We Made It

By Sierra DeMulderJuly 24, 2014

I don’t remember when it first started. I often wonder if it happened slowly over time or if it was more like a light switch–one specific moment packed away somewhere in my memory that changed everything.

Perhaps it was third grade, when my classmate Andrew called me Bucktooth. Or maybe it was the first time I was laughed at without wanting to laugh too. Maybe it happened when I made my mother cry and felt nothing.

I try to picture the very moment: the first time I stopped loving myself. I am small, barely five, dancing barefoot in the yard the way only children dance—fearlessly and full of joy. I stop my silly movements just long enough to look up and realize people are watching. I instantly become aware of how stupid I must look, how childish. I stop dancing.

Depression is a spiteful, cyclical creature. It wants all of your attention. It holds you close, even tenderly, before it smothers you. I began self-injuring as a teenager. I thought, somehow, that this was just, that this was all I was worth. I grew up starving myself of love. My need for self-harm eventually evolved into abusive relationships, unhealthy habits, and chronic self-punishment. Why get better when I don’t deserve better?

In college, I discovered poetry. I wrote a spoken-word poem called “Werewolf” about my struggles with self-abuse. Eventually, a performance of “Werewolf” was posted, unbeknownst to me, on YouTube. At first, this made me incredibly uncomfortable. I felt for so long that my depression was my dirty, little secret, and now it was out there for the world to discover with one mouse click. It was one thing to consciously consent to perform to a room of strangers, but to let my poem wander freely on the open, cruel range of the Internet? Terrifying.

As my success in the slam poetry world grew and my work became more popular, I contemplated taking the video down. After telling coworkers I was a poet, I would silently pray they wouldn’t Google me. It was even awkward with close friends, partners, and family. How do you bring something like that up? How long can I postpone them seeing this? It was too uncomfortable. It was too vulnerable.

And then something really miraculous started to happen. 

I began to receive messages from people across the country, strangers who saw my poem online. These people, who I had never met, shared deep, personal secrets. They wrote about their own struggles with depression, self-injury, abuse, eating disorders, sexual trauma, or even their relationships with their parents. They shared things they admittedly didn’t tell their loved ones. They thanked me for telling my story and my struggles because it made them feel like they weren’t alone in theirs.

This is one of the things I love about poetry: it shows us we are all connected. We suffer the same, and we triumph the same. When we tell our stories, when we choose to use our voices, we empower others as well as ourselves. We join in the chorus of human experience. Serendipitously, every time I felt the urge to take down the video of my poem I would receive the most powerful emails. Each letter was a gift, a promise, one more reason to keep going.

Now, I am 28 years old, and I would be lying if I said I am done growing. Self-love is a long and arduous road, but it is beautiful one, I promise. I don’t pretend to know it all. Everyone is on a unique path, and I am by no means claiming I have the antidote to depression. But I do know this:

There isn’t a day I don’t wake up and physically have to decide that I am more good than I am bad.

This is not a chore; this is a gift.

My mother once told me something I will never forget: “When you have a negative thought about yourself, imagine yourself as a baby. A source of awe and wonder. Joyful, blameless, full of love. This is who you are at all times, Sierra. This is your true self.”

When we are babies, we are showered with affection. We bring joy and happiness into everyone’s lives, even strangers. As toddlers, we love so freely. We touch and kiss and hug and want to receive love in return. As children, we somehow know we are worthy of this. 

So picture yourself as a baby. We are always the children we once were, but with the intelligence and power that comes from experience. We are all worthy of the love, forgiveness, and patience we show others. The practice of self-denial isn’t easy to unlearn, and honestly, it isn’t what gets better. You get better. You get better at saying Yes to love. You get better at saying No, I won’t let you hurt me like that. I might not be perfect but I made it – to today, to this very moment – and right now that is enough. It takes a lot of tears and laughter and mistakes and even more patience and forgiveness. It takes a lot of work, but I know now recovery isn’t a finish line or a destination. It’s the music we listen to on our journey.

These days, I spend a lot time thinking about what leads us to self-loathing—why, specifically, love isn’t the first thing we choose. I wonder why we are so willing to forgive and affirm others, yet withhold those same gifts from ourselves. When does this start? What triggers it? 

I wonder when my 8-year-old niece will realize that people watch her when she dances.

I wrote “Werewolf” more than 7 years ago. With the letters from strangers still rolling in, I realized that I had a very specific platform to speak from, and most importantly, something genuine to say. To everyone who has ever found solace in my poem, to anyone who has ever felt numb or like they were drowning, to anyone who has ever questioned their worth, who has felt the need to punish themselves for existing, for those who have seen the dark nights and broken mornings — all of you, I wrote this poem for you. You are exactly where you are supposed to be. We made it, to this very moment.

