Roller derby saved my soul.
That’s what everyone said. It was the title of every human interest article. It was scrawled on the underneath of skate tracks, graffiti sprayed onto warehouse lockers. It was the mantra of the derby girls. I wanted so much to feel that. To feel right. To feel I’d found something that had been a part of me all along, waiting to be discovered.
Derby didn’t do that for me. I loved it, despite being terrible at it. I made friends, loved skating, nursed bruises and pushed myself harder than I thought possible. I never, however, felt like it was the missing piece of myself. I never felt like I truly belonged in the community. It was fun, and then it was over. I felt like I would never find “my thing,” because derby was the answer for so many people and yet it was not an answer for me.
Dungeons and Dragons, however — that saved my soul.
I’ve always been curious about the game, but have never had the opportunity to play. I never knew anyone who played. Sometimes I’d see it mentioned on a TV show and think, “I wonder what that’s all about. I’d like to try it someday.”
Come to find out my husband used to play! He said he played in High School.
“Wait. We were dating in school. I don’t remember you playing D&D. I don’t remember anyone at our school playing D&D.”
“Well, yeah. We didn’t tell any girls that we played. And once I got a girlfriend, I stopped.”
“Do you think we can try now?”
“Nah, you need a group of people who play and you need to be able to play for like twenty hours at a time. ”
Then he died. I mean, not immediately following that conversation, but at a later time. And I struggled to find myself.
When you are widowed, especially if you spouse possessed a particularly strong personality, you spend quite a bit of time figuring out what it means to be you. You as an individual. You as a just you, not as half of a couple.
After he died, I though my life was over. Jesus, that’s such a cliche. I remember even saying those words out loud, “My life is over.” All of the things we had done together seemed meaningless without anyone to share the memories with. All of the things we would do together felt pointless and lonely without him. I cleared the DVR of his favorite shows, to find there was nothing left. Nothing left of us. Nothing left of me. I needed to find my own things, my own life.
As part of that effort, my counselor said I had to go out from my home, to find people, to make FRIENDS. I told her many counselors had tried to get me to make friends, and that I would become social around the time pigs started to fly. I knew, however, that she was right. I couldn’t let my kids see me alone all the time. I had to show them that a person can have a life, a real life with activities and friends, even if they do not have a significant other. I had to let them see that I am not pitiful or lonely. I am more than a mom and a widow.
I started joining groups to meet friends. Not like Tinder, but like groups where you meet with other women for coffee and chatting. It just depressed me. I had nothing in common with any of these people except that we all had nowhere else to be on a Tuesday morning. At this point my counselor told me I was being a nincompoop. She said I needed to find an ACTIVITY that I liked, and would meet people doing that activity.
One of the groups I’d tried was a board game group, and it met at a local game cafe. People there had been playing D&D, and it got me thinking about it again.
At some point I will tell the story of my first year foray into TTRPG. It is not easy to break into as a new person, but I understand it is easier now than it ever has been. It has been a little over a year. I have participated in a handful of one-shots, and just started my first full campaigns a couple of months ago.
In that time, I have found myself. I have found a part of me that was missing. It turns out that when I am not a part of a couple, when I am not being a mom, when I am not being an architect, I am a huge Nerdy McNerdface.
This is what I had been looking for. Not all of my individual experiences have been positive. Not every person I have met has been a treat. Overall, however, I feel welcomed as part of this community. I want more. I want to be doing this all of the time, even though it means talking to other people.
Oh, I’m talking to other people. Voluntarily. I’m inviting people INTO MY HOME. (I have the big dining table.) On a regular basis, people come into my home and I engage with them for like four hours. Afterwards I fall into an exhausted heap on my sofa. I am an introvert, and this game drains all of my batteries. I’ve learned to plan hot dogs or frozen dinners on game days, because there is no way I’m cooking or washing dishes. But I LOVE it. I spend my free time watching people play D&D on YouTube or Twitch. I study the rules and the lore. I follow TTRPG based social media feeds. I pore over my characters, tweaking backstories, creating mood boards, drawing portraits.
I’m DRAWING again. In fact, I got out my paints and tried painting a miniature.
You don’t realize how much depression strips from you until you find motivation to do the things you had stopped doing.
I can’t explain what it is the game does for me. I feel a part of a community. I have a creative outlet. I can laugh and meet people with similar senses of humor. I get to study and use sticky notes and binders. Seriously. I have a binder with slots for each of my campaigns and places for all of my character sheets. I feel like Dungeons and Dragons was specifically made for me, to pull me out of my dark places and give me a reason to blink away the tears caused by the light.
D – Half Elf Rogue Swashbuckler
I love my characters, and I love my teammate’s characters. I love the stories and I love feeling like it matters if I get out of bed.
More than once I have been simply thinking of Dungeons & Dragons, and how happy I am that I finally have it in my life, and I have cried with gratitude.
It is a cheesy and predictable thing to say, but it is the depths of truth:
Dungeons and Dragons saved my soul.