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.

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Disconnection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family

I was waiting outside at the bus stop earlier today when I saw my cousin walk by. My gut reaction was to scream out and run to her. Hey! Remember me? I’m your family!  But then I remembered her direct connection to my mother, and I started to panic and hide away.

I’m not even sure why I felt the need to hide. My cousin hasn’t seen me since I was a child, at least 15 years ago. She hasn’t changed much at all; I, on the other hand, look nothing like I did as a child. My eyes are the same, but that’s about it. She would have never recognized me. I probably would have scared her, shouting her name across the parking lot. I was a stranger to her.

As I sat there, processing the hurricane of emotions I just had in that short moment, the realization started to sink in again. I have no family. I felt the emptiness in my heart, and I started to cry. At the bus stop. With people around. Great.

I know that disconnecting from my family was the safest thing I could have ever done. I ran away from my parents, and in doing that, I also ran away from the rest of my family. I can’t risk my life connecting with anyone who is still connecting with my mother. As badly as I want to feel that family connection, I have to realize and absorb that is no longer possible.

What little family I did have left, I have had to disconnect from. Even though they were technically safe and disconnected from my mother, they were not emotionally safe for me. After enough repeated heartbreak and longing for love and support that was just met with frustration and hurt, I had to cut them away.

Now, I literally have no family. I am still grieving that loss. The wound is still fresh. It’s so hard, because no matter how many friends I have, they are not my family. I need family. I’m not sure what’s so wrong with me that I could never get that.

Strings

I feel like a marionette. Each string is a connection to my life, a piece of who I am. I need those strings to perform. I need those strings to live. But those strings are thin and weak; they started out that way. I started my life out with a disadvantage. 

But I continued to perform, I continued to live even with those weak strings. Now I’ve lost so many strings that all I can do is sit there and twitch a few limbs, waiting for that last string to break, the moment when I lose myself completely.

Some of my strings, I cut away myself. I had to. My parents were not supportive strings. They had to go. They were taking complete control over everything. The other strings couldn’t work right. I needed some freedom. 

In doing that, I weakened some of my other strings. The strings of people who I thought were there for me, they ended up snapping. They were only helping me alongside my parents’ strings. Once my parents’ strings were gone, so too were those others.

And then the strings of people in my old life, my friends and acquaintances. I feel them weakening as time goes on. Some of them have broken already. Some are splintering, seconds away from complete disconnection. I look up and see the damage, but there’s nothing I can do. So I have to watch as my strings continue to break away.

The strings of people I called my family – they are weakening, too; they were weak this whole time. I’m seeing now that those strings are not supporting me. They are there. I can see them. Everyone on the outside can see them. They appear to be strong, maybe a little colorful, but it’s all for show. They are not doing anything for me. They’re just there.

There’s one strong string. That is the string of my therapist. She’s holding me upright, even as all of the strings around me are snapping and breaking away.

But now that I’ve lost all of my other strings, all of my other resources, And I have nothing left to help her; I have nothing else left to help me.

Soon, that string will be cut from me. And I will have nothing. My supports will be gone, and nothing will be there to hold me up anymore. So I’ll fall to the ground, limp and lifeless.

I’ll no longer have a purpose.

I’m just a passenger

I have spent a good portion of the last few weeks as a passenger in my own life. I’m not in control. I’m not in the driver’s seat. I can see everything that’s going on, but I have no control over it. I’m just an observer. I’m just a passenger.

This happens a lot more than I care to admit. Yesterday, I realized I was (literally and figuratively) out of my own control. I found myself involved in a situation in which the ways I was acting and speaking were not my own. I knew it was me, and I could see and hear everything that was going on, but my responses were not me. As everything was going on, I felt like I was sitting next to myself. I would say something, and then I would ask myself where the hell that just came from. I would never say this. I would never do this. I don’t want this. Yet there I was, saying it, doing it, and apparently wanting it.

It concerned me, because this situation is something I very much don’t want to be involved in. I told myself, maybe I’m just crazy.  I don’t even know what’s going on. I don’t even know how to explain it to someone else because I don’t even understand it.