Here. Today. Amen.

Sierra DeMulder is a two-time National Poetry Slam champion, a 2014 McKnight fellow, and the author of “Bones Below” and “New Shoes On A Dead Horse” (Write Bloody Publishing 2010, 2012). She currently lives in Minneapolis with her dog, Fidelis.

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Comments (22)

  1. Leah Bartlett

    Our stories are so alike and I want my poetry to do the same for those who choose to listen. You are incredible, Sierra. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for letting us in. It’s incredible what words can do, isn’t it? We made it, and we’re gonna keep making it.

    I love that this was posted on my birthday. The first birthday in years that I’m happy to be here. I’ll be 1 year free of self harm next week. I can’t express my joy.

    And thank you, TWLOHA. You have been such a wonderful part of my story.

    BASIIIIIIICALLLY…I love this blog post very very much.

    Reply  |  
    1. Darcy Curl

      Seira, Thank you for sharing your gift of words, and spoken expression. I knew the two poems were related. Congradulations on Making It. I have had my own challenges in life starting with my father’s suicide attemps that began when I was two, and ended when he sucsseded when I was 5. I have always been depressed. It came to a head when I was raped by a classmate, egalescout, church youth leader at age 16. Nobody believed me. I was so sheltered only going to church and the ballet studio, I didn’t even know what sex was, until it happened to me. I was a slut at my church, because of my rape. This is when the self harm, and suicide attempts began. Ironicly, I still persude a degree in psychology and a carrer in mental health. I have been attacked by paitients, and have had to have surgery. One found out where I lived, brutaly raped me and tried to kill me. When the police arrested him, he had me keys on him. He was going to finish killing me later when the police where gone. (He ran when he heard the sirens). We spent two years in court wich just agrivates PTSD. I have had 3 suicide attempts total. Now my struggles are being a single mom to an autistic boy, I have Meniere’s Desease, causing me to lose hearing in both ears, dizziness, nausea, tinnitus. I have Trigeminal Nuralgia, otherwise known as the suicide desease, because half of the people that have it, kill them selves with in the first two years. It is the most painful medical condition known to man. I have arthritis in my knees, and use a cane at 39. No more dancing for me. I can’t work or take care of myself. I have a son, that does not need just anyone to be his mother, he needs me. Everyday I play your poem, not for that day, but the day before. I survived the day before. My son gets bullied, but worse than that he sees me suffer, and how nobody helps me or cares. We watched your poem togather. He understood. We cried togather. It is hard, but we are making it togather, we got here togather. I sent your poem to an incredibly sensitive friend, who had tried to kill himself, twice in a row. I hooked him up the resourses. Now he has an awesome girlfriend, and is doing well. He appreciated the poem. For me it is my mantra. Thank you for your beautiful soul. On another subject, I have never had a tattoo. Nothing has meant enough to go through the pain,and expense. I dated a psychiatrist from work for seven years, but now he is married to a stripper. He is the one that saved me, and got me eating and drinking again after the second rape. Married or not, he is the love of my life. I am getting a bobby pin tattoo. Even though I can’t dance anymore I still need art in my life, if I get approved for disability, I am going back to school, and studing poetry because of you and Neil H. Y’all have inspired me.

      Reply  |  
  2. Rachel

    I think that this poem is one of the most necessary and wonderful things that has ever been shared in this space, and I will hold today’s message infinitely important and close. Thank you. Sierra.

    Reply  |  
  3. Camille

    I think this is what I have been waiting to hear. And I thank you from the bottom of my heart and soul.

    Reply  |  
  4. Candi

    I have cut and hurt my self in many ways since I was 13 years old. I am now 23, almost 24. It has been just over a year since I have hurt myself. I have worked so hard for that. To not feel that anymore. But here I am again. A grown adult. I have worked so hard to now find my life in shambles again when I am and have been doing every little thing right to try and better myself and my life. I guess I’m posting because I thought those days were over. The days of self-loathing and hatred and anger and the want, need to hurt myself for all the things I will never be capable of doing. I want someone to write love on my arms, somewhere, anywhere. Because even at 23, I don’t have that support. I don’t have people surrounding me with love. I have me, and that is all. I am still nowhere. I am still lost. I am still nothing. And I was so proud to reach one whole year of not hurting myself. I didn’t wanna mess that up. That made me so fucking proud that only those who have been where I have been would understand. But I woke up this morning, and it’s all I can think about. Because despite how hard I’ve tried, it hasn’t gotten better. Right now I wanna hurt myself more than I have wanted in months and months and months. I thought I had lost that impulse. But I never will, will I? I guess I just wanted to write to people that will actually understand what I mean, and listen when I talk, and not just say “it’s going to be okay”, when they don’t care, let alone know what the fuck they’re talking about. So, though I don’t know you, thank you for listening anyway. You are the only ones that will. [email protected]

