A Story of Starting Over & Finding Faith When Your World Falls Apart
By Nic Black
I looked down at my left hand, nails bitten off into ragged edges, my perfect square-cut diamond ring reflecting sunlight into small rainbows against the bathroom wall.
I sat slumped under the cathedral style window, my body wedged between the toilet and the Jacuzzi style two-person tub, shoulders shaking as I lost control of my sobs.
What is happening?
Just eight short weeks ago, when my then boyfriend, now fiancé, handed me the simple, understated ring of my dreams, it felt as though my life was finally falling into place. We shared a beautiful home together, ran a successful business together, and had a ton of fun in our spare time.
Sure, we had issues, but didn’t every couple?
Josh and I met my senior year of college.
He was part owner and manager of a very successful restaurant chain and I was a bartender looking forward to graduate school and a career as a therapist, with the goal of helping others through tough times.
A few months shy of graduation, Josh received an amazing opportunity to open a string of restaurants in the tourist hotspots of Mexico.
The next few weeks were a blur. I had a short amount of time to choose between my own dreams of further education and a career, or staying with the guy I loved.
Blinded by the romance of it all and a two-story beach house, I said adios to graduate school and hola to my new life as a restaurateur by association.
I graduated college and there was no time for fanfare, parties, or, evidently, so much as a “Hey, you did it!” type greeting card. Josh and I packed up and headed south, crossing the border into Mexico two days after my last final exam.
Our home was like something out of a dream, something I never fathomed affording. Josh worked long hours and I did freelance work from home. It was a good deal. At first.
Ever so slowly, things changed.
As each year passed, Josh got colder.
I felt less like a partner and more like an accessory.
Our relationship strained. Every time I attempted to discuss with Josh how I was feeling, it ended in an explosive argument.
So, I stopped talking and started internalizing.
Deep down inside, I knew this relationship needed to make a u-turn or it was doomed.
As I was building up the courage to consider walking away an option, Josh proposed.
Let me tell you, when a man stands in front of you, with a ring, asking you to become his forever, a temporary insanity comes over you. I forgot about the lonely nights and the empty conversations and blurted out, “yes!” without thinking, choking a bit on the word as it left my body.
I immediately got out my phone and took some happy couple and look-at-my-ring photos, shared them on Facebook, and basked in a never-ending stream of congratulations. Maybe things will get better, I considered.
That platinum banded ring seemed only to serve as a free pass for Josh to be a complete asshole.
He started drinking more, yelling at me when I would ask him to consider calling it quits on booze for the night, accusing me of flirting when I was kind to the server at our favorite taco stand, and informing me how “lucky” I was to be along for the ride that was his life.
The final straw, the one that led me to the slumped down, sobbing position, was when Josh threw the television remote at my head when I asked if we could change the channel.
Stunned, I retreated to the bathroom, too proud to let him see me cry.
There, on the stone tiled bathroom floor, I realized I was no longer in a dysfunctional relationship, but an abusive one.
I packed my bags and left the next day.
Josh yelled, cried, and cursed at me as I headed out the door with two suitcases of clothing and my laptop.
I left behind everything I had spent my adult life accumulating, not knowing I would never return for my things.
Every carefully chosen novel, cherished photograph, all my cookware, linens, and furniture.
I would never touch them again.
I drove for hours until I crossed the border and then drove a few hours more until I reached Phoenix, the city I had once called home. I parked my car at a friend’s house, gave him the keys, and took a cab to Sky Harbor Airport. There, I booked a one-way ticket to Portland Oregon, the closest city to my childhood home.
From the airport gate, I called my unsuspecting mother, who thought her eldest daughter was happily betrothed and living in paradise.
“Mom,” I said, my voice small. “I’m coming home.”
My mom picked me up from the airport that night in her faithful Subaru. From the front seat where I spent most of my teen years, I shared with her the truth.
My life was a mess.
We drove home toward the coast, her listening, me trying to make sense of what I had just done.
“Mom, I’m 25 and just lost everything.
I have no job. No home. No money.”
I looked at her, hoping she would drop some magical mom potion on the situation and make it all better.
“You were very brave to leave,” she said, nodding.
I woke up the next day with a massive headache and an email from Josh telling me that he would be there, waiting for me to “get better.”
Three weeks later, he and his newer, much younger girlfriend, were Facebook official.
After a month of moping around and exclaiming, “Why me?” in every cadence available, I borrowed the Subaru and headed to the beach.
Walking along the shore of the Pacific, no one around for miles, I decided to talk to God.
“I know I’m not perfect.
I probably went about the whole marriage thing the wrong way but did you really have to bring me this low?
I have nothing but debt and a couple weeks’ worth of clothes.
There’s no way I can get into graduate school now, I’ve done nothing psychology related for five years.
I have no job experience in this country. No credit. Nothing.
How the hell- er, sorry God, how the heck am I supposed to move forward?”
Walking with my head down, I noticed a sand dollar in the ground.
In our family, finding a whole sand dollar was a thing of great fortune, a belief I clung to both as a little girl and an adult. I picked up the sand dollar, in pristine condition, dusted it off, and looked at the sky, knowing it was God’s way of saying, “You’re going to be just fine.”
I sat down on the sand and continued my chat,
I should have known love feels better than what we had or, at least, I should have left sooner.
And, while I’m confessing my stupid mistakes, I probably shouldn’t have put business expenses on my personal credit card.”
