The Arena

I don’t remember how I got there. Maybe events happened that I unconsciously blocked out of my memory. Maybe several events happened in a row, and that’s how I ended up here. Either way, it’s wiped from my memory. All I know is that I’m here. Dirty. Broken. Helpless.

When I walked into this place, the crowd seemed friendly. I even recognized a few faces in the crowd. I remember waving to them and smiling. They waved back. Something unnerved me about their presence, but I thought that maybe I was overreacting. They were here to support me. Love me. Be a friend to me. They were here for me.

The arena stretched out before me, seemingly never ending. The floor was dirt; there were several drops of a red liquid splattered here and there, all across the ground. I didn’t want to think what that was. The doorway that I just walked through was huge! The stands rose up on either side, filled with thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of people. The rows of people surrounded the huge dirt arena. And I was the only one in the middle. The rest were spectators. Supporters. Friends. Or, so I thought.

The first crack of the whip came out of nowhere. It tore into my sensitive flesh instantly. I screamed a blood-curdling yell as I fell dramatically to the floor. I expected the crowd to yell with outrage. For someone, or a lot of someones, to rush to my rescue. Help me up. Brush me off. Tell me that I am loved, and that they would never let that happen to me again. No one came. I rested on my hands and my knees on the dirt floor for a while longer. Still. No one. I spat onto the ground. Alright, I thought. If no one is brave enough to come rescue me, I’ll do it myself! Mustering together some courage, I wiped my hands on my pants as I stood up. It was then that I realized that the crowd was doing something. But they weren’t outraged, or rushing to the rescue…they were….laughing??

Red hot heat immediately rushed to my face. My palms grew sweaty. These certainly were not friends. Was there anybody in the crowd that actually cared about me? I stood there, in the center of the arena for a few more moments, turning and staring into the mass of people. No one had asked me if I was alright. Blood trickled down my arm where the whip had stung me, and no one rushed to help me clean it, or grab a bandaid. No one moved a muscle. Except…they were laughing at me. It had started off softly, which is why I hadn’t noticed it at first. But suddenly more and more of the crowd had joined in, making the noise deafening. Wiping my hands on my pants once again to release my palms of nervous sweat, I resolved to never be the center of attention again. If they were going to laugh at my pain, fine! I don’t need them anyway!

I took a couple of steps forward, still unsure of how I got into this arena in the first place, and wondering why I couldn’t just leave.

This time, I heard it before it ripped into my skin. I turned to face it, my hands clinched into fists. I was going to fight this, and I was going to win. Unexpectedly, the whip bent around my hands and reached towards my stomach. I saw what was happening, but I was powerless to do anything about it. It was as if it happened in slow motion. I bent over with a cry of pain, as it tore into my lower abdomen, again sinking to my knees on the dusty arena floor.

This time, the arena was filled with silence. Except a few whispers. Then the few whispers turned to many. Before I knew it, it sounded like they were shouting at me. Pointing their righteous fingers at me, yelling at the people beside them:

 

Why doesn’t she just leave?

Who does she think she is?

Look at how little faith she has, even though she claims to be a Christian!  

She should just get over it already!

 

The jeers and taunts made me sick. I wanted to scream, “can’t you see that I’m trying?! There’s no way out! I don’t even know how I got here in the first place, so how am I supposed to know how to get out?!” But the words got stuck inside my head. They burned on my tongue, but I couldn’t force them past my chapped lips. I sat back on my heels, contemplating my next move. If I got up, surely they would make another pass at me. But, if I stayed down…they will win. I am a fighter. Always have been, and I always will be. Jerking my shoulders back so that I sat up straighter, I again brushed my soiled hands on my pants, and then stood up. I brushed the dirt off the knees of my pants, and tried to use my ripped shirt to stop the bleeding in my stomach.

I was still bent over, examining my wound, when the next blow came. Although I had come to expect it, that didn’t make it any less painful. I covered my mouth with my hand to extinguish the scream that bubbled from the back of my throat. I wouldn’t give them that satisfaction. I couldn’t! I managed to stay on my feet this time, with the whip having landed on my lower back. This made me stand up, straight and tall, very quickly. But, before I had a chance to recover, the whip circled around and bit into my still wounded stomach. I doubled over in pain, as the whip raced towards me again, this time buckling the back of my knees. I instantly flopped to the ground, yelling in anguish. Blood gushed from all of the different wounds, and still, no one in the crowd attempted to come and save me. No one cared. I was alone.  

This time, I wasn’t so quick to get back on my feet again. This time, the wounds were too painful. The pain seared through my whole body like a knife, slowing cutting me up into tiny little pieces. There seemed to be less and less of the girl that I had always thought I was. I was slowly sinking inside of myself. Hiding. Terrified of what was next. Quickly losing the fight inside of me. It was too hard. I was too small. I wasn’t strong enough.

