There was blood in my sneakers again.
I’d walked almost a mile in the dark to get to the bus stop. It was the closest stop to my co-worker’s trailer, where I was staying for a while. There would be two more buses and lots more walking to get to work. I wouldn’t make it on time. I never did anymore. The buses were too unpredictable and came whenever they felt like it, even if I stood there early with my feet throbbing and blistered.
It was dark again by the time I reached the trailer every night. My co-worker gave me the master bedroom because she preferred to sleep on the couch near the TV. She attempted to clear out the boxes before I got there, but I still couldn’t navigate the room without bumping into her stuff. My temporary bed greeted me with dead flying termites on the sheets every evening. My co-worker warned me about them before I moved in, but since my only other option was homelessness, I wasn’t being picky.
I am in hell. The thought crossed my mind often. My co-worker was my only connection in the world, and after a while, I even shut her out as I spent more time alone in my room. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. There was nothing left to say. I was estranged from my husband, but I couldn’t divorce him because I didn’t have the money. None of my friends wanted anything to do with me, not after the wide swath of damage I’d done to my life and theirs. Nobody trusted me. I tried to get away from my husband and the drugs before, and nobody believed I’d stick to my word this time.
I decided my life in the trailer and all the chasing of buses had to be a penance for the bad things I’d done. The suffering was of my making, and it was time I took responsibility for that. No more blaming everyone else for my mistakes. No more making false promises or telling lies to get my way.
I somehow lived through a nightmare that should have killed me many times over. There had to be a reason for that. How did I survive overdoses and nervous breakdowns and my husband’s wrath? I felt like an empty shell devoid of the person I used to be. Even with a decent job, I barely had a dime to my name. My only possessions were a garbage bag full of clothes and my makeup case. Everything else was gone, including my sense of well being. I learned to take the blows of bad things happening in my life and turn the other cheek to take even more. Years of doing that left me feeling numb and ashamed.
Living in the trailer marked the first time since I was fifteen that I wasn’t in a romantic relationship. There was only me, the person I feared and hated the most. I was stuck with her in that trailer bedroom all the time. Still, I didn’t wish for my husband back or any other man in my life. I knew it was time for me to be alone, as scary as that sounded. The real me was hiding somewhere. I was desperate to find her, and I knew I had to do it alone.
I was at my lowest point, sitting on my co-worker’s bed covered in dead termites with nobody who loved me. It felt like penance for every mistake I ever made. I abused my body with drugs, alcohol, and bad relationships. My life was so far from normal it would take me forever just to break even. Sometimes I’d peek out my tiny window at people who lived in the trailer next to ours. They were busy living their lives, being a family and even driving their own cars. I felt so far removed from any of it.
My pity party for one lasted for three months. I barely even talked to my roommate anymore except to say hello. The thought of small talk seemed so foreign to me. I believed I couldn’t have a real conversation without selfishly manipulating it with my own problems. I hid in my room and prayed to be rescued by an imaginary hero who would take me away from the trailer and make all my dreams come true.
Once I realized no handsome prince was coming, I knew had to save myself.
It was time to stop giving other people power over me. If I wanted to make a good life for myself, I would have to do it on my own. I lived through so many years of bullying and gaslighting that I had no sense left of myself. My likes and dislikes were what someone else told me they were. The gut instinct I once trusted implicitly was gone, replaced by anxiety and uncertainty that affected every area of my life. It was time to stop running away, time to stop thinking my handsome prince would save me from myself. Because when it all shook out, there was nobody left but me.
I made a budget of income and expenses, intent on finding a new place to live. Then I made a list of the people I’d betrayed at the height of my addiction and apologized to them one by one. It didn’t matter whether they accepted the apology as long as I was sincere. I couldn’t control the outcome, but I could try to make things better.
When I had panic attacks, I fought them head-on instead of using substances to calm myself down. I looked at my anxiety differently, knowing it would eventually go away and knowing it was due to a physical illness rather than something I caused to happen. Battling with shame over my actions was the hardest part, but I reminded myself that I have the power to learn from my mistakes. I felt grateful for the days I felt at peace instead of worrying when the other shoe would drop. Little by little, I took back what was mine, and I trusted myself to manage my life with care and compassion.
I realized I hadn’t been living, but just waiting and hoping to die. My self-destructive behavior not only hurt me but also those around me. I’d rushed through life trying to get to the end as quickly as I could to escape the pain I felt inside. Now, I appreciate the gift of every day as it unfolds. Sometimes even the bad parts are a gift because I learn from them. I remember that when I struggle.
I saved enough money to move out of the trailer. I thanked my sweet co-worker and gave her back her bedroom. My new place was small, just half of the house my landlord lived in, but at least it was a place that belonged to me. I realized how lucky I was to have a clean bed to sleep in and to have enough to eat. My life was at its most simple then, the way I preferred it. I built my world back up from scratch and only included those things that served me well.
Best of all, I saved enough for a divorce from my estranged husband. He played it cool when I told him over the phone, but I sensed he was upset over his loss of control over me. I wasn’t saying yes anymore when I wanted to say no. Instead, I said no and meant it, and if someone didn’t like it, that was too bad. Being on my own was less scary than I thought. I learned to like my own company instead of letting my mind race frantically when I was alone with nothing to distract me. It was okay if I didn’t have a romantic relationship for the first time in my life. I was learning to love myself again.
Years have passed, and I now have a family I adore. I’m married to the best husband in the world. He lets me be myself and doesn’t make me apologize for it. He encourages me to live life to the fullest and is there for me every step of the way. The friends I have now are true friends, not just people who want to take advantage of my good nature. I’m living my dream with my writing career after not being able to sit still enough to even read a book for several years. I realize that life has blessed me, but I also acknowledge the work I’ve done to get where I am.
I wouldn’t trade my life experiences for anything, even the scary ones. They are part of what made me who I am today, a person I actually recognize and even sort of like. I’m living proof there is a way out of a hopeless situation. I trust my instincts today because they don’t steer me wrong anymore. My head is finally clear. If I can escape my past, I believe anyone else can do the same if they trust in themselves.
Remembering who we really are is important. It’s something nobody can take away, a sense of security when times are difficult. The first step is trusting ourselves, and it lasts the rest of our lives.