A Lifting Fog

For months now, probably since my knee blew out in early February, I’ve been living in a state of pause.  I stopped going to the gym.  I stopped chasing health goals all around, and found myself looking at my list of things to do and achieve, and simply turning away from them.  Each one of these goals felt insurmountable, unattainable, and requiring way too much focus and effort than I could muster.  I don’t think I realized just how depressed and sanguine I’d become as I spent the month on the couch nursing my injury.

Summer has come, and I’m not any closer to reaching those goals – fitness, fiscal liberation, and the like – but something has snapped and broken inside me, for the better.

Earlier this week, I got news from a dear friend about a situation that has set him back on his heels in terms of his own life-trajectory.  He’s facing a steep challenge over the next few months, possibly years, and while he reached out to me for support, I felt myself reverting into Oldest Sibling mode, planning and scheming and laying out a framework for how to help him move forward.  I listened with intent to how he was feeling, and will continue to do so as he moves forward, but what this has done for me personally has been the gear-shift I’ve been needing.

I found myself able to sit down and go further with a chapter and section of my memoir that has been a huge challenge to face and come to terms with.  I found a pathway forward in my own health journey that, for the first time in a long time, felt deeply close to my heart and something that I could claim as my own, rather than buying into someone else’s system, and ending up poorer and just as out of shape as when I started.  I am seeing myself for what I am, right now, but I’m also once again visualizing where I want to be in a year’s time, when I turn 40, and what kinds of things I can do on a daily and consistent basis that will bring me to that place.  That lamp in the dark, the thing that I am making my way towards, became clear, as though a thick bank of fog finally lifted and blew away.

This has been a good week.

It’s good to be back in my skin again, rather than feeling like an object in orbit around this lump of flesh that seemed to exist without purpose.  I’m looking forward to see where this new-found drive takes me.  Right now, though, I’m going to pour myself another cup of coffee and enjoy a quiet Thursday morning.

It should be noted that through all of this, Ray has been a steady rock.  I’ve been able to lament to him about my stasis, and time after time, he reminded me that it’s okay to pause, to stop obsessing, to stop beating myself up for needing a break in all that I’ve got going on.  We took off on a camping trip to Walla Walla, Washington, and even then, while I was dealing with a cold and full of snot and ick, he remained constant and life-affirming, all while I was feeling so dejected for seemingly ruining our trip.  I am reminded daily just how lucky I am to have him in my life.

 

February Was

Last month was a slog.  I didn’t really post much here, or anywhere, that was of any consequence.  For the most part, I was sequestered to sitting down, to remaining still, as my knee was dealt with in due time.  The stir-craze was real, and my thoughts were racing.  As you all know, I tend to deal with my feelings and thoughts through movement, and since that was impeded by my aging and breakable body, it was really hard to get a focus on what I was supposed to be doing.

I did, however, get to spend a great deal of time writing.  Specifically, I got to bust through a few more chapters on this sixth rewrite of my memoir.  My writing group, a fantastic bunch of gals here in Portland, have been super helpful in getting my motivation back to where it should be, and through their cheerleading, I feel like this book has taken on a new and renewed life.  It’s cutting deeper than I’ve ever been brave enough to let it, and I’m getting down the words that I’ve struggled to write for almost two decades.  It’s been good.  I can’t wait to share more about that here, to be honest.

Since the surgery – a mere two weeks ago – I’ve been absolutely astounded by the recovery that has occurred.  Honestly, I thought I’d be lamed up for quite some time, but not two days after the cuts and bandages, I was up and walking around without the use of my crutches or any of the mega-strong pain pills that the doctor prescribed me.  In the past two weeks, I’ve managed to go on some decent walks, get back to the gym (THANK ALL THAT IS HOLY FOR THAT MIRACLE), and actually go out on a short hike with Ray to a part of Oregon we’ve never visited before.  I was still able to take the jeep out for drives while my knee wasn’t up to par, so I was able to get out, technically, but to feel the movement of the ground beneath my feet, the crunch of gravel, or the contours of terra firma beneath the pads of my feet meant the world to me.

