Yea, it's me.
Sorry about suddenly going MIA, I didn't intend for that to happen.
This was an eye-opening 11 days or so, the majority of which needed to be spent in silence. That translated into me not answering many phone calls or texts, letting emails go un-replied with the exception of a few for work, and eventually turning my phone off completely.
That is extremely unlike me. I'm a "you text me and I'll text you back in two seconds" kind of girl, not a "you text me and I'll text you back in four days" girl.
I just needed to be alone.
Unfortunately the need for silence transferred over into this blog. I didn't intend it to be that way and I kept attempting to come on here and post a little "I'll be back soon" message, but I just...couldn't. These days as soon as I hit "publish" on a post, I brace myself for impact. Every time a comment notification comes in, I cringe because I never know what hateful verbiage might be thrown at me next. While overall the hate comments don't bother me, in the moment it does sometimes hurt. Due to the fact that I get trolled most heavily on any topics that involve my finances and because that is the situation that is currently overtaking my life, this blog suddenly didn't feel like such a safe place anymore. What started out as me planning on popping in here to let you all know what was going on, ended with me turning off the notifications on my blog email because I simply could not handle anymore people telling me everything they think I'm doing wrong.
But I'm back and I've missed you all.
Court last week went well, from what I remember anyways. I never did follow up with Mr. Attorney Man because he, along with pretty much everyone else I know, was innocently banished to my "I am not talking to you right now bc I need to figure a few things out first" list. What I do know is that I came home from court with an order that now portrays my actual child support amount. It also appears to have been filed to reflect as if it had been entered on my past August court date, so I'm good with that. As far as I can tell and unless I'm told otherwise, I'm pretty sure court went fine.
What didn't go fine was everything that happened after court. It wasn't fine when a couple hours after leaving the courthouse I tried to submit the new court order to the public aid office only to find out that my case had been closed, and that because of a state back log even a new application wouldn't be processed for roughly three months. It wasn't fine how that set off a chain of events that started to systematically wipe out every support system I had, and left me in utter shock to watch as the domino's of my life fell down one by one.
Before I can go forward, let me first go back. Months ago when I initially realized that there was a problem with my child support order, I did the logical thing and I called up my caseworker. To say that she was less than pleasant would be the understatement of the century.
Have you ever been talking to someone and found yourself thinking "yep, I'm about to get my first assault charge?"
Our meeting went exactly like that.
I don't want to go into details but judging by her boss's phone call apology to me, she was heavily reprimanded not only for her roll in this whole fiasco, but for her behavior towards me as well. She obviously wasn't pleased about that and I feel pretty safe in saying that she has continued to be the reason that everything has gone downhill for me.
Suddenly every public aid office in the county, offices that I know for a fact don't work in sync with each other, were receiving copies of the screwed up order. Because that court order mistakenly reflected that I was getting an insane amount of child support, all those offices started closing out my public aid case files before I even knew it was happening. When I realized what was taking place I immediately started running all over town giving the offices a letter from Mr. Attorney Man explaining the mistake, but what they needed was a copy of a new court order. Mr. Attorney Man got my case into court on the first available date and when I walked out of court two Fridays ago with a new order, I thought I had a chance at getting this straightened out.
But it was already too late.
My public aid cases had been closed.
Throughout the past several years I've never been naive to the fact that my life is very dependent on state aid. It's not something I'm proud of, it's something I've been actively working to change, and even though I knew it was all connected I don't think I had realized how MUCH everything was connected. Losing my state aid set off a chain reaction that I couldn't even have dreamt of, one that is currently destroying my financial foundation.
So jumping back to the present, I left court the Friday before last feeling slightly pleased and then two hours later found out that many of my financial resources had been revoked or would be within a matter of weeks, which was exactly what I was hoping to prevent by getting a new court order. To make matters worse, without receiving daycare financial assistance, I can't simply work more to make up for the loss. Even creatively working from home is not even going to come close to bringing in the income I would need to make up for that great a loss.
How did that make me feel?
Because I sound like a loser.
"Well if the state isn't taking care of me, then I can't take care of me."
I'm 31 yrs old with two kids. Relying on other people for my income is not a position I want to be in, nor the person I want to be.
