My morning rituals are relatively simple: hot water with lemon, a short reading from a spiritual book or my Bhagavad Gita deck, my prayers, and prioritizing my day. Typically, I am pretty good about honoring my routine, but, on Saturday morning I failed to respect the flow and I suffered greatly.
Immediately after I turned off my alarm, I mindlessly checked my email.
For the last month, I have received numerous email updates from the GoFundMe* campaign I started for my best friend, Libby. Libby has been my friend since middle school and her four year old son was recently diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Living so far away, I felt helpless and I made the page as a means to contribute some form of relief. The support Libby, Mitch, and Noah have received has exceeded my expectations. The page has provided a small source of light amidst this time of complete confusion and deep devastation.
Most days, the emails from GoFundMe are uplifting; simple donation updates and some outreach from the organization. On Saturday, the subject line was different, it read: New Message from Lee*.
Again, I mindlessly opened the email, not considering it could be from the man I dated in high school when I ran away from home. Buried in a disclaimer from GoFundMe, the message read:
Visitor Message from Lee (HisEmailAddress@hotmail.com):
I hope you are well…call/text me sometime His-Phone-Number
**END OF MESSAGE**
In an instant, I regressed nine-years, waves of disgust and emptiness poured over me.
Lee was the first person I was arrested with in August of 2002, just a few weeks before my sixteenth birthday. A couple of months later, he was the first person I called when I needed to escape after I learned the news of my dad’s suicide. My mother, her then husband, and I met my step-mother at my sister’s friends’ house to break the news to her in person. At this point in time, I was hiding a major addiction to nicotine and I needed a cigarette. That afternoon, I left with Lee to smoke unannounced and that would mark the first of many times I would leave with Lee to runaway from home.
In the months following my father’s passing, Lee blurred in and out of my life. At the time of my father’s death, I had another boyfriend, a guy from my high school. Lee was just a friend and a high school drop out, I would soon follow suit.
Prior to that dark day in October, I heavily used drugs and alcohol, but from that day forward, everything completely unraveled, then exploded. As my destructive behavior escalated, my mother removed me from my Catholic high school, before they could officially kick me out. I was placed in a public school a few blocks from home and ditched half way through my first day. Memories from that time are fragmented, I simply remember spending more of the three weeks I attended that school in “in school suspension” than in an actual classroom.
When I began running away, I would only run for a few days. At first, I stayed with friends. It was easy, we were old enough to make up cover stories as to why I needed to stay. When I ran away for good though, I ended up with Lee. He, too, was from a broken home and we were co-dependently magnetized to each other. We were both so starved for love, belonging, and attention, the first month we were together felt like absolute bliss. Then, our addictions and our despair took over and “our love” turned into fist fights and sheer recklessness.
Sometimes, I would attempt to run away from him and the ensuing fights would leave us both bloody and bruised. After a night of complete mayhem that landed us both in jail, his mom decided she was ready to move us out of Rockford, the dangerous town where we met and lived. Lee, his mother, his younger brother, and I moved to Elko, Nevada in the summer of 2003. I only told a few friends where I was going and when we arrived, we lied and told everyone in the Ruby-Mountain town I was eighteen, even though I was really sixteen at the time.
The move was good for us. We did not have access to the volume of drugs we had before, so things slowed down. As a nationally listed runaway with multiple warrants for my arrest, I managed to get a job at a local movie theatre and we saved up enough money to buy a 1982 Toyota Supra. Once I learned to drive stick shift, we decided to move back to Rockford in our tiny car.
A very long story short, I took the legal steps necessary to move back and relinquished my status as a runaway. At age seventeen and nineteen, Lee and I got an apartment together. I immediately found a job at a retirement home as a waitress and made fourteen dollars an hour, things seemed to be turning around quickly!
Then, Lee’s sister-in-law told me news that shattered everything. She told me that Lee had cheated on me shortly before we moved to Elko, while I was in the hospital. Throughout my teens, complications from drugs and alcohol kept me in and out of hospitals. At one point, I was hospitalized for seven days and over the course of that week he had sex with a girl that we both knew, someone we hung out with frequently.
I confronted our mutual best friend and he told me the truth. Yes, Lee had cheated on me. I had my first real panic attack. I couldn’t breathe, I hyperventilated, and I lost my vision momentarily. After everything that had happened, all the paternal abandonment I had experienced, Lee was my everything. In that moment, I was destroyed.
I attempted to kick him out of the apartment that I paid for, but it was challenging. For years, I had been a black out drunk. The combination of prescription drugs and alcohol I consumed everyday left me unconscious each evening. At night, Lee would let himself back into my apartment and he would have sex with me while I was blacked out and asleep. One night, I woke up to him on top of me. I punched him in the face so hard his cheek bursted open and sprayed blood all over the walls, the bed, and me. That night erased what was left of sanity and dignity.
I honestly do not remember what I did that day, the last day I allowed him to take advantage of me. However, I do know the self-loathing and self-revulsion I experienced from participating in our twisted relationship pushed me into a downward spiral, rendering me far worse alone than I was with him. The two-years following our separation were full of greater danger, death, and destruction.
At age nineteen, I made a major step in the right direction and through painstaking years of yoga, therapy, and positivity, I have created abundant life full of purpose, love, and passion. Witnessing Noah, Libby, and Mitch’s journey has reignited my desire to live-fully and to show up 100% in spite of hardship and obstacles.
For years, shame and embarrassment have been my obstacles.
I have wanted to share my story, but the fear of judgement would hold me back. Keep in mind, the above passage is only about 10% of what has happened. Nevertheless, I know the experiences that I’ve had are happening to people RIGHT NOW. I want to show those who are silently suffering that it will be okay and it can work out (even better than imagined).
As I wrote my story, I almost left some of the details out, like the fact he had nonconsensual sex with me, but I didn’t. This is my truth and I am not going to be shameful of it anymore. The longer I hide it, the longer it will negatively affect me. Aforementioned in the “I honestly do not remember" paragraph, my welfare was far worse without Lee. I am grateful to Lee and his mother for the haven they provided me. Yes, things between Lee and I were grossly unhealthy; yet, I know I was better off with him than I would have been on my own as a sixteen year old drug-addict, runaway. I look forward to the day I can repay Lee’s mom for the love she showed to me. Even though I do not want Lee to contact me, I forgive him and myself for what happened and I wish him well on his journey.
With that said, I found the peace I have towards Lee through my daily practices of self-love and care and yoga, mediation, and prayer. The sickness I experienced through his attempted contact reminded me that my practices are often only a daily reprieve. While I am confident my extra sensitivity came from a long week, I know that when I am spiritually grounded, I am far less effected by outward things.
After joining Noah and Libby for his chemotherapy appointment Labor Day weekend, I promised myself I would chase my dharma: using my story to inspire others to turn their life around, willingly. Their bravery literally left me breathless and through their courage, I felt obliged to live as boldly.
I hope it does not have to take an experience like mine or like Noah and Libby’s to motivate you to live your life with passion and intrepidity. Our lives are precious and tomorrow is not guaranteed. Therefore, I ask you: What’s stoping you from living your life fully?
*Please take a moment to read Noah’s story and show him some love on his journey: GoFundMe.com/NoahMitchLibby
*Name changed to avoid harming those attached peripherally.