This week I did a lesson on “Self-Control” for our community high school youth group. I know, right? Dana “Slyter” doing a lesson on self-control. In my heart, I associate that “Slyter” part of my life as a part of shame. I feel like Dana Slyter was much more of a disappontment than Dana Clary. Mostly because in response to a difficult childhood I spiraled out of control. The illusion of control that I did have was a web of lies and I was spinning and spinning and soon just… wound up so tight. I was done.
My 17th and 18th years were so hard. There is something extremely challenging about that transition from kid to adult. Figuring out how what you know matches up with the rest of the world. I wasn’t naive in the sense of bad stuff happening, but extremely ignorant to how the world handled life. I sucked at life.
I am not even joking.
I could not discern if who I had been all the years of my life was really who I was or who I had become because of my circumstances. That really bothered me for some reason. I didn’t want to keep doing what I did for the sake of… everyone else? It was at this uncertain time, there was no boundary, no right or wrong, no limit. There’s the saying “if you don’t spend your money, it will spend itself,” or something. The gist is, if you don’t set the budget and say, this ‘is what it is’ AND stick with it, then just throw the money in the trash because you’ll end up wasting more, etc., without a plan.
I had a basic plan at 17. Go to college. Become a doctor. Get married. Make adorable babies. Become really important. Make lots of money. Happily ever after. The end.
This is a lovely plan. The problem is, I was so emotionally and mentally lost that even when I was where I needed to be physically, I screwed up. Big. I made it to step one of my above plan. ROFL. Seriously. I graduated from my small high school in pretty good standing. I wasn’t a good kid. I had attitude and entitlement issues on top of being severely depressed. I didn’t know I was depressed. My freshman year I started out like a rainbow. I ended my senior year more like mud. Stuck. Ugly. Slow. I lost all but a couple of close friends. My Justin. He checked up on me when he didn’t have to. We didn’t really talk about my issues, but he tried hard to get me out of my mud and involved in life. I love him over and over again.
I’m not sure that I was suicidal, but I was in a very dark place.
My mom and I had moved into town my junior year. It was after my sister left for college and I think it just became harder for my dad. Life. He was worn out and totally lost himself. The business was stressful. There was no relief for him. Alcohol helped him get the release he was looking for, but mom and I couldn’t be around it anymore. It was a hard choice for my mom. Being a single-parent on top of being emotionally abused, left her in a really bad place. I was pretty devastated when mom said we were moving back in with dad out on the highway after several months of freedom. I think it was near the end of my junior year. Maybe that summer?
I started smoking somewhere here. Puking. Not eating. Exercising uncontrollably. Partying. Boys. I think that this type of rebellion is common in this age group – we’re looking for something to control. But, to someone who is emotionally unbalanced, this normally difficult experience is overwhelming and it’s easy to find immediate comfort in these areas. Comfort we’re not getting anywhere else in the world.
I made the biggest mistakes of my life during this time. I moved out of my house within a few days after high school graduation. I was gifted enough money to live on that summer and stayed in my sister’s apartment in Moscow. Not Russia. I chose to go to the University of Idaho. Big mistake. Big. Huge!
I tried to do the school thing. I couldn’t focus. I was hardly sleeping. Not amnesia. What’s the sleeping problem? I started drinking heavily. There is a party every single night… somewhere, in Moscow, Idaho! I found most of them. I tried marijuana for the first time here. I lost my virginity. Multiple times. I think I attended about 1/4 of my classes. I honestly don’t even know if I passed any? Grades, which had once been my entire identity, meant nothing.
Looking back at this – on paper – I am so embarrassed. I hate that this was me. On the other hand, I can see how desperately bad I was hurting. This was not me. Anyone who knew my character knew this wasn’t me. People tried to help. I don’t know if I would be alive without Gretchen. If at any point in my life I was suicidal, it was then. I thought about it all the time. Death surely had to be better than this life.
That spring I got pretty sick. The consequences of my lifestyle caught up to me. I also didn’t realize at the time that I was beginning to get “really” sick. I had a decent case of walking pneumonia and Mono which resulted with my spleen getting enlarged for an extended period of time. I left “school” abruptly that spring.
When I graduated at high school, I spoke at graduation. I was an almost perfect 4.0 student in the toughest classes our school offered – physics, calculus, trig, chemistry, honors English. I was no joke academically, a gifted and talented student since 2nd grade. I was honored to be my school’s homecoming queen my senior year. I won another pageant thing once. I was even the student body president. I had the resume, the credentials, and the mind to be great at life.
As I put together my self-control lesson I thought about how inadequate an example my life is to these kids. As painful as it is for me, it’s also the perfect illustration to help them. We are body, mind, and spirit. Without any of these areas nurtured and taken care of, we’re not complete. And when we’re not complete and out of balance, we do stupid stuff to try to fix our lives to make it feel right. We put a sugar packet under a wobbly table. That’s the problem with the world today. Everyone comes up with a temporary fix. And, when you don’t even have the knowledge to fix the wobbly table like a carpenter, to know what ought to be right, you’re in quite the pickle trying to figure out feelings and life situations you’re never possibly going to understand.
My heart and soul were defeated in these tender years of my life. There was no love there. No joy. No passion. There were dim flickers of light in the caves of my spirit at times, but nothing that could balance out the awkward tripod of my body-mind-soul trifecta. Nothing but the good Lord could fix this.
I think age, time, and Toby all helped to bring me out of the depths of quicksand during that rough chapter of my life. As soon as I started to climb out, though, more stuff with my body started to go wrong. When I was 19, we started with all of the ovary problems, Endometriosis, cysts, etc.. That started blurring into the chronic neurological problems that were full blown by age 23.
It is only because Christ is living in me now that I can see, and must trust, that I needed to go through this yucky stuff. The plan I had was not where he needed me to be. I wouldn’t have my Toby if things had gone the way they “ought” to. Accepting this as the truth of what happened, no longer blaming my parents, myself, or God for my problems has a very liberating element to it. We all did the best we could and you know what? It’s not over. God has a better plan in store for me!!!!
That excites me! I am no longer aimlessly wandering around to find my place in the world, but do what I can where I am with what I have to serve the Lord. There have been a lot of consequences to my lack of self-control: financial, reputation, damaged relationships, and trust issues. Only the Lord could turn something so gross into something so glorious. Amen,
Only God can work in such rad ways. I think through all of my preparation for this lesson, the thing that still stands boldly out in my mind was this relationship between self-control as a worldly and spiritual concept.
In the world we identify self-control as the ability to control one’s own thoughts/judgments, behaviors/actions, and emotions/heart. Body, mind, soul. In the Bible, Jesus orders us to love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength, soul, and mind. The three areas that we are to have control over by the world’s example is body, mind, and soul. The thing Jesus says is the very most important in the whole Bible is to love God with the same three areas. On top of this, I realized… Jesus was our example in body/behavior, the Holy Spirit is our counselor on matters of the heart, and God gives us the very Word for our minds to meditate on.
The Trinity is the very truth of our self-control.
Blows. My. Mind.