Just 25, Lanae Hale embodies confidence, poise, and creative prowess. She just released her national debut, Back & Forth, to critical appeal (drawing comparisons to Sixpence None the Richer, The Cranberries, and Nichole Nordeman), and was recently selected as a "Discovery Download" on iTunes. But things haven't always been so good for Hale. Not long ago, she struggled extensively with cutting (self-mutilation), while also dabbling in alcohol and over-the-counter sedatives. Hale spoke candidly with us about her tumultuous teens and early twenties—and why she decided to come forward about this often taboo topic.

You're being billed as a pop star with substance. What's that all about?

Lanae Hale: I've been writing for about ten years. I grew up in a family full of musicians. My dad's a singer/songwriter who's been in bands, my mom's a singer and my brother's a musician. I don't know what it was, but I picked up a guitar, taught myself how to play, and started writing. God just started putting things in my life since I was 15, and I always wanted to write about real things—raw, genuine emotions people go through—and that just built over the years.

Lanae Hale

Lanae Hale

You seem so confident and driven, but you struggle with self-esteem. When did that begin?

Hale: The summer before my senior year of high school. What's so weird is I grew up hearing about God's love and I got saved when I was young, but I struggled with self-confidence. For whatever reason, I didn't understand why God loved me, and I felt like I was a failure. I had always heard about God's love and grace, but could never wrap my mind around the concept of how he could love someone like me.

Why did you feel so unloved?

Hale: I didn't feel like I was worth much. I was never good enough at things, never felt pretty enough, and was real hard on myself. I could believe that the Lord died for you and your loved ones, but he could not love someone like me for whatever reason. That's hard when you're a Christian, because working to be loved just gets tiring. In high school, I was dating a guy and at 17, he gave me a diamond ring as a promise to be married some day. I thought I had my life mapped out and that I'd get married out of high school, but it wasn't right deep inside. I was young and naïve, and it wasn't a godly relationship. It ended and was very painful, just solidifying all my insecurities. So there I was walking through my senior year of high school down a dark road of depression. I was just full of guilt and self-condemning voices, which is what led me to cutting.

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How did that start?

Hale: I was just tired of life and I knew I could die if I cut my wrist deep enough. So I went for the most visible vein I could find and started digging into my wrist [with] a metal angel figurine I had in my room. I took the wing because it was pointed and it was the first thing I used. From there, I used thumbtacks, glass, then an X-Acto knife, and then straight up serrated kitchen knives.

Little did I know Satan had his foot in the door and it brought this adrenaline rush, so I could compartmentalize my emotions and didn't have to deal with them any more. From then on, anytime there were emotions or feelings I didn't like, I would cut it away.

How did you move from using a pointy figurine to a knife?

Hale: It was disgusting, but the more you hate yourself, the more you want to use what will make the most damage. Like any addiction, it keeps growing. It starts small, then becomes ugly. For me, it would be the start of a three-year addiction. But throughout the whole experience, I loved God and wanted to do right. It started small, but then I had kitchen knives in the car beside me and by my bed.

I was never an alcoholic or a party girl, but I dabbled a little. And I also wanted to sleep the day away. It never got out of control, but after class, I would take half a bottle of NyQuil to sleep the day away.

Were you trying to kill yourself?

Hale: In the back of my mind, I kind of wanted to die, but I had fears of going to hell if [I killed myself] and I was really confused. I was depressed enough where I wanted to, but I would still pray all the time, and deep down, I wanted to live a good life and get better, so I never carried it through.

Did your parents ever notice?

Hale: By that point I was in college and living on my own.

Did your friends ever question all these knives you had laying around?

Hale: They didn't see them. You hide that stuff!

What if you got caught? Did you ever fear you'd be accused of trying to hurt someone, especially because you were technically carrying a concealed weapon?

Hale: It's a weird way to live. I used to always think, What if I was pulled over and they saw the knife and it had blood on it?What if they saw the DNA on it was mine? It was an awkward and weird way to live my life, and I found myself lying all the time. "Oh I got scratched by my cat." I can't tell you how many times I said that.

And people bought it?

Hale: Yeah, because on the outside I had it together enough. I really loved the Lord and wanted to do good, but underneath all that was a huge battle in my life. I didn't want people to know 'cause they'd think I was crazy and that I didn't love God. When I went to college, I started leading worship, but my life got so bad behind the scenes, I actually stepped down from my position. I wanted to do right and please God, but at that point, I just couldn't keep up leading worship and then leading this double life, so I stepped down.

