I won’t deny in my young adulthood that a good proportion of wearing my heart on my sleeve was due to a lack of discernment, self-awareness, and misunderstanding about my value, how to get my needs met, and misaligned focus on validating the wrong aspects of who I thought I was expected to be.
I had amazing parents. They were supportive, kind, extraordinarily generous, forgiving, accepting, and cheer leaders. At the same time. They were dysfunctional, made mistakes, and left indelible impact on my life and soul. I don’t feel that I dishonor them by speaking authentically about them. My siblings and I have often run into the realization that despite their dysfunctions, our parents were more loving, generous, and supporting than most. Still, we are our children’s models. We give them the good and the bad aspects of ourselves.
I am writing today to ultimately express my gratitude to people who are helping me at a time when I simply cannot do “this” alone.
I chose to raise Sean in a free paradigm because I recognized my life’s pain, and I saw how doing things the same way I was taught was not serving the true needs of my step daughters. It took me a while to break a double standard I practiced between them and their baby brother. But I knew that to stop the cycle of dysfunction, which I believe every family has to a degree, my child would need to experience respect and autonomy for his whole life.
Many thought I was being overly protective of him by attachment parenting, but I knew from the research that it would provide him a foundation to withstand anything life dishes out.
I promote this paradigm because I believe it is the answer to resolving many societal problems, starting at the roots. But as a single mom at a grandmother’s age, with the truth of domestic violence in the rear-view mirror, being both parents by myself gets really hard at times. I struggle to keep meals flowing, to practice self-care, and to release stress for connection. In some ways, I have always been that single parent, and hence why the lack of self-care during my marriage left me with chronic medical conditions.
I am trauma-informed. My child is trauma-informed. If I break, he is not far behind me. I am the sole source he has for stability. This is not because he was attachment parented. I lost community the longer I remained in a dysfunctional situation and I allowed my life to be dismantled year by year until I had little to stand upon.
I had a few friends and family (you know who you are) who literally guided me with one hand while holding what would become my lantern in the other hand as they walked with me so that I could grieve and heal. So much of what I processed from about 2015 to now encompassed complex layers of trauma and grief. But let me tell you about the next level of this process…
Several factors resulted in my dependence on public assistance. I experience judgment from those who embrace the bootstrap philosophy. Unless you have ever experienced this, you have no clue how hard it is to try to climb up and remain stable long enough to escape this paradigm. You feel instant fear when, like I did today, you read that Covid19 could result in the cutting of benefits in my state that are essential to me right now.
I am a single parent with primary custody and virtually no involvement by my son’s father (which is its own complex issue), trying to line up help for my surgery that has been put off for years, and having few people I can rely on. Some are simply otherwise encumbered; it isn’t that they don’t want to help.
I am assigned disability. Rather than require that narcissistic men discarding their wives after said wives supported them as they gained stature in their own professional lives for years, the courts insist on giving no alimony to transition to self-sufficiency and instead force the wife and child into the system.
This is actually close to the wording in my decree. In less male-centric states, I would have qualified from raising children long enough to receive alimony and retirement for life. I received neither, despite the extraordinary factor of domestic violence. This complexity of detail matters, so bear with me as I come to my point.
When I met my son’s Dad, I was the higher wage earner and moderately accomplished professional and a successfully exhibiting/selling MFA artist. I allowed my own dismantling over time. For that, I am responsible, but I also reference the paradigms in which I was raised. Hence, the healing process and extreme reckoning that led me to step off.
When I stepped off, I stepped off into poverty. It was a long drop and happened overnight, literally as a factor of retribution for enacting a protection order. The authenticity I promoted for my child became a paradigm that I must own and not be ashamed of, and wearing the veil has become too uncomfortable to not speak my truth.
My child ate little more than hotdogs from the food pantry for two months before we got even a slight bit of relief. Sometimes, we dip into months that are not far from this, even now. “Big deal” some might say, who have never really ever had much to begin with. But for me, the reckoning forced deep examination of extraordinary painful experiences that extended well into middle age. Thank goodness for dear long-distance family and friends who kept their arms reached out to me during these difficult times, and for friends who were nearby who offered their support as well.
I had a choice. I could continue to subject my child to insidious types of trauma “nice” people don’t talk about, or I could step off and finish the job I started in trying to break the cycle of dysfunction. This meant, I needed charity. I needed friends. I needed community. The CPTSR (complex post traumatic stress response) took over for months, and things got dirty during the divorce. My heart was mired in despair, but my child was and still remains my Mission.
Children save us this way.
