I’ve been working with a life coach on and off for about eight months now. Yesterday, she hosted a virtual retreat to help women intentionally plan for the new year. She used my story as an example of how our childhood shapes and defines us as adults. I haven’t shared much about this “story” of mine, but there is quite a bit to it.
Like many young adults, my parents got divorced. The split happened shortly after I was born. I grew up spending the majority of time at my mother’s and then visiting my dad’s house, 45 minutes away, every other weekend.
I was laying in bed the other night fantasizing about my upcoming marriage and it occurred to me that almost every single person in my family is divorced.
My mom has one sister - divorced & remarried
My step dad has one sister - divorced & remarried
My step dad’s parents - both divorced & remarried
My dad has two sisters - both divorced & remarried
Both of my parents got remarried before I can even remember, so I grew up having four parents and living two COMPLETELY different lives. I can’t even begin to describe how confusing and difficult this was as a child and then as a teenager.
With my mom, I lived a pretty typical middle class lifestyle. We traveled and took vacations a lot. I played in expensive soccer leagues and wore name brand clothes. Then, I would go to my dad’s house on the weekend and ride dirt bikes, four wheelers, and horses. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with either of these lifestyles. I’m a firm believer in doing and living in whatever way fulfills you and makes you happy.But when you are a kid grasping for a sense of identity, torn between two completely different lives, it’s hard to feel like you fit in anywhere. I think most kids feel this way as they enter middle school and high school, but adding in my two dimensional life made it even more complicated. I always felt like an outsider.
I would go to my dad’s house and feel like a visitor. Not even comfortable enough to open the pantry and make myself a bowl of cereal. They had their family unit, my dad, my step mom, and my two half siblings. I was more like the dog that slept outside in a wood house with no door. I used to go down to my room in the basement with no windows and cry and cry and cry. I just wanted to go “home.” I kept a photo of my mom and her 90’s haircut in a purple frame with green hearts on my dresser. Typing that out makes the memories come rushing back of sitting on my bed, tears flooding all over that silly frame as I held it in my hands.
Around the time I was 13 or so, I made the choice to stop going to my dad’s house. I tried to explain to him how I felt, but I was just a kid. A kid having to make an adult decision. I had just finished middle school.
All of the other girls in my grade had friend groups and dated boys. Again, I lived as the outsider. I have no idea why I was the target of bullying, but I was. I was like a circle trying to fit in with the puzzle pieces. Eighth grade consisted of everyone making fun of me for being a lesbian. I wasn’t. Not that it would have mattered if I was. I started dating boys and by dating I mean holding their hands in the hallway at school and messaging with them on AIM (because that was what we did back then). While everyone else was making out with boys, I was innocently holding their hands for like two weeks before we would break up.
Anyways, high school rolled around. I dated a guy from another school and that became the target of the bullying. Constant jokes and rude comments about him. Why did anyone care? He was my first real boyfriend and my first real kiss. He was a few years older than me. I loved him as a person long after we broke up during my freshman year.
A few short years later, he was killed in a boating accident. He was the driver. I woke up in a tent in the middle of nowhere to tons of texts that said, “I’m sorry about Broc.” It’s a small world because my parents now live on the lake where the accident occurred. His ringtone for me was Angel by Jack Johnson. I tear up every time it comes on, but it’s a sweet reminder of him and how much he adored me. In fact, it came on just a last weekend at a party I was attending. He always called me, “girl.” I would pick up the phone and he would say, “Hey, girl.”
After Broc and I broke up was when the serial dating started. I was so young, but looking back it’s easy to see the deep, open wounds I had from the divorce and broken relationship with my dad. The older, popular football player and track star of my tiny, cornfield high school had a little crush on me. Dating him was where I learned the lie that men will only be with you if you sleep with them. Desperate. Broken. Alone. Trying to find my place in the world. Trying to be accepted and wanted and needed. Everything I wasn’t to my dad. I lost my virginity in a forced situation. I carried this lie about my worth with me for a very, very long time and into every single relationship I had after that.
My family wasn’t exactly religious, so I didn’t really have a standard or expectation to live up to of what was right or wrong. I didn’t understand that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. In fact, I didn’t really know anything about sin. Or Jesus for that matter. Until a soccer friend of mine from another school started bringing me to her church. I loved it there. I started going every Sunday once I could drive. I would even drag my friends there after a night of underage drinking. I would sing every song at the top of my lungs and tears would pour down my cheeks. The hurt and guilt I carried as a teenager was so immense. Church was the only place I felt uplifted and loved.
I fell in romantic love for the first time when I was a sophomore in high school. After seven months, he decided he wanted to break up. Looking back, every single break up (there were MANY. I told you I serial dated) felt like my dad abandoning me again and again. Not only that, but every single “best friend” I had would abandon me, too.
And I’m not saying it was their fault! I clearly was a common denominator in this, but the fear of being abandoned became so intense that I became very suicidal. I wanted to run away from everything. I did a few times. I was angry. So freaking angry. I remember the night my parents admitted me to the hospital. I swung a nice, solid punch at my poor mother’s face. I kept kitchen knives in the bathroom drawer. I still have thin, little scars on my wrists from when I would sit in the bathroom and attempt to cut myself. Thankfully, I never did any real damage. I kept a journal where I would write weird poems about life and death. Meanwhile, sex was my drug of choice. I was in and out of therapy for a year or so, but my walls were built up so high that no one could get through to me. They put me on medication, but I quit taking it.In the end, all I really wanted was to feel loved, wanted and accepted. I think we all want to feel that way.
