This was a pretty exciting day in my life. The two years that lead up to it were a hellish nightmare I would wish on anyone. Loss, betrayal, devastating heartache, unearthly pain. And then suddenly, carrying the full brunt of needing to support four kids under eight, one of whom was barely past being a newborn. All while living through a yet-undiagnosed nervous breakdown.
Being on welfare was probably one of the hardest things I’ve experienced to date. Whether people have nice things to say or not, the fact of the matter is, when red, white, and blue blood surges through your veins, taking handouts and living in free housing and all that is really really REALLY rough. So many tears. So much shame. And yet, so much motivation to just hunker down and work my way out of that place. Out of Section 8 and out of food stamps. Out of desperation and poverty.
When I met Bill, ironically, one great obstacle that was between us was my desperate need to not move from the support of one man (my ex) to the support of another (Bill) without having fully found freedom on my own. Without having fully stood up on my own two feet without any assistance. It haunted me, really. When we’d talk about marrying and me/the kids moving to his house, while I wanted that, something in me also sank at the thought of doing that before I accomplished this one all-important task.
Part of it was due to the fact that I wanted to role model to my kids that when life takes ev.ery.thing away, it is possible for a soul to survive. Possible to thrive. It is possible, when everyone leaves you and no one stands with you during the worst of it; when the money is gone and the grief is raging; it is possible. You can live through it. And you don’t need to die, even if you want to. But the other part of it was that if I became a dependent of someone else so quickly, it would have verified to myself my greatest fear ever; that I cannot. That without someone there to pay my bills, I could not make it.
And while there is a bit of dysfunction that I can now see all whirled up in that mess of trying-to-be-strong thinking, there was also the presence of a newfound tenacity.
The day I got the letter that I no longer qualified for state/county support in any way was incredible. My case workers called me to say that if even 5% of the people on welfare here in Stearns County had the attitude that I did – that welfare is there to help you stand up again, not to forever lean on the state for support – that their jobs would be wildly fulfilling instead of such a frustrating disaster. They sent me cards and flowers. I knew I was going to be broke as a joke once money and assistance stopped coming in, but words cannot express the liberation I felt in that day. To know that *I* stood up. That *I*, even in the most broken state of my life, didn’t lay down and die. I took help that I needed when I needed it, but eventually, I worked up enough strength and good old fashioned hard work to crawl out of that hole.
It’s taken me years to reframe the events of those days. Years to see that I did not choose this. The choosing was someone else’s and the choice they made completely tore my life (and my kids’ lives) from one end to the other. Somehow I’d framed it that *I* chose to leave the world of alcoholism – and while part of that is true, or at least that I chose the events that lead up to the complete obliteration of that life – the more accurate way to see it is that it was put upon me. The only choosing available to me was to either lay down and die as I so desperately wanted to do in those dark, dark days or to get up and fight. With every limb broken and bleeding, to still keep swinging.
And I chose the latter.
I chose to live.
It’s true that sometimes divorce can bring relief. But what un-divorced people don’t know is that it also brings with it amputation and vacant spaces and cycles of lifelong ungrieved grief. I always say that it IS death, but it’s just not one that the world encourages you to grieve through. You don’t get a casket to throw your broken self over and weep upon that body one last time. You don’t get a funeral where all your loved ones gather to hold you as every piece of you breaks into smaller and smaller pieces. You don’t get the eulogy wherein precious memories are told and shared and held sacred. In fact, what you get is the opposite. Judgement and people who will talk about you but not to you. You get a lot of aloneness. Not just in your bed at night but in all corners of your life. People who used to acknowledge you, now don’t. People who used to say that you were so brave for “sticking with it” now won’t make eye contact. And this sort of shunning, all while death is swirling round your head and choking your every breath, is honestly more than a soul is meant to take.
And yet. And yet there is hope. There is tomorrow. There are people not-yet-met who are waiting to bear your burdens. Waiting to come along side you and offering healing. Willing to love you through what takes a normal, sane person and turns them into someone and something that’s rather awkward and stunted.
Of all the decisions I’ve made in my life, choosing to live as my entire world died is probably the one I’m most proud of. And while I will live with the limp of the way that those years impacted my health for the rest of my life, the other parts of me were remade. Reborn. Redeemed. So much bad, turned to so much good.
Fight the fight that’s in front of you. Grieve when you need to and don’t *not* do that even if the world says you aren’t supposed to. Bottled up grief is poison. Get it out. Surround yourself with people who cherish your very existence. People who’d gladly give of their everything to help see you through. People who are tough and resilient and who won’t leave your side no matter what. And work hard. The good life isn’t free. If you want it, go get it. If you don’t want to lay in the ash heap of a life that is now dead, stand up and brush the dust and death off and get moving. One day, your bones will heal and your heart will reassemble. And though the scars are permanent, the diagnosis isn’t.
#justkeepswimming #grace #fortitude #redemption #godsplansforyouaregood