Home is Where You Can Take Your Pants Off

It’s been a while since the spring of 2017 has come and gone. This was a time in my life I will never forget. A time that I tell the people around me I almost died of unhappiness and despair. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong, simultaneously, like the atom bomb of life’s bullshit had been dropped and exploded creating the sloppiest most destructive mess all over the pillars of my life. High blood pressure, kids failing in school, abusive ex-husband, takers, financial distress, motherhood impossible, toxic intimate relationships, smoking way too much weed, lonely, tired and plagued by constant anger and a feeling of entrapment. I would love to be able to tell you that it was one event that made this mess like the bomb I referenced but I have to admit that it was years of various decisions, events that were out of and within my control, and numerous toxic relationships that landed me there.

One Sunday morning I received a call from a work colleague indicating to me that I needed to head to work because we had a fatality. Now I must explain that at the time I was a practicing occupational health and safety professional. Risk management was my gig. I had invested a little over a decade in that field of work. I was at the top of my game and now in this momentous phone call I was faced with the worst scenario someone in my profession might face: a fatality. At the time I was home with my two young daughters who were 9 and 7 years old. I was also on a one-week doctor prescribed stress leave. I remember looking at the girls and being so stuck inside my own head I could hear my breath only. I knew that if I didn’t go nobody would know how to handle my role and that if I did go my health and my children were going to take yet another shit kicking for this job that had started to serve no purpose in my life other than a paycheck and a daily reminder that I didn’t matter, or so my emotions told me. So naturally in the most self-deprecating fashion I headed off to work.

While I was there I remember only thinking about my kids. Going through the pre-programmed robotic motions of policy and procedure. Checks in the box so to speak. Contact these people, report here, secure scene, document this, all of the bullshit required to cover legal requirements and the asses of anyone that may be accountable in the scenario. Check, check, check! I can recall the moment when my boss arrived and reporting that all had been managed to that point. He said “see you at 7 tomorrow”…

See you at 7? Was he on drugs? I was on a stress leave that I really needed. My workplace was very toxic. A culture that nobody would want to be a part of and when you are on the side of risk management in a harassment culture it is very difficult to stay grounded. An episode of old boys club and mean girls united replayed on a daily basis. Small town realities wrapped up in a box of abusive privilege and power.

I took a breath and said “Boss, I am on leave right now…” he replied “So see you at 7?” and naturally as I had become accustomed to this type of answer at my own expense I replied “See you at 7.”

The rest of the story is not important to the picture I want to illustrate for you here. What you need to understand is I had a terrible habit of living my life for others and never doing what my heart and soul required. I was so good at this that there was evidence sprouting up everywhere around me. Strained relationships, physical and mental health issues in me and my children and most of all a general feeling of misery everywhere I went.

During the investigation I was struggling to hold on to things. My kids needed me as their dad had started to increase his abuse approaching his wedding that summer and to add to things I was unavailable physically and emotionally.

After I completed my role in the investigation, I headed to work the following day. There was a fire in the making at one of our facilities. I couldn’t take knowing that I was going to be tied up in yet another investigation and I still hadn’t had any time to recover from the last incident. I hadn’t taken the original stress leave. I went searching for my boss and he was absent. I asked a colleague where he was, and she indicated that the incident had been very stressful, so he was on vacation. I remember thinking to myself; what a fucking crock of shit. Looking back I came undone in this moment. Filled with feelings of betrayal, disrespect and envy.

I had a medical appointment scheduled for the afternoon. I let Human Resources know I was going to see the doctor and I never returned to work after that day. I guess it really doesn’t matter how it happened, but I think a lot of people have made up stories inside of their head about what it would be like to make a decision that is so bold it would result in a great act of self-love. We have been trained to think this behaviour is selfish. Especially if we are women. There is a culture that believes that working yourself to death is a sign of your value as an employee to your employer. I must advocate for the opposite.

So you want to know wtf I did next? I decided I was going to make a break for our freedom. I, through some miraculous twist of fate, was able to convince my ex-husband to sign off on a move to Montreal. I made arrangements, sold everything I owned, put the house up for sale and ran for the Québecois hills with my babies!

I sought financial support from my father which was both difficult and life changing then I put my future in the hands of mother universe to carry me where I was meant to be. I planned to commit my time to my daughters and make sure that their educational needs, emotional needs and physical development were tended to the way they deserved starting in utero. I chose to strip myself naked and start over in a place where nobody knew me but 3 family members. I chose our freedom. In our family we called it “Operation: End Abuse”. When we drove from Manitoba to Montreal my daughters were worried about missing home. I told them both at the time that “home is where we are”. I didn’t know what else to say. We could not be defined by a job, any object or our belongings any longer. All we had was each other in that moment and a bucket full of optimism with the occasional granule of doubt and fear.

Over the last year and a half I have become a different person. I began to peel back the layers of smoke and mirrors, hiding places, terror, beliefs projected upon me, pain masked in comedy, shame and guilt. I put together my own team of resourceful professionals and gave my daughters the same for their own needs. We lived and continue to live every day declaring our worthiness of happiness and freedom. I gave them my time, pure love, physical and emotional affection. This medicine helped us all grow. We are becoming the versions of ourselves we dreamed to be.

How did we do this? I decided we mattered. I make my decisions for all of us based on what is the most self respecting choice we can make in all scenarios. We hit our health from a holistic, integrative perspective. We dared to be different. We chose fitting out instead of fitting in. We committed to bravery and courage.

We just moved into our own place after spending this time living with family. Although home is still where we are…I have to admit as my daughters will agree “Home is where you can take your pants off.”


Michelle Lauren

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