overcoming loss

A Decade Out

The line sounds like the cliche opening in a movie trailer, but it’s plucked straight from reality: ten years ago, my life changed forever. I was a 17-year-old dreamer who believed in everything, feared nothing, and dove right in. But on April 20, 2005, I became a 17-year-old adult who didn’t believe in anything, feared EVERYTHING, and second-guessed facets of life I’d never even fathomed. I was thrust face-first into a harrowing situation, and the result was a broken human with a temporary case of PTSD and a life-long case of GAD and depression. 4/20/05 literally changed the fibers of my being, down to the very synapses in my brain.

I’ve talked (briefly) about losing my first love before, but sometimes I feel like I could write forever and still not manage to describe the events, the emotions, the people, the smells and sounds. I could never do the day justice through words in a million years. Whether I go a day or a year without thinking about it, when I let the moment completely take me over, I still feel the same dense sadness in my sweaty panic as I remember.

A struggle as a writer–especially one on the Internet, where things are public as public can be–is how much to reveal. Sure, it’s my life and I can tell my stories, but I very much take into account the privacy of others when I tell a story that doesn’t involve me and me alone. A decade out, though, I feel like it’s a disservice to J’s memory to leave out the details of how he died. Point blank, addiction killed him. I didn’t know it then, but god, I see it now.

The thing is, we see addiction as this gross, shadowy thing in our society. Only horrible, gaunt, rotting people who sell their children’s belongings to get a fix are the ones who get hooked and die, right?

Wrong. So wrong.

J was so different from our societal image of addiction that no one saw it, not even I. He was warm and disarmingly handsome. He could make me laugh with such ease, and even in our hardest times, it never felt uncomfortable. He was caring, intelligent as hell, family-oriented, and loved his friends. J attended church, even though I didn’t, because it mattered to him. He, on paper, was perfect. But the boredom of living in a town that didn’t provide enough stimulation for him–for most of us–pushed him on this precarious path of substance abuse we ALL walked down in that time. The thing is, he walked further than the rest of us… and it ended in the worst way, the way it never should have.

But that addiction doesn’t take away what he gave me, his family, and all of his friends while he was still here. The only thing it actually does is make it a horrible accident, and anyone who says otherwise doesn’t deserve to hear the memories the rest of us get to share with each other about a magical human who touched us on an intimate level.

I used to think “Hey, maybe I shouldn’t share this because it’s not just my story,” but the thing is, it is a story that saved me from dying, too. Sure, I immediately went cold turkey the day he died, but it was because I didn’t trust drugs anymore, not because I saw an issue. But when I realized how close or knee-deep-IN he and I and so many others were to addiction, I couldn’t believe no one had stopped us. I couldn’t believe no one had noticed. And then I realized, it’s because we didn’t fit the mold. We made straight A’s, looked attractive and healthy, and we could act our naive faces off. We tricked everyone, and probably the best of us paid for it. A lot more did before him and unfortunately, a lot more have since, too.

Ten years later, I am still broken, but I am alive; I thank J for that gift often. But I think I can thank him more by being more open about him and his struggle, about the different faces of addiction and the different ways we can be addicted. I can thank him by continuing to ruthlessly take care of my health, mental and physical. I can thank him by raising awareness of the INSANE amount of teen drug use, especially in tiny towns. I can thank him by living my life for me and ONLY me, just like he wanted me to.

And in a way, I feel like that means he’s not gone because addiction doesn’t change someone’s core. J’s core was kind, and we’ll spend our time left here making sure that core kindness keeps rippling through the world. He left a legacy that will last forever: through us, through the lives we build, and through the people we help. How many people can say that?

Not many, and we’re all better for knowing someone who could.

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Be Fearless, Live Fearless

When my long-time friend Liz at FitnessBlondie posted that she would be doing a #BeFearless link-up today, I couldn’t wait to participate. It’s a beautiful thing she’s doing, compiling so many people’s stories about overcoming unimaginable obstacles and surviving at the end of the day. I thought about how many of these trying moments I have had in my life, and I have spent every. single. moment. since the announcement of this link-up trying to pinpoint my most fearless moment.

The thing is, I couldn’t. I still can’t. I cannot hone in on one moment I feel is particularly more fearless than the others because I have had so many of them. I started to stress last night and figured I would come to terms with whatever decision I made in the light of the early morning.

I finally realized upon waking that this lack of a single moment of fearlessness might actually be the best angle to approach the topic of fear (or a lack of it) for me anyway. About how it is so present in my life and so hard every day; about how even the smallest victories of fearlessness deserve a mention.

It’s important to me that this be a part of the #BeFearless movement, because sometimes, other people belittle our accomplishments, and that kind of negativity has to stop. It might be a really big deal for someone to just… wake up, and that should be commended properly.

