Fired (Up)

I came home Monday afternoon expecting to enjoy the rest of the day — the anniversary of my freedom.

I checked the mail and saw a letter from my employer. I opened it. There was a piece of paper with my name and information on it, with directions for filing for unemployment, with a permanent separation date of June 6th.

I never quit my job. I wanted to go back as soon as I could. I never wanted to be out in the first place. When I passed out at work that day, the manager told me I would not be able to come back until I had medical clearance in writing. I told her it was going to take me awhile to get it, and she said that was okay — that my health was first priority. And I have been trying ever since to get a note, but because of my history of heart issues and fainting, no one wanted to take on the liability and told me I needed to see my cardiologist.

So I planned to wait until my next appointment, which was then cancelled because my cardiologist decided to leave the practice on short notice. I rescheduled with my original cardiologist, but the earliest appointment I could get was July 11th. Fine. I figured everything was okay because my manager told me to take all the time I needed.

When I got that letter, I didn’t understand what happened. No one contacted me before this. No letter, no phone call, no e-mail, nothing. As far as I knew, everything was still okay. I had no idea I was going to be let go. I never lost a job before — not like this.

It was hard enough for me to leave the job I had for nearly two years, the job I got just weeks after running away. But that was a choice I made in order to have a better, safer life — and a place to live. I was in control.

But this was not in my control. This was not a choice to leave. This was being fired. Through the mail. On the day I was supposed to be celebrating my freedom.

I tried to suppress my emotions, I tried to push it in the back of my mind, to try to think about it another day. But that didn’t work out so well, because I ended up in tears. I was angry, frustrated, and upset. What did I do wrong? I didn’t abandon my job. I was good at it. I performed well even in the few weeks that I was there. And I did everything I could to try to get back, and I was still trying. But it wasn’t enough.

I felt like a failure. I can’t keep a job. I can’t even keep myself upright. How am I supposed to get another job? How am I going to pay my bills? No one wants to hire someone who was fired, and surely no one wants to hire someone who passes out frequently. Not disabled enough for disability, but not able enough to work. It’s occupational entrapment.

I managed to stop crying for a little while, but any chance of enjoying the rest of the day was gone. I made it through dinner, but then I felt the same emotions coming back. I went outside. I wanted to badly to run away, to take my cigarettes and smoke my feelings into numbness.

And it took everything in me not to do that, because I knew it wasn’t going to solve anything. I knew it was going to affect other people, and affect me. So I sat with my emotions and a bottle of beer. I let myself cry. I let myself be angry.

Then I looked up at the sky. I watched the fireflies fly. I watched the neighbor’s dog waddle through his yard. I looked around me. Peaceful. Quiet. Freedom. For 29 years, the only way I could watch the sky was through my bedroom window. But that wasn’t my life anymore. This was my life. Full of feelings and losses, but also full of fresh air, fireflies, and the freedom to see life from the outside, instead of inside my window.

I was still upset, still angry, but it no longer overwhelmed me. I came back inside. I sat on the couch and watched TV. I ended up falling asleep there, with one dog sleeping behind my head and another sleeping right at my side. And I couldn’t imagine life any other way. Safety, a family, friends, a home, dogs, and freedom.

I’ll figure out the rest, somehow, some way.

Two Years of Freedom, Part 3: Growing

There are many aspects of growth. It’s really complex when you think about it. Just because something grows, doesn’t mean it’s thriving. There’s growth in surviving, too. But it’s a different kind of growth. It’s not full. It’s not healthy. It’s growth that never reaches its full potential.

I’ve thought a lot about growth. When I think about the first 29 years of my life, I know I grew. Physically, emotionally. But that growth was stunted by the environment I was in. I was in survival mode. I grew in ways I had to in order to stay alive. But that didn’t make me healthy. That didn’t make it all right.

And then I think about where I am now. Two years of freedom; two years of tremendous growth. I wrote a commendable thesis, graduated college, established my support organization, started grad school, became a notable writer, co-wrote a book, and even started work on a second. It’s no longer about surviving. Now it’s about thriving.

But even that tremendous growth could not have occurred without the darkness I experienced before it. The losses I experienced, the grief and the pain, they were part of my growth, too. They were sitting underneath the roots of my existence this whole time. It just took the right environment for the real growth to take place. It took light to overcome the darkness.

