I was born on September 5, 1991, just 9 months after my parents’ wedding. Nothing about my birth went as planned. Mom wanted a natural birth and she was certain that she would nurse me. Neither worked out. My umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck which forced an emergency C-Section, and I would not take to breastfeeding. My grandma remembers coming over and noticing how pale and sickly I looked as a baby. She would ask my mom, “Aren’t you going to feed her?” While they bickered, I lay in my crib, hungry. Eventually, I was fed after Mom let go of having things the way she had planned.
Nineteen months after I was born, my sister Rose followed. A year passed, and my sister Charlotte came. Both were naturally born, breastfed, obedient, and made Mom so happy. I loved my siblings, especially the new cute baby, and did not hold the extra attention they got against them. Still, some invisible force made it difficult for my mom to meet my needs, and that was hard to live with.
As we grew up, Mom and Dad chose to home-school us. In the basement of our rental house, Mom designed a school room complete with desks and a chalkboard. I lived to soak up every minute of the learning. And when I wasn’t studying, I was holding my baby sister Charlotte or playing outside with Rose. For a while, things were going well.
Then the moves started. Our first move was to a town called Springfield, Minnesota, nearly 100 miles away. Six months after we moved to that city, my baby brother Jason was born, and we moved again to a bigger rental house. I felt progressively more and more depressed from the moves and changes. I began acting out more. This was accompanied (not with understanding or love, but) with spankings.
One day, I got 14 spankings in a row. While waiting for my daily dose, I stuffed my pants full of laundry to avoid the sting of the spoon. Walking in, I told myself I would remain calm to avoid detection. Though, when the spoon hit my bum, it made a “puff” sound that was unmistakable. Mom looked mystified.
As I got older, my breasts grew and I got my period when I was only 10. My cramps were so awful that I really believed I was dying once a month. Mom didn’t have time for me to lay down and thought I was pretending to feel sick. The spankings kept coming. Once, when I needed her help with homework, she slapped me across the face. I ran to my closet and tried to stifle my sobs.
I told myself that I was the problem, not her. She was right. I was wrong. I told myself I could not ask for help with homework, I could not ask for more physical affection, and I could not ask to spend time with friends, or for help with makeup or choosing clothes. These were things that vain and selfish children asked for, and I did not want to be vain or selfish.
Throughout this time, Mom took us to daily mass down the road. The kind priest there was very childlike, simple and loving. Listening to his beautiful homilies and, being a very smart child, I thought that if I could be a saint, God would love me and maybe even my Mom would love me. And, since I believed I was committing all these horrible sins, confession gave me peace in a way that I cannot fully describe. Not then, not now.
As I entered middle school, I desperately wanted to be noticed and loved by someone, especially by the boys. This never happened. So, I began to plan for a life where it didn’t matter. On my knees in my room one day, I told God I would give my life to him and be a religious sister. No boys, no mom — just God.
I buried myself in every religious book I could get my hands on. I did multiple bible studies, read the entire Catechism, and attended religious camps. I probably had the equivalent of a Master’s in Theology by the time I was in ninth grade. As I excelled in my self-guided, self-imposed religion courses, I was also expected to teach myself High School since Mom didn’t have time between caring for the younger kids and teaching piano lessons as a side job. Simultaneously, we moved another three times and Mom had another three children. If there had been any room for my needs before, there certainly wasn’t now.
The day I went in for my ACT, I cried through the entire thing, snot running down my face and onto my test form. Many of the questions I had no clue how to answer. I told myself this was my fault. I sat where nobody could see me. When my results came back, it was a big fat 19. I had no idea where I would even get accepted for college. Depression and anxiety flooded my life. I had suicidal thoughts on my birthdays and on my high school graduation. Even more, I felt unbearable guilt and shame that I was even experiencing these thoughts. I felt paralyzed and unable to open up to anyone about the fear inside.
