Happy New Year in February

veIt’s sinful.  I’ve been absent from this space for too long.  I’m sorry.

A lot happened.  Namely I started grad school.  My head is spinning.  I don’t remember feeling quite this… under water when I was in college, but, then again, I wasn’t a single parent when I was in undergrad.  I didn’t own a house either.  An old house.  Life is different when you’re adulting all the time.

A weird reality has happened to me in the meantime.  A reality I only fantasized about when I was married.

My ex-husband was completely wrong about me.  For those of you leaving bad relationships, please hear that.  I don’t know what it is about humans, but we have such a special capacity to level each other with our words razing self-esteem and self-image as we go.  My ex said some horrible things to me when we were together, and his words were aimed directly at my sense of self.  He hit the bullseye every time, too.  What’s funny to me is that the physical abuse has been far easier to overcome.  The psychological, verbal, and emotional abuse, however, have been lasting.  We each have to find our healing path.  I did not anticipate what mine would be.  In fact, I thought that it was an impossibility, in some ways, to fully heal sexually speaking.  I felt so unwanted, tainted, defective, and ugly after the years with my ex that I couldn’t imagine actually meeting a man much less being wanted by one.  But then…

I met someone.  

And, it was weird for me.  Why? Well, when I first met him I was quite put off because he was, well, so attractive.  Truly.  I felt squirrelly around him.  He made me feel skittish and strange.  I felt like I was this inexperienced 15 year-old who knew nothing about anything.  I had never had an orgasm.  I had spent the last two and half years begging my husband for sex only to be turned down repeatedly.  He told me that I was broken.  I was the problem.  I was a sexual minefield.  I felt invisible and worthless.  My biggest hope at the time was to come home and feel safe.  I thought I would be alone for the rest of my life, but being alone seemed good.  It was better than what I had.

So, there I was talking to this, quite frankly, hot guy with a lot of life experience and sexual charisma who seemed to like me.  He complimented me all the time and made it quite plain that he was very attracted to me.  I just sat there, my mouth hanging open, feeling sort of like this on the inside…

 

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Now, it’s not like I haven’t done anything in my life.  I’ve traveled the world with the State Department.  I’ve attended a foreign university and lived in another country.  Hell, I put myself through a year of college working as a nude model for the local universities’ studio art classes.  I’ve got stories.  I’ve got life experience, but my self-perception does not match, and I’ve asked other people about this: “Do you still feel socially awkward? Like you’re sort of stuck in a John Hughes film?”  More often than not, the answer has been yes.  Put me at a table with a group of drunk and horny Greek sailors, and I’ll ask the captain what modern-day fishing techniques he employs vis-à-vis the traditional fishing modalities of his countrymen.  Flirting and drinking don’t even come to mind.  I have often wished to be a bit more vixen and less Kenneth Parnell…

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Alas, I am not.  I viewed myself as the awkward, anorgasmic woman who couldn’t flirt.  That was my starting point.  Well, your starting point does not have to be your ending point or even your midpoint.  Oh, I’m still me, but nothing is the same now because that gorgeous, brilliant man became my friend.  And then…he beckoned me to think outside of the box a little bit.  Maybe I wasn’t anorgasmic.  Maybe there was absolutely nothing wrong with me.  Maybe I had been with a bad partner.  Then he said, “Perhaps you simply need to feel loved and accepted to come.  That’s not abnormal.”

Was it that simple? I needed to feel loved and accepted by my partner to have an orgasm? Twenty years of marriage and I hadn’t once felt loved or accepted? Was that true? I had to think about it.  I might have felt loved sometimes, but I never felt accepted.  I always felt faulty or deficient.  I could never relax.  Ever.  I could never really get turned on.  I didn’t even know what feeling truly turned on felt like.  I read erotica so I knew what it felt like in terms of description.  I could imagine it.  Experientially? Well, it had been a long time.

I was starting to understand attraction and arousal pretty quickly after meeting my new friend.  I felt like a hot, wet mess every time I talked to him.  What started out as friendship became a crush.  Then, love happened.  And, I have to say that when love and lust mix, it is one potent cocktail.

I’ve thought about where to take this blog.  I have a lot of content I could post.  I am no longer anorgasmic.  In fact, much to my surprise, I am polyorgasmic.  I like to think that it’s recompense.  I’m making up for lost time.  And then, of course, there was that…ahem…squirting incident.  Good Lord!

