Rock bottom is a foundation not an anchor

I must admit, I can be a jealous girl. Not jealous of someone looking at or flirting with my man (which at present, I don’t have), but jealous of where others are as compared to my current life location. I guess I imagined, when I was younger, that I would be further along in my life, career, financial state, etc. than I am right now. Marriage and divorce have a funny way of upending your plan.

Marriage, with the right person, can be such a blessing in so many aspects of your life. I wasn’t so fortunate. Before marriage, I had a great credit score, I was responsible with my money (I was the only one touching it so I knew where every dollar went), paid my bills on time, kept my utilities on. I wasn’t perfect, but, as a single mom I had to be close. I accepted help from the state when it came to daycare, but everything else was me. Without daycare assistance, I never would have been able to work and my oldest son and I would have been just another welfare statistic.

Fast forward a couple decades and I found myself suffocating under a mountain of debt. Credit cards that went years without payment, one utility or another getting turned off every other month, mortgage payment always late, sometimes by months, worries over whether or not we would have money to feed our kids and those kids wearing duct-taped shoes to school. I was so unhappy and, even though I was a stay at home mom, I was working myself to death, baking 60-80 hours a week to make a little money at farmers market and working additional hours to create custom painted items that I sold at markets, craft shows and online. We made more than enough money to pay our mortgage, bills and other expenses, yet there we were. Nothing was getting paid and we were falling further and further behind and there were threats that the bank was going to take our house.

The thing that finally made me realize I was done was a receipt for a paperback book. A paperback book. I found the receipt in my car because he failed to dispose of it.  He was choosing his wants over the family’s needs. The receipt was just the tip of the iceberg and that was my wake up call. I made my plan to leave and bided my time. I was done.

That was my rock bottom. I walked away from my failing marriage. I had no job, no money, no place of my own to stay. Nothing, but my kids, my clothes and my art supplies. My grandpa, who was in rehab healing from a broken hip, let me live in his house rent free while I looked for a job. My parents and sister and brother-in-law helped me with food and gas money until I could get my first paycheck from my new job.

When I left, what I did have was a mountain of debt acquired during the marriage, school loans to the tune of $20,000 that were in arrears, no self worth, fear of the unknown and feeling like a complete and total failure.

Nothing like facebook to add to the broken mess. I watched as my friends bragged about their amazing relationships and marriages. They posted pictures of smiling faces in far off places on sandy beaches. There were grandchildren born and graduations and job promotions and the purchases of brand new homes and expensive cars. People were going back to school, starting businesses and lives were pretty damn good.

And there I sat on a cold hard rock, alone and feeling absolutely worthless. What I didn’t understand then, is that sometimes we have to hit bottom and that is place where we have to make the decision to lay there on the cold rock and let it kill who we are or we can begin to build from the surrounding rubble of our experiences. I paused while I was there for just a moment and then I made a decision. What I couldn’t seem to do for myself, I would do for my children until I could do it for myself. Kids are wonderful motivators. They need you to be there for them and do for them and that is why a lot of us choose survival when the alternative is so much easier to embrace sometimes.

My kids. They were the first stone I placed when I started over.  They were the cornerstone in the rebuilding of my life. Every day, every week I added stones. Some were big and some were small, but they all fit nicely together and made for strong walls and a sturdy life. I got raises and a promotion at work. I started paying off debt that had been long neglected. I became more comfortable in my own skin and gained confidence I hadn’t seen in a long time. I moved from my grandpa’s house into my own apartment, which, at the time, was a little piece of heaven for me. Recently, I moved into a small house in another town, one that has a yard and a garden and a room for all my art supplies. I paid off (or settled) almost $10,000 of debt. I have been paying on my school loans that were almost in default. We are on the right track and doing better than I imagined considering where I started.

But, all of the gains were not without hiccups along the way. We definitely did some back and forth with the positive and negative. We had car repairs, unexpected financial hits and I even got served three times for things that were either exclusively the ex’s responsibility or mutual. Earning much less and paying  more in expenses than him, I paid off the majority of our personal tax debt (just before the tax commission levied my checking account), all the business taxes from a business we both benefited from after promises of help (this time not before they levied my checking account and emptied it leaving me with $0.01) and finally settling what started at a nearly $10,000 debt after paying it on my own for 2 years. I can honestly say I am proud of myself for how far I have come.

I still struggle, watching everyone else. I feel like I should be there too. Buying a house or accepting an awesome job offer or driving a car that isn’t 14 years old and in dire need of repairs. I still get twinges of jealousy because I want the things that they have. I want to go on  vacation or drive a nice car or live in a house that is mine and not someone else’s. I want to be able to take my kids to the movie or out to eat without first consulting the checkbook to figure out if we will have enough money to make it to the next paycheck without running out of gas or food. All of these things are frustrating. My limitations are frustrating.

