I met Ally when I started attending a 12-step recovery program called Re:Generation. It was probably over a year ago now that Ally asked me to coffee because she wanted to hear my story. I felt pursued and heard, which I am still so thankful for. And then she shared with me some of hers...I was blown away, not only by her story in and of itself, but her wisdom. If I could define Ally in three words, those words would be: resilient, honest, and warm (and definitely not limited to these three). Thank you for your honesty my friend, I am blessed to know you.
How have you experienced insecurity in your life?
“I think a lot of my insecurity stems from growing up in in a traumatic childhood. Jr. high through high school was when I started noticing that I was really tall, I was taller than all the boys. No one really noticed me or viewed me as attractive, so I equated that back to assuming there was something wrong with me on the inside that everyone knew about, and it was manifesting on the outside. I never knew what it was, I couldn’t grasp it. I was really athletic, I did a bunch of sports; I was really strong. I thought I was more masculine because I was strong, so I chose to embrace that because I didn’t have any other sort of identity to go off of, at least not one I was willing to accept. I had friends that were really skinny; boys liked them and were asked to dances...I felt really disgusting on the inside, and I felt like that was somehow being portrayed on the outside even though I was trying so hard to make myself appear better than how I was feeling.”
“I think insecurity, if we get down to the deep roots of it, is a lot of shame. I have a lot of trust issues; I fear abandonment. That plays into how I am feeling on the inside. I am not in a relationship now, as a 24-year old, because I don’t trust anybody. That all goes back to being sexually abused as a kid, and losing both of my parents as a kid. They died before I was 10-years old. So much that was so sacred was taken from me in such a short amount of time...that’s the age people are supposed to be affirming and uplifting kids, reminding them of their worth and telling them they rock. But I didn’t have any of that, instead I had everything taken from me and warped and destroyed. Now as an adult, I am dealing with all of the ramifications of that trauma. I have never been kissed, and I am sexually pure, which I think is beautiful. But to the outside world I am this weird creature that people don’t understand. There are so many bad stereotypes about women like me...single women. People wonder what’s wrong with us, or why we are single. It’s been a wicked game dealing with shame, and what caused it. Shame leads to insecurity, which leads to not trusting men, which leads to lack of relationship. Ultimately, shame is a form of sin because we are not embracing the fullness of who God says we are.”
“I think in my brain it’s easy to say that God loves me, and fully knows me...but I think it is a slow drip from the brain to the heart, to the soul. I think I am right in the middle of that right now, embracing those truths. But then when I am at home alone at night, that’s when all the insecurity comes out and I feel like Satan starts attacking me. I start dwelling on the thoughts telling me that no one likes me, and that no one wants to hang out with me which is why I am home alone...it’s just so wicked. It’s so lonely.”
How have you processed through your feelings of shame?
“I think I felt shame earlier than when my abuse started, which started when I was 7-years old. My birth mom was an addict, so her being out of the picture, and not having the woman I am supposed to have in my life raise me, goes back to feeling like there is something wrong with me. The person who should have loved me, didn’t. She abandoned us, which goes into my fear of abandonment. Shame carries a lot of weight in my abuse. I think that’s why people, a lot of victims, take a long time to share our stories with people. It changes our being. It changes our brain, our soul. It’s the most wicked form of humanity. I’ve had people say, “aw, but you’re so awesome, don’t feel that way! Don’t be sad! You’re so blessed!”...being told I shouldn't feel a certain way made me feel like I needed to keep everything inside. That almost made me feel more shame.”
