I recently read a post by a young lady regarding how she feels like a failure because life threw a stick of dynamite into the path she had set for her life and blew it all to hell. I know how that feels. I’ve been there. Some days I’m still there. I’ve dealt with so many sticks of dynamite I should be a damn pyrotechnics expert by now. But I want to toss out a Readers Digest version of my adult life to let her and others know that despite our best plans blowing up in our faces, life goes on; we find another path, and sometimes another, and another. Life is a journey and sometimes we need something to happen that makes us take off the blinders we’ve put on and take another look around. A lot of this is hard to write, as I reminisce. I haven’t always handled my failures well. I’ve done things I really kind of wish I hadn’t. But it all brought me to where I am today and helped make me the woman I am today. And she’s pretty damn awesome … most of the time. So let’s go back and see where I came from. (edited to add: This is really long, now that I’ve finished. Just warning you.)
I started college during the autumn following my high school graduation. I had an agreement with my parents regarding the financing of my college education, which was the same agreement they had had with my older brother. Basically, they would pay for my first year, and every subsequent year would see me responsible for an increasing percentage of the expense until I received my degree. It was fair and had worked with my brother, and I had no problem with it. But when the time came, due to other expenses they had encountered, they didn’t have the money. So I took out a loan and along with the small scholarships and grants I had been awarded, I had the money for my first term and an agreement from them that they would pay for the remaining terms that year. So off I went. I studied, and I had a good time, and at the end of the term I went home for the holidays.
Two days before I was to return to school, my parents sat me down and said they didn’t have the money for me to go back. They would drive me the few hours back to campus and help me get my things. If I wanted to continue my education, I could save up the money while I worked during the next term, and then go back. Nice plan. A solid plan. I would work for a few months and get the funds for the following term and head right back to the world of higher education. This was just a glitch. No problem.
I got a job that paid decently and started saving my paychecks. And then he walked into my life. Uh oh. Another glitch. A big one. One that found me shipped off to my sister’s house 900 miles away on the East Coast so I didn’t run off and get married. A year and a half later we got married anyway and I moved 2,000 miles back the other way to join him where he had been assigned military duty. Going back to school was a thought that had been pushed to the back of my mind as life moved along. I got a job, he was miserable (having left another woman behind who I had no idea even existed, but that’s another story), and in less than a year we were divorced. I was 2,000 miles away from my family, on my own. Great. I could have gone back home. Some of my new friends even asked me why I didn’t do so. My marriage was over, there was nothing keeping me there. Nothing but my own stubborn nature that said I was damned if I was going to go back home and hear, “I told you so.” Wow. I had messed up big time. I was a failure. A complete and utter failure. What to do? What to do? I know. I’ll drink heavily so I don’t think about it. And after work, I’ll drink again. And the next day, the same. And the next. But I had to keep going because life went on whether I wanted to keep up with it or not. There was nothing to do but put on my big girl panties and find another path. I took on a second job, paid my bills, and looked for another path.
Two years later found me laid off and living on unemployment for a time (which paid rather well, based on my previous salary), and living with a man who got drunk and pushed me up against the wall by my throat one night. Yeah. I wasn’t putting up with that. I packed up everything I could get in my car while he was at work and I hid out at a friend’s house for two days waiting for my mother to get a flight so she could drive back home with me. I was young and my parents didn’t want me driving cross country on my own. There was no “I told you so,” just “We’re proud that you stood up for yourself and left.” So I was back home with no money for going back to school and returning to my original path, so I had to find another.
What to do? What to do? I know! Follow my teenage fantasy of working in the heart of Chicago. Chi town. That toddlin town, as old Blue Eyes called it. Not only working there, but living there. Small town girl in the big city. I would get a job and apartment, and be a part of the exciting rat race. I secured a secretarial job with a law firm located in the center of the Chicago Loop and started my daily commute to the city. It was a fairly long commute so my workday including travel time was about 13 hours, 5 days a week. After a few months, I ran into a high school friend who was riding the same commuter train and we decided to get an apartment in the city together. Two young women, mid 20’s, sharing a studio apartment. But it was Chicago! It was exciting! It was grown up! It was… overwhelming. So now what?
A year after I joined the rat race I quit my job and, along with my oldest sister, moved 900 miles away to be near our other sister. Back to beautiful Virginia, the Chesapeake Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, and with the local Naval and Marine bases, 8 men to every woman. Yep, this was the place to be! I would get a job, find a husband, settle down. Not as easy as it sounds.
But I eventually did find a husband and I spent 10 or 12 years there – I forget exactly how long, but it was a long time. Over the years I took some classes at the community college, learned new skills, didn’t get the education I originally wanted, but I got some of it. I had a job I liked and a husband who I loved – and who turned out to be an alcoholic who quit working when his mother passed away and decided to live on the couch and drink himself into oblivion while I worked 2 and sometimes 3 jobs to support us. I finally left him, knowing he was slowly committing suicide with alcohol and I could no longer watch it happen. Damn. Another marriage down the tubes. On my own once again. What to do? What to do? Drinking sounded like a good idea (yeah, I know. I left an alcoholic and started drinking heavily myself. Don’t remind me). But then I couldn’t get up for work in the morning. I was getting too old, could no longer drink all night and get up and go to work. But wait! I just happened to have a friend who could get me something to straighten my head after drinking. It wasn’t legal, but what the hell. It gave me the ability to drown my sorrows, stop feeling that horrible feeling of failure, and still go to work. Yeah, it was great! Better than liquor! It let me not feel anything. Glorious oblivion! But it was addictive. Highly addictive.
