you can even imagine.
So, I get to high school and start to become very involved in just about everything. It becomes clear to me that I can’t hide in the background anymore and by now I am ready to have the sun on my face, so to speak. I have amassed a group of friends that I completely adored and made me feel safe. I didn’t realize it at the time but they were the key to my dramatic transformation. When you have a support system like that it makes it easier to stand on your own because you know that if you make a fool of yourself, while they will laugh, it will be with you instead of at you. I have always had a strong sense of humor which I “got honestly” through my family. My friends were the same. We all loved the ironic and found humor in just about everything. It was my a very close friend, Shannon, that first showed me a way of introducing actual intelligence into humor. She used words better than anyone I knew and I made it my mission to learn our language just to keep up with her. I can’t say she is the reason I became a writer but she is the reason I became obsessed with language and how to manipulate it. As I mentioned before, my friends were all smart and I didn’t think I measured up to them but I loved being around them and found them more interesting than anyone else. At my school the smart kids were a niche group just like the jocks or cheerleaders. Somehow, I was in the niche even if only by luck and association. This is important because they made me want to be better. They made me develop my thirst for knowledge. Before this I didn’t really care too much about the world around me. History and science were just classes to survive not something that I might find interesting and actually want to explore for just the pure joy of it. Unfortunately, I was too busy in high school to ever do so but that drive would stick with me and serve me well.
As I mentioned I did join a bunch of different groups in high school but 2 in particular took up the most of my time and had the greatest influence on me. The first was called TI (Teen Institute). It was an anti- drug and alcohol organization. To say this group changed my life is a gross understatement. This is the primary force behind what built me up and made me so much more confident and outgoing. What happened in a typical meeting was this: We would met in a large room with the entire group. We would talk about whatever was coming up and at times have a guest speaker. We would then break up into our smaller “family group” and would move to a different classroom for more privacy. The family group would have 2 co-leaders made up from the student elected Council. We would then talk about pretty much anything and everything. It was a safe place. (You will find many references to safe places throughout because I believe strongly in the vital importance of having them and the more the better.) I believe the council was 10 or 12 students. It was an honor to be on council. My first year I looked up to the council members. They would do skits and take turns talking in front of the group, with the help of the faculty advisor they ran the show. I thought there was no way I could ever do that. I was getting more brave but to stand up in front of everyone and act goofy, not happening. That is until the next year when I was voted on the Council were I remained until graduation. Not only did I join the Council at my school but was also elected to the County Board which was made up of about 8-10 students from different schools in the county. We got together and basically did the same things as my school’s Council but on a bigger scale. Every year (possibly twice a year I don’t recall) students from around the different schools went to a week long camp. The County Board performed what was called a “Medicine Show” (a group of skits) and were responsible for Family Group and basically ran the whole thing with the help of more advisors. I did this for 2 years. One of the years my group was so popular that a few of the local schools asked us to perform the show at their lock-in which was an annual sleep over at the school. So, we traveled around doing lock-ins for that year. Once all the lock-ins were done. It was decided that the local mall was going to set up a stage and allow us to perform there for shoppers. Two students were going to be chosen to head the show. You guessed it, I was one of them. The other was a close friend, Kristen. Also, my Junior year I was sent to Columbus to represent my area in the state-wide gathering. Things for me had certainly changed. It is clear to see how much I changed and how much more fearless and comfortable in my own skin I had begun to become. Not only was I performing in front of people but I had a very strong leadership role. I found out then that being a leader was something that did come naturally to me and I enjoyed it greatly.
The other life altering group was called Young Life it was a Christian organization. Because it couldn’t be directly connected with the school we met at students’ houses. Every week a map to the next meeting was left in the main office where we could pick it up. First, this obviously went a long way to helping me learn my way around town when I got my license which is the least of what this group had to offer me. Young Life was by far the most time consuming part of my high school life. We met twice a week. Tuesday night for “Campaign” which was a small group with a more concentrated Bible study and Thursday night for “Club” which was the big event. We had usually pretty large groups 20-50. We started with a few songs. The first 3 were something fun and upbeat, usually not religious based at all, the next 3 still upbeat but a little more serious then the last 3 full on Jesus freak. Then would would be a goofy skit, usually with a meaning sometimes not at all. Then the speaker would get up and do a mini sermon not usually more than a few minutes. We would pray and that was it. Well, usually then we would all go to Taco Bell. We also got together often on the weekends to do whatever was off the wall and fun anything from mall hide and go seek, Chinese fire-drills and flying cars. Unless it was warm then we were at the park playing beach volleyball (a Young Life favorite.) We were absolutely a family. In the summer we got together nearly everyday but this time with other schools in the area. Between Young Life and TI I ended up with a great many friends from all around the area not just in my little world at Jackson. Young Life did do major outings. Twice a year we did weekend trips and every summer we had a week long out of state summer camp. I lived for these. We were a very physical group. We did white water rafting, hiking, dirt bikes, ropes course (as seen in the picture of Shannon and me hanging from a tree). The camps had water skiing, para-sailing, tubing, canoing, zip lining it was the most physical I had ever been or ever would probably be in my life. At camp we would meet other kids from all over. I became particularly close to a guy from Canada one year and we continued to write to each other for 4 years until he started college. The basis behind Young Life was always religion but the spirit of it was having a wholesome good time with like minded friends. Young Life really introduced me to myself for the first time. It made me not afraid of the world or of pushing myself.
