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.

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.

Freedom, Part 1

On April 26th, 2015, I knew I was going to run away from home.

That weekend, I sneaked off to a retreat for my online support group. I knew I was going to be in trouble once I got back home, but something in me told me I needed to take the risk and go anyway.

It was at that retreat that I met my (now) therapists. On the last day of the retreat, I received a card from them, which I still carry with me every day.

You are so brave and courageous to come to this year’s retreat. You are deserving of a healthy, safe life. We are here to support you and believe in you. You are stronger than you believe.

Those words stuck with me, not only on that day, but throughout the following two and half months. As soon as I came home from the retreat, I started planning. I had my money spread across several bank accounts so I could hoard it without my mother finding out. I started selling things I didn’t really need (electronics, sneakers, books) online to make extra money.

I checked Craigslist every day looking for apartments and rooms for rent. I knew I needed to go where those therapists were – they were willing to help me, I just needed to get out. Several times, I thought my plans were not going to work out. No one wanted to rent to a person with no job in the area and no references.

Despite all of the ‘no’s, I kept looking. I knew this was something I could not give up on. I knew that I could not make it living there much longer. I put in my two weeks notice at work before I even secured a place to live. I told my family I was on vacation so they didn’t know I quit. I set up a fake post of my Facebook page that said I was accepted into an internship for school and that I would have to travel for a few weeks. I knew my family stalked my Facebook, so I made it public so my mother would see it. All of my friends were in on it, and posted supportive comments to make it appear legitimate. I had everything set but a place to live.

At the last minute, I found someone who was still willing to rent to me despite my situation. I sent the first month’s rent and security through a wire transfer because I couldn’t risk leaving my house anymore. That is how desperate I was.

Over the next few days, I was full of anxiety and doubt. I didn’t think I could do it. I was so scared to leave, and so scared to be somewhere new. I was also scared of how I was actually going to be able to get out safely. Very few people knew of my plans. My best friend, who was essentially my getaway driver, was the only person that knew exactly where I was going. I couldn’t risk telling people and tipping off my family. I had my online friends supporting me through the entire process, keeping me focused and helping me stay calm until the morning I finally did it.

On July 10th, 2015, before dawn, I woke up, cleaned myself up, got dressed, swallowed a few Xanax, grabbed my two sport bags of clothes, shoes and other essentials, and my computer, and I ran out the door. My father was there, waiting, as he heard me wake up early and wondered what was going on. He tried to question me but I did not want to get tied into anything, so I quickly told him I had an internship and went out the door.

That was the last time I would ever see or speak to my father again.

My friend was parked around the corner, in order to maintain his own safety in this unpredictable situation. I threw my bags in the back seat of his car and we drove away. My heart was beating so fast, my mind was racing, and I was nauseated. To add to the chaos, my friend had a flat tire. Not even 15 minutes into the trip, and we had to stop and find a shop to get the tire fixed.

As if I wasn’t anxious enough, I had to sit and wait for over an hour as they replaced his tire, watching the news on TV, continuously checking my phone to make sure none of them were trying to reach me. It seemed like forever, but we finally got back on the road and on the way to my new home.

Once we got into town, we stopped at a store so I could buy a few large items I couldn’t bring from home (a hamper, storage containers, bedding, hangers). With the car now packed with my only possessions, we drove to my new home. We were a few hours later than scheduled, but unscathed nonetheless.

July 10th, 2015, turned out to be the longest morning I’ve ever had. But it’s also the day I found my freedom.

18 weeks

I can’t believe I’ve made it 18 weeks.

This journey has been anything but easy. But I’m still moving through and moving on. Not everyone would be able to do that. I never thought that I would be able to do that.

My coworker has told me numerous times that I have “found a home here.” I know that he is referring to our workplace as home, and I agree. I fit in so well at work, even being the only female among so many men and boys. I can be myself…my sarcastic, funny, cursing-like-a-sailor self. I’ve also learned that I don’t have to put up a wall there. It’s okay not to be happy all of the time, and they accept that and embrace it. As much as my workplace is a home for me, I feel like I’ve also found a home here, in the city where I now reside. I’ve met so many people and done so many things here that I would have never done in my old home. Being free feels so different, so scary and yet so rewarding.

A friend of mine reached out to me yesterday. It was strange because I had just been thinking about her, realizing that her birthday was coming up and wondering what I could mail to her just to let her know I still care. My best friend showed her some recent pictures of me and she noticed how much better I looked. She said I looked good and relaxed. I thanked her and told her it’s still a struggle, but I manage. Then she told me she was proud of me. I put my phone down and tried to hold back the tears, but they came through anyway. Someone was proud of me. I know it’s such a simple statement, but it’s something I wanted and tried for so long to get my parents to feel towards me; of course, that never happened. I’ve recently heard it from other people in my life and rejected it, as I tend to do with positive compliments given to me. Hearing those words from her just…I don’t know how to describe it. It meant so much to me.

