Ghetto University (Notes on Getting Over the Past)

EJLgoodintentionsImage: Flourish in Progress on Instagram

The first time I landed in rehab, I met a woman who’s addiction ended up saving her life. She had two children, a husband, a home in the country, and a small apartment near the Ivy League university where she taught (for late nights when she was too exhausted to make the long drive home).

A few months before voluntarily checking into rehab, she sunk into a low place where she felt broken beyond repair and decided that what she wanted most was to kill herself. But before doing it, she wanted everything around her to be perfect, because she hated the thought of inconveniencing anyone. She deep cleaned the carpets and laid liners in drawers and responded to student emails and wrote letters to her daughters. No matter how many tasks she completed to tie up all of the loose ends, the list just seemed to grow. To numb her exhaustion, she started doing meth. What began as an occasional boost quickly grew into a raging addiction.

When she realized that she had spiraled from “just” suicidal to suicidal addict, she was forced to admit that what she had previously defined as her rock bottom wasn’t really the bottom. This inability to determine just how fucked up her life could become comforted her. She decided that leaving would be so much worse than staying and that she was, in fact, NOT broken beyond repair.

I’ve thought about her a lot over the years.

I turned 33 yesterday. If someone had told me on my last birthday what the year ahead would look like, I would have started drinking immediately and stayed shitfaced for the entire twelve months. Unfortunately, I don’t have any psychic friends, and I don’t keep alcoholic beverages in my home.  (Side note: My mother still brings up that one time in 1992 I called the Psychic Friends Network for eleven minutes at a rate of $3.99/min. Please let it go, ma.)

I allowed myself to feel dirty emotions like grief and regret and shame. I sunk into a deep depression. On days when I spent the majority of my time in bed, hiding away under the masses of pillows and blankets, I agonized over the poor life choices I’ve made since becoming a teen, and I realized that I hadn’t ever carefully considered what it is that would make me feel like a whole person.

And because I am not yet whole, I am afraid that my pockets of emptiness will swallow anyone that crosses my path. I don’t hug my daughter as much as I want to. A very large part of me believes that my dirtiness will rub off on her and sully her remarkable sheen.

Processing my past took me to Ghetto University. I’ve known for some time that by holding on to the ghosts of people and places and moments that are no longer part of my present experience, I’ve relinquished my right to enjoy life. But still, letting go seemed like such a waste- all the effort I had put into obsessing about what could have been or what I was owed or what I still owed others.

I stayed away from blogging. Everything I wrote looked exactly the same, week after week. I was waiting to be perfect to start again. Which is, like, totally fucking weird, because I’ve never been perfect before. The probability of stumbling into perfection while eating Kit Kats in bed and then throwing the empty wrappers on the floor is extremely low.

Because I have lived for so long suspended in the belief that I’m not equipped to make smart decisions for myself and that I don’t really deserve forgiveness, I didn’t know how to step out of that pit at first. Peace seemed foreign. But strange places can be wonderful.

I’m still working my way out, but all of it, every ugly crack I’ve tripped over, has been worth it.

I must remember: I do not have to be perfect to be good. This applies to you too.


P.S. Yesterday also marked the 3rd anniversary of this blog. I had no idea when I started that this would bring so much goodness into my life. For between-post updates and random (t)hug life thoughts, “like” the Flourish in Progress Facebook page or follow along on the Instagram (username: flourishinprogress) grind.

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  • Amy

    I’ve known you a long time Liz, and because of time and distance, I like to think that I get to see your life from the ‘big picture’ perspective.

    I am glad for the poor choices you have made – because they have turned you into an intelligent, compassionate, introspective woman who – by the way, has a pretty incredible daughter and is an pretty incredible mother. I grow more proud of you with every self-realization you have, every hood / good perspective you put out there.

    Most of all I love that you wear your heart on your sleeve. Too often, people who have suffered and survived become closed off to the rest of the world, emotionally. The tough exterior just runs too deep. I have seen you grow, known how tough you’ve had to be to survive, and, I’ve seen you come out with a heart so ready and willing to share, to help others who might be struggling, so willing to open up your own life as an example to others. Not to mention that you are so present and ‘real’ of a mom to Cal.

    So, while I relate to days spent in bed eating kit kats, I hope you know deep down what a warrior you are, how important you – and what you do with your words – are. And I am so glad I know you <3

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      I just counted…we’ve known each other for 20 YEARS. Wow.

      Also, you made me cry. But the good kind of cry. Because there is totally such a thing as a good kind of cry. Thank you for not seeing my imperfections as weaknesses.

  • Just Me

    LOVE it! I keep finding myself hearing the message, “Life doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you.” To me, that means embracing all the ugly crap just as much as embracing the good stuff. It’s all meant for me, and it’s all part of why I’m living the life I have chosen to live.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      When you have gone through darkness, it’s so much easier to hold up the things that bring us light and know that those moments and people are worthy beyond measure.

