Prior to March 2017, the words going “off grid” reminded me of heavily-armed, bearded men wearing camouflage who move to Idaho and build cabins with solar panels and stockpile barrels of water and ammunition. They seek to be self-sufficient and seem to believe the government is out to get them and take their beloved guns. They always seemed to me to be one step away from tin foil hats and joining a neo-Nazi anti-government militia. Those folks are certainly seeking to go off grid to prevent any government control of them.
You know who else sought to go off grid? Ted Kaczinsky, also known as the Unabomber. Yikes.
I never imagined I would ever seek, as a mother and grandmother, to go off grid.
Admittedly, going off grid for this 45-year-old mother and former teacher and librarian looks quite a bit different from those paranoid militia wannabes.
I’m not the first person to admit my life went off the rails after the 2016 presidential election. My youngest child had left home for college across the country three months before. I felt as though I’d lost my identity as a mother. I missed having her and her brother, not to mention their friends, around frequently. I had focused so long on her college search, her college visits, her college scholarships. Suddenly, it all ended. The family vacations, the homework help, everything.
I was commuting an hour each way to a job in which I felt completely ineffective. After years as a successful librarian, I was working in the corporate sector and feeling daily like I was in over my head. I made wonderful, supportive friends there, but I felt constantly like an idiot.
During the 2016 campaign, my mother decided to support Donald Trump which felt like another punch to the gut. My daughter is gay. She and I both have epilepsy. I felt betrayed that she supported someone who made fun of people with disabilities and called my daughters’ rights to be a wife and a mother a “state’s rights” issue.
Hillary’s campaign gave me a positive focus during this time. Every time I heard her speak, I felt hope. Knowing that we would soon have a female president, and one who I had admired for so long, was an unbelievably bright spot during a time when I was hurting.
When the results of the election happened, a perfect storm occurred in my life.
The empty nest, the feelings of impotence at work, my feelings toward my mother all combined to light a fire in me. I became angry. I’ll admit that. I channeled that into activism. I marched, I contacted my legislators, I met with their aides. I volunteered for a statewide women’s organization and served on their state-level Reproductive Rights committee, writing the calls to action for the entire organization. I was tracking three spreadsheets of legislation, showing the status of each bill.
I spoke out vehemently online, making my husband uncomfortable to the point that he removed Facebook from his phone.
Between my vocal activism, my anger, and other personal issues, our marriage ended. The marriage ended in an explosion of pain and anger for which I take responsibility for my part. When you believe in a cause, your activism and voice come at a cost to yourself and to those you love. I know that now.
My 24-year-old son and his wife were expecting their first child, my first grandchild. I was so torn, but I could not stay where I was.
I had no family in Houston beyond my son, who was under enough pressure to take care of his young family. I had to get away. I felt completely alone. I won’t lie; I was even drinking heavily attempting to cope.
I made the decision. I left the job. I left the husband. I walked away from everything I knew and moved four hours away.
My son asked me to stay in Houston, but I didn’t know how I could stay. I knew I had to leave my job; my marriage was ending. I did not want to put on him the added responsibility of taking care of his mother.
When this perfect storm hit, I had to go off grid.
I had to disconnect from everything and everyone.
I reached out to the part of my family I knew would not judge, but would come to my aid, helping me escape. I was not raised by my father. I was adopted by my stepfather, but I reconnected with my birth father online years later. My story with my half-brother was similar. We did not know each other well growing up, but we reconnected online. He came to my son’s wedding when I needed him and to my house at Christmas. When I got to know him, I discovered a connection I did not realize I was missing. I found that connection with both of them.
I called my father the night my marriage imploded. My brother and my father came to Houston that night from four hours away to pick me up. No questions asked.
I went off grid in my father’s house. Off grid, for me, had a different definition.
I’ve always prided myself on keeping an almost empty email inbox. I am a librarian by training. I file every email into a folder or I delete it. Any text message that comes in, I consider an emergency and answer as quickly as possible.
Instead, I traveled four hours to my father’s house to lick my wounds. He lives on the same 136 acres my grandmother did, a place I adored visiting when I was growing up. Dad and I watched TV and talked for hours. I ignored the emails and text messages piling up on my phone. I just did not want to think outside of myself for just a moment.
I was off the grid. Friends frantically texted me and sent me messages on Facebook. I forced myself to remain blissfully ignorant. I needed that time to try to reinvent my life, to try to decide what I wanted. I answered the essential messages: my kids, my soon-to-be ex-husband. I ignored practically everyone and everything else. I made sure my bills were paid and then retreated off the grid.
I can honestly say those few weeks living with my dad were some of the most stress-free of my life. I took care of my responsibilities: my bills, my kids. Other than that, I didn’t have a connection to anyone or anything. I regret the pain my disconnection and my traveling four hours away likely caused my friends, but the feeling of being off the treadmill of life was freeing for someone who had supported and worried about others since she was 18-years-old.
Going off the grid doesn’t have to mean moving to Montana and stockpiling semi-automatic weapons. Sometimes it means retreating to a place where you can heal.
After being at my father’s house for two weeks, I wrote these words:
“I came home to drown,
Knowing nowhere else to go.
Instead, my people grasped me, held me,
‘We recognize who and what you are. You belong.’
I came home to drown, but I found myself rooted to the ground.”
Going off the grid for a time gave me those roots.