“For those of us who have been through sexual abuse, we are already told to keep our mouths shut. I was threatened and told that he was going to hurt the people in my life if I ever said anything. And then both of my parents died. That just solidified the fear in me that kept me from saying anything because he threatened to kill my parents, and then they both died. I’ve carried such a weight. As an adult dealing with it now, it still haunts me. I feel like I’ve worked through something, but then something happens or someone comes into the room that throws my intuition off and I just have to get out of there. I think that intuition is a gift though. I wonder if it’s something that will ever go away, or something I will ever truly get passed. I have always been ashamed about this. If we are talking physical insecurity and womanhood, I just felt so violated. I feel like I lost a little bit of what I have to give to my future spouse. Sometimes I think that something was taken from me that I don’t even know what it was. I am not whole because something was taken from me, but I don’t know what I am missing to make me whole.”
“I look at other women around me and it looks like they have it together...they are beautiful and married, and my age...and then I look at my life and can’t help but feeling like I am not where I should be if I compare myself to where those ladies are at. Sometimes I feel like I am failing. Being a failure has always been the thorn in my side, which plays into the shame. How do you rid yourself of that? Part of it is that I don’t see my identity for what it is fully in the Lord, or to the capacity it could be at. Instead I try to self-talk...I tell myself ‘I got this’, but shame quickly comes back. I haven’t mastered how to handle it. In my shame, there was a self-harm period in my high school years. It sucked. Shame told me no one loved me, and no one cared. I suffered alone. I think I didn’t have an outlet to express myself, and if I did I was afraid I was going to fail. It has hindered me so much. It’s crippling to feel like I couldn’t move forward in my life.”
“I honestly don’t know if the shame really ever goes away. Obviously the Lord could miraculously work that out in my life, but I also think there is a lot of growth that needs to happen in my sense of identity. Sometimes I can’t grasp that Jesus died for my sins...thinking that He died for me, personally, doesn’t feel real. I don’t feel worth it. If no one else has wanted me in life, why would the Creator of the universe want me? That’s what my shame tells me. I believe God gave me people to care for me, and they failed. I pushed people away because of that. I’ve never felt wanted by someone...I think in my brain I can say that people want me, like the people who adopted me, the people who accepted me completely and love me so much. Deep down I just don’t accept myself; I am afraid of people fleeing from me if I approach them with everything that is going on, on the inside. The deep rooted issue of my shame started with sexual abuse, and my mom not being around, and then both my parents dying, which has led me to feeling like no one has ever truly wanted me. It’s been a rough road. There is no amount of love from my adopted parents, or love from other relationships that can fill the void...that can only be filled my Jesus. And I think it’s slowly being filled.”
“Grace makes us uncomfortable because it’s scandalous. I feel shame because I am not worth that grace. It’s hard for me to grasp that Jesus died for my sin...he died for my shame. Knowing that he died for me sometimes makes me feel more shame because I don’t deserve for him to have died for me. It’s this weird cycle. Shame has been kind of a gift because it has grown intimacy with God, because I have had to fully depend on Christ. I haven’t had people to depend on, so in a sense it’s almost made me desperate for the Lord. Hopefully through a mended relationship with the Lord, will come mended relationships with people around me. If we truly feel ashamed of ourselves, there is no way we can fully flourish in relationships...we are always holding something back or portraying ourselves in a different way. We are all deeply broken and jacked up people that need each other, and when we get to that point of realizing that, it becomes easier to express our shame because there are people wanting to enter in with you.”
Who or what influences your physical insecurity?
“I haven’t been affected too much by Hollywood or media...I don’t know those people. That’s the culture they are wrapped up in. But I have experienced it a lot in the church. I think there are cliques within church culture...within Christian culture. I’ve gone to churches that are definitely more trendy. I don’t wear super trendy clothes. When I walked in I ended up sitting alone, and no one came up to me. That makes me feel insecure. No one knew anything about me, so what I can’t help but think is that people base their opinions of me on my physical appearance. Is it because I don’t look a certain way?”
