I was sitting in a laundromat parking lot, with a quarter tank of gas and 9 dollars. Everything was ending. My life was upside down, again, in the worst way. For the first time in my life, I faced true homelessness.
If I could have made myself disappear, shrank to the size of non-being in that moment, I would have done it. I just wanted to stop hurting. To stop running. To stop wondering if I was going to have a place to sleep that night or if my partner of three years was going to lock me out of the apartment we shared.
This is the end of the story. I need to start at the beginning.
I lost my husband Jack, in 2010, to leukemia. There are no words to tell you about the deep blue hell of grief and loss that comes with watching the person you love most in the world get sick, suffer, and die. Everything I could try and write about that pain would probably sound cliché. Until you’ve experienced it, you don’t really know what kind of power that pain has. I lost my “person.” I lost myself, who I was when I was with him, which was an infinitely better person than who I was alone.
About a year after Jack died, people started expecting me to “be better”. To go out, socialize, to be normal again. I started going to a little pub that had live music on Fridays and Saturdays after work. I was a CNA for 20 years. To ease my social awkwardness, I had a couple of drinks. I found that it eased the pain for a little while, so I drank more. After a few months, I was binge drinking 3 to 4 nights a week and making the 45-minute drive home, across the mountains, blackout drunk. I got a DUI, did the required first-time offender’s program and the counseling the court required of me, thinking it was a one time slip. I kept drinking, and I kept driving.
I moved to Florida four years after Jack’s death, thinking the sunshine and a fresh start somewhere new would do me good. I had the support of my best friend from college; a friendship that has sustained me for 20 plus years. Melanie convinced me that with her nearby I would have a family. I packed my car and my cat. I left behind a 4 bedroom home and everything in it and drove a thousand miles into the unknown.
I met a man and we dated and eventually moved in together. I was still binge drinking, and my partner was a functional alcoholic.
Somewhere in my flawed, grief-ravaged brain, I imagined we had bonded over the shared pain of our childhood abandonment and abuse. I saw beyond the dysfunction, into someone who had a heart and good intentions. I saw someone who understood what it meant to hurt the way I had. He had children from a previous relationship and I desperately wanted to be a mother and create the family life I had always wanted. Neither of us had healed from our previous losses and we were not healthy together.
I did everything I could to try and make it work, sacrificing my own deeply held beliefs, my self-esteem and dangerously, and my self-agency. Even when the relationship turned abusive, I remained. Being on the end of abuse was familiar and my fear of abandonment so strong that I refused to leave. I was also worried about the fate of the children involved if I left.
Love is not enough to sustain a relationship when both partners operate in alcoholism. In the end, my partner became emotionally and financially involved with someone else, and the time came that he forced me to leave for good. No amount of tears or begging or fighting would make him let me stay.
After he left for work that morning, I locked the bedroom door and I swallowed approximately 25 Klonopin ( a benzodiazepine tranquilizer) and 15 muscle relaxers. I had been hysterically crying and hyperventilating for hours to the point of vomiting, so I took several anti-nausea pills to try and keep the meds I had swallowed in my system. God was with me and I vomited everything up. I lay there for a few hours. I tried calling my partner but got no reply. Too embarrassed to call my best friend, I waited for the dizziness and heavy-limbed feeling to lift enough to drive and took myself to the nearest mental health hospital and checked myself in.
I spent two weeks in treatment and was “stabilized”. Like most troubled people, I began to feel better in the structured environment of the hospital with counseling and medication. There was still drama with my now-ex partner, who did come to see me. On the one visit, he let me know that he and the woman he had been involved with were now a couple, and I was devastated. In my still twisted head, I wanted to go “home” to him and to the familiar environment.
I had been referred to Learn to Fish Recovery Center for Women and Children by the social worker in the hospital’s discharge planning department and was making plans to have my belongings moved out of my former home and into storage.
One of my fellow patients was kind, handsome and protective of me. Hospital romances are strictly forbidden, but we passed notes and spent long evenings sharing our histories and our hurts.
He said he “had a nice two bedroom apartment and why would I not consider moving in there, instead of going into a recovery home?” I could pay nominal rent, do the housekeeping and he would respect my need to heal and not enter into a relationship.
It was during these last few days at the hospital that hurricane Irma passed through our area. Phone service and electricity were out all over town, and I could not reach the intake person at Learn to Fish. I used it as an excuse to leave with J*** when I was discharged from the hospital. It only took a week to become clear, in my bi-polar fog, that I had made a grave mistake. He was a raging, angry alcoholic. He was jealous, manipulative and violent.
I was still speaking to my ex and he was asking me to come home. I let him rescue me.
Less than 48 hours later I was sitting in the laundromat parking lot, lost, broke, destroyed emotionally, exhausted and homeless. My ex had changed his mind, and locked me out of the apartment, in favor of the new woman, who I later found out was pregnant.
I called the outreach coordinator at Learn to Fish Recovery Center and prayed she still had a bed.
God was with me, as he had been, all along.
20 months later; I have started on the long road to wellness. I’m sober. I’m mentally stable and on the correct medications. I have had and continue group and individual counseling. I am part of the 12 step fellowship. I graduated the Learn to Fish program and was invited to stay on as a graduate and to work for the house as the social media coordinator. I spread the message of recovery to others and let our community know about the work being done at the Learn to Fish Recovery Center. I am also house manager at our newly open transitional living center, the next phase for our program graduates.
I facilitate groups at the center in loss & grief, personal insight, dating & marriage, and Women for Sobriety. With the support of the staff and volunteers at Learn to Fish, I have found a family, a home, and I am learning the tools I need to move forward in my recovery. I know now that none of the pain that I have walked through has been wasted. I have found my calling. I want to continue my education, become a certified drug and alcohol abuse counselor and pour into other women who arrive at Learn to Fish the love, support and the many gifts I have been given. I have been redeemed.