I can’t mention Young Life and not go into religion. Especially considering the great impact this has had on my life and who I am as a person. My mom was raised in a Catholic family but I don’t think it ever really stuck with her. My dad, on the other hand, was very full of faith. I used that expression instead of religious because I do think there is a difference. My dad was the type of Christian that I wish all Christians could be and I think they should be. (If they have to be at all.) He believed strongly in God and Jesus. He felt he had a personal relationship with God and lived accordingly. He was kind, gentle, loving, forgiving, humble and gracious. He was strong willed but open minded. He didn’t look down on anyone and didn’t judge. My dad practiced his religion with his whole heart but felt no need to chastise any one whose belief’s were not similar. He believed in Christianity as being the one true way for him but accepted that it didn’t work for everybody.
We attended church every week but I can’t say it meant much to me. It wasn’t until Young Life that I started to really believe. It wasn’t until I heard those hymns and stories and read the Bible that I began to become completely immersed in the faith. I too felt a deep and direct connection with my God and His son. I cried at the thought of Jesus on that cross for me. I prayed daily. I read my Bible cover to cover 3 times. I walked around school in my “witness” t-shirts and no way, I was not ashamed. I did get a lot of flak for them but I just felt more pride in what I was doing. Again, through Young Life I had a strong support team behind me so no one could hurt me.
My faith stayed strong after high school and into college. I became the Youth Director at my church. I read my Bible everyday and leaned on God when times were tough. My religion dictated a lot of my life and even lead me to some poor decisions. I don’t blame my religion for them, mind you, they were my decisions but they were made based on my religious beliefs.
When my dad found out that he had pancreatic cancer and that there was basically no hope he found great comfort in his belief in an afterlife. I did too. I would sit with him on his hospital bed in the living room and read passages from scripture. He would close his eyes and smile. When he died I felt that on some level he would still be around. I could talk to him and he would hear me. This belief is not uncommon among Christians. Eventually, I began to notice that I was no longer praying to God, I was praying to my dad. I completely pushed God aside and my dad had taken His place. This realization shook me up and I became uncomfortable with what was happening. The real fact of it was that ever since college I was having a difficult time getting my head around the acceptance of my religious beliefs and with the new scientific world which I had just discovered. I struggled a lot with finding a way for the two to co-exist. As I began to think that it may not be possible for me to do that is when my dad got sick. The only way I could survive this was to push my doubts aside and focus on the situation at hand and cling to whatever comfort I could find, which was God. But after I noticed that God had slipped out of the center of my daily thoughts to be replaced by the pain and desperate desire to have my dad back it became harder to ignore the things deep within me.
It was clear that my mom was also finding great comfort in church and I was happy to join along for awhile. As I would sit there listening to my minister, doubt kept creeping in. I was constantly reminding myself of what a Young Life leader had once told me.
“So, what if none of it is true? What if it’s all a lie?” I asked.
“Even if it is this still isn’t a bad way to live.”
I kept holding on to the “isn’t a bad way to live” part. No, it wasn’t. It is a great comfort to think there is someone out there watching over you. Someone to talk to whenever you are alone. Someone who will be there to greet you when you die and to promise that it actually only gets better from there. But that doesn’t make any of it true or real. I was desperate to find a way to stop these feelings in me. I wanted to believe. Why on earth would I want to give all that up?
So, I decided to dedicate myself even more. I signed up for Master’s program at Ashland Seminary. I figured since my brain had gotten me into this mess I was going to use it to prove to myself without a doubt that there was a God and that everything I believed was true. I needed it to be true.
Well, by the end of my second semester I was pretty much certain that it wasn’t. None of it. I dropped out of Ashland and enrolled back at Kent. It was now, not right after my dad died, that I began to let go of God. I tried with all desperation to hold on. I didn’t simply get pissed off like an insulate child at God because He took my dad. I truly had already begun to lose faith. I pushed it aside for as long as I could but the truth became more and more clear to me. I didn’t have a hissy fit and say “Fine then!” and stomp my feet and cross my arms and turn my back on anything. The process of letting go was a long and very painful one. I struggled and fought to hold on for as long as I could but you can’t make yourself believe something is real if you just don’t. There was no malice or anger on my part, it was just a matter of no longer believing in something. I know this reference tends to piss off religious people and I don’t mean it with disrespect from my point of view it really is the same as no longer believing in Santa or the Easter bunny. I just don’t believe anymore and it really was like losing a friend.
