“There’s a lot of things that she should have learned as a child and didn’t, but she’s learning them now.”
It’s so hard for people to understand, and I don’t necessarily blame them. They don’t understand why I have trouble communicating, why I am so scared to go out places, why I freak out when I have to use the phone. I’m an adult. I should be able to do these things. What they don’t understand is how much I missed learning and experiencing for the first 29 years of my life.
Even after I ran away, my experiences of life were skewed. I was in an environment that really wasn’t the best for me. I told myself it was okay because it was better than where I came from, but the truth is that being in that environment held me back. I was no longer a prisoner of my mother’s home, but for multiple reasons, I became a prisoner in my own room. The ways of life I was experiencing were not the ways I thought a normal life would be. But I didn’t know any better at the time. All I had to go by was the word of those close to me, and those were not the best people to learn life from.
I lost hope for a bit when my mother found me, shortly after my 500 days of freedom. I believed that was going to be it for me. Those next few months were the hardest. I questioned whether it was all worth it. No family, dwindling friendships, increasing debt — I was living on leftover scraps and cheap rice from the dollar store, functioning on little to no sleep because the place where I was living was no longer safe for me. But I had no other options. I was too ashamed to ask for help, too ashamed to ask for food, too ashamed to tell people just how bad my life had become. I learned to tolerate life, just like I learned to tolerate the life I had before I ran away.
What I didn’t learn, up until a few months ago, was how to live. All this time, the only thing I was learning was how to tolerate things I shouldn’t have had to tolerate. That was not life. That was not living.
But everything is different now. For the first time in my life, I am in a safe environment. I don’t have to lock and barricade any doors. I don’t have to worry about who is in my home. I no longer sleep with a knife under my pillow. I no longer go to bed with three layers of clothing on, because I no longer live with the fear that my mother is going to come and hurt me in my sleep. She doesn’t know where I am, and if there ever comes a time when she does find out (because I don’t believe for one second that she won’t try to find me again), there’s nothing she can do to hurt me. I am protected — by people, by three big dogs, and by my own (still growing) strength.
I have people who genuinely care about me. They are helping me learn what life really is, what normal is. And I still struggle with things. I don’t always eat like I should, or know what to say in social situations, or how to act when I’m out and about. But I am learning, with their help.
And even in the few months that I’ve been here, I have improved so much. I used to avoid the grocery store because it gave me anxiety. Now I look forward to going every Sunday. I used to have meltdowns whenever I’d end up in loud places. Now I go out to eat in noisy restaurants and manage the anxiety with the help of people who support me. I used to hide food in my room because people would take it from me. Now I don’t have to do that at all, because I know that food will always be available to me.
I’m learning how to make choices, although I admit that I still need to work on that. I try to navigate through healthy and unhealthy relationships. I try to make decisions regarding my medical issues. I even try to pick out foods I like, which is something I never got to experience before. And it’s not always easy. I still have times when I get too overwhelmed, when I need to ask for help. And now there are people there to help me do that.
I go outside so much. Sometimes it’s to play with the dogs. Sometimes to just sit outside to read, or to watch the fireflies, or to look at the flowers. Some nights, I still sit outside and look up the stars; it reminds me that I am free. It’s something I could never do before. And it still amazes me.
I never knew what life really was up until a few months ago. I never imagined things would be this way. From the outside, you would think my life would be in turmoil. I’ve been out of work. I’ve been bombarded with some serious health issues. I’ve bounced from place to place just trying to stay out of the shelter, losing a decent amount of my possessions along the way. I’ve lost a few thousand dollars I can never get back.
But I’ve learned that life isn’t about having money and things. It isn’t about how long you have to live. It’s about the people you have in your life. It’s about how you choose to spend the time you are alive. I may or may not have a long life ahead of me, and these people may not be my biological family, but that doesn’t matter to me.
I am learning to live the life that was meant for me, not the life my mother chose for me.