Erin Riley- Liberated from our fears

Follow me on instagram  @thelifeoferinriley

Follow me on instagram @thelifeoferinriley

I was awkward growing up; seriously, I was much taller than everyone else. After my baby teeth fell out and my teeth grew back in, there was a serious buck teeth situation happening, mainly, because I didn’t stop sucking my thumb the summer before 6th grade. My hair was constant source of contention between my mother and I. I wouldn’t brush it, maybe I just wanted to sport those adorable wild curls. My mom said it looked like a rat’s nest, which I refused to let her brush before leaving the house. Her solution, which came in a threat, was that she would get my hair cut short like a boy. I accepted that challenge and so from the age of 7 to 11, I would get a bowl cut, but at least she let me get my ears pierced so no one would mistake me as a boy. 

When we moved from Ft. Collins, Colorado to Boise, Idaho, it was in the middle of third grade, and around Valentine’s Day. And because I didn’t want anyone to mistake me for a boy, being that my name was ambiguous and I was five feet tall at the age of nine, I set out my favorite outfit. An over-sized pink Mickey and Minnie kissing sweatshirt and matching stirrup pants, and on that first day a smiling boy walked up to me and asked in that bratty voice, “Are you a boy or a girl?” My heart sank, and that was the moment that I knew that I needed to get out of Idaho the first chance that I could get. 

I first started to go to counseling when I was very young. I believe my parent's felt like I had issues making friends, and I won't lie growing up I did have a hard time making friends. I was rough around the edges, I didn't know how to interact with the other kids, and I so desperately just wanted to fit in. Middle school wasn't much better, and it got so bad that my group of "friends" turned against me and I spent a good part of the 7th grade sitting alone and eating lunch by myself. I had girls write me letters, as if they were my boyfriend at the time, saying that I was awful, ugly and he wanted to breakup, and there was the time a girl wrote "I'm gay" on the hood of my jacket, so everyone could point and laugh as I walked down the halls. 

This sadness, the longing to belong, just hung with me. I made it through high school, but I was sad all the time, and it got worse the first semester of college. I didn't show up to classes, I drank too much, I slept around, tried to self harm and had a quick overnight at a behavioral health rehab center. It was when my parent's got word that I had driven drunk up to the foothills that they decided that I would move to Seattle with them, because I couldn't be trusted. 

This might be where you think it got better, but it did not. I was even more lonely, and upset that I couldn't even make it through one semester of university. My parent's were hounding me to figure out what I was going to do. Was I going to go back to school, would I learn a trade, because I couldn't sell wedding dresses for the rest of my life. I had a nervous breakdown, and this time I spent two whole weeks in the hospital. In fact, I did not want to be released, and when my parent's came to pick me up we had a huge fight and I just wanted to be back in the same cocoon of working on myself. Again, this feeling of running away was all I could think about, so I decided to join the Navy. 

Boot camp was amazing. I met some really cool people, lost a bunch of weight, went to school, and ended up meeting a very cool dude from Chicago. We were at boot camp at the same time, and we passed letters back and forth. This shit was right out of a romantic movie. 

I arrived in Norfolk in January, in the middle of the night. Got to the destroyer that I was assigned to, and quickly escorted to the small women’s berthing area, where the sailor on duty shined a flashlight to the top bunk. I was to put my gear and sheets down, and unpack in the morning. What had I gotten myself into?

The same feeling washed over me that I had when I called my mom from SeaTac before boarding the plane to boot camp. Fear gripping my whole body, and I wanted to go back to my comfortable life. This was way outside my comfort zone, but I have made an agreement with the government, and I couldn’t go back on that agreement. 
Every chance I had, I was off the ship, and over weekends I would try and stay with friends, either in hotel rooms or someone who had off base housing. One night, I had found myself in the company of some guys that I had met through my boyfriend. We had all hung out together back in Illinois, so what would be different here in Virginia. When I first walked in, nothing was out of the ordinary, just some dudes getting drunk on a Saturday night. We talked, but all of a sudden, I found myself in the room alone with them. The door was closed, and the atmosphere changed. It wasn’t lighthearted, and one of the guys had his hand on my breast. I laughed it off, and swatted his hand away, like I had done numerous times before with other so called friends. But when I sat down on the edge of one of the beds, the other guy came and sat down next to me and grabbed my crouch. Again, I swatted his hand away, but I wasn’t laughing. I said, what would your friend think of you doing this to his girlfriend? They made their way to the back of the room, and started to whisper. My blood ran cold, I knew that if I stayed that something very bad was going to happen. These men were not my friend, and they didn’t view me that way. I quietly grabbed my things, and ran to the lobby of the building, and called my boyfriend. The first thing he said was, “well what did you think was going to happen? Why did you put yourself in that situation?” I ended up calling someone to pick me up, and staying with them on an air mattress on the floor of what was supposed to be a dining room area. 