The most ironic part of all of this is that until I became an atheist I was never afraid to tell someone my religious beliefs. In all my time as a full fledged Jesus freak I never felt so hated or looked down on as I do when someone finds out that I am an atheist. I have people who found out and no longer speak to me, including family. I don’t believe that would have been my dad’s reaction to someone. Also, people tend to forget that I know what Christianity is and what it is supposed to be and I have a lot of trouble seeing it in many people these days when they hear where I stand. I never try to push my beliefs onto anyone else. After having been a believer and knowing the pain in letting go I would never want to take that from someone else. However, one thing I can not abide nor respect are “Christians” who feel they have some God-given right to judge or condemn. I know what it is all supposed to be about and that is not it and it never was for me or my dad. So if you are a believer then more power to you I respect having that faith and I didn’t let go of it willingly but remember that it is meant to have a foundation in love of all.
I hate to jump out of something so heavy abruptly but I promised not to let this take too long to finish so there are a few more things I want to cover today. Which means we are flashing back to high school again.
While I was in high school my counting continued. It didn’t worsen but it continued. I started to add to it even more obsessive behavior. It started with what are called “intrusive thoughts”. Basically, my brain would think things over and over without my having control over them. These weren’t nice things either. No rainbows or chocolate bunnies. No, I was thinking horrible things. Overwhelming fears that I was going to die or that something horrible was going to happened to people I love. It was around this time that the night terrors began and are something I still deal with regularly. It is also when my weight issues got completely out of my control. Ironically, it was then that I actually felt most in control of it but that was because I have OCD and defined control differently. I was anorexic. There is no more polite way of saying it. I didn’t count my calories then but I am guessing I didn’t clock in at more than 500-700 a day, if that. I only drank water and usually only ate an apple and a few wheat thins every day. I would pick at food if I was with friends but rarely actually ate much of it. Most of the time I was in high school, my weight stayed around 100-110 lbs. The real insane part of it; I, at no point, thought of myself as being anything other than fat. On a good day I might downgrade to overweight.
You can tell from the pictures that only a twisted view of one’s self could make that girl think she was fat. Well, that is pretty much what is was. No matter what, I did I couldn’t think of myself as being anything other than heavy. I already had it in my head that I was fat and there was no telling me otherwise. This is how the anorexia crept in. No, I did not one day think to myself, I am just going to stop eating. It doesn’t work like that. I started off just cutting down what I ate which can be a perfectly fine way to lose weight but not when you have OCD. What happens then with OCD is I have the overwhelming urge to be perfect at it. How can I do this better? How much can I control this? Slowly, it pushes you more and more until you only think you are in control. No disorder in the world is better named than OCD. It really is an obsession and a complusion. I could not see that I was doing anything wrong. I thought I was in complete control of everything that went into my mouth. I knew I had lost weight which only confirmed in my head that I was doing the right thing. In our world the reality is simple to a teenage girl; thin = good fat = bad. It didn’t matter how you got there. I know it may seem contradictory to be saying I was so much more confident but at the same time anorexic which is basically the epitome of self-loathing but it was two different things to me. Because for me the anorexia wasn’t just an emotional issue it was steeped in the OCD. The constant drive for perfection and control. I got very sick my junior year and my dad started to realize what was going on. I think my parents believed I was losing weight because I was so busy and active. But when I started passing out and losing my hair my dad knew something more was wrong. He confronted me about it and I could see the fear in his eyes. We agreed for me to go to a therapist but that only lasted a few sessions. I wasn’t very open with her and I don’t know that she ever realized the presence of the OCD. I think to her I was a teenage girl with anorexia so it must be for all the same reasons as every other teenage girl with anorexia. I don’t think she said much to change my thinking but one thing did, the hair loss. I know it sounds odd but losing my hair freaked me out more than being fat. As soon as I knew that was a possibility I started to straighten up but not much. I gain 10 lbs by my senior year and was okay with it but still kept a very close eye on my intake. Even today when I decide to lose weight I can feel the impulse to eat less and less. I know that I have to be constantly vigilant with my anorexia, it is still so close under the surface. Only a few weeks ago I caught myself going days with not eating more than 500 calories, intentionally. My brain tells me that it is a show of control and that less is better because I will lose it faster. I am a pretty smart person and I know my head is lying to me but the obsession and compulsion is so strong. It is a constant struggle.
Two important things happened that would effect/ruin the rest of my life. (Okay, that is being a little dramatic).
After I turned 18 my senior year I found out that because of medical reasons the Air Force didn’t want me. I was shocked and devastated. I didn’t know what to do. That was my plan. Anyone who knows me knows that you don’t mess with my plan. Really, it was obvious that it just meant that I had to skip that part and move on to college but my plan had been screwed with and it had me in a bit of a tailspin.
I started to shift my focus to colleges but had no idea how I was going to pay for it. Yes, I had my 34 but since I didn’t much pay attention to the school part of high school my grades were dismal. I was a social butterfly, baby. That was what school was for me. I did get accepted into all the colleges I applied to but to be honest I wasn’t really shooting for the stars there either. I had my choice down to two; Notre Dame (of Ohio) or Allegheny College in Pa. So, how did I end up at Kent State? How else? There was this guy…
Alright, so my junior or senior year I got my first job working at Fuddrucker’s. I admit that I did love it but it ended up changing my life, not for the good, more than a typical first job. It was here that I met my first husband, James. First husband? Yes, Dan is actually number 3.
* Ironic tidbit, Dan was in all 3 of my weddings. I just took him a couple tries to get himself standing in the right spot.