Catalysts of Personal Change

Life is what we go through. All of us have stories to tell of hardships endured in between moments of joy and happiness. Many people reach a point where they say, “I don’t know how to change, but I can’t live like this for one more second!” This is when the true journey of life and self-discovery begins.

My journey to self-improvement started in 2007 when I fled my hometown, my life and my relationships to move to a sleepy farming community a couple of hours away from the hustle and bustle of city life. The catalyst for my fleeing behaviour was a very unhealthy relationship that I could not seem to break free from. It was literally killing me with stress.

I had been reverently praying for a miracle; someone or something to get me out of the hell I had gotten myself into. My marriage broke down in 2005, soon after my mother passed away. My life did a nosedive into a five-year spiral of gambling and alcohol addiction. I simply couldn’t cope and I needed a miracle or a saviour.

I have a severe slot machine addiction that started with the first nickel I offered into the evil machines when Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs) were first introduced into Alberta bars and lounges in 1992.

Unfortunately, I am one of those types of people who can get instantly addicted or fixated on serotonin enhancers. Genetically, I come from a long line of alcohol abusers and gamblers. Not to use genetics as an excuse for my addictive behaviour, but generations of dysfunction definitely does not work in my favour.

My brain does not produce enough of the good-feeling chemical, Serotonin, on its own so when I do something that causes my brain to produce that chemical rush, my brain goes into Ultra Spring Break Party Mode. My downfall has been binge behaviour; once I start, I can’t stop.

1992 was also the same year my mother was severely brain injured when her own addictions and emotional breakdown caused her to run into traffic and get hit by a car in order to end her life, but she didn’t die. My mother was a young and vibrant 44 year old woman who had a high paying government job, a nice house and car to drive, expensive outfits with matching shoes in her closet and seemed, from the outside, to have it all.

What people did not know was that for the six months prior to her attempt at ending her life, my mother decided her life was unmanageable and decided to go for extensive therapy. She even attempted to quit drinking.

Her chosen life mate was having none of her trying to get her life together, so he sabotaged her every step of the way, going so far as to pick her up from her therapist appointments with a six pack of beer in the backseat of the car. His viewpoint was “if you don’t want it, don’t drink it”. God forbid he should lose his drinking buddy to something as unimportant as having a meaningful and joyus life.

Looking back, my mother never stood a chance at a ‘normal’ life. Her past shrouded her future like a storm in the distance that we could see racing towards her and could do absolutely nothing to stop. I vowed to never end up like her except as the years went by, it turned out I was exactly like her – minus the getting hit by a car thing.

After the accident, she lived for another 10 years being moved from medical institution to institution, confined to a wheelchair and a life of urine soaked adult diapers with a constant yearning for cigarettes she was not allowed to smoke. Sometimes I think that her brain injury was a blessing in disguise. Her demons no longer sat on her lap tickling her chin because her damaged brain forgot which demons she usually hung around with.

My relationship with my mother was never on solid ground. Let’s face facts – we hated one another. Maybe ‘hated’ is too strong a word; tolerated (barely) might be a better way to describe it. Don’t feel bad – our dysfunctional relationship started long before I was born.

By the time of her passing, I would have died for her. At the core of her being, once her ego, past and pain was bashed out by a car windshield, all she knew how to express was pure love. Through her tradegy and pain we somehow healed our relationship as best we could and found unconditional love somewhere along the way.

Prior to my mother’s suicide attempt, she got through her own horrifying life experiences by jumping into a bottle of rum every chance she got. I managed my emotional demons by gambling constantly between 1994 and 2009 and spent the majority of my free time drinking beer and engaging in self-destruction. Far be it from me to judge anyone’s coping strategies.

The combination of gambling and alcohol addiction, not dealing with my emotions of insecurity, worthlessness, abandonment, anger, grief, etc, etc is what caused me to continually make very bad life choices that constantly put me at risk.

