All My Problems Might Just be My Own Damned Fault

I wanted to make this a humor piece, but I just couldn’t figure out how to make domestic violence, drug addiction, and abortion funny. But I want you to know that I’ve told this story as a public speaker many times and people do laugh. So even though it sounds sad in the telling here, like most tragedies it is in some ways comedy of errors.

Whenever I’m invited to tell this story I always begin by telling the audience:

 Kids, don’t try this at home.

 

Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, says that every couple has their very own ‘creation myth’ and that the key to understanding the story of any relationship is knowing what drew a couple together in the first place.

I met Jeff on January 15th ,1986, in the doorway of this very house:

Turning Point Recovery Home for Women

I had been living at Turning Point for five months recovering from a very nearly fatal relationship with a man named Chris who just happened to make his living dealing crystal meth.

Apparently crystal meth dealers don’t make really great boyfriends. Who knew? (And to imagine that I graduated high school two years early because I’m supposed to be so flippin’ smart.)

I had run away from Chris before, but in August of 1985 it was different; I was different.

In March, I’d had an abortion I did not want, but Chris did not want our baby and the physical violence I endured during the two weeks I tried to convince him otherwise reached a fevered pitch. Chris was assaulting me on a daily basis and there was nowhere for me to go.

After my abortion I made one very lame suicide attempt.

Sure, I’d messed up my life before, but I’d really fucked it up this time.

Shortly after my abortion I started attending 12-step recovery meetings. I think it was nothing short of a miracle that Chris, who never let me out of his sight, allowed me to go unaccompanied to these meetings. Thank God he did.

 

****************

Chloe will Go, Go, Go to Rehab

I heard about Turning Point at one of the 12-step meetings I’d attended. After a particularly brutal night with Chris, I called and made an appointment with the manager, Corkie.

Corkie looked just you’d imagine a Madame of a whore house would look if the whore house was filled with recovering whores. She had a deep whiskey voice to match the deep lines in her face, and you knew immediately when you met her that she’d seen and heard everything. Thank God for Corkie. She saw my need was so urgent that she bumped me to the top of the waiting list and told me I could move in the very next day.

I called on a brave lady I had met in a recovery meeting and–after Chris left the house in the morning–she came over with her truck and helped me move out as fast as I could.

Yes, I do look pretty powerless and pathetic

I wish I could say that I easily escaped this dangerous relationship, but that was not the case. Chris found me within a few weeks and began exerting major romantic effort to win me back.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that you’d never stay with a man who hits you. But let me give you a word from the Sadder but Wiser Girl: Abusive men are very, very charming. Being difficult to resist is the key to their evil essence.

When Chris found me hot tears were shed, solemn promises were made, and diamond  jewelry was given. For a time we were even engaged, but I stayed at Turning Point despite his passionate reassurances that he was a changed man and moving back in with him would be safe. Hey, maybe I’m not entirely stupid after all.

What’s the Answer?

During those first five months at Turning Point I got a job and found a good therapist with whom I embarked on my first foray into serious self-examination.

I needed to find the answer to the obvious question: Why was my life such a fucked up mess that I was living in a women’s recovery home?

It immediately became clear in therapy that I have major issues from my completely fucked up childhood, and that I’d been running from relationship to relationship trying to fix myself through men. Duh.

And it wasn’t just that I chose bad men, in fact sometimes I’d chosen very, very nice men, but all these men quickly bored me, and before long I’d run off with the next dark and thrilling man who was going to make it all better.

Apparently, the very foundation of all my life’s choices was fundamentally flawed. I learned in therapy that you can’t make all of your major life decisions with your vagina and expect things to turn out well.

I was 23 years old, had lived with three different men, been married to one of them, had recently had an abortion that I didn’t want, and now was living in a women’s recovery home without a penny to my name. The only thing I’d done even remotely right since I’d left home at 17 was continuing my long plod through college.

But the real kicker was that even though I could cite several incidents from my childhood where my psyche had clearly become twisted, I had to face the hard fact that I had left home at 17 and hadn’t seen my parents more than once in 6 years.

I couldn’t keep blaming my parents for my piss-poor decisions. In order to be free to start making new decisions I had to face the hard fact that everything that was wrong in my life was my own damned fault.

I was the one who kept making the same terrible choices that resulted each and every time in my life completely blowing apart.

But the bad news was also the good news. If  I was responsible for all the problems in my life that meant I also held all the power to fix those problems. If I wasn’t a victim, that meant I had the freedom to change things anytime I wanted.

Ending the Ride on the Crazy Train

Finally, right after Christmas, I became strong enough to reject Chris completely and end the relationship for good. In early January, in a desperate attempt to win me back, Chris sent me 100 red roses and 99 red helium balloons along with a letter declaring his undying love and his belief that we were meant to be together.

I felt nothing.