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What was the turning point that led you to the road of recovery?

Hale: It was my second year college and I just hit rock bottom. There were several things God used in my life, starting with my family, recognizing things were not okay. They were concerned, and that's when I remember thinking this is actually out of control.

Once she hit rock bottom, Hale saw the light

Once she hit rock bottom, Hale saw the light

What did rock bottom look like?

Hale: I had gone the deepest I ever had with my cutting, and I remember covering myself with a really bloody rag. I was in my apartment and I dumped a bottle of Ibuprofen pills in my hand and started popping 'em, but there always was this deeper part of me that wouldn't let me take my life and I stopped after only a few. I believe God implants that in every human soul. I remember reading Psalm 147:3 about God healing the brokenhearted and binding up our wounds. I heard it growing up, but it really hit me at that desperate, rock bottom place in my life.

How did you break out of the cutting cycle?

Hale: It's hard to quit any addiction cold turkey. First, I had to get rid of the knives and figure out a different way to deal with emotions. I'd gone three months without cutting [after I took the pills], but then I relapsed. Normally when I cut myself [in the past], the voices of failure would fill my mind, but for first time there was silence. I felt God pick me up and say, "Okay, let's do it again." For years I heard awful, ugly voices, but that was the first time God taught me what grace means, and that he was there every step of the way on the road to healing. I just sat on the floor [after that relapse] and everything was silent. I felt so safe and loved.

How long has it been since you last cut?

Hale: Four years ago.

Are you still tempted?

Hale: Oh yeah, and there are definitely times when those voices come back because that's how Satan works. Satan always has something he can use as leverage, and it's a constant battle. Before I gave my feelings of failure and depression over to the Lord, it was out of control. Now I may struggle with those thoughts, but it's not as much as it used to be.

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How are you able to resist?

Hale: When those voices come back, you feel so weak, but it gets a whole lot easier as time goes on. I used to struggle way more, but now it's once in a blue moon. I find it's best to have a game plan, which for me is do something productive that allows me to clear my mind so my emotions don't go wild. Depending [on how bad the temptations are], I find myself going for a walk to relax, taking a drive in the car with music going, or praying with my husband, who's my best friend and accountability partner. 

Are your struggles with self-esteem over?

Hale: No, I definitely have bad days, though not nearly as bad. Now I'm able to recognize these attacks as lies and strive to move on. A lot of times I'll talk to my husband or close girlfriends, who also keep me accountable. If I've learned anything from the past, it would be that when you start putting things in the light, Satan can't hide anymore. If you're having a bad day, speak it out and let it die. That's definitely what God's teaching me these days.

You've never shared this story before now. What made you decide to go public?

Hale: At first I thought, There's no way I'm going to air my dirty laundry. But I cannot tell you how gross I felt after every show when I didn't share it. It was almost like God was saying, "Listen, I have brought you through this so you could share with others that there's light at the end of the tunnel." And I've felt called to share it and have found so many people finding comfort in the fact someone else has walked through those dark places, and that they're not crazy. They find [through my story] that there is hope.

Why is cutting such a taboo topic in church circles?

Hale: Cutting is one of those issues you don't like to talk about because you feel weird about it. But so many people come up and thank me because my story has given them hope. It's hard to talk about, but through my sharing, maybe someone who is struggling with this or any issue of self-esteem will be able to identify with it.

What signs should a parent look for that their child might have a problem?

Hale: Probably depression would be the first step, like if their kids shell up and get real introverted. And obviously if they see cuts or burns, then they know there's an issue. I think it starts with depression, or at least that's how it started with me.

How would you encourage anyone struggling with self-esteem to prevent it from getting that far?

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Hale: Don't give up no matter what people say or what you think about yourself. The truth is you really matter to Jesus. A lot of it is seeking out the truth, which you can do by reading his Word and finding that God really does love you; that's how you can fight those lies off. And make sure you go to whoever you can trust to get you the proper help. It's great to talk to friends, but you have to talk with an adult who can get you the help you need, like a Christian counselor or a recovery facility. Talk to a parent, a youth pastor, or an adult you can really trust.

What do you hope to accomplish in your music and ministry?

Hale: I hope people can listen and go, "Yeah, me too." I hope they can identify with the songs, because otherwise what's the point? I want people to somehow be blessed or take something positive away from it.