Choosing Joy

By: Kacee Neria

Imagine never being able to kick a soccer ball, or drive a car, or run the mile in P.E. I am unable to do any of these things, but that hasn’t slowed me down one bit in the last 25 years. I was born with Cerebral Palsy, and face numerous challenges overcoming adversity on a daily basis. I never have worry about any of it though, because I have tons of friends and a loving family supporting me every step of the way. it wasn’t always so sweet however.

My dad is an emotionally abusive person who puts down and disrespects my mom and I all too often. Sadly, I have come to realize that he probably isn’t going to change. My mom loves, sometimes, so hard that it turns into harsh criticism. My parents pushed me very hard throughout academia, always telling me that I could do anything if I put my mind to it. Because of these things, I grew up a people pleaser. I would constantly push myself toward my goals, many times so hard that I would be sick from that stress.

One day all of their criticisms took hold of my emotions. Suddenly, every time I made a decision different from theirs, it felt like it wasn’t good enough for them. This translated into my feelings of inadequacy. Throughout my late teen years I began internalizing all of it. I hated my body. I hated my disability. I hated everything about myself. At this time I started to believe what my mom said about how horrible my skin looked, or that I could stand to lose a few pounds or that I lacked ambition. She would always make those dreadful comments like “I wish you..” or “You should..” I would get upset with myself when she made all of those hurtful comments.

I have buried myself in my feelings which made it hard for people to see me. This got worse as I entered my 20’s, because now my dad could treat me just as he had my mom; with next to zero respect for my feelings…  Often calling me names when he disagrees with me, and being just plain mean when things didn’t go as planned. Put downs, manipulation and more name calling.. Although unfortunate, he almost never apologizes for what he says or does to bruise our emotions so deeply.

Despite all of the chaos I remain positive. Because even when I don’t feel joy, I believe that joy itself is a gift that never stops giving. I guess you could say ignorance is bliss, but bliss doesn’t stay silent out of hurt. It screams from the rooftop overjoyed. I am much more joyful these days because I realized that I don’t need man’s approval to feel valued, loved, or respected. After almost 2 years of therapy I know that real honest self love starts from within. Once I realized that, I began to look at the world with a brand new perspective. Others opinions do not make up your worth. Your uniqueness makes you beautiful!

Enter So Worth Loving. I never realized carrying these 3 words on my back would help me so much. Just knowing that I was part of this beautiful community of people who shared many of my struggles meant the world. I no longer feel alone. I have been a part of the SWL family since 2012. Though I still struggle, it is no longer constant.

Haley’s Story

For at least a month or so, I had been up to my neck in loneliness, insecurity, hopelessness, and hatred of who I was. I didn’t believe in myself, that I could handle the day I was going through or the days down the road or whatever life would throw at me next. Comparing myself to others devolved into an addiction: she was prettier, she was more thoughtful, she was more helpful, she was better. Everything fueled the belief that I was not good enough, and my heartbreak deepened with every waking moment.

On the afternoon of December 3rd, my school had a Quidditch match. This sounds like a ridiculous turn in the story, but I have a penchant for taking things way too seriously. I, Harry Potter nerd that I am, obviously joined the Quidditch club, which pretty much consisted of two athletic people and a bunch of other nerds, at its founding earlier that year. We played another school that afternoon, who pretty much brought their entire track team in Quidditch uniforms.

Needless to say, it didn’t go well. We lost… badly. Like, so badly I’m laughing as I write this, even though it’s the memory of one of the most painful evenings of my life. In the final match, I was Seeker, which basically involved a lot of running after someone dressed as a Golden Snitch. In front of everyone - fans (if you can believe it), parents, teachers, friends, both teams - I sprinted, got so out of breath, was obviously nowhere near as good as the other high school’s track star, and did not catch the Snitch. The catching of the Snitch actually took place in the stands where all the “fans” were sitting, so it was maximum exposure of my failure. The bottom line: I wasn’t good enough. Not at Quidditch, and evidently, not at life.

I don’t know why this particular humiliation was what cracked me, but it did. There are a few other very specific memories I have of this time - messing up the drums as the praise band played “Pompeii” by Bastille, driving to school and pretending I didn’t exist to numb myself to the pain - but I don’t know if I’ll ever remember feeling broken as much as I did on December 3rd.

I cried. I’m a crier, so this probably surprises absolutely no one, but I cried: at the school, on the way home as I ignored any words of encouragement from my dad and sister, and once I got home.

I sat with my back against my bedroom wall and sobbed, asking one single question: Why can’t I just give up?

(This is the part of the story where my throat closes up and my fingers start shaking, btdubs.)

Somehow, giving up - on life, on myself, on the future, on something better - was never an option. No matter how much I hated myself and my life, how inferior I felt to everyone around me, how lifeless each day seemed… I knew I couldn’t just give up. In the back of my mind, shoved into a small, dusty corner, Hope sat. I’m not usually a fan of random capitalization of important, meaningful words, because you get Sentences that Look like This, but this Hope demands it. Even when I wanted to give up, something inside me wouldn’t. It wouldn’t let me go, no matter how much the darkness tried to take me. I believe that everyone has that Hope inside of them, regardless of any factor, any flaw, any fault. Two years ago on December 3rd, it was the voice of Hope that told me I wasn’t done yet.

This past December 3rd, I celebrated a whole lot. I packed for Young Life camp that weekend. I danced in victory. I walked (and am still walking) in the light because the darkness did not overcome me.

Two years ago, I kept going. I held on tightly even though at times, I didn’t know what I was holding on to. It was Hope that grabbed me and propelled me and finally pushed me into the light of freedom. I learned my value. I learned to believe in myself. I learned that I have worth that isn’t based on my words, actions, shortcomings, or successes. I learned that I am loved and worthy of it. You are loved and worthy of it, and there’s nothing you can do to change that. I’m enough. You’re enough. Hope is my anchor. I refuse to stop seeking, exploring, or adventuring. There are still days when I wonder: am I back where I was before? Was it all for nothing? Days when the lies penetrate my mind, when insecurity keeps me quiet, when stress overwhelms me. But I push through those days and find resilience in Hope. I have found something better than constantly comparing myself to others and crying my eyes out at night. (Or something better found me.)

Two years later, I am (to quote Jamie Tworkowski) “a living, breathing, screaming invitation to believe better things.” If anyone is in the same spot as me on that December 3rd: Those better things are real. They’re there. They’re waiting.

Hold on. Hope. One day, you’ll look back on your own December 3rd and be so grateful you did.