I’ve had a lot of time to think about it.  I write, in part, to process, but I also want to write to benefit others.  Sex is vitally important to health and well-being as well as to the quality of relationships.  I know this first hand.  My most popular posts are about anorgasmia and cervical orgasms.  People want to have better sex, better orgasms, or just orgasms.  Period.  I can write all about that because I have lived in the sexual desert, and I am now in the Promised Land.

Oh, don’t misunderstand, I was true to form.  For those of you who know me from my previous blog, I have been just as awkward and goofy in the learning process as you might imagine.  My first time having sex after seventeen years of bad sex and almost three years of almost no sex mixed with sexual violence? Uh…to say that I did not know what to expect is a colossal understatement.  I hadn’t even kissed another man since my 20s! My very first orgasm? I didn’t know what was happening to me.  Honestly, I felt like I was falling off the bed.  I started reaching for the air thinking that there was a handle or something to grab.  My boyfriend asked me if I was conducting an orchestra.  For real.  Getting naked for the first time? This may as well have been my internal monologue…

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It has, however, been a glorious and wonderful journey, and I am beyond gratified not so much sexually but emotionally.  I have an extraordinary man in my life, and I’m building a life that I thought was unavailable to me.  I am blown away by it every time I stand back and take in the view.

I had always hoped that our past experiences did not have to limit our present trajectories and, therefore, our future possibilities.  That is what I held onto in my darkest hours.  I can now say for certain that this is true.

So, keep climbing.

Hands on the Wheel

Did you know that people can see what you are doing while you are driving your car? It’s true! They can!

Okay, I know this because I’ve seen some weird stuff go down on the road.  I once saw a man wearing no pants while eating a watermelon.  I saw a woman pick her nose with such dedication that the famed Southern oil well firefighter Red Adair could learn a thing or two about commitment.  I even saw a man reading the newspaper, drinking coffee and eating a donut while driving.  Clearly, people believe that they are unseen once they step into their vehicles.

I, too, am guilty of this delusional thinking.

My boyfriend and I were in a parking lot.  I don’t know what turned the topic to breasts.  More specifically nipples.  He was teasing me about something related to touching myself.  Touching my breasts.  I rolled my eyes and said something very sarcastic along the lines of…

“Oh yeah, I’m just sitting around the house touching my breasts and twisting my nipples, moaning and carrying on while I tune in to Tokyo…Come in, Tokyo, Come in! Anyone? Anyone?”

As I was busy being a complete smart ass I was actually…ahem…acting out what I was saying while throwing my head back.  It was all for effect, of course, but it did look rather titillating (pun!) were you not in the car listening to my sarcasm.

My boyfriend was quick to comment.

“Uh…wow.”

“What? I am not sitting around the house doing that all day! Good grief!”

Starting the car, I prepared to drive, and that was the moment when he said, “See that older gentleman? He was watching you the entire time,” and then he started laughing.

“What older gentleman? Where?!”

He pointed.  It was then that I saw a man slowly walking by my car.  He was furtively glancing into my car in a not so subtle sideways fashion.

“Wait, are you telling me that he saw me do all that? I was kidding!”

My boyfriend was too busy laughing to answer.  He nodded instead.

“Tune in Tokyo, baby.  Tune in Tokyo…”

It was a good reminder.  People do see you! I will be keeping my hands on the wheel.  10 and 2 positions from here on out.

For the Win

How did lunch go with my ex? The scorpion as I fondly called him?

It actually was a piece of cake! Sting-free.

I was relaxed, and he wasn’t passive aggressive.  He used me as a sounding board for work issues, and I gave input.  This was a dynamic in our relationship.  He hugged me.  That was awkward.  It was friendly.

Not once, however, did I think to myself, “Oh, maybe I was wrong.  Maybe he’s a nice guy after all.”  And, that might be a temptation for some people who are lunching with an ex particularly if it goes well.  I was looking for flags.  Clues into pathology.  Lo, I saw one.

He was discussing his mother, the queen of personality disordered people.  He mentioned speaking to her a few times, and then he said, “It’s very difficult to have a relationship with a person like her.  She won’t even acknowledge that she did anything.  She pretends that nothing ever happened.  What do I even do with that?”

