YOLO

I’ve wanted a tattoo for a quite a few years. Every time I planned to get one, I ended up not following through because I couldn’t settle on what to get. I wanted a Phoenix, because if it’s significance in rising from the ashes. But it would have to be a reasonably sized tattoo, and I wasn’t sure I could handle something that intricate on my first go.

I thought about getting a butterfly. Once again, for its significance and relation to growth. But butterfly tattoos had gained popularity, and I didn’t want the meaning to get lost in the hype. But I always wanted something to symbolize my freedom.

Then when I got sick, I was told tattoos were a no go. Too much risk of infection, I assume. So I didn’t think about it for awhile, until the other day. I filled out a short get-to-know-you thing out of boredom. One of the questions asked about tattoos, and I wrote no. When my friend saw it, she said we should go and get my tattoo. Admittedly, we were both overly tired and I was not in the best frame of mind. But when I thought about it the next day, I really wanted to do it.

I’ve had to avoid so many things in my life. Can’t get vaccines anymore because my body isn’t strong enough to fight them. Can’t eat high-risk foods, like raw vegetables, because any contamination can make me sick. Can’t be around anyone who may be sick.

But what’s the point if I still get sick anyway? I can’t live in a bubble. I can’t avoid everything that will hurt me. So why deprive myself of something I wanted just because it might make me sick?

Just a day before, I had gone to a buffet — Golden Corral to be exact. They don’t have those where I’m from, so I was a little excited when I saw one here. Buffets are not good for me — not only because of the higher risk of contamination, but because most of the foods there aren’t good for my GI Isaura. But I said fuck it, I want to go. And we did. And I suffered for it, as I expected. But even through the discomfort and pain, there was a sense of joy in doing something I wanted.

So I took another risk. Today, I got my first tattoo. It wasn’t anything ornate or fancy. I didn’t want to take too much of a risk.

I couldn’t think of a more meaningful tattoo. The date I ran away, and birds of freedom. It’s a constant reminder for me, in those times when I do want to give up, to remember how far I’ve come from where I was.

Guard down, guard up

Sometimes, I let my guard down.

Then, I am quickly reminded of why I shouldn’t.

It’s a complicated thing. The fear of trusting anyone, yet the seemingly innate pull to open up to someone. The desire to be alone, yet the need to be in contact with others. The want for a family, even when family has continually been nothing but toxic.

I made a mistake. I should have seen it coming; looking back, I don’t know why I even put myself in that position. But it’s that seemingly continuous push and pull of two opposing wants that seem to lead to these mistakes.

It was the right timing. I was vulnerable. I had just left to go across the county. I left everything and everyone behind. I was disconnected, not only physically, but emotionally as well. And I wanted so much to reconnect to something or to someone.

And I did. I got a friend request on Facebook from a distant cousin — my mother’s niece. Years ago, I would have immediately deleted it. In fact, I may have even had her and others blocked. But over time, I let my guard down. I let my fear dissipate. But, given the circumstances, I felt okay enough to accept her request. After all, I was nowhere near her or my mother physically. After all, this was someone who hadn’t seen me since I was 14 years old. After all, this was someone who my mother avoided having any physical contact with, someone who my mother spoke ill of (along with her sister and others in her own family). So how much of a danger could it have been? I added her.

I soon learned that was a bad decision. In response to my last blog, she posted several comments, all of which focused on how I was loved and cared for, how I chose to leave the home where I was loved and cared for, how my mother loved her children and wouldn’t ever molest them…you get the gist. I did, too, because I heard it before. Almost word-for-word, in fact. Because they were my mother’s words, her defensive speech. We’ve all heard it before.

I was trying not to engage, but I eventually gave in and defended the truth. I reminded her that she was barely in our lives, how the last time she saw me was when I was 14, and that she really couldn’t have had any realistic idea of what was going on. I told her that I could connect her with people who witnessed the reality first hand — not just of the physical environment we lived in, but of my mother’s inappropriate words and actions. I suggested she be open to hearing both sides, as it seemed she was taking my mother’s word for truth without taking any initiative to find out what existed outside of my mother’s words.