I took a year off after high school in order to discern religious life more intentionally. I visited five different convents and spent time at each one. My parents bragged about how I was going to be a religious sister. They were so proud of me and I didn’t want to disappoint them. And yet, every Mother Superior who sat down with me had the same advice. They wanted me to go to college and get a little bit more life experience before they would consider me as a candidate. I was confused, but relieved to receive direction from people so close to God when decisions seemed impossible for me with my depression and anxiety.
After making it through a year of community college and with a 4.0 GPA, I had a decision to make. I could either try religious life again with my new life experience in hand, or progress on to graduate with a degree. My first year had been exhilarating, so I chose the latter. I moved just down the road to Minnesota State University, a four-year school, and within my first year I met Sherri, Maria, and Thomas, as well as several others at the Catholic Newman Center on campus.
Why wasn’t I coming home more often? My parents asked me this on a regular basis. I wasn’t brave enough to tell them the truth: I was happier away from home, more myself. Going home just made me more depressed and anxious. Besides, I was making new friends and discovering new skills.
On our faith nights, Thomas began taking an interest in me, and somehow, his football-like build and teddy bear heart made me forget all about religious sisterhood. We took walks, shared thoughts, and played board games that were harder than anything I had ever played in my life. In many ways, he seemed far more “worldly” then I knew my parents would approve of, spending time playing video games and seeming far too distracted in daily mass. But I didn’t care. He was real, authentic, and genuine. I figured if there was room in God’s heart for this tender man, then I could make room in mine as well. Months flew by and I was intoxicatingly happy. I knew Thomas was the one I wanted to spend my life with. Two and a half years after we met, I said “I do” while on a trip to a nearby holy site. After our engagement, our life changed dramatically.
Why was I getting married to Thomas? My parent’s objections flew sky high. All this time, they thought this was just a phase before returning to the convent. Mom told me she was certain I was running away from what God was calling me to be. Wasn’t I going to be an upstanding religious sister?
Well, wasn’t I?
My mind became crowded with doubt. I began to feel confused, depressed and again had panic attacks and thoughts of suicide. It was hard for me to sleep, eat, and go about my life. What was I doing getting married? Hadn’t I felt a “call in my heart”? Why had I read all those books and spent so much time growing closer to God? Each day I woke up to my heart pounding and the fear that if I chose the wrong vocation, God and my parents would stop loving me.
Thomas never got impatient. He listened, hugged me, held me, and encouraged me. If I needed to become a sister, he supported that. If I would marry him, he would be waiting with open arms at the end of the isle.
Thankfully, God intervened in powerful ways to get me down that aisle. Religious mentors and even a religious sister reached out to me and encouraged me to marry Thomas. All my life, I had been waiting for the approval of those with their arms crossed. And finally, with the help of many, I realized true love should not be so hard to receive. I found peace to move forward with our marriage on September 5th, 2015.
Today, Thomas and I have been married for 3 years. Waking up to Thomas and the reality that I was deeply loved was a very new experience for me. In many ways, my marriage healed me. I could speak without being judged, share my opinion without being yelled at and make decisions on my own. Yet, it has not been without struggle. With the help of Kristine, my incredible therapist, I have been learning to let go of lies and trauma, while learning to trust myself, my decision making, and my emotions. Every year I make new improvements, standing up for myself in new ways. Now, I am living a life full of true love that brings about a freedom I didn’t think possible.
This is the story of Lila Garrison
Lila currently lives in Minnesota. Raised in a Catholic family with well-intentioned parents, she suffered emotional and physical abuse and neglect because of her mother’s undiagnosed and untreated clinical depression. Enduring seven moves and teaching herself high school amid ongoing pregnancies and the ups and downs of her mother’s mental state, she entered college with low self-esteem, depression, suicidal thoughts and a warped sense that God was calling her to religious life since she believed she did not have a future anywhere else. Meeting her husband and marrying him brought her to seek therapy that has changed her outlook and brought healing she so desperately needed. Now, a music director and teacher to 40 students, Lila seeks to bring life and love into the hurting lives of those she encounters daily. Her favorite pastimes with her husband are board gaming and coffee dates.
Life Log #196
This story first touched our hearts on October 17, 2018.
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