I remember back to a strange and lovely poetry/literature class I took in my undergrad, where the professor took us outdoors and had us just walk around in a mindful manner.  Feeling and experience each step on the soft grass of the land surrounding the old brick English department meant slowing down, taking one’s time, and tracing the energy threads and movement of the ground beneath our feet and up through our legs.  It was a lesson in slowing down and noticing details, and for me, that’s what hiking and walking and any other movement of my body has become.  To have that faculty back, to be able to walk again and feel every step, has meant a return to some sort of balance for me.  I’m not feeling broken or trapped, lost or misplaced.  My anxiety about all things has subsided a bit, and the fresh air has been so damn good for me, especially on the rare spring days up here where the sun shines.

February was also a good month for Ray and I to sit and talk about what we actually want to be doing over the next few years.  For his part, he’s decided to make some real steps towards life beyond serving tables.  For my part, I’ve realized that my skills and resume need a brush-up.  I’ve taken a few steps towards getting back into the classroom as a student, and as of just a few days ago, my FAFSA was approved and I’m looking at taking classes at my local community college, with an eye towards learning Computer Information Systems, possibly a degree in Computer Science.  Being adept on the computer, and not just as a user of the technology, has always been a curiosity of mine, and I’d like to see what I can do with that going forward.  Having done a little research online for the kind of pay and positions that exist – especially in the rural areas where we might end up living – I’ve learned that I can make it a thing.  I can make a decent salary while taking onboard the rural life that Ray and I want for ourselves.  What that means, though, is I need to build a bridge from here to there, and that means more education.  It means shaking up my brain a bit, and challenging myself.

First up will be a revisit to math.  I squeaked by in my college math course, but it’s been two decades since I’ve actively sat and did mathematics as homework or to study for an exam.  Beyond that, my first semester would be exploratory.  I kind of know what I want to study, but I don’t know if I’ve got the aptitude to really dive into it the way I should.  I don’t really know where to begin, so I’m hoping that, with an academic advisor’s guidance along with a network of friends who are already in the field I’m considering, that I can figure it out.

Now that March is here, I’m ready for adventure.  I went to the gym last night and was happy to experience a pain-free workout, even with a teeny-tiny bit of running on the treadmill.  My weight and size remain an issue for me, but now that I can get back at the program I was on (and seeing some real results), I plan to stick to it and see where it takes me.  We’re taking off to Seattle, WA next week for a little mini-vacation, and plans are already in play for major summer travels.  Victoria Island, BC is one destination.  I still need to make my way back east, back to see my family.  I do have a week-long vacation coming up around the end of May, and I still only work three days a week, so there are almost limitless possibilities.  Ray is as adventurous as ever, and now that he’s finally looking forward in his own life, the conversations between us while we are out and about have become quite deep and meaningful.  It’s as if our relationship has grown up too, and that, to me, is really exciting and energizing.  I can’t wait to see where we go over the next year or so.

Spring Renewal

Spring is definitely in the air out here in Portland, Oregon, and as is usual, this time of year has spurned a lot of changes and transformations outside and inside.  While I’m still trying to keep up with everything in my own head, I thought it would be a good idea to write some of it down.

I’ve had most of the month of February off, but not intentionally.

On February 1, I decided to lace up and go out for a run.  I’d been feeling a bit panicked, a bit anxious about the fact that the scale hadn’t shifted for me in a while, even while my measurements were going in the right direction otherwise – muscle growth, reduced waistline happening (slowly – but happening).  The sun was bright and the air was cool and damp.  It was a perfect day for a jog.  I set off with a basic idea of where I wanted to go, but because I wasn’t 100% sure I’d make a loop or just a straight line to a distant point and need the bus or light rail home, I stuck my bus pass in my pocket alongside my phone.

I stretched for a bit, and then took intentional time warming up with a little bit of brisk walking.  I wanted to activate all of the things needed inside.  My feet felt good, and as my breathing went up, I could feel that drive to move faster building, as it always does.  Soon I was doing a slow lope, kind of a fat-man-running movement that lives just above a walk, but not a full on jog, and about two or three steps beneath a full-out dash.  I am, after all, just getting back into the saddle of putting pavement under my feet again, and I don’t want to hurt myself.

