Huffington Post Article: This Is Why Poor People’s Bad Decisions Make Sense
I just read this article about a girl who discusses why poor people make poor choices. Though I very much admire her courage for sharing her most intimate thoughts, I could say that I was poor once too and I never felt in any way the same. Not that I want to negate her feelings or tell her that she is wrong, but I do want to show people another way to look at circumstance. I am not usually one to talk much about the past, but I think that I’m feeling very compelled to share my story only so others can see that poor circumstance does not mean you must live a poor life.
I’m going to begin ten years ago when I was twenty years old with some brief background history. I was not poor growing up. I had many “things” and strangely enough, all I ever longed for was to be recognized. At the time, I never knew what that meant, but my family, though not poor at the time, was very much addicted to alcohol, drugs, media, television, video games, cigarettes, sex… I’m sure you get the picture. Life wasn’t hard when it came to money, but my heart was broken and I was always trying to find a way to put it back together.
The day finally came when I began to put it back together, but not before a long journey full of struggle and disappointment. I was twenty years old when my father died. I came back home from living with and helping my brother and his wife run a day home while she was on bed rest with her second child. My parents had just purchased a convenience store in our local community. My father was setting up the point of sale and bookkeeping systems, while my mother dealt with the daily operation of things. Things were normal for us… The usual party. Two weeks after I came home, I went camping with my boyfriend, brothers and friends and the day we returned home, my mother found my father dead. In their bed. In our home. I’ll never forget the look on her face that night when she came out from going to bed. My father was the only person in our home that wasn’t an alcoholic or a drug addict and he held our family together. He had a heart attack that afternoon while having a nap.
I am the youngest sibling, a sister to three older brothers. I had taken care of my family in any way that I could growing up. I was an enabler. When my father died, I took over the store. I set up the point of sale system. I did the books. I worked 15 hour days and I came home to take care of my brother’s girlfriend’s son of two years that I practically raised. She was an ex-prostitute that I helped get off the streets. She lived with us and I helped her with her son. I watched over him and I loved him because he needed that, while they were fighting and drinking and doing crack and cocaine. My mother was an alcoholic that had been married to my father since she was sixteen. She had no idea how to live her life independently. She would get angry with me because I wasn’t there to console her after my father died because I was too busy trying to keep my life from falling apart. Too busy trying to run a store and love my family. Take care of a little boy. Have a relationship with my own boyfriend, who was also very much addicted to drinking and drugs and too busy being angry and disappointed with his own life to notice that I was losing mine.
I could give you all kinds of details to this story that would probably make you wonder how I’m still alive, but I can tell you that I’m happily thriving. The beginning of the end was when I convinced my boyfriend to move with me to Calgary where his father was living at the time. I was terrified. I had never been without my family, but they were falling apart. My brothers were both heavily addicted to crack and my mother was beginning to date another man addicted to crack who was abusive. I couldn’t live with her any more. Not if I wanted to feel safe. I got the books at the store sorted out and I left. I, a small town girl who had never been away from home, took a greyhound bus to a big city and started my life almost independently. I had my boyfriend and we stayed with his father for a short time.
Life in Calgary was pretty okay after that. My boyfriend was still drinking and doing drugs, but I had a job working in a photo lab, I was doing pretty good. I was still trying to make sense of my life from afar. SO angry with my mother for not being a mother and angry with my brothers for not caring about me. Missing my dad who was my best friend and spending that time just trying to process what had happened the previous year or so. The one thing I remember most dramatically is that when I lived with my family, I was the hero. I was put on a pedestal as the “smart one” and the one of us who “had her stuff together.” It made me feel like I was super human. They made me feel like I was the most amazing person in the world and when I moved away I began to recognize that I was VERY ordinary. If anything, I was probably less capable of many things than most of my peers because I was so dependent on my life being in shambles to feel good about myself. If everyone around me was lost and a mess and I wasn’t, then I was doing something right. Right? Well it turned out that I had a lot to learn about myself. This first lesson was a taste of humility.
We eventually moved out of my boyfriend’s dad’s and got an apartment close by. My boyfriend had a really good job and was working a lot so we decided to send me to school so I could get a better job too. I went to school and through my growing independence, I began to realize that my boyfriend, who had now become my fiance for the past two years, wasn’t making me happy any more. Not because he wasn’t my best friend. He was a great person and I was terrified to go it on my own. I had never been TRULY independent before. I had been dating him since I was seventeen. We were supposed to get married, but he didn’t seem like he wanted to. He seemed pretty content smoking pot and drinking beer and playing video games. I wasn’t that person. I didn’t drink or do drugs really at all any more. I wanted to be with some one who made me feel like they wanted to be with me.
