“I have very stumbly words, it makes things awkward sometimes.
“I grew up incredibly religious, in a very strict, classical, private Christian school. The Bible was tied into every single subject. I had church on Sundays, my dad was an elder. I went to Bible studies, youth group, community group, and even a Christian ballet program. I had all Christian, white friends. I grew up in the most church-inhabited zip code in the world, 35242. That’s an actual fact, not just me exaggerating. I never had a decision about what I believed. I was baptized when I was a baby, so I never got a say in it. I felt like I couldn’t be open-minded.
“I had a really dark time from age ten to eighteen, or a little past that. I had sexual trauma from my parent’s best friend’s son; we were so close I called him my cousin. It led to a downward spiral, and I had a lot of depression and suicide attempts. Self-harm was a huge issue for me. I tried to stop self-harm before, but I couldn’t last even a month without it. I was in treatment for two months my junior year, and then I got sent out. Everything became worse, and I just spiraled down deeper and deeper. When my trauma happened, I felt like I had to keep it a secret. I felt like God, the God I grew up with, didn’t love me. I went through this really long journey of trying to be an atheist. But eventually I just told myself, ‘No I’m not an atheist, I know something’s there.’
“When all that dark stuff was going on, I just kept asking, ‘Why? If you’re a good God, why is this happening?’ Even when I was praying, even when I was going to church, I just felt so dark inside. For awhile I just dissociated myself from it, I couldn’t feel anything. I’ve had several suicide attempts, the last one was March of 2014. It was a Sunday, I went to church that day, and I still felt dead and purposeless inside, just so depressed. I didn’t get it.
“Then, November of my senior year, I was sent to a treatment center in Utah called Elevations. That was two years ago. It changed my life. November 18th was the day before I was sent home and the day before that, November 17th, was the last time I had self-harmed. So I’ve been clean from self-harm for over two years now. I know, it’s crazy.
“Last year was my one year anniversary of being clean of self-harm. The day of, I was feeling so happy and grateful for everything that had happened, how I’m alive. I never thought I’d live to graduate high school. I never even took my ACT. In my head, I was thinking I would never make it to college; I’d be dead before then. I know that’s morbid, but that’s what I was thinking. But on my one year anniversary of being self-harm free, I got this tattoo. The lotus flower is the only flower that can grow in mud. In muddy and filthy ground that other flowers can’t grow in, the lotus flower can.”
“I’ve had a whole lot of shit in my past, I’ve had a lot go on. But in all of that dark stuff, you can find goodness. I’m a stronger person for everything I’ve been through. My life is a lot easier to handle, and I’m a lot happier now, so that’s how I view the lotus flower. I still have my scars, but instead of looking down and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I regret that so much,’ I remember that this is how I became who I am, and I don’t need to be ashamed. I don’t know, I really, really like that one.
“When I went to Elevations, I started to care for myself. I had my Bible with me so sometimes I would sit and read it. I had really mixed experiences with it. Sometimes I felt at peace, other times I was terrified. It just freaked me out. I knew that there was something, though. I started going to NA, Narcotics Anonymous, and they’re all about a higher power and being open-minded about it all. I didn’t have a narcotic problem but I had a self-harm problem and addiction runs in my family. I had just come home from treatment so I needed to stay clean from everything. I was in that program for like one and a half years or so.
“There was this convention in Panama City that I went to with my NA sponsor and her other sponsee. NA is all about finding a higher power, something that’s greater than yourself to give you purpose and show you that you’re not alone, that there’s something out there that’s controlling things and you can trust it because it loves you. My sponsor found her higher power in the ocean and she had this huge spiritual experience with it. She wanted us all to get matching tattoos to bond us, and she wanted us to get a wave. It was really cool in the moment, I don’t regret it but it’s not something that I’m in love with because I don’t talk to that sponsor anymore and I don’t go to NA anymore. But I get a lot of compliments on it, I think it looks really good and it’s helping cover up my self-harm scars, so I don’t regret it or anything, it’s just not my favorite tattoo.”
Check back to hear the second half of Holland’s story.
Thanks to Andrew Nelson for photographing.