    Reply  |  
    1. Suz

      I read you words peaceharmonyhappiness, I read it and understood, I’m listening and care. Congrats on your year, that counts! It’s huge, it’s still a year a hole year, keep on keeping on, it’s all about now, you are so courageous !! Peace Suz

      Reply  |  
    2. Adylene

      Hey, if you wanna talk I know how you feel I’m here, just let me know

      Reply  |  
    3. Louise

      Het Candi, I know how you feel. I think, although the impulse will never truly go away, you will learn to control it. I am only 2 months clean, and while I still get strong urges, I am learning to cope with them and control them. Also, maybe you’re in the mindset that one day it will suddenly all change and you’ll never be sad again. Recovery is an ongoing process, but it will get easier. Relapse is just a part of recovery, and if you do mess up, it doesnt you have to start again. Look how far you’ve come! All the best, I know you can do this x

      Reply  |  
    4. Angela Trahan

      Candi, I am so proud of you for taking the steps to not harm yourself. We all need people to tell us that! You are a trooper for going a whole year!

      Reply  |  
    5. Laura

      I woke up this morning and felt strange. Mainly because today marks my five year anniversary of being free of self harm. I am 22 and I still have the same impulses as you and probably will for the rest of my life. I want to say to you that IT WILL BE OKAY, and I’m not just saying that because I don’t care, but because I have faith in not only me but you also. The best thing I can say is to stop worrying about making it over a year and being afraid that you are going to mess that up. You’ve come a whole entire year!!!!!!!! That in itself is a reason to celebrate! From this point on take it day to day. You don’t need to put that kind of pressure on yourself to fail. I learned that the hard way. You obviously have the strength inside of you to prosper and succeed or you would not be here! Like you, sometimes the love around me is not physically there. So just know that there are people experiencing the same things as you who are always with you in spirit; loving you, cheering you on, who are proud of you, and want the absolute best for you! And remember. We made it. 🙂

      Reply  |  
  5. Paula V

    this is difficult to do since I have no memories of being loved as a baby or toddler

    Reply  |  
  6. Gayle

    Thank you, Sierra, for giving me the words to get through another day. This blog, and those who contribute to it, are so often the inspiration to keep going through the darkest hours.

    Reply  |  
  7. Celeste

    This was absolutely beautiful. Sometimes I think I’m going to lose this fight. Your words inspire me to keep fighting this battle. Thank you so, so much. I don’t even have the words to express how grateful I am to have seen this.

    Reply  |  
  8. Anonymous

    Oh my gosh! That was awesome! Thank you and God bless you

    Reply  |  
  9. Tanya

    Thank you!!

    Reply  |  
  10. David Paul Gilliver

    Just incredible.
    That just blew me away…

    Reply  |  
  11. Gen

    Sierra, thank you for your wonderful, inspiring poem. I know exactly the way it feels to let yourself out into the open, trying to connect with others, being shot down…

    I think for me it started when I was in elementary school. I was a very smart kid; got good grades and everything. I taught myself how to read when I was maybe 3 or 4, and I was reading Harry Potter and college-level textbooks for fun by the second grade. I was also perfectionistic, high-strung, reactive to criticism, and eventually diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder at a very young age. Needless to say, I was not an average child, and this left me very, very open to bullying, teasing, and abuse. People pushed me around. People called me horrible names. I didn’t experience a single day of my elementary school life that someone wasn’t picking on me. I eventually began to learn that I was just weird, abnormal, an outcast, and always would be.

    By the time I got to middle school, I had been in counseling for several years. I went through a Goth phase and became a lot more closed as a person. People continued to think I was a weirdo; I just wanted to be left alone because I felt everyone was out to get me. I latched onto an unhealthy person and began an unhealthy friendship with them. The bullying continued, and actually got worse. I continued to be pushed around and feel hated. The vice principal hated me because I wasn’t mainstream (he thought I was a trouble child because I acted up due to my anxiety) and always got in trouble because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and the bullies were better at making their case than me. The principal hated me because he was convinced that, when I complained about a group of girls bullying me, I mentioned their ethnicity (I was young and stupid and didn’t know their names) and he thought it was me being racist and trying to get them in trouble. I learned to hate people and pulled away from help more and more, and on top of that my mom and dad were beginning to fight with each other. I was so sarcastic and cold that it got to the point that someone told me, “You know, maybe if you’d open up and be nice to people, people would be nice to you.” That really struck me, so come high school, I tried it. I felt better, but not the best,
    and was still a rather timid person.

