Ahhh, the glory days. There was a time in my life when I was debt-free, sitting on my front porch drinking PBR and having weekly yard sales just to lure hippies into the yard. My friends and I would sell extra stuff and even throw some items into the big oak with a sign that said, “If you can get it, you can have it.” Hannah would play in a wading pool nearby and I lived off of $650/mo. We spent many years like this, or in a similar way in Texas, just living day-to-day. It was glorious.
The only problem with all that leisurely living was that I didn’t spend a minute thinking about the future. You see, I have not exactly led my life, so much as I’ve been led by my life. Most of the significant decisions I’ve made have been reactions to events and/or changes in circumstance.
Back before Hannah was born, when I was 18 and living with 20 or so of my best friends in a one-room basement apartment in Idaho Falls, Idaho, I was date raped by a person whom I thought was my friend. I was a virgin at the time and he knew it. I suppose that was some of the draw. He casually got up afterward, lit a cigarette, and said, “Don’t you just crave a smoke after?” Then he let himself out the way he’d come in.
Being the complete idiot that I was, I thought no one would believe me. Instead of telling anyone, I climbed in a bathtub of scalding water and bleach, licked my wounds, got dressed and went straight to the Grand Teton Mall to work my shift at the Benetton. Not telling my girlfriend about it is one of the biggest regrets I have in my life, as she might’ve been spared some hardship of her own.
A few weeks after that went down, I met a super tall, strong and sweet boy. He wasn’t pushy with me, ever, and by Christmas, we were dating. We got engaged in February (this was Mormon Idaho, after all). We were married in August 1992.
The first six months were super tricky, and somewhere in there I quit eating, but by summer 1993, we’d moved to Texas, near my folks, and life was good (besides the anorexia and my ongoing battle with bulimia, but I digress.). We both had full-time minimum wage jobs, an orange VW bus and we just lived. I found out I was pregnant on my 21st birthday. I started eating again and we had Hannah on February 2, 1995. All was well in the world.
But my husband got a better job in Salt Lake City and we were tired of Texas so we moved in August 1995. By April 1996 we were separated and later divorced. That’s how I ended up in Salt Lake, as a single mom, at 23.
I stayed and worked from home until Hannah was 18 mo. old and I just couldn’t make ends meet, so I got a regular job. I went through quite a few “careers” in the next years. They never paid very well, but she and I had a great time.
I was involved in a couple of very stormy relationships that eventually drove me out of Salt Lake. So in the winter of 2001, Hannah and I headed back to Texas. While in Texas I got to work with my older brother, Dave, every day and it was awesome. Hijinks ensued. Hannah was happy and her dad would come visit and stay with us all the time. He and I have remained the best of friends.
We were debt free and surrounded by family, I was doing the rounds as a singer/songwriter as well as trying my hand at skydiving and learning the art of a southern good time. Truly some of my favorite times were had during this period.
Trouble was, I was still fixated on an ex I left in Salt Lake. So, when he came back around (four years later) I jumped at the chance to get married and move back to Salt Lake.
The next four years were a roller coaster. I founded a nonprofit “spinoff” of my Dad’s company that had immediate, amazing success. We had a beautiful house in the suburbs with a little stream in the backyard. My husband was hardworking, hilarious and fun. We really felt like a family a lot of the time.
But there were always undercurrents of discord with he and I. I think we both expected too much from the other. I desperately loved him and pushed down truths about myself like how much I hate the suburbs and conventional family roles. Also, I am a difficult woman. I come from a long line of difficult women. We don’t try to be. We RESIST it, but all of us are prone to melancholia and disenchantment.
And there was the drinking. Many a night I’d watch from the living room as he’d drink beer after beer and dance to the same 15 songs over and over, and all by himself. I had expected to be happy. Instead, I felt lonely and deeply confused.
I do not blame him for my misery. I fully take responsibility for getting myself into that situation. The only proactive decision I’d ever intentionally made was to start the charity. After being married for four years we got divorced. His new wife moved in before I’d even unpacked my apartment. They are a much better fit.
For a year I stayed in Salt Lake pursuing leads for more grants, and successfully raising enough funds to keep the foundation humming. I got some commitments for big grant money, but then the bottom fell out of the market and I lost all funding.
Once again, I packed up my now 14-year-old and headed to Texas to regroup. I thought Dad and I were going to create a hybrid company, combining his for-profit business with my non-profit business, but the six months we lived there ended up being like a re-enactment of the Clash of the Titans. My entire identity, and the rest of my dignity, got smashed up and thrown out.
Hannah and I got in the car and drove. We drove for about two months. We didn’t know where we’d land or what we’d do next. I spent the two months examining my choices and beliefs that got us there, and in truth, I carried a spirit of repentance with me. I asked myself and others for forgiveness for the things I had done wrong and for my hubris.
I also looked for jobs in my field. But it soon became clear that because I had no degree, and the recession was in full swing, I was not going to get a job in international aid. So what did I do? Did I spend weeks thinking about a life I wanted to create? No. I took the first job I could get.
