You don't know me, but you might. Call me Alice or Shauna or Lacee, Mandy or Kaitlyn. I'm from Wewoka, Watonga, Waurika—wherever. I'm around the corner, down the block, and across town. I graduated high school, or maybe I didn't. I made the coffee at Stripes this morning. I gave grandpa his bath at the nursing home yesterday. I'm a young woman who's not so young anymore, who's feeling like she's missed something, something that can't be brought back no matter what. Odds are you know someone like me. There's half a chance you might be someone like me. These shoes fit all over the place. This isn't just my story. This is our story. I'm telling it because it makes more sense when I do, and because reading it may help you realize things and make decisions that won't break your heart later, or let others break it for you so easily.
When Ashley and Aaron came along, my life changed completely. That's kind of obvious. Having kids has a way of doing that. It means you can't go back, not that you would want to. There wasn't anything to go back to. Lets face it—you get into a relationship, you have children in order not to be, not to feel, all the things you were and felt. Yes, it was an escape, a solution, but it was better than any other. Guys, bars, hanging out, getting wasted—none of that works. You end up hating everything about yourself as you go back for more, night after night. My life was a blur where nothing really mattered except doing whatever it took to keep it going. I was pretty. I was popular. Pole dancing made sure of that. Don't act shocked. You do it too, even if you've never set foot on a stage. You know how guys look at you. And you know what you have to do to get a second date. With Jello shots, shame flies out the window faster than puke down the toilet. That's what I left behind. That's what I ran away from.
With a husband and kids I felt hopeful. I became something I had never been before, a wife, a mom, a new me. It was a happy me, a me I had never met, a me I never knew existed. I wasn't lonely. I wasn't empty inside and frantic about it all the time. It's dangerous to find your happiness—your identity even—in others. The whole thing is a house of cards that depends on somebody else keeping his promises. It can all fall down right before your eyes. It can all be taken away. Michael cheated. He had the job, so he had the lawyer. That's a scam right there. There is no justice that isn't paid for. You want to fix a lot of problems in Oklahoma? Make sure both sides in a divorce are equally represented. A decade and a half later, I can see every moment of their childhoods, every milestone, like some kind of YouTube video that endlessly repeats. He got the blonde he wanted; I got visitation. He had a house and a truck and a job; I couldn't make ends meet. I didn't have the resources to compete. I got married again. Alone and I don't get along very well, never have. I have to have somebody—it's not about having a place to stay; it's about a reason to live, a way to keep my head from going places that it shouldn't. Someone else was raising my kids, and there was nothing I could do about it. The kids would visit, but I felt the distance increasing. There is nothing sadder than watching your kids go home after a visit to someplace that isn't yours. Everything that was becomes frozen, and everything that is is out of your reach. The visits wouldn't go as planned. Sometimes they wouldn't happen at all. There were always reasons, always excuses. Nothing I could do anything about. The strangest things started happening. Promises would be made but never kept. Once in a while might be an accident or misunderstanding, but there was a pattern. Cruel is the only way to describe it when someone invites you to something, something special, something meaningful, once-in-a-lifetime even, and then blocks you on Facebook the next day. I never got used to it. I still don't think it was the kids. It was my ex and his wife.
After a while my second marriage ended. That was on both of us. We met outside a liquor store. We were both happy at first. We both wanted a second chance, and we both felt that we had found it. I tried to make it work until I didn't. Then it didn't. He got tired of it too, my problems, my games, my mistakes. What else could anyone expect?
Along came the man of my dreams. I thought he was anyway. Elated. Ecstatic. Like the first time. I carried baggage into our life, but he didn’t seem to care. He loved me for it, in spite of it—he just loved me. It sure felt that way. I enjoyed my time with him. I remember the good and the sad. Then he turned into a monster, toying with me, playing games with my life, not caring about anyone but himself. Ask me about the name tattooed across my back sometime. I always swore branding wasn't something I would ever do, but there I went. I hung on for dear life needing him. Rejection. Abandonment. In the end I felt smaller than I'd felt in years. Like at the very beginning. I thought those days were over, finally over once and for all, but it turned out they're right around the next corner. Right there waiting. The kind of feelings which you'll do anything to avoid. Anything.
