Sometimes the funniest among us are those with the hardest of problems.
This is her story:
I'm pretty good at being the class clown and making people laugh around here. I'm usually able to come up with something positive or an uplifting story when the editors call for lighthearted posts.
So when it feels like life is dark, I have a hard time letting it be known. Of course, when the pain of staying the same outweighs the fear of change, I'll do something different. I'll reach out on Twitter, and sometimes I'll even post about it here with The Band.
It's one of those times.
Sunshine works in construction, which means that there can be great seasonal fluctuations in our household income. This year, we went beyond a fluctuation; the work dried up around Thanksgiving, which means the income went away. Literally, we have had three checks come in since Thanksgiving. Three checks that have not been enough to cover our expenses, much less The Christmas. We tore through the company's meager operating capital to survive the last couple of months.
I'm grateful that Sunshine has rubbed off on me. He firmly believes that the problems that money can solve are the good problems to have (if there is such a thing). See, we can always find a way to bring in more money; so if a problem can be solved by throwing money at it, it's not a bad problem to have. It's the problems that money can't solve that we don't want: health issues, heartbreaks, shit like that.
However, after around two months of being broke, it's starting to get scary. When I say broke, I mean broke. We are floating checks left and right (and the NSF fees for a business checking account make personal account NSF fees look dirt cheap), I am having to do fucking maths at the grocery store, we just put gas for our generator in my car for fuck's sake. We have no idea when the next money might come in, unless you count Sunshine's small quarterly check from the Bureau of Indian Affairs that's not due until the first week in April.
I could sit here and rail against contractors who use undocumented immigrants because they'll do the work for a third of the actual rate (because they don't carry the licenses and insurance coverages we do); I could scream and bitch about contractors that insist you act as their bank and do the work without getting paid for it until THEY get paid; I could gripe about homeowners that want you to rebuild their entire cracked & crumbling fireplace, hearth, and chimney but they don't want to spend more than $400 to do it (yes, somebody actually tried that).
None of that would do any good.
The first six weeks or so of this broke spell wasn't too bad. I've learned in recovery that if I just have faith, we'll be all right. This last couple of weeks, it's been getting harder and harder to stay calm. It's starting to feel like there is a pile of bricks on my chest; it's hard to breathe.
I'm scared, y'all. I'm a little bit angry, which is generally my response to fear or pain. Right now, it doesn't matter how much experience I have that tells me we'll get through this; the human psyche sometimes just does what it does. Right now, what it is doing to me is driving me batshit. And being so broke I have to do maths at the grocery store? Means that there ain't no stash of cookies hiding in the cupboard so I can eat my feelers. I'm stuck with them, which we all know sucks because FEELERS ARE BULLSHIT.
So I'm dumping this shit on y'all.
Because if there's one thing I've learned since I got clean, it's that pain shared is pain lessened. See, when I share my pain with others, it's like each person who I shared it with is now carrying a piece of that burden for me--making my burden easier to bear.
Now, before my sponsor can make me do it, I'm going to go ahead and make a gratitude list. And because you guys are gracious enough to help me carry my burdens, I'm going to share the gratitude list with y'all.
I am grateful for y'all. Y'all can't fix my problem, but y'all hold my hand while I walk through it. I am grateful that, in spite of the fear that grips my heart, some part of my rational mind still knows that this too shall pass. Walking through the fear sucks, but I know from personal experience that eventually I will come out the other side of it okay. Whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger, right?
I'm grateful that, no matter how bad it gets, I am never alone. I'm grateful that most of you know me well enough to know that I really will get through this; that I am not completely lost in despair, I just need to get it off my chest. I'm grateful that we all know that I am a survivor, and when I sort of forget that y'all don't hesitate to remind me.
I am grateful beyond words that Sunshine spent most of 2012 paying shit off. It leaves us with pretty minimal expenses to have to worry about covering. Thank heaven we no longer have a truck payment, motorcycle insurance, a loan for his jeep, the tire company credit card maxed out, the forklift payment...
I refuse to think about the corporate insurance policies that renew in a couple of months with their monster down payments, I can't do that right now. I just can't. Instead, I have to be grateful that we are in that brief period where we're covered and the policies are paid in full. Denial isn't always a bad thing.
Every decision I ever made in my life was based in fear until I found recovery from my addiction. Today, I am grateful that I can share my fear, and y'all can help me live with faith.
And maybe soon, I'll be able to be the class clown again. I know I could sure use some humor, and I would imagine y'all could too.
Thank you for listening, the Band. Now, I need to go put on my armor and head to the grocery store to do some maths.