I didn't want to talk to anyone about what was happening because I didn't want anyone to know that my whole life was falling apart again. I didn't want anyone to know what a failure I was turning out to be; again.
My life does not make me look good. I was just telling Mr. Attorney Man that part of why I hate going to court is that I have to stand in front of everyone and humiliate myself. "Yes, my husband left and I don't know where he is. Yes, he hit me. Yes, I stayed. Yes, I was sexually assaulted" and it just goes on and on. My whole life is like that and I can't escape it. "Oh you are a single mom? Where is your husband? He seriously just left you? You really don't know where he is? He was a drug addict? How could you not have known? Didn't you see the signs? Was he cheating on you? Why didn't your family help you? You don't have a family anymore? Who doesn't have a family? You clean houses for a living, like toilets and everything? You run a nonprofit for abused women? Why, were you abused? You teach a strip class!? That's...interesting..."
It just goes on, and on, and on.
There really is no area of my life that I feel makes me look particularly snazzy. I come off looking like the clueless wife of a cheating drug addict, who let him beat her until he ran away, has no family, who works a degrading job cleaning other peoples house's, and started a little
Yep, I look simply wonderful.
And yet that is exactly who I am. That is my life.
This is my life.
And to be honest I'm ok with it because while it doesn't shed me in the best light, I know my life for what it truly is and all the good that is coming out of it. But when it comes to my finances, it's a completely different story.
I sat around all last weekend after court and tried to figure out what the hell I was going to do. I can't financially hang on for three months while the state works through a new application for aid. I work 55 hours a week at minimum and still have a hard time making enough to cover our bills and that's with the kids being in daycare. How am I supposed to find a way to even keep that income, let alone raise it, if I don't have daycare? Not to mention that I just closed on my modified home loan last year and part of the stipulations are that I won't miss any mortgage payments for the next five years. If I miss even one payment I'm in a lot of trouble.
Where the hell does that leave me?
Juggling way too many things to even be able to figure out where to start fixing them.
Sunday night came and my kids asked for a second helping of dinner. I didn't have anything else to give them and The Boy Child, fists clenched in frustration, told me, snapped at me really, "you don't even care that I'm still hungry!" and then he ran upstairs crying.
That destroyed me.
I put the kids to bed and sat on the couch thinking, "I can't give them what I don't have and I don't know how to fix this situation. I'm doing everything I can, making an enormous amount of phone calls, showing up at state offices left and right, and I'm not getting anywhere."
My kids are starting to realize this which simply kills me because everything I do in my life is done in an effort to better theirs.
Yet I'm failing them.
I put the kids to bed, I sat on the couch and I did the worst possible thing I could have done in that moment.
I let everything that my parents and my ex had ever said to me come flooding back.
You are worthless. You are bound for nothing but failure. Your best will never be good enough. No one will ever want you. You are a horrible mother. You can't do anything right. No one will ever want you because you are a loser.
By the end of the night I felt exactly like they had always wanted me to; I felt like nothing.
I got up, turned off the lights, and before I went to bed I checked on The Boy Child who has a habit of falling asleep everywhere but his bed. He was surprisingly asleep in his bed, but I could tell that at some point he must have been looking out the window because the curtains were open and the blinds were oddly smashed to one side. I kissed his little head and as I went about fixing the shades I caught glimpse of the outside and all it beheld, which from the view I had was pretty much nothing.
And it all came rushing back.
You know that dramatic cinematography technique where a character in a movie has a sudden realization of something that happened in the past, and the film plays in quickly in reverse until it stops right at a moment where the character, as well as the audience, is in a pivotal moment from the past?
As I looked out the window it was as if my entire brain rewound back to the week my ex left, which was three years ago this month.
My son was 7 months old. He was still nursing and not quite sleeping through the night yet, so I would often find myself in his room while the rest of the world was asleep. There was a chair in there, the same chair that is in there now (pictured below), but it was in the opposite corner so that I could look out the window and over the field.
I knew I had a long day ahead of me, but I knew that when I put him back in his crib and went to bed that the sun would soon rise and that with it would come the end of my life as I knew it.
I knew that the life I had known was going to be over when I walked out of that attorney's office the next day, and as much as it was a life I needed to leave behind, my future looked very much like that field in February; cold, dark, and empty for as far as I could see.