    High school was a roller coaster for me. My anxiety made it hard for me to focus. My parents were getting divorced due to my dad’s alcoholism getting worse and worse and the verbal abuse he slung at my mother and I. I buried myself in the only recourse I had – music and theater. I was in theater and band for four years. It, along with art, poetry, writing, all of that was my passion. Creating things was my alternative to putting a knife to my flesh, and damn, did I think I was good at it. I was learning to stand up to the bullies that pushed me around, and forced some of them to stop when nobody else would stand up for me. I learned to stick up for what I wanted and what I felt, even though the bullying continued – from girls, from boys, from people jealous that I did so well in school so effortlessly without studying, from people who just wanted to get a rise out of someone. Despite this, my anxiety was under control and I was doing well for myself.

    Then when I was 17 it crashed and burned. I used to have a deviantART profile, and was just getting into the Batman comics. It was 2008 and The Dark Knight and Heath Ledger’s Joker were fresh on my mind, influencing my creativity and my artwork. I had images of myself up, and had a good following of people online who liked my art and my writing. I was feeling as confident and happy as a 17 year old could be. That’s where I was when the cyberbullying started, for no reason, from people I never knew. Here, in this online forum I used to broadcast my very heart and soul to the world… I was cast out again, abused, told I was worthless. Just as in school, just as my dad had told me so many times when he was drunk. My email address and name were leaked. My artwork and profiles on Youtube were sabotaged and deleted. My homepage I spent so long designing and making was defaced. Every part of who I was online, which I was too afraid to express offline, was hopelessly and irrevocably shattered to pieces. I stopped drawing for years, and when I started again I kept my art a secret to everyone, afraid I would be hurt again. I left deviantART and didn’t post any more artwork for years, hell, I barely posted any writing that wasn’t poetry or fanfiction. I sunk into learning about my interests and became just as timid and quiet, a slinking little mouse in the corner that was only known for her intellect and her involvement with theater and music. I stayed in that little corner for my whole high school career, after my parents divorced and my mom came out to me as a lesbian, after she met and eventually took my current stepmother as her wife, after I graduated high school with honors and took to choosing a career in the one thing that told me I was still worth it – the sciences.

    College is where I started to heal again, at least partially. I was 18 and free. I was an adult and loving every bit of my new independence. I was taking classes I enjoyed, with people of a like mind to myself, making friends and having a good time doing it. I was doing my genuine self, and as a result I began to write and draw again. Around this time I discovered a deep love for horror fiction, and took to drawing and writing horror stories and poems. I discovered the Slenderman Mythos when it was still cool, the Fear Mythos that spun off of it, and the works of H. P. Lovecraft. I loved it all, and I felt so grateful I had found all this and recovered a missing piece of myself. It was the best time of my life, even with my anxiety flaring up now and then and a few bumps in the roads. I found a counselor at that time that helped me through those bumps, and when it was time to graduate I did so happily, ready to embrace life.

    That’s about the point it all crashed down again, and hard. I took a job in my career, Chemistry. I couldn’t handle the stress, and it didn’t work out even though I loved it. It broke my heart. I was jobless for the whole summer, and slowly sunk into more and more anxiety about needing a job, needing to get back on my feet, needing to be worth *something*. I finally got a job at a supermarket, where everyone (employers, employees, and customers) treated me like absolute shit. I was worthless, *less* than worthless to these people, just another number to fill a slot in a constant equation that output the same value over and over. They didn’t care about me, they just wanted me there to make money. I felt so used and so worthless, so unappreciated, and yet I couldn’t quit – I needed the money, so I’d just have to deal with the stress, with never having time for myself, with being everyone’s chewtoy. It just made everything so much worse, the stress and abuse feeding my anxiety, and my anxiety feeding my growing sense of worthlessness. I eventually was fired from that job over trying to take a break that was scheduled (literally, that’s all I was trying to do; I had been working five hours of an 8-hour shift non-stop and I needed to eat or I was going to faint), and felt even *less* of a person for it. I couldn’t even do menial labor, I wasn’t really as smart as everyone thought, my whole life was nothing but a fluke and I was a complete loser. I stopped smiling. I snapped at my family. Parties weren’t fun for me anymore, and the first party I went to that I could drink at, I drank way too much and felt like hell the next morning. My stress was getting in the way of my relationship with my then-boyfriend, and when he showed signs of wanting to become closer and more intimate, I panicked and broke up with him, afraid to commit. D, if you’re reading this (and I doubt you are), I am so, so sorry, and please know it wasn’t you, it was me – and I was very, very sick.

