Sophie’s Story – Lost and Found
My family emigrated from Ireland to Australia when I was about to turn three. We knew no one when we arrived and so our family of four became a very tight unit. I was an anxious child and longed for the approval of others. When I began gaining weight in primary school I became the victim of bullying and taunts that rocked my fragile self-esteem. Fortunately, I had a very close relationship with my older sister. When she was invited to attend a local, church youth group I went along too. I was only 10 years old at the time but I loved being part of a group of people who felt like extended family.
My parents were very protective and strict and as we got older my sister and I became partners in our teenage rebellion against their authority. I had my first drink when I was 14 years old. Drinking was a means of escape. I was still attending youth group on the weekend but I struggled with such low self-worth that I made choices that were driven by fear, insecurity and a desperate desire to be accepted.
From ages 15 to 18 years old I was groomed by a male leader at my youth group.
He was more than 15 years older than me at the time and although our relationship was not physical we developed an intense emotional connection that became increasingly dysfunctional. Shortly after I turned 18 he pressured me to have a sexual relationship with him. I felt overwhelmed, confused and incredibly vulnerable. Looking back, I can see that he had manipulated and groomed me towards a level of dependence on him that was unhealthy and an abuse of his leadership position. When I rejected his advances, he cut me off. Somehow, I found the courage to confront him and threatened to tell his leaders about what had happened if he didn’t own up or leave the church. The following Sunday he was gone. I told no one what had happened between us but the shame I felt only intensified.
I knew that I had done the right thing but I still saw the end of the relationship as a reflection of my unworthiness and lack of value. My depression, anxiety and drinking increased. Years later I eventually shared what had happened with a close friend and began having counselling but I still lived under a cloud of guilt and shame that was incredibly debilitating. I convinced myself that my refusal to have sex is what led to the breakdown of this relationship and I hated myself for that and blamed myself for everything that happened to me. I struggled to maintain consistent employment, had very few friends and my weight continued to increase.
I wanted to die and often thought that if I died that nobody would notice or even care.
In 2014, I returned to Ireland to visit my Granny; my first solo trip as an adult. While I was there I discovered things about my family past that were very unsettling. It felt like my life was full of secrets, lies and shame. I spent the next three days drunk. During that time, I met a random guy in a pub, spent the night with him and then while I was sleeping, he robbed me. My life had hit absolute rock bottom. Luckily, I had enough spare cash to get around and the next day I boarded a flight back to Australia. I knew something had to change. As the plane touched down in Sydney I committed to myself that I would not drink any alcohol for the next 12 months. The date was 19 January 2015.
The year that followed was intense. I began working with a psychologist and realised that rather than suppressing or avoiding my emotions by drinking, it was time to learn how to intentionally manage my emotional response. I also went through prayer counselling and started to unpack the devastating consequences of that first abusive and manipulative relationship. Both the counselling and prayer were incredibly helpful but they did not provide a quick fix!
Although I now had my drinking under control I still struggled to establish healthy boundaries in my relationships with men. I craved the attention and affection that I only associated with dating/men, as a result I started going on Tinder and Christian dating sites too to meet people and go on dates; many terrible dates ensued. In January 2017, I began dating a man that I met on a Christian dating site but he was not who he claimed to be. He was emotionally abusive and when I called out his deception and lies he retaliated with words that destroyed me.
My anxiety skyrocketed and my weight gain was out of control. I was exhausted by my own life.
In February 2018, I had hit my highest ever weight of 128kg, so I made the decision to have gastric sleeve surgery. It was a decision that I had considered for two years after being diagnosed with PCOS; it was a decision I made for myself, no one else. For me it represented taking back control of my life. I have lost more than 40 kilos since the surgery and am the happiest and healthiest that I have ever been. A few months after having the surgery I went on holidays to Tasmania with my best friend Sally. It was during this time away that I realised that for too long I had equated happiness and security with a relationship with a man. One of my deepest fears was being alone but I was beginning to see that being single did not mean I was unworthy or unloved. I made the decision to start embracing the opportunities and value of my unique life rather than chasing the illusion of finding completion in someone else. If I was going to be single for the rest of my life I was going to be the damn good at it!
I returned from that holiday with a sense of contentment and peace that was liberating. My journey to healing is not over but I have made real progress. Throughout this journey my relationship with God and my faith community have provided a sense of stability and continuity that has been life giving. Despite the fact that I have experienced betrayal at church I have also experienced unconditional love, acceptance and faithfulness. With every prayer, word of encouragement, social invitation and act of friendship I have encountered the love of God, many times when I least expected it, or felt like I deserved it.
When I had the revelation that I needed to make peace with my singleness I remember saying to myself, ‘if I ever do meet someone I want it be a man who knows my whole story and wants to be a part of that story. I want someone who knows the real me and loves the real me.’ Ironically, when I was finally not even looking for a romantic relationship I found myself in one. Dan and I met through our church almost 14 years ago. We lived together as housemates throughout my sober year and he has seen the good, the bad and the messy chapters of my life and remained a faithful, encouraging friend through it all. Neither of us were expecting to fall in love but somehow, we did. It is early days but this relationship is unlike any other I have ever had. It is sweet, gentle, safe and beautiful.
In hindsight, I’m thankful for what I have learnt through the seasons of pain and healing. I am now in what feels like my first season of pure joy. It’s all so new and exciting to me yet at the same time I’m a little terrified. Regardless, I am proud of how resilient and strong I have become and am looking forward to what’s ahead.