Yet despite my pleadings to hold onto that moment, the sun rose anyways and my new life began.
It wasn't easy and there were many more nights than I would like to admit that I found myself sitting in that chair, clutching my son as tears rolled silently down my cheeks and my broken heart trembled with every beat. I'd look around his room and I'd wonder if I would ever be able to create the life for us that he deserved.
It's funny how when a tragedy strikes, so many people suddenly know who you are. I had spent years of my life hiding my secrets from people, trying to blend in and be the best version of "normal" that I could be, and suddenly my deepest and darkest secrets were common dinner talk in many households across my town. "That is girl whose husband left her" I'd hear in whispered voices as I walked into church. "That's the woman whose husband disappeared" I overheard the preschool secretary say. Even in the pediatrician's office I overheard the office staff talking about what had happened to our family.
Kind hearted friends had spread the word in an effort to help us and while I am nothing but thankful for thier efforts, the spreading news also turned my life story into the gossip of the town. Suddenly everyone knew who I was and it was not for a reason that I would have liked to be known.
The funny thing about recognition is that along with it brings opinions. Before I knew it everyone had an opinion on my life, what I should be doing, and how I could fix everything as long as I simply followed their 5 easy steps. If I should dare decline to participate in their plan, a raised eyebrow and a judgemental glare would often be cast in my direction.
"That's how she got herself into this situation" the look seemed to say. "I would never be in that position because I make better choices, exactly like the advice she is refusing to take from me now."
And it wasn't even that it was bad advice, or that I didn't agree with what they thought I should do, it was just that it was too much advice. There was no possible way that I could be following 30 different plans from 30 different people. I listened to what everyone had to say, I absorbed all their advice, then I used it to construct the best plan that I could.
Mostly though, I ran. I ran as hard and as fast as I could toward my new life plan. In the beginning I didn't even know where I was going, I just knew that I needed to get there before someone else tried to drag me towards a destination I had no intention of ending up at.
Within a matter of months I was well underway in my new life. My ex was gone and I was forging along without him, healing my life, healing my kids, and healing me.
And people noticed. Everywhere I turned I was met with praise. "I can't believe you have come so far. We never thought you would be able to pull your life together this well."
But at night, when I was all alone, I would find myself sitting in my son's room, looking out over the field, and wondering what on earth I was doing.
Yet I didn't have a choice so I just kept going, running full speed towards my new life. When the going got tough, I just worked harder. I think the comment that I get most often these days is "I have no idea how you do so much" and yet to me, when I look around and see how financially strapped we are, I find myself thinking "I'm not doing enough. I'm clearly not doing enough."
When everything went down after court last week I was shattered. As I said I found myself standing in The Boy Child's room, looking out over the field, and flashing back to almost exactly three years ago.
"How have I worked so hard and found myself in the same position?" I wondered. "What have I done with the last three years of my life that have caused me to still be in jeopardy of losing everything?"
What is wrong with me?
I sunk down into the chair in his room, watched him sleep, and let the weight of my parents and my ex, and all that they thought of me, weigh down upon my shoulders.
I am a failure. I have failed again. I cannot let anyone know what a horrible human being I am.
When I woke up Monday morning I texted Mr. Attorney Man to talk about court but as the afternoon wore on I found myself shutting down. Not out of sorrow, not because I was upset, but because I was simply overwhelmed by the road that lay ahead.
I turned my phone off.
When I got home that night and the kids were in bed, I once again found myself in the silence of the night, the time when the words of my past always seem to echo through my head the loudest, in a voice that sounds exactly like my ex.
I'm not even sure how I eventually talked myself into a new realm of thinking, but sitting there in the silence with no interruptions from the outside world brought a new sort of clarity to me.
I realized that I was less upset with what was going on in my life and more upset with what people were going to think about it. My fear and my anxiety were so wrapped up in what people would think of me that it was starting to cloud my rationale thinking, which is funny because I typically don't care at all what others think of me.
As I've talked about a hundred times on this blog, the only reason that I'm even still standing today (and continue to blog) is that at some point I decided that the only opinion of me that mattered, is mine, and I have to say that in many ways that has served me well.
