The Escape

Religion is a dangerous thing if you have ever been near the psych ward. I guess it’s not ok or sane to believe in something you can’t physically see or hear. If we can’t believe in things we can’t see, how are any of us supposed to believe in our futures? Or that we have one? How are we supposed to believe we can get well? Or survive the ordeals we suffer? If you take away faith, you take away hope.

I have been diagnosed as suffering from Complex PTSD and Bipolar 1- rapid cycling, so yes, I have problems regulating my emotions. The word moody does not begin to describe it. There is no regulation a lot of the time. Most of the time, I don’t think I need to control anything. If I feel it, the feeling must have some basis in fact, right? They tell me this is not always the case but that doesn’t change my reactions.

Speaking of religion is a dangerous thing, if you have ever been near a psych ward.

I have never felt the need to standardize my conduct to conform with society. In fact, my maternal grandfather very much encouraged me not to, ’If you have something to say, say it! Don’t hold back!’, he would tell me. I have always felt that I am who I am and the way I am because God made me this way and that he makes everyone their own way for a reason. I have always believed that everything that happens is for a reason. We just need to pay attention and be aware and the opportunities you need to succeed will be put in front of you. I am NOT saying that my eyes have always been open or that I have always listened to the quiet voice in my head telling me what path I should take. Many times, I could see no path or I just didn’t follow the breadcrumbs but I have always believed that everyone has this voice inside them.

I have great certainty that the only reason I survived the first 30 years of my life is because a strong moral code was instilled in me during my early childhood in which I knew I was loved by everybody around me. I knew Jesus loved me and he would keep me safe when my parents weren’t around. I knew the difference between right and wrong and could become indignant about unfairness. As I grew older, I could argue any side of a debate that was put into play. Every day I heard from my mom and dad how I could be anything I wanted to be and if at first I didn’t succeed to try, try again. I believed that angels watched over me every night. I was taught to share and share alike. I was taught to say my evening prayers and grace before meals. I was taught to treat others the way I wanted them to treat me and to never utter the word “hate”. I was taught to respect my elders and that there were very defined boundaries between what you could and could not say in public. I learned to be polite and to smile and nod at the correct times. I was told that God helps those who helps themselves. These lessons and many more stayed with me throughout my life and I am fortunate that I had this foundation beneath me before evil and sickness walked into my life, many are not so lucky.  I’m not sure that any foundation could have prepared me for what was to come but inside me was a superhuman strength I was unaware of.

I tend to be on top the world one second and the in the next unable to understand how everything could be so wrong. There are rarely muted colors in my emotions, I can go from raging red or playful, spunky neon pink, skip the blues and sink into that black pit of despondence then bounce back to gleeful green in a matter of hours or a couple days. The color wheel containing the full spectrum of my moods somehow spun off the gyroscope and lays smashed beyond repair. I am left, not trying to reassemble, but trying to create some order.

I can push things out of my mind until I have forgotten them and I can easily disassociate from this world while I am on the couch watching the news or a tv show that brings up a subject that is uncomfortable to me. I can close my mind instantly if you make me uncomfortable. This is a coping mechanism that is only helpful in the moment. Life goes on while you are trying to forget it and eventually the memories will catch up with you and must be dealt with in some manner. I have tried many times to remain present and in the moment but it often feels like an exercise in futility. It is too much second nature to me now. I have no control over my own mind. I have had more flashbacks than I can remember and once punched my husband because the face I saw coming in for a kiss suddenly wasn’t his. I have awakened my family in the night screaming to get out of the house, that the house was on fire. I once spent a midnight in the pouring rain trying to shovel up the grass on the front lawn so I could plant flowers. Many hours, ten feet from the side of the road, in the middle of the night, in a downpour. I never did plant the flowers. I wasn’t sleeping much around that time…

I have always had vivid recurrent nightmares. Dreams of falling; off a cliff, off a bridge, being driven off the bridge by those who were supposed to love me. Terrifying hours spent in sleep, searching for my missing family in wastelands and abandoned buildings.  People long dead coming to me in my sleep; urging me to join them. Shadow people silently standing guard beside the bed or in the doorway…Nights spent soaked in sweat in twisted sheets…