Surprisingly, my command was very accommodating, and helpful when I reported to them what had happened. I never felt shame from them, and the two men ended up getting in trouble. But where I didn’t feel judged or shamed by my employer, it was a whole different story with my boyfriend, who ended up becoming my fiance pretty quickly. 

After my assault, he made his way to Virginia, moving in together and getting married after only 6 months of being together and in the Navy. He took it upon himself to show me how very naive and stupid I was, that I couldn’t trust be trusted, and that I needed his help to get myself through this world. I had a protector that was also my abuser. 

I had lost sight of what I had planned for myself. There was no traveling around the world. The ship I was on had just gotten back from a long mission, so the farthest we went out was off the coast of North Carolina. But it was pretty amazing that I as a 20 year old was in charge of driving a multi-million dollar vessel, and had the privilege to sit on the back of the ship one warm spring night. The sky filled millions of bright stars, and the smooth water we easily glided through was churning up phosphorescence. Sadly, that was my best memory of my time in the Navy.

My wise husband had introduced me to cocaine, right before we were married, and it had turned into our therapy drug. It was wonderful to be able to talk through our issues while high, there was no judgment, until the drug started to wear off and when we were sober, things would turn pretty ugly. This habit ended both our careers in the Navy, just shy of reaching the three year mark. 
One night, after we had both been kicked out, my husband and I got into an argument. He pushed my head into the sofa I was sitting on. I called the police, he ran away, and came back with a huge gash on the side of his head. Turns out he hit himself with his cell phone to make it look like I had beaten him. The police arrested me, and when he saw me in hand cuffs, he got himself arrested as well. We ended up having to find money, which we didn’t have, to bail him out and pay for the lawyer, because he had an arrest record for assault and battery of his father that I didn’t know about. Just a month later, we moved to St. John, USVI.

We left for this island adventure convinced that this was just the thing to turn our marriage around. Islands are expensive, and small, and there is not much to do, but fall back into old habits. After a bender my husband, quite literally, head butted the sense back into me. I fled to a neighbor’s house, called my parents, who purchased a ticket to Oregon, where they were now living. I finally saw that my life was not supposed to end at the hands of a person who claimed to love and protect me. 

I want to say that the next six years were easy, but sadly I ended up doing a lot of self medicating and emotional binge eating. I was searching for someone to come and save me. I had this thought that I was the beautiful troubled girl and that soon some dude would fall in love with my damage. 

During this time, I was able to finish my bachelors degree, moved back to Idaho, and started my new life back in Boise. I had a couple rocky relationships. The last one actually lived me with for a year. The first guy that I opened up to having in my life after my ex-husband. But after the one year mark of us living together, we got into an argument, he let me know he was unhappy and moved out two days later. The next week, a letter arrived that he had left town, told no one, and that maybe someday in the future he will reconnect. The letter also went on to say that the job I was doing at the time wasn't where my heart was, and that he hoped soon I would lead others to better days, like him. I was so angry. I thought, again, that I was destroyed. This time, though, I recognized that I needed help. I started to see a counselor, I left my job, I was standing up for myself and starting to look at people and situations as whether they added or took away value from my life. 

This time, I decided that self-medication wasn't the way. I started to really focus on my goals in life. I found my passion to get up on stage and tell my story, whether that be through storytelling or comedy. I do a lot of self-reflecting, evaluation...where do I want to be, where do I want to go? I've realized that no one is coming to save me, no one wants to fall in love with the damaged parts, and that I want to be strong, independent and love myself over anything in this world. It's not easy, I have times when I really struggle, but I have found an amazing group of friends and it's those moments when I feel on top of the world that i remember and that carry me through the times that I feel like I'm in a dark place.