My name is Adriana Howard. I’m twenty-seven years old with a husband of five years, and I am a recovering self-saboteur. This may or may not be the time when you all respond with, “Hi, Adriana,” and I nod back awkwardly as I try to avoid your eyes. However, as we are currently interacting with another over a blog post, we’ll skip over the pleasantries and dive into the good stuff. Sabotage is deliberate damage or destruction of a thing so that it doesn’t work properly. Self-sabotage is when we do that to ourselves.
I have spent a good portion of my adult life hindering myself from cultivating authentic relationships with other women. And while I may not have always been conscious of my efforts, they were certainly intentional. I did a marvelous job of convincing myself that I was fine without other women in my life to depend on, or women who cared enough to depend on me, that I hardly noticed how much I needed them.
But it wasn’t until last year that I really began to see and suffer the consequences of my behavior. I didn’t feel the confines of the hole I had dug myself into until I was faced with things like hurts and fears and years old secrets with no one to tell them to. And it wasn’t easy to come to this realization. It’d be more fun to wear a shirt that says “I Must Be a Freak” on it. At least then, I would have a new shirt.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I have friends, family, a handsome genius for a husband. Above everything, I have my Jesus. He is immeasurably good to me though my heart is quick to wander. But even with His abounding love and kindness, there was this void in me that wasn’t being filled. I’m not saying there are holes in me that God can’t fix. But I do think that there are holes that God allows because His plans for me include being vulnerable with others. He’s a good Father in that way — leaving me to my hurts so that I might learn and run towards the things He has for me.
Unfortunately, I tend to run away from — not towards — things that make me uncomfortable. And sadly, meaningful, vulnerable, weather-the-storms kind of relationships with women make me uncomfortable.
Over this past few years, I feel like God and I have been on a journey together. I’ve rediscovered beautiful truths about Him. He is my generous father. He is my gracious friend. I’ve relearned what His voice sounds like when He speaks promise to my heart. But I’ve also discovered truths about myself that I wasn’t in a rush to confront. The truths were these: I don’t know how to trust. I don’t think that I’m enough. I’m terrified of being forgotten. And the more that I thought about these things, the more I realized how deep the dirty waters ran.
The Seeds and Scars of Childhood
I grew up the oldest child of three. Independence and leadership qualities have always been natural components of my make-up. I’m sure that is a truth shared by many oldest siblings. But as a result of my family’s situation, I’ve not only been the big sister — I was the adult in the family well before my time. Sin and substance abuse has plagued my family for a long time, and while God has delivered us through some very trying times, we carried a lot of scars.
My siblings and I have been left by both of our parents at one point or another, and although God did a big restorative work in my mom and dad, there were seeds in mistrust sown in my heart. For a long time afterwards, every relationship — familial, romantic, platonic, whatever — looked like a risk to me. In my limited understanding, if my parents could so easily dismiss me, then surely others would too, and that was especially true where other women were concerned.
Then I got married. And I wasn’t the big sister anymore. Instead, I went from being the responsible, mature, swoop-in-and-save-the-day big sister to being stuck somewhere in the middle. And the only thing worse than being stuck in the middle is being stuck in the middle of two sisters-in-law who, coincidentally, were also the oldest siblings in their households. They were also swoop-in-and-save-the-day kind of women. But they were also beautiful, talented, and more outgoing than I was. And as hard as I tried to muddle through friendships with them, I couldn’t force authenticity, and I couldn’t fake my affections. And if they saw how broken and strange I was, they would surely run away.
God Begins to Make Me New
I was unwilling to be vulnerable. I didn’t know how to trust them. I felt unbelievable pressure to conform to aspects of them. I wasn’t as settled or as typically feminine as they were, so my knee-jerk reaction was to feel inadequate. I didn’t dress like they did, or think like they did. I wasn’t charming like they were. I so wanted to be liked by them, but I had no idea how to connect. From there came whispers of lies in the dark. I was easy to forget. I was easy to overlook. Simply put, I was afraid because all of those things had happened before.
I had been forgotten, overlooked, left behind. When I began to really pursue the Lord, friends moved on. When more exciting relationships came along, friends left me in the waiting place. In some ways, I’m still waiting. I said that sabotage meant to deliberately damage a thing to the point that it wouldn’t work correctly. Without realizing it, I had sabotaged my chances for friendships that had the potential to be beautiful, and I did so to the point that I wasn’t working correctly anymore. And from my vantage point, trusting others had proven more to me about the ugliness in people than it had the good in them. And I couldn’t trust my heart with ugly people — especially not when I was just as ugly as they were.
But the ugliness in my heart went much deeper than I suspected, and when the realization that I kept God at strict arm’s lengths hit me, I was undone. As He worked to surgically extract chunks of darkness from within me, it became more and more apparent that my issues with faith and trust and vulnerability weren’t just with people. I had kept God at bay by allowing Him the safest minimal access to me. And there I was — cut open, nerves exposed, no clue how to scream for help. But in a way that is His alone, God took extraordinary measures to speak to me a truth that screamed above the lies I had succumbed to.
Are you ready for it? It’s a good one. In fact, it ruined me in all of the best ways.
Who I AM is of little importance when compared to who HE IS.
With that in mind, breaking down the walls that I had painstakingly constructed became a task worth chasing after. I wasn’t good enough for Him. I’m still not. For all of my pitiful efforts, I never will be. But the best parts of me are found in Him anyway, and because of that, while I am not enough, I do have something to offer — to Him and to others. I’m practicing vulnerability. I’m pursuing accountability.
More importantly, I’m putting away ridiculous notions that the only value that comes from friendships is what I get out of them, and I’m learning how to avail myself and serve. With that divine sense of worth renewed in me, it’s not only become easier to open up, but it’s become a joy as well. And as for my sisters-in-law, these days they are my sisters in every sense of the word. I’ve confided in them from deep places, and they have yet to turn and run.
Recently, I came across this verse, and it shook me, not because it was theologically deep, but because it was for me. I hope that it speaks to your soul as well: “Unless the Lord had been my help, My soul would soon have settled into silence.” (Psalm 94:17)
Had it not been for the Lord, I would have faded away into quiet nothing. But I am His, and so I am not overlooked. I have not been forgotten. And because the Lord is my shepherd, I am allowing vulnerability and trust to produce something whole within me. My name is Adriana Howard. I’m twenty seven years old with a husband of five years, and I am a recovering self-saboteur. Without the Lord, I would have settled into silence. And instead, I am being made new.