United Church of Christ

My Past is Haunting Me

Dear Theo,

Im 22 and i have a very ugly past wich i blv is contributn in me not being happy today. i used to be a very decent person, watchd a lot of t.v n nva went out of de house, wich made my mom proud. in 2005 i started drinkin and smoking, i was 15. i lost my virginity same year september to a guy i really loved yet dumpd him lyk trash. 2007 i ran away frm home more dan 5tyms n id b with difrnt guys...it ate my family n broke it, my grand ma ws alws sick n ma mom washed her hands off me, by den i was reaptn ma grd11, was sleepin with a whole lot of guys n was obsessed with a 21 years older guy. by dec i was bek home, my mom took me back n bout me new clothes, i was now doin my grd 12 n stl obsessed with dat older guy. he would tell me to stay away from him n i wouldnt listen.

@1st my year 2008 was gud, me n ma family wer in gud terms coz i was behavin. i was 18 n i had told myself dat im gona start bein serious n go to varsity de following year. around june i got drunk n ran away from home again, i slept with so many guys and 1 of em for 25rands. but i did go back home. i faild ma matric, went to stay with my other bf wu was 11 years older dan me...i fell preg n had an aborxn in jan. by march i heard anada abortn,i used to stay with dis guy, he would beat me up in front of people everyday and i used to get drunk n sleep with people behind his back! by august 2009 he dumped me for another chic n i smashed his places windows n he got me arrested for a day. i left for my aunt s place for a month n wen i came bek my mon forgave me and bought me new clothes, so everything was good.

after two weeks i went back to de streets...i slept with difrent guys just so i can get a plc to sleep. i got drunk every day n samtyms take ma clothes off n peopl wil b takin pics. i lost respect from evryone. 2010 i went bek to skul, told myself dat il change but i went bek de guy wu dumpd me for anada chik n de same story hapnd n i got arrested for two days. from dat day i decided to change n i did but i stil slept around a bit and slept out drinkin though dis tym it was better...dec i learnd dt i faild my matric, my family stood by me n took me to a private skul far frm home to repeat it, n though dey didnt knw bek home, i slept around with almost every guy in de hood, had 3 abortns but stil pasd my matric...i lost my respect der too.

2012 i went to college, wer iam now, i slept with more dan 30 guys n de 1 guy dat i lovd dumpd me for no reason, i slept wit hs frnd, got preg n had an abortn. aftr dat i slept wit ds ada guy n hs brother n all dis guys are frm my hometown. I had a lot of frnds wu ddnt n stil dnt respct me n i deserv dat coz i did it all to myself. it was only in dec dat i realised i need to turn my life around, wich i did but i cnt let go of de past, it haunts me every night wen i go to sleep. now im fallin for a guy wu i was sleepin with based on no strings attached, he doesnt value me...i decided to let him go but wat i did to myself n my family make my heart bleed so so bad.

~my past is haunting me


Oh, sweetheart.

This is a Good Friday letter and you need an Easter answer.

The first thing I want to say to you is:

God loves




And God loves you too much to let you stay that way.

You have changed your life for the better in so many ways, with the help of people who love you, and will love you till the day you die.

You have given up drinking, yes? You have come home to people who love you. You are in college! There is so much hope and promise in these words.

But bad relationships can be a kind of addiction - running after people who are running away from us - steeping ourselves in people and things that are poisonous to our health. It can be a way of punishing ourselves, to love someone who can't love us in return. Why do you want to punish yourself?

You deserve healthy love. You deserve the love of someone who is faithful to you, and who treats you with tenderness, and who is an equal partner in all things, including preventing unwanted pregnancy so that you never have to have another abortion. But before you even dream about that - there are other things I think you need and deserve even more.

My Past, you do an excellent job of taking responsibility for yourself. I don't want to take that away from you. Too many people, in our day and age, blame their parents or their lovers or their schools or the bottle or the pills or the past for their own bad behavior. You own what's yours, and that's admirable.