When I first thought of burning those cards and letters, my initial plan was to bury the ashes in the yard. But as I thought about it more, I found it to be too dismissive. Even though I let go, those feelings and those experiences were still a part of who I became.

So I saved the ashes, and I spread them across the bottom of a planter. Then I added in some dirt. And then I placed the stones of what I’ve lost on top. They were the stones I have been holding on to for almost a year now: Family, mother, father, self, support, love, purpose, and hope. These were the losses I experienced in childhood, the losses I was still experiencing even after I ran away.


I no longer needed to carry those stones with me. In a way, I was letting go of them. But I was also acknowledging what has come from them. I lost my family, but I’ve been making a new one along the way. I lost my mother, but that loss has pushed me to help others. I lost my father, but that loss has driven me to take better care so I don’t end up like him. I lost my self, but I am working to find myself again. I lost support in more ways than one, but somehow that loss sent me to where I am today, surrounded by supportive people. I lost love in the sense that I never got to experience it before, but now I have — through those people who continue to support me. I lost my purpose because I believed for so long that I had no purpose. But I have found my purpose in using my experiences to help others. I lost hope a very long time ago, as a child who grew up believing that there was no way out of the pain but to die. But I now know what life can be; I know that I don’t have to die. All of these losses created me. They led to my growth.

And now they are supporting a new growth, because above the eight stones, I planted eight peace lilies.

I chose that plant specifically, because in many ways it was symbolic of my life and growth. Peace lilies can survive with very little water and very little light. But darkness slows its growth. It doesn’t grow as fully and beautifully in the darkness as it does in the light. It survives in the darkness, but thrives in the light. Just like me.

The peace lily is also a symbol of grief, of innocence and rebirth. And in many ways, my freedom has been a rebirth. What lies in the dirt below the seeds, my losses, the ashes of my pain, they are what came before me. They are what led me to my new life. Parts now unseen, hidden below, but nonetheless affecting.

I no longer carry those cards, those letters, those gravestones, or those stones with me. They are all part of the base in the growth of beautiful new flowers, just as they are all part of the growth of me.

My peace lilies are growing in the light now, just like me.

Two Years of Freedom, Part 2: Learning to Live

“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.

Two Years of Freedom, Part 1: Letting Go

I hold on to things. I become attached.

I think it has a lot to do with having nothing. When I ran away, I took whatever clothes and shoes could fit in my bag, my computer, and a few small things, and left everything else behind.

And I lived on very little for those first couple of months. The only furniture I had was the bed my roommate let me borrow. I wore the same pair of shoes. I cycled through the same sets of clothes. I cooked and ate out of the same plastic container. And every night by 9 o’clock, I laid in the darkness, because I didn’t even own a light.

Then slowly, I started to settle in. I started to buy things. One of the first things I bought for myself was a mug from the Disney Store. It was from the movie Inside Out, my favorite movie to this day. And I used that mug every day, because it was the only thing I owned to drink out of. But that was okay. It was mine.

And I held on to that mug. Even as I found myself bouncing from place to place, that mug came with me. It was as important as anything else. I could have easily just brought another mug along the way, but it wouldn’t have been the same. I formed an attachment. To me, that mug was a sign of my freedom. The first thing that was really mine.

Then a few weeks ago, I set my mug on the table as I had every morning. I was preparing my breakfast, and accidentally dropped the spoon. Even though it was only a two foot drop at most, the spoon hit the mug in such a way that it shattered the handle right off. I wanted to cry. I couldn’t repair it. A part of me wanted to. A part of me believed that throwing that mug away somehow meant throwing away so much more.

But I faced reality. It was just a mug. There were dozens more in the cabinet I could use whenever I needed. Why keep something that no longer served its purpose? I had to let go. I reminded myself it’s useless now and I threw it away. And I was okay.

In doing that, I thought about the other things I carry with me, the things that weigh me down, the things that no longer have a purpose.

I carry a folder with me wherever I go. It has my medical documents in there in case of emergency. It also has notes from therapy to help me if I ever needed reminders.

It also had the cards I’ve written to my family. The cards to my mother. The card to my father. The card to my brother. The letter my mother wrote to me. And the gravestone posters she mailed to my address.