Forty-five is a strange time to try and start over. My friends, by the age of 45, have comfortable existences. They are married or started over at a much earlier age.  I assume, maybe incorrectly, that their lives are much more fulfilling or less stressful or further along than mine. I feel like I did when I got out of the army as a 22-year-old single mother. Completely left behind and very often alone in my struggle. It is hard to put into words how out of place I sometimes feel.

I have no doubt that things will continue to get better. Not without setbacks for sure, but they will get better. I don’t know in what capacity or any sort of timeline, but good things are coming my way. I just hope they come before I am too old to enjoy them. I mean, I am 47 after all. Not exactly a spring chicken with her whole life ahead of her. There are so many people to meet, beautiful things to see, places to experience and music to listen to. I would like to do all those things while I can still walk, still see and still hear. My life still has a lot of possibility and potential. I just need to go out and pursue it. Hunt it down and own it. Until I find it, I must remain diligent and patient. And patience is definitely not one of my strengths.

New year, new me? I don’t think so.

I have really come to resent this idea that with each new year, you are supposed to reinvent yourself. You see it on every magazine cover, in newspapers, on TV and in a million blogs that cover a plethora of topics.Why? Do we somehow lose value with each year that passes and must reinvent the nature of who we are to be relevant, loved, appreciated or valued?

Can improvements be made? Sure. Who couldn’t make a few improvements in their lives? Lose a little weight perhaps? Maybe eat healthier and hit the gym more? Be kinder? Love more? We all have areas where we fall short, but the essence of who we are, unless that happens to be a complete jerk, a serial killer or a total pig/pigette , shouldn’t need to be completely reworked each and every year.

The beauty of being in your forties is that you have a lifetime (or half a lifetime, as I plan on living a long time and being around for great grandchildren) of experience, both good and bad, that make you who you are and shape your perspective. You can allow the experience to break you or you can let it build you. The choice is always yours.

I have been through a lot, as a lot of people have, some of which broke me. Thank God we are resilient creatures and can rebuild from the broken pieces. We may not “look” the same when we come through the hardships, but if we are fortunate and determined, we can be better, stronger, kinder, smarter, more loving, etc.

There is a Christian recording artist, Jason Gray, that had a video, and I can’t recall the title on YouTube, but the gist of it is this: People who have been in need of grace and mercy are perhaps more capable and more willing to give those things away to others because they know what it means to need those things. I liken it to a piece of pottery. An intact piece of pottery is capable of collecting water and holding water, but until it is to the point of overflowing, the water does not spill out around it. A cracked, broken and chipped piece of pottery can collect the water, but much of what is collected spills out onto whatever is around it. Those of us that have been beaten by life and broken and damaged, have a unique perspective and vantage point. We can see the damage others are enduring and we can also see the possibility for beauty from those ashes, because we have lived it.We can “wash” them in the grace and mercy that someone once granted us. Someone who has only ever known good fortune may not be able to pour love out in the same way.

So all that heartbreak, all that hurt, all that pain that we have survived has made us who we are. So has the joy, the success, the beauty and the love. Would I change anything? Probably not. If I did, I wouldn’t be who I am today, and I fought like hell to get here. I am a better, stronger, more compassionate person today than I was when I was younger.

So, the plan this year is to be even better, stronger and kinder and do what makes me happy.

To be better, I will revise my diet to be closer to what I was doing when I first got diagnosed with Celiac disease and Hashimoto’s disease: very little processed foods, lean meats, lots of fresh fruits and veggies, yogurt, cheese and my Shakeology. I will do my best to resist the beckoning of the evil that is Funyuns and Coke. And chocolate. And (gulp) bacon.

To be stronger, the plan is to become a sort of middle aged, wannabe gym rat. I will take classes and figure out the gym equipment (for the umpteenth time) and get some sort of routine going. I will sweat away the wheat belly (thank you Celiac, you heartless witch), and hopefully shrink my the rest of my body, except my boobs, but we all know those will be the first to go.

To be kinder, I will try to look past people’s faults and flaws (including mine) and love them anyway. I will give wherever and whenever I can and give as much as I can and as often as I can. I will randomly compliment strangers and friends and people I love. I will hug my kids more, even when they try to resist and push me away because I am “so annoying.” I will tell them often that I love them and how proud of them I am. Because, despite their ability to push every single piss-mom-off button I have, I love them with everything that I am. And I am so proud of the compassionate,  kind-hearted, loving young men that they are becoming. I am also proud of the twisted sense of humor, goofy antics and endless chatter that they all have in common with me.

I will do what makes me happy. I will paint more. I will laugh more. I will see beauty in overlooked, unappreciated, mundane things. And grand, amazing things. And things that others regard as strange and weird. I will stop and smell the lilacs and jasmine, because roses do nothing for me. I will have more nerf gun battles, doodling sessions, long walks and long talks with my kids and try to make the most of the time I have with them. And I will learn to just be.

Yes, 2017 will be a year full of change, but new me? Screw that.