  • Megan Crutchfield

    Happy Birthday, a day late. This was a beautiful post and I love the idea of Ghetto University. So thank you for that. Just know that your flourish in progress saves people from themselves everyday. XOXO

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Thank you for being so very kind. <3

      Random: I only chose the name Flourish in Progress for this blog because Change in my Pocket was already taken. I don't know if I regret it or I'm breathing a sigh of relief right now.

  • Elizabeth Aquino

    I’m going to give you a call so that we can haul our far from perfect selves (yours 33, mine 50) to get a tattoo. I don’t really know you but sense you’re far more perfectly beautiful than you let on.

  • Sabina

    Love reading your blog because you remind me we’re only human. Thanks for writing.

  • James Schipper

    My world has been made better by you being in it.

    I’ll take the good and take the bad, I’ll take ’em both and there I’ll have the facts of life…

    Shit, that might be before your time and make no sense. Most of my vague references only make sense in my head. See? It could always be worse.

    But for real, glad you share your thoughts with us.

  • Brittany

    I’mm on year 2.5 of your blog. I have never net you but I adore your blog. Oh happy 33. I meant to email you. My last 5 mo ths have been pretty low also. I’m chalking it up to turning 32.
    I have faith that you will recover from the depression. I surely try daily because panic attacks r not fun every night when I try to sleep.
    Good luck to you my blog “friend”.

  • JasmineBrown

    I think you are lovely beyond words.

  • Melissa Burton

    Elizabeth, you absolutely slay me with your honesty every single time I read your writing. I’m sure you don’t realize how much your words mean to so many.

    It’s hard when you’ve always been fighting to realize that sometimes you deserve not to fight so hard just to breathe….or just not feel lousy…or not doubt yourself…or just not to be wrapped up in all of the negativity of your own head.

    I’m wishing you some lightness for the times that seem dark in your 33rd (or is it technically your 34th?) year and if there are times that are just crappy that you they are few, far between and not so awful.

    While it isn’t a party school, I, too, am a student of Ghetto University. Like you, I fight the internal demons that tell me I’m not enough in so many ways but also like you, I keep going and striving for better. I may not do a great job every day but I’m not ready to give up.

    Thank you again for sharing your words. Lady, you are one powerful woman and writer!

  • alexandra

    My comment disappeared, Liz. Here to tell you, I wish I had it as together as you do now, when I was 30. You are light years ahead of the game, girl. And that’s pretty exciting… Here’s to you, getting finer, and more refined by the fire and the depths of introspection — no comfortable thing– each year. So much love to you.

  • Emelie Samuelson

    You are such an inspiration, even in your brokenness.. Actually, ESPECIALLY in your brokenness. I’ve been pretty damn sad lately, but you remind me that this is not rock bottom and that I will be fine. As will you.

    Thank you.

  • Miranda Kaye

    Man, I needed this big time. I had a breakdown the other night about my life. “I do not have to be perfect to be good.” Love that… Thank you!

  • theblahblahblahger

    Happy belated birthday…and happy belated “rebirth” day. It sounds like you’re on your way to a healthy and new place! XO!

  • Rachel Smith

    I’m going to use your last sentence as my mantra – I do not have to be perfect to be good.
    You’re a real badass, even if you don’t always feel like it.

  • Tottums

    Liz, to quote you, “Girl, you is one of my favorite people.” And to quote me [when talking about you], ‘your imperfect writing [ie: peppered with raw emotion and f-bombs] is my favorite’.

  • Miss Britt

    Lady, your “same old same old” has been better than damn near everything I read on the Internet. For real.

  • Elizabeth Barnes


  • Misty

    I love you mad hard. That is all.


  • Corinna

    Take as much time as you need…we will still be here!

  • FearlessFibro

    Some of my best moments with my kiddos and husband come from my massive flaws. I wouldn’t be the mom I am with the awesome relationship I have with my kiddos, if I hadn’t been given the opportunity to make things right when I did something shitty. Also, I would not be on the path I am with my husband to deal with my chronic illness and the affect (effect?!?!) it has had on our marriage, if I wasn’t such an asshole sometimes, and he wasn’t so willing to listen to me, and embrace my crazy, and work with me.

    Sometimes showing yourself the same compassion you freely give to others is the bravest thing you can do, especially when you need it the most.

  • StaciW

    Howdy stranger! Happy belated birthday! Mine is tomorrow. I understand about the past. I just broke with a toxic ex. It really is true that when the past calls, don’t pick up. It has nothing new to say.

  • Stephanie

    Your honesty is breathtaking. I only know you thanks to your blog but I want you to know how much I appreciate your writing and your open heart. Hug Cal more…it will only make her more shiny. There are times when forgiveness and peace can seem elusive but they are always there waiting for us to embrace them. oxox