So, I am reading “The Happiness Project”.
I am just finished “Getting Started: THE TWELVE COMMANDMENTS” and “Chapter 1: Boost Energy VITALITY”. And I had this moment. You know the moment. The “A-ha”, the epiphany and the sudden inspiration of seeing a long awaited answer to “What-is-it-that-has- been- eating -away- at- my- soul?” moment.
I took it all with me.
Back in 2010, when I was still a selling agent in real estate I spent most of my nights of the second half of that year in my jetted bathtub crying so hard I could hardly breathe. The year was terrible for anyone in real estate. The economy had tanked, the real estate industry took a huge nosedive and I found myself stressed out and wondering how I was going to pay my bills, let alone my mortgage. My savings had been depleted. I cashed out my 401k and was left with a life of devastation and utter ruin. Being a single woman meant that I did not have another support system to keep me from drowning in a life of financial disarray. My son, struggling himself, had just graduated college and moved back home while I was internally trying to pick up whatever pieces were strewn about my beautiful condo in the heart of Arlington, VA. Even my little dog, Mac started showing signs of stress. There were chunks of emotional matter everywhere. It was like an explosion of my well being spewed about my world. The slow death of a life of hard work, dedication and focus had laid before me; and in a split second I found myself trying to figure out how I would actually survive. I am not new to financial ruin. I am also not a stranger to abandonment of life itself. I have struggled and survived on several occasions in my life and the previous walks through the proverbial disaster storm proved to be a valuable lesson that planted me firmly into another, and far better chapter, of my life. I’m pretty sure the “what does not kill you makes you stronger” theory clings to my every forward move in life.
And here I am…dusted off and standing tall…. years of focus under my belt spent focused on rebuilding after my financial catastrope. I “closet shopped” for over two years. I did not buy a single pair of shoes in twenty four long months. I ate leftovers. I did not eat out. I found ways to entertain myself without cable, the Internet or even a Sunday drive. At one point it was just me and my little Mac – struggling to keep it together, we mastered game face. I learned to live on $15 dollars a week in spending money. I learned how to make the most of everything and anything I already owned. I paid every penny of over the $900k in debt I had amassed. I sold my $800 thousand dollar penthouse condo and with that enormous chunk of debt also went the high monthly condo fee. I sold all of my high end furnishings at less than half of what I paid. I got rid of EVERYTHING.
Looking back, I am pretty sure that this was a pathetic attempt at washing away my life into a dismal sewer of what had already drowned me into this position in the first place. I wanted to never look back. I wanted to move to Italy and pick olives. I read books. I cried. I prayed. I took a salaried job – I sold out of my entire life. I thought about dying and on many hopeless nights I rationalized why that was a better option.
If hindsight is 20/20 then I can see very clearly that I actually jumped into that sewer, strapped at the ankles by all of my belongings and have never climbed back out. At one point, one of my good friends said to me, in her moment of trying to console me for what I was going through: “Christina, it’s like swimming in a river of shit and you just cannot see the surface right now…but keep swimming, just keep swimming.”. And there I was…drowning in a river of raw sewage, swept away by the raging undertow of event after event after event. There was just no relief in sight.
After I sold everything, including my condo,at a huge financial loss, I rented a small one bedroom for one year and then a small studio the next. For what? I was still in the river of shit, doggie paddling away as if everything were completely under control. Smiling at the surface while feverishly paddling underneath. Trying desperately to paddle my way out of the entrapment of life that was drowning my soul. Everything was “fine”. God never gives us more than we can handle. I told myself over and over again that this was meant to be. It builds character. Stay strong. Be you.
In late 2010, the same year that the market tanked, I had met the man of my dreams. He spent many winter nights sleeping in my condo. He was charming, successful and a true gentleman. Our relationship was easy. We spent time together when we could and kept our distance at the same time. We danced that delicate balancing act of independence and sheer longing for six months. And, sure as the sun shines….something changed. In March of 2011, just six months after we began dating, he became distant and aloof. I could not figure out what in the hell went wrong. Day to night. It was that stark in contrast. To this day, I still do not know what happened. This breakup sent me to my knees. It broke me. In an instant…. contentedness was now gone. I felt as betrayed as I did when I learned that my husband and best friend were having an affair.
So….I did what most emotionally starved women do when things go down the rabbit hole: I got emotionally charged and angry. When I asked why, it felt awful when he never once responded to me again. I would have been happy with the “it’s not you, it’s me” cowardly cop-out. But nothing. Not a peep. Not even to this day.