2012 - what a year.
For some of us, it was a year of dreams fulfilled, questions answered and our way, at long last, found.
For some of us, it was a year of loss, sadness and longing for what we once had.
For all of us, it was a year in which we learned, loved, and grew.
What did 2012 mean to you?
Two decades ago, it was "funny" that every few years, I had a wild one. I'd have a year where I got married, almost died, and bought a house; or one where I switched careers and moved across the country away from everyone I knew - that kind of thing.
As I get older, though, people are starting to roll their eyes; they don't find it so amusing.
Yeah, well, they can stuff it: I learn hard and I change big, because I can't bear to do the same wrong things once I realize they're wrong. It's hard sometimes; I started from a place of learning that almost everything "wrong," learning to hate myself, to be unhealthy, to sabotage my life.
Today, though, I looked in the mirror and realized that 2012 was not only yet another year of big changes; it was actually a year of big WINS.
This is a strange thing to say, on the face of it, as 2012 may have been the hardest year of my life. My horribly difficult breakup with my best friend of 12 years continued - and may have concluded? - this year. In January, my husband moved out, and months of attempted therapy did nothing to prevent the divorce which is now being finalized (well, soon hopefully).
By September, he had moved in with that ex-best-friend, and they're still together (I'm not sure if it's romantic, but oddly enough, it doesn't matter). I've cut off all contact with them in the last few months because every time I encounter either, it's to face a tidal wave of hate and poison from the two people I used to rely on the most - no, entirely - to be my listeners, lovers, and supporters.
And the job I left my family and moved across the country for a few years back? The politics turned ugly and I got fired, both unfairly and unprofessionally, leaving me wondering how I'd pay the bills and where I'd get the money to support my family like I'd promised. And lonely...lonelier than I've ever been, for longer than I ever thought I could stand it.
But a couple things happened.
I realized, through a long and difficult process, that my former-BFF and my former-husband were, irrespective of the good things about them, not good relationships for me. They were manipulative in the extreme, needy, and graspy and willing to turn on me like wolves when it looked like I might not provide them the support (emotional and financial) they felt entitled to.
Having them out of my life may have left a vacuum, but it also gave me a freedom - an ability to grow, live, and pursue my path, that I've never had. I only have regular-type-friends here - and I'm close with some of them, but not with anywhere near the intimacy as the ones I lost - but they're MUCH healthier relationships, with boundaries and considerations built in for ME.
The process of learning to set up, maintain, and end relationships based on what's good for me has been huge...plus, while I may not have any close partner-types right now, I do have something I never had before: a social network.
A web of people I can rely on for different things, to different degrees, and I no longer feel like my whole emotional and social life rests in the hands of one person and their being happy with me. There are people it would make me really sad to lose...but I know that I would be okay if I did, and I know that I would say goodbye to them if we began to hurt each other, which is something I should have done with my other two YEARS ago, only I was too afraid of living without them.
Well, now I know that I can, and what's more, I'm pretty good at it.
Losing my job may have turned out to be the best possible thing, too. After so many years in offices, burning 50 hours a week on someone else's (often stupid) instructions, working hard on projects only to have big corporations screw them up or sacrifice them (and their engineers, including me) to the bottom line - I decided that, rather than start over in the same damn cycle, I'd go freelance, start my own business, and do what I do for clients, rather than rely on one company with no loyalty to me whatsoever to pay my whole way.
And I love it. LOVE it. It's only been a few months, and I'm not paying the bills with it yet, but I'm bleeding savings a lot slower than I'd feared I would be. Though the future of it is intimidating, it's also amazing. I've wanted to write and travel my whole life, and suddenly it might be possible - in fact, I'm taking a small trip or two this winter, just to teach myself to do it (and cheaply). And I've joined a writer's group and have been making better progress on my art than I did during my whole last marriage.
Best of all, I'm learning to be alone without necessarily being lonely. When I need to reach out and there's no one on hand to hug, rather than folding into a corner and crying, I call my mother or my brother and tell them I love them.
Sometimes one of my just-friends is around, and I've found the courage lately, too, to say to them, "Hey, I need a hug," and to let what they can give me help, even if it isn't the 100%-all-encompassing-love I've been trained to think is the only thing that will do. Sometimes I hug my roommate, and once I asked if I could hug my therapist, and those helped too, much to my surprise.
Sometimes I write a card or a letter to someone - even just a distant aunt or cousin I've barely met; I go online and look for someone who really needs a small donation for medical bills or something and I send them a few bucks and a nice email; or I just meditate on how life is lonely sometimes and that's not a death-sentence - it's just a pain, like having a stomach-ache, and everyone suffers pain sometimes.