I’ve been holding on to these things for so long. Those cards will never be sent. I wrote what was in my heart and let it out into the world, and that was that. My mother’s letter was just four pages of lies and denial. And the gravestones she sent me were not the stones that I deserved. But for some reason I attached a meaning to them. A meaning I didn’t need.

I needed to let them all go. So today, three days away from two years of freedom, I took the cards, the letter, and the gravestones and let them go.

I remembered the things my mother believed. Bad things have to burn. So they will. I burned every card, the letter, and the gravestones, piece by piece.

The card to my father went first. He’s gone now, he will surely never read my words. Then I burned the card to my brother. That one wasn’t as easy. I had to tell myself that I did what I could for him. I hope one day he knows what it’s like to be free, but I can no longer carry that burden on me.

Then came the cards to my mother. A lost cause, because even though she knows my words, she will never hear them for their truth.

Then I burned the letter she wrote to me. I didn’t even read it over. It didn’t matter. As I put each piece in the fire, it burned within seconds. Just like that, it was gone. Everything turned into indiscernible ashes.


I saved the gravestones for last. I debated whether or not I should keep them, but I realized they had no purpose for me. They never did. My mother could wish me dead all she wants. She can send me all the death threats she wants. She could even kill me. But she can never hurt me any more than she already has. The gravestones weren’t burning well, so I tore them up into tiny pieces and mixed them into the ashes.

I no longer carry these things with me. I no longer hope for the day my father becomes a father, because he is dead. I no longer carry the burden of saving my brother, because I know that he is not my responsibility. I no longer hold onto my mother’s words, because her words were never the truth. And I no longer hold onto the stones my mother thinks I deserve, because I no longer believe that I should die just for finding my freedom.

It’s been almost two years now. I had to let go.

Disconnection

It’s difficult. The seemingly simultaneous wish to be alone and with someone at the same time. It doesn’t make sense.

I am lonely. And that’s dangerous. Because I have a tendency to make choices that aren’t always the best.

I miss people back home. It’s been so difficult to maintain relationships with people I no longer see face-to-face. For nearly two years now, I’ve been gone. It was okay in the beginning. Friends still called, still sent texts. A couple of people even traveled to come and see me.

But it’s not like that now. No one calls anymore. No one visits. I barely get text messages, and most of the time, it’s me making the effort to message first. Sometimes I don’t even get an answer. Sometimes I get frustrated by the people who do answer, and I ask myself why I keep reaching out when it only ends in frustration and pain. But I still keep reaching out, because I don’t have anyone else.

It’s just frustrating, because I feel like it’s me that always has to put in the effort. If someone back home wants to see me, it’s expected that I be the one to go up there. I don’t even know where to start on the multiple ways that is difficult for me. It’s a huge risk for me to even be in the vicinity of my mother. Since her veiled death threats, I have never been back. I don’t know what she is capable of, and I don’t know who is still on her side.

Not to mention I don’t even drive. It takes hours just to get there. It costs money I don’t have.

But I still wanted so badly to go back. I wanted to see the people I knew as my friends for so long. I wasn’t thinking about the risks. I just wanted to go. And I was going to go. Until those closest to me reminded me that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea. For one reason, safety. I can’t guarantee that someone won’t see me and immediately contact my mother to tell her I’m in the area. And for another reason, my emotional state. Just being in those familiar places is enough to induce panic, and if something did happen, I’m not sure I am in the best place to handle it. And it’s not fair to the others around me to have to deal with the aftermath that it might bring.

So I told my friend I wouldn’t be able to make it up there. I told him that collectively, we didn’t think it was a good idea. Before I even responded with an explanation, he asked if it was because of my heart. Oh, right. That. An issue that never even crossed my mind. I forget that I’m sick sometimes. It’s been okay because I rarely stray from home. Even when I am alone, I can pass out safely on the carpet and get up and go about my day. And even when I do leave the house, I am with people who know me, who literally catch me before I fall. I won’t have that there. If I passed out in that neighborhood, I’d be lucky if no one stole the shoes off my feet.

But instead of feeling better, his acknowledgement only fueled my anger. You know it’s not safe for me there. You know what my mother sent to me. And you know I’m not really healthy. And yet it’s still on me. I need to make the effort. I need to put all of the work in. I need to make the moves.

