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 3: Truths

In all this time, I’ve learned a lot of things. While I buried what I learned to be lies in the ocean, I needed to hold on to the truths that I learned.

I didn’t want to do stones; I wanted to do something different. I wanted something symbolic, something that reminded me of the place I was in. I thought about the beach. I remembered how, when I first planned out my escape, I walked along the beach and looked for sea shells. I was looking for certain ones, which were hard to find among the seemingly endless amount of shells that had washed up.

I eventually found them. I also found some really beautiful shells, completely by accident. I didn’t look for them, I just stumbled upon them in the search for my special shells. It made me think of the truths I’ve come to learn in these last 1,000 days. Some of them I went looking for; others I just stumbled upon on the way.

So I got sea shells, and wrote six of the most important truths I came to learn inside them.

I deserved to be loved and nurtured.

There is nothing — NOTHING — a child could ever do to deserve to be abused, tortured, raped, or assaulted. I didn’t do anything to warrant that. I was a child who deserved to be nurtured and taken care of, not abused and neglected. I deserved love and care, hugs and kisses, kindness and warmth. I didn’t get any of that. But I deserved to get that. I deserved to have a childhood without fear and pain. I deserved a home I could feel safe in.

I can speak the truth. She can no longer silence me.

I had no voice for years. I grew up in fear of telling people who my mother was, and telling people what was going on. I thought I was lying to protect myself, but I was really lying to protect her. I know that now. Now I can use my voice, because I am free. I will continue to speak the truth because it’s my truth to speak. I am no longer afraid to speak. I am no longer shamed to admit what has happened to me. I will not be silent.

I am a good person who deserves good things.

Even after I ran away, I lived my life for others more than I did for myself, because I still believed that I was somehow less deserving than others. I deflected compliments as if they were poison, because I believed I didn’t deserve them. I understated my achievements because I believed I didn’t truly earn them. But I’ve come to realize that I do deserve the good things — whether they be compliments, promotions, awards — even food. I am a human being. I am a good, kind, genuine person who deserves some good, as hard as that may be for me to acknowledge.

Family isn’t biological. You can make your own family, and I have.

Despite what people have said to me, even recently, my family is not the people who are genetically linked to me. My father may have been my sperm donor, but he was not my family. My mother may have given birth to me, but she is not my family. The others who never intervened, they are not my family. My family is made up of the people who support me and care for me and love me for who I am. They are there for me no matter if it’s a good day or a bad day. My family is unconditional.

I am nothing like my mother.

I’m not a sociopath. I’m not a predator. I’m not an abuser. I’m not who my mother is. I used to think that if I liked the same things as her, if I ate the same food as her, that meant that I was her. She used to change her hair to match mine. She used to take my clothes to wear them herself. People used to say how much I looked like her because she made herself to look like me. I could never separate any aspect of myself from my mother. But now I realize that physical appearance means nothing, and that shared blood doesn’t make for shared behaviors.

I can ask for help. It doesn’t mean I’m weak. It won’t get me in trouble.

I grew up never asking for anything. I never wanted to be a burden. I never wanted to be punished. I could never reach out because I knew, in the end, it would only end up getting me into more trouble. That fear carried over into my adulthood, and even after I ran away, I struggled with reaching out. There were times I needed someone to talk to, but I was too afraid to be a bother. There were times I was dissociating and needed help grounding, but I thought asking for help meant I wasn’t strong enough to do it on my own.

It’s no surprise that one of my main goals in every treatment I’ve been in — from PHP to IOP to individual therapy — has been to learn how to reach out for help. I don’t have to wait until I’m at a breaking point. I don’t have to refuse help when someone offers it. I can ask because people are willing to help me.

These truths will stay with me, as a reminder of how much I’ve learned and grown.

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.

Changes, Part 3

The last of my major changes is in my career.

Last Friday was my last day at work. I am currently, aside from my writing gig, unemployed.

I realize that may seem like a bad decision to some, considering my financial situation is quite dire.

But I had to make a decision between working at a job I love and living somewhere safe. I ended up choosing the later.

It was not an easy decision in the least. I got that job just weeks after running away. My coworkers were the first people I really interacted with, the first (and in many ways, only, for a while) people I got to know. They became more than just fellow employees and coworkers. They became my family, and that is something they reminded me of quite often.

I believe I was meant to be there. I believe I got that job for a reason, among all of the other jobs out there, the other offers I had, I somehow ended up with a group of the most accepting, hilarious, and caring people I could have encountered. That job was my escape from the chaos I was living in. That job was my social life. It was more than a job to me. But I knew I had to leave it.

It wasn’t just one thing. I realized months ago that I was becoming less and less able to do my work. I was physically and mentally exhausted. I got the work I needed to get done, done, but it was taking a toll on me. I had no energy, And as my health started deteriorating, it only got worse. I ended up using a wheelchair at times because I was too weak or too dizzy to walk around. There were many times I had to hide in the bathroom or in the corner of the backroom because I was in too much pain to keep walking.