It's been five years since I did the kind of thing I do when I get desperate. It's been ages since I hurt myself trying to feel something other than pain. I'm not sure what changed. I don't know how to describe it. I grew up, finally. It sounds simple, but it was anything but. I learned to rely on myself more. I don't doubt myself so easily and so often. I don't automatically assume that I can't manage or accomplish things worthwhile. I look for support in healthy ways, not people to cling to who take advantage. I learn from mistakes, choosing to do the opposite of what I've always done, even if it's hard, instead of the same thing that seemed so easy.
Oh yeah, I'm married again. His name's Michael too. What a coincidence. LOL. You might think all I have to talk about is disappointment and regret, bitterness and desperation, but it isn't. That's all there of course, but there's more. I struggle everyday, but I'm still here. I stand in front of a mirror and like what I see for once. I stand up for myself and stand up to others like I never could.
Twenty years ago everything was all about the moment. The past was miserable. The future was unthinkable, something I wanted to avoid or destroy. Today I put the past into perspective—it doesn't own me unless I let it. I see there is more to life than just the moment. The future is something I embrace.
Here I am.
These are my stories.
Alice Chalan Mills
Girl Not Down.
Ran across one of those motivational quotes on Facebook the other day. You know the ones. They're supposed to be profound, deep, meaningful. Sometimes they are. Sometimes they aren't. I guess it's a good thing that inspiration shows up once in a while on your feed. Otherwise it would be all embarrassing videos and ads for Walmart. And cute pictures of the kids. Somebody's kids anyway. This caught my eye. It seemed strangely appropriate. I sat down and thought about why.
"Sometimes when things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place."
Really? Doesn't feel like that at the time. That's something you see later, much later, if you even see it at all. At the time, well, it feels—I'm at a loss for words. It feels desperate, hopeless, impossible. But it's more personal than that. It feels ugly, worthless, dirty. All those moments in my life where "things were falling apart" have something in common. No one is listening and every one is blaming you. Come to think of it, no one ever has and every one always did. LOL. You'd think I'd be used to it by now. It wasn't always them, of course. I did my share of not listening, blaming, and doing the same thing over and over no matter how badly it turned out. But the times when things were bleakest, darkest, brought out the worst in me. I turned against my self. Not that I was ever much of an advocate or protector. I couldn't do those things. I didn't know how. But the more trapped and discouraged I felt, the more self destructive I got. That was my thing. That was the plan. Not the plan first thing in the morning, but the plan late at night, if you know what I mean. The back up plan. The ultimate answer to every question I was stuck on. Hate myself. Hurt myself. Despise myself. Destroy myself. You can look at it a dozen different ways, but the bottom line is that self destruction is like flushing the toilet. Makes perfect sense when you see yourself as so worthless, so disgusting, so foul as that thing floating in the water below. I guess I should have warned you about graphic images. Sorry. It gets better.
"Sometimes when things are falling apart..."
I'm no stranger to relationships. Failed and otherwise. The way I see it—looking backwards—a relationship consists of three stages: failed, failing, and too good to be true. There's something about that first stage that leads to the last, but that's another discussion. (Wanting things in an unhealthy way makes for bad outcomes. Wanting unhealthy things too.) This pattern is so familiar. It feels natural. Anything else wouldn't seem right, wouldn't seem real. I've been through it a dozen times, but the worst experience is the one that actually changed me. Maybe that's what it took. Maybe it was something else. But things did come together in the stangest of ways. If they hadn't I wouldn't be here writing this.
