I relived this part of my past in a blog I wrote a few months ago and I think it is time I come back to it.
I think it is time to start unravelling these parts of my story that truly have made me… well, me. Since that 10-minute drive, the drive that changed my life, the drive that forced me to work through the anxiety, the drive that has changed my thoughts, emotions and processing; I have become a new woman. A new version of me. I don’t think it’s a better version, not an improved version, but a wiser, more compassionate, and definitely a braver version. A version that is learning how to self-love.
My boyfriend was the driver in an accident that caused death and bodily harm to his two passengers. Within 5 weeks from that night, I had moved in with my boyfriend’s Mom, moved in with the kids, took on a parental role that happened prematurely, my boyfriend was charged, we bailed him out and the court dates started. In those 5 weeks, I had taken on the responsibility to be the primary breadwinner, the sole driver in our quick family of 5, and most challenging – the emotional support and caregiver to my boyfriend. Those 5 weeks were a complete blur.
I will get into the details of what I went through, as the legal portion of our story rolled-out, but for now, I want to talk about the “survival fog” or “blur” that we go into when something so big and so traumatic hits us upside the head.
I never thought in a million years that I would and could be with someone with a criminal past, let alone someone who would be serving jail-time in our relationship, but that is exactly what I faced. It was terrifying. I didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t think I was strong enough. I wasn’t sure if our relationship would be strong enough to endure it all.
I didn’t sleep for what felt like months. I never really exhaled, rather – I held my breath. I held that breath for a long, long time. In the first initial weeks and months, I stopped talking to a lot of my family members and friends because I feared the feedback and definitely made it too real. I lived in shame and guilt-land for a very long time. In those initial moments I battled in my brain, teetering between my morals and beliefs and my love for this man. I fought with myself about what I was worth, and what he was worth to me.
It was so hard. So lonely! In the first days and weeks of the accident, we walked around in this “survival fog”. I don’t think I laughed, tasted food, smelled something delicious, paused to see something beautiful. I lost all my senses. The only things I felt and experienced were pain, guilt, shame, deep deep DEEP sadness and the most intense fear and anxiety.
My reference for criminal situations is what I saw in the movies: with swat teams, news helicopters capturing aerial views of your house, news reporters bombarding you as you tried to go grocery shopping and breakthrough news updates. This is what I prepared for. I deleted all of my social media and I blocked countless numbers in my phone. I drew the curtains at my boyfriend’s Mom’s house, I wore sunglasses and hoods or hats everywhere I went. I didn’t tell people where I was living. This level of surveillance is exhausting and it perpetuated the anxiety further.
My need to preserve my identity and keep myself hidden away to avoid being scrutinized and the level of protection that I felt over my boyfriend couldn’t have been matched against any force. I was the force! I braced for all of the things I saw in the movies. I stayed in that state for weeks. But…nothing happened. Nothing.
I opened the curtains one day and a news anchor wasn’t standing on the front lawn like I thought. I re-added Facebook and no one had anything bad to say in direct messages or on my wall. I lived in literal fear for none of the scary things that I had internalized. The truth was that aside from my family, my boyfriend’s family and the victims’ families and friends, everyone else was over it. While I was writhing in pain from the fear and anxiety from that terrible night, everyone else seemed to have moved on. But, isn’t that how it usually is? I don’t know why I thought this would be different.
I’ve seen many celebrity interviews, where they went from “A-list” to nothing, after being slammed in the tabloids. As they pick up the pieces, everyone’s moved on from their story to the next big story. That’s how it felt for me a few times in my life. When my Dad passed away, people were there leading up to his passing and when he passed; then they vanished. After the accident, the ones that knew were there initially; then they vanished.
As everyone I knew vanished, with the exception of very few, I was still expected to go to work, smile, be professional, keep things from the kids, be there for my boyfriend and appear to have it all together. Some of this was to preserve relationships, some of this was to keep it a secret, some of it was because I was in hiding thinking people cared and judged me. Mostly though, people vanished because everyone else had moved on!
I hid because I thought people still cared, still had it in them to judge me, but really, they had moved on to the next big story in their lives. At the end of the day, you’ll get reactions but truthfully people move on and care less and less about what you’re going through and more and more about the next big thing in their own lives, or the next big drama in other people’s lives. My story at the time was just the flavour of the week.
I sat with so much shame because of his choices that fateful night, because I genuinely thought people were sitting around their dinner table breaking this down. I thought that people were having birthday parties and get-togethers talking about this news story. I thought that people were judging me, putting effort into dissecting my life when really, that could not have been further from the truth. No one was thinking about me, or him, or us. They were thinking about their new puppies, their sister’s baby shower and planning their next vacation. It was me that was stuck in the hamster wheel. I hid because I felt judged; but the only one judging was me!
I judged my day to day life. I judged my boyfriend and his stupid decisions. I judged my decision to stay and live in this hell. I was so busy judging myself and absorbed in my feelings that I thought surely others were too. Totally not the case. I stopped living because I sat in that shame and guilt that was not my own. My zest for life left me because the feelings I assumed others felt were the reflection of my own feelings and I couldn’t see past it. Truth be told, the people I love really cared about me. They didn’t judge me. They didn’t hate me. All the hate and judgement that I felt was a mirrored experience of how I felt about myself.
Isn’t that what we all think though? It doesn’t have to be a fatal car accident that makes us feel this way. I have had this same conversation with a parent of a child with a disability. I have had the same conversation with someone whose loved one passed away. I remember having this conversation with a friend when her marriage ended in divorce. I think it is a human condition. It’s what links us together. Grief, trauma and pain are universal feelings that none of us escape on this planet and so it’s genuinely what makes us human, I think.
If we can look inward and feel what we feel, and learn to look outwardly – truly outwardly – we can see that the world looking back at us isn’t nearly as judgemental or hateful as we are to ourselves at times. The judgement and hate that we feel from others in these times are fleeting, at least more fleeting than the perpetual judgement and hate that we have for ourselves. This is why I have been on a mission to learn self-love.
If I learn how to love myself bigger than anything on the outside of myself, I believe that all I will see and feel back is love! I’m not good at loving myself… yet… but through this revelation, I have discovered that I want it. I want to love myself so big! I have the ability to love the people around me stronger than any external force imaginable, I want that kind of love for myself so that no matter what other tragedies come my way, I never hide again. I never want to go into a witness protection program ever again because, the only person I needed to get away from was myself!
I am a 33 year old Step-Mom to three kids who would describe me as a dramatic, fun-loving hopeless romantic (insert eyeroll). Transplanted from Pickering, Ontario and currently living in Calgary, Alberta. My friends would describe me as an open-book, a safe space and an ever evolving shoulder to cry on (my friend told me to say that). I work with children with special needs; a career inspired by my involvement with Willowjak. I have been thrown some pretty big curve balls in my short time here on this planet but, have faced them with a good book in hand and a cup of tea on my night stand. My hope is that what I have experienced in my life can be of use to others. Some support to prove that we are not alone; though we may feel like we are, that we are seen; though we feel invisible and that we have a voice; though we may not know we have one yet.
You can hear more about Michelle’s story when she appeared as a guest on Willowjak’s ‘Choose Your Own After’, by listening HERE.