Through all of this, I was walking the prescribed government path to please the court that cared less about the inflicted trauma endured by my son and me than releasing responsibility for the impact of its decisions. I was writing a business plan to show the state that I wasn’t wanton at the same time that my child was literally struggling to satisfy his hunger. I was diving through hoops to stay afloat while trying to move forward.
Back to the stigma of public assistance… Those who really know me, yet still despise welfare need to understand. It is fucking hard to get on, be on, and remain on public assistance for ANY amount of time. It is like doing taxes every month while stripping naked for TSA. The paperwork alone can become a full-time job.
I have an advanced degree. I am smart, resourceful, and skilled. Even I get frustrated, sidelined, and hopeless trying to jump through the excessive hoops required to gain assistance. Someone who is really lacking in practice navigating the system might easily give up and not even realize that being denied is at times just a filter in the process.
Once gained, the benefits are NOT substantial. They are barely enough. And let me be the first to tell anyone who isn’t aware, barely enough makes it very difficult to move forward, as time is money and it takes money to make money.
It is also challenging to keep the benefits flowing long enough to make headway. The system is not a free-for-all that props up a bunch of lazy, undeserving people. The resources cannot be spent on just anything. I still struggle to clothe my child as he grows, and to maintain a roof over our heads, or to put gas in my car. At times, I stand in the grocery store and decide if a loaf of bread is really something I need, or if I can just get by on the expired or expiring products passed out at the food pantry. If I skip the bread at the store, or take expired yogurt, I will have more SNAP to get through the month. I usually end up putting my last purchase of the month on a credit card.
Medically, the benefits are limiting, too. Physicians are supposed to process RX for durable goods for those with disability, yet for months I have had to buy what I couldn’t borrow out of pocket (meaning credit) because the doctors resist the hoops they have to jump through to qualify these items for the lowly Medicaid patient.
I dream of a time when I can overcome the obstacles to being self-sufficient. But let’s face it. I’ve been out of the workforce for more than a decade. I am an older woman who has lost professional respect.
Reentering the workforce, if nothing else, has taught me that if you choose to stay home and raise your child you damn well need two things: A partner who actually has empathy and respect for you, and a back up plan. It is awfully hard to initiate a back up plan when you are strapped by disability and time away from the workforce.
I persist, and I will always persist, but the reality I face is one where retirement is nonexistent, inheritance is gone, and insurance is a thin veil of government coverage that gets thinner as you transition towards Medicare in your sixth decade.
Now for my gratitude. This week has been really difficult. I became hopeless and depressed. My anxiety climbed the closer I got to my long awaited (and many times-Covid19-bumped) surgery. The surgery will help, but it won’t pull me out of the woods. It will give me more stamina and stability to have a fighting chance (at least until the disease progresses in destroying other joints). Time is not on my side. This is not like cancer and it is not life-threatening, but it makes the smallest of daily life activities and routines difficult to bear.
I was days from surgery that is two+ hours away out of town, without transportation. I have already had a months-long battle of hoop-diving to get in-home assistance and meals for Sean and me after surgery. I am trying to get my home ready for the recovery period. I don’t qualify for much because I am only 55, not 60. I have had to reach out to churches and other community assistance. I stop myself and wonder if anyone who is still anti-welfare thinks I don’t deserve these things.
When I called the hospital about having trouble finding transportation, they suggested I cancel. If I cancel, the second wave of Covid19 has a decent chance of delaying my surgery again, potentially until this time next year. That is not an option. I am already rounding a curve at 90 miles per hour while trying to keep my home from flying off the financial map. The idea of being delayed brought a wave of hopelessness over my being. I know that this is true for many impacted by Covid19, but I have been waging this crusade for months longer.
After trying every avenue, I reluctantly reached out to a friend whom I know is already overly-obligated and walking a path of challenge in her family. Hearing her voice was immediately comforting, though we rarely talk (because we are both carrying rocks up the hill every single day). She gave me hope. She got back to me this morning after not being able to find another resource and told me not to be upset with her (she knows my inherent guilt when asking for help), but she was going to be the one to provide my transportation.
It wasn’t hard for me to experience gratitude over guilt. This friend was the first person to reach out to me with aid when I started the process of stepping off with my sweet boy – he and I – on our own. She was the first person to teach me how to ask for help, with a pre-emptive strike of empathy and compassion that at the time I didn’t realize I deserved. There were other critical moments in the process where she met me with enormous sources of aid – and most importantly, love. I pray she knows how much it means to me that she and her family are helping me get through this long-awaited goal. No way can I do it alone. I love you, my friend.