In January 2010 I passed the insurance licensing exams and joined as an apprentice insurance agent for a nationwide firm with lots of local offices in Salt Lake City. It took me two weeks to study for and pass the series 6 and 63 financial exams. To date, taking that job was the single most idiotic thing I have ever done. Even though I hit all the highest benchmarks, it was costing me a fortune. I eventually had to mortgage my Mercedes, take out loans, live on credit cards, beg and borrow. I was literally at work from 8:30 to 8:30 almost every day. I hardly saw Hannah.
I had been there almost a year and could see that if I continued to hit all the benchmarks then in another year I would be able to start paying off debt, and in five years I’d be bringing in big bucks. I had convinced myself that I was sacrificing now so that I would be able to pay for the best art school in the country for Hannah when she decided to go to college.
So. F***ing. Stupid.
I quit in November upon learning that my sweet daughter was in crisis. With me at work all the time and her dad distracted by his work and other kids, she lost herself. She went from being a cheerful and creative little girl, to a confused, wronged and very depressed young woman.
Her childhood ended while I was at work.
Shame on me. My journey to forgiving myself for that is far from over.
Once again we got in the car and drove. We drove until she had told me everything. We cried and talked and laughed and drove.
We returned to Salt Lake City with no plan. Now I had no job AND we had a mountain of debt. The reality was it would be impossible to work any job because I could not leave her alone, for even an hour, for months.
So, I got rid of the Mercedes. We moved to a cheaper apartment with gorgeous views, but a few, um, quirks. (no dishwasher, no washer/dryer, rusty tub that doesn’t drain, kitchen sink doesn’t drain, power outages galore, etc. etc. etc. ) I quit paying all but the essential bills. I got us both enrolled at the local community college and got grants and loans. Much to my dismay, I had to suck it up and ask my Dad help us out. 2011 has been an excruciatingly humbling year.
But back to 2010. I neglected more than Hannah while playing insurance and securities agent. I neglected myself, too. And then I let the worry about Hannah get to me. By the time we started school in the spring of 2011, I was chubby, addicted to diet soda and had started smoking again.
Instead of addressing all that, I spent the year being laser-focused on school and trying to help Hannah remember who she truly is, thinking I would get myself sorted out later. It turned out to be an alternately awesome and stressful year. We both made breakthroughs, and I love school. But I took on too many things and too many classes leaving me even fatter and frazzled. I never opened a single collection letter.
In the meantime, Hannah and I have slowly been accumulating more and more stuff. I used to be able to easily fit all of our belongings in an 800 square foot house. I now have a 1,000 square foot apartment that is about to burst at the seams and a storage unit equally filled. It’s a dark struggle to keep up with the cleaning and care of all the crap.
This brings us to November, 2011. A few unfortunate events occurred that plummeted Hannah briefly back into the black hole she’d tenuously crawled out of. We made strides through conventional means, but I felt a big part was missing. I had recently had the epiphany that 2011 was the first year I had ever put thought into, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” and was discovering the power that comes with envisioning a future and putting plans in place to achieve your long term dreams. I had never even had long term dreams. I’ve had vague wishes, but never allowed myself to formulate a picture of a life I wanted to have, nevermind going so far as to believe I could actually have it.
The true internalizing of the fact that we CAN create our future was such a huge thing for me that I had started wishing I could find a mentor or something for her who could help inspire her to see those things for herself.
Enter my new friend, Doug. We were in the trenches working on the worst group assignment of all time in the worst English class I’ve ever taken. It would have been impossible to complete if it hadn’t been for Doug and our other new friend, Jen. One night at the library I expressed my desire to find Hannah a mentor. He then told me he was the chief facilitator for a company called Outlook Development and expressed his great love for the work and invited us to attend a “Power of Choice” seminar the following weekend. It was a friggin’ miracle!
It was also the last weekend to study for finals, but it was totally worth the unsatisfactory marks I received. Not only did we wrap up the weekend with Hannah’s light re-lit but after just one day there, I quit smoking. Hannah has decided she wants to become a mentor for the program and help other people, too.
To that end, we signed up for the “Power-90” program. The program is built around the idea that wild goals can be achieved and giant emotional obstacles can be overcome if you simply apply the right tools. They include a diabolical plan that completely traps you into following through on the commitments you make. It involves 2hrs of face-to-face classes per week, weekly calls from coaches, daily calls from program “buddies” and more. So far we have been coached into creating a clear and specific vision of what we want our results to smell, look and feel like.
Some people are on a path to acceptance. Some want to feel empowered and capable. Some want to finally get in shape. I want to be who I truly am. I want to “put to rout that which is not life” or which is not me. I am on a journey to let go of the fat, junk, financial mess and leftover emotional baggage once and for all. Only then will I truly be living my most authentic life. A simple life, in the pursuit of knowledge, unfettered by the material and free to “move about the country.”