But the sinning wasn't all on your side, sister. It sounds like plenty of people have sinned against your own sweet body and spirit. Just sit with that a minute. Sin is complicated, right? Paul Tillich said "all sin is separation." He said that sin is anything that separates us from God, or other people, or our own best selves. Some of what you can't forget is your own damn fault - you sinned against yourself, and against God. But some of it is someone else's sin, done unto you and unto God. It's a bloody mess.

You say the problem is that you can't forget the past. It haunts you at night when you are falling asleep. Falling-asleep time is when the mind and spirit get quiet. During the day we can keep the monsters at bay by being busy—working, studying, socializing, eating, doing errands. But at night, when we lie down, we get Sabbath sickness - all our thoughts come rushing at us like wild animals.

I don't think this kind of haunting is Devilish - I think it is God helping us work through our stuff. There's only one way through it. You and God, together, can tame those wild animals. You may have asked God's forgiveness but you haven't yet forgiven yourself.

One of the best ways I know to learn the art of forgiveness and to heal the wounds of the past is the 12 Steps of Recovery, aka Alcoholics Anonymous. You can find a list of meetings near your home here. Probably there is a meeting in the basement of the church down the street. Help is waiting for you. Angels are there.

Precious few people can get and stay sober without the spiritual support of AA. But it is more than a program for getting sober, it is a way of meeting God and redeeming the pain of the past: of turning the crap we have been through and the crap we have done to others into healthy soil for our own recovery as well as others', because the last step of the 12 is to carry the message to other addicts, to help other people get and stay sober, to meet God and know God's love.

You may think your problem is that you are a bad person, or that you are obsessed with the past; you might think that the right lover will cure you, or that you can't be cured at all. I am here to tell you: you have a spiritual problem, and there is a spiritual cure. Just like any of those sweet bodies that Jesus touched in his earthly ministry, you can be made well.

You don't need the love of a lover right now, sister. You need to know that God's love is enough before you will be ready for a new romance. And God's love will likely come to you in the form of sober friends, good church, family who stick by you.

I said that yours was a Good Friday letter and you need an Easter answer. When I put ashes on the head of my people on Ash Wednesday, at the beginning of Lent, I say to them, "Your past is behind you. God's future is before you. Walk the road to Jerusalem with Christ."

One thing I love about Jesus and his gospels is how they take us through every human feeling, at a pace I can stand. At Ash Wednesday I can feel my mortality: that I will die someday, and what God and I do with my one brief and precious life matters.

On Good Friday, I can feel my complicity in Jesus' death, and all death - that when I sin, which I do daily, somehow that sin joins the stream of all human sin, everywhere - that it is all a big, bloody, sticky, mess.

And on Easter, I can hear that no matter how I might sin, get stuck, mess up, fall down - God's life-dealing is bigger than my death-dealing. Death doesn't get the last word. Life wins! And Everything, and Everyone, that God has made, has the power to be born again, and again, and again.

Hear this, My Past: I am giving you a new name today. Your name is God's Future. God has forgiven you, already, and your work is to forgive yourself, and to live into enough of God's Future that you can begin to forget as well as forgive.

Which doesn't mean your night-hauntings will go away right away. But you can gradually make peace with them. It is possible that God wants you to remember, just for now, so that you can be very clear about the choice you are making - and the cost of going back to your old life, which was not really life, but death.

I think remembering what life was like when you were drinking and giving your body and spirit away for free is an inoculation against returning to your old powerlessness. But you can give those memories less and less influence over you, as you grow into the belief that Christ's maximum-strength Easter-power lives in you now.

Bless you, and may you be a blessing,


p.s. A great book to read if you are getting sober and getting to know God is: Travelling Mercies by the funny and wonderful Anne Lamott. But it's no substitute for real live humans at real live 12 Step meetings!

Who is Theo?

"Dear Theo" is written anonymously by three UCC ministers of different ages and backgrounds--one main writer and two respite writers. We're hoping the questions will span all kinds of topics: from sexuality and relationships to church culture and conflict to mental health, family drama, ethical and moral dilemmas, and everything in between.

Every week will feature a new letter and a new answer. Please write Dear Theo with your questions and problems by sending to deartheo@ucc.org. Letter writers identities will also ALWAYS remain anonymous.

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