God didn’t save me from any of it…

God didn’t save me from any of it. I didn’t see any angels swooping into the room behind my stepfather to stop him from getting into bed with me. No trumpets blared to stop me from getting into a car with a rapist. The sea did not part to make a way for me to get away from my exes. (Well maybe the last time…) There have been many plagues. Nevertheless, I never doubted that he was there. Watching, checking in on me and always gently reminding me of his presence. I won’t lie, there have been times when I ignored every nudge he gave me. I ignored him even when he tripped me to keep me from going the wrong way and would get up, brush the dust off and continue the way I was going just because it was what I wanted at the moment or because the path was more clear or it was what I thought was right.  I spent years fighting what amounted to myself.

I spent my first 30 years victimized. Molested, sent away from home with a sock full of dimes for protection, raped, sold off to my 1st husband basically, escaping him for a drug dealer that had no qualms about beating the shit out of me, (I was raised that boys don’t hit girls, to speak my mind and that if someone hit me I was to hit them back, so I would, although it did not help my situation…) losing my kids, fighting for sobriety…I stopped thanking God that I was alive and for the little things that previously had reminded me he was there. My kids…butterflies, ladybugs, rainbows, the small kindnesses of strangers…I stopped seeing the world in color and was immersed in a world colored by different shades of blacks, whites and grays. I lost the goodness of the world. I lived in a scary place where everyone was out to get you and nobody was your friend. I couldn’t trust anyone to do what they said they would or to mean what they said. I was alone. Then one day that boyfriend punched me in the eye and I heard a loud, determined voice in my head, that sounded a lot like my own, saying, “That is the last time you will blacken my eye.” I don’t know where it came, didn’t know I was thinking anything about it, but I do know that it was a strong voice. That day I stopped using, both cocaine and crystal meth, all by myself, and I never went back. I never had another craving. It was about a year later that I told that same boyfriend that I was taking his car and going to see my kids in Alabama and I would be back in two weeks. I knew I was never coming back to him. I would sooner leave his car on the side of the road, if I must, burned to a crisp. I knew his pride wouldn’t let him come after me, that he would act like it was his idea for me to leave. I once gave him a black eye, during one of our many altercations and he told his friends and family some ‘black’ guy did it. I was so secretly proud of that black eye, smiling to myself every time I heard him give this explanation. Why it had to be a ‘black’ guy that did it, I don’t know…Some people knew the truth but it was still always a secret. He was cheating on me anyway. Loser. My plan was to go to Alabama, a place I considered the armpit of America, and find a job and a place to live and share my kids with their father and make the best of things. Be a mature, responsible adult. A contributing member of society.

Jesus asked,” Will you never believe in me unless you see miraculous signs and wonders?” John 4:48

At that time my ex and I were still legally married. We were not married in my mind. I had closed my mind and heart and soul to him a long time ago. I intended to get divorced as soon as possible and was sure he knew that. He did not. He thought we were going to be together. We were not. I told him my plan and he informed me that it would never happen. He was never going to let them stay with me anywhere or go anywhere with me. I started to think I needed to get out of there after he called my mom whining and crying that I was not there begging for forgiveness. She informed him I wasn’t there for him but for the kids, it was not a message he wanted to receive. Right around this time, I dropped the kids off at school one morning and went for a ride, looking for help wanted signs and apartments for rent. I went back and picked up the kids from school in the afternoon and went home to make supper. That evening I was asked what I was doing in Jasper that afternoon, a town about 30 miles from Adamsville. It was with a devastatingly sickening realization that nothing had changed in the preceding 3 years, and I knew, once again, I had to plan an escape. He was following me. Spying on me. Trying to control what I did, who I talked to and where I went. I couldn’t keep doing this. Later that night, he called the police and tried to have me removed his house. I stood in the doorway, watching the flashing lights in the driveway, looking over at my children- sitting on the sofa bed that they would later sleep together on, in that one bedroom shack in the backyard of some other family’s house and I knew I was taking them out of there and that this was not going to be their life. They deserved better. I deserved better.  I heard the police telling him he couldn’t keep me out if we were married just like he couldn’t stop me putting the kids in the car and leaving with them. We were married. Share and share alike.