I willingly engaged in gruelling, abusive relationships and a complete disintegration of all but one important relationship in my life (my best friend who stands by me to this day) because I didn’t know that I could choose to live a better life and even if I did, I certainly did not know where to start.

I honestly thought I was paying for some karmic debt I accumulated by being a horrible person because I didn’t love my mother, I gave up my beautiful, innocent 9 month old child, I was abandoned by my father and I couldn’t seem to find a decent guy to date no matter whether I was sober or gambling my life away!

The constant spiral of negativity kept me in a constant spiral of negativity. ‘We reap what we sow’ are words to live by and should be used by more people as a daily mantra to keep focused on the things that truly matter. I focused on the negative for so long that it became a way of life.

In 1994, I met my future ex-husband in a bar, while I was gambling. We fell madly in love, got married in July of 1997 and spent the next eight years being the couple that everyone envied. Our passion knew no limits or boundaries. We were a team and we were going to grow old together come hell or high water!

Thirteen years later and I still don’t know if his cheating was a result of my gambling or not, but I do know that the gambling got a lot worse after that first time I found out about his infidelity. He bedded the one woman I begged him not to ever touch (women and their rumors) after a night of drinking at a company Christmas party. This happened a mere three weeks after my Mom died. Devestated doesn’t come close to describing how I felt when I found out. His infidelity flipped our worlds inside out.

It took him another four months to fess up about his poor decision and subsequent one night stand, during which time his guilt and the constant fear of being found out caused him to treat me horribly. I spent those months trying to figure out what I had done to upset him and constantly trying to fix something I thought that I had broke.

Over the years, we had convinced ourselves that we were an invincible couple so, of course, we talked through it and tried to move forward. He gave me a very compelling and emotional apology and I tried to forgive him. He promised to not sleep around and I promised to stop gambling. Neither of us held true to those promises for long.

Over the next two years, he attempted to have an affair with one lady we met while I was hosting Karaoke and when that plan was foiled by her decision to date one of our friends, he found love, or whatever his was looking for, at work.

I was completely destroyed. My heart had been broken into an infinitesimal amount of pieces, never to be put back together again. He moved on, landed a good paying job and found the true love of his life. He was happy and I was a complete and utter mess.

Over the next eight to ten months after he unceremoniously told me he no longer loved me and was leaving, I dropped 50 pounds, got registered on a bunch of online dating sites and completely lost any sense of self or reason that I previously had maintained.

I look back on that time now and cringe, for the most part, because I was trying so hard to find someone, anyone, that would make me feel like I had value and meaning that I demeaned and under-valued myself constantly, which made my daily life much worse than it needed to be.

The flip side is that during those months, I had a great time and met some very interesting people. It’s only by the grace of God that I was not harmed, raped or murdered. I made some very poor decisions during those months, but someone in a higher position of extisensal power was looking out for me.

One night, while hosting Karaoke in a small bar in a very small town, I met this guy. He was cute, charming and could rock a set of jeans and a cowboy hat like no one I had met before. At the time when we met, I had zero interest in dating as I had turned a corner and was sincerely trying to become a more responsible and stable adult.

After Karaoke was done, a bunch of people were invited back to a local’s house to continue the party. I remember leaving the bar, but I don’t remember much after that. All I know is I enjoyed myself and laughed a lot. As far as I know, I am still the undefeated leg wrestling champion of that small town.

That’s the tricky thing about drinking too much; when it’s happening, I think I’m totally in control and know what I’m doing. Upon waking the following day and realising my memory was a complete and total blank, I hoped and prayed that I didn’t a) have sex with a total stranger or b) make a complete ass out of myself.

Cute cowboy guy lived in my town so I naturally gave him a ride when I left. We chatted througout the 45 minute drive and, to be honest, I felt sorry for him. He truly seemed like a nice person and had just come through his own challenges. He was looking to make some roots in his life, just like me. I took his phone number and agreed to call him the next time I needed a helper to load and unload Karaoke gear.

