Decide – Commit – Never Quit
A common question after hearing my story is, “How did you turn your life around?”
The simple answer is that I decided to change. The not so simple answer is that it took me a long time to get to where I am now. I had to put a lot of work into making the changes, and go to places I never wanted to revisit. But in the end, it was worth reliving the painful memories and finally dealing with them so I could have a better life.
~ I never loved you~
The first time I ever decided to change my life came after a painful breakup. It was February 1995 in Tahoe. It was one of those winters where the snow just kept on dumping and we had four foot high berms dividing the road in half making left-hand turns practically impossible. I had been living with my then finance for almost year when he sat down at the dining room table one evening, crossed his arms, and said the dreaded four words that no one wants to hear, “We need to talk.”
I nervously sat down across from him and he blurted out, “You need to move out.” I was stunned; it came out of left field with no warning. I opened my mouth to say something but he cut me off with the most painful words ever. “I never loved you, I only let you move in because I felt sorry for you.”
I sat in silence as my brain tried to make sense of what he had just said. His face was stern and cold as tears started to run down my cheeks. “Do you mean its over? We’re done? Just like that?” He nodded and replied, “I should have done this along time ago.” I broke down sobbing, and through the tears I managed to get out some words. “How long do I have?” Unapologetically he replied, “I want you to move out as soon as possible.” He abruptly got up and went to his work room.
I sat there for what felt like hours, completely numb and starting off into space. Finally my brain started working on the problem at hand. “How would I move with no money?” Rent is very expensive in Tahoe, and even though I worked 40 hours a week at a Chiropractors office, I never had enough money to put into savings. How was I supposed to pack up all my belongings and move out in the middle of winter and with no money for a first and last deposit? When he finally walked back into the house I told him that I didn’t have the money to move. He informed me he had no intention of helping, but I could stay in the partially finished basement with no real heat source until I found a place to go.
It took me two months of working one full-time job and two part-time jobs before I could afford to move. In the mean time, there was a lot of silence and palpable tension every day and every night. I would cry myself to sleep. When the day came for me to move, there was no were help to be found. He didn’t even say goodbye.
~Almost every relationship I had been in was abusive~
It was after a few weeks of finally being settled into my new place when something happened. In the solitude of my little studio cabin I found myself wondering for the first time ever, “Just how many bad relationships had I been in?” I sat down with a pen and paper and listed every relationship I had ever been in. I was completely shocked when I saw it all on paper. Almost every relationship I had been in since I was eleven up until this point had been controlling and physically or mentally abusive, and sometimes both.
I looked at all these names and started crying, then suddenly I found myself filled with unbelievable rage. I tore the page out of the notebook and waded it into a ball throwing it against the wall. In that moment I vowed to NEVER get into another abusive relationship ever again. I swore to myself that I would find out why I kept dating assholes. I promised myself that I was going to take one full year to not date and to try and figure out why I was an apparent jerk magnet.
I figured therapy was a good place to start, but being as broke as I was, I found out I could not afford the hourly rate of most therapists. I had seen something around town about a sliding scale fee schedule for therapy, so I decided to call. Dialing the number was extremely difficult, but I finally got up the courage and reminded myself of the promises I had made to myself. It turned out I had called county mental health and they explained to me how the sliding scale worked then asked how much money I made and how much rent I paid.
Based on this scale, I was able to get free therapy sessions. I was so nervous on my first visit, I had no clue what to talk about, but thankfully the therapist asked me many probing questions. She asked why I came in today and I told her “all the men I date are jerks and I need dating advice.” I immaturely thought dating advice would fix all my issues. She kept asking deeper and more intimate questions, and I could feel myself panicking as I thought about the answers.
~You are a survivor of domestic and sexual abuse~
I backed off mentally and gave her vague and generic replies, but she kept digging. It took about six sessions before I finally trusted her enough to let my walls down. My entire story just fell out of my mouth. (Read my story here: http://www.stefanilord.com/category/why-write-a-blog/ ) I was probably more shocked than she was as I blurted almost everything out for the first time ever. At the end of the meeting she recommended a free group therapy session for survivors of domestic abuse. I looked at her and actually said, “Oh, I don’t need that, I wasn’t abused. I just dated some guys that where kinda jerks.” She looked at me right in the eyes and asked me a series of questions regarding signs of abuse. I nodded yes to every one that came out of her mouth. She leaned in and said, “Then you are a survivor of domestic abuse.” She also said, “You are also the survivor of sexual abuse and we have meetings for that too.”