    I found what I thought was an accepting community on Tumblr, but quickly realized they were little more than cyberbullies acting in the name of what they called “Justice” that really just belittled others – and worse, they seemed encouraging of just the kind of self-doubt and self-hate I had for myself already. But, addicted, I stayed on – half my friends were there, anyway. I eventually got another job in my field, and I loved that one even more, but once again I couldn’t live up to my boss’ expectations and was let go from the position. it was the dead of winter in February. At this point, I had been shot down one too many times. Every time in my life I had spread my wings, I had been shot from the sky. Every time I wanted something, I was told “No”. Every time I tried to blog online on Tumblr and voice a legitimate issue or start a serious dialogue, I was told I was wrong, and worse, a bigot – SIMPLY for having the audacity to open my mouth about issues that mattered to me. I was ignored, pushed aside, unloved and unwanted. Even my own family yelled at me, so what good was I? I spiraled downward. I’m astonished that, when I started college again, I managed to get the good grades I did. I was a walking, numb shell, going through the motions, doing the same shit over and over every day before going home to get attacked and blasted again over stuff that nobody seemed to understand. I felt so alone, as if I weren’t important. As if I were unloved. My stepmom yelled at me, my mom called me lazy and worthless and that’s all I heard (even when she wasn’t saying that). I became in my eyes what I feared the very most – an absolute failure of a human being, a faulty world-machine gear punched out by a few thousand lines of my parents’ genetic code, good only for spinning and fitting in absolutely nowhere productive, and fit only to be thrown in the garbage pile. Even the verbal tirades and daily anxiety attacks I had couldn’t make me feel anything.

    That’s when I think my mind first turned to wanting a way out. I wanted to just leave this world so badly, eliminate my faultiness from the gene pool. I felt it was the noble thing to do, so I wouldn’t be a burden to my struggling, unhappy family and I wouldn’t be there for anyone else to blame and abuse. My purpose was to be another statistic, and I had resigned myself to that. Never once did I turn to self-harm, but I did take a lot of risks. I turned to drinking, but never so much I got drunk. I considered using my extensive chemistry knowledge to off myself in a discreet way – after all, I knew how easily I could find a way to poison myself; even if it didn’t work I could just use my exacto knife. Everything was dark and it would never get better anyway. Somehow this idea helped me hold on just a bit to some sense of normalcy.

    This went on for months until my friends online and myself noticed that my feelings weren’t right. They didn’t feel right. I was starting to look up self-help resources, I was scared to actually do what I desired to do. Thank God I never got to the point that I actually attempted anything and I went in when I did. My therapist, whom I hadn’t talked to for years, understood and helped me. She suggested medication, and I took up the offer. I’m so grateful I did, because as soon as I started taking the medicine and got used to the effects, I felt so, so much better, so much like my old self. It was like I’d been trapped in the dark for so long, and then the cave ceiling broke and sunlight flooded in again. I could draw again, I could write again, I could be myself again. It was a very, very good feeling.

    I’m still scared to this day I’ll relapse. It is my greatest fear now that I’ll succumb to my depression; every time I have an anxiety attack now I’m terrified it will get worse and worse and I’ll be right back where I started. I’m starting to find myself slowly, still recovering. I think I’ll always be recovering, tied to the little orange bottle of blue pills that essentially is keeping me alive and probably will for the rest of my life. I’ve been networking with people at my university and making sure people know who I am and what I’m about. Building a safety net; taking time for myself. I have something to hold onto now. My family life is coming back together and so are my friendships. This is my new normal, and this is what I’m slowly learning to adapt to. Keeping in mind that I’m going to make it, I’ll make it, I’ve made it. I’ve made it.

    Thank you Sierra, and TWLOHA. You helped give me one more reason to be happy I’m alive.

    Reply  |  
    1. rose

      Gen, I cried -this is beautiful and inspiring. Don’t ever give up because you are so much more than your illness. Your words reminded me that there is a reason to keep on fighting. Thank you, and I hope you’re still okay on that path of recovery.

      Reply  |  
  12. Blake

    Does anyone know if today means amen is in any of her books?

    Reply  |  
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