I’ve been working on acknowledging my denial of my DID diagnosis and trying to get past it. I think I am in a better place now – not all the way there, but close enough – to accept everything. I’m not going to lie, I’m still scared of what will happen in the future. As I get closer to my parts, I know that I will have to deal with new memories, and those memories will not always be good ones. I think I have a good support system in place to help me through it, though. I’m not alone. We’re not alone. We don’t have to feel like we’re all alone anymore. I don’t want my parts to feel like they have to hide anymore. They’ve been through enough.

There is a DID conference coming up in February through An Infinite Mind. I’ve thought about going to a conference for the last two months. There was a conference given by another organization just a few weeks ago, but it was on the other side of the country and just not feasible. This conference is probably the closest and most accessible to me, as it’s taking place in Orlando, FL. On a whim, I asked my best friend if he would go with me (the conference is for people with DID, their supporters, and therapists). He said he would. I feel so much better about going there with someone I know and trust. I think it will be a good experience for me. I still have to figure out exactly how I am going to manage it financially, but I’ll do what I have to do. I’ve already gathered some things to sell online to earn some extra money that I can put towards the trip. I think I deserve it. I know I deserve it. It will work out somehow.

I have a little more than two weeks left to get my graduate school application completed. I’ve ordered the transcripts, mailed out recommendation forms to be filled out by my professor, and filled out the FAFSA. All I have left to do is the essay. It’s funny how writing comes so easily for me until there is something that I need to write. Then I put it off for as long as I can because I feel that my writing will be inadequate, or that I won’t have anything substantial to write. I’ll get it done. I need to get it done before life gets so crazy that I just won’t have the time.

I felt a little guilty today because I had off from work and didn’t really do anything except wash my laundry. I haven’t really had a day off to myself in a while. I probably needed to sit at home and do nothing. I’m tired, physically and mentally. I’ve had a headache for four days. I need a break. But there’s really no time for breaks. I just hope I don’t burn out.

Disconnected

I realized yesterday that I have been so disconnected from the outside world. I don’t read the newspaper. I don’t watch TV anymore, so I never watch the news. I rarely go on my computer, so I miss most news stories that tend to pop up when you’re surfing the web. Don’t ask me about politics; I have no clue what’s going on aside from Donald Trump running for president. Don’t ask me about popular crime stories; I haven’t heard them. The one thing I may know about is the weather, and my knowledge is limited to whatever the app on my phone provides me.  Which, by the way, isn’t much, since yesterday a friend mentioned a hurricane coming and I had no clue about it.

I realized that, while some disconnection is okay, I feel like I’ve cut myself off from the world too severely. I used to take pride in knowing everything about what was going on in the world, whether it be politics, economic affairs, ethical issues, et cetera. I watched the news every day. I spent hours online reading articles about whatever sparked my interest. Now I’ve become the total opposite.

I did a little self-reflecting to figure out why I’ve become so cut off. I know why I avoid watching television. It was something I did with my father for the last few years, since he was too sick to do much of anything else. We would watch all kinds of shows, even “trashy” reality TV. I admit, I am using the term watch loosely. I was mostly listening to the TV as I typed a paper up for school on my laptop and obsessively checked my Facebook newsfeed waiting for something exciting to come up. Regardless, watching TV reminds me of my father, and I just don’t want to be reminded of him right now.

I’m not sure why I’ve become so disconnected with reading the news. I wonder if part of it is just being so mentally exhausted from my own life, that I have little energy left to expend on anyone else’s. Maybe my mind doesn’t want to focus on anything else right now. Maybe I’m afraid I’m going to come across something that will remind me of home or my family. I don’t know.

But connecting with the outside world could also provide an escape. I won’t have to focus on me all of the time. I could think about other things. I’d be able to interact with people and talk about things without having to pretend I know what they’re talking about. I can feel connected to something again, something that isn’t going to put me in danger.

I did something last night that I hadn’t done since I first moved here. Part of it was prompted by my earlier blog post, and part of it was because my house was so numbingly cold. But I made myself a bowl of spicy green and wax beans (one of my comfort foods) and went outside on my back porch. It was too cloudy to see any stars, but I could still breathe in the air, and I could still hear the crickets chirping. So I took it all in. I sat on my stairs and ate my beans and for a brief moment, nothing bothered me. Then the police came for a domestic dispute across the street, a mother starting yelling at her kids to stay on the sidewalk, and my sense of tranquility disappeared.  Even so, I realized that peace doesn’t come without a little disruption sometimes.