And then I get up, and look around and realize that this is MY life and I like it that way. Even if I'd love to have more company someday, I wouldn't want to give up the freedoms I've gained this year, not for anything.
I've got so much to do, share, and be. What looked like a year of hard losses may have been a shedding of exactly the things that were keeping me from doing and sharing and being all those things.
Thank you SO much for sharing 2012 with me, The Band. Your message and your stories have always helped.
I hope mine can, too.
Such a simple word with such a variety of implications, not a one of them simple.
In November, the Band focused upon recovery - from anything. Part of getting through the traumas, the addictions, the mental illnesses is to focus on the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel and focus upon new coping mechanisms, new ways of life, and recovery.
So, The Band, how are YOU recovering? What are you recovering from? How are some ways you cope while recovering?
Recovery. I’m not sure I know what that word really means.
Each time illness strikes, each time I’m injured, every time I have a mental breakdown, I fight to recover and return to normal. But things never quite get back to where they were before, and I no longer know what “normal” even means. What I do know is that there will be no time in my life when I will be able to say, “I have recovered from this.”
I have a history of mental illness, although for most of my life I have been able to keep it under control enough that most people who know me have no idea. I was diagnosed with biological depression at age 11. By age 15 I was borderline Schizoaffective Disorder. And at 19 I was diagnosed with undifferentiated Schizophrenia. Basically, I get all the forms - paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, disassociation, etc. - but at a lower level.
In the past I have controlled the Schizophrenia with meditation and physical exercise, in addition to some horrible dark times on medications that left huge gaps in my memories. There are months – even years – of my life that I don’t really remember, or I can’t trust the memories that are there.
Still, I have learned to cope and to recover to some extent from each bad episode.
But then I started getting physically sick and my mind got harder to control. It started with a rappelling accident that left me with two broken legs and torn up knees. I worked hard to recover from that, pushing myself so hard my physical therapist had to tell me to slow down. I recovered better than they said I would. I had been told I would never climb stairs again and would likely have to walk with a cane. I proved them wrong, and while I was never able to run again, I proved I could walk just fine.
But things still weren’t quite right. I was always tired and I started to ache in more than just my legs. Over the next 10 years I was diagnosed with a variety of autoimmune disorders, starting with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and progressing through IgA deficiency, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, fibromyalgia and finally discoid lupus with associated Raynaud’s syndrome.
My whole idea of recovery changed. I no longer visualized getting back to where I had been before I hurt my legs. Instead I focused on recovering from each “flare” and being able to get back to school and work.
But recovery was just a pipe dream. As the frustration built over being in pain and being exhausted all the time, my control over my mental illness slipped and I had a breakdown. I had to quit college and my job and ended up leaving all my friends and “family” to move in with my parents.
After a few months I did recover somewhat. A new doctor led to new medications and new therapy and I was able to get a job. And I was able to work like a “normal” person for several years. I lived close enough to work that I could go home on my lunch break and take a nap and I found other ways around my various illnesses. But after a few years of trying to keep up the pace, I started to lose it again. It was a high-stress job and I tried to get them to give me a break, shorten my hours, and work with me somehow so I could keep going. They were unsympathetic and I ended up quitting to save what was left of my sanity.
That was four years ago, and since then I have had six different jobs. Each one starts out fine, but after a few months my body gives out – I can’t stand as long as they need me to or sit at the computer long enough. I can’t lift or carry heavy things and my tolerance for stress has gotten less and less.
I recently lost yet another job because I had a breakdown at work. I just couldn’t do it anymore - I couldn’t work through the pain and I couldn’t deal with the people anymore as my anxious mind struggled to differentiate between which voices were real and which ones weren’t. My doctor now has me applying for disability. My three cats and I just moved in with my parents … again.
So what does recovery mean to me now? I really don’t know. I will never have a “normal” life. I don’t know if I will be able to live on my own again. I am so exhausted physically that most days I have to have someone drive me to appointments. And I am so exhausted mentally I don’t know how to talk to people anymore. I have anxiety attacks over just going to the grocery store.
I know some level of recovery is possible; I’ve done it before. But the future is a blank to me and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be working toward. I just keep going day by day and hoping something heals.
Keeping a smile on my face while everyone around me goes about their daily business is slowly tearing bits of my soul away, piece by piece by soul-killing piece.