I made a right turn, and proceeded up a street I hadn’t gone running on before.  I love taking side streets that I’ve not been on because it keeps my interest piqued – and keeps me from focusing too much on the pace of my breath or my body’s natural tendency to want to stop.  Up the street, there was a piece of sidewalk that was closed off to foot traffic – a very, very common occurrence here with all of the new construction and rebuilding that our housing market is fueling.  So, like I good pedestrian, I crossed the street, ran up the half of a block or so past the construction, and then went back to my side of the road.  As I hopped back up onto the curb and sidewalk, I also pivoted left.  In that moment, in that act of taking a step and then attempting to turn on the ball of my foot – something we all do unconsciously when we walk – a huge pop sounded off in my knee, followed by a flush of raw agony that spread down to my foot and up my thigh.  Immediately, I stopped, almost falling over.  “Shit!” was my first word.

I could bear a little weight on it, but something was really, really wrong.  I started to panic and called Ray, but I knew he was busy picking up our roommate from the airport.  I remembered my bus pass, thankful that I’d stuck that little jewel in my pocket, and set off towards the nearest bus stop.  About a half-hour later, I was home, on the couch, leg elevated along with my heartbeat and anxiety level, so damn mad at myself.

That started off the medical journey that culminated in yesterday’s arthroscopic surgery to remove a piece of torn cartilage in my knee – a corner of the medial meniscus – three weeks after the injury occurred.

In the down-time between the injury and the surgery, I’ve been plagued with frustration, a heightened sense of anxiety, shame, and rage all surrounding the way my body looks and how I still feel like such a blob in my own skin.  I had more than one moment with Ray, crying, admitting how mad I was at myself for pushing myself too hard because I’m so angry at getting so out of shape since he’s come into my life.  I’m mad at getting old.  I’m mad at my wrinkles, baldness, and waistline.  He, being the angel that he is, has more than once reminded me that he’s not with me just because of my looks, and while he still finds me exceedingly handsome, he knows that beneath this messy outside, I am a decent man within.  Him telling me this directly, and holding me close, really has done a number to soothe my nerves.

His support has also led me to using my downtime pretty effectively with regards to my writing.  I have been able to work my way through a redraft of about four chapters of my memoir.  This time around, it’s really up-close-and-personal, first-person, blow-by-blow.  My writing groupies have praised this massive turn around in my words, and I’ve even sent off a couple of query letters to possible agents regarding their interest in my story.  I haven’t felt this confident about any of my writing in a long time.  The words now are coming from an authentic, unhidden place.  I roar onto the page in very detailed and intimate flashbacks coming straight from my point of view.  The act of putting the reader right there, in that moment of time, has such power, and is *exactly* what I wanted to produce for a story.

Now that the surgery on my knee is over and I’m feeling like I can get back on both feet again, things will resume their normal course of events.  At least for a little while.

Ray and I have been also discussing the shifts in his life, especially with regards to his future job plans, and what that means in terms of our living situation.  Later this year, in July, he’s going to be taking his Level 1 Master Sommelier exam up in Victoria, BC.  It’s the kind of test and certification that will bump up his resume, especially as he also starts to transition away from table-side serving of food and wine as he currently does, and moves into tasting room/vineyard work out in wine country.  The Oregon wine industry is growing in leaps and bounds these days, and will continue to do so as the climate shifts and wine production done in central and southern California has to divest of cooler-climate grapes – grapes that will do extraordinarily well up here.  Ray wants in on it, as it is a huge passion of his.  He’s also working to incorporate his skills in design, with an eye to work on label and marketing material for vineyards throughout the Willamette region and around the Pacific Northwest.

All of this, for us as a couple, translates into moments of transition, possibly out of Portland, Oregon.  We both have dreamed about having our little spot somewhere, where we could raise a garden, chickens, and have a dog or two.  Right now, in the current state of Portland proper, those kinds of things are way out of our reach.  The average home price here is up in the $300k range, and rentals on single-bedroom spots (most without any outdoor access or pet options) is over $1500 for anything comfortable.   Given our love for the outdoors and access to the stars and trails and mountains and ocean, we are keeping our eyes out for spaces that would accommodate us both better without being too much of a burden on our wallets.  This year will see us both focusing on getting our credit card debts down, getting our finances in further order, and figuring out our next move forward, as a couple.

