Three Years of Freedom

My three year freedom anniversary was three days ago. I wish I could say that I celebrated it in some way, but I didn’t.

And that is not the normal for me. Ever since I ran away, I have celebrated every milestone — one year, 500 days, two years, 1,000 days. I’ve always done something symbolic, something meaningful to celebrate the day. The celebrations helped remind me of where I was, and where I came from. I know some people thought it was a bit much, but you never really understand just how important these days are unless you’ve escaped from hell. And I know many of you, unfortunately, can understand that.

But as my three year anniversary rolled around, I didn’t feel like there was anything to celebrate. Over the last few months, my life has fallen apart. I found myself homeless. And even though I found a bed in a shelter, that stay ended up damaging me even more. I wandered the streets. I slept on friends’ couches. And out of desperation, with no options left, I found myself on a bus traveling west to stay with someone I never actually met other than through online conversation.

How did I end up here? Why did I end up here? I still don’t understand what happened. I still don’t understand how, despite everything, I am ineligible for any type of assistance. If I was an alcoholic, or a drug addict, I could get help right away. In the midst of my desperation, I actually considered breaking my sobriety because I knew it was the only way I could get help. But why should I have to? It makes no sense.

I’m angry. And not just because I am homeless. Not just because my only option was to leave the state where I had everything, including my medical care, in place. I’m angry because I’m sick.

It’s not like being sick is anything new to me. I’ve been sick for awhile. But I think, in that time, there was a part of me that didn’t think it was a really big deal. Until I started getting really sick. Until that hospital stay back in May when everything took a turn for the serious. Pulmonologists, infectious disease specialists, doctors in and out of my hospital room telling me that I was very sick. This wasn’t just a cold. This wasn’t something that was going to go away. I must have answered a hundred questions as the doctors tried to figure out just how I ended up this way. It doesn’t make any sense, they’d say. Little did they know, nothing in my life has ever made much sense.

As much as I hate to admit it, I was (and still am) scared. A part of me wanted to run away from my medical problems. If I just left my doctors, left the hospital, that somehow my issues would just disappear. Until five days into my stay in another state, when I passed out at lunch and found myself at the hospital once again.

The hospital did chest x-rays just to be sure everything was okay and there was no pneumonia (as I had a massive thrush infection — completely unrelated to me passing out). The doctor walked into my room and I could see the confusion and concern on his face. There’s no pneumonia, so that’s the good news, but — before he could finish his sentence, I told him it was okay, that I knew I was sick. I realized I’m going to have to have this conversation every time I end up in the hospital. A consistent reminder that I’m sick, no matter how hard I try to pretend like I’m okay.

How is this fair? How is any of it fair? I fought so hard to get out alive and this is where I end up after three years. My mother is free. She is healthy. She doesn’t struggle.

And I am nowhere, sick and struggling.

All of the things I learned along the way have left me with nothing. The people that said they would support me have turned their backs on me. The system that says it helps those in need has left me stranded.

So what’s left to celebrate?

1,000 Days of Freedom, Part 5: Hopes

I decided to end with something a little different from what I had done before. I had acknowledged my past and my present, so I thought it was important that I also acknowledge what I hope for in my future.

I chose sand dollars to represent my future hopes. Sand dollars are hard to come by, but when you find one, they are said to bring you good luck. Some traditions also say sand dollars symbolize peace.

I chose six sand dollars, and wrote one hope I have one each one.

To become psychologically, physically, and financially stable.

It’s been a struggle to achieve stability in any aspect. Psychologically, I’m not the best. I spend way too much of my life in therapeutic settings. I can’t take most medications, and the ones I can take don’t seem to work. They’re always telling me it’s going to take a lot of time to get better; it’s going to take a lot of time to undo 29 years of programming. Those who know my story tell me I’m doing great considering what I’ve experienced. I could have died. I guess they are right.

Physically, I know I’m never going to be 100%. My health issues are not curable. Some will get progressively worse over time. I just want to be able to feel better, to gain whatever control I can have, if that’s even possible, over my illnesses. I want to be able to stand up and walk without people being afraid I’m going to drop.

I want to be able to live with more than $1 in my bank account. I want to be able to go out without having to sell something to pay for the bus. I don’t want to be a burden on others, even if they tell me I’m not. Whether it’s financial assistance or some kind of work, I just want to be more secure and stable.