There I stood, months later. In my one bedroom apartment with boxes and boxes of my belongings; reduced from a single family home, to a 2,000 square foot condo to this 500 square foot apartment. I kept my clothes, shoes, bedroom set, love seat and everything in my kitchen. I told myself that nothing else mattered. A year after that, I reduced my life from this one bedroom to a smaller, but cute, studio apartment. I got rid of even more of my life. Peeling away more layers of stuff that represented nothing really. I called the junk removal guys and paid them to take away even more, including some expensive and sentimental belongings. I still question some of those decisions today. Hand painted vases given to me by dear friends, all of my clothes, a shoe collection that Coco Chanel herself would have been envious, gadgets, the big screen TV, more clothes, a perfectly new surround sound stereo system and the list goes on. I sold any remaining remnants of my lavish and beautifully decorated condo: the super expensive Crate and Barrel dining room table and custom upholstered chairs, the living room furniture, artwork, thousands of dollars in wool rugs….for next to nothing.
I wanted to really start over at this point. In my life, I have never had a hard time getting rid of “stuff”. I would open my closet once a quarter and ask if there was anything in there that I had not worn for six months. If I had not worn it or used it in six months then off it went to Goodwill. I created a habit of cleansing. Today I realize that it was cleansing my soul.
When every aspect of my life was in shambles: financially ruined, emotionally destroyed, went back to a job that killed me nearly every day, physically spent, mentally taxed and spiritually hanging by a thread. Slowly, I shut down. I just stopped living.
In 2013, now financially stable, I built some savings and my credit scores reflected all of my hard work at paying every penny of debt. I could have chosen bankruptcy – I was certainly a prime candidate – but I refused. I was raised with high morals and integrity and I was defiant. I would pay back every penny of debt. And I did. I grew very tired of renting. So, I bought a brand new three level townhouse and moved in with a few boxes of kitchen items, a new sofa that I used as a bed in my studio, a few wardrobes of clothes, a few pairs of shoes and the bedroom set that I will always keep. And one show stopping and beautiful piece of furniture that I had bought from Crate and Barrel. And that was it.
Light. Easy. New.
I wanted to reset my life and start from scratch. That was the plan when I moved here. New place, new life. No belongings.
It is now three years later. As I look around at my place, the closets, the shoes, the furnishings, the rugs, the pantry, the office. I realized that, in fact, I took it ALL with me. The hurt. The sadness. The longing for love. The abandonment. The hole in my heart. The lack. The disaster. The ruin. The shards of glass. The sewage. All of it was packed somewhere in a box or hung neatly on a hanger. I am not sure which box. And I am not sure which designer dress or which pair of Stuart Weitzman shoes. But I think I am opening each sad moment as I begin to clear an entire walk in closet, two clothing racks and boxes of bags and shoes that I have not touched in three years.
Three years? Wow. I used to let it go after six months.
As I pull each piece off the hanger and gently fold it into a garbage bag I am reminded over and over again of the person that I used to be: Much thinner. Much more beautiful. Fearless. Happy. Engaged. Joyful. Grateful. Hopeful. Generous. Determined. Optimistic. Creative. Free. Light.
I may not have taken the surround sound, the TV or the expensive rugs. But I took the emotional wounds and baggage of another breakup that absolutely destroyed me. I never understood why I have always been the “two week girl” – as I always chuckled to myself when it comes to men and relationships. I used to think that I am “that girl”. You know….the girl that a man wants. Or at least a man says he wants: beautiful, smart, successful, independent, generous, sweet, kind, giving, hardworking, honest, respectful, drama free, stress free, a great job, focused and stylish. But….as fate has it….I am all that but not actually what a man wants. Otherwise, I am pretty sure that I would be happily married and living the life of my dreams by now. Tomorrow marks the fifth straight year – an anniversary of sorts – of not being out on a single date. I can count the number of times on less than one hand that I have been out with my friends since July 3, 2011. Not a date. Not a kiss. Not a handhold. Not a snuggle. Not a spoon. Not a phone call. Not a late night rendezvous. Not even a glance. Not a laugh. Not a girls night out. Not a trip to NY. Not a weekend in Fl. And maybe one or two trips home to spend with family.
Here I sit, today. In my closet. Going through the last three years of my life. One belonging at a time. Clothes that are too small. Clothes that are too big. Shoes that I have never worn. An entire box filled with mix and match bikini’s worn in Antigua with my mom – I swore I’d never be voted “the least fashionable” on the beach by a lesbian couple again, and this box proves it. Leather handbags. Hand knit sweaters. Scarves from Venice. Flips flops from Rome. T-shirts from Mykonos. Everything in here is the life that I wanted to live well into my 90’s.
In 2011, I gave everything away. I actually took it all with me. In the process, I gave away my soul and kept the tiny remnants of my heart. And the shards are hanging in a walk in closet filled with what was. Each item represents the joy, happiness and love that I felt each day for the friendships, people, my son and those who brought a smile to my face.
The life I lived. The person I was.
It is time to let go. This time for real.