The following three years of hell are my own damn fault. I found and dialled his number. I picked him up and went for coffee and long, life secret sharing chats. I’m the one that dragged him around with me to my Karaoke gigs as a helper, and for the venues that were notoriously empty, he was a way to pass the time.

He was 14 years younger than me and substantially more mentally unstable. He was also extremely persistent. It took him less than three months to wear me down. Before I knew what was happening, we were in a relationship.

The change of lifestyle from the city to the country threw me for many loops. There are many experiences that have made my life so much richer that happened because he was in my life. I don’t regret the good times in any way, shape or form. My biggest regret is not trusting my instincts and getting out of the relationship much sooner than I did.

We spent three years doing a dysfunctional dance of control, change, stagnation, control, change, stagnation, over and over again. I cannot count how many times I left him and returned. At one point, my life felt like a horror movie where the doomed characters are trying to leave town but every road leads them back to the same intersection, no matter how hard they try to get away.

To be fair, he was kind to me and patient with my gambling problem. He did not physically harm me. My physical wounds were self-inflicted as a result of sheer frustration of dealing with his instability. Eventually, logic and reason were things that were of no use in my situation and I resorted to anger, frustration and lashing out to deal with my own inadequate ways of communicating with him.

I will forever have pain and discomfort from a shoulder bone break I sustained jumping from a moving vehicle at 60 kilometers per hour (I didn’t know we were going that fast and I do NOT recommend anyone jump out of a moving vehicle – unless it’s on fire) trying to simply get away from his relentless yelling and fabricated, jealousy fuelled accusations.

The knuckles of my right hand bear deep scars that are now starting to blend in with the creases formed by time and age. These particular injuries were sustained after hours of being yelled at and accused of doing things I would never have done, even in my most depleted mental state.

My anger and frustration boiled over as I sat on the toilet, just trying to void my bowels in peace, while he stood on the other side of the closed bathroom door bombarding me with the same statements and questions over and over and over again. At that point, he had been going at it for two hours. Every single good time we had was ruined by his fixating on the smallest thing and then imagining it was a much bigger deal than it was.

Realizing that my butt and legs were completely numb because I would have rather stayed on that toilet then open that door and deal with his insanity – I snapped. Why was my life so bloody hard that the simple act of taking a dump became a major survival concern??

My chosen method of getting him to shut the hell up, that time, was to karate punch my fist through a very old, large poster that was framed in thick glass and hung on the wall between the shower and bathroom door. It took 18 stitches to close up my knuckles and it was worth every single one because he finally stopped yelling – for a while.

When he got fixated on something, he could go on for days about whatever it was he was upset about. No answers I could give would appease him. No amount of explanation or reason would make him stop badgering me, yelling at me, accusing me. No one was safe from this behaviour. His own mother called the police on him, many times, citing ‘harassment’ when he wouldn’t stop calling her, yelling at her, accusing her.

He was not capable of seeing outside of his own delusions so he would rant and rave and question and comment until the object of his obsession was mentally and emotionally worn down. He only stopped when I resorted to injuring myself out of sheer frustration or walked out the door with my personal belongings in hand.

I am not now, and have never been, a violent or physical person. I avoid conflict and violence with the same determination used to avoid gluten-free food. My experience with the young cowboy taught me that anyone can be pushed over the edge of their own personal emotional limitations into an abyss of darkness and counter-intuitive behaviour.

The question most people ask is “Why didn’t you leave?” Believe me, I tried. What it took me years to figure out was that I wasn’t emotionally or mentally strong enough to leave him. I didn’t have the self-confidence, or any sense of self-worth, to keep me strong during those times of separation. I was pyscically, emotionally and mentally worn out and I didn’t have the strength to fight back.

