When I Decided to Stop Drowning

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| This is the 293rd story of Our Life Logs |


My childhood was a tangled mess of emotions that I still have a difficult time unraveling. There were some good memories. I was born August 29, 1980, in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and remember many gleeful summer trips to Mississippi with my parents and my older brother Kevin. Those trips were full of laughter, love, good food, and of course, lots of playful bickering.

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Me, happy as an Easter egg.

Then there were some not-so-good memories. My dad was an alcoholic prone to fits of anger and my mom was diagnosed with every mental disorder under the sun until finally being diagnosed with a brain tumor. I suffered from body dysmorphia and depression and started dieting when I was just 10 years old. I remember countless trips to countless therapists, all ending in an emotional stasis. As soon as I got home, I would start pulling on any fold of skin I could find on my lanky body, devastated by how “overweight” I was.

During my teenage years, I experimented with alcohol, marijuana and cigarettes to cope with my body image issues as well as my parents’ demons. My best friend and I would sneak liquor from behind the bar at my parents’ house and replace what we took with water. We also liked snagging a few bottles of beer from Dad’s stash.

By the end of high school, I was spiraling out of control, with no sign of regaining my footing. I wanted something—anything—to dull the depression and anxiety that ruled my every waking moment. I was even self-mutilating. One time, drunk on vodka, I stabbed myself with a knife so deep that I had to stitch it up myself. I was withholding food from myself which made alcohol affect me even more. I would black out and forget what I did or vomit until I passed out. One night my mom found me passed out and naked from the waist down in the middle of the living room floor. Another time, I was in the bathtub, covered in my own vomit. I didn’t remember much from those nights.

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With my family.

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When I got my driver’s license, I hate to admit, I drank and drove often. The liquor boosted my ego, telling me I knew what I was doing, and most of the time, I got lucky. I drove without ever hurting anyone else. Unfortunately, my luck ran out.

In my early 20s after a night of clubbing, I stumbled to my car and got onto the highway. I remember passing a car and getting into the next lane. At some point, I must have nodded off because the next thing I knew, my car was heading into a guardrail with a deep drop-off. I jerked the wheel in the opposite direction, sending my head into the driver’s side window as my car began flying into the night sky.

I remember thinking, “This is it,” before I blacked out.

I awoke to a man crouching over me, talking rapidly to a 911 operator. I could hear him say, “I think she may have a spinal injury.” He turned to me and said, “Stay still. Help is on the way.”

The next memory I have is of waking up in the hospital, sobbing and apologizing to my parents. I found out that the man who spoke to me had watched me pass by at 100 miles an hour. The man said I veered to the left, lost control, and then he and his wife counted my car flipping 13 times. They pulled over and he ran to find me in an overgrown field nearby, 50 feet from my pulverized car. Paramedics then took me in a helicopter to the hospital. I was shocked by his recollection. I thought, did I really do that? What’s wrong with me?

The crash broke my back in three places. My legs suffered severe nerve damage and were black and blue. I’d scream if anyone even placed a sheet on them. To help with the shattered vertebrae, I endured a 10-hour surgery where one of my ribs was removed and fused to my spine as well as a spinal cage and permanent hardware. After 10 days of MRIs, cat scans, IVs, and tons of pain meds, I was released.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “Well, I hope this trauma scared her straight.” I’d love to tell you that this was true, but unfortunately, it wasn’t. I was still dealing with demons I faced before the accident.

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When I was unable to walk after the wreck, I was terrified I’d become “even fatter” even though I was just over 100 lbs. The physical therapists said it could take a long time until I could walk properly, but I resented the idea of remaining bedridden for weeks, so I pushed myself harder than I probably should have. I began obsessively working out every single day. I would pat my flat stomach, pull at the skin, and say, “I’m such a pig.”

The first time I took a step without a walker, I couldn’t wait to show the nurses that came for my therapy. However, I found out that even though I could only take a few shaky steps while holding onto furniture for support, insurance counted that as walking and wouldn’t pay for therapy anymore. And so, I had to learn to walk again on my own.

