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My House Burned Down In December, I Lost My Job In January — But The Silver Lining Was Worth It

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As far as the Chinese zodiac goes, I’m considered to be a “tiger”.

Interestingly enough, 2022 is also the Year of the Tiger. From the little bit of research that I’ve done, 2022 is supposed to be a time of professional elevation, and though a few bumps in the road may present themselves, it will be my so-called natural tiger tenacity that will get me through it.

From the way this season of my life has been going, the predictors at least got half of that right.

As I prepare to walk into another birth year (shout-out to all of the Geminis out there), I will loudly and emphatically say that these past six months have kicked my butt in every way and direction I can think of — especially professionally and financially. 

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On December 22, 2021, while I was out getting my eyebrows waxed, purchasing some new bras, and minding my business, I get a text from one of my landlords to give him a call.

When I rang him, he said that there had been a fire in my unit.

From the way he was talking, I thought he meant that my stove had caught on fire and they had put it out in time. But when I got there, there were eight fire trucks and myriad firemen cutting into my townhouse roof — later, I would come to learn I lost 95 percent of my possessions.

It was so unbelievable that I didn’t do anything but ask for the fire marshal to confirm what caused it (it was an “accidental electrical fire”; no shocker there because my landlords hadn’t serviced my HVAC in the seven years I had been there).

After he pointed in the HVAC’s general vicinity, I let everyone know that I was going to go get my already scheduled pedicure.

When I came back a couple of hours later, my other landlord (they are a father/son team) laughed at me and made a joke about how much of a mess it all was inside.

When I said, “Yeah, that’s actually not funny, I could’ve died” — a fact the fire marshal confirmed, too — my landlord flippantly responded with, “Yeah…well.”

Well…what? Some people can be real jerks. I said nothing. Instead, I tried to retrieve what wasn’t destroyed by the fire and/or water and/or extinguisher foam and booked a hotel reservation until I could figure something else out.

Holidays aren’t really my thing, so spending Christmas alone in a hotel wasn’t exactly traumatizing. The stress was trying to figure out where the heck I was going to live over the next couple of days because hotel room rates are super-high and looking for a home during the holiday season isn’t exactly ideal.

I wasn’t too stressed because, for the past couple of times when I’ve needed a place, Craigslist has always served me. I found a downstairs apartment that used to be an Airbnb in one of my absolute favorite sides of town. 

A couple of days before New Year’s Day 2022, I moved in what little belongings that I had and exhaled, thinking that I would have some time to recover from the fire as I went through the surreal experience of walking through Walmart to get things like a toothbrush and deodorant.

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Fast forward to a couple of weeks in January and another doozy came.

But first, some background: I’m a freelance writer, marriage life coach, and doula.

The main writing gig that had earned me a decent steady paycheck for about four years had hired a new editor-in-chief. She didn’t exactly “fire” me. She just didn’t take any of my pitches. So now, in addition to a burned-down home, I no longer had a steady gig, either.

Then came the colossal mess that I’m in now.

The apartment that I moved into is owned by an older woman in her 70s who initially seemed nice enough — until I realized that she interviewed me for the place with her crazy dog in the back of the house: A German shepherd breed who came from the shelter with a bag of anxiety meds, barks at literally anything that moves, digs under fences to attack random neighbors and even gave the owner a brain bleed by pulling her down the front stairs of her porch.

Anyone who’s a writer knows that an indoor dog that barks all day long is ridiculous. And when I’m paying $1,500 a month, it’s super-ridiculous.

Now get this. As I handed her my rent check for June, in May, she flippantly says, “We need to talk. I’m not renewing the lease. It’s nothing that you did. My daughter is having a hard time with her partner and…”.

So, on top of the drama with the dog, she basically didn't keep her word which means that now — while I’m still trying to figure out how to financially make ends meet and I’m still grieving losing my place to fire — I also need to find a place in less than 30 days in one of the worst real estate markets in the country.

What in the world, what in the world…what in the world? Who is TikToking me right now because what kind of Year of the Tiger is this?

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Someone recently asked me if I saw a silver lining in any of this at all.

