I was born to a Conservative Baptist pastor and his young wife. My family lived in pleasant homes nestled into quaint suburban neighborhoods, though never for long. My father was a restless man who was always searching for something he would never find. Despite her best efforts, my mother could only anchor the family for a few years before we were off to a new place, a new house, a new project that never saw its completion. My sister and I were only able to maintain a few lasting friendships, and we never really knew how to answer when asked, “So where are you from?”
At four years old, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. But it was okay. Most of the time I wouldn’t remember watching my mother weep alone in the medical office. Nor would I remember how she answered when her four-year old daughter asked, “What’s wrong, mommy?”
My parents argued through most of my elementary years. But it was okay. They always locked their doors, and afterwards when my father left the room, my mother was careful to cry in the closet where the girls couldn’t see.
In middle school, I learned about sex from a female bi-sexual friend who wrote rape fantasies about me and made me promise not to tell. But it was okay. It was new and exciting. All my friends were doing it, and my parents never talked about it so I figured it must not be wrong.
The summer before my sophomore year of high school, my mother told my sister and I she had filed for a separation from our father. “The bank is taking the house,” she said. “We’re going to live with grandma and grandpa.” We rushed to pack our things and empty the house before my father came home. But it was okay. I didn’t cry. I didn’t ask why. I just packed and waited, waited for the tight, heavy feeling in my chest to go away.
The school year started in a new place once again. How many schools had I attended now? How many homes had I left behind? It didn’t matter. I was here now. Except this time I had left behind something special: a boy. A boy who loved to talk with me and spent many hours texting much too late into the night. He taught me how men and women touched each other, how they explored the feelings that made my hands tremble. But it was okay. It was only over text. Nothing “real” ever happened.
A year went by and the boy found someone else. He kissed her and told her he loved her. He made her his girlfriend and told me how pretty and friendly she was. But it was okay. He had never asked me to be his girlfriend. He never told me he loved me, never tried to protect me when the older boy touched my butt or snapped my bra. But it was okay. I knew he didn’t owe me anything.
Soon I realized how alone I felt, how alone I’d always felt.
“This must be who I am,” I said. “It’s okay,” I told myself. “I’m okay.”
They were the words that assuaged the shame and the terrible ache in my chest. Every time I stole one of my mother’s novels to scour the pages for passionate love scenes. “I’m okay.” Every time I flipped from one pornographic image to the next even as my sister slept on the other side of the room. “I’m okay.” Every time I ran further into the darkness, searching like my father for something I would never find. “I’m okay.”
I quickly grew from girlhood to womanhood during these years. I came to stand in churches full of empty people, sing songs I no longer believed, and listen to sermons as hollow as my father’s. I trudged through the quicksand of my addiction, lifting one foot to climb out even as the other sunk deeper still.
“I’m not okay!” I screamed.
People heard, but they did nothing. “You’re okay,” they assured me. “No, really. You’re okay.”
A year more and my voice had grown so hoarse I could barely manage a pained whimper. “I’m not okay.”
But this time, someone was listening.
I scanned a website, not looking for help, just looking for a change. I found a place called A Jesus Church. What a strange name. After half-watching a recorded sermon, I scrolled further down the page.
A group for women with sexual addictions.
I read the words again. And then again. Email confidentially read a button below the banner. My cursor hovered over the box, waiting patiently for my trembling finger to depress the mouse. I wavered, desperately wishing to say the two words that had become my empty incantation. But they wouldn’t come. Not anymore. “I’m not okay.” The mouse finally clicked.
Today I stand in the sanctuary and sing the songs I have begun to believe again. There are others who know me now. They know my pain, they know my shame, they know my darkness, and I know them. I need them and they need me. I am not alone, will never be again.
This time I know it is not my own when the Voice inside me says, “You’re going to be okay.”