To get justice for myself and others.

I still feel responsible for leaving people behind, for leaving my mother behind so she could hurt others. I know it’s not my fault, that her actions are not my responsibility. But I long for justice. I want my mother to be punished for what she has done, for all the crimes she has committed. I want that for me, and for the other people she has hurt. I know it’s difficult to go through a trial. I know a lot of therapists don’t recommend re-traumatizing yourself for the sake of justice. But I hope one day, I can be strong enough to go through it. And if I can’t, that I can find some other way to get even just a semblance of justice.

To know my purpose in life.

I never had a chance in my first 29 years to learn who I was, to gain any sense of what my purpose was in life. Even after I ran away, I spent so much time focusing on therapy and work that I really didn’t spend enough time trying to find myself. I thought my purpose was to be a therapist and help others like me, but after the incident with my grad school that led to my removal, I lost that sense of purpose.

Perhaps it’s not about how far I can get in my education. Perhaps I don’t even need a degree to do what I was meant to do. Maybe I am meant to be a writer. Maybe I am meant to speak out about abusers like my mother.

My therapist always asks me if I’ve built a skyscraper yet. He said in one of our first sessions that I am the type of person who has the intelligence and the drive to do amazing things; he said one day, I’m going to have my own skyscraper. I have no desire to do that, but I understand what he’s saying to me. I can do things. I just have to figure out where to start.

To help others like me.

I’ve already started to do this, I think. I put myself out there when I started writing professionally, and I’ve had so many people reach out and tell me how much my writing and my honesty has helped them. I know I haven’t done much with PAFPAC lately. It’s been difficult to manage everything I am doing by myself, tired and sick. I want to do more one day, but I need to work on myself first.

To know what it’s like to live without wanting to die.

I’ve been wanting to die since I was six years old. Not a day goes by that I don’t think, even for a moment, that dying would be so much easier than living. I’m chronically suicidal to the point that it’s become normal to me. The thoughts come up at any time; some triggered by events or trauma anniversaries, but some don’t even have a reason to be there.

It’s exhausting. It’s like I’ve been fighting a battle that will never end. I just want to live without those thoughts. I don’t want to have to worry about waiting for the urges to get stronger, because I know from experience they will get stronger. I want to live a day without the weight of that on my mind. Just one day.

To accept that I’ll never know or understand why.

I think this is the most difficult hope for me, and yet the most necessary. I’ve spent years trying to figure out why my mother did what she did. I’ve read every book on sociopaths and narcissists. I’ve studied psychology and neuroscience. I’ve shared with others who have had similar experiences and I still can’t come up with a reason why. I need something to blame; for some reason, blaming her hasn’t been enough. It’s keeping me stuck.

I’ll never be able to understand why I have this life. I’ll never understand why I had to endure things that no child, no person should ever have to endure. I’ll never be able to rationalize the pain and hurt I feel every day of my life. Sometimes, there aren’t reasons. Sometimes, we will never know why. I will never know why. And that’s okay.

I will be okay.

Don’t go looking for the reasons
Don’t go asking Jesus why
We’re not meant to know the answers
They belong to the by and by

–Chris Stapleton, Broken Halos

1,000 Days of Freedom, Part 1

It’s been one thousand days since I ran away, one thousand days since I found my freedom. And yes, as silly as it may be, I still count the days. It helps me on those days when I feel like giving up. It helps me see just how far I’ve come.

I hesitated even acknowledging today for what it was. For the last couple of months, I went back and forth on what to do. On one hand, acknowledging these milestones has helped me. It gives me something to look forward to. It also gives me a day to recognize things that I don’t take the time to really think about.

But there is also a tremendous amount of fear. When I celebrated my 500 days of freedom back in November 2016, I felt at peace with quite a few things I had been struggling with. I celebrated myself. I had a stone ceremony at the beach. I got rid of the false beliefs that were holding me down, acknowledged the things I came to learn since running away, and gave back the guilt and shame that were not mine to keep. It was a huge accomplishment for me. I felt okay.