Well, it is kinda crazy that, in the midst of all of this, I purchased a new (used) car. After driving a 1990 Honda Accord for over 20 years, I was able to get something else in February and the way that manifested is pretty wild.

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The writing gig that I mentioned earlier? They were so behind on my invoices that when the new EIC came on board, she wanted to clear out all past dues, and as a direct result, I got a lump check.

Engine-wise, my Honda Bestie was still in pretty good shape but because I had absolutely no clue when I would see a check like that again, I purchased a newer Honda and that has been a bright spot in the midst of all of the mayhem.

Other than that, I had to dig really deep to find that lining because when it comes to tenacity, I’m kinda running on fumes at this point.

However, here are my off-the-top-of-my-head takeaways from my house burning down and losing my job all in two months:

1. I’m learning to only control what I can control.

I’m a control freak in recovery. I’ll be the first one to admit it. It’s mostly because my bloodline is filled with charming yet super-controlling people. So much, in fact, that I had to get some distance from most of them in order to break the habit. And boy, am I glad that I did.

Because if this disaster had happened even three years ago, I probably would’ve had a nervous breakdown — and a big part of the reason would’ve been because I would’ve tried to control areas that are beyond my reach.

I can’t control my landlord. I can’t control the EIC that stopped accepting my pitches. All I can do is take a deep breath, exhale and a) look for a new place and b) search for writing opportunities with people who have a lot more character and integrity. And then process what lessons I should learn from this situation.

For me, right now, a common thread is, “Don’t allow a lack of character in others to uproot the core goodness that’s within you. That’s giving them way more influence and power than they actually deserve.” Words to live by.

2. I’m mastering the art of doing things one day at a time.

Something else that control freaks in recovery tends to realize about themselves is that they’re obsessed with time. The future. Weeks or months in advance, to be exact. And that’s what can trigger so much anxiety and even fear in us because when things aren’t going the way that we want them to, we imagine worse-case scenarios in our heads.

Not only that but we can be so caught up in what could or might happen, three months from now, that we’re not putting our best foot forward in the here and now.

Instead of saying to ourselves, “What do I need to do today in excellence?” or “What should I do as an act of self-care since I’m freaking out right now?”, we succumb to our wild imagination which can sometimes paralyze us. And all that does is set the stage for other potential future problems to creep up.

So now more than ever, I’m learning how to be mindful, to do my best in the moment that I’m in and not to run too far ahead of myself. 

3. I’m breaking generational curses.

Two of my uncles and my father took their lives. All of them were wonderful men. All of them came from abusive parents. All of them struggled with substance abuse. All of them wanted a break from the stress of life because they didn’t know how to properly manage pressure.

And you know what? Because I carry their DNA within me, I actually understand suicide in a way that I think a lot of people don’t (or at least choose not to).

I understand that a lot of people don’t necessarily want to end their life — they simply want a break from the constant struggle and pain that they are going through and they oftentimes don’t see any other option.

I’ll be real with you: the thought has crossed my mind because incessant and relentless pressure is…just that. Yet there has been a “fight” that has risen up in me: My father only had one child, I have chosen to not have children and so the buck stops here — and I’ve got to make sure that our legacy ends strong.

Something also speaks to my spirit and says that seasons are just that and like Dylan McKay’s mom from Beverly Hills, 90210 once said, “Like everything, even despair exhausts itself.”

Something else gets into my head and says, “If you woke up today, you’ve got a purpose to fulfill. Don’t abandon it.” The generational curse of hopelessness is breaking. And while I didn’t exactly volunteer to carry this banner, here I am.

I don’t have a happy ending for you. At least not yet. Because that's how life is sometimes — we don’t push through because we’re sure of the ending. We simply hold on for dear life trusting that either we will get what we want or that everything will turn out for the best. One way or another.

So, as the wildest Year of the Tiger ever continues, I will release even more control, stay even more in the moment, and master how to fill myself with even more hope. Hey, at some point life has to graduate me from this class, right? 

RELATED: My House Went Up In Flames — And So Did My Marriage

Shellie R. Warren’s work has been featured in The Good Men Project, Laila Ali’s lifestyle blog, wedding sites (including Wedding Chat), and the spirituality blog BeliefNet. She also writes for Tawkify, a professional matchmaking website.

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