Thursday, January 12, 2017

More Worth Fighting For (In Loving Memory of Emily Schaeffer)

e m i l y s c h a e f f e r

 I will never forget the first day I met you...
I was returning from a near week long home visit.
You had arrived soon after I left. I was wearing my flower crown all happy, sunshiney, and with this hopeful disposition when I was told we got a new girl named Emily. I turned the corner and ran straight into you. 
I know many Emilys but none like you.
You and I were complete opposites.
I was glad to be back and keep moving forward...
You had just arrived and wanted nothing more than to leave...
Your face looked just like the picture above. Beautiful. Bold. Intense. Angry. Lost&Searching.
Truth be told, you scared me a little bit at first [which sounds ridiculous and humorous now].
You were hard while I was soft.
I was this 26 year old Mormon (LDS) girl who has never said the "F" word (which never failed to amaze & amuse her!)
She was a 19 year old girl from Willington, Delaware and her favorite--Philly. She swore like a sailor.
Em was in treatment for addiction.
I was there for suicide (a post is coming soon that is about that experience).
The last thing I'd ever thought we'd become is friends.
I'm overwhelmingly happy that I was wrong.

 Your gorgeous self, Natalia, me, and Krystal.
11/11/16. The last time I ever saw you in person.
I remember hugging you and not wanting to let go.
Had I known this was the last time I'd ever see you, I would never have let go. I can almost smell the perfume you were wearing.
That's not how hindsight works though.

 You always talked about how you hated girls and were never friends with them.
Then we all became the best of friends and that changed. You realized not all girls are there to tear you down. Some build you up and empower you if you open up and let them in. You changed our lives as much as we changed yours.

 The infamous watermelon story will always bring a smile to my face.
You never failed to entertain everyone. You were the life of the party, always making people laugh and trying to take away their pain (while hiding from your own anguish and turmoil).

 I love this picture.
I don't know how old you were (or should I say young).
I wish I could've known this girl, this Emily, this you. Before the disease of addiction had taken over. 

My friends and family shipped me more food/treats that I couldn't have ever ate alone. I decided to be sweet--literally and figuratively-- and share with everyone. Haha (: 

 I wish I could see the copies of the pictures I gave you this day.
You loved my Polaroid camera. I took a picture of you and the bird. We took pictures together. I wonder where they are now...

 My favorite picture of us.

I wonder where Emily put all of the affirmations and notes that I wrote and gave to her...
I wonder if she ever read them for fun or for encouragement on a day she was struggling.
I wonder if she treasured them as much as I did.
I wonder if mine helped her as much as hers help[ed] me.
One day, you cut up a bunch of quotes for every single girl.
You chose quotes that described us. For those who can't read this picture Emily gave me the following quote:

"If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely."
-Roald Dahl

Followed by this note from Em: "Charley this was definitely written about you. Love you gorgeous."

I can't get over how seriously great you were.

 Your love for others was loud and fantastic too, Em.

 This is the last letter you ever gave to me and it breaks my heart to read it now.

E M I L Y 
I don't even know where to begin when this still doesn't feel real.
Maybe it's because you acted so invincible that I saw you as invincible. 
Maybe it's because I've been blessed until now and never have lost anyone close to me to death.
Maybe it's because we think things like...
D E A T H.

O V E R D O S E.

S U I C I D E.
don't happen to us.

But they do.
It's an epidemic.
 There needs to be less of a stigma attached to depression and mental health... especially for people actively getting help. I vow to do what I can to spread awareness and make it so people see "depression" like they do "diabetes" or anything other "normal" medical condition. 
I am a writer... yet all words fail me. 
You wrote to me that: "Sometimes it makes me sad thinking about why you're here."
I could say the same thing to her.
It's a struggle to think of a world without you. 
I want you to be alive. 
To be out of pain. 
To rise above adversity. 
To let go of the pain of the past you carried like a scarlet letter and embrace a blank-canvas-future that could be anything you wanted it to be.
To understand that big or small, every decision we make has an impact on ourselves, others, and the future.
To from the top of your pretty head to the blood that pumps through your heart to your toes that not only were you enough, you were more than enough.
To see that you deserved better than you chose to settle for at times.
To comprehend that you are a princess even if the whole world doesn't know it. You're a princess even if you don't like in a fairy tale or wear ballroom gowns. You are a princess because you are you. You were a princess Emily and that will never change. (All girls are).
To not feel pressured to be perfect (because it's not possible--no one is) and accept that you are imperfectly perfect.
To experience unconditional love from others and, most importantly, from yourself
To accept yourself--flaws and all. 
To bask in happiness and not drown in sadness. 
I know you're in a better place...
it just sucks (for lack of a better word) that you aren't with us, that we are without you.
I am relieved you don't have to suffer anymore. 
I will see you again.