I met a boy. I meet lots of boys. I like to flirt. I like it when they pay attention to me. Always have. Makes me feel good about myself, for a while. I went through relationships like you go through Kleenex when you have a cold. I had a different one every month. This one stuck. Or maybe I stuck. We stuck. I thought that was the answer. I don't have a problem with commitment. LOL. I can commit damn well when I try. (You know the "bird's eye view" is a funny place. You can see so many things. I've always given up on things I should have stuck with and stuck with things I never should have gotten involved with in the first place.) Anyway, boy goes away. Iraq. I fall hopelessly. Like a brick tossed in the pond. He returns. We have a rocky bit of time, and then it all falls together, and we run off and get married. Girl is happy. Boy is happy. He gets shipped off again. I stand by him through it all. He would call and tell me he fell in the shower and hurt his neck, and the doctors there just gave him a little Motrin and sent him on his way even after he told them he could barely get out of bed because he hurt so much. So I inform his supervisor over here about the situation. What if he were to get snuck up on, and he couldn't defend himself 'cause he couldn't turn fast enough 'cause his neck hurt that much. He could have been killed! I lost so much sleep worrying when he was away. His supervisor here consoled me and helped me through that last deployment. I stood by him more than I have stood by anyone! He returns. He's a little shook up still and has to adjust back into life in the US. He says he's unhappy with his career. I pull out all my resources to help him move to another career. I defended him when another airman was gossiping that my man was AWOL. I go to his first shirt and speak my mind and point out and name everyone that was talking, and the first shirt KNEW exactly who I was talking about, but yet he just seemed to blow me off. Someone said something that should have been confidential where other guys could hear. I pointed it out, and the shirt knew I was right! The guys got disciplined, and the girl that spoke of it got in a lot of trouble too. I stood up for my man! I stand up for what I believe in!
I believed in him. Then things changed. I wasn't prepared for that. Didn't see it coming. Not this time. Not by a mile. He let me down. He started to call this girl in Lawton and even go see her, even though he told me he wasn't. Like I'm stupid or something. I'm not. She was on his profile and the numbers matched. I called the number and talked to her man and described her exactly. I could hear their child in the background. I told him what was going on. I even had plenty of proof. I slowly start catching him in more lies. He stops calling her in Lawton. I think things are OK. I wanted to believe, but I still had suspicions. Then I get his password to Facebook and saw all the messages he sent to other females—how hot they were and if they had more pics and talking to them about us, and that he was getting a divorce, but this was something I wasn't supposed to know. I check his email and find contacts and numbers of other females. I kept it to myself, until I couldn't take it anymore. I confronted him. He denies everything. What a liar! And a bad one at that. I let it get to me. I said I wouldn't, but I did. I attempt. Do you know how hard that is to talk about? I should be used to it by now; I've done it so many times. I should be an expert. I get out of the hospital and carry on. Nothing changes. Nothing could. The whole suicide thing is a solution to a problem, but not the problem that needs to be solved. The problem was I needed to leave his sorry ass. I wasn't ready to deal with that, to solve that problem. So I solved another. I avoided the real issue and the real problem and the real solution. I didn't want out, but I couldn't go on, so I found a way around. Back to lies, lies, and more lies. I make copies of everything, even the cell bills where it shows the calls he swears he didn't make, even the tower points. I confront again. He lies some more. I let it get to me again. I attempt. On Facebook he is sending flirts to women while we are on an anniversary date or a movie date. The times coincide exactly with when I knew we were together in the theater. I took it hard again. I attempt. By then he doesn't know what to do. He has dug his hole and cant get out of it. He leads me on and on, making it seem like we are staying together. He says he has to think about it. I give him space. I am on the verge of another mistake. I seek help. No attempt. I come home after getting stable to find the cell phone bill showing he has called the same girl the entire week I was gone. Over 300 minutes of call time while I was in the hospital getting better. He didn't visit me even once, but he was concerned about her problems. I see where she calls him "sweetness" and cutesy shit on Facebook. I can't handle it. I cut myself