I knew eventually I was going to have to make a change. It just came a little quicker than I thought.

When everything happened with my living situation, I had to make that choice between my job and a home. With everything else that had already been happening with work, and the consistent chaos that seemed to follow every living situation I got into, I made the decision to leave my job and take the safe living option.

As I said, it was not an easy decision. I cried in the days leading up to my final day, and I cried even more as I hugged my coworkers before I left that last day of work.

I jumped to the conclusion that by leaving my job, I was also leaving the people in it. But I then realized that I was leaving the job, not the people there. These people will still be in my life. I can still talk to them. I can still visit. That part of my life is not gone, it’s just different.

I considered getting another job. I actually interviewed and got accepted for a full-time position. But then I realized I would only be putting myself in an unhealthy situation. I was (at that time, and still) ending up in the hospital every few days, still passing out at random. It didn’t feel right to start a job and put them at risk, so I backed out.

For now, I am taking a break. I am focusing on school and on my writing. I’m resting for the first time since I was a teenager. And most importantly, I am focusing on me and my health, following up with doctors, and trying to get to the bottom of what is wrong with my heart.

In the end, I guess it was a good decision. The hardest ones usually are.

 

Changes, Part 1

I realize I haven’t written in a long time. There are reasons for that. So much has happened within the course of the last couple months that I am not even sure I can adequately cover everything.

There have been some major changes in my life. My housing, my health, my career…everything is different now. Some for the better, some for the worse. And it hasn’t been an easy journey on any front.

I’m going to start with one thing at a time: housing.

When I first started PHP back in January, it was clear from the start that my living situation was going to have to change. They were concerned about my mother knowing where I live and reaching out to me. They were also concerned with things going on within the home. I told them it wasn’t a big issue, that I could cope just as I had been for some time now. After all, I was no longer living in hell, so I saw any place that wasn’t there as a huge improvement.

As the weeks went by, it became apparent that my living situation was a big issue. I couldn’t sleep, despite being on an extraordinarily high dose of Trazodone. There were a lot of things going on which I won’t go into detail about, but it made the environment a safety issue for me. My therapist at PHP made it clear I could not progress in treatment while living in that environment. They insisted I go to a women’s shelter quite a distance away, and I refused. I told them I would find something, anything as long as it didn’t involve living in a shelter.

And at the very last minute, I found my way out. I found what seemed like a safe place to live, with safe people, in a safe neighborhood. A whole upstairs to myself. Sure it was old. My room didn’t have heat. Another didn’t have electricity. There were holes in the wall and it was falling apart at the seams. But it seemed safe. Without any thinking, I wrote a check and got my key. I was willing to do anything not to live in a shelter.

I was okay for a couple of weeks. Nothing extraordinary happened. Then the landlord said he needed a security deposit (something he said he didn’t need at all when I paid the first month’s rent) in a check written out to him personally (he was not the owner of the building). Something didn’t sit right with me. Then the next week, I came home from work to find out there was going to be a man moving in to one of my rooms upstairs. I googled the landlord to find out that he was a convicted felon who owed over $30,000 in restitution.

I was starting to lose my hope again. This was not the safe place I envisioned it to be. This was turning into a nightmare. Still, I told myself, this is better than hell, this is better than where I was before. I isolated myself in my room, just as I had done before. Hopelessness increased, and I wanted to just give up. My therapist at program was concerned and asked if I could stay with anyone for a few nights, just to keep myself safe. I really didn’t know anyone outside of work, and I was afraid to be a burden on someone. But somehow, I mustered up the courage to ask if I could stay over for one night, and that person said yes.

I don’t know why things worked out the way they did, but it turned out to be a good thing that I wasn’t home that night. I received a call that night that the landlord had moved a homeless man into my bedroom while I was at work that afternoon. My things were removed from the room, my artwork torn off the walls and put in the hallway in a giant pile, like they were meaningless. These were things that meant so much to me, thrown together like trash. Fighting broke loose, violence and threats ensued, and it was definitely not a safe place for me to be in. Just hearing what was happening over the phone was enough for me. All I could think was what would have happened if I was home that night, how things would have turned out. But I’ll never know, because somehow I ended up in the safest place I could be.

I didn’t know what I was going to do. I tried to block it out and tell myself it was all going to be okay, that I could deal. I didn’t go to PHP that following day because I had a cardiologist appointment. My therapist called me that afternoon while I was at work to see how everything went. I mentioned the situation at home the night before and I could hear the concern in her voice. She told me I could not return home, that it was not safe for me anymore. She called me back with the contact information for an emergency shelter a few towns away.