The fact that I have him in my life, to share in his exploration of self, watching as he comes into his adult form, is amazing.  I saw great potential in him when we first met, but now, two years in, it’s clear that we’re sliding into a far greater, stronger place as a couple.  His friends have started ribbing him about marriage, and it’s adorable to see him squirm about it a little.  I’m not driving that conversation at all, and have told him it’s all in his court – I’ve been there and done that and I know that if we do get married, it’s going to be unlike anything either of us has ever experience.  He’s making grown-up decisions about his career, and is deliberately seeking a balance between making the money to pay the bills and having a life that brings him joy daily, where he doesn’t always feel like he’s just feeding into a machine, but taking an active role in growing and shaping in cooperation with a team of like-minded people.

So, yeah.  2016 has started with a lot of shake-down, a lot of shifting away from the old and transitioning into the new.  While I loathe that I’m older and can’t beat up on my body like I always have, I know that this month to reflect and change gears has done me a lot of good.  Ray has also had to shake off some of his own doubts and fears and is making some earnest moves towards the life he envisions for himself.  The daffodils are blooming.  The crabapple trees are too.  Spring’s renewal is a welcome thing this time around.

Two Years

We have marked two years together as a couple, capped off by our most recent trip.  We met up in Phoenix, Arizona, where Raymond took me around to the places he grew up, and showed me the geography that shaped his childhood and younger years.

For weeks leading up to the trip, it was clear that he was going through some sort of transformation.  Ray got quiet, was doing a lot of hibernation and introspection, and like a turtle, he retreated into his shell, waiting for the clouds to pass and the way to be clear.  While I don’t know the exact measure and cadence of his thoughts in those weeks leading up to the trip back home, I could tell that he was in deliberation.

Two years is the longest relationship he’s ever been committed to.  Two years, while just a number, was of massive significance to him.

I met his mother.  I got to see the dead mining town where he grew up.  I got to spend some time in the little house, with the muddy yard and all of the animals, that shaped the Raymond that I’ve grown to love and adore.  I saw the skies overhead.  As the miles swept under us and out around us across the vastness of the desert, I found myself wondering what it was like to be eight or ten or twelve years old and having this be the only world you’ve ever known.  What did it mean to not have trees, apart from a few aged cottonwoods, to frame your view of nature?  What was summer like without running water, without a break from the heat?  How many billions of stars twinkled overhead in the deep blackness of unhindered space, and which one was the first that he saw and counted?

His childhood was so different than mine, if only by the way the landscape altered our imaginations.  Still, there are space where we overlap.  We both have a shared awe with the natural world around us.  We both can appreciate both being in the middle of an urban center and the madness that we escape the moment we get beyond the urban boundaries.  We both know how to find Polaris in the night sky.  We both close our eyes and inhale deeply when the ground is freshly dampened by a rain.  We both know how to let go and be honest with ourselves and with each other, holding honest conversations in the strangest of places.  We reach out instinctively for the other’s hand to squeeze when words can’t explain the feelings, or simply fall short.

Two years into this, and I love him even more.  Two years, and he’s coming back out of his shell.

“We’ve both put on a little weight together, and that’s not a bad thing, Thomas.  We’re just happy.  Stop being so worried about it all the time.”

He is right.  We are happy.

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Meeting a Goal

I’ve talked about my finances a few times on here, especially recently, but I wanted to revisit this today because it finally dawned on me what has just happened in my life.

For *years* I’ve been setting a personal goal of getting my fiscal house in order.  Years.  Literally since I’ve had a job and bills, I’ve always been messy about where my money goes.  I don’t know why this was the case, or where my spend-happy-self came from, but it seems that monster, grown out of a desire to be generous to others, and to myself, with limited foresight as to the consequences of spending X dollars here, when I needed to put that currency elsewhere, has finally been caged and tamed.

I have achieved a birthday goal of mine, and right now, it’s just sinking in.  I mean, really – I did this thing I set out to do.  I wanted to reduce the anxiety that money was constantly bringing into my life, and I’ve done it.  (A few pats on my own back).