So here it is: a list of my fearless moments — some big, some small — but all equally important. The most crucial aspect of publishing this list of mine, however, is that I want anyone who reads this to feel just how much your fearless moments matter, even if someone has tried to tell you otherwise. All of the moments you overcome fear are victories, and damn the cynics who belittle ALL of our accomplishments!

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1. I had to choose to live again after losing the first man I loved to a horrible addiction, the man who had already asked my mother if I could one day be his wife. I had my struggles along the way, but I did finish college and started grad school. I did find another love. I did find my happiness and my faith again.

2. I overcame crippling PTSS and the accompanying violent panic attacks. It was hard. I had to fight for my life through therapy, through HELPFUL medicine, through many nights of anxiety and non-sleep. I had to fight against people who told me I was crazy, against people who don’t believe in mental illness, against my own brain’s disruptive and destructive behavior.

3. I had to learn to let go of two mentally abusive relationships in college. I loved the men in them with me so much that I was blind to the fact they were putting me down constantly, making me feel like I was not worthy, and trying to make me feel trapped by pushing away then pulling me right back. I finally realized I wasn’t a fish on a line, and it took a lot of work to let go of people I still had feelings for. The most fearless thing, I think, was letting them back in my life as friends, and I now cherish them both in that role.

4. One of the above scenarios involved me having to make the choice of whether or not I would go through with a pregnancy or not. This is something I have never publicly mentioned, and there are even some people in my family or friends of mine who may or may not know about this event, but in the spirit of this project, I need people to hear it. Since I obviously do not have a child, we all know the path I chose to take. I know it is a divisive topic, but it is a topic others may need support with right now, and that trumps everything else. I am being fearless in this moment of confession alone because what I have to say could save someone else’s life.

I need people to know that it was a horrific thing to go through, especially because I went through it without my partner at the time (another instance of mental abuse on his part). I need people to know that some of my friends were so judgmental that I had to lie to them about what really happened, further deepening my self-loathing. I need people to know that I had postpartum depression, a time my mother says she has NEVER feared more for me, despite all the deep places I’d already struggled through. I need people to know how important support was for me and could be for you. I need people to know I came out the other end realizing I had done the right thing for both of us. I need people to know it is something I will never regret. I need people to know that if you don’t agree with this or me or others who go through the same struggle that we can all still love each other; we can all still live in harmony even if our beliefs don’t align.

5. After ALL of that hurt and pain, I found the courage to love again. It’s cliche as hell, but now I’m in love with my best friend of three years, and I have never felt more appreciated, loved, or healthy.

6. I went, by myself, to a HUGE city I longed to live in and work in for the long haul. It was scary, but I had to do it. I also then made the decision to come back because I needed more time to find myself, to say goodbye, to find love, to spend time with my loved ones. I don’t know which is more fearless, but I know it took a lot of bravery to do both.

7. I finally admitted to myself that many of my health issues probably stemmed from being overweight. Now, if you know me, you probably are thinking “YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN OVERWEIGHT!”, and I would agree 100%. But my genetic frame is much smaller than what I had allowed myself to carry for so many years, so I worked my ass off to lose the weight I needed to to feel healthy. This has brought along a LOT of comments from others such as “Eat a cookie,” “You must be on Adderall,” “You’re too skinny,” each more creative and hurtful than the last. What they don’t understand is that now my heart, digestive, back, and mental health issues are ALL almost completely under control because my frame genetically needs less weight in order to function at its best. I am still learning to be fearless in the face of these comments, but it gets easier every day.

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8. I left a job I loved to start a career I was unsure I could handle. It was horrifying, and I woke up crying many days, but I have found so much happiness and reward in being a high school educator. I have had to be courageous in the face of students, other faculty, administration, parents, and even outsiders who have commented about my style of teaching or my salary. Still, I fought through to find a home in a career I may not have forever, but a career I will always love.

9. I overcame the tremendous mental block I had to go talk to my psychiatrist about my depression returning. I had to suck it up and say “I cannot do this without your help, or I will die.” It took so much effort and the process is still occurring, but without the fearlessness it took to overcome my pride and my illness, I would not be half the person I am writing this today.

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I feel like there are so many other fearless things I could write about, like standing up at the karaoke bar and singing in public for the first time or finally choosing to sleep with someone again for the first time in two years after my heart was broken. I could mention the times I worked through my POTS attacks alone or underwent two horrifying surgeries in one week. I could talk about so much, because so much of what I do… of what we ALL do, every day, is from a place of fearlessness.

Never let someone tell you you aren’t brave enough. You are. You are.

#BeFearless