I sat in the corner of the backroom at work in a complete emotional meltdown. It was less than one week into the month, I had just invested all of this money into a new place to live and now I was going to end up in a shelter. I had nothing left. No money. Nowhere to go. No hope.

I found an angel that day. I’m not exaggerating when I say this person literally saved and continues to save my life. I didn’t end up in the shelter. They took me into my home, bought me what I needed, fed me, and supported me and have continued to do so even as I have nothing to give back in return.

I was able to go back to that home and get most of what I needed out of there. My clothes, my shoes, my books, my computer, my bed. I came in to find some of my stuff in the hallway and I wanted to cry. My bathroom was a mess, brand new shower curtain torn off the rings, feces all over the toilet. It was all a disaster. We grabbed everything we could fit in the truck and left. Just once, I thought, I wanted to be able to move somewhere without it being a runaway situation.

But I am safe now. It’s been nearly a month and I am with people who I can trust and who support me. I don’t live in fear. I can sleep at night without having to worry about anything. Although I am out all of the money, my security deposit included, and am struggling financially just ot get by, I will figure things out.

I found a home, and that’s what matters right now.

Terminate

I think there are people in this world that just can’t be helped.

I think I am one of those people.

I tried. I really did.

I took every pill the doctors prescribed. Every anti-depressant that left me more suicidal than before. Every anti-psychotic that failed to stop the voices or the impulse to self-destruct. Every anti-anxiety pill that only took the edge off. Every mood stabilizer that sent me spiraling deeper into depression. Every sleeping pill, every stimulant, every off-label medication they tried to help me with has failed.

There is no pill for this. There’s no magic medicine, noo chemical imbalance to correct.

My mind is broken in a way that can’t be fixed. You can’t put a splint on my brain. You can’t put a cast on my memories. You can’t fix something that’s been broken too many times for too long.

Maybe if someone had caught it early, I wouldn’t be this way. If someone spoke up instead of saying silent. If someone had questioned my mother instead of letting it go. If someone told her to stop instead of helping her. If someone feared her as much as they feared God. If someone had saved me, instead of leaving me behind.

But no one did any of that. And now I am here, shattered pieces held together by watered-down glue. Forever unstable, the slightest touch breaks me all over again.

There is no cure for this. There’s no way to undo what’s been done. I can’t hit rewind. I can’t start over. I can’t erase the pain in my heart because it’s been written in permanent ink.

Every time I was raped, molested, assaulted, beaten, burned — another piece of me was broken. A tiny crack on the surface was all anyone could see, but beneath that was complete brokenness. A soul left to die, a mind left shattered, both hidden underneath the face and body of an innocent child, an innocent child who didn’t know her innocence because it was stolen from her before she ever had a chance to experience it.

How does someone get over that? I think I would have rather been hurt by a stranger. Maybe I could have handled it better then. At least I would have known what love was, at least I could have had someone to turn to. But I didn’t have that, because the one person that should have loved and supported me and kept me safe was the person that hurt me night after night and taught me how to be afraid.

I tried to be helped. Every school guidance counselor, every social worker, every therapist. They tried. But they couldn’t help me, either. I took one last chance. I told myself if this didn’t work, then that was it for me. Fifteen years of medication and therapy failures is fifteen years too many. I didn’t want to go through it anymore. I gave up everything for this one last attempt at healing.

But I don’t think it’s working. The cost of my freedom has been permanent fear, a fear that can’t be helped. No matter what day it is, no matter where I am, I am living in fear of her. I’m afraid every morning when I try to take a shower without her. I’m afraid every afternoon when I’m walking home alone, waiting for her to come and kill me before I can get in the door. I’m afraid every time I go to bed, because I don’t know if she will come in and hurt me. I’m afraid every time I get sick, because I’m scared it means she will have to take care of me.

I’m in two worlds. One that’s the present and one that’s the past. One where I’m living and one where I’m dying. One where I’m grown up and one where I’m growing. I can’t tell the difference anymore. I don’t think I’m in one or the other. The worlds collided and now I am stuck in the middle, walking alone. I just want someone to walk with me. I want someone to understand what it’s like to be inside my mind. But that can never happen.

It’s not fair. It’s not fair for me to put other people through my chaos. My therapist can’t cure me. She can’t go inside my mind. She can’t walk with me. She can’t help me.

So maybe it’s time to let therapy go. Maybe I’m just supposed to live with the fear and the panic and the pain and the shame and the confusion. Maybe I’m lost because there isn’t a way home. Maybe I’m just supposed to exist like this.

Maybe they were right all along. I am too complex. I am a puzzle that can never be put back together because the pieces have been torn up, burned, and thrown away. And no one ever wants to put together a puzzle that doesn’t have all its pieces. It’s an effort destined for failure, no matter what you do, the puzzle can never be solved. I can never be fixed.

Help came too late.