Recovery

Since the last time I updated here, I’ve moved to a new apartment.

Like all the moves I’ve made in the last year, it was in no way planned. Back in July, I took an upstairs room in a house owned by a woman three years younger than me, purchased for her by her parents. She lived in the basement apartment and rented out the three upstairs bedrooms. The ground floor was a shared space, containing the kitchen, living room, dining room, and access to the back deck.

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The dollhouse I made a year ago to memorialize my many issues with housing. 

Back when I signed the lease, the owner explained that it was technically illegal for her to be renting to so many people, owing to some absurd local ordinance about off-campus frat and sorority houses. As such, the lease she’d drawn up was more of a ladies’ agreement than anything else. My lease was for six months, but I had the right to break it at any time without penalty with 30 days notice. She, likewise, had the right to terminate the lease at any time with the same amount of notice. I didn’t really think she’d do it—I always paid my rent on time and I make so little noise that my housemates had to check in on me from time to time to make sure I wasn’t dead.

But on November 1st, she texted me to say that she was terminating my lease and I would need to move out by December 1st. “Nothing personal,” her text read. “I just don’t see you staying here in the long run, and as (other roommate) is moving out this month, it’s easier for me to advertise both rooms at once.”

Technically, I’ve not been homeless since the summer of 2012, when I last slept in my car. But between February and July of this year, I was what social workers call “precariously housed”—staying with friends or in hotels by the week. I’ve lived at six different addresses over the course of 2014. So my reaction to this text involved less rational thought and more hyperventilating, nausea, and light-headedness. I hadn’t even finished bringing all my boxes up from my car. I was just beginning to become friends with one of my housemates. It was, for several hours, the end of my world.

But then something weird happened. Through the panic, I managed to get in touch with the parts of my brain that remembered the most successful strategies I’d employed when I was looking for a place to stay back during the summer. I put up an ad on Craigslist, and by 9 o’clock that evening I’d received a call from the person who I ended up moving in with two weeks later. By the time I woke up the next morning and started grousing about the situation to my friends, I felt as if everything was back under control. Yes, moving again would suck, but at this point I’m nothing if not an expert at packing up quickly and efficiently. And my new apartment was just a few blocks down the street, so I wouldn’t even have to learn my way around a new neighborhood. In other words, I’d worked through all the bad feelings and was completely on top of the situation hours before I could even think about having a meltdown in front of other people.

Most every day, I wonder if I’m really making any progress—if I’m actually recovering at all, or if the only thing that’s different about where I am now compared to where I was in February is a modicum of completely undeserved financial stability courtesy of friends who actually have their shit together. It’s not always easy to make comparisons. On paper, it makes perfect sense that having one roof over my head for almost six months, plus going to therapy weekly for almost the same amount of time, would put me in a different mental place than when nothing in my life was assured from one day to the next. But I have to balance those factors against other things, like the fact that I still don’t have a job, or friends in my area, and I sometimes fall into a spiral of anxiety and depression after spending days alone in my room. Mostly, I think “this can’t be what recovery looks like, I’m still treading water”.

But then a crisis happened—not as big of a crisis as it would have been before I was getting help with my rent, but an emotional crisis that triggered my PTSD on the deepest levels. And I sorted it out in a matter of hours, dealt with my negative emotions without making anyone else in my life feel helpless, and made a positive change in my circumstances. By the next morning, I was forced to the conclusion that, yes: this is what recovery looks like. It’s slow—agonizingly slow—and impossible to manage completely on my own. But I’m getting there.

I know that I’m getting there, because more and more, my thoughts run towards projects and goals that involve connecting with other people. Last week, I announced to my therapy group that I was going to start a support group for survivors of child abuse in the Baltimore area. I didn’t arrive at that decision because of my own needs, but because I’d spent 12 weeks listening to the other people in my support group talking about their frustrations with the lack of resources for survivors in our area. The part of my brain that likes to solve problems woke up and said “this has a solution”, and the next thing I knew I was making a website and posting ads. Shortly afterwards, one of my creative projects that I put on the shelf months ago because it would necessitate collaborating with other artists started nagging at my thoughts again. I began planning episode arcs and writing scripts and imagining auditions for voice actors. Will these projects come to fruition in the next day or two? No, they won’t. They require planning and networking. They require a belief in the future. That’s something I’ve never really had in my life, yet, here I am, planning for an eventuality beyond the day after tomorrow.

It’s worth mentioning that it wasn’t enough to come to the conclusion that I was getting better on my own. I needed my friends pointing out that it was (comparatively) remarkable that I’d sorted through the housing crisis so efficiently. I needed my therapist to point out that I couldn’t still call myself completely unable to function after months of consistently making every appointment. I needed feedback. I needed other people.

So this is where I am now: in the darkest weeks of midwinter, my creativity is stirring like sap in spring. My ability to think about anyone other than myself is putting on heft and muscle. Empathy is one of the lesser known casualties of trauma, but it is as vital to recovery as self-care. I am, at the age of 32, starting to grow again. I am learning to be a real girl, maybe for the first time since all that sort of thing got interrupted, back when I was still under five feet tall. I am beginning to remember, not only that my needs are important, but that I have something to give.

This Thanksgiving, I’ve got more than yams and green bean casserole on my plate, and I am ridiculously, stupidly grateful.

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