And then days later, that all changed. I received something in the mail that I will never forget. I recognized the writing on the outside of the envelope — it was my mother’s handwriting. Inside was a poster with options to choose a gravestone. No note, just the poster with the gravestones. But I didn’t need a note from her to know what it all meant. My mother wanted me to die — that gravestone was the stone she believed I deserved.

The veiled death threats, combined with a letter she wrote and sent to me through an old friend, were enough to create an emotional clusterfuck in me. Any inkling of safety I thought I had was no longer. She knew where I lived, and I knew what she was capable of. It changed everything.

I knew her anger, or whatever it was, was clearly exacerbated by the celebration I had for my 500 days of freedom. It took a long time for me to recover from what she did, and to be perfectly honest, I’m still not over it.

So as it got closer to the 1,000 day mark, I wondered if it was worth it to acknowledge and celebrate it, fearing that what happened last time would in some way happen again. Up until a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t going to celebrate it at all. I just didn’t think I could emotionally handle any bullshit.

Then I realized that I was letting my mother win. I was missing out on an opportunity to better myself because of a fear she instilled in me, a fear that will be there regardless of what I do or don’t do. She doesn’t have that control over me anywhere. She can’t.

I worked through all the what-ifs with my therapist last week, setting up what we would do in case anything did happen. By then I was confident that I could have this day, that I deserved this day.

I went to the beach this morning, just as I had 500 days ago. There is a lot of meaning there. Not only is it where I ran away to, but it’s also where I tried to end my life when I was six years old, the first time I attempted suicide.

Now it’s the place where I drown the beliefs that no longer serve me, the lies my mother made me believe for way too long.

Rock Bottom, Part 1

I had managed for months to (very narrowly) avoid hospitalization. Despite the increasing suicideality, the treatment team trusted me enough to not put any of my plans into action. And I hadn’t, for those couple of months. I was honest with them, because as much as part of me wanted to die, there was another part of me that wanted even more to live.

But I wasn’t getting better. I was still an emotional clusterfuck from the abortion. My heart issues were adding to my hopelessness, and my heart medications were adding to my impulsiveness. I had no energy. I was coasting through the days on autopilot because that’s all I had it in me to do. I had no money to pay my bills. I had been living off cash advances from credit cards that were now maxed out. I reached out and asked for help — a last-ditch effort — and was turned down. It wasn’t being turned down that hurt me, but the reasons why, the denial. I should have expected it; I got the same response when I asked for help to get away from my mother. But I was desperate.

I had given up. What use was I to the world? Broke, unstable, unable to work, to contribute to the world. I was a burden. Living in my former boss’s house, eating her food, drinking her water. She had no obligation to me, yet there I was, being a burden, taking away from her family.

I was a burden to my therapist. Four months into an 8-week program and I was still in crisis. As much as she tried, she couldn’t help me. She couldn’t get through. And I couldn’t receive.

I sat in my desk that night, scribbling down on paper what I needed to say. I couldn’t quite get it all out. Everything I wrote down didn’t seem like enough. It needed to be enough. Because it was going to be the last thing I ever said.

I went into program the next day like nothing had happened. But I was withdrawn. My therapist knew something wasn’t right. I shut her down and told her everything was okay, but she still felt something was off. I couldn’t tell her she was right.

I couldn’t keep it inside very long. The next day, after some prodding, I disclosed what I had done. I knew I wasn’t going to promise my way out of it. My hopelessness had gone too far. It was too dangerous now. I was too much of a risk. I had to contract for safety that night, but I knew when I went back the next day, that there wasn’t going to be a contract.

An hour and a half into the day, and I saw my therapist come to the door. I knew it was for me. I knew what was coming.

I sat in the office, my therapist sitting at my side, my psychiatrist sitting across at his desk. I looked down and twiddled my thumbs, trying to avoid eye contact, trying not to see the look of concern on both of their faces. As soon as my psychiatrist uttered the word inpatient, I started to cry. I hated the hospital, just as much as I hated my life.

Maybe we need to consider ECT. Great. Electric shocks to your brain. That’s where my life has ended up. We had tried all the medications. We sat through all the therapy. And we ended up at ECT. A last resort.

My mind was all over the place. I had managed to stop crying long enough to look up and see that my psychiatrist had been crying as well. A man normally seemingly void of emotion. I’ve never cried for a patient before. I knew his feelings were real. I knew his concern was genuine. He wasn’t looking to punish me. He was trying to save me.

