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.

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I still remember the day. November 21, 2016. The day I celebrated 500 days of freedom. The day I planned to celebrate my successes. The day I went to the beach to release the stones I had lost into the ocean. The day I carried with me the stones of all I had gained. Stones I still have to this day, laid out right by my desk, reminding me of my new truths.

It was also the day I let go of the stones it was time to give away. Guilt. Shame. Fault. Blame. They were no longer weighing me down. I was free from them. I was free from my trauma. I was free from my mother.

I remember how I felt that day. Like I accomplished something. Like I had started a new life. Like I had finally realized what it felt like to be free. I felt a sense of happiness amidst the grief. I finally knew what it was like to feel safe, I knew what it was like not to worry. It took 500 days for me to get there, but I got there none the less.

But those feelings were soon ripped away from me, because November 21, 2016 wasn’t just my 500th day of freedom. It was also the day my mother found me.

Just days after I celebrated my new-found freedom and safety, I received her first letter in the mail. A business envelope with no return address. A catalog sheet of gravestones, ready for my choosing. They were the stones my mother believed I deserved. The ultimate punishment for going against her.

I ran away. I escaped prison. And I told my story. Because I knew upon my leaving, that people were still in danger. Telling was the only way to help them. And it did help. Some people were able to see through her manipulation and get out before it was too late. But others are still being hurt by her. And in many ways, I am still being hurt by her.

She took away my freedom. She took away my sense of safety. With each piece of mail she sent, she took it all away from me. That accomplishment I felt, that glimpse of happiness I got to experience, it all faded away.

My life was no longer one of freedom, no longer one of safety. Even in distance, my mother was no longer so far away. She made her presence known. She took away all of the things I worked so hard for since running away, with just a few pages of words, with just a sheet of gravestones.

Why? Why couldn’t she let me experience that freedom just a little bit longer? Why couldn’t she just let me feel safe? Why did she have to take that all away from me?

I haven’t been the same since then. As much as I’ve moved around, I am still afraid of being found. As much as I try to be invisible, I can still be traced. As much as I try to live my life, I am still in fear of her. Is she watching me from afar? Is she behind me? Is she waiting outside my door? Are her words sitting in my mailbox? Is she sitting there, reading my thoughts? Is she planning to hurt me? Will she be picking my gravestone?

I haven’t felt safe since then. I’m not sure I ever will. Because I know as long as she is here on earth, I am in danger. It’s something I cannot change. I chose to be on my own while leaving her to hurt others. I chose to run away instead of putting her in jail. I chose to hide instead of bringing her to justice. I chose this life, and I set myself up for these consequences.

I should have known better, but I was drawn away by the illusion of a free life. A life I now know cannot exist.

I just want to feel safe.

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.

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.

Independence

Today is July 4th, the day America celebrates the anniversary of its independence. In less than one week, on July 10th, I will be celebrating the anniversary of my own independence.

This coming Sunday will be one year since I ran away from home. One year of independence. One year of…freedom (and I use that term loosely, because in many ways, I am still not free).

I don’t think many people in my life understand the importance of that day for me. I didn’t just run away from home. I escaped hell. I escaped a life of pain, a life of hurt, and a life of abuse. I escaped a life I will hopefully never have to experience again.

I didn’t expect to make it this far.

I’m in a weird place right now, for this and other reasons. I need to write, but can’t find the words.

I’ll be okay.

Runaway

I listen to music every day: while I’m walking to work in the morning, while I’m riding on the bus, while I’m working, while I’m walking about the neighborhood, and even while I’m at home working on other things. Music helps distract me when I need distraction. It helps keep me focused when I need to drown out whatever is going on in my head. Music is a big part of my life.

When I really take time and listen to the lyrics, there are some songs that resonate with me. I was sitting at my desk earlier today with my iTunes on shuffle, and P!nk’s Runaway started playing. I started really paying attention to the lyrics and I realized there were parts of it that so closely related to my earlier life.

I was just trying to be myself
You go your way, I’ll meet you in hell
All these secrets that I shouldn’t tell, I’ve got to run away
It’s hypocritical of you
Do as you say not as you do
I’ll never be your perfect girl
I’ve got to run away

I’m too young to be
Taken seriously
But I’m too old to believe
All this hypocrisy
And I wonder
How long it’ll take them to see my bed is made
And I wonder
If I was a mistake

I might have nowhere left to go
But I know that I cannot go home
These voices trapped inside my head
Tell me to run before I’m dead
Chase the rainbows in my mind
And I will try to stay alive
Maybe the world will know my name
God won’t you help me run away!

-P!nk

Throughout my life, I tried to be a good daughter. It took me some time to realize that no matter what I did, I would never be good enough for my mother. She didn’t want me to be good enough, because that meant that some of the attention was taken from her. Narcissists don’t like that.

Secrets. I was tired of keeping secrets. I got to a point where I wanted to shout to the world exactly what I was going through, exactly the type of person my mother was. I started to, little by little. I was tired of staying silent. And that put me in a dangerous situation, because I was still living with the very person I was starting to speak out against.

When I talk about my journey to freedom, I sometimes (without thinking) refer to my new life in terms of running away from my old life. I’ll say “when I ran away from home”. People don’t really understand what I mean when I say that. I’m an adult. Adults don’t run away from home. They just come and go as they please.

Except I couldn’t. I was living in what was essentially a prison.  When I left on July 10th, I ran away. At 29 years old, I ran away from home. I may have left out the front door, but that’s only because I was three stories up and had no other exit.

I wasn’t really 100% sure where I was going to end up, but I knew at that point that I had to leave. If I had stayed much longer, I would not be sitting here today. And I recognize that reality. So much was going on in the months before my escape. It was dangerous. It was a dangerous place to be. I knew when I ran out the front door that day, I could never go back.

I did not run away from life; I ran towards it. Those first 29 years and four months of my existence were not life.

I ran away so I could live.