What I wanted to say was, “Would you like a spoonful of sugar to go with a taste of your own medicine, honey?” What amazing disconnection from the reality of things! There was insight here–real insight–and yet, at the same time, no insight at all.  It was quite something to behold.  He was experiencing with his own mother what I was experiencing with him.  So, I chose to just validate his experience and move on.  I’m not fighting for a relationship anymore.

The good news? It didn’t hurt my feelings.  I saw it for what it was, and it wasn’t at all about me.  A year ago, I would have been devastated by this display of poor development and self-centeredness.  That’s a good sign.  Healing is happening.

Lady J: 1  Scorpion: 0

 

 

 

Dining with a Scorpion

The last time I had lunch with my ex-husband, I walked away feeling sucker punched.

I thought I would write a pre-lunch post this time. The obvious question on the table is: “Why have lunch with your ex?”

I was hurtin’ after the last one.  It would be a piece of cake had we parted for the standard “irreconcilable differences”.  In his mind, that is exactly why we are divorcing.  I recall him standing in the kitchen frying up pork sausages and saying, “We just cannot be married.  We really do have irreconcilable differences.  We actually cannot reconcile our differences! Huh.”  And then he looked thoughtful.

I am not wont to vilify anyone.  I am far more interested in truth.  What is truthful here? We have competing narratives.  From what I have learned after living with someone for twenty years is that you do not have to reconcile your differences.  Differentiation is key to a successful relationship.  You must hold onto yourself and those things that make you who you are.  What you must reconcile is the common narrative that describes the relationship.  When that narrative becomes wildly different within the coupling and even family, you have fertile soil for conflict, communication problems, and then abuse down the line.

What do I mean?

Here is an example:

I suffered a hip injury a few years ago that resulted in a surgical correction–a full labral repair.  My ex caused the injury.  Orthopedic injuries take time to diagnose what with diagnostic testing, appointment scheduling, etc.  It took four months to properly diagnose and another few weeks for the surgery to be scheduled.  Consequently, I limped for four months; it was very painful.  By the time of the surgery, I was barely able to walk.  The physical rehabilitation required after this surgery was long and arduous–four months of weekly PT visits and at-home exercises.  It took essentially three months to learn to walk again.

Now, my ex looked mystified.  How did I sustain this injury? I looked mystified that he even asked the question.  “You did this to me,” I said bluntly.  He vehemently denied it, and he still denies it.  His response? “How could you think that I would do something like that to you?” Well, I’m not making false accusations here.  I’m not attacking his character.  This is merely cause and effect.  He is the one jumping from cause and effect to questions of character and culpability.  He is the one saying, “What kind of man would I be to harm you so severely?” I never once asked that kind of question.  I merely laid out the physical evidence.  “You injured my hip.  Now I need surgery and PT.”  That’s it.  Frankly, the question of character is implicit in the resultant injury, and his denial of it proves that.

This is the competing narrative problem.  He finds the logical next steps from cause and effect to morality in the formation of his own narrative so anathema that he outright rejects what is clearly true, and he then redacts and rewrites the entire narrative account.  He, therefore, never did that.  I just woke up one morning with a torn labrum.  I must have hurt myself somehow.  It is now my fault, and I need to take better care of myself.  I am now the object of blame, and he is doing me a favor by driving me to PT appointments.

This is one of the most common machinations behind gaslighting and emotional abuse.  It originates in the competing narrative.

So what then, you might ask.  Why have lunch with a person who does this? Good question.  Doesn’t having lunch, a very normal activity, possibly normalize their narrative, too? Ouch! That’s a good point.  It does.  Am I just a glutton for further punishment and crazymaking? No, I’m not.  What am I doing then?

My mother went through two divorces, and I remember them both albeit I was quite young for the first.  My mother’s divorce from my father was vitriolic and venomous.  Malicious.  I was a pawn.  Her second divorce was much better.  Amicable.  One reason that her second divorce was so much, well, friendlier was that there was friendly communication.  Both she and my stepfather managed to sit down and discuss how things should go, and they stuck to that.  They put their differences aside and proceeded to the finish line with dignity and respect.  To this day, my mother still loathes my father, but my mother cried when she heard that my stepfather passed away.  She left that marriage free and clear.

Someone has to go first in terms of modeling appropriate behavior in terms of clear communication, respect, and good character, and, as unjust as this might be, it’s never going to be the abusive partner particularly the abusive ex-partner who denies that abuse ever happened.  Alas, we have children together, and there are details to discuss.