to release the pain. Not really an attempt. I'm not big on cutting. Some girls are, but I never was. (I always preferred handfulls of Klonopin.) Cutting isn't suicide. It's a coping skill, a dramatic one I admit, but it masks emotional pain. It gets you through something that would turn out much worse if you didn't cut. Most folks don't get that. I end up in ICU needing units of blood. I go to the hospital again, this time for three weeks. I finally come to the conclusion that he is not worth it, and I put my faith in God, and change my thinking. I worked hard to get out, but he fails to come see me in the hospital. I was away for 3 weeks. He had time to call that girl—over 700 minutes of our call time. I learned in the hospital to let things be. I say nothing. Inside I hurt deeply but I promised never to attempt again. Family and friends saw things I didn't or wouldn't—the separate paths of destruction he and I were on. He tells them "No, we're not staying together." He tells me "Yes, we can try." I believe him. I believed what I wanted to believe. I still don't know what he really believed. He told me one story and told others another. He led me on, led us on, led everyone on. In about six months time he tore down a woman who helped him and supported him and stood up for him. I got brave and bold, and with God's help I stood up and left him. I had to make 2 trips to get my stuff. I still hoped that the man I fell in love with would come to his senses. After the second trip, my parents called concerned about me and furious with him. Apparently when I cut myself, he took pics with his phone and sent them to mom, dad, and sis, thoroughly upsetting them. Later I found out he was under investigation for what happened—the pictures and timing. They never asked me my side. They never do.
"...they may actually be falling into place."
The more I thought about it, the more it dawned on me that this man I fell in love with had brought me to the lowest point of my life. It wasn't all him of course. I bought into it repeatedly. I bought and bought and bought, not the lies he was telling, but the hope that it was all a bad dream. That he would wake up and be a different person. There is something really wrong with a person who says he loves you then lies to you then takes pictures of your desperation and sends them to your family. But there's also something wrong with the person who would stay with such a monster, who would think that somehow he could be redeemed, that there was some fix for the situation that would make it all better. Why do people stay in bad relationships? Lot of reasons. But I'd say it boils down to these more often than not. It's hard to admit you made a mistake. It's hard to start over. It's hard to imagine ending up alone or empty handed. And last but not least, no matter how difficult your partner is, how uncomfortable he makes you feel, at least he puts up with the crap you bring into the relationship. He puts up with you and your BS. Deep inside you know how hard it is to find someone willing to do that. Of course there's money and fear too. Not enough of the former and too much of the latter. I've always struggled with money. Career choices? Not good enough I guess. Too much spending plain and simple. Banks love me for the overdraft fees they get to collect. Damn payday loans too. As far as fear is concerned, I've never really been afraid of a man. Not as an adult anyway. I guess I've been lucky. Lots of women can't say that. I'm afraid of what it's like to be alone. Rejection and abandonment hurt me more than any insult or argument. That's really quite a trap, isn't it? Puts a hell of a lot of power into somebody else's hands.
The relationship from hell? How low can you go? I've been hurt before, and I've hurt myself before, but this was above and beyond anything I ever imagined. The experience took me to the point where I had to rebuild my life from scratch and in every way you can think. I don't know who to trust or how anymore, but I know I have to trust somehow, because without trust, nothing is possible. Nothing worthwhile. I am proud of the fact that I am out of there. I stood up and took control. I just didn't do it soon enough to spare myself a great deal of grief. He doesn't know I know about the pics. I've kept that to myself. With one call I could bury his career but good. I know that revenge isn't the right thing to do. Getting even wouldn't change anything that happened and wouldn't make me feel any better about anything, honestly. I can see that. Like all of us, he will be judged in time, and there will be consequences. No getting out of that for anyone ever. Telling the story here releases some of the frustration. It hurts less when I talk about it. Funny how that works. Telling the story might just help someone else see herself and make better choices, sparing her some of the grief. That would make me feel better more than anything.
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