The holidays are always hard for me but this year there is an extra darkness looming in the hallway and asking for a seat at my empty table.
His name is homelessness and he doesn’t discriminate based on gender, race, or religion.
There are no passes for good karma and this reality is what my Thanksgiving will look like.
As a kid, I both loved and hated the holidays. I loved the good food and the presents but hated that they often meant I would be around a sexual abuser. Growing up,I clung to the holidays my Mom created and ignored the underlying devastation that was our relationship.
Sure, she was dating a man that also sexually abused me, but those lights sure did sparkle. I was surviving. I was getting through.
By the time I turned 19, my slowly fading Mom was gone completely.
I never heard from or saw her again. The holidays took on another new meaning. I felt like an orphan. I missed my Mom. I hated my Mom. I felt my belief of being unlovable grow like a vine on a fence around my heart.
I started college only to end up in a series of abusive relationships. The last one ended when police, criminal investigators, and social workers grabbed me and put me in hiding a week before Christmas. I lost everything I owned that I didn’t toss into my car. That year, in a bunk bed in a domestic violence safe house for women and children, I spent Christmas, New Year’s, and Valentine’s Day.
I was classified as homeless and wondered how I would ever recover. I wondered what the point was in even trying. I did my best to focus on what I should be thankful for but it felt like a forced exercise in futility.
I went from safe house to safe house until I found my new home where I didn’t know a single soul.
The next holiday season and the next five years found me alone in various places. No family came to visit. Not once. And, when it was all said and done, one friend remained my friend.
The first 2 years, I laid on a used mattress on the floor and sobbed my way through every holiday.
I tried to ignore that each holiday existed. I tried some false cheer each holiday season, decorating my living room and smiling like my life depended on it. But on Thanksgiving, I ate alone, on Christmas I did my best to ignore the day, on New Years I went to bed before midnight, on Valentine’s Day I put blinders on, and on my birthday more of the same. For five years.
This past summer, I received a job offer in another state. The salary was generous and I was moved to tears at the realization of how far I had made it. “My life is about to change,” I said.
Less than two months after arriving, I was in my first car crash.
In a split second, my entire world was thrown back into a blender. My car was a total loss. My body hurt so badly I knew it was more than whiplash. I was sure I was “fine” and would return to work in a couple of days.
That “fine” was musculoskeletal strain up and down my entire spine, whiplash of course, and soft tissue damage. My muscles are so tight that I cry out doing the simplest of tasks. My legs won’t lift up high enough to get dressed or get in the shower. I lift them while groaning in pain and try to go about my day like that is normal.
That “fine” was also a concussion.
My eyes hurt every single day. I couldn’t look at my computer or the TV. I couldn’t follow what was happening on TV. The movements were too fast and what was said got jumbled up because of a delay in comprehension.
Indoor light hurt, outdoor light hurt. I set up fort in my dark bedroom in late July. I am writing this to you now while still in it.
My head hurt every day, relentlessly. I couldn’t control my body temperature and would have random soaking sweats. I filled my dark bedroom with fans. I was still sure the concussion would clear up and I would return to work.
Two weeks later, I woke up to an email from my boss “letting me go”.
I fell to the floor and wailed. I was heartbroken. Sick. I was afraid to be injured in a place where I had moved for a job that had just let me go. It left me with no income.
I was in trouble.
The word, “homeless”, rang through my head over and over.
I began treatment at a brain trauma clinic, 3 days a week for several hours each time. A NeuroPsychologist evaluated my cognition on various levels. His evaluation was shocking.
My IQ was chopped in half. My memory was so bad he wondered if I had Post Traumatic Amnesia. This is a traumatic brain injury, post-concussive disorder, and an accumulation of concussions over the years.
The brain trauma clinic discharged me at the end of two months with a side note that I was still too sick and needed more time for my brain to heal to return to work. I train relentlessly on brain apps the clinic recommended to help my brain return to normal.
I work on my memory and my “squirrel brain” as I call it that rambles and gets distracted. I meet someone, talk with them for a while, leave for 30 minutes, and return with a blank stare at the person I met.
“Did I meet you earlier?” I ask, confused and embarrassed.
A chore like vacuuming takes up to four hours to accomplish. Vacuum a room, rest, vacuum more, rest, and so on. I forget to eat. I lose track of time. I tend to keep the same channel on TV that’s been on since my wreck. I have no idea why and often mute it.
When I type anything it takes half a day, literally, when it used to take 30 minutes. I recognize it isn’t how I once was able to write.
I’ve started to use my blog to raise funds, despite my deep desire to never ask for help. I believed nobody would care. I was wrong. My best friend even began a GoFundMe to help as well.
Time is passing, though, and I am likely going to be homeless in 2017.
It’s November. Thanksgiving is on its way and I can’t stop it. It’s coming on like a freight train of everything painful.
I’ll spend my 6th Thanksgiving alone this year.
I’ll be in my dark bedroom because the light still hurts my eyes. I’ll think of families around tables filled with turkeys and pumpkin pies. I’ll mourn the family that abandoned me and the one I never had a chance to have.
I’ll be fighting to avoid the inevitable while people tell me to think positive. I’ll be angry and sad, frustrated with a brain I can’t force to heal. There will be no decorations. There will be no false cheer.
There will be me, thankful for those that have helped and have reached out.
Thankful for the cat that has been my little partner and fellow survivor. I’ll cry, like I am right now, and tell him I’m sorry for failing him.
I’ll do my best to pretend that a miracle is possible, beyond all reason, and that I’ll stay safe and warm in my own place with my own things until I am better.
I’ll do my best while homelessness waits at the kitchen table for me to join him.