I don’t like it.  I am fully prepared to see him play the victim and act the part of the martyr, but, truthfully, he did that for years.  None of this is new behavior.  It just looks that much more offensive now that I’m out of the relationship.  Also, he’s a charming narcissist at times.  The key for me is to remember that I’m never safe.  Never get comfortable.  Always be prepared to be skewered by an off-hand remark.  He is like a scorpion in that way.  As soon as he has you feeling comfortable in front of him, his resting pinchers in full view, he’ll sting you on your back; and, you won’t see it coming.

This is my reality.  This is how I’ve tried to navigate divorcing–managing the competing narratives and sticking to the narrative that I believe to be truthful while preparing to absorb the inequities that will no doubt come my way.  How do you ground yourself after a sting to the back? How do you suck out the venom?

A really good therapist and friends.  And a solid vision for your future.

In T-2 hours I dine with the scorpion.  I’m hoping to dodge and parry with grace and ease this time.  He keeps picking surf and turf restaurants.

He doesn’t know I’m a vegetarian.  I will never smell another pork sausage in my house again.

 

A Poem

She Let Go

She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.

She let go of the fear.  She let go of the judgments.  She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head.  She let go of the committee of indecision within her.  She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons. Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.

She didn’t ask anyone for advice. She didn’t read a book on how to let go.  She didn’t search the scriptures. She just let go.  She let go of all of the memories that held her back.  She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward.  She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.

She didn’t promise to let go. She didn’t journal about it. She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer. She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper. She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope. She just let go.

She didn’t analyze whether she should let go. She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter. She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment. She didn’t call the prayer line. She didn’t utter one word. She just let go.

No one was around when it happened. There was no applause or congratulations. No one thanked her or praised her. No one noticed a thing. Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.

There was no effort. There was no struggle. It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad. It was what it was, and it is just that.

In the space of letting go, she let it all be. A small smile came over her face. A light breeze blew through her. And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.

– Reverend Safire Rose

Flashbacks and Recovery

I want to write about this because it’s very germane to recovering from domestic violence.  Yeah, it’s personal, but, hell, you should have read my other blog.

I see a therapist.  I started seeing him six months before my ex-husband and I agreed to end our marriage.  He has been an invaluable part of my recovery process.  Tuesdays are my therapy day.  I go every week.  Yesterday, we discussed knowing what you want, and I was given homework–start a list of the things I want in terms of life and even dreams.

This little assignment is about as appealing to me as writing an acrostic using my name.  I did not want to do it even though I tell other people to do this frequently, but I know how important this is in terms of healing.  I’ve done this exercise before.

I left his office and immediately started feeling agitated.  The anxiety increased all day until I was panicking by evening.  I could not figure out what was wrong with me.  Had I left the gas on? I checked in with everyone I knew making sure they were okay.  I checked the news.  No unusual catastrophes.  Then I heard my therapist’s words echo in my mind, “Write down what you want.”

I couldn’t breathe.

And that’s when it happened.  The flashback.

In my experience, flashbacks don’t come out of nowhere.  They have what I would describe as a “physiological aura”.  That aura, if you will, alerts you to the pending seizure–the flashback.  Some auras come on quickly and are short in duration while some auras are long, slow burners, and you just don’t know why you feel so out of sorts.

For me, flashbacks are informative.  There is something in each one that my brain is trying to tell me.  It’s using the flashback as the means to do it.  In my case, my brain was trying to heal itself.

After my flashback, I knew exactly why I didn’t want to do my therapy exercise.  My brain had brought forth my 40th birthday.  In place of a traditional gift, I had asked my ex-husband for a sensual massage and sex.  That’s what I wanted! Instead, I got non-consensual sex.  The part of the flashback that replayed in my mind the most was a fleeting moment when my face was pressed into a pillow.  I was crying, and I had thought to myself, “I will never ask for anything again.”

And, I didn’t really.  I was extinguished.

Applying that information to the present–to ponder asking for anything, I have to go back and resolve what happened in my bedroom that night.  To my brain, asking for something means paying a high price.  This is the work of the therapeutic process.  These are the beliefs that undermine us and underlie so many of our fears.  They take hold during the scenes of domestic abuse that we experience, and then they must be found and rooted out so that we can recover.  You can’t rebuild a good life with these lies in place.