My gambling and his inability to hold down a job kept me financially dependant on him for shelter and food. I needed to be loved and protected. He convinced me that he could provide what I needed and I was weak enough to believe it every time I begrugingly moved my things back into his apartment.

I had left so many times that my family and friends had no choice but to abandon me to let me sort it out. Their pain and concern for me could no longer be tolerated because, in their eyes, I was not doing anything to remove him from my life and make serious and necessary changes. Back then, I felt more abandoned and worthless. Now, I see clearly that they had no choice but to let go of me and my destructive ways in order to save themselves.

Thankfully, my escape came in the form of a new ‘friend’ I had made the previous year when I left the young cowboy and moved two hours west to put some distance between us. This friend texted me that she and her girlfriend were coming to the city for a weekend and they wanted to hang out. He was away on a boys’ weekend hunting, or whatever guys do when they are alone in the woods, so I told them to come stay with me. I was happy to have the company.

Over 48 hours they saw what my life had become. Even though he was in a forest over six hours away, he found a half bar of cell service and bombarded me with phone calls and accusations of what we were up to, who was at the apartment and of course, who was I cheating on him with or the ultimate question of did I somehow switch teams and “become a goddamned lesbo” overnight. Living with him was exhausting.

The weekend was pleasant enough in their company, but it was obvious that I was living a private hell. I thought I did well at hiding my pain and frustration like any good bout of denial will convince people things are better than they actually are.

Minutes before they were to head out the door and go back to their lives, my new friend said, “We are leaving in 10 minutes. Are you coming?” That split second changed everything. In that one moment, all of my heartfelt and feverant prayers were answered. My escape had arrived.

It took two seconds to decide to go with them. Two seconds to decide not to show up at my job the next morning and lose the one shred of financial security I had. A blink and then a propulsion into movement because he was on his way home and would be there any minute. I had run out of time and excuses – it was now or never.

Grabbing my laundry basket full of dirty clothes and my small metal basket full of hair products in a flurry of utter urgency, the three of us headed out the door and drove off into the chilly November evening towards the rest of my life.

It took another year to fully get him out of my life. How that all ended is another story to tell another day. The essence is that in that one moment I walked through the open door and refused to go back ever again. In fact, I went back one more time 7 months later and was rescued, yet again, by the same friend. That time was the last time.

Since that November afternoon in 2007, I have grown, changed, matured, dug out and banished most of my inner demons and am in a loving, caring and healthy long term relationship. I would have never of known what true love and support were about if I had not recognized the chance to leave him and get on with my life.

Self-improvement is a hard road to go down. If one is serious about making significant change it takes much needed professional therapy, research on how to get through each moment while on the journey to healing and recovery, writing down and processing every horrible thing ever felt, done, experienced. It is a messy and painful road, but the rewards are unimaginable.

What I have to take from the past 13 years of my life’s experience is that I did things I would have never entertained even thinking about before my marriage fell apart. In fact, my life since my first marriage fell apart has become extremely rich and full, with many positive events happening to and around me. I’m a work in progress and life keeps getting better every day.

Incidentally, the man who entered my life like a lamb, and destroyed my fabric of reality as I knew it, most likely suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder. He cannot be ‘fixed’, no matter how much he is loved. Now that I know what to look for, I can see crazy coming a mile away and avoid it at all costs. I am not negating my own participation in the craziness of those years with him. Now that I know better, I do better.

If you are in a situation where you feel worthless, unloved, scared, constantly frustrated, alone, desperate – essentially anything that is opposite of love, compassion and caring – then meditate on the Universe sending you a life line. When it shows up, grab onto it with everything you have. It will be the hardest and most worth-while step of your life.

There are many support systems out there to help every single person lead a more fulfilling and joy filled life, but it takes hard work and effort. I am a testament to the fact that no matter what your current circumstances are, life can and will change!

A decade ago, I thought I could change anyone with enough love and understanding. Now, I know that change starts within each of us. The hardest part is learning to love and understand ourselves.

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