I burned the letter, gave away the roses, and released those balloons off the balcony of my bedroom.  I was finally free.

I re-enrolled in college, applied for student aid, and embarked upon my new life.

A couple of days later Jeff knocked on my door.

(to be continued…)

I dedicate this piece in honor of Christopher Oliveira who died in 2001 at age 39. It just goes to show that not only the good die young

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  11. “I learned in therapy that you can’t make all of your major life decisions with your vagina and expect things to turn out well.”

    Great line! Probably should have covered that topic in some of my own therapy sessions. Until I realized that my quality of life was directly related to the choices I made the life I lived made about as much sense as tits on a bicycle. It still gets complicated at times but I now know who is responsible. Great pot, thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, Cathy. I sometimes think I must be the dumbest person around because I have to spend good money to go to therapy to learn stuff that I suspect other people already know. Of course you shouldn’t make all your major life decisions with your vagina. But it sure did feel good at the time.

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  17. It’s hard to see that photo of a young and struggling Chloe, but it is a testament to how far you’ve come in making a new life for yourself. I’m so glad you had help when you needed it and that you had the strength and wisdom to leave Chris behind.

  18. Wow Chloe! I somehow knew you had a story but never imagined what the details might entail. Can I just say you’re an extremely inspirational person to me and I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next installment in your tale :)

  19. Wow! You have carried a heavy burden and I am glad that you have found good people to help you make the positive changes you are going through. Your story telling (as always) is excellent, and I look forward to reading the next chapter. Wishing you continued success with therapy and enlightenment. Then throw off those damn shackles and right yourself a page-turning book!
    Suzanne recently posted..I’m headed to the Type A Conference in Charlotte, NC!My Profile

  20. I’m sorry for the deeply painful parts of your life. Knowing you overcame and are the person you are today gives me hope for some people in my life. I couldn’t have read this at a better time. ((Hugs))

    • I am glad you see hope and encouragement here. Yes, it is a sad story, but it is a very happy one too. Out of this came much, much joy. I hope your people pull their heads out. It is hard to watch people we love walk through fire, especially when it is a fire they built and sparked themselves.

  21. My life was saved through a 12 step program in 1993. I was 27, pretty much the same track record with men/choices. The Lord sent me to them, and those people saved my life.

    • After I became a Christian I heard some things in church about the evils of 12-step programs. It breaks my heart to hear stuff like that. If it weren’t for the work of Bill W. and Dr. Bob I wouldn’t be here, my husband wouldn’t be here, and neither would our two lovely children.

      • I try not to listen to those who don’t know what they are talking about. My sponsor told me that you don’t go to the dentist to buy oranges, and you don’t go to AA to get saved. You go there to get sober.

        The two should not be confused. Do I think that you can pick up some bad theology around the tables? Most certainly. I didn’t go there to discuss limited atonement, regeneration, sanctification, or anything else. I just wanted to not die, or to at least to want to not die.

        I will have 19 years sober this month, Lord willing.
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  22. The bad news is so often the good news if we just let go and see the possibilities that can come with that revelation.

    Now I’m hushin’ up per Heather A. :)

  23. Choice is key and choice is Power. When I think of all the choices I could have (and did) make my heart near on stops every time. Scary places to have been and to perhaps still be. Write on Honey! I want to hear how you came through the fire. I, for one, am so thankful you made it through.

    • You are right. The choices we make are what make up the story of our lives. I’m thinking that how we cope with our bad choices says more about our character than trying to be perfect all the time. I made very bad choices, but found joy in life just the same.

  24. “It immediately became clear in therapy that I have major issues from my completely fucked up childhood, and that I’d been running from relationship to relationship trying to fix myself through men. Duh.” This is my story, too. It’s a hard lesson to learn. And I’m still learning. Just in the past month, I have found my own self worth. I would like to say though, that it’s not all your fault. We all do the best we can with what we have been given. We are all trying to cope. We all desperately want to be loved. Sometimes we’ve been given not-so-ideal examples on how to live. Be gentle on yourself. Sharing your story gives me more courage to tell mine. Thank you for that.
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    • Hey Robin, thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Owning one’s own story is so important, isn’t it? I learn the most when people are honest about their true struggles. I want to be an encourager. I want to be a person who says, “Hey, I’ve messed up too. But look how good life can be anyway!”

      Congratulations on the gift of self worth. It’s a hard won gift to give to oneself.

    • “Being an adult is hard work.”

      Isn’t that the truth? It seems I spent the first half of my life picking up all my problems and the second trying to resolve them.

    • I try to remember when my children make mistakes that it is my mistakes that taught me the most about how life works. It would have been nice if I’d never had to make them in the first place, but if none of us ever made mistakes like would be very, very boring.

  25. I do love you so. Face those demons, share your past. Change your future. I’m eagerly awaiting part 2.