How do you do it? Well, I gave myself the space last night to engage in deep crying once I put two and two together.  I put emotional content back into the memory.  I’ll be honest, it sucked.  The pain will wring you out, but it’s so necessary.  During deep crying, the brain is healing itself.  Something is happening on a neurological level.

I made it through last night’s process.  While I feel fragile, I feel better.  The agitation is gone.  Healing from trauma, replacing its leftover lies with truth, and gaining momentum to move forward are all within reach.  Life gets better.

Stride of Pride

We all have our families.  We all have to deal with family shit.  That’s life.  That being said, I have a very weird family.  Much of my father’s extended family died in the Holocaust.  No one is left, and my father is not in my life.  He was very abusive.  He is not a safe man.  You wouldn’t even want him around your pets.

My mother’s family is altogether different.  What can I say about them?

  1.  I don’t want to speak ill of them.  They are well-meaning people.
  2. They view life differently than I do.  That’s okay.  Everyone has their own worldview.
  3. They are approaching neo-conservative fundamentalism in their worldview, and they are very open about this particular worldview using Christianese phrases with great frequency and ease.  It can be disconcerting if you are not a part of their particular social strata or culture, but, due to their cultural myopia, there is an assumption that you already are.
  4. They namedrop frequently as they are well-known in certain evangelical circles.  For example, they have attended the Dove Awards (Christian music equivalent to the Grammy Awards).  They have golfed with certain Who’s-Whos of Christian popular culture.  It’s all lost on me because I don’t care about fame.

So, what is this all about?

I have been separated for a little over a year now, and I have actually succeeded in keeping my pending divorce a relative secret! Can you believe that? No one in my family knew! Only a handful of people were even aware of my situation complete with domestic violence and surgical interventions.  As far as anyone in my family knew, I was A-OK.  Just livin’ life over here with my odd kids.

Until today.

I knew that my time in this sheltered oasis would come to an end, but I didn’t think it would happen over Facebook!

My second cousin messaged me with the annual spiel: “We miss you! Let’s do lunch.  We just love you so much.”  I have avoided The Lunch for three years.  It’s always the same thing anyway.  Judgmental glances.  Assessments.  I show up looking nice and respectable.  Suitable.  In the past, I lied my ass off: “Oh yes, we’re great.  Everything is great! Oh…how did I hurt myself? Oh…I don’t remember.  I think I tripped and fell…the surgery is scheduled for…oh let me check my calendar.  It’s fine.  Easy recovery.”  LIES! How do you overcome the profound shame and actually tell the truth? “Oh my husband? The guy you keep telling me is such a blessing to my daughters and me? Oh he’s most likely gay and hates me.  He’s the reason I’m having surgery.  He brandished a weapon two weeks ago and scared the hell out of me.”

Well, thank God, I don’t live like that anymore, but coming out of the Domestic Violence closet is harder than I thought; and that’s what I did tonight.

I told my cousin that I would be happy to meet her for The Lunch, but I didn’t want to blindside her–I was, in fact, getting a divorce.  I had been separated for over a year.  She followed the expected script.  She was sorry to hear it, and then came the question:

“What happened?”

Now there is THE question.  Do I tell the truth? I thought about it as I stared at my laptop.  This was my chance to correct the narrative.  What was going to go out there into the ether?  I’ve not told anyone outside of my therapist and a handful of people what really happened.  I chose two words.

“Domestic violence.”

I came out from under my rock, and, to be honest, I don’t like it.  I felt very protected under my rock.  I lived here in my little house with the girls.  My few distant relatives checked in with me once a year.  I just waved and smiled like a good Southern girl.  Now? Everyone will want to know what happened and why I didn’t say anything sooner.

Why indeed…

Well, I can only speak for myself, but I think that love might mean something different to me than it does to other people.  When a cousin says things like, “We just love you so much,” but keeps their distance during multiple family crises, that does mean something.  Their version of love might be a more convenient sort of love.  A send-Christmas-cards-and-have-lunch-once-a-year kind of love, and there is a place for that sort of fond affection in the realm of relationships.  Let’s not pretend, however, that it’s anything more than what it is.  Fond affection and nostalgia are not the get-your-hands-dirty-and-go-to-the-mat kind of love.  You don’t want to projectile vomit in front of fond affection.  You don’t want to cry your heart out until you choke out of grief and profound fear in front of fond affection.  You don’t want to laugh until snot is running down your face in front of fond affection.  You don’t want to admit that your ex-husband nearly broke your hip during a sexual assault in front of…fond affection.