That’s when it started getting worse. There was a respite from the whip. The crowd was even silent, gawking at me, wondering what I was going to do next. I lay on the cold, dirty arena floor, grabbing my knees to my chest, focused on my gushing wounds. It was all I could think about. Until. It got worse. The pain started coming from the inside of me, instead of the outside. He had done his job. He had got me low enough to start doubting myself and to start tearing myself apart. He wouldn’t have to work very hard much longer, because now I was doing all of the work for him. The crowd remained silent. So silent that I forgot they were there. I lay my face sideways on the dirt floor. At first, the doubt crept in so silently that I didn’t recognize it. I started doubting the value of my existence. I started wondering why I was even here, and what good I was doing here anyway. I began thinking self-devastating thoughts. All good thoughts of self-worth, self-respect, self-love…were completely gone. Forever. I attacked myself. I tore myself apart, from the inside out. He had done his job. He stood a few feet behind me, with his arms folded. A creepy, dark smile played at the corner of his lips, as he watched me destroy myself.

Darkness was all I saw. The crowd faded from my memory. The lights were turned out. He was pitch black, dressed in all black as well, with black leather gloves holding a thin black whip. He didn’t disappear. As much as I longed for him to disappear, he didn’t. He stood there, watching me for a few moments longer. Suddenly growing impatient, he took a few steps toward me. As the whip flew towards my head, I lifted my dirty hands to cover my face, as I still lay on the dirt floor of the arena. The whip slashed through my hands, and caught my forehead as well. I thought I screamed, but thinking back now, maybe I didn’t. I knew that no one would hear me, even if I did scream. He sped up the whip. First, tearing through my fingers, my shoulder, my thigh, my ankles. I could see everything that I once thought was good about myself, slowly slipping away. My hope wavered. This. This, was how I would end.

I still felt the pain every new time he entered my flesh with the deadly weapon. I clinched my jaw when I grew too tired to scream any longer. My hands stopped trying to block the attack, knowing that it was hopeless. I couldn’t save myself, and it was obvious that no one else was going to come to my rescue. He was relentless. He tore my flesh apart, as if it gave him joy, knowing that my flesh was not the only thing wearing thin, tearing, being destroyed…with every new wound, little pieces of my heart grew cold, dark, tired. He was attempting to make my flesh hard, unbreakable, thick, impenetrable…and it was working.

I no longer let myself feel anything. While at first, I thought that was a good thing, it wasn’t. I couldn’t feel joy, love, passion, creativity, or any good emotion. I was alone. I accepted the lies as truth. I was worthless. I was not worthy of love, or worth saving. People have left me in my past, because there was something wrong with me. I blamed myself for relationships gone wrong. The darkness continued, seeping into every nook and cranny of my existence.

Time ceased to make sense to me. It seemed like I was face down in that arena forever. My face, covered with sweat, dirt and blood. My hands, filthy, stained with blood. My body torn, broken, bloody, bruised. My heart, crushed, shattered, defeated. I lay still, no longer having the energy to rise up, to fight, to win. My spirit was no longer one that I recognized. It was as if I had become someone else…or was this who I really was all along?

The darkness was unrelenting. On my strongest days, I lifted my head…searching for light, for answers, for someone to help me. But that is when he hit me and beat me down harder, refusing to let me stand up. Refusing to let me see light. Hope. Love. On my lowest days, I was content to lie on the arena floor, listening to my shallow breathing from my open mouth, allowing the dirt and dust to stick to my chapped and cracked lips, and tumble into my silent mouth. This wasn’t living. I was still alive…but barely. I lost my fight to want to live any longer. Why doesn’t he just kill me already? My hands shook uncontrollably at that thought, but the thought remained. Why was I here, anyway? What good am I doing, lying here on the cold, broken, dirty arena floor? What am I worth? Nothing. This thought was normal and natural to me. I accepted it as truth, no longer having the strength or energy to fight it off.

But this is not where my story ends. One day, I felt as though my heavy burden had lifted slightly. Confused, I slowly opened my eyes to see if anything had changed. Nothing. I still saw his face, hidden in the shadows of his black hoodie. A dark and twisted smile, always turning up the corners of his mouth as though he thought this was fun. His eyes were the darkest blue I had ever seen…almost black. The floor was still dirt, still hard, uncomfortable, and splattered with a mixture of blood, sweat, and tears. My body still felt bruised, broken, beaten down. My heart still felt heavy, dark, defeated…but, somehow today my heart also had a lightness that I didn’t remember ever feeling before. It was small. A very small part of my heart. Maybe I was going crazy. Maybe that was a trick. Nothing else changed that day.

The next day, those same feelings returned. I didn’t let on that anything had changed, scared of the wrath that was sure to come if my torturer sensed that anything was different. I liked this new feeling. I couldn’t grasp what it was yet, though.

Many days passed, feeling much the same. My surroundings still haven’t changed. The man standing guard over my beaten body and bruised heart was still the same, with the same cruel sense of the word ‘fun’. Slowly, over time, the light feeling I had increased. Maybe this was real. Maybe there was…what is that word? A feeling that I used to have, even at the beginning of all of this? The beginning? You mean, there was life before this hole of despair? Lying there on the ground, still as always, I forced myself to try to remember. Remember times before this arena.