I left the therapy session stunned. No one had ever told me I was sexually, physically, and emotionally abused before. No one. I didn’t want to go to the group therapy sessions. I didn’t want to admit that I was abused, but the therapist kept pestering me. She kept telling me how I would meet women like me, and that the groups helped lots of women over come abuse and, here was the key for me, I would learn to recognize red flags in men before you got involved. Aha, the dating advice I needed to fix me!
When I went to my first meeting I was shocked to hear other women tell stories; some similar to mine, some much worse. I felt a bond of solidarity that kept me coming back. Each time I shared, I felt relief. Each time I listened to other stories, I cried with them in understanding. For the first time I was with people not judging me and actually encouraging me to share my story and to grow as a person. With time I finally realized that I was indeed a survivor of abuse and that the group meetings were tremendously helpful for my recovery.
I spent that summer going to individual and group therapy as well as reading as many self-help books as possible. I did yoga, I meditated, I worked out, I got a new job, and I was feeling the best I had ever felt. So good that I erroneously thought I was cured and that “I got it.” I started backing off of therapy, and in the fall I decided to leave the mountain. I decided I was fixed and was ready for dating and a brand new life. I moved down to Reno and immediately regretted it. My better paying job with another chiropractor came with a price – he was an asshole! If he wasn’t making sexual innuendos, he was yelling at me and the rest of his staff, which include his first cousin who was also his wife. Yes, his wife.
During weekly office meetings he would tell us how much we sucked and threatened to fire us on a constant basis. He blamed us for everything, including how many patients came in. If anyone canceled he would scream because he was convinced it was our fault. He was nuts. I later found out he was a hard core cocaine addict and he lost his license. However, I did find a nice guy to date, but we eventually had to break it off because I would not convert to Mormonism. Frustrated with my life, I suddenly decided moving back to my home town of the San Fernando Valley would fix everything.
~Moving to LA will fix everything~
After a year in Reno I packed up once again and moved into a very expensive converted garage in Studio City California. I worked for a nice chiropractor this time, and I decided I was going to hobnob with the stars and immerse myself into the Hollywood lifestyle. I dated a producer, a director, an actor, and a model. All good looking, all successful, all very weird in one way or another. None of them were really interested in me, but more interested in how I looked and about what need or fantasy I could fulfill for them.
I did enjoy going to screenings at the Screen Actors or Directors Guilds and meeting celebrities at parties but this lifestyle came with a price. Everything was so superficial. It was about what you had, who you knew, or how you could use someone or how they could use you for their own career or social gain. The men I dated over time became more and more controlling in how I acted, looked, dressed and even performed for them sexually.
At the end of the evenings I found myself feeling empty and ugly. I started feeling depressed again. It was then when I was alone one evening and I had an emotionally devastating realization that I was going no where with my life. I was stuck in a forty hour a week job, and again living paycheck to paycheck. What would my life like when I would be fifty and older and less desirable for this party crowd? I felt I had nothing to offer except for my looks and youth. I feel into deep depression over the realization that I could end up an old woman living alone, barely making ends meet, and never make anything out of my life. Or worse yet, I could end up in an unbalanced relationship with a domineering man who makes more money than I do.
I started weighing all my options: how could I go back to school to gain financial freedom? Or would I have to sell my soul and marry one of these men just to move up into a better lifestyle. That’s if they even wanted to marry me. Did I even want to marry them? Could I marry someone I didn’t love just so I didn’t have to worry about finances? The answer was no. I have always wanted to just find someone who loved me for me and to not have to worry about performing like a circus animal to get love and affection.
~Hitting rock bottom~
As I look back, two major things that had happened to me were what sent me spiraling into this horrible depression. One of the men I was dating turned me onto the world of sadomasochism. At the time it was very popular and trendy in LA. I explored around the periphery of this lifestyle, but It wasn’t something I was really into. He kept pushing the issue and manipulating me into role-playing with him; it made me feel dirty. I didn’t like it, but I liked him and I wanted the wonderful lifestyle he offered. I liked staying in his 20th floor apartment with views of the ocean, driving his Mercedes, and meeting important people. Somehow I thought that this lifestyle made me a better person and that it validated my beauty, but in reality I was just selling my soul.
~ You’d make a good hooker~
The second event that catapulted me into deep depression was an offer from a man I knew. He told me I was very pretty and I could easily make as much in one day as I do in a month. I was intrigued. He asked me a series of questions. “Your single and you’re dating right now, right” I nodded. “And sometimes you go on a date and you totally wasted your time because you don’t like the guy, but you did get a free meal right?” I nodded again.