I’m tired of putting in all of the effort for people who don’t put in any effort for me. It hurts. I realize that our lives are not the same anymore. I realize that I was the one that moved away. But I had to make that choice to save myself.

I’m not asking for much. A birthday card, a Christmas card, a visit once or twice a year. Something. But I end up with nothing. Nothing but disappointment. Nothing but complete disconnection. Nothing but anger when I see the times that people are just a short drive away from me, and yet they never visit.

It’s isolating. It feels like I am the one who’s done wrong.

But I can’t give these relationships up. I can’t tell my friend I can’t go through with all of it anymore. I can’t make that last severance with my remaining family. I just can’t do it. But I am the one that suffers. I’m the one that constantly gets hurt. I am the one that still feels disconnected.

I wish I could say I can move on. In my mind, I know these relationships aren’t what they used to be. They aren’t good anymore. But my heart doesn’t get that message. My heart longs for the connection we used to have, the connection that just doesn’t exist anymore, and likely never will.

I know I can replace friendships in my new life here. I made friends at work, but now that I’m gone it’s not the same anymore. I acknowledge the awkwardness of the situation,  that it probably pushes them away more than it would in normal circumstances. It sucks, but I had to choose a place to live and a safer life over the job I loved, which also happened to be the only place where I fit in.

I’m not like other people my age. I have trouble relating to them. I’m not a parent, I’m not married, and I don’t have a career. I don’t go out. I don’t like most things. I avoid most women like the plague because I am scared of them.

I’m also a 31 year-old with the body of a senior citizen and the soul of a child. It’s hard to meet people who understand that, and who accept that is who I am and who I will be.

I know I have people here that care about me. I know I can connect with them. But it’s still not the same. I still miss those pieces of my old life. I still miss my family. Those are people who can’t be replaced.

Freedom in Death

One year ago today, my father passed away.

I prepared to grieve. I prepared to be an absolute emotional mess. But I wasn’t.

I cried this morning. I’m not even sure exactly why. But my immediate reaction was to push all of my feelings down. I wanted to run. I wanted to escape myself for a little while. But I knew it wasn’t healthy. I knew I would end up sitting on a corner somewhere, smoking until my lungs gave out and my emotions were dead. My usual go-to form of self-destruction and emotional numbing as of late.

But then where would that put me? I try to be the exact opposite of my parents. Nothing like my mother, nothing like my father. It’s been difficult enough struggling with my heart issue, trying to remind myself that my being sick doesn’t make me like him. But he was also a person who suppressed his emotions, until they came out in the worst ways. The same thing I’ve done, the same thing I’ve been doing. While it might be in a different form, it is nonetheless what he would do, and how he would be. I have just been repeating the cycle.

I froze for a bit, unsure of myself, unsure of what to do. As much as I didn’t want to feel, I also didn’t want to be overwhelmed with emotions. So I baked. As a distraction. And it worked. The urge to bury my feelings was gone. The urge to self-destruct was gone. But the grief was still there.

Grief is complicated in general. I think it’s even more complicated when you’ve gone through trauma, when you have different parts. I have to be understanding that some parts of me know my father differently than I do. Some hate him. Some have experienced pain because of him. And some love him, because they knew him as daddy. They don’t know who he was as a person; they only know the experiences they had of him, the memories they hold of him. Just like people on the outside that knew him, knew him only as they saw him. I can’t take that away from them. I can’t just dismiss their grief, because they are grieving someone different.

It’s easier for me to consider other people’s grief before my own. I never told my grandmother the truth about her son. It would serve no purpose; it would only cause pain.

But it’s so much harder for me to accept the parts of me that grieve for the man I don’t want to grieve for, to love the person that I hate, to feel sad about someone I feel such strong anger for. To take that away from them would be dismissing and invalidating them, much in the same way my father did to me.

So I let them grieve. I let myself feel however I needed to feel in each moment that passed through the day.

I remembered how he felt when he got sick. I remembered his pain, his wanting to give up and just die. I remembered how much he suffered in the end. It was in those times that I related to him the most, because I knew what it felt like to be in so much pain that you wanted your life to end. I understood him.

It’s a bit ironic that my father died on Independence Day. He gained his freedom; freedom from pain, freedom from suffering, freedom from a life he didn’t want to live.

And in his death, I also gained freedom. The fear of him, the worry about his health, the guilt I felt for leaving him behind, they all died when he died.

