moving, orphan problems, personal

How To Run Away From Home

June 29, 2015

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I was a preteen runaway.

How To Run Away From Home

  1. Intro: How To Run Away From Home
  2. Before: Planning & Preparation
  3. After: Resources & What’s Next

A version of this series was originally posted on the Orphan Survival Guide Tumblr.

This week I’ll be posting about how to run away from home and how to find independence after running away or being thrown out of the house.

I was a repeat runaway as a teenager and I had a lot of negative experiences with social services so I had to figure everything out on my own. I was lucky enough to have a good support system and the ability to find and ask for help, but I know that not everyone knows where to start with that.

So this week, I’m sharing resources and advice for managing life on your own.

How I Ran Away From Home (Abridged)

I was 11 years old the first time I ran away from home. The police brought me back by the end of the weekend, and my biological family was assigned a social worker. In the eyes of Florida’s controversy-ridden social services, my home life wasn’t actionable. I spent the next seven years periodically running away–always after a fight, and always leaving a note or a call that I was staying with a friend for a couple of days. By the end of the weekend, I would come “home.”

Things changed when I turned 18. I was babysitting and working at a restaurant. I was in community college and Advanced Placement classes with a 3.8 high school GPA. I had after-school activities. I avoided being home as much as I could. After an early-morning fight, I put an extra pair of work pants in my backpack and went through the usual cool-off routine.

By the end of the weekend, my biological father had changed the locks on the apartment, gotten rid of my things, and sent a seven-page letter to me by way of my biological mother. I was no longer a part of his family. He told the restaurant to fire me.

Now I’m 27. I have more than two pairs of work pants. I have a home, a new family, and a lot of baggage. But I learned how to survive on my own.

Writing How to Run Away From Home

Every so often I get messages from people or see posts on Tumblr about running away from home, being thrown out of the house, or going no-contact with biological parents. Almost always, the writers have a very tenuous idea of what will happen once they walk out the door and cut ties with their families. It’s easy to think that everything that’s wrong in your life will be fixed the second you’re on your own. Some things will fix themselves; others, you have to fix yourself.

In preparing this series, I read a lot of blogs and tutorials on how to run away from home that were obviously written by people who’d never experienced it. The bulk of the advice read like a Lifetime movie.

They focused on hiding money in your underwear, avoiding drugs, and not becoming a prostitute. There was also a strong theme of trying to reconcile with your parents because you don’t really want to run away from home, do you? Would you really be better off on the streets than with your family?

What they didn’t do is give kids resources and support for managing life on their own.

The reality is that millions of kids run away from home every year. Saying, “Just stay with your parents a little longer!” is not going to change that. If they want out, they will get out.

Sometimes they end up on the streets and need advice about hiding money in their underwear. But most don’t. They couch-surf or stay with other people’s families until they’re able to support themselves. Sometimes they end up in the few shelters that have resources for youth. A lot of the time, they go back home because it’s easier to deal with a familiar life, even one that’s abusive, than it is to try and figure out what to do instead.

I lived with three different families during the last half of my high school senior year. After I graduated, I lived on my own–I haven’t even had a roommate since I was 19. I’ve never lived on the streets. I didn’t even know youth shelters existed, and all of my interactions with law enforcement and social services had been so negative I didn’t even consider them an option. I held upwards of five jobs at once so I could pay my bills, but I was never a drug dealer or a prostitute.

I’m not a Lifetime movie. I’m not a statistic, because kids like me weren’t notable enough to become statistics. We were invisible.

Why Do Kids Run Away From Home?

The majority of the comments and questions I get from young adults who want to run away–or fear they’ll be thrown away–heavily imply that they’re living in emotionally abusive or manipulative families. A lot of times, their parents know better than to be physically abusive because bruises get you caught. Emotional abuse gets a pass because it’s seen as not as bad. But even if there are no physical scars, this kind of treatment can have a profound effect on someone’s ability to manage their responsibilities and relationships later in life.

Given the right mindset and resources, a lot of kids are better off if they leave their homes.

Young adults and even adult children are fed up with how they’re treated by family members, and they don’t have a lot of places to turn to because it’s so easy for them to be brushed off as entitled or spoiled. It’s even easier for shelters and counselors to tell them to reconcile or try harder.

Because after all, staying with an abuser is better than being on the street, right?

Assume a Context of Abuse

When young adults say they want to cut ties with their families, they tend to be blamed for the poor relationship with their parents. As I wrote last week, estranged adults are constantly dismissed with comments like, “But are your parents really that bad?” or “You don’t know how lucky you are, and you’re just throwing it all away.”

Or, sometimes even worse than that, people will suggest you try to reconcile with your abuser and justify why they hurt you.

Cutting ties with your parents and going out into the world on your own with no parental support is not an easy decision. It’s not something done out of spite or rebellion. If you run away and stick with it, it’s because you made a better life for yourself. It’s harder to live completely on your own than it is to live rent-free with conditions from your parents.

Kids who run away don’t do it for fun, and they usually don’t just do it once. They’re trying to escape something–oftentimes it’s some form of abuse.

The Reality of Running Away

Being estranged is hard, and the odds are stacked against you.

There are few services for estranged adult children, and a lot of the public support structures assume that you’re either lying or trying to cheat the system–college financial aid and state social services are particularly ineffective with assisting runaways and throwaways, especially once you’re legal. Unless you’re lucky enough to make really generous friends, every cent you spend will come from busting your ass at work.

Escaping an abusive family often instills a whole host of emotional and mental hurdles for the rest of your life. General and social anxiety, depression, PTSD, borderline personality disorder, narcissism, hoarding and OCD… If you’re lucky enough to have insurance or access to a free mental health clinic, prepare for years of uncomfortable and difficult therapy.

Your life will also be lonely. I’m an extrovert, so I like to surround myself with people and becoming a part of their lives–which means hearing about their families, from the petty fights they have with their siblings, to the bills covered by their parents when they’re 30 years old, to the Christmas presents they asked for but didn’t get. It’s easy to become bitter and resentful when your friends complain about things you don’t even have access to.

If someone says they’d rather deal with loneliness, anxiety, financial insecurity, and being dismissed and doubted at every turn, rather than deal with their parents, there is a good reason.

Why I Wrote This Post

I was a repeat runaway. There were times I asked my social worker and school guidance counselor to let me move into foster care centers. When I was 15, I was told by social services that I was almost 18 so I may as well just stick it out at home because it couldn’t be that bad.

Like my biodad, who quit the physical abuse when he got caught and moved on to emotional manipulation, I was stubborn. And smart. I learned quickly how to play the system and and take advantage of loopholes that would get me what I needed.

I didn’t know what the reality of running away and being homeless was like at 11 or even at 15. I was a working class white girl in Orlando. I was a naive idiot. I knew how to navigate public transit to get away, and I knew on some level that I would need a job, but I didn’t learn what all went into forging a life for myself until I had no choice but to figure it out. I was 18, homeless, and I had nothing more than my school backpack and work uniform.

So this series is for all the adults and young adults who are tired of hearing, “Just stay a little longer,” and “But your parents love you,” and “It can’t be that bad.” 

This is for all the adults and young adults who are ready to get out.

How To Run Away From Home

  1. Intro: How To Run Away From Home
  2. Before: Planning & Preparation
  3. After: Resources & What’s Next

A version of this series was originally posted on the Orphan Survival Guide Tumblr.

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