Perhaps I will try to do this again. It helps me connect with myself. It helps me to connect with the outside, even if the outside consists of the area around my back porch. It helps me not feel so alone in the world.

Meeting people

In general, I have a hard time meeting new people.  A lot of that comes from growing up and being conditioned not to speak to anyone outside of our inner family circle.  Some of it is this underlying fear that people can see right through me and know all of the disgusting truths that lie within.  And then a small part of it is just lack of social skills, which sort of ties back to my shitty upbringing.

Even though I’ve been down here now almost six weeks, I have, for the most part, actively avoided meeting people.  I haven’t really had the energy to expend on others because I have been so preoccupied trying to keep myself together.  Luckily, I haven’t been approached by anyone, so it hasn’t been an issue.  Until yesterday.

I clocked out of work at one o’clock and went to the lounge to grab my things.  I sat down at the table to make sure I had everything before I left to catch the bus, when a man’s head popped out from the couch in front of me to say hello.  I recognized him from having briefly been introduced the first day I started.  He immediately struck up a conversation and I found myself sitting there, listening intently.  Then he said “I don’t even know why I’m telling you so much, I just feel really comfortable talking to you.”  I get that a lot.  Which is weird to me, because I also have been told by a few that I am completely unapproachable due to my permanent resting bitch face.  Even so, most people have felt that same inexplicable comfort in coming to me with their problems; I’ve been “counseling” people since I was in high school.  I always found it ironic because my greatest desire was for someone, anyone to help me, and here I was helping everyone else.

Back to work guy, he started asking me questions. Not in a pushy way, just general curiosity.  He knew I just moved here (I had mentioned it in our brief introduction), and he asked me where I moved, if I had a roommate, etc.  I explained I had a roommate I just met.  He was a little shocked, so I explained that I moved here on a whim.  He seemed naturally curious and asked why someone would do that (which I should have expected, I didn’t think that through).  At this point, I’m playing out all of the scenarios in my head.  What do I tell him?  Do I make up a story?  Shit, I should have come up with a cover story beforehand.  I don’t have enough time now.  I can’t tell him the truth, these people won’t understand.  That’s way too much to throw on someone I just met.  My head was spinning.  I just went with what came out.  “Have you ever just been around toxic people?  I was, and I just got to a point where I knew I needed to make a change, so I did. And I left.”  I’m pretty sure I panicked the ten seconds between my last word and his response.  But he didn’t freak out.  He said “I understand toxic people.  That was a big risk you took.  I don’t think I could ever do that.”  Whew.  Crisis averted.

Here we are, now 35 minutes into a conversation, still going well, still not needing an Ativan to keep it together.  Then he asked about my duck.  The duck I carry around to help keep me grounded.  The duck I held close to me that day like it was worth a million dollars because I was still so unstable from the day before.  Why did he have to ask about the duck?  I turned my head away from him and said “It’s stupid.  I’ll tell you another day.”  But he persisted.  “I won’t make fun of you or judge you,” he said, “I really want to know.”  There went my head again.  Cue hurricane of scenarios spinning in my mind.  I couldn’t be rude.  This guy seemed really nice and genuine.  But there’s only so much people can understand.  I know for sure he wouldn’t know about DID.  PTSD?  Maybe.  Let’s go with that.  So I told him I have PTSD, and I carry it around to keep me grounded in case I start having flashbacks.  His head dropped and he apologized, but he had nothing to be sorry for.  He knew what PTSD was; he knew a few people who had it.  He asked me what caused mine.  I said I had a really traumatic past.  At this point, I didn’t even hesitate or overthink on what to say.  My response just came out.  Then he opened up about his childhood and how he has dealt with his stress.

We talked about Superman (he noticed my bag), the movies (we both like going), about people who drink and smoke too much, and then about crazy customers.  Before I knew it, an hour had passed.  He was about to go punch in for work and asked if I was on any social media.  Fuck.  Everyone is on social media.  Unless you are in hiding from your abusive family.  FUCK.  The reality of my situation really set in at that point.  I realized that even though for the last hour I felt almost normal, I was still living the life of a person in hiding, because I very much am a person in hiding.  I said “Well, I did.  I do, but it’s under a fake name.”  I looked to the floor like I was ashamed.  He said “That’s alright.  I don’t know much about you, but from what I do know I’m sure you have your reasons for it.”  What is wrong with this person?  Why is he still talking to me?  And then…THEN…he asked for my number!  Even worse, I gave it to him.  I don’t know what is wrong with me.  Fuck this human connection shit.