When I went to college, I told myself things would be better, and thankfully, they were, but the patterns in my life continued. I made girlfriends and I lost them. I got into a one year relationship that was toxic, but in college, I finally started to understand that my worth could never be measured by my story or by my relationships or by anything earthly for that matter.
My senior year of college, I was nominated for homecoming court. My sorority sisters were so happy for me. They helped me get all dressed up to walk across the football field with a handsome man on my arm. I didn’t win, but the fact that I was nominated was enough to make me feel the warm and fuzzies.
We all went out to a fraternity house that night and partied our asses off. It was around 1am. I’m sitting on top of the bar and get a text from my mamaw (my dad’s mom) and it says “Your papaw died today around 1:00pm.” I immediately burst into tears, run outside and call my mom. My mom had heard the news earlier in the day, but didn’t want to spoil my night. I remember the exact stoop I sat on balling my eyes out surrounded by women who are still some of my best friends to this day.
I had just started dating my ex fiance at the time. He struggled with drug addiction and depression, so probably not the best person to help me process and deal with the loss of my grandfather. I decided to shove it in a suitcase, throw it in the attic, and move on with my life. I didn’t even go to his funeral because I didn’t want to face my father who I hadn’t seen in seven or eight years. Instead, I went alone to visit and stay my grandma a week or so later.
My mamaw and I were very close. She was the only one who I really kept a relationship with from that side of the family. She loved me dearly. Three days before Christmas this year, I got a text from my dad saying, “I wanted to let you know that mamaw died.” It’s been a few weeks, and I’m still in denial. So many little things remind me of her. Like ham, green beans and cornbread and the piercings on my ears that she did when I was in high school (against my mother’s will). She was absolutely loony, but I loved her dearly and always will.
After I graduated college, I got a job in Indianapolis and moved in with my ex fiance’s parents. I had thousands of dollars in student debt. I had to borrow my parent’s car to get to and from my job until I could afford to buy one. My ex was still living up where we went to school because he had a job up there. Eventually, he moved down to Indianapolis with me, and we got an apartment. Things were alright, and then that fall, I decided to go back to school to get my MBA. Between working full-time, trying to figure out how to be an adult, and getting a master’s degree, I started getting really stressed out. I’ve always struggled with depression and anxiety, but things really peaked around this time.
And for the cherry on top, we decided to buy and renovate a house. My ex’s parents gave us the money for the down payment. Our little “renovation” turned into a full on gut job costing us thousands of dollars and leaving us living in a house with no AC in the middle of summer, no kitchen for months, and even no electricity for a few days. It was great (pure sarcasm). We were broke and struggled big time trying to get the house to a livable state. I remember my parents helping us move in our furniture, and we literally had dirty, old subfloor. I had to do dishes in the bathtub until we could afford cabinets and a sink.
Once the dust settled (literally) from the renovation months later, I started pushing for marriage. It was something we had talked about prior to buying the house with both of our names on it. Between finishing the renovation and us getting engaged our relationship really started to go downhill. We were growing in completely opposite directions. I started getting more involved with the church, and he started getting more involved with drugs and alcohol.
Not very many people know this story, but the night he proposed to me, I was trying to break up with him. He came home late from the bar and I was upset. In the midst of yelling and screaming and fighting, he reached down to the heating vent and pulled off the heavy, cast iron register to pull out a little box. He threw it at me on the sofa and stormed into the bathroom to take a shower. I heard a fist hit the wall. I stared at the little box feeling like I might throw up. When he got out of the shower, I went to give him a hug and apologize. We embraced. He then asked me if I looked in the box. I said, “No, did you get me earrings?” He grabbed the box from the sofa, got down on one knee and said, “Will you marry me?” That was it. The ring wasn’t even my size, but I slipped it on my finger and went to bed that night eyes wide open burning a hole in the wall.
The next few months were pure misery. I will never forget some of the words that were spit in my face. I was told that I was brainwashed by the church. I was told that I was nothing without him. I was told that I was psycho and crazy. I googled “depression after engagement.” I found the book emotionally engaged and read that like it was the Bible. I would cry so hard in the shower almost every single day. On my knees praying to God as the hot water scalded my skin. I never wanted to abandon someone the way I had been abandoned. I told myself that I had made this choice, that I had made a promise, a commitment, that relationships are never easy, that things would work out between us. Well, they didn’t, and they were never going to. I actually started Thoughtfully Thrifted during all of this chaos.
Thankfully, God answered my prayers when my ex decided to leave me. We had just bought our second house and were planning to get married later that year. I called up the best realtor in town and she had the house sold without us even putting it on the market.Another relationship shattered to pieces, yet this time, I felt far from abandoned.
One of our mutual friends helped me move into an apartment down the street, and in that little B2 apartment was where I grew into me. The person underneath all of the guilt and shame of the past finally came forward. I clung to my passions and my faith.
I’ve spent the last year or so forgiving so many people in my life, but most importantly myself. I feel lighter, happier, and more connected. Losing a sorority sister to cancer and then my grandma unexpectedly at the end of the year, was a wake up call. Life is too short to live according to the narratives our pasts shape for us. My heart isn’t living in the past or looking to the present. I’m just focusing on one day at a time. On CHOOSING to be happy. And for once, I really, truly am.