Flashbacks whirled through my mind. There was a crowd when I entered. A crowd, that means I wasn’t actually alonestupid girl! That crowd was just there to make you feel all alone! They were there to jeer and taunt and laugh in your face. They were not there for you. I shut my eyes tightly, not sure I wanted to try to remember. Another flashback came to mind. A boyfriend. I had a boyfriend. One that was good, and we had good times. Yeah, and remember how he forced you to break up with him? You feel shame right now, don’t you?! You blamed yourself for all that happened…good! All my once good memories came back with negative lenses.

Hope. Hope was the word that I was looking for! The thought came to me one day, which had started off much like the many days previously. I opened my eyes, feeling as though I could finally see for the first time in many months. He bent his shadowed face towards mine, as though he were trying to see into my soul to see what was happening. He knew that something was different. A kind of light returned to my eyes. His face was now inches from mine. He snarled, and spit in my face, reaching for his weapon of choice. The whip cracked above me a few times, as though he were practicing on how to make it the most painful as possible. Then he cracked the whip so it barely grazed the top of my arm. It burnt like fire. He whipped me a good bit that day, as though he knew things were changing and he was grasping onto me with all that he had. He wouldn’t let me go. I was his, according to him.

That feeling of hope, didn’t stop. For some reason, something inside of my heart started to change that day…a change that didn’t stop for years to come afterwards. My heart began to feel a little lighter with each passing day. I began to block him out, finally. The darkness now didn’t seem so suffocating. Was it actually getting lighter?

He didn’t take too kindly to these changes. He sensed it too, which must mean it’s real, right? He became desperate, beating me down day after day, grasping to keep me down, keep me defeated, lost, alone. But something irreversible started happening inside of me, and, for once, it felt good.

One day, I felt brave enough to sit up. I sat up slowly, watching my tender wounds. The pain seared through my body, but I just clinched my jaw and did it anyway. I knew that he would likely try to beat me back down, but I was willing to take that chance today. He walked slowly towards me, as I slowly raised myself to a sitting position. I had not been in this position for quite some time now. I liked his perspective better. He raised his hand when he was near me, as if to slap my face so hard that I would again fall back into the dirt. I closed my eyes, bracing myself for the fall…but it didn’t happened. When I opened my eyes again, he had walked past me. I don’t know what happened. Maybe someone had spoken to him. I don’t know. But that day, I sat there, staring across the dirty, bloodied arena floor.

Many days like this followed. I had no more strength to rise to a different position. Shame engulfed me, telling me that I should be able to do more…or maybe I should just stop trying. But day after day I had enough strength to lift myself off the floor into a sitting position. This is where I sat for a while, still feeling helpless, hopeless, powerless. But he didn’t beat me down to the ground any longer. I felt as though maybe someone else was telling him that he wasn’t allowed to beat me down any further. So, he tried to keep me where I was at. During this whole time, I had lost my ability to care what I was eating. He gave me many choices, and I hadn’t cared. I certainly wasn’t eating healthy foods, and just drinking water. He tried to keep me as unhealthy in every way possible, to keep me in the sitting position, since he no longer had any power to knock me all the way back down.

The next day, something else changed. The darkness that I had seen for so long, slowly started to fade and recede. It hurt my eyes. It was now more of a grey, than a pitch black. Hope began to rise inside of me, thinking that maybe there was a way out of this place after all! That morning, I rose into my usual sitting position. Confused at how much strength I still seemed to have inside of me, I placed my worn out, dirty hands on the dirt floor, deciding to see how far I could go today. I slowly placed my feet on the floor, so that I could stand up. My joints ached and complained as I attempted to do so, because I had not stood for a few months. He came towards me, pushed my shoulders so that I toppled over. The strength was gone for that day. I was defeated.

The next day, I tried again, with the same results. This happened day after day, and I wondered when my spirit would break again, forcing me to hide myself and cower on the dirt floor once again. But one day, I actually made it to a standing position. I don’t know how. Honestly, it was kind of a blur. I felt unsteady, unsure of myself. My destructive thoughts bombarded my head, making it hard for me to stand there, and make forward progress. But stand, I did! It was a small victory, but I hadn’t tasted a victory in such a long time! My cracked lips almost formed a small smile, through the pain. Maybe there actually was hope. Maybe I could actually come out of this alive.

*****

Maybe this is your story, maybe it’s not. Maybe you know someone who has struggled, or is in the midst of struggling with depression. It’s not an easy struggle, and they will likely push you away…but what’s important is that you always come back to them, with life, love, patience, kindness, and words of encouragement. They can, and will, get through this.

It’s beautiful when you can still love, still believe, and still rise up stronger than before when you are going through, or have gone through depression. And, believe me, this isn’t the end of the story! The healing process is a long, and often painful journey. But those of us who are strong enough to get through it and come out on the other side fighting, we’re special. Remember…that you are loved. You are enough. You are doing all that you can, and that is good enough! You a wonderful and you, and your story, matters! It’s what makes you, you, and you will be even stronger at the end of it! Never stop fighting. Never give up hope. There is help coming, and the reason He left you face down on that dirty arena floor for so long, is because He loves you too much to give you the answers during the test. He knows that you have it in you, all you have to do is believe it for yourself!    

 

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