So 2013 has been a year of major change and frustration for me in a lot of ways. I've had several "things can't get any worse from here, can they?" kinds of moments over the last 12 months. But, I figure I owe it to myself to look back on the good things that came out of the various storms I've weathered this year. Christmas is a difficult time. Family stuff can drag me down pretty quickly, I don't have a lot of money for gifts, and the future past my holiday break seems unclear still. It's easy to lose focus of the good, so here we go. I'm going to try and look at the good.

I moved out of my one bedroom apartment at the beginning of the year, and into a duplex with two people I didn't know very well, near my old college which I was planning to re-enroll at, mainly for the purpose of saving money to go back to school. The living situation was frustrating- my roommates were generally irresponsible, negative, and difficult to be around, but I gave my best shot at trying to communicate with them and did what I could to forge a friendly rooming environment. It was okay for awhile, until they both got fired from their (separate) jobs, within about a week of each other. I was patient with them, but insistent that they hold up their part of the financial deal we had. Neither one made any kind of an effort to seek work, so I spent most of my saved money on breaking the lease and moving out, so I wouldn't get stuck with our entire $1400 rent. I did all of the communicating with the landlord and was able to get myself out of it. It was stressful and frustrating, but I was able to stand up for myself, communicate my needs and walk away before things got uglier. Kind of a big deal for a dedicated people pleaser and former doormat.

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So, after that, I moved into my cousin's apartment in the same town, and thank god he was there and had a roommate that was leaving, so I had a place to go. It was he and I and two other roommates in an 800 sq foot place. I slept in what was basically the storage room, a 6ft by 8ft office that could fit my bare mattress and a small standing clothes rack. Despite the crampedness and lack of quiet time, I am so grateful I got to do this. He got married at the end of the summer, and this was really our last "hurrah" together- an opportunity to hang out everyday and enjoy each other's company before he moved on to his entirely separate life as a married man. I'll never forget this past summer for that, and for this next part:

For the first six months of the year, I had a hellish job. My boss belittled and berated me on a daily basis, she gaslighted me, blamed all manner of issues within the office that I wasn't even remotely related to on me, and her expectations changed with the wind. I eventually blew my shoulder out from the constant stress (tore my rotator cuff from carrying so much tension in my back and shoulders and which sent my shoulder blade into a painful spasm, and required physical therapy.) I cried every night, and went back on an antidepressant/sleep aid because the pressure was eating me alive. I'd been staying with it because I was terrified I wouldn't find anything better after months of interviewing for similar positions that appeared to be no better, and I was worried about having to shoulder my whole rent payment while the old roomies were without jobs. I spent a lot of time on the phone with older friends who mentored me through how to navigate the toxic environment at work, when one person in particular asked me to consider the worst case scenario- I'd either get fired or be forced to quit. I thought about it and realized that even though that would be scary and tough, it couldn't be much worse than the constant abuse and degradation I'd been suffering through. (This was a privately owned doctor's office where the shitty boss in question was the doctor AND the owner AND the office manager, so there was literally no one above her I could report to with my concerns) One day I finally hit my breaking point, after I came in to discover she had ransacked my office, no doubt looking for something to indict me in some way. My blood ran cold and my mind got so clear, and I heard this calm measured voice in my head say "You're done with this. You don't have to do this. Get your things and leave, and everything will work out."

So, I did. I gathered my things from throughout the office, I waited until she went in with a patient, I taped my key to a piece of computer paper on which I had written "I am done with this. I quit." and I left it on her desk. And I walked out.

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I drove to a nearby diner, I ate blueberry pancakes, I waited until I was calm enough to drive, and I went home. My friends took me to see a movie that night. Then, I cried for three straight days, slept for about 4, and when I woke up on the fifth day, something amazing happened.

I rediscovered all of the energy I'd been wasting trying to please this woman. I finally got to uncoil myself out of the ball of anxiety I'd been living in for the half year preceding. My sleep got back to normal, and my shoulder healed. Not only that, but I was shocked to find that people were ACCEPTING of me. I expected to be met with a wall of judgment and disappointment for the fact that I had walked out on a job without another one lined up, but literally everyone that I talked to treated me with unconditional love and respect, and spoke of how proud they were of me that I took a stand and took care of myself. It was amazing, heartwarming, and so affirming.

And that's what gave me the push to go back to college. I realized then that I had to do whatever I could to ensure that I'd never have to suffer through a situation like that again if at all possible. Around this time, in the middle of the summer, I reconnected with some of my dad's family, and told them all that had happened. My aunt, his younger sister, whom I didn't know very well, offered me a place to stay, at her house in midtown Dallas. I jumped at the chance. The house was in a wonderful area of town, and she promised that I wouldn't have to pay rent if I took care of the house from time to time. So when my cousin's lease ended, I moved in with her.