Of course, I can’t just rest on this.  Not for one second.  I want to analyze how I got here, and what parts of that I can now apply to other goals that I keep setting and failing to meet.

It seems that, while I was paying attention to the small details, the smaller bits of responsibility along the way, the grand goal was playing out before me.  Time, patience, persistence – as well as being willing to allow for setbacks and restarts (many restarts) along the way also seems to be key.

This same principle and focus can also be turned onto my other big goals – especially overall health and fitness.  I know where I want to end up by the time I turn forty years old.  I have an idea of what kinds of things I want to be able to do and have the strength and energy for at that juncture in my life.  Getting there, from where I’m sitting now, seems like an impossibility.  There are so many things to learn and discover along the way that, right now, it’s all a bit overwhelming.  What do I eat, when do I eat it; how much is too much, too little; when should I sleep/rest, and when should I push myself to the limits?  All of these things are questions I don’t have answers to right now, but while I do what feels right today and in this minute – watching my sugars and making sure that I get my ass to the gym at least three or four times a week – might just amount to something.

I do wish, though, that I could set up a long-range fitness calendar – much like I did for my budget – that will give me milestones that I should expect to achieve at various points.  Like, I knew when my first credit card would be paid off because I knew where my budget would be at that point (and that milestone is coming in about a month, which is also pretty awesome).  I don’t know, though, if I’ll be able to bench press a certain amount of weight, or be able to see a weight on the scale that is at a certain place, or be able to bring my BMI down out of the rafters by a certain moment in time.  There isn’t the same sort of permanence and black-and-whiteness about fitness and health.  It’s a continuum, which leaves a lot of grey space, which isn’t exactly the kind of exactness I want.

Maybe I need to meet with a trainer and get help wrapping my head around goals and plan-making to get there.  I know there is a lot of ever-changing science around biochemistry and the effects of exercise on the body, so I could dive head-long into that world and find some real-life applicable things that I can do for myself.  I’m not sure.

Still, right now, I am realizing that it is possible for lumpy, little ol’ me to set a goal and meet it.  Even a big one.  I never really thought this was possible.

Re:Beginning – The Gym

A couple of weeks ago, Ray woke up with gumption.  He and I got in the Mini and took off to his gym, a 24Hour Fitness that’s about two miles from the house.  His intent – to use the membership he is paying for, and in order to achieve this – add me to his plan.  He wanted to use me as a motivator to get him back into his workouts, back into the art of movement, and out of his headspace that was starting to consume him.

We’ve gone a few times now, and today, I’m going to be doing the third workout of a beginner’s 28-day plan that I found online.

What brought me to writing here, besides the fact that I haven’t shared a post here in a while, is that this feels legitimately better than any other gym experience I’ve ever had.  In the past, when I’ve been to the gym, it’s been with a sense of desperation and anxiety.  I went to workout, not only to just lose weight and feel better, but tucked in the recesses of those platitudes was the real reason I was there: control.  I have a long-standing tradition of taking out my control issues upon my own flesh.

Almost twenty years ago, I had fallen into a steep and ugly depression.  It was my sophomore year of college, and I hadn’t come out of the closet.  I had left my family behind me, a situation that was fresh off an ugly divorce of my parents, and taken off to college, where I was surrounded by energetic and enthusiastic people of all stripes, who all seemed to have this joy about them that was missing in my life.  I faked it, for the most part, but something was off with me.  I was heavy, and had used food as a means of coping with anxiety and stress about the things in my life, not least of all was my questionable sexual identity.  Somewhere along the line, though, I had the idea that if I just changed my physical appearance, then things would be better.  Changing like that meant taking control of an aspect of my life that I’d never really paid attention to, apart from when I was actually made fun of for being heavy.  I, in short, stopped eating.  When I did eat, I forced myself to expel most of the food I had put in my body using any means necessary.