Suffice it to say. I shit the bed on that one. On the rebound, I got together with a man that had moved in with my now ex-boyfriend and I as a room mate. I was terrified to take care of myself and so I swapped bedrooms instead. Eventually we moved out together and I got pregnant. This man was much older than me and he seemed as if he wanted what I wanted. I was comfortable. We had lots of money. I was working for a print company. He was in trades, working in the oil industry. It should have been awesome right? Well he was pretty controlling and angry. I was probably more scared and unhappy than I had ever been. On maternity with a newborn baby. No friends. No family. He would come home from working out of town only to find some reason to get angry and just disappear to hang out with is buddies. Drink beer and do drugs. I stayed with my little boy and I loved him. I thought an alcoholic mother and crack addicted brothers were needy, but I was wrong. This newborn baby was more than tough on me.
I left him, but I didn’t really have anywhere to go. I went back to BC where I grew up, but my mother was still a total mess. My brothers weren’t much help. I stayed with my oldest brother for a while but his wife wasn’t too fond of me. I’m still not sure why to this day. I had a couple of really good friends that helped me leave and they wanted me to stay with them, but I was too proud to rely on them for help. A single mom and a six month old baby are a big burden. At least that’s what I thought at the time. So I took a page out of my old book and found myself a man! LOL! A guy I knew from high school, an old school friend of my ex-fiance, a friend. He took a liking to me and we got together. I moved in with him and started to try to put my life back together. Look for a job and such. Turns out, no one had the heart to tell me that he was a cocaine addict. Not his family that I knew well, not my friends from school, no one. I didn’t know until he had basically stolen every penny I had. He was pawning my stuff and left me with no choice but to go on welfare. I didn’t hate him. I wasn’t even angry really. I had been here before. I still loved my family even though they made me angry. I think I understood addiction at this point and I was just happy that I wasn’t an addict. I knew I’d figure things out for myself.
I went on welfare, worked some stuff out with my mom and I was moving into her trailer. (Where she was not living because she was off chasing her boyfriend in Calgary. He was there to avoid a warrant for his arrest in BC for choking out my mom.) It was a temporary plan until I could find a job and a place of my own and get myself sorted out. It was going to work… But then my son’s dad said he wanted to visit his son for his birthday. I was trying with him to get him to visit and see his son and have a relationship, but he would just fight with me. So I was happy that he wanted to see his son. I happily agreed to meet him at a restaurant so we could celebrate the birthday together. I took my son there. He hadn’t seen his dad in four months. When I got there, he put a court order on the table and left with him. My son didn’t know his father and I had no choice. I had to let my ex take him.
This was the day that I had nothing. No money. No child, No real place to live. No family to help me. I was nothing to nobody.
I picked myself up and went back to Calgary for trial. I lost custody of my boy to my ex and his parents. I had supervised visits with him. Just until trial. My legal aid lawyer didn’t want to help me because he thought I was what my ex said I was; a bad person. A person who couldn’t amount to much or keep my son safe because my mother was an alcoholic. A person who kidnapped my son. I had it documented. My ex knew for six weeks before I left that I was leaving. I had even offered to go back to Calgary at one point to try to work out custody. My lawyer wouldn’t look at my emails. My ex? He just fought with me. He likes to fight. And I lost because I just wanted to get along. Because I had no money to fight with. Because I had no family to back me. Because I was, I guess you could call it, poor.
I was poor, but not in spirit. I didn’t have anything, but I picked myself up and found a way.
I didn’t fight with my ex. I didn’t argue or even talk to my lawyer. I had three months until trial. I, by grace, had a cousin from my dad’s side of the family living in Calgary. I stayed with her. I got a job one week later and in three months I found a place to live in the neighbourhood next to my ex and I took what no judge would ever take away from a mother. Joint custody of my son. I was still poor. I was still angry with my mother, but every day since then I have worked exceptionally hard to be rich in spirit.
Many things have happened since then. I have less custody of my son. I only see him every second weekend. Not because I couldn’t have him more, but because I choose to not fight with his dad. I have a husband. He is the cousin of those really great friends that I wouldn’t live with, out of pride. Now they are my family and I have a beautiful little girl who is happy and FULL of life. I went from an illegal basement suite, to a lower suite in Calgary to a beautiful duplex in High River in three years. I went from single with no family to married with a whole world of people to love. My own family is still in the background and I love them from afar and I wish for their happiness every day.
The moral of this story is that circumstance does not determine your quality of life. You do. If you can be rich in spirit. Find the small graces in life and know that they are God’s gift to you. If you can smile and sing songs to your little boy while you’re taking him to daycare an hour and a half before you go to work on the bus because you don’t have a car, then you will never know poor.
I will forever love and be grateful for those times when life was hard because when life is easy, it is so incredibly easy to feel rich without a penny in my pocket.
May this post be a little piece of light in a place of darkness for others. Be open and love the world and eventually you will reap the rewards of your own spirit.