What I Gained From Losing Everything
Once in a great while, I think of the house I lived in with my ex-husband that was built from the ground up just for us. Not only did the house have my beloved French doors, but there was a shower with three different jets, wood floors, a walk-in closet the size of a bedroom, and a gorgeous saltwater pool with a hot tub. We only lived there for about a year because my ex left me for another woman. After that, I couldn’t stand to be there.
Suddenly every room in the house seemed haunted. I couldn’t even walk into the family room where he’d confessed his affair. The house was supposed to be for us. There was no way I wanted to be there by myself, so I sold it and we split the money. I bought a townhouse on the other side of the city, and I never saw that house again.
For the first time, I lived with my two sons without another adult around. I had constant anxiety and panic. When I got the mail, there were offers for credit cards with $20,000 limits because of previously good credit. I started using the cards as soon as I got them. Spoiling my boys and decorating the house cost a lot of money, not to mention my own retail therapy for clothes and such.
None of it lasted. I sold my townhouse to rent a small apartment. I had a new boyfriend who was eager to help me spend my money, and soon all my cards were completely maxed out. I had even paid my rent with a credit card at times. There was no doubt I was going to crash. When it happened, I found myself out on my front lawn in the Florida sun trying to sell all the furniture, clothes, and other items I hadn’t yet paid for. I needed to come up with the money for a down payment on the little apartment even though I’d be left with nothing to furnish it.
My anxiety over money actually made it harder for me to earn money. My job paid me by how many lines I transcribed, but the number dwindled as time went on. My boyfriend became my husband, and we were blessed with a daughter. Unfortunately, because of my history of bipolar disorder, my boyfriend/husband’s antics, and being nearly broke, my ex-husband got custody of the boys. A few years later, my mother ended up with my daughter for the same reasons.
It’s hard to describe what it feels like to lose your children. It felt like a searing hot knife cutting out my heart every day. I must have cried a million tears even though I knew it was the right thing to let them go. It was hard to function or concentrate on anything except the fact that they were gone. I had a sense of being empty, and any love I had for myself faded away while my love for the kids grew stronger. I took dangerous risks because I truly didn’t care whether I lived or died. None of it ever stopped or healed with time; it only got worse.
It’s hard to write about, but at one point in my life, I was picking half-smoked cigarettes out of the ashtrays at grocery stores. I got evicted many times over because I couldn’t pay the rent. My electricity got turned off occasionally, and so did my water. I lived for part of the time in a halfway house because of my addiction issues and also because I was homeless. I told sad stories at gas stations so people would put a few dollars in my tank. My whole life was what you would call unmanageable. Meanwhile, my kids kept getting older.
Once I got the right kind of help for my addiction and bipolar disorder, things started to turn around. I divorced my daughter’s father and lived in a co-worker’s tiny trailer for a few months. I took the opportunity to make changes in my life such as handling money better and keeping up with my therapy and medication. A local bank took pity on me and gave me a debit card that I’ve used ever since. I started fixing my credit score little by little and made plans for keeping a roof over my head, for real this time. With every little gain, my self-confidence began to rise again.
Not only did I have a plan for my life, but I also put it into action. When my kids saw me again, I was stable and sober. They noticed that I changed and saw the steps I took to get there. Suddenly, I was a mom who kept her promises and didn’t disappear. Together, we began to heal. My daughter is back living with me again, and she trusts me. It doesn’t get much better than that.
My biggest lesson in all of this was love, both for myself and my family. My boys are adults now, but I still hug them a little longer whenever I see them and always stock the fridge every time they come over (the spoiling habit has been hard to give up). Healing was only possible when I learned to truly appreciate my children. My love for all my kids is stronger now than I ever imagined, and I wonder if I would have had the same appreciation for them if they were never gone from my life. Every moment I spend with them is precious. Now that they’re back, I’m never letting them go again.
I’ve remarried for the third time, and I couldn’t be happier. People might say my life looks boring now. My husband and I don’t go out too often and generally try to be careful with money. After a lot of work and money, my credit score is back in the high 600s and heading upward. We pay our bills on time and try to budget where we can. If that’s what boredom is, that’s exactly what I want from my life today. I’ve seen the complete opposite and how much damage it can cause.
Back in the throes of my mental illness, before I was getting real help, I once got an ankle tattoo with the Chinese letters for “peace.” Mind you, I didn’t have anything close to peace in my life then, but I got the tattoo in hopes that I would find it someday. It looked ridiculous on my ankle for years. I was an out-of-control woman who didn’t know the first thing about true peace. Today, the tattoo finally fits me the way it should. I’m still a bit embarrassed by it since I’m older now, but at least when I look at it, I feel grateful that its meaning finally came true.
I doubt I’ll ever be a “rich” person someday, but I appreciate all the treasures that life has provided. Money is nothing compared to having my loved ones around me and not feeling panicky, depressed, or out of control every day. Maybe those things are simple, but to me they are everything. I wouldn’t trade them for a nice house or a pool or even French doors.
Happiness was what I truly needed the whole time. I’m smart enough to know that now.