But when it comes to my finances, I've never felt that same confidence because I've never felt confident enough in my financial security to feel as though I have a right to feel anything but shame over my situation. It's hard to feel confident when you are so obviously struggling and so many people feel as though you ignored their advice for you.
It's like the kid who goes to college to get a degree their parents don't agree with. They feel the added pressure of not only graduating, but being extremely successful in order to be able to justify the path that they chose.
I didn't want anyone looking at the past three years of my life and thinking poorly of me with this latest turn of events, just as so many had thought of me when my ex had left.
As I continued to dwell on this it became abundantly clear to me that I'm actually not afraid of having to start over again. I am an optimistic person by nature and while I would like an easier path, I'm not afraid of the struggle. What I am afraid of and what I need to let go of, is what other people are going to think of me while I'm struggling.
That was a big reality check for me, one that was a long time coming, and the only way to really process that, was to process it alone.
So I hid inside my head for a week. It wasn't a big sob fest, I wasn't crying, I didn't even feel sad, I still went about my daily activities, I just needed to figure some things out, and I needed to figure them out alone.
I absolutely loved it and here is what I learned:
***I Take Too Much Responsibility For My Financial Situation***
When you look at the statistics of single mothers you realize how staggering they are. 84% of the homeless population are single mothers and of those, 92% have been abused. The median income in the US is $86,000 per family, but for single mothers it's only $26,000. Of everyone living below the poverty line including senior citizens, people with disabilities, veterans, people struggling with addictions, the homeless population, and illegal immigrants, 58% of them are single mothers. 35% of single mothers are classified as "food insecure," meaning that they don't always have enough to eat. I think the statistic that scares me the most is that when they studied people living in poverty, only 40% were ever able to get their income up above the poverty line.
Those statistic do not bode well for the 4.1 million single mothers that are currently living below the poverty line.
I am one them.
I don't want to be here forever.
I don't want to be here forever and because of that I've been really hard on myself to change that.
I take an extreme amount of care with my finances and I almost think that because of it I've forced myself into what is the equivalent of financial eating disorder. It's gotten to the point where I can't spend a dollar without feeling guilty about it. I obsessively track every dollar I spend and I never, ever "cheat," by using a credit card. I can't buy anything, even a necessity, without feeling guilty. If I owe someone money, say on a bill for instance, you can ask Mr. Attorney Man because he can vouch that I will have that check in his hand the minute he asks for it. I feel so bad about sucking up state funds that I then swing wildly in the other direction and try not to let anyone spend their money on me (just ask Mr. Attorney Man about the time I wrestled a bill out of his hands at a nonprofit dinner meeting).
Yet this week I finally arrived at a new and long overdue realization about my finances.
I didn't land in this position on my own.
Yes, on the surface of reality I have understood that my ex left us and blah, blah, blah, but somehow I've taken all of the financial stress upon myself as a personal burden, as if it was something I created alone. "I'm on welfare because I can't make enough money. My kids are hungry because I can't make enough to buy groceries. I'm a drain on society because I don't have a better job."
Me, me, me.
Except that this wasn't just me. I didn't un-enroll myself from college, my ex made that choice for me. I didn't create these kids by myself, he was there. I didn't leave in search of a different life, he bailed on us.
I'm struggling because I have the burden of trying to balance a career and kids. I'm struggling because I'm the only one who is still here.
I'm still here.
I've spent 3 years blaming myself for not being enough, for not doing enough, and yet all this time I've failed to truly accept the fact that I'm not always enough because I was never supposed to be the only one here.
I am here, because I did not fail. I'm still here, because unlike my ex, I did not give up.
I will not give up, I have not given up, and I need to be ok with the fact that building a good life from scratch does not happen overnight.
***I'm Not Doing Half Bad***
Because I am not yet where I need to be, I've never really given myself any credit for the fact that I'm not where I could have been. So here is me, finally giving myself some of that credit;
I have no debt.
Aside from the fact that I have no debt, I managed to get myself out of debt. The week my ex left he charged nearly $9,000 to my credit card and during the time that my mortgage payments were on hold during the modification process, I took the opportunity to pay off the debt.
