Hannah the Terrible, Hannah the Great
Thinking Out Loud
Anyone who knows me, knows I have a passion for teaching Mindfulness, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and working with people who have complicated anxiety, OCD, and trauma. They would tell you that one of my favorite things to do, the place I feel and come most alive, is in the classroom where I share what I have learned with other professionals.
What maybe most people do not know is why these are my passions.
The life I have lived is rather enormous, but the Reader’s Digest version is that I grew up with chronic abuse of every kind – yes, every kind; physical, mental, emotional, sexual, and spiritual. You would hope that I am talking only about my childhood here, but no. This all carried on until my early 40s (I’m a bunch of years older than some people tell me I look – smile – small favors).
In my life, I have overcome fifteen years of living in an abusive cult, intense virtual and sexual addictions, mental health issues that resulted in hospitalizations, and a multitude of destructive relationships where I sold myself as a slave only to emerge something more like a wildcat, scratching and clawing my way from where I was right into another caustic situation.
I have battled a myriad of unusual illness, including atresia, encephalomyelitis, and a variety of dissociative and trauma-related disorders that were misdiagnosed or overlooked for years. I’ve wrestled with disordered eating, gaining and losing over one-hundred fifty pounds. For years, I felt so ugly and worthless I wanted to die.
I have moved over 52 times, lived in five states, three countries, and I lost count of the number of different houses and cities. At three separate times, I woke in the morning one place and ended the day somewhere completely different, having lost everything, never to return to the former situation or people.
Except for outright drug or alcohol addiction, I think I have experienced just about every facet of painful life a person possibly can. I know what it means to writhe on the floor in agony, to feel utterly hopeless and abandoned, and to cry until it feels as if there isn’t any salt or water left anywhere in my body.
I reacted to all of this by being pretty terrible.
I have lied and consciously manipulated other people. I have shirked my bills and other responsibilities. I spent several years trapsing from one doctor to another looking for answers. Sometimes I was sick, most of the time I was sad, lonely, and severely depressed – but I could not admit it. From the time I was twelve until I was in my late thirties, I had serial relationships, never ending one without another in the wings. I did this with tug-at-your-heart sad stories, full well expecting sympathy and help and rationalizing the pain I caused others. I was a martyr, wanting other people to do my life for me, feeling great pains of injustice when they didn’t. And…I knew all this was wrong on some level. I just could not stop.
Finally, I moved to India where I lived and worked for several years. Even there, I carried on my unhealthy relationship style, which just about got me killed.
I want you to notice something. A few lines back I wrote, “I reacted to all of this…” If I had written this piece ten years ago, that sentence would have read, “All this caused me to…” I know better now. India was a turning point for me and now I see and live very differently in the world.
As I sit here writing this, I can look around and see a vase full of flowers (see picture above). The lovely combination of roses and something yellow (I’ve never been good at naming foliage) were given to me by a sweet little neighbor who, amid a pandemic is missing out on her long-awaited graduation in favor of a zoom/drive-through event. I did not know her, but I walk past her house every morning and she has a sign in the front yard announcing her graduation. I wanted to encourage her during these last difficult days of school, so I brought her a present.
Me. Hannah the Terrible brought a gift to a stranger.
The truth in this life is that we are all a conglomeration of what we tend to call “good” and “bad” or “right” and “wrong”. No life is ever perfect. I still have tough days – always will (no probably about it). However, I have learned a lot and I am not the same.
I have learned that knowing God exists is not the same thing as knowing God. I have learned that I have so much more power over my life and choices than I ever thought I did. I now know I am not defined by my past and I have a destiny that is worth the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to stay on this journey. I no longer struggle with depression, trauma responses, or anxiety. Read that clearly – I do not struggle with them. I experience them, yes. However, once aware of a downward spiral in my thoughts, moods, or behaviors, I find my way back to health quickly and…here is the best part…without shame. If I can sum up what I have learned about myself and life, I would say:
I have a story that started in danger, despair, and tragedy but the victory I have now is backward redemptive, making my whole life feel worthwhile. I have learned a lot and have still a long way to go. I am not perfect, but I am a masterful work in progress. I fail but am not a failure. Most of all, with all my bumps and bruises, faults and cracks, ups and downs, I am loved and worthy. After years of feeling humiliation and mortification for who I was, I am not ashamed of that girl. In fact, I no longer feel bad about who I was who I am now, or who I will become. The infinite love of God has shown me how to own my story – and that it isn’t over yet.
If you ask me now, being Hannah is pretty great – and my whole goal in life is to see others say all I just did (and more) about themselves. I long to live in a world not oppressed by shame and divisiveness. I want everyone to know the magnificent, noble, and precious work of art they are and to build an abundant life that bubbles over, filling the cups of those in need around them. That is why I write. That is why I teach. That is why each and every one of you mean more to me than words can say.
Thank you for taking the time to read about me. Now… go write your own, incredible story!
Written by book author, blogger, & educational/motivational speaker, Hannah Smith, MA LMHC CGP. Founder and owner of Potential Finders Network, Hannah provides consultation, training, and personal development services. Hannah’s passion is to see people reach their potential and find lasting, positive change. If you have topics you want to suggest, please don’t hesitate to contact her at Hannah@PotentialFinders.com and check out www.PotentialFinders.com or Facebook
Photo Taken by Hannah Smith.