My #BeReal guest today is Lisa Blair.
It’s a simple enough question, I suppose, for most people. For me, whenever I am asked it, I can’t help feeling a little sad. Thinking about who I am reminds me of who I once was and all that I have been through. I am reminded of all that might have been if I had only been born someone else. My past has shaped who I am and will be with me my whole life, and that makes me sad too.
The story is a long one but the short of it is I didn’t have a good childhood. I dealt with a bit of everything that can go wrong in a child’s life. To start, there were divorced parents, an absent father and a mother who was angry and overwhelmed. We were poor and we moved around a lot. To top it all off there was a family history of drug and alcohol addiction and abuse of every kind. All of that trickled down to me and my siblings and all we could do was our best to get through it, overcome it, and do better.
We did okay but all that bad stuff left some lasting damage. I am the oldest so I think it is safe to say I suffered through more of it than the rest. I don’t mean to make you feel sorry for me, I only mean to tell you how things were so that you might understand how things are. How things are is I am massively messed up, and yet, I am hopeful.
There was a point in my life where I found myself feeling alone and so depressed and full of self-hatred that just living and breathing was tiring and painful. I had a dead-end job, barely a 10th-grade education, I was practically homeless, and everyone who had ever been in a position to help me had written me off.
I was hurting myself in all the ways I could in an attempt to feel nothing when I could, and something when I couldn’t. I knew I had gone too far when I found myself drunk, alone, and lost in downtown Denver, with a dead phone battery and no way to get home. I used an outdoor outlet and called someone I hardly knew to ask if I could stay at their place. I walked dark streets I had never been down, and felt real fear as the possibilities of what could happen to a five-foot-nothing, 18-year-old girl walking the dark streets of the city on her own ran through my mind.
I woke up the next morning, still drunk, and I called the number of a program run by the university where I could get free mental health care. I had had the foresight to write the number down weeks before when I realized things were getting bad. I called the number and told the woman on who answered that I needed help. I told her I was sad. I told her I felt weak because I couldn’t stop doing all these bad things to myself. She said it certainly sounded like I need help and scheduled me for an evaluation.
My first visit was emotional. I cried in spite of the promises I had made to myself that I wouldn’t. I told the woman my whole story, the long version, and she listened with very little emotion even while I sobbed across from her. I told her things I had never said out loud to anyone. When I was through she only asked if I had any questions for her.
I asked her just one question.
I asked her if she thought, given everything I thought about myself and everything I had done, that I might be crazy. I felt crazy a lot of the time. I felt out of control.
She replied that she thought I was doing the very best I could, considering what I had been through. She said despite all the evidence to the contrary, she thought I was trying my best to stay alive.
That answer meant everything to me.
While I only ended up visiting her that one time (due to a waiting list) it was exactly what I needed to hear to turn my entire life toward recovery. That answer meant that I wasn’t bad inside. It meant I wasn’t entirely to blame for my emotional ignorance. I was not to blame for the fact that people had treated me badly before I had learned the skills to cope and protect myself against them.
I made that call almost 13 years ago and I have come so far since I received that answer. My recovery has had its ups and downs, its successes and failures, but it always tended towards happiness and hope. It took many, many years of support groups, research, self-help books, and sleepless nights of introspection and decision-making to get where I am today and I am very proud of it. My mental health continues to be fragile, I am sure it always will be, but I have the skills I need to cope and to live a fulfilling life now.
People I have met since then, who never knew me at my worst, are shocked to hear of the trouble I caused and found myself in back then. They are shocked to find the sweet, smart, sympathetic Lisa they know was one of those people they would have sneered at on the street. They think I was just a bad kid just being defiant and troublesome for no reason. So, I had stopped telling people about it so much because their reactions are never quite right and I leave the interaction wishing I hadn’t shared so much of myself.
What they don’t get is I was someone who was hurting. I was someone who had to fight my whole life to keep my mind and my humanity intact. Now I am someone who sees that everyone out there is fighting their own fight too. Everyone is suffering, they might have gone through less, or they might have gone through worse, but each and every one of us is fighting.
So who am I? I am someone who understands that life shapes you in ways you can barely understand and can have you behaving in destructive ways compulsively and without thought. I am someone who knows what it is like to give up on life and at the same time to want to live, to really live! I am also someone who knows what it’s like to have no idea how to do either.
I am someone who knows that no matter how far you have fallen you can always make your way back toward happiness.
Today I am living a life I never thought was possible for me. I have a beautiful, smart, and caring wife who has stuck by me even when I was at my lowest. She never judged me and she never felt sorry for me either. I have a decent job where I have earned the admiration and the respect of my coworkers and superiors. I also have my family back. Each one of us is getting better day by day and in our own way and I am witnessing the next generation being raised in more love and attention than any of the earlier ones ever had.
I have seen what forgiveness, understanding, communication, and self-love can do. I have learned what hope really means and to what end we feel it.
I am someone who has come a long way, and who has a long way to go still. I am someone who knows that being real means being honest with myself about where I came from and about what I need to take care of myself now. There is a lot more to who I am and what I want out of this life but at the base of it, there is the answer to that question I asked so long ago.
The answer that told me that deep down, I wanted to live. I wanted to stay on this Earth despite all evidence to the contrary and being real means I must honor that, every single day.