As my therapist was making calls and arranging for my medical transport, I waited with the nurse. I begged just to smoke one cigarette. I needed to calm down. I had to promise her I wouldn’t run away; and I didn’t. I had finally stopped crying. I felt okay, or at least as okay as I could be in the moment. I talked with the nurse. I told her about my DID diagnosis, and about some of my trauma history. She asked questions, and I answered honestly. I saw her facial expression change; I saw her sadness. My immediate urge was to apologize to her, yet here she was apologizing to me. You didn’t get to have a childhood. An unfortunate truth. A reality that may not have been had someone just helped me.

I sent a text to my friend to ask her if she could bring me clothes. She packed a bag with everything I needed. My favorite hoodie. My favorite pajamas. The softest t-shirts she could find. I cried when I told her what was going on. I was ashamed. I didn’t want her to be mad at me. I didn’t want to lose my home or my family. I didn’t want her to have to worry about me. I didn’t want anyone to worry.

A few hours later, the ambulance came to transport me. I hugged the therapist goodbye. Through tears, I told her I was sorry. She wiped my tears away, and assured me I had nothing to be sorry for. I hugged her again. She handed me a piece of my favorite chocolate for the road. I hugged my therapist. I saw the emotion in her face — I couldn’t tell if it was sadness or concern — but I was sorry for it. One last hug to the nurse and I was on my way, strapped to a transport bed, just like a sick person.

I Am Not My Brother’s Keeper

I sat in the chair right  next to the doctor’s desk. Head down, fidgeting with my nails as I waited for the doctor to start her evaluation.

She pulled up my file on her computer. She talked out loud, as if I wasn’t sitting right next to her desk, able to hear her.

Patient’s mother is a sociopath.

That was the first time I heard it out loud. I always knew it, and I knew other people knew it, too. But to hear it spoken like that shook me in a kind of way I can’t explain.

My mother, a sociopath. The leading sentence in my file, the history of me. It was in my record now. There was something about the permanence of that statement that was relieving to me. Someone finally got it. Someone finally saw my mother for who she was. Someone finally acknowledged how she has affected me.

The doctor continued to read out loud, reading each sentence and feeling the need to confirm everything it said before moving on. I didn’t really understand why I had to talk about things that were already included in my record. You were physically and sexually abused by your mother? She would burn you? Why did she do that? Were you sexually abused by your father?

Why does it matter? This information is already available. Just stop. Don’t ask me to go there. Don’t make me relive it all again. How am I supposed to know why my mother was the way she was? How am I supposed to know why she hurt me? It was like she was looking for some kind of reason, for something I must have done to cause it all.

But that wasn’t what pushed me over the edge.

The mother is currently in a relationship with her son.

I didn’t realize that was in my history. A bit shocking, but I dealt with it. Until the doctor started asking questions.

Are you in contact with your brother?

No. I haven’t spoken to him or my family since I ran away.

Why aren’t you speaking to him?

Because he lives with my mother. You know, the woman I ran away from.

I still don’t understand why you haven’t contacted him.

Because I’m not sacrificing my safety for him.

Her persistence in questioning aggravated me. She was making me feel bad for not reaching out to my brother, as if she thought I had some obligation to save him from my mother, to protect him from her. What a horrible person I must be to know that she’s still hurting him and to do nothing to help him.

My choices in life are mine. I chose to run away. By myself.  I live with that decision every day. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about helping him before I ran. I wanted to save them all. My father, my brother, and I. But I couldn’t do it. I knew if either of them found out what I was planning, they would tell her and I would be punished in the worst way.

My brother lived in denial for too long. He was too complacent with the life she made him live. I’m not sure he saw her for who she really was. I’m not sure he fully understood what she had been doing was wrong.

He had his brief moments of clarity. I remember sitting next to him one day, myself an outwardly angry teenager, himself an inwardly angry 20-something. He saw the cuts on my arms. He turned to me, lifted his sleeve, and said to me I’m hurting, too.

In that brief moment, there was a connection between us. A mutual understanding of the pain we both endured. Yet neither of us were able to put words to it. It was never spoken about again. He went on like nothing was wrong. I went on believing that both of us were hopeless. That was the one and only time I felt connected to him.