High School

My high school shut down permanently the other day. I knew it was coming. It was a Catholic high school in the midst of severe financial misappropriation and scandal. Nothing could have saved it, despite the efforts of alumni donating money to keep the school open.

I didn’t donate anything. Mostly because I was poor, but also because I had such mixed emotions about that high school. As much as it was an outlet for me, a safe place for 8 or so hours a day, it was also another institution, another group of people who seriously missed the mark in getting me help.

I have nothing left from high school. No yearbooks. No memorabilia. Nothing but distant memories and bottled up emotions. I can count on my hands the number of people from that I still talk to from there, and that is only thanks to connecting with them through Facebook (oddly enough, most of them I reconnected with last year when they announced our school was in crisis).

There’s a lot of high school I don’t remember. I know that’s common with dissociation. I know it was a time of transition for me, and not just the typical adolescent transitions. High school was the start of my health problems. It was the start of a life in and out of emergency rooms and hospital beds.

It was also the time when the abuse I was experiencing became more physical and psychological. My mother could no longer overpower me enough to sexually abuse me as regularly as she had been, so she changed her ways. And it wasn’t any better or any easier. In many ways, it was worse. It was a change for me, and one I didn’t know how to cope with.

I turned to drugs and alcohol, because I knew no other way to cope beyond the ways I was already coping. And no one suspected a thing, because I was still functioning, I was still getting As. But I was drowning my feelings in alcohol, forgetting about life with every line of coke I snorted, popping any pill I could get my hands on because I didn’t care. I wanted out of the pain. I wanted out of my life.

I didn’t understand why no one helped me. There were many efforts, both mine and those of my teachers, but they all ended up in failure. I remember my health teacher pulling me aside after class one day. She knew something was wrong. It was the day after my mother had taken all of my clothes, threw them in garbage bags, and tossed them away, because I had no longer deserved them. I’m not even sure what I did or didn’t do to deem myself unworthy. I’m not sure I ever knew. But I ended up breaking down and telling my teacher what happened. She asked questions I couldn’t answer, questions I was trained not to answer honestly. I hesitated, and she knew something wasn’t right.

It didn’t matter, though. She went to the head guidance counselor, who questioned me and ending up calling my mother, who of course would never admit to anything that made her look at all bad, and it was all deemed a misunderstanding. But that was my fault. I could have spoken up. I could have told them both what else was happening, and I didn’t. I stayed silent. I stayed voiceless.

But my actions continued to speak; my actions screamed out loud something’s not right here. All the times I ended up in my guidance counselor’s office breaking down in tears, but unable to tell them why. The bursts of anger I had taken out on other classmates, both verbally and physically. The bruises, the unexplained wounds, the self-inflicted injuries, all getting worse, all getting (for the most part) ignored.

And I say for the most part because there was action. It was just the wrong kind of action. Any attempt I made to tell my counselor how I felt was met with a call to my parents, even after I begged, through tears, for them not to call. They didn’t understand why I was so desperate for them not to call. They didn’t understand that each phone call led to another beating, another punishment, another break to my heart. But I couldn’t tell them the real reason I didn’t want them to call. So whose fault was it?

I blamed myself for the longest time. If I had just spoken up. If I had just done more than cry, and push people, and bury everything down with shit I should have never been doing, maybe they would have noticed.

But they did notice something, enough to tell my parents I needed outside help immediately. But that was it. No calls to CPS. No further investigations. Why? Because private school tuition pays for silence. If they cause a commotion, they lose their money. I didn’t realize it at the time, but as I got older, I met more people with similar experiences. Obvious child abuse, but no action taken by private schools. Because money buys silence.

And that’s what angers me. I know times have changed. I know schools have started to take more action. But what we know now is not any different from what we knew then. Abuse doesn’t just happen in poor families; abuse happens in all kinds of families. It’s just easier to cover up when you have money and hide under the guise of the Lord.

I’m not sad to see my high school shut down. The corruption that was uncovered wasn’t new, it was just bad actions in a different form. It needed to be closed.

What I am sad about is the loss of those four years of my life, the let down I experienced, the screams left unheard, the questions left unanswered.

And the fact that I will never know how my life could have been different if someone had just spoken up for me, if someone had just listened to the truth in my silence.