I wanted to bring it up to my therapist, but it felt so awkward and uncomfortable. Oddly enough, I had a therapy assignment from our session earlier in the week – the stages of therapy. I looked over the sheets and crossed out the things I didn’t have issues with, and circled the things that I felt I needed help with. Next to relationships, I wrote “making questionable decisions”. I was hoping my therapist would read it and ask about it so I didn’t have to bring it up myself.

And she did. So I explained what happened yesterday. I told her how I felt disconnected, but not entirely disconnected because I still had full awareness of what was going on, but I just didn’t have control. And I thought she was going to think I was crazy and not making any sense, but she didn’t. She understood what was going on, and suspected what I had suspected as well – another part coming through, a part with completely opposite wants. Great.

I sort of have been hiding some things from my therapist, not just about relationships, but with other things as well. Not purposely, I just didn’t feel like they were important. But most of the things I had been pushing away seemed to come up with that assignment today. One of the things I crossed out was ‘drugs’. She asked about it. I said I haven’t used in a while, and that I even threw away all of my pills last month. Then she asked why. I don’t really know why, I just know it happened during one of my regular crises.

Then she asked if I remembered doing it. No. I hadn’t remembered doing it. I only knew because I went to throw away my trash weeks ago and noticed a bunch of pills fall out from my bin and into the trash bag. I don’t remember doing it, or why I did it. But clearly I did it.

And as we went on, I realized there was a lot of occasions that I don’t remember. I’ve just been telling myself it’s because I’ve been so tired lately, that’s why I can’t remember shit. But it’s more than that. And that worries me. I know I’ve been under a lot of stress, especially in the last month. But it’s concerning because I am in the midst of making some pretty considerable life decisions, and I don’t know if it’s 100% me making those decisions.

I have been in a dissociative denial.

Missing pieces

When I first moved here, I would go out on my back porch every night and sit and look at the stars. It was something I was never able to do back home. There was just something so amazing about looking into a vast sky with millions (billions?) of stars, wondering how many people were out there looking at the same stars as I was. But I don’t go out on the porch at night anymore, and I stopped looking at the stars.

In the beginning, I was full of hope and excitement, and running on a rush of adrenaline. Now, I’m coming to realize all that I’ve lost along the way during this transition. Pieces of me are missing. I feel incomplete.

It may be hard for some to understand, but when I was at home, I always held out hope that someday something would change…that someday, my family would become different people and the void in my heart would be filled and I would finally be whole. But now that I’ve moved away, I’ve lost that chance forever. I’ve been trying to fill the void with things that just can’t occupy that space in someone’s heart that is meant for family. I left them. I walked away and I took that chance to fill that void away from myself for good.

It’s not just the loss of my parents. It’s the loss of my entire family. It will never be the same again. I can never see my grandmother; she’s already fallen for their lies about me. My brother is too far brainwashed. Other members of my family don’t want to get involved. They don’t come to visit me, even if they are a quick drive away. I feel incredibly isolated from the people I should be closest to. Your family makes up part of your identity. So what do you do when that part of you is gone? I don’t even feel like I belong in this name anymore.

Then there are my friends. The ones I was closest to back home. The ones that now barely reach out to me, and the ones that haven’t bothered to visit me. I can feel what were once my strongest relationships now fading farther and farther away into the distance. I didn’t expect our friendships to remain the same, but I didn’t expect them to grow so far apart so quickly, either.

Then there are the quiet supporter friends: the ones that support me in private, but when I need them to stand up and fight with me, they are nowhere to be found. Then I am left alone to fight battles I don’t want to fight. It reminds me of the people in my life that knew I was being abused and chose to do nothing because they “didn’t want to get involved.” Not getting involved never solves anything.

People have changed the way they treat me. I’m not a child. I’m not made of glass that can be easily broken at the slightest touch. I’m perfectly capable of making my own decisions. I haven’t been able to make real decisions for the last 29 years of my life. Now I want to make them. I need to learn for myself how to make them. It doesn’t matter that they aren’t all good; no one’s decisions are all good. That’s called life. I’m no different from anyone else; I just have a little catching up to do.

