It’s Never Too Late to Create the Life You Want – Danielle’s Story
Twelve years ago, if somebody had told me that this would be my Life, I would have told them that they were completely insane. That is the funny thing about Life, no matter how hard we try to control it or plan it all out, Life has a mind of its own. Life does what it dang well pleases.
Back in 2002, I was in my early 20s and had recently moved back to Atlanta after a one year stint in my hometown of New York City. As much as I love my extended family and friends, living in New York dug up issues from my childhood, and triggered unhealthy behaviors that at the time, I was unwilling to address. I bolted back down South at my first opportunity, I needed to escape and I ran as fast as I could, back to the Southern pleasantries and magnolias; and into the arms of the man that would become my husband. Back then, I wasn’t looking to get married. I was looking to find myself, and for the love and acceptance that I had been longing for since I was a child. It was never my intention to begin living with my then boyfriend right away, but that Life thing had other plans.
I rented an apartment with two close friends in the Buckhead area of Atlanta. It was a nice place that none of us and our 24 year old salaries could afford on our own. We signed the lease, and were excited to move in when the unthinkable happened. One of my roommates was killed in a car accident. The days that followed were a blur, packing up his things and bringing them back to his family and attending his service in South Carolina. My other roommate and I were both reeling with grief, and couldn’t afford the apartment on our own, so we split apart and I went to live with my boyfriend until I figured out my next steps. I hardly had time to collect myself when I received a call that my close friend from high school and college had been killed in a motorcycle accident. With only 3 weeks between the passings of two of my closest friends, to say that I had an emotional collapse is a mild understatement.
I had never thought of myself as a fragile person before. I knew that I had issues – as we all do – and growing up in a challenging environment where I had never received the encouragement and support that I craved, I developed unhealthy coping mechanisms. I punished myself by denying my body nourishment, I was a people pleaser who would rather be miserable myself than to ask for what I needed because I never felt deserving of anything good. I didn’t feel worthy. I was taught that being selfish was a horrible personality trait. After the deaths of my friends, I spiraled and couldn’t handle my grief or my own life and was more than willing to hand it over to someone and let them deal with it. That person was my then boyfriend.
A year after the passing of my friends, I entered treatment. I was desperate to climb out of the hole of depression that I had dug for myself. It had been the year from hell. I lost myself in my sadness, and I punished myself in a futile attempt to regain control. Any joy, curiosity, or interest that I had disappeared and I was on auto pilot. I had zero concern for my own health or well-being. I meandered through life, taking direction and doing as I was told by my significant other, all the while I drifted further and further away from the girl I had been before. That girl was not weak; at least not on the outside. Though I viewed my boyfriend as supportive because I was such a train wreck, I was blind to how controlling he was; or maybe I was just numb. Though part of me believes that he was glad that I sought help, I also see how much it scared him. Even though he is someone who doesn’t believe in medication, I know he was relieved that I was prescribed antidepressants that flattened my mood. I couldn’t reach those terrible lows, but I couldn’t feel joy either. Slowly, I began functioning and working again. We became engaged and married the following year.
For so long, I viewed our relationship as a good one, and in some ways, life saving for me. Looking back, he kept me afloat, and supported me – but more in the way that a father cares for his child and not like a man values his wife. All decisions were made by him; he had absolute control over everything from finances and where we lived, when and how we exercised, where we went, what we did, what we ate and even what I wore. I had to be there when he arrived home from work, and I could never talk to family and friends on the phone if he was present. The week after my 29th birthday, he announced that we were moving across the country. There was no discussion. I was taken along with him; it was easier than fighting a battle that I would lose, but I was miserable. I never wanted to move to Phoenix, but oddly enough, it became the city of my rebirth, just like the mythical Phoenix itself – it was here that I rose from the ashes.
Five months after we moved to Phoenix, my husband’s company closed. The mortgage and real estate market crashed and since my husband had been the main source of income for our family, it was devastating. He had total control of our finances – he wouldn’t even let me know where our assets were – but I had trust in him at first. He was my husband. I made lifestyle adjustments and eliminated expenses I thought we could do without. Since we had lost our health insurance, I weaned myself off of my antidepressants. After the medication had left my system, the fog lifted and I started to wake up.
I found my voice. Things that I had let go of as to not start a fight, I spoke up about. I wanted to become an active participant in my Life, and quit letting things just happen to me. I had turned a blind eye to the countless, horrible, betrayals in my marriage, feeling that I never deserved more than what I was getting, that it was selfish of me to stand up for myself. After all, who did I think I was? All of a sudden, I had the stirrings of WORTH and it terrified me, but it terrified my husband even more.
For me, my worth came from my new career in medical sales. Though initially scared to take the opportunity, I didn’t think I could do it and feared that I would fail miserably, I flourished. I found that I loved my job, which I was good at, and I felt valued. I was empowered by my ability as an earner, a resource, and a capable woman. At work, I could be the person that I truly was inside, and not have to make myself small for anyone to earn their approval. I was fearless and confidant. For the first time in my life, I felt good enough, and this started a tidal wave of events that I never could have predicted.
This brand new feeling of worthiness gave me the strength to leave a marriage that had become controlling, manipulative, oppressive, and deceitful. I don’t believe that my now ex-husband acted out of malice, I believe that he signed up for a wife who had no will of her own and he preferred it that way. Instead of growing together, he wanted all aspects of our life together to be dictated by him alone, and that didn’t work for me anymore. Some of the things that he did and said in a desperate attempt to regain control of our marriage, still echo in my mind at times, and I fight to squash the feelings those memories dig up.
When I left my ex, I had $50 in my checking account, he had wiped out my savings, and I had no furniture in the apartment that I needed my family’s help to rent. I remember sitting on the floor in the empty living room and crying uncontrollably. How was this Life? I was scared and alone, I had been isolated from friends and moved to the opposite side of the country from everyone that I knew and loved.
Little did I know that Life was just beginning for me. I am my own woman and free to make my own choices. I have learned to trust my judgment, speak my mind, and stand up for myself and others. I have learned to accept my mistakes when I make them and try not to punish myself for perceived shortcomings. I have learned about love and loss; I have experienced devastating heartbreak and also true friendships. I have become emotionally intelligent and situationally aware. Most importantly, I have learned to set boundaries and establish what is healthy for me and what isn’t. As a first born, a Virgo, and a chronic people pleaser, learning to speak up and say NO, which is sometimes painful for me to do, has been a huge step. I have also learned that it is okay to remove toxic people from my life, even if they are my own flesh and blood. I have learned that sometimes it is okay to be selfish. I have learned that I am stronger than I ever thought I could be.
Though this is the end of my essay, it is really still just the beginning. It is never too late to begin to create the life that you want and deserve to have. I am a work in progress – we all are. After years in a gilded cage, I am still learning about what makes me tick. I am rediscovering myself and what I like to do, where my passion lies. I am working on getting outside of my comfort zone and to quit worrying about what others may think of me, or worry about failing. I am eternally grateful to my wonderful friends, family members, and people who are a part of my every day for being there and making my life richer. They have picked me up off of the floor, dusted me off, and helped me to see that I CAN, even when every fiber of me screamed otherwise. I want to live my life with authenticity, and to really and truly be present for each and every moment. Being vulnerable is a big part of that, and each day I am taking a step to show the world who I really am, love me or not. The words that I have written right here are a leap of faith. So here I am, essentially naked on your screen; bearing my soul and my story, but this time I am comfortable with the discomfort because I am comfortable with me.