Emily said to me that I showed her there is "So much more worth fighting for."
It saddens me that she lost the fight.
 I hope the world knows that she went down swinging and giving life all she had the best she knew how.
I didn't know Em as long as most of you. I consider it a blessing that God put her into my life at all. It was an honor to be her friend.
The one example that touched my heart when it came to Emily and how she cared about others was this:
There were some girls going around saying disrespectful, offensive, and hurtful things about her religion (Jewish) and mine (Mormon). They weren't specifically targeting us. It had nothing to do with us. However, Emily wouldn't tolerate the intolerant. She held a meeting discussing how she had relatives who died in concentration camps and Auschwitz back in WWII. Then she surprised me by mentioning how my religion, the temples we hold sacred and worship in, and the values I followed as I lived my life were not funny and not to be made fun of [even if it was a joke]. The respect that Emily showed me that day, standing up for my religious freedom and right to believe and practice what I choose, took my breath away. 
I have experienced and witnessed first hand--through family, friends, and associates--the way addiction changes a person entirely. It's like a cancer that takes over and spreads more and more until it becomes you. Addiction makes you selfish. There is no "you" or "we" or "us" in addiction, but you can't spell addiction without "i" (two of them!). That's the ultimate tragedy. It slowly but surely steals the person you loved until all that remains is a shell of their former self. All the words, all the treatment, all the help, all the sleepless nights, all the prayers, all the wishes, all the work, all the time, all the interventions, all the changes, all of the people all around it.
The hardest, seemingly unbearable truth is that you cannot change anyone but yourself. You don't hate the addict; you hate the addiction. How easy is it to confuse the two? To get so worked up, frustrated, sick of it that you can't separate them?
My greatest hope is that people can see that while Emily succumbed to the disease of addiction (and it isn't something to be taken lightly or ignored or brushed under the rug), she isn't defined by it--at least not to me. Emily was more than addiction. She was a girl with a huge heart who didn't realize that no matter how hard and fast she tried to hide, you can't run from yourself, your mistakes, your choices (or should I say consequences), or your problems.
Despite all of our differences, Emily and I build this friendship and mutual respect for each other in treatment. The details and differences didn't matter though. It was the struggles and trials that we had in common. The universal language of pain and suffering. We were both fluent in our own ways, not immune to the darkness of the world. We both wanted happiness, light, hope, and a reason to go on in spite of it all. It took me literally dying (via suicide attempt by gun) and being brought back to life to realize I truly wanted to live. I have hope that cannot be extinguished. I don't believe Emily ever found that hope and sense of purpose, sadly. At least not in this life... 
While she was a very angry girl in the thick of the disease of addiction. I know she had light in her. I saw it and felt it. She may have lost the battle, but she went fighting and searching. I told her if she could overcome this, she could overcome and conquer anything. I told her she could be the first female president if she wanted to. I meant it. She had a gift for speaking, story telling, and making everyone around her feel important. She would've change the world for the better. She did mine. 

t h e last thing she s a i d to me
"Charley, You are a huge inspiration for me to get clean and get better. I have so much respect and love for you. You are so strong and so easy to love. Never stop fighting. You. Deserve. Life."

I promise to never stop fighting, Em.
I love you.
Till we meet again.

In honor of Emily, I'm posting this letter. I hope addicts who are in active addiction will take a minute to read it. It's powerful.

"We are all worthy of happiness, no matter how much we've destroyed ourselves."

"You're not a bad person for the ways you tried to kill your sadness."

"Rather than simply passing through trials, we must allow trials to pass through us in ways that sanctify us."

"I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and the willingness to remain vulnerable."
-Anne Morrow Lindbergh

"For Blue Skies" -Strays Don't Sleep
How's your halo?
Before all of this.
What did I miss?
I can't get used to it.
I'll never get used to it.
Could I have saved you?
What you couldn't do I will.
I'll forgive you.
These two songs remind me of her.

"Hear You Me"-Jimmy Eat World
May angels lead you in.
Hear you me, my friends.
On sleepless roads the sleepless go.
May angels lead you in.
"Unable are the loved to die. For love is immortality."
-Emily Dickinson

"Grief is the natural by-product of love. One cannot selflessly love another person and not grieve at her suffering or eventual death. The only way to avoid the grief would be to not experience the love; and it is love that gives life its richness and meaning."

"Thomas Edison's last words were 'It's very beautiful over there.' I don't know where there is, but I believe it's somewhere. I hope it's beautiful."
-Looking for Alaska by John Green

"Endings are not our destiny. The more we learn about the gospel of Jesus Christ, the more we realize that endings here are not endings at all."
-Dieter F. Uchtdorf

"Sometimes it's okay if the only thing you did today was breathe."

"There is never a perfect answer in this messy, emotional world. Perfection is beyond the reach of humankind, beyond the reach of magic. In every shining moment of happiness is that drop of poison: the knowledge that pain will come again. Be honest to those you love, show your pain. To suffer is as human as to breathe."
-Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

"There are two ways you can go with pain. You can let it destroy you or you can use it as fuel to drive you. To make you better."

Those of us who know [knew] Emily know that she probably wouldn't want to be referred to as an angel or anything too girly... Princess and Duchess were okay but that's it. This is, after all, the girl who said her favorite color was, in her own words, "Black. Like my soul." I always laughed at the sarcasm in her voice when she said that. All the talk of Emily being an angel now got me thinking to a time at the beginning of September when she referred to me as "an actual angel". She went on about how I kept her up at night sometimes whenever I walked down the halls because I have such a "bright, angelic, glowing aura around you everywhere you go". As I reflect on that conversation, I realize Emily had that same light inside of her all along. She just hid it deep down. I caught glimpses of it when she let her guard down (which was rare). I like to think of her being able to step out of the darkness and into the light not of the sun, or the stars, or the moon, but the brightness inside of her. 
I think she is shinning brilliantly now for us and herself whether it be a soft, warm glow in our hearts or the infinite stars in the night sky.
Emily didn't want a million admirers, she just wanted one: Sarah. 
 And she got it.
Sarah was the best thing to happen to Emily since I've known the two of them.
 Maybe she wasn't loved widely, but she was loved deeply. And isn't that more than most of us get?

I love you gorgeous.

This song is for Em's family & friends (especially Sarah)
"Fix You"-Coldplay