Even after teaching myself to walk, the dark thoughts still stayed with me. They tend to ring louder when you don’t numb your brain, and I didn’t like hearing them. So, I turned to booze to forget the horrible things I had done. I even got behind the wheel again. I know, it’s horrible. But when you don’t value life, a near-death experience is nothing more than a close call. I didn’t want to reflect. I didn’t want to get better. I just wanted to drink and forget.

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For the rest of my 20s, I continued my descent into chaos. I fell into a tumultuous relationship and downed more alcohol than I ever had before. Everywhere we went, we drank. Some nights we’d black out together, and others we’d stay up fighting. He’d be loving and affectionate to me when other people were around, then belittle me when we were alone. Honestly, being sober around him was a recipe for a living nightmare.

It’s easy to say, “Why didn’t you just leave?” when you look at it from the outside. But deep down, I loved him and I didn’t see the signs. Or maybe I did and I just chose to pretend like I didn’t. Either way, I was stuck in a destructive pattern—the only one I’d ever known. At that point, nothing short of a miracle could save me.

Then in 2006, I got pregnant. And let it be known, I changed.

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That little plastic stick that told me I had a baby growing inside of me sent a shock of self-awareness throughout my body and mind. I forced myself to see how destructive my drinking had been and how my relationships had affected me.

I realized then that my life was mirroring a lot of my parents’ relationship. When my mom was battling depression, my dad would call her crazy and tell his friends how difficult she made his life. My boyfriend was doing the exact same to me.

Then, I thought back to growing up with my alcoholic father. I couldn’t do that to my own child. I stopped drinking and began trying to take better care of myself. I would be the parent that I’d always wanted throughout my childhood.

My boyfriend, however, continued to drink during my pregnancy and even after our son, Chase, was born. For my son’s health and our financial stability, I felt like I had no choice but to stay with my boyfriend. With him, my son and I had a nice place to live and the medical care we needed. We were also close to his parents who helped us with Chase. For these reasons, we stayed. And, truth be told, I did love Chase’s dad. I wanted it to work out.

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Eventually, it didn’t work out. The longer we stayed together, the more we fought, the more I stood up against his words. It all came crashing down when I suspected he was cheating on me. After confronting him and receiving his bold reply of, “I would never do that to you. I love you but I think we need a break,” I later opened up the dryer to find a pink woman’s shirt that read, “You like that!”

The betrayal hit deep, and I broke up with him. I packed up my son and all our belongings and drove to my mom’s crying. For days, I felt so inadequate. I blamed myself. But those feelings didn’t last for long.

My mother, who had been through her own journey of self-acceptance and had since realized her own self-worth, encouraged me, laughed with me, and helped me be the very best mother I could for Chase. This past year has not been easy, but it has made me see things in a very different light.

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I chose to stop letting the waves sweep me under. I chose to break the cycle of abuse and alcoholism for my son. I chose to value my own life. Now, instead of spending my nights drinking until I pass out; I spend them talking and laughing with my mom, or playing games and eating pizza with my best friend.  I have been through a lot in my life, but I can’t help but feel that all the mistakes I made were leading me to be the person I am now. A loving daughter. A helpful little sister. A supportive best friend. And an attentive mother. Being all of those things is better than any alcohol I ever tasted.

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Me (right) with my best friend (left) at a New Kids on the Block concert!

 

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This is the story of Natalie Blakley

Natalie has suffered from depression, anxiety, and body dysmorphia for as long as she can remember.  She overcame her 13-year battle with alcoholism when she found out she was unexpectedly pregnant.  She was able to meet and thank the couple that saved her, after a nearly fatal car wreck.  Natalie struggles every day with her feelings of inadequacy, but with her unwavering faith in God and her bond with her family and best friend, she always has the support system she needs. Natalie is a self-taught cake decorator and even made her best friend’s seven-tier wedding cake. She is also a breeder of Shar-Peis. Natalie spends her days surrounded by her loving family and lots of puppies!

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Natalie and her son Chase, 2018.

 

 

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This story first touched our hearts on March 11, 2019.

| Writer: Stacy Clair | Editor: Colleen Walker |

2 thoughts on “When I Decided to Stop Drowning

  1. I am so very proud of you my sweet daughter. What all you have accomplished in your life to be a better person, mom and daughter and friend. I thank God for you and your will to continue each and every day through it all. Love Mom

    Liked by 2 people

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