Teapots are funny things, don’t you think? They can be made out of a lot of different things, but I think the most interesting material that teapots are made out of is clay. Many Chinese and Japanese teapots are made out of clay, and the tea made inside of them seasons, coats, and protects the teapot over time. In fact, the overflow of the tea onto the pot prevents the clay from drying out and cracking, thereby preventing it from becoming useless. In essence, the clay teapot must be used in order to survive. It must fulfill its purpose, or it will be unable to do anything at all.
This is a concept not unfamiliar to the typical Christian circles. We are made for a purpose: to serve the Lord and to serve others with the unique gifts we are given. If we ignore this purpose, we are good for nothing at all. The clay teapot analogy even fits nicely into the potter and clay metaphor present in Isaiah 64. Something that I think is often missing in the telling of this truth is the fact that this purpose, this service, comes out of an overflow of tea from inside the pot. Bear with me a moment…in order for the teapot to survive, the tea must be brewed inside and then poured over the outside of the pot. This covers the entire pot in tea, thus preventing it from drying out. Our service to the Lord and others must come from an overflow of His work within ourselves. If not, we will crumble. We will dry out. And we will be good for nothing at all.
It has taken me a long time to learn that I cannot preserve myself. I cannot force myself not to crack simply by serving others. I can’t pour everything out and expect to not dry up. In short, I have been making tea the wrong way for a year and a half. I want to share my story with you, dear reader. Not because I want you to feel bad for me. I want to share my story because I think it will be cathartic for me and because I hope that some part of it can resonate with you. Before I start, I want to warn you that this story is not a happy one. But, I am confident it will have a happy ending.
My story starts the way many do. I met a boy. Well, not quite a boy, but I refuse to call him a man. I started dating him in September of 2015. I was naive and believed everything he told me, even though I now know that the majority of it was lies. He was a master manipulator, a pathological liar, and my boyfriend. The first time he raped me was in January, 2016. By then, I was trapped in the cage of deceit he had been meticulously building around me for the past four months. I saw no way out, and I was in denial about the truth of what was happening to me. Until March of that year, this person continued to violate my trust and my body frequently. Convincing me that this was my fault, my sin, and my life indefinitely, he kept me under his thumb. In March, a few dear, trusted friends helped me see the truth of the situation and crushed the cage I was trapped in. I “dumped my boyfriend,” but I felt like I was escaping death. Good ending, right? Not quite yet. I still blamed myself completely for the events that happened over those seven months. I wholeheartedly believed that any sort of sex before marriage was sinful, and while God forgives with abandon, I had participated in something shameful. I didn’t yet use the term rape. I did not believe that it wasn’t my fault. My mind had built a picture of rape as an unconscious women behind dumpsters that went to the hospital, not the girl who stayed with the person who said he loved her. I started to see the actual truth over the summer of 2016, while in therapy, but I never gave myself the space I needed to believe the truth. I never let that truth pour over me.
Two weeks after I broke up with my abuser, my closest friend’s father passed away. There are no words to describe the pain and heartbreak this brought on her family. There are no words to describe the pain I felt for her as her world crashed down around her. I tried to do what I knew how to do: love. I poured myself into anything I could do for her. Make dinner, check. Clean up the house, check. Sit in quietness, check. Go out and do anything fun to think of anything else, check. Let me say this: I am so incredibly thankful for this friend, the way she loves me, and the ways God has allowed me to love her. I would not take back any of the things we did together over that time or the things we do together now. That said, I know that I was using this “pouring out” to avoid processing my own trauma.
I avoided processing my trauma in other ways as well. Work. School. Volunteering. Anything to get me out of my own head, I did. For a year and a half, I poured out without pouring over. For a year and a half, I made tea the wrong way. I poured out so much that I began cracking and crumbling. I blamed a lot of this on school. I was finishing my senior year. Making it to graduation. Getting into graduate school. Keeping my 4.0 GPA. Trying to be “good enough.” I blamed all my stress, all my cracks, on external sources. On May 4th, 2017, my teapot crumbled. I had my first panic attack. For three hours, I believed that I was still with my abuser. I believed he could find me and hurt me again. I believed I was in danger.
I think there’s a lot of minimization surrounding mental health and trauma. People use terms like “triggered” and “PTSD” as jokes. Because of the prevalence of this minimization, I think many victims of trauma begin to minimize their own experiences. I tried really hard to minimize the the trauma my abuser inflicted on me and the night of May 4th. Two (thankfully, less intense) panic attacks later, it has become impossible for me to believe anything other than the truth: what happened to me is not my fault; this cannot be minimized if I am to be healthy; I cannot preserve myself by only pouring out and ignoring my experiences; and I really need to learn how to make tea correctly.
I’m working on learning these truths now. I’m learning to pour out only after I have poured over. I am learning to ask for support.
And so, dear reader, would you make some tea with me?