I sit here, answer phones, direct people to and fro, answer questions, run errands - but for how much longer? Three days. Three long, dreadful, ridiculously painful days. Why? Because I am no longer qualified for my position within the department for which I work and, rather than promoting me (which they totally should, btw), they are terminating me. They already have someone to take my place. Two someones, actually. Two someones to job share this position that I have held for four years.
"Congratulations!" I hear so many people say to me about my graduation.
"What are you going to do now?" is the ultimate question.
I have no idea. With the job market the way it is now, finding a job is like digging for, and actually finding, diamonds.
So, I apply - and apply and apply and apply. I have been applying since January and still, nothing. N-O-T-H-I-N-G. Not even a real nibble. Just a bunch of nothing. I know this is probably not a big surprise given the unemployment rate but it is a big deal to me. I have never had a problem finding a job and now? Well, I have never felt so useless.
I don't know what to do anymore. I have no health insurance. Since I graduated, I no longer have access to the healthcare that is so very important to my mental well-being. I am no longer medicated. No more medications for my highs, no more medications for my lows, no more medications for my anxiety and my sleeplessness.
I am struggling here. Struggling not to self-medicate with drugs. With alcohol. With anything I can get my hands on. Sure, I see a counselor every two weeks for "talk therapy" but honestly, it isn't doing anything and I am tempted to stop. It's just money I am spending that I don't really have and with one last lowly paycheck coming, it's money I don't really want to spend.
Being bipolar and unmedicated is hard enough without all this added stress. I am reaching my breaking point. It's coming. I can see it just over the horizon and I am SO SCARED.
I am running this race with everyone in life, trying to keep up. But all I do is fall behind. It feels like I am just running in place.
We all have letters we'd like to send, but know that we can't. A letter to someone we no longer have a relationship with, a letter to a family member or friend who has died, a letter to reclaim our power or our voice from an abuser. Letters where actual contact is just not possible for whatever reason.
Do you have a letter you'd like to send but can't? If so, send it to us.
Please, The Band, keep in mind the mission of Band Back Together and the Guidelines for Submissions are very clear in that we are not a rant site - the purpose of our posts and our mission is to be able to share our stories in a safe manner while encouraging healing.
(This is a letter that I wish I had the courage to send to my husband; instead, I'm sharing it with you, The Band. I need to get these things off my chest. Either I write and hit submit or I cry in the bathroom at work. Thank you again for all that you do)
Maybe we married too quickly - I'd only known you for a year before we said our "I do's."
I loved you so very much.
I still love you but I can't do this on my own any longer - I can't manage a household alone. I can't raise our children on my own. I can't pay our bills and cook our meals and plan fun things and make insurance phone calls on my own.
I need you to find a job. Fuck, I need you to look for a job.
I need you to grow up and become responsible.
It didn't bother me when you were first laid off. I understood. But it's been three long years and now I'm resentful. I come home from work to find you've been downloading music and talking to your friends but no dinner is cooked and the baby's diaper hasn't been changed in hours.
After working all day, I do the grocery shopping, I do the laundry, I give the kids baths and arrange for them to eat. I help with homework and I pack backpacks for the next day. I fill out school and medical paperwork. I figure out the bills we can pay that month.
Then you get mad that I'm not in the mood for sex.
You're not a bad person - I know that. You're loyal and trustworthy and that means a lot. More and more lately, all I can think about are the ways in which you are lacking; the ways you are not the man I want or need you to be. I've been thinking that this marriage of ours isn't going to last. This will not be my "happily ever after" or "'til death do us part."
I've tried to tell you some of these things but I tread too lightly; I sugarcoat the truth. I begin and stop when it gets too sticky. I never cross that line. I don't want to hurt your feelings and I don't want to fight. Maybe I'm weak for keeping it all bottled up. Maybe I'm scared that if I put my thoughts into real words, we really will crumble. I truly do not want that.
I simply don't know what to do.
I didn't want it to be like this for us. I knew there would be tough times, but I thought we'd be fighting the tough times together - on the same team. I never thought I'd be the only one in the trenches, while you're sitting on the couch; apparently not even considering our future.
Why can't you open your eyes; see all the things that I'm not saying?
Why don't you know that this is not okay?
Why aren't you trying to make our lives easier; better?
Why don't you help me? Don't you see the tear-stains on my face? The fake smile? The way I crash into bed after long stressful days?
Is it my fault?
Have I enabled you too much?
Is it too late for us?
I don't think so... but I don't know how to change our course. I know that if we stay on this road, we will eventually get to a place we cannot return from. I want to get to a place where we still stand a chance at making it.
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