I spent the next week secretly putting outfits in my trunk, one at a time. Mine and theirs. I put toys in my car that wouldn’t be noticed missing, pants and long sleeve shirts that no one was looking for in late August in Alabama. I waited for the moment he said he was leaving. For a moment that I believed he was really leaving. There was no way to be absolutely sure. I had, regrettably, been wrong before. It was on a Saturday. He said he was going to work. He hadn’t been in a week, that I could tell, but he was going to pick up a check so I believed him. I told him I was taking the kids swimming at Oak Mountain before they closed for the season. I put the kids in the car, went to a gas station, filled up and pulled over to the side. I put air in my leaky back driver side tire, got back in the car and turned to the kids,” I think we are going to go on a vacation instead of to Oak Mountain, what do you think?” Heartbroken, I reassured my oldest that his daddy wouldn’t be mad. I told them that we could go see Nanny or go to see their aunt, my sister, in Maine.  We sat at that gas station at that junction outside of Birmingham, and I pondered whether to take 20 and go through North Carolina to my mom or 65 north through Tennessee. I have always entered and returned to Alabama via Hwy 20.

I prayed. I prayed that we would be ok wherever we ended up. I told God that I needed him and I begged for him to be with us. I told him I knew there was no way I could do this without him. I was terrified. I couldn’t do this anymore. I knew there was something better out there for us. A better life for us and please could he help us find it. I told him I needed help, that I didn’t know what to do.

That day I decided to take the scenic route via 65. I had never come north that way and I wouldn’t recognize anything or anyone along the way. A few weeks later, when my ex called me at the women’s shelter where we were hiding, he told me he was sitting on the side of Highway 20 that day, waiting for me, that he knew I was ‘up to something’. In that way, the sea parted for me.

Somewhere on the highway in Tennessee we lost that left rear tire and I put on the donut. The 50-mile limit, plastic tire auto manufacturers used to give you as a spare… We made it to near Bristol, Tennessee that first day. I wanted to keep driving but I couldn’t and I needed a tire. I knew he would think I was heading to my mother’s house in North Carolina for about a minute. Until he got there, anyway. I got the kids some fast food and a hotel room and set them free to jump on the beds and watch cartoons. I asked the desk guy where a Western Union was and called my mom to ask for money. Sundays in the south, in the 90’s, stores were not open. It was a day of rest…I got no tire the next morning but we headed out just the same. Praying mile by mile, repeating a mantra silently, “Please God, take me home, please take care of us…” Mile after long mile…We got here on that donut tire- 1000 miles…I call that a miracle…Funny thing is, that car gave me no problems all the way here but started acting up shortly after we got here, as if its purpose was fulfilled. I abandoned it when I found out he was in Maine, now following me around in a borrowed car, so we wouldn’t recognize him. We were here and, as far as I was concerned, an ocean had parted and made way for us. We got here and then I fell apart in a different way…

I don’t believe I would have made it here alone. I know I wouldn’t have. I had very little faith in my own ability to make it happen. I spent weeks before we left and years after we arrived, on edge. I spiraled slowly down and down, into the dregs of my mind. Old familiar places pounding me with memory after memory, reminding me daily about why I left here. I am not going to lie and say I have never had any religious delusions. I am not going to lie and say that I have never felt deserted by God. I am not going to say that I have gotten everything I have ever wanted. I am going to say that God put me on the right road, literally. I am going to say that if you are ready, if you are open, if you ask and are prepared for the answer to come in any form, that He will be there. I am confident of this and I am grateful every day that I wake up. No matter what mood I am in…

Just trying to work through it..

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