But my words to her didn’t get very far, because when I woke up the next morning, her comments were deleted and so was she.

I had a tiny bit of hope that a friendship could have existed before all of this happened, that I could be connected to a part of my family, even if it was just in this small way.

I’m not that hurt over it. I got over it quickly. I think what stuck out to me the most was just how gullible people could be, how easily they could drink my mother’s Kool-aid and believe everything she says just because she says it. I’m fortunate enough that many people didn’t fall for her lies. I just wish that more of those people were family.

I find the timing interesting. Adding me as a friend a week before my freedom anniversary. Waiting until that very moment to let it out. I highly doubt it was all just a coincidence. But it doesn’t even matter. My lesson has been learned.

In her last comment, my cousin talked about how my mother was sick and suffering.

Good. I’m not going to lie. Good.

And that’s even if she is really sick, because I really don’t think anyone is close enough to her to truly know.

But, I will not feel bad about my anger or my grief. She is in her 60s. She got to live. I am 32 and can barely make it a month without a stay in the hospital, dealing with health issues that people my age (or anyone really) shouldn’t have to deal with. I’m not going to feel bad for being angry at her. I’m not going to feel bad for hating her. And I’m not going to feel bad for not caring about her, because she sure as hell never cared about me.

Shelter

I am exhausted. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. Possibly the most exhausted I have ever been.

Social services found me a bed at a homeless shelter today. It’s a temporary shelter — 30 day max stay. It’s on the other side of the county, in an area I don’t really know. But it’s a bed. There wasn’t much else they could do. I don’t qualify for any assistance because I am in the small percentage of people that fall within all the loopholes of disqualifications.

I’m trying to pick up the pieces. I’m trying to catch up with all the school work I got behind in when I was hospitalized. I’m trying to figure out if I’ll ever find a stable place to live. I’m trying to figure out how I’ll pay my bills.

I hadn’t cried until today. I’ve been pretending to be strong, when inside I’ve been a mess. It finally came out when I was sitting at social services and they told me I would be going to a shelter. It finally sunk in that I was homeless and alone.

It’s really hard to see the positive in anything in times of crisis. I could totally see myself having a complete meltdown. I could see myself giving up entirely.

But I have so much support. Friends, some I’ve met and some I’ve only known online, have continued to be supportive throughout these last a several days. Phone calls and emails have helped me get through the day. People have donated money to help me with transportation and food costs. And their messages of hope and gratitude for how I’ve helped them brought me to tears.

To those that have donated and help me in any way, I am incredibly grateful. You have given me hope.

I’ve always been the person who helps everyone. It’s hard for me to be the person in need. It’s hard for me to focus on myself and not caretake for others. When I first came here to the shelter, I donated half of my clothes. Because even in the chaos of my own happenstance, I felt that I had to give back in some way.

I don’t really know what’s going to happen anymore. But all I can do is hope that this experience has some kind of deeper meaning that I just can’t see right now.

Writing about PTSD

I haven’t had much energy to write as many posts as I want to. I want to be able to get out all the shit that’s been in my head. There’s a lot going on, and a lot that will be going on in the next few weeks, as I reach 1,000 days of freedom in April.

A few weeks ago, I was offered an opportunity to writer for the APTSDA, the American PTSD Association. While I still write about DID for HealthyPlace, writing about PTSD is different, and I figure it is an opportunity to reach a different group of people.

My first piece published yesterday. It can be found on aptsda.org, or directly through this link: The Flashbacks You Can’t See.

It’s not much. I write so much that sometimes I’m not really sure what to write about, and I get tied up in the thought that maybe my experiences aren’t the “right” ones. Yet the more I write, the more I read from others that they have experienced the same.

I will update with more soon. Hopefully.

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.