Fast forward about 8 months – still able to go to work, but not able to make it through the day without a bump or two…or five? 10? Screw work, I need something to keep me going. I lost my job. Went in one morning and found all my personal belongings packed up in a box. I called every hospital and rehab center in the area, to no avail. I told God I was going to make one more call and if help didn’t come, I was done. I broke down and called my sister, who by that time was living back in our hometown with her husband and daughter. She had always been the one person I could count on to not judge me, whatever I did. I poured out my heart to her, told her everything. She told me to stay right where I was and she would call me back. Within 30 minutes she called me back and said she was on her way. I called my dealer for what I knew was the last time. I just couldn’t face what I had to do if I had to feel those feelings. If I had been a failure before, what was I now? I was a freakin drug addict with no job, no hope. I had and I was…nothing. No, I was less than nothing.
I think it was three days later, after two bottles of wine with dinner and a few of my sister’s Xanax tabs, that I told her I was ready. She had found a rehab center that would take me, they were just waiting on me to decide to show up. When we got there, the intake worker didn’t want to admit me because I had been drinking. I gave her an ultimatum – let me stay, or I wouldn’t be staying anywhere ever again. This was the moment of truth. My darkest hour ever. Help me. Those words have always been difficult for me to say, and they still are. Having to ask for help is, to me, the most humiliating and degrading thing I can do. It means I’ve failed, and that is not acceptable.
So anyway, I stayed there for 2 weeks with another 6 weeks, I believe, of daily outpatient treatment. I got clean and sober. I went to meetings. I started learning how to feel again. But I didn’t trust myself. How could I? I was a failure, for crying out loud! But I reached out to everyone I met, told them who and what I was, admitted it to myself and everyone around me as I came to grips with reality. Several months later I met a man online who fell in love with me over the computer. He was older than I and he wanted to take care of me. Yes! My prayers had been answered! Someone would take care of me, would make decisions for me so I didn’t have to. I couldn’t fail again because it was all in someone else’s hands! Hallelujah! Praise God and pass the potatoes!
I shouldn’t have trusted myself to make that decision either. Three years later found me married to a man who controlled every aspect of my life. I couldn’t even go to the grocery store without him. The only thing I could do on my own was go to work and bring home my paycheck that he would spend and then make me call the utility companies to make excuses and deals to not shut us off, and with the landlord to not throw us out. Two tween stepsons who didn’t give a shit for me didn’t help much, either. This makes failure…how many? I’d lost count by then. Once again, my beloved sister came to my rescue. It’s a wonder she never gave up on me. But she hadn’t. And she still hasn’t. Anyway, she bought me a train ticket and I ran away from home with a week’s worth of clothing and my important papers.
I left everything and hopped on a train which I rode for 26 hours to move in with someone I had met over the Internet (again???). Yes, again. But this one didn’t want to control me. He wanted to help me heal. And he has. He taught me how to stand on my own two feet again and how to trust and believe in myself again. We have had our struggles, but 9 years later we are still together with no intentions of changing that fact.
And my path has changed yet again. After the surgery I had this past September, we moved away from the town we’d been in all that time (see my blog titled “Almost Amish” for that story). My employer refused to compromise with the work schedule I proposed. I now live too far away to make a daily commute (so says my car and my anxiety disorder), so I had to tender my resignation and turn my part time home business into a full time endeavor. I’m now working for myself as a freelance editor, proofreader and writer. When I was a young girl, THIS had been my dream. This was the path I originally wanted to take when I was growing up. This is where my passion truly lies.
My business is not yet terribly lucrative, but I am gaining more repeat business and steady clientele. Yes, we’ve had to ask for help. I’ve spent time alone with my own tears over that fact. It’s still one of the things in life I find most degrading. But I also know that sometimes I have to do that in order to achieve my goals, or at least to give me a chance to reach them. You’re probably looking back through this narrative and thinking, “what goals? She just meandered around life screwing up everything she touched and is now trying to say she had goals??” Yes, I did. Every screwed up step of the way. But this is the Readers Digest version of my adult life and it’s long enough without sharing all the details which you really don’t want to read and I really don’t want to share.
The bottom line of my story is that life never works out the way we plan for it to. In my almost 50 years of existence, I’ve never met one person whose life turned out they way they planned it. You set your goals, you make a plan, and you do whatever it takes to follow that plan. And then life steps in with a stick of dynamite or a bushel basket of lemons. You think, “this isn’t fair! This isn’t how it’s supposed to be!” But it is how it’s supposed to be. Every failure, every roadblock, every stinkin lemon is thrown at you for a reason. The question is what are you going to do about it? Yes, give yourself time to grieve for the loss of that perfect life you planned on that isn’t going to be what you wanted it to be after all. And then grab a lemon, slice it open, and squirt that bitch called Life right square in the eye! And look around for the new path that’s beckoning you to take that first step down it.