Living in Dallas was fun at first. I grew up in DFW but had never lived in Dallas-proper. I was having a great time being in the middle of a big city, and I was ecstatic to be re-enrolled in school at the local community college. But, and this is the part that GT may be more familiar with, because this is around the time that I got posting privileges, I started to find out things about my aunt that made me fearful and uncomfortable. She had a bad drinking problem that I'd never been witness to before. Turns out that kind of thing can stay fairly well hidden when you're in a big group of your relatives, but I came to realize that she had a habit of drinking a full bottle of wine nearly every night while she was at home. Several mornings before school, I'd walk out through the side yard to find she had left all the doors open all night. I found empty whiskey bottles in the front yard. I'd come home late at night after studying, and she'd have left the broiler or the stove on and passed out in bed or on the couch. It was frightening, and as I picked up on it and started to gently mention the things I was seeing to her, she became more and more aggressive towards me. She started expecting me to cook for her everyday and would become indignant if I didn't (I have dietary issues and a limited budget, it just wasn't a practical thing.) She'd smoke pot nearly every day, then go to her job as an elementary school teacher. She talked openly about being passively suicidal, and that it was her aim to drink, smoke, drug, and eat herself to death. She was also taking a few different benzos and painkillers in combination with the alcohol and weed consumption.

I tried to talk to my aunt about what was going on for awhile before realizing that she was too far gone to hear what I had to say. I kept my head down and focused on my schoolwork, then one weekend around midterms she got abusive and violent, and threatened my physical safety. I left the house that night, stayed with friends for a little bit, then took two days off of school and had a male friend help me move all of my things out of the house. I started crashing with some people I knew who lived on the north side of town near my college. My aunt continued to harass me via text message and 20-30 phone calls/voicemails a day, until I changed my number.

It sucked. It still sucks, to be honest, but I have to remind myself that the whole thing happened only 6 short weeks ago. I know I have talked about it in more detail here, but my heart was really deeply broken by the whole exchange. I didn't know my father's family at all while I was growing up. He died when I was very young, and they stayed uninvolved with me when I was little, so I really hoped this would forge a good relationship between us. But, I was wrong, and I am glad that I found out sooner rather than later. I'm so glad this happened now, so I don't have regrets about not reaching out to them, but I also can put it into correct context. I know why they weren't around now, and to be honest I'm glad for it. And I'm glad I realized it before I had a child of my own and exposed them to it. I opened and closed the book on that part of my history. I've seen what's there, and now I am free to move on.

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That brings me to where I am now, more or less. I stayed with the aforementioned friends for a month before moving in to my current arrangement. My current roommate is wonderful. Considerate, responsible, understanding, mature, and willing to work with me. I'm able to stay here until either I find a job, or my financial aid processes for next semester, so I'm shooting for getting my own place again in February.

So, it's been a rough time. I think it would be easy for me to look at all that's happened and be bitter or angry about everything that's happened, or feel disillusioned by people in general, and afraid to open up to anyone in the future. I have talked about romance on GT as well, some of you might remember Tom, whom I got involved with for a few months over the summer, before finding out he had a girlfriend and several other girls he was toying with, and it sucked. Hard. It would be easy to pin the blame on everyone else in that and every other bad relationship I've had, and not accept my part in it, which is that I was a bit slow to trust my instincts and sniff out a bad situation when I felt it coming on. I'm not ashamed of that, or saying it's a damnable offense. Just owning up to my part in it. I could have trusted my instincts better. I know not to betray myself like that again. I have learned my lesson fully.

If there is anything I can take from this year, it's that I know now for certain that my entire life can go to pieces, everything can fall out of my control, I can get stomped on, chewed up, and lied to, and I have the power to recover from it all. I sleep a little bit better knowing that my whole life has already unravelled once, and it's slowly coming back together now because of the work I have put in. Yeah, my mood is sort of low these days. I get nervous and stressed, and sad for some of what I've weathered. My heart is still healing, but that doesn't mean it has to harden up during the process. I think some really good days are in my future. I'm going to fall in love again someday with someone who will really care for me. I will make my own family someday, and I will make it as safe and healthy a place as I possibly can. There are things I didn't get to work on this year that I wanted to- getting back into shape, repairing my credit, growing in my spirituality- but next year looks really promising for all of that.

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My academic future is bright. I'm going to finish the semester with 3 A's and a B. I could have dropped out, and it was really tempting at times, given everything that happened, but I didn't. I stuck with it, and I did really well. Grad school for counseling psychology is my end goal, and it's looking to be very attainable. I just want to help other people shift their perspective, and teach them that happiness and healing are within their grasp. That's what I've gotten from therapy, personally. I want other people to have it. I am proud of myself, for the first time in a really long time. I can pat myself on the back and say "job well done."

Thanks again for reading, GT. You guys played a major role in my healing over the past few months. I love you all.