At first, it felt weird, but after a week or so, and noticing some of my weight falling off, it became it’s own feedback loop.  The more I starved, the more I lost, the better I felt.  I started to mix in going to the gym as a means of speeding up the weight loss, and as I wasn’t fueling my body at all, apart from an occasional coffee and a few bites of oatmeal, and the weight just kept falling.  For the first few months of this control push, I found myself with new-found confidence.  I was carrying myself around with a head held high, all the while, keeping my eating and fasting and purging habits tucked deeply away so that no one would notice.  I knew what I was doing to myself was wrong, but the results spoke louder, and the starvation addiction grew stronger within me.

Eight months of this was hard on my body.  I lost nearly 100 pounds through starvation, expulsion, and exercise.  I was sick, and it was a lovely young lady in an English Lit class who finally called me out on it.  She suggested I get some help, and I did.  By that point, I was looking really rakish and pale.  I’d been getting the occasional, “How are you doing, Thom?” from people around me, but like always, I remained upbeat and said I was great.  I had become masterful at hiding what was really going on.

I got the help I needed.  I also came out of the closet, and was able to move through my darkness into something better.  Still, along the way, in moments of chaos and crisis, I found myself turning back on my own body as means of regaining control.  After each boyfriend I’ve had prior to Ray, I spent weeks either running or weight training.  It’s how I coped with the loss of my first boyfriend, Thomas.  It’s how I responded to the termination of my marriage with Nathaniel.  It’s how I reacted to the failure of my relationship with Caleb.  Time and time and time again, turning inward and inflicting stress upon my body in order to reshape and reform myself has always come when the world around me is in total chaos and I felt like, somehow, at least being in control of my physical form would re-establish some sort of order out of it all.

Today, though, with this renewed attempt at fitness, and moving towards health, the backdrop for it all is markedly different.  I’m in a loving and stable relationship.  I live in a stable and supportive home.  I’m not having a crisis of identity.  I’m not feeling the pressure to change my form simply to fit in, or to give myself a false sense of power.  Today, with this re-beginning at the gym, it feels better.  It feels honest.  It feels more real?  I’m at a loss for words about it all still because it’s both old and new to me.  I know that I’m doing something good for myself.

Control: Money

Any of you who know me personally, and have known me for quite some time, know that I’ve never, ever been good with money.  I usually am broke, and usually am struggling to make ends meet.  For years, especially during my twenties, I maxed out and over-extended myself time and time again in order to acquire things, and what I thought was status, among my peers.  I used money as a means of escape through spending way too much at the bars and clubs, or on clothing and dining out, in order to add meaning and value to my life.

When I was with Nathaniel, I basically turned over all of my income into his hands, and relied on him to pay the bills and tend to the responsibility of making on-time payments to all of our mutual debts, including rent and the utilities, along with groceries and everyday living costs.  I used to just ask him, “Can we afford it?” and he’d tell me yes or no.  I never questioned him or his judgement, but in doing so, I actively removed myself from any fiscal acuity in our relationship, and simply assumed everything was going along smoothly.  For the most part, it did, though I recognize that this meant I lost touch with the cost of things, and how much it really took to sustain a life that was worth living.

After he and I split, suddenly, I was left holding the reins to my own fiscal life.  I had no checking account.  I had no debit card or credit card.  I didn’t even have a phone.  I had a paycheck, but nowhere to put it.  At first, I turned to check-cashing store fronts to convert my income into a form of money accepted everywhere.  It turned out that I had some old bank accounts that had gone into overdraft years ago, and until those were paid off, I couldn’t open another account.  I managed to do that, and for the first time in years, marched my butt into a local bank and opened my first account.  It was a basic checking account.  I got my first debit card, set up my direct deposit from work, and suddenly found myself staring at the requirement to keep myself in check.  It was up to me to pay my own bills, buy my own groceries, keep a roof over my head, and obtain and activate a means of communication.  At the time, it felt like learning to ride a bike again.

Along those first few months, I had a few hiccups.  I overdrew a couple of checks due to my bad math, and quickly learned that $32 in fees per check added up quickly.  I had to come up with a means of organizing my finances that would work for me, and it was then that I first learned the art of creating a budget.  For me, after the debilitating crush of a destroyed relationship, a relocation, and having to find my feet again, gaining some sort of control over an aspect of my life back meant the world to me.  Once I’d set up a plan and could see both how my money was being spent, and how I should be spending it going forward, that rush of adrenaline from a surge of confidence became addictive.  I wasn’t perfect, but I made it work, and over time, it all became natural to me again.