“And then other times you like the guy and you end up sleeping with him, but it doesn’t work out. So most of the time you just ended up screwing this guy for free and getting noting out of it right?” I had to think about the deeper meaning of that question as he continued.
“Well, what if I told you that you didn’t have to waste your time on dates any more? You are a tall, beautiful, smart, witty girl that could easily make a lot of money by just being you. How does that sound?” He had a wide, cheesy grin on his face. I looked at him and said, “I don’t understand.”
“You met Jennifer the other day, right? Beautiful girl, long blond hair, nice fixed tits. Anyway, she’s driving a brand new Mercedes SLK and lives in beautiful penthouse with a view. She has all that because she works for me.”
Now he really had my interest. “How? What do I have to do?”
“It’s really simple. I have clients who are very well off, but they don’t have time to date. They will gladly pay to be in your company.” I looked at him questionably and said, “They do? They will pay just for a date?”
Again he had that cheesy grin as he said, “Well of course they do! Just like any guy does on a date. But, get this, now you are in control! Instead of just getting a free dinner, you get money! How do you like that?”
“So that’s it, I just go on a date?”
His tone changed and he seemed angry that I would even ask such a stupid question. “No silly, just like any date, you have sex at the end. But like I said, instead of a meal you get money, lots of it. It’s just like regular dating, but this is way better for you because you get money for your time.”
I was in total shock. He actually thought I would make a good hooker? I asked him straight out, “So I would be a whore?”
He laughed at me and said, “No, not a whore….An escort!” I thought in my head “like there’s a difference?” I told him “no thanks” and walked away. He shouted at me, “At least think about it. I mean, you’re already screwing guys for free….Get something out of it!”
I went to my car and sat there. All of the life drained out of me. Any hope I had about my future and all hope in humanity was gone. I ruminated over and over again about my pathetic life; men just wanting me for their needs and trying to force me into the sex industry for their gain. Everything about my life disgusted and revolted me. I saw no hope for my future and all the horrific memories of my past came flooding in and I sank to the bottom. I could not handle living with this much pain.
After a few days of ruminating about my crappy life, I decided to end it. I took a lethal dose of sleeping pills, but instead of going up or down, I went sideways into a dark abyss. I was absolutely scared and I suddenly realized I would not find peace in death, so I begged to have my life back and it was granted.
I was so depressed I could not physically move. I ended up losing my job and going on disability. I sank deeper into depression each day and contemplated suicide again, but that was not an option since I realized that I could just end up in eternal pain. Finally I had another “aha” moment. I realized I never had it together after that one round of therapy and I probably never would. In a moment of clarity, I realized I had a few choices: lay here in bed the rest of my life and feel sorry for myself, or get up off my ass and do something about this.
~Back into therapy~
As much as I felt like wallowing in this pity party, I called mental health in LA County and started going back to therapy. The doctor suggested anti-depressants, and as much as I am against that for personal reasons, I decided to commit to medication for at least six months to see if it helped. The medication helped. They helped by numbing me. They made me not feel. At the time, this was a good thing.
For the first time ever I stared thinking about what I really wanted. I knew I wanted to go back into college and get myself set up financially. I wanted to do something that made me feel fulfilled and that gave me purpose with my life. The problem was, there was no way I could afford rent in Los Angeles while attending school. So I had to make a daunting decision. Even though there were many unresolved issues stemming from as far back as I could remember with my abusive adoptive parents, I decided to move into their home in Blackfoot Idaho and take some time off of life.
As soon as I got to Idaho I stayed on the medication and plugged into individual and group therapy sessions. I made a decision to be in recovery for the long haul and to commit to doing everything I could to get healthy and not quit this time. I realized that enduring years of abuse, getting healthy was going to be a lifelong effort.
I got back into yoga and meditation again, and read more self-help and spirituality books. I started running, got back into the gym, and focused on my needs and wants. I made lists of things I always wanted and started making goals with deadlines to make them happen. After being on medication for six months, I decided I wanted to feel again and gradually weened off of them with my doctor’s guidance. While medication has its place and offers hope for so many, I felt for my own personal reasons I wanted to live a life without them. Luckily it worked.
~Years later I’m in a much better place~
It’s been 19 years since I hit rock bottom. Over the years I have stuck with group and individual therapy, and I have continued to read self-help books and do everything I can to stay well and continue to improve each day.
In my next blog I will address the twenty or more things that I have done to make my life as fulfilled as possible. And while not perfect, I have tools now to deal with bad days. I see now that pain is temporary and it can and will pass with time and effort. But the main thing that got me well was deciding I wanted a better life; committing to do everything I could to achieve that life, and to never, ever quit.