Last year, something exploded in my life (and in the online world) called #fireworkpeople. Every week, Twitter parties brought dozens and dozens of incredibly passionate and talented women together in a conversation like only the Internet can.
Through #fireworkpeople, I've "met" so many beautiful and remarkably gifted woman that I now call dear friends-- Caity is one of them. I remember seeing her little square picture pop up in those Twitter chats and thinking "that girl is so dang pretty!" Then, I read her words. And I remember thinking, "this girl can WRITE. Holy cow." And then I got to know her and read her story, and I remember thinking, "this girl is so beautiful and brave and has such a courageous heart."
She writes words that just about knock you over with their strength and power. She writes words that give you goosebumps and make your heart swell and linger with you long after you've closed the screen. Now that I've gotten to know Caitlyn a little better, I know her words come from such a true, real place. I know that she isn't just putting words out there for the heck of it-- her words come from the very core of who she is in the most stunning way.
Reading her story when it landed in my inbox was humbling. It reminded me how grateful I am to have a space where I can shine a spotlight on the people I want you to meet. It reminded me how powerful stories are. It reminded me how unique each of our journeys is, especially in faith. It reminded me of what an incredible thing it is to put our lives and our experiences into words, and then to share those words with other people. It's brave. It's courageous. It's meaningful.
I'm honored to share Caity's story with you.
Caitlyn wants to live in a world where broken hearts are held close, the lattes never stop flowing, and she can sit with you in your hardest places. By day she works at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, but by night she’s crafting words as a creative writer. When she’s not slinging syllables to hold your heart at caitlynhummmel.com, you can find her studying in pursuit of her Masters in Social Work, sipping on delicious craft beers, and loving on her fluffy Pomapoo, Jasper.
I told Rachel I would write down my story. A scary thing to agree to do – it’s something I’ve avoided honestly because my story isn’t beautiful, or cliché, or tie up with any kind of pretty little bow. Stories like those tend to make me mad these days anyways. Although, sometimes I wish it did tie up ever so neatly like everyone else’s seems to do. But let me start from the beginning.
I grew up in a conservative evangelical household. One foot held in that world and the other waggled somewhere else where I was trying to figure things out for myself. Faith never came too easily for me – I’ve now realized this is often more to do with personality than much else. I never fully belonged in either world though and like most teenagers I didn’t really have the first clue of who I was, but what I did know? Who I should be. In essence, I should be perfect. Because clearly that is what gives you love in the one world I came from. There are hollow words of grace, but really what is wanted is a perfection no can actually muster up. And heaven help you if you don’t agree with the puritanical views pressed in these realms – especially if you’re a woman, which is not actually an okay thing to be here. (You are not lesser, just different.) But most pretend to be perfect and in agreeance with all the thinly veiled rules so they can scrape along behind their masks. I don’t blame them.
I went to a large research university and joined a sorority. Most days I wish I had never left. These women let me feel more myself than almost anyone I’ve ever met. Sometimes I wonder what turns I would have taken had I stayed there.
But then there was an accident. I got minor alcohol poisoning the night of my first formal and the embarrassment was enough to spiral me into a place where I was convinced I needed to uproot everything and change my whole life. I needed to become what I always should have been.
I transferred to a hyper conservative fundamentalist esque Christian college. I already knew the language and could blend as well as I wanted to for the most part. I bended and folded myself into every box they handed me. Submissive. Quiet. Conservative. Modest. Pure. Godly. I attempted every model and five step plan for prayer and the Bible they flashed across the screen in the daily required chapel. I learned all of the right doctrinal answers and I honestly wanted it all to work so damn bad. But it didn’t.
I could feel myself losing pieces of me as I tried to shed my own skin to put on what was demanded. The invisible rules wrapped around my throat until my lungs were dry. There was no life here only death to hide the hypocrisy.
And then one day in the middle of a clear July, I panicked. The walls felt too thin and air wasn’t reaching my lungs at all anymore. I knew I wasn’t like them and that even after coming this far I never could truly be like them. My mind stretched taut with the shame and fear, which had fueled my existence and became my undoing.
The next six months, maybe longer, I’m not sure because I threw out all the journals, passed in a dark storm of racing thoughts, living on the razor sharp edge of hyper anxiety, and then eventually the slow dive into the abyss, which is depression. Because if you aren’t one of them then what are you? Damned.
I slept to avoid my own mind. To avoid the thing they call Christianity. And it’s crazy, but I found people just like me telling this same story over this journey. The dark doubt that you can’t be it. The knowledge that you are not like the rest. The denied thought maybe you don’t want to be because after all… you know what they can inflict on those who aren’t like them. The shame and fear stitching all together.
And then I graduated. And my boyfriend of however long dumped me. I moved home anxious, depressed, exhausted. I wasn’t sure how long I could keep living like this.
I couldn’t read what they call the Word anymore without hearing all those men and Calvinistic, patriarchal, graceless voices impart their monstrous theologies. The words would make my heart thrum and thoughts race. God had been made into a monster and its awfully hard to love a monster, but you know you’re supposed to so you try anyways, and it leaves you emptier than before.
So I gave up. The reading. The going to church. All of it. And I’m glad. In the three, four years since I haven’t picked up those words or stepped into a service other than the occasional holiday to make my mom feel better. Now you’re probably thinking you never were a Christian, you clearly just got it all wrong, you’re a bitter hater of the church who just obviously did not hear the real gospel. Well, you’re wrong.
I am intrigued by and am always drawn to the radical structure flipping man who pushed us all past our comfort edges into a place where we have no idea what to do. I tell myself god is like this too. But that’s hard to remember. I’ve read more theology in the past few years than I ever did while getting a minor in it. I have moved into the progressive realm and hope to fight fiercely for the margins. The ones the church said to love, but always slammed their doors on before they could even toe the doorway. The people I have watched repeatedly get pushed to the edges by those who should be fighting the hardest for them. And I wish I could walk into a church without feeling my heart race and breathing drop shallowly. Yet still, I’ve had my eye on an Episcopalian church with the most beautiful red doors. I love that they honor all people, value the sacred, and allow rhythms to carry them through.
Three, four years. And I finally feel good, normal, like myself. I feel free more than I ever have. I know what it’s like to know the voice of my own intuition and to trust that my desires are good. I’m not done healing, but I am damn proud of how far I’ve come. How I’ve pushed and pulled until I could stand again even though I’ve fallen down over and over along the way.
I know my story is one of countless. And I’m grateful to the writers who over and over have bled on a page so that I may know I’m not alone in this battleground of deconstruction and healing. If anyone has read these words and nodded along then I hope and pray you have the strength to keep moving because it can get better friend, it really can.