How many mistakes do you usually make before you decide things need to change? How long does it take you to realize something's gotta give? Sometimes it takes us years to fully take responsibility for our own screw-ups. Sometimes, it takes a lifetime, and by then it's too late. By the time you realize you're to blame for the pain and loneliness in your life, everyone you loved and cared about have already moved on.
For me, it took 4 years and a moment. It took me 4 years to stand up and say, "Enough. This isn't who I used to be, this isn't who I'm supposed to be. Enough." I said it and I meant it, but I didn't follow through with it, not at first.
What I did was what the folks in AA call, "taking the first step." I admitted to myself that I had a problem. I acknowledged that I was the problem. But I never acted on it. I spent 4 years making terrible, hurtful, heartbreaking decisions and making excuses for every single one of them as if they were write-offs for my taxes.
"Yeah, I lied to my parents and let ___ steal from them, but he needed money."
As if I couldn't have just asked them directly for help. I let myself believe that another person, a person I thought I loved more than life itself, was in control of my actions simply because of how much they meant to me. That was always the excuse. Him. I knew I was hurting people, I admitted that I was the cause of the pain, and yet I didn't do anything to change that. Not until that moment.
In 2015, I was charged with a serious crime. The charges were dropped and to this day I have no black marks on my record, but I hurt so many people by getting mixed up in all of this. I spent 12 hours in jail with men and women of various ages, races, and mental states. I was fine. I comforted others who were afraid while I waited. I was fine until I spoke to my dad. He'd driven to come bail me out about 15 minutes after I was booked, and had been waiting a long that his car had been locked up in a parking garage. He waited for me, knowing very well that I deserved to stay there.
Every time I got the chance to talk to him on the phone I could hear the tone of his voice changing. He spoke clearly at first, with conviction that said, "We are going to get through this. We are going to fight this." About 8 hours later, after being told over and over again by my bondsman, "no more than another 30 minutes," his conviction had changed.
He spoke and I didn't hear comfort or fierceness. I heard exhaustion. I heard how tired he was of always having to come to my rescue when I messed up. I heard the disappointment he worked so hard to hide from me. I heard his heart breaking just thinking about what my next mistake might be, and whether or not he'd be able to get me through that one. I heard all of it so clearly in just a moment before we hung up and continued waiting. I was no longer fine. I shook, I cried, I finally looked exactly how I should have looked the entire time I was in that jail, I looked ashamed. I was so blinded by this person that I had engulfed myself in that I was able to cast aside any feelings of empathy for the people in a life watching me stray farther and farther from the girl I once was.
That was my moment, and it eats me every day that it took me so long to finally have that damn light bulb go off.
The person I loved left me about a week after that, for the umpteenth time. He took my money and ran off to a different state with a girl I'd always had my suspicions about. He'd done that before. He also ignored every frantic call from a worried sick about if he was safe, hospitalized, in jail, stranded, etc. Nothing new. I usually lost weight when he left, I got sick a lot when I would worry.
Then after about a week, he would run out of money and call me. He'd say he was sorry and that he realized by being away from me that he never wanted to be away from me again. I would send him money and he would come home. This happened more frequently than I'd care to admit, but I was the one who let him come home.
The last time he left, he came back and a week later broke up with me. He took my dog, my pride, my dignity, my sense of self-worth. Even though I knew he'd be back, I let him have it all. A few weeks passed, he called, I went and saw him. We chatted, and he told me he missed me. I missed him, too. I missed the laughs and the hugs, the silly names and the way he never judged me. I wanted to tell him that. But then my phone buzzed. I looked down and saw a message from my dad. "Love you sweets."
I didn't miss the tears. I didn't miss being gently persuaded into doing bad things by someone who I trusted. I didn't miss the ultimatums, or the drugs, or the complete absence of responsibility. I didn't miss the shame I felt everytime I hurt someone I cared about to keep this person happy. I especially didn't miss the completely paralyzing, empty feeling I got every time I came home from working all day to discover he had decided to take another vacation.
I don't blame him for my mistakes. I blame him for making me think I wasn't worth anything to anyone else but him.
He asked me if he could come home. I told him no. I'd lost everything when he left, including the apartment we shared. I was living in a hotel, but for the first time in four years, I was actually happy with my life. I told him to go back home, to his girlfriend, and to just be better to her. I left and I don't think I could ever look back.
I messed up. I messed up a lot. I lost friends, I lost respect, and I lost trust. To this day I still catch myself thinking thoughts that only the old me would have, and sometimes I slip up and do something to hurt trust that I've worked to build.
I'm aware of what stupid mistakes I make every time I make them. But that's the kicker. I'm aware. I grow from every mistake I make because I am acutely aware of how many people my actions affect, and I never want to hear what I heard in a dad's voice that night again. We can work for years and years and sometimes it's just a single moment that changes us, if we let it.
Take advantage of those moments, I believe they are meant for people who deserve a second chance.