I avoided foreclosure. I managed to complete a mortgage modification program that only 2% of applicants are approved for. I should be proud of that because I worked really, really, hard to get that done.
Because of that my kids and I have not become homeless.
I've gotten my credit score back up to the very top of credit scores.
I have a plan. Yes, this plan was severely damaged by this latest fiasco, but I am and have always been actively working towards being completely self sufficient. I take the initiative to meet with a financial planner and a career coach on a regular basis. I'm not just waiting for my life to fix itself, I'm taking an active roll in bettering it for the long haul.
I started a nonprofit. If any of you have ever done that, you know what an accomplishment that is. For those of you who have never done that, you have no idea how much work that is.
I own a profitable small business. Yes it's small and the profit is small, but it does turn a profit which is more than many companies do in the first several years.
So yes, despite what I've thought of myself and my current financial situation over the last few years, I do need to give myself a little more credit for what I have managed to accomplish.
***It's Ok To Stumble***
Because of my past I'm in the unfortunate position of having to learn at my advanced age, what most people have had a lifetime to learn. While outside I may be 31, inside in many ways I'm still 21, 15, 10, and 8. I didn't learn much of what I should have and now I'm at a double disadvantage of having to navigate all those lessons while managing what anyone would consider to be a pretty difficult situation.
Yet I haven't lost my mind, my kids are thriving, and I am making progress. Set-backs in my new life plan are bound to happen just as they are not only expected, but anticipated in any business start-up.
When I encounter a financial or career set-back, I need allow myself to be ok with that and to understand that it's all just part of the process.
***People Are Allowed To Want What Is Best For Me, But They Are Not Allowed To Judge Me***
This was a tricky one for me to untangle. I have a lot of people who care for me, who want me to succeed, and while I love them for that, I have failed to realize that caring about me does not give them the right to judge me and what I do with my money.
For example, even on this blog I get heavily judged for what I do with my money. In the post "It's About Time For Some Updates" I posted something about treating my daughter to a mommy-daughter pizza night because we had a gift card to the restaurant. I got several emails from people telling me that I had no business being on welfare and ordering a pizza. I just wanted to have a nice night with her, treat her to something that she never gets (gluten free pizza can get pricey!) and was made to feel completely awful about it. On top of those emails, I probably get at least 5 a week from people telling me that I need to get over my kids "special" diet and feed them whatever is the cheapest; that I have no right to spend money on specialty items (for the record the kid's diet is medically necessitated) when it's coming out of their tax dollars, or if I post about spending time with my friends I know I'm going to get a flurry of emails from people telling me that I should be spending those hours working. It's just really hard to have people constantly telling you how irresponsible you are when you know that you really are trying. It's the shame I feel at the grocery store when I buy ten kinds of vegetables but stop short of grabbing the .79 cent candy bar I'd really love to have, because even though I worked 50 hours this week, I still don't feel like I deserve anything.
But I've come to realize that I can't be "perfect" all the time, I will never be able to please everyone, and so I give up trying.
People can have their opinions on my financial situation, but I don't need to accept their feelings as my own. I know I'm responsible with my finances and I need to be ok with the fact that other people might not always understand that.
***I'm On State Benefits And That Is Ok***
(Assuming that my file will eventually be re approved)
Yep, it's ok.
I'm done with the guilt trip I've placed upon myself for being on state assistance. I got screwed over when my ex left but I'm doing the best that I can to become self sufficient. I have a solid career plan that will eventually get me off benefits. I know how hard I'm working and for now that is all I can do.
Beating myself up over my financial situation isn't going to change anything except my self-esteem, so I'm going to stop doing it.
I know that I live within my means, I know that I'm actively working on the self-sufficiency plan that my financial advisor has set up for me, and as long as I'm living within the bounds of that plan and my means, I'm done feeling bad about how I spend my money, regardless of where it comes from.
So last week?
It was quiet.
It was filled with a blissful and long overdue silence that brought fourth some resounding realizations.
And this week?
I'm sure it will be a lot more hectic as I catch up on everything that I missed out on last week, and the future of my household is still very uncertain at this point, but for me, I'm stepping into it with a new outlook.
My financial situation sucks but I refuse to feel any shame about it.
I'm cutting myself a break here and if any of you have an issue with that,
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