After I ran away, I heard bits and pieces of what happened to my family after I left. I know my brother struggled. He barely left the house. People tried to get through to him. At times, he wanted to leave her, but he felt trapped, both physically and financially.

I knew that feeling. The feeling of being trapped. It’s what I felt up until the day I finally ran away. I wanted him to know the feeling of freedom. I wanted him to experience life without our mother. But I couldn’t help him. I could barely help myself.

It took me a long time to forgive myself for not saving him, yet those guilty feelings still come back every October, around the time of his birthday. I think about what he must be going through. I worry about him giving up on his life. I wonder what his life would be like if I had just saved both of us instead of just me.

But I am not my brother’s keeper. It wasn’t and still isn’t my responsibility to save him. He’s an adult. He has choices. While it’s not his choice to get hurt, it is his choice to stay. I can’t make him see reality. I can’t pull him by the leg and drag him away. I can’t protect him from my mother.

I hope my brother finds peace one day. But I cannot be his savior.

This is not my family.

I still remember what my mother wrote to me

You made your decision to disown your family.

It wasn’t a decision to disown my family. It was a decision to save my life.

And I am reminded of that decision every day.

I left a life behind. A life I can never go back to. A life full of people I can’t see anymore.

One of my best friends graduated from college last week. I wanted to be there to support him, in the same way he was there to support me when I graduated college last year. But I couldn’t. I could only experience his moment through pictures he posted on social media. Because I can never go back to that place again. I can never take the risk of my mother seeing me, of finding me, of hurting me. I can never return to the only place I knew for 29 years of my life, my home, my friends, my family. And that hurts in a way I’m not sure I can ever explain in words.

For all those months after my escape, I went through my hardest moments alone. I spent holidays alone. I stayed in the hospital alone. I struggled to explain to every person taking down my information that I had no emergency contact, no next of kin, no person to notify. No mother? No father? No siblings? No one? They could never seem to understand how I had no family. Didn’t they hear? I disowned my family.

And now here I am, smack dab in the middle of a family that is not my own. I’m going through shit with people by my side from a family that is not my own. I am spending time with people from a family that is not my own. I am living in a house that is not my home.

Now it’s different. I went to the cardiologist appointment with someone by my side, someone who cared enough to take the time to come with me, because she knew I wasn’t going to speak up for myself. But she doesn’t know I don’t speak up for a reason. She doesn’t understand I’ve been trained not to speak up for myself.

I went through my surgery with her by my side. As the cardiologist stitched up my incision, she said “I’m going to go out and tell your mother how everything went.” In that moment I realized that’s who should be here: my mother, my family. Instead here was this woman, of no relation to me, standing by me through a hard time. She isn’t my mother, but she cares and supports me more than my biological mother ever did, strong enough that even my doctor mistook her for my own family member.

I always dreamed of having a real family, but I never knew what it looked like. I didn’t really imagine other people, I just imagined my parents being different. I imagined living a life with a mother who didn’t rape and abuse, and a father who hugged instead of hit. I imagined going out places instead of being stuck inside of that prison. I imagined that they would change, but they never did.

Thirty-one years later, I found that family. A normal family where I don’t have to be afraid to go to bed at night and I can eat food without being punished for it and I can go outside and see the world whenever I want. I found a family with a man who asks if I’ve done my homework every Friday, because he knows I have a paper due that night. I found a family with a teenager that asks where I’m going each time there’s a stranger parked outside the house waiting to pick me up for a date. I found a family with a kid I can joke around with so much, we both end up rolling on the floor. I found a family with a woman who tells me goodnight and gives me a hug before she goes to sleep. I found a family that makes sure I’m eating enough, a family that always makes sure I have what I need.

It’s a normal family. It’s a family I never experienced. And it’s not my family. Because I’m not sure I fit into a normal family. I am not sure it’s fair for them to have to deal with me. It’s not fair for them to have to make sure I am eating like a normal person. It’s not fair for them to have to hold my head off the floor every time I pass out. It’s not fair for them to care for me, when I can barely find it within me to care about myself. I am a burden. And they did nothing to deserve that.

