It all started with a simple act of love. The messy, inconvenient kind of love that doesn’t fit easily onto the stiff pink and red cardboard of a Valentine’s Day card, but rather the risk-taking, obstacle clearing, no man left behind kind of love for which we all secretly hunger. We spend our lives desperately looking for someone to demonstrate that kind of all out, no holds barred intensity towards us while overlooking the validity of the adage, “To make a friend, you have to be a friend.”
In 2006, Renee was living in Cocoa and caught in a no man’s land. She was trapped in addiction but the treatment center saw her visible wounds of self-injury and deemed her too great a risk. As Jamie Tworkowski , founder of To Write Love on Her Arms, writes on their website, www.twloha.com, “For the next five days, she is ours to love. We become her hospital and the possibility of healing fills our living room with life. It is unspoken and there are only a few of us, but we will be her church, the body of Christ coming alive to meet her needs, to write love on her arms.”
T-shirts for Sale
There is a literal cost to treatment and no one has the money to send Renee, so they print t-shirts and take them to nearby Orlando. Their sale and the interest generated from Jamie’s writing of Renee’s story will fund Renee’s recovery but it will also birth a movement. Bands grab hold of the story and the t-shirts, and soon MySpace and Facebook are flooded with stories – stories of people who feared that they were alone, broken beyond repair, so filled with self-loathing that there was no way back. People like Jessie.
Intersection with Hope
“I was at Cornerstone in Orlando when Jamie came on stage before (the band) Paramore and explained Renee’s story. I thought it was awesome and I ended up buying a shirt. I was still in the midst of my own journey (with self-injury). I didn’t really want to stop- I wasn’t really in the place to be fighting it. I don’t think people realize that self-injury is an addiction that kills you from the inside out. Behind the physical act and scars, there are emotional and spiritual scars,” shares Jessie.
Jessie’s story is not one that fits easily into “before” and “after” boxes.
“I had been cutting myself since I was 18 but it got worse in my early 20’s. It was a way for me to experience clarity, to control my circumstances and emotions. What I didn’t realize was that I hated myself. I would seldom cut my arms. Why would I do it where people could see and try to make me stop? For me, I would cut my waist so my shirt would cover it. Sometimes my children’s Life t-shirt would be hiding fresh scars.”
For Jessie, it was her student pastor, Erik Bennett, who is the one who cares enough and is willing to bear the abuse she heaps on him.
“I tried to annihilate Erik. I would try to scare him, to shock him. If you are trying to help someone who is caught in this addiction, you need to be ready for some continual beatdowns,” she adds.
First Goal- Two Weeks
“This subject is taboo within the church. I was on staff at a church and I remember finally starting to open up. A friend told me, ‘Just stop’. What she didn’t understand was that when I wanted to hurt myself and didn’t, I would go through a physical withdrawal. I would get nauseous, have panic attacks and not be able to sleep. I would try to stop but the longest I could go was two weeks and then I would cut again. Then it (the time between) became three weeks and then a month. I realized that if I fall and fail, I’m not all the way back at the beginning. I just need to get myself back up and try again.”
The interplay of MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and blogs with the power of music to communicate has been an integral part of the success of TWLOHA. National and international exposure has allowed tens of thousands of people to help and to seek help. After a number of people sought out Erik’s help, he established the site www.GraceWounds.org to connect those who self-injure with skilled and compassionate help. Recently Jessie has become one of the contributors.
“Reading a blog entry or listening to a song over and over again can keep you feeling connected to the outside world. To someone who is feeling isolated and misunderstood, even by people in the church, it can keep you from feeling alone. I think that I’m a girl who has always been drawn to destruction but since I found God, I know that there is a better way,” she shares. “It blows my mind that God can use my story to help other people. If you are struggling with this, you are not the only one but you are going to need to get connected to a pastor, counselor or trusted friend to find your way out.”
Writing Love on Her Arms
Although Jessie’s scars aren’t on her wrists, she still bears the marks of her journey on her arms. A tattoo in Greek encircles her left wrist.
On the top line, it is the Greek word for daughter and below that the word for, “I destroy.”
“It exemplifies the way I used to live and who I am now. I was always drawn to unhealthy relationships – now it’s evidence that I am resting in how God sees me. It’s a reminder that God loves me just as I am right now and who I will be five minutes from now,” she adds.
To Write Love On Her Arms was recently voted “Must-Follow Non Profit” at the 4th Annual Mashable Awards in Las Vegas. Over a million people are part of the TWLOHA Facebook page with national and international media attention, music tours and writing projects all bringing light to the crisis and help to those in danger of disappearing into the darkness.