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Tough Issues, Tender Hearts

You’ve seen her. You may know her. You might even be her — the Christian girl who seems to have it all together but is silently struggling with a deep, dark and destructive secret. This girl totally loves God. Serves others. Makes decent grades. Has good friends. Most people look at her and think, Hey, what could be wrong?

Well, most people would be surprised.

At least ZOEgirl was. We recently talked with Alisa, Kristin and Chrissy about their album, Room to Breathe, and how the Lord has been giving them opportunities to build relationships and get real with teen girls. “On tour, we got to meet a lot of girls at concerts but could really only shake hands and then go our separate ways,” Chrissy remembers. “We didn’t get to spend much time with them.”

That is until ZOEgirl started going on missions trips with Brio. “That’s when we were really able to get to know the girls who listen to our music,” Alisa says. “As team leaders on these trips, so many girls opened up to us and shared with us some pretty heavy things they were going through — things like secret drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, depression and, most alarming, self-mutilation or cutting — things you’d never dream girls like these, who have strong, living and active relationships with Christ, would struggle with. That was a total eye-opener.”

The Heart of the Matter
These conversations not only opened the three ladies’ eyes to the truth that many godly girls are hurting and purposely involved in self-destructive behavior, but it also inspired the way ZOEgirl wrote for their albums from that point on. Room to Breathe is a great example of this with songs that go deeper to the heart of real struggles and issues, such as “Scream.”

“Cutting is something I couldn’t understand at first,” Alisa admits. “I prayed for the longest time and talked to people who struggled, because I really wanted to know the motivation for something like this. I’ve just started to share this publicly, but I’ve struggled a lot in my life with depression. I received Jesus when I was 5 and have lived a passionate life for Him. But the one thing that would always come on me was this heavy depression, so that at times I couldn’t get out of my bed.”

“About a year ago, I was having a really bad day. But instead of turning inward with self-destructive behavior such as raiding the fridge or becoming reclusive, I thought I’d just pour out my heart in a song. I knew so many girls who had cut themselves that I soon began to sing and think specifically about a few of them. I prayed that God would give me something for these girls.”

The song “Scream” is Alisa’s heartfelt response to all that the Lord began to reveal to her about the serious issue of cutting. “What I learned is that we all have deep, dark stuff we don’t know how to deal with, like abuse, neglect, divorce — anything we may have gone through that causes so much pain. Sometimes we’re afraid to bring up these feelings to the church because we think we should have it all together. So, for some people, these struggles get pushed inward. More and more young people are using cutting as a way to self-medicate or distract themselves from the enormous pain, guilt and shame they face.”

In her book A Bright Red Scream, journalist Marilee Strong reveals that approximately 2 million Americans are believed to cut themselves. She writes, “Cutters are often very sensitive, very creative. They are often perfectionists, people who put high demands on themselves. [They’ll use] anything sharp — to turn their ulterior emotional pain into something undeniably physical.” But why? If a young girl is already hurting, why would she inflict more pain on herself? Some cutters say they experience a form of release from overwhelming emotions. An escape. Cutting allows them to pinpoint the pain into something manageable and gives them the feeling of being in control of uncontrollable emotions. But really, cutting is a cry for help — a way of saying, Please see me, please hear me.

ZOEgirl gets it. The lyrics to “Scream” reveal the troubled thoughts of someone in the depths of this struggle:

Do I have to scream for you to hear me?
Do I have to bleed for you to see me?
‘Cause I grieve, you’re not listening to me
Do I need to scream?

Sadly, any form of release or relief from cutting is only temporary. The good news is, there is hope, and ZOEgirl gets that, too, and offers it in the song. “Reminding these girls that God sees and cares is what the song ‘Scream’ is all about,” Chrissy says. “We believe the only way to bring healing to this area is to help a person understand that Jesus bled so you don’t have to. He called out to God in agony so you don’t have to. He asked, ‘My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ so that none of us will ever have to ask that question.”

One drop of blood from the hole in Your hand
Is enough to heal me and make me stand.

Sharing in Struggles
What kind of response is the band is getting from the song? “It’s amazing,” Kristin says. “I look out at the audience and I can almost see a transformation in people. You can see it in their eyes as Alisa sings, and you know God is working. People constantly come up to us after [a concert] and say ‘Thank you so much for addressing that and sharing your struggle with depression.’ We even had a girl who told us she was struggling with some things and was thinking about cutting. I feel like the song was an intervention for her and hopefully it stopped her before she even started.”

Whether a person is struggling with cutting or any other self-destructive issue, everyone experiences hurt. In this way, all who listen can relate to the hope ZOEgirl sings about, because just as the song says, you don’t need to scream for God to hear you. He is listening.

God listened to Alisa’s prayers to help her through depression. “It was weird that I was singing about my depression and what came out was a song about cutting,” Alisa reflects. “In the middle of the process of writing the song, I felt like a supernatural thing happened when God gave me a shot of hope so I could step toward my healing. A year has gone by, and I feel like I’m a different person now. When those feelings come, I feel like I can deal with them better. With the love and support of my husband, I’ve gone through a lot of counseling this year and have gotten a lot of help. God is healing me through music, a vehicle that can break down walls in people’s lives and touch them right where they are.”

And that’s ZOEgirl’s prayer for the song “Scream,” that God will use it to raise awareness within the church that girls who love the Lord are hurting — and are hurting themselves. So often, we forget about the forgiveness Christ has offered us, and we try to take over the payment for our shame and guilt. Sometimes that translates into punishing ourselves with self-destructive behavior, whether that is overeating, under-eating, abusing alcohol or drugs, having sex before marriage . . . and even cutting.

If you have a dark secret, know that you’re not alone. Talk with a trusted adult. Yes, it may be hard to bring up such an issue over breakfast with your parents. (“Um, Mom, by the way, I’ve been cutting my legs with a razor blade. Please pass the sugar.”) But it’s critical to start talking –– immediately. And if you know of a friend who is struggling with a dark, destructive secret, this is not a secret any friend should keep. You can find healing through Jesus Christ. Many people who love God struggle with self-destructive behaviors. An important step toward healing is confessing your need to God and seeking His help and healing.

Help for TODAY
Until you get professional help, here are nine on-the-spot exercises experts suggest you do when you feel the urge to cut:

1. Talk to someone — ideally your parents or a youth leader you trust.

2. Breathe deeply.

3. Pray for healing and read Scripture. (The Psalms are a great choice.)

4. Picture yourself in a calm, beautiful place such as a beach.

5. Distract yourself by listening to music, (ZOEgirl!) watching a movie, going for a walk, etc.

6. Write your feelings in a journal.

7. Squeeze ice cubes in your hands until the urge to cut or hurt goes away.

8. Take a bath. This may temporarily relieve your temptation to cut.

9. Hit or scream into a pillow.

If you’re a teen who self-mutilates, get help now. The problem is not likely to go away by itself. You have deep issues that need professional attention. Sometimes therapy alone will help, sometimes medication is prescribed, and sometimes hospitalization is necessary. Call: (800) DONTCUT (366-8288) sponsored by S.A.F.E. (Self-Abuse Finally Ends) Alternatives or call (800)-A-FAMILY (232-6459) to speak to a counselor.

This referral does not necessarily imply a complete endorsement. Though we try to avoid recommending ministries or organizations whose views and approach do not accord with our Christian principles, it is not always possible to ensure complete agreement in outlook, especially when the need to be met or the service to be rendered is very specific or technical in nature.

Web site references do not constitute blanket endorsement or complete agreement by Focus on the Family with information or resources offered at or through those sites.

This article appeared in Brio & Beyond magazine. Copyright © December 2005 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

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