As much as I’m included in everything they do, I still feel like an outsider. I feel like someone who doesn’t belong. Because I don’t belong. This is not my family. I am alone. In the middle of a room full of people, as crazy as some of them may be, I am the only one that doesn’t belong.

It’s ironic. My own family treated me like the outsider my whole life. Yet the truth is I never belonged with them anyway, because I was nothing like them. And now, with a family who is treating me like I belong, I find myself pushing away.

I ended up crying in the corner of the living room yesterday. The family had a barbecue. Other family members were there. And for a few hours I felt okay. I talked, I listened, I even got dragged into a mini-trip with a woman who had just learned my name. And then right before dinner, something clicked in me. This is not my family. I do not belong here. It hit me like a ton of bricks.

They sat down together in the kitchen and I isolated myself in the corner of another room. I knew I was going to cry. I tried so hard to hold in the tears. I tried to look at my phone, act busy, but then she came over to ask if I was okay and I just knew I wouldn’t be able to hold the tears in anymore.

She asked if it was my heart. I knew she meant my arrhythmia, so I said no. But my heart was broken in a different way, a way that I can barely explain. A broken heart that continues to break each time I realize all that I never had.

She knew something was wrong and kept asking me what it was, and I kept trying to hold it all in. I’m fine. I finally broke down and told her, this isn’t my family, this is yours. I couldn’t hold in the tears anymore. She grabbed tissues and tried to comfort me, while blocking me from everyone else in the other room. She told me that I was family, that she adopted me, that I belong. She had told me it all before, but it still didn’t feel right.

I got what I always dreamed of as a little girl. Love, care, support, safety, and all of the things a real family should be. Yet even though I am the safest, happiest, and most balanced I have ever been, I am still reminded of what I don’t have: my family. They are gone forever. Some dead, some gone away, some too dangerous to recognize they exist, but regardless, still gone. I am one standing, both disowned by my family and disowned to them.

This is not my family. I don’t want to be a burden to them.

I don’t understand how I got here.

I’m Angry at a God I don’t believe in

People like to say that God won’t give you more than you can handle.

But that’s just not true. People are given more than they can handle every day, burden after burden. Sometimes, there doesn’t seem to be an end.

I need to know when it ends, because I’m not really sure how much more I can take.

I’m 31 years old. I should be thinking about my career, about getting a place of my own, about starting a family. I should be excited about life, planning ahead for the great future I will have.

Except I’m not thinking about any of that. Instead I’m thinking about how long I can make it before getting sick again and ending up in the hospital. I’m thinking about CAT scans and surgeries and oxygen tanks. I’m not excited for life; I live in fear of death.

What did I do wrong? How did I end up here? I don’t understand.

I stand here, day in and day out, hanging on by a thread.

And she doesn’t have to struggle at all. She spends her days free of guilt and shame. She fears no one. She worries about nothing. She gets to live in peace. She gets to live without sickness.

And that angers me, too. Why hasn’t God punished her? Why hasn’t anyone punished her? She commits sin after sin, crime after crime, and still she can sit at home and eat her cake. It’s not just. It’s not fair.

She has spent 61 years of her life in freedom, while taking away that freedom from her own children. And we are the ones who pay for her sins. Not her. Us.

This wasn’t supposed to be this way. I spent 29 years of life trapped. When I ran away, I was supposed to be able to experience life for the first time. The struggle was supposed to be over. I was supposed to be free.

Instead I’m faced with reality. The reality that my mother will never be punished, that I will never have justice. The reality that I will always be sick. The reality that I will have spent the majority of my life trapped in that hell.

I know I’ve made mistakes. But I did not deserve this. I’ve had to handle enough in my life, more than any person should ever have to handle. I just want it to stop, but I can’t. Because I am powerless. I’ve always been powerless.

I spend every night crying. I’ve been holding in the anger for so long, and now it’s starting to creep out. I want to scream. I want to hit. I want to destroy something. But all I can do is cry. And I am tired of crying.

I am angry at God. I am angry at my mother. I am angry at the world.

But I can’t be angry at my mother. I didn’t make her stop.

I can’t be angry at the world. They are not responsible for my pain.

I can’t be angry at God. I don’t even think I believe in Him.

So I keep the anger inside, tucked away, hidden from view.

And that anger is killing me, too.