So, it’s November 2006, and I’m divorced, living alone, working as a massage therapist and struggling financially, and I’m newly single from my rebound relationship with someone I really loved and cared for.
Basically, life sucked. Finances were growing more and more unstable, so I took a job working part-time at Borders. Massage was slowing down dramatically, and I’m constantly stressed about money. I’m more alone than I’ve ever been. Sure, I hang out with my co-workers from Borders, but it’s not the same as the close, true friends I feel I’m missing. My closest friends all live far away. I found myself sinking slowly into a horrible depression. The holidays were rough, and winter seemed never-ending.
But then spring came. As February ended, and everything around me started blooming and growing, something in me shifted. I remember walking by the river one cloudy morning, crying and listening to The Weepies and realizing I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I sat down by the river, and finally cried. I cried harder than I’d let myself cry during the whole process. It started to rain, and as I stopped crying, the sun peeked out. I remember spotting a small, orange poppy, the first thing to bloom, among the dark clouds and dead plants of winter. Something broke in me—I wanted my life to grow again, as cheeseball as that phrase is. I was tired of feeling sad, alone, broke and depressed. I had to make a change.
I began spending hours looking for a steady job. And within a week, I found one. I started working at a group home for girls who are emotionally disturbed. My eyes were opened to a whole new life—a world of girls who were literally forgotten by their families and the world. I worked a morning shift, serving as a mom and a teacher’s aide all in one. I arrived at 7 am, make breakfast, give them meds, take them to school, help teach, manage their behaviors, make lunch and review their goals for the day with them. It was incredibly hard work–emotionally and physically, but it got my mind off of my own life, and onto the lives of young girls who’d endured more than I’d ever experienced.
A few months later, I made two choices that changed my life. First of all, I got a roommate and I moved out of my tiny apartment. I cried the entire time I packed, because I loved living there, and while I’d spent some of my darkest days in it, it was home. It was where I’d grown and learned so much. But I knew that if I had any hope of paying my bills again without help from my family, I needed to reduce expenses, pronto. It was difficult, but the stress it reduced was tremendous. Secondly, I decided to pursue my teaching credential. Being in the classroom at the group home showed me that my childhood longings of being a teacher were still in my heart. I applied to an internship program that allowed me to teach while getting my credential and was accepted. I started teaching in July 2007, and finally felt like I’d found my place in the world. Teaching made me feel alive again (cliche, I know, shut up) and gave me a brand new focus in life. Teaching continues to be a literal lifeline for me—I’ve never been so passionate about anything, ever, and I feel as if I have a purpose that I’m fulfilling.
Romantically, it took a little bit longer. I’ll definitely keep blogging about all the bad dates I went on after J, because believe me, there’s more where that came from. But finally, in December 2007, I went to a wine and fondue party hosted by a friend, and met Andrew. We went on our first date the Wednesday after, and we’ve been basically inseparable ever since. For a long time, I believed I’d never have another shot at love. I felt as if I’d squandered my one chance to have someone love me, to experience a deep connection with another person.
Turns out I was wrong. I’ve spare you the annoying, barfy “we’re so deeply in love” speech, but the truth is, we are deeply in love. My relationship with Andrew has been difficult at times, but has given away to extreme joy, trust, and love. We had a bit of a rough beginning, and I’m not gonna lie—I’m no peach to be in a relationship with. I tend to want to run away at the slightest argument because I still fear being hurt. It takes a lot for me to trust him, to love him, and most of all, to let him love me. Fortunately, he’s nearly as stubborn as I am and doesn’t let me get away with that sort of nonsense. Andrew has shown me what it means to love and support someone, to accept them, and to grow together. Living with him has added a whole new level to our relationship, and I couldn’t be more grateful to have him as my partner in life.
The next two days, I plan to post about my guide to surviving when your life falls apart, and how to help a friend who is going through a divorce or a serious situation, but in case you don’t keep reading, I just want to offer hope. I like to think that I’m proof that you really can lose everything and come back from it. Yes, it will hurt like hell, and yes, it will take a long time (well, sometimes) but you will stand up again. You can feel joy again. This experience taught me to follow my heart. It taught me to say yes to what I was feeling. I learned to stand up for myself. I learned to communicate with those close to me about how I’m “really” doing. I learned that I can take control of my life. I learned the value of a budget. I learned who my true friends were and are. I learned to never, ever judge anyone else’s story or life, because you never know the path that your own journey will take.
If someone had told 21-year-old engaged, hopeful, innocent me that all of this was going to happen to me, I’d have never believed them. Still, I look back on this journey with immense gratitude. I met incredible people, worked jobs I’d never expected I would and grew into a person I’m pretty damn proud of. I’m still flawed, I still have “issues” and I still have a lot to learn. But I’m a better, stronger, more experienced version of me. I’ve found love. I’ve found hope. I’ve found myself.
The best part is? So can you. Stay tuned for my take on how to grow when you find yourself at your own rock bottom.