Earlier this year when I read Drew Barrymore’s memoir “Wildflower” a few things struck me. I’ve liked Drew since E.T. Her signature lisp and flirty, messy hair make me feel like she’s just a regular gal instead of part of Hollywood royalty. And I admired her ability to strike a balance between fear and grace during the anthrax scare when she hosted the first Saturday Night Live after 9/11. Despite her good genes though, she had a rough go of it when she was younger and it affected her well into her adult years.
In her book, she shares the story of how trips to the local laundromat saved her. She was a rich kid who had been spoiled and all but neglected by her mother. She started drinking heavily at a very young age and, after years of battling with her mother, went out on her own as a young teenager, which must have been very scary.
She didn’t know how to do some of the simplest things many people take for granted — like doing her own laundry. Through a lot of trial and error, she eventually learned how to separate clothes, choose the right detergent and fabric softener, and operate the machine settings. These were like small little victories on her path to independence. Slowly, she began to figure things out and along the way she proved that she just might be able to take care of herself. In a way, the laundromat was her salvation.
My “wildflower” era was in the days and years following the adoption placement. And my salvation was Disney. Specifically – moving to Florida to work for the mouse and start a new life.
Living on my own at such a young age was scary. I lived at college, too, for a short time, but that was more of a safe environment than it was exploratory or a picture of self-reliance. No, moving to Florida was perhaps the smartest thing I could have done back then, although I didn’t think of it that way at the time. I lived in the Disney apartments for a while and then eventually found roommates to share an apartment on the outskirts of Orlando.
I remember feeling lonely and alone. Two very different emotions. Both have the power to be transforming or debilitating. First came loneliness: in a strange new city with no one to lean on to make things right when they went wrong. But day by day and little by little I moved from feelings of loneliness to being okay with being alone.
Little things like getting promoted. Earning my own money. Buying my own furniture. Proving myself to be a leader among people that didn’t know me from anybody. Making new friends. Establishing myself in a different city and a different environment. Doing my own laundry. All of these things taught me that I was capable of caring for myself. (Of course, the huge irony now is that my husband does all of our laundry, but THAT IS IRRELEVANT.)
These years were a time of finding my footing. Steadying my own ship. And writing my own chapter on self-reliance. I like to think I gathered some measure of strength in those alone days.