It’s a little sad that the only person that I’ve come to depend on (aside from my therapist) is my roommate. My roommate…a woman I met off of Craigslist right before I moved. She barely knows me. She has no obligation to know me. Yet hers is the shoulder I cry on when I become overwhelmed. She is the one who holds my arms down when I dissociate and start scratching myself. And she is the one who sits with me when I don’t feel safe enough to be alone. She, a person unrelated to me and completely unknown to me until a few months ago, now burdened with dealing with me.

The nights that my roommate is not here, I have no one. Those nights are the worst for me; tonight is one of those nights. I often wonder if this is what my life will be like forever. Loneliness. Even Charlie is quiet. It makes me miss his angry ramblings just a little. He probably feels just as lonely as I do.

For so long, I defined myself based on the relationships I had with others. It was part of who I was. Those relationships mattered. And now those pieces of me are going missing, and I don’t know what to do. No family, dwindling friendships, and a lack of identity. I feel empty. It’s no wonder I don’t know who my parts really are. I don’t even know who I am.

Daughter’s Day

Apparently it is National Daughter’s Day, or that’s what the internet seems to believe.  My Facebook has been inundated the last two days with pictures and posts from mothers honoring and saying beautiful things about their daughters.  I started to read some of the posts.  Then it got to be too much and I had to stop.  I’ll never have one of those posts from my mother.  I’ll never be honored on Daughter’s Day.  I am no longer a daughter.  My mother should have lost that right the first day she laid her hands on me, but she didn’t.  Instead, she lost the privilege to be my mother the day I walked out on her 11 weeks ago.

I went to the movies earlier today to try to clear my mind.  I thought seeing a kid’s movie would be a safe bet.  I was wrong.  Instead, I found myself crying five minutes into the start of the movie.  Why?  The movie began with the father standing by as his daughter got married.  I began to think of my own future wedding.  And that brought up a whole stream of thoughts about my future.

My father won’t be walking me down the aisle to give me away when I get married.  He won’t be dancing with me at my reception.  There will be no mother-of-the-bride at my wedding, no heart-to-heart conversation between mother and daughter before I take the long walk down the aisle to married life.  There will be no family to share in my happiness and excitement that day.  My side of the room will be empty.  I’m no longer a daughter.  I’m alone.

When I walk down the aisle at graduation in a couple of months to officially receive my degree, there will be no one there to cheer me on.  My father won’t be there recording the moment I shake the dean’s hand.  My mother won’t be applauding me after I make my speech.  There won’t be anyone in the audience for me; no one will be there to take my picture.  I’m no longer a daughter.  I’m alone.

When I have my first child, my mother won’t be there to help me get through those tough first weeks.  I won’t have my mother to turn to for help when I am feeling overwhelmed or have a question I am too embarrassed to ask anyone else.  My mother and father will never know the joy of holding their grandchild in their arms and seeing their grandchild’s beautiful smile. I’ll never be able to share each milestone with any of my family. My family will never be there to celebrate each birthday. I’m no longer a daughter.  I’m alone.

When I become successful, my mother and father won’t be there by my side to congratulate me.  I won’t be telling the world how I couldn’t do it without my parents’ support and guidance.  I won’t be thanking them or acknowledging their presence in my life.  They won’t be allowed to say “that’s my girl” or pat themselves on the back for a job well done.  Everything I have become and will become in the future is no thanks to them.  They deserve no recognition or honor.  They shattered me into a million pieces and took away the glue.  I’m no longer a daughter.  I’m alone.

As my children grow older and ask questions about their family, I’ll have nothing to offer them. I have no photographs. I have no happy memories, no stories to pass down to them. My children will never get to know what it’s like to be spoiled by grandma and grandpa. They will never even know that my mother and father exist. All that my children will be left with is a shell of a mother. That half of the family tree will always be empty for them.  They will be no one’s grandchildren. They’ll be alone.

When my mother and father pass away, there will be no tears or sadness from me.  I won’t be writing their obituaries or delivering any eulogies.  I won’t be attending their funerals.  I won’t be there as they are lowered into the ground, buried and left to rot.  I will never visit their graves, bring them flowers, or say any prayers for them.  I’m no longer their daughter.  They are alone.

Because of me, everyone is alone.