I sighed, stood up and shouted,
‘I’M GOING TO BE OKAY’ to the ocean,
looking like a lunatic but feeling, for the first time in a long time, free.
That night, knowing from experience that happy fuzzy feelings and good intentions only get you so far, I sat at my parents’ kitchen table and mapped out a plan.
When your life falls apart, the first thing you do, after having a beach talk with God, of course, is pick up the pieces and lay them out in front of you. I chose to do this in classic list style.
Nic’s Get Your Sh*t Back Together Plan
1. Get my car
2. Get a job
3. Find a Counselor
4. Pay off Debt
5. Move out of my parent’s house
I’d be lying if I said making that list instantly lifted my mood. Quite the opposite.
Though not immediate, that five-factor plan did, indeed, end up changing my life. When I started to get discouraged or lose faith that I would ever get my shit together, I came back to that simple list and reminded myself to keep going.
Get my car
Seems easy enough, right? Fly to Phoenix. Hop in, gas up, and head back to Oregon. Bahahahaha. No.
By the time I purchased my plane ticket (thanks, MasterCard) my car had been sitting idle for over a month. When I landed and placed my key in the ignition, I got nothing. A gas flush and a new battery later (thanks again, MasterCard), I was good to go.
I navigated my way over the I-10, to the I-5 and drove back up to Oregon, trading desert skies for grey ones. The soundtrack of my road trip was provided by Taylor Swift, Adele, and The Format. Singing empowering breakup lyrics lifts the spirits and ignites emotions of hope.
Get a job
Easy, peasy. I was a college graduate with a sparkling personality. Getting a job was not going to be a problem. I pictured myself sitting in a plush leather chair, perhaps as a legal assistant or marketing executive, raking in the dough.
Turns out, my small hometown of 5,937 people did not have the most lucrative career opportunities. Desperate to find a job, I applied for a bartending position at our local watering hole. I was quickly hired. The good news was I made more money than most marketing executives, the bad news was I had to earn it by swapping conversation with my fellow high school alumni.
The first few months of work involved fielding a lot of questions like, “Wait, I thought you were living the sweet life in Mexico” and “Didn’t you like, go to Harvard or something? Guess that didn’t work out?” As my old schoolmates took jovial jabs at my fall from grace, I gritted my teeth, smiled, and said something sarcastic right back.
As my novelty wore off, and my bank account grew, I actually started to love tending bar in my small hometown and, unbeknownst to me, it would be the very place I would meet my now husband. Getting back into the workforce cultivated a confidence in me that I had long forgotten. With my newfound strength came an influx of faith.
Find a counselor
In my writing, you may read references to my counselor, Peter. The whole Mexico debacle that caused my life to fall apart is what brought me to the man I consider to be world’s best therapist. Having been educated in the field of Psychology and having navigated through trauma in the past, I knew meeting regularly with a strong counselor was a must.
Peter came highly recommended but, when I contacted his office, his receptionist informed me his client roster was full. Luckily the voicemail I left him was just passionate (desperate?) enough that he squeezed me in. Meeting with Peter changed my life.
From him, I learned that I had a pattern of dysfunctional relationships and an addiction to codependency. With his guidance, I worked through these challenges, clinging on to my faith in God and all things spiritual.
I cannot stress enough how very important it is to find a fitting therapist when your world falls apart.
Pay off debt
Interestingly enough, the more I built up my faith and character, the less I cared about paying off my debt. Sure, I would love to be completely debt free but, with the amount I had invested in restaurant supplies with Josh, my student loans, and a good six months of credit card living, I had accumulated a luxury SUV sized deficit.
At one point, carrying a balance due to several tens of thousands of dollars would have broken me. After surviving pressing the reset button on life, it was small potatoes, something workable, and, eventually solvable. For all my fellow student loan survivors, I feel you.
We will pay them off, some way, some day.
Move out of my parent’s house
I had always prided myself on moving out and living independently at age 17. It was with great shame that I unpacked and moved back into my parents’ house after my life blew up.
Though they were the loveliest of hosts, and living there kept me out of trouble, I couldn’t feel good about myself until I accomplished the aspect of independence that was most important to me, solo living.
Through my job and a long chain of word of mouth, I found a charming, affordable, and furnished mother-in-law unit within walking distance of the bar where I worked. A far cry from my house on the beach in Cabo San Lucas, “The Hut” offered a comfort I had been longing for. When I went home, I felt at home. Though my rent was $600 a month, that feeling of belonging was priceless.
Within a year of my Mexican Exodus, I had accomplished four out of the five things on my list.
With each small step forward, my faith increased. And there’s the rub.
To keep going when your world is falling apart, you must move forward one way or another. A slow shuffle is better than standing still.
Since my life fell apart, I have married, had children, bought a house, bought a Subaru of my own, and even have a grown-up life insurance plan. I managed to get my shit together more so than before. It hasn’t been smooth sailing the whole time; I’ve navigated through deaths of loved ones, health scares, huge losses and more, but I have carried with me the lesson that starting over taught me: remain faithful that brighter days are ahead.
Finding hope in dark days is an exercise of faith. It’s a challenge. A vital challenge. Wherever you are at today, however grim the situation, move forward today, even if it’s just a metaphorical inch.
Maybe that means giving your bathrobe a break and taking a shower. Perhaps it means making a “Get Your Sh*t Together Plan” of your own.
Whatever your method, keeping the faith that things will get better or easier and moving forward are two essential steps toward survival.
Names, locations, and dates have been changed to protect the “innocent.”