When I moved to Denver, though, it all fell apart.  Suddenly, I was back to my old habits of spending too much on going out and keeping myself distracted, that bills began to pile up again.  I was borrowing – this time, from payday loan lenders – at a rate that was unsustainable.  I fell into the trap of having to borrow from one place to pay off the debts of another.  This went on for a few months, and all I can really recall from that period of my life was a never-ending surge of anxiety that wouldn’t go away.  While, at the time, I saw the necessity of having access to quick money to pay the rent so that I could have a roof over my head, the amount of time – some up to six months – it took to pay off that small debt, was insufferable.  It got to the point where I had to finally just stop, say no more, and reel myself back in.  Phone calls from collectors, setting up payment plans, and the like, was something that became a constant problem in my life, but eventually, I managed to find my way out of that hole, with a vow never to return.  It was ugly, and it was dark, and it was not how I wanted to define myself.

It was a move in with my bestie, Amanda, that helped me come to terms with a lot of that anxiousness.  With her, I was comfortable in the home we shared, and didn’t feel the pressures to go out as much and spend money I really didn’t have just to escape the darkness that was at my previous home.  I also got to have grown-up conversations with her about finances, and it was with her as a guide, that I managed to get back on a budget and get myself back in order.  My credit score had been obliterated, but I still had a bank account, I still had my cell phone, and I still had an income.  I had a means to move forward, and that is what I did.

Being jobless for eight months upon landing here in Portland, Oregon was almost a complete setback for me and my finances.  I’d cashed in a retirement plan from my previous employer, and even though it seemed like more than enough to sustain me, inevitably, it wasn’t.  This time, though, money wasn’t being spent on going out and being dumb.  It was spent on groceries, on home improvement projects that my ex-boyfriend and I were working on.  I bought a bike.  I spent money on some workout clothing.  I did take myself out from time to time for a drink, though rarely, and I did spent an inordinate amount of money on coffee in cafes as a means to not have to be tied to the house so much.  It was a slow drain that, by the time I landed my current job, had wiped me dry.  Somehow, and through the generosity of others around me, I managed to pay my bills, and keep up with most things.  Still, some things slipped, and once again, my credit score took a pummeling.

When I finally did start work again, and secured a very reasonable place to live with Bil and his partner Brandon, things finally were able to turn around again.  Though I was making very little to start (and had just met Ray at that same time), I still was able to pay the rent, and pay my student loans.  Slowly, and over time, I was able to start to feel those glowing embers of satisfaction one gets when stuff gets paid on time.  I relished making payments to my debts, and once again, was able to set up a budget that worked, and that I could see grow and change over time.  I secured a credit card in order to help me rebuild my credit, which has been helping immensely.  Occasionally, I can take Ray out on a date and drop a few coins in that fountain, but not often.  He, for his part, has been super supportive and really patient, as I get my finances back in order.  Now that I’m almost two years into my job, my pay has reached a level where the budget is really starting to look very rosy.

I’m terrible at spreadsheets, but being able to build one that helps me see into the future, including when things get paid off, how much my savings will be able to grow, and how a “snowball” payment plan towards the debts I do have is working, makes me feel insurmountable.  Confidence is oozing through the columns and rows, and for the first time in my life, really, I feel like I have this.  Like, totally, utterly, have this.  I’ve figured it out, and I’m making progress.  I recognize where I’m spending silly still, but I also know how to prioritize my spending in a way that at least ensures all of my obligations are tended to.  It feels good.  It feels grown-up.  It feels like I can trust myself to make the right decision and stick to a promise to myself (at least in the fiscal arena).  It feels like pride and increased self-worth. By the end of the year, my two credit cards will be paid off.  By the end of the year, I will have a savings account for us that should contain at least $1,500 (downpayment on a new apartment).  By the middle of next year, I should be sitting quite nicely on a sum of money that will help me buy something that I’ve always wanted (more on that later).  I’m really, really excited to see this all unfolding before me.