“Even with the church I have attended forever...I think slowly our church is going through a change, which is really exciting. I credit that to the recovery group I am a part of. I think for a long time, it was a church culture surrounded by image and which group of people you spent time with. Even in youth groups...I hated youth group. I didn’t go to a Clovis school, so I didn’t know anyone who went to those schools. I am the second oldest of 7-kids...we lived pretty humbly, and spent a lot of time around the house, doing chores, we worked hard to keep up everything. We shopped at Wal-Mart and Old Navy. All the kids at youth group had iPhones. We couldn’t afford to shop at Hollister and Abercrombie like a lot of the other kids in my youth group setting. In a church realm where we are called to love people...I already struggled with no boys liking me, and being single, and insecurity...those things were heavy on my soul, and I hoped and prayed that someone would be my friend. But I ended up sitting there alone, and leaving by myself. I tried to be involved. Some people would say that they’d call me, and then never did. It just fed a really warped view of the church. I was confused why those kids were there...some were there to learn about the Lord, and some were just there to hook up with each other. It was such a war between reading and learning about who God is, and who He says I am, and then being stuck in this youth group atmosphere where I never felt cool enough.”
“Now I’ve reached a point where I don’t care, but back then I wasn’t as confident about myself or my story. All these kids had the nice cars, nice clothes, cellphones, and cool parents...and I just didn’t fit. Unfortunately I don’t think much has changed over the time I haven’t been in that youth setting anymore, which is concerning because I know there are other girls who are experiencing the same things I went through...feeling like no one likes them no matter how hard they try. I tried to make my clothes look as cool as possible so that the popular girls at youth group would come talk to me. But it was never reciprocated. On top of that, no leaders came up to me either. I felt invisible in a place where we are called to love well. I felt like there was something on my outside that kept people from wanting me, so I just sat there by myself for years.”
“And then once I was old enough to decide whether or not I wanted to go to church, I really didn’t want to go because it was going to be the same thing, but with a bunch of adults. I was afraid that nothing was going to be different. I felt like my physical beauty needed to change in order to be liked, because whatever I had already wasn't working. Thinking you have to be a certain way in a church just promotes this idea that God loves some people more than others, which isn’t true. I want to be part of the change, the shift of being more aware of what others might be feeling. I know how I’ve struggled with insecurity and shame, so I know there has to be others who feel the same way.”
Who do you look up to/who has been a source of encouragement for you?
“My person is Shana Wisely. She is mind-blowing to me. Her capacity to love people is beyond normal. Her and I are both deal with very similar things. She has been such a great model...she doesn’t just tell me all the things I want to hear, but she pushes and challenges me. Shame and insecurity have hindered me for so long, but Shana calls that out in me and reminds me that I have the power to do something. Hearing that from someone who knows everything about me, but still believes in me is such a gift to have. I didn’t have a champion in my life for so long, but she constantly reminds me that the Lord’s got me, and that my identity is not found in what happened to me with my sexual abuse. Every time I spend time with her, I leave a better person. I think I know Jesus better because of her. You can sit in church all your life and hear the same messages over and over, but to actually have someone with you, enduring the muck and the hell of life, someone who loves you and pushes you is such a gift. With all the stuff I've been through in the timing of my life, I am thankful to even have met her. She is a tangible piece of God for me...the things that I struggle to understand about the Lord, I see in her.”
What advice would you give to your younger self if you could go back in time?
“Embrace your story. I have reconnected with people as an adult that I went to high school with, and they have experienced both parents dying as well. Another friend of mine is a rape victim like me. I can’t help but wonder what my relationships with people would have looked like if I was open about my story earlier. Sharing your story empowers others to share theirs. And when you free yourself, it allows others to experience that freedom. As cliche as it sounds, there are pieces of your story that other people have also experienced; you never know who is around. Don’t be ashamed. Don’t let fear hinder you from sharing your story. You can walk with people; it allows for so much more community. Especially among women...there is such a rivalry that can happen because of comparison. But what would happen if we rallied together to help each other instead? What would it look like if we cut the crap and stopped pretending like we are perfect when we’re not? You have a lot more to offer than you think. Allow others to love you.”