Why?

Because the people who feel that affection for you will never return the favor.  There will never be reciprocity or intimacy in that context.  They will know your deeply personal humiliation, the reasons you stayed hidden under your healing rock, but they will never show you all the deep, dark places in which they themselves have hidden.  It becomes an experience of shame.  Of otherness in which you feel ontologically alone and epistemologically alienated.  As if no one around you could ever truly understand your experiences.  You have that unique experience of being invited but never included.

And, I have found that being seen and truly understood for who you are and where you’ve been is the doorway to healing for even life’s most extreme experiences be it abandonment, neglect, torture, sexual trauma, physical abuse, and even the slow disengagement and disappearance of a once true and trusted companion.

This is why talking about the realities of domestic violence is so damn hard.  People often look at you with such shock on their faces.  They look traumatized hearing about your trauma.  And, as I expected, when I told my cousin not to share my personal information, she replied, “Well, can’t I tell my husband? I’m very upset hearing about this.”

Of course.  Because her distress trumps my need for privacy.

This is why I only have lunch with her once every three years.  It gives new meaning to the phrase Walk of Shame, doesn’t it?

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This year?! I am SO not doing the Walk of Shame.  I left my abusive ex-husband.  I met an extraordinary human being and experienced incredible profundities .  I started having orgasms (MIND-BLOWING orgasms!).  I committed to the therapeutic process, and my health is improving! So, this year, when I sit down to that Cousins’ Lunch, I’m doin’ this instead:

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And I’ll even walk into the restaurant like this!

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Don’t believe me? Ask anyone who knows me.  I’ll do it!

Stride with pride, y’all.  It’s time, don’t you think?

Perspective

It’s funny how life imitates art.  I wrote a blog post about what life is like a year after leaving a domestically abusive marriage particularly when you still have to deal with an abusive ex-partner, and then I meet an acquaintance for lunch who declares to me, “I want to leave him.”

Out of the blue.

And then her eyes glassed over with tears.

Wanting to avoid projecting my own issues on to her, I locked it down.  I put on my empathy hat and just listened.

She was very brave.  She shared.  She let her emotions show.

What was so surreal to me was that we were sitting in the exact same booth in the exact same restaurant that I publicly lost my shit in.  I tend to keep my shit locked down in a vault.  I rarely lose it privately much less in public.  Well, I’ve lost my shit more often in the privacy of my bedroom this year than I think I ever have in my entire life, but this hasn’t been your average year.

Fifteen months ago, I sat with Elizabeth and sobbed while our server pretended that he didn’t notice me practically wailing in the restaurant.  He quietly insinuated his arm across the table and refilled our coffees and disappeared.  I choked out the words, “I need to leave.  I need to get out.  And, I don’t know how.”  I knew that if I stayed in that marriage, it would kill me.  My health was declining quickly in large part due to the extreme stress of coping with the abuse.  Pretending that everything is fine when nothing is fine will harm you.  No one is meant to live out that kind of duplicity.

So, there I was, in the same booth in the same restaurant, hearing the same words, except I was on the other side this time.  It wasn’t me crying.  I wasn’t the trapped one.

This was a startling moment for me.

“Oh my god,” I thought, “I’m not in her spot anymore! I really did it! I’m not being actively abused.  I’m not who I used to be.”

I did what I thought was an impossibility 15 months ago! And, observing that in real time recalibrated my perception of my own present situation.  Yes, it is painful now because all the trauma and false beliefs have to be addressed, and it feels like being vivisected sometimes.  Doing a thorough work to heal is not for the faint of heart.  Acting opposite, increasing distress tolerance, learning to trust again when it feels so dangerous, and rebuilding…all of these acts are important and necessary.  And, exhausting.  Relentless pursuit of wholeness takes endurance.

But, I have to step back and observe that what seemed impossible for me fifteen months ago is now a bygone conclusion.  It’s done.  In the past.  So, what feels so hard today will one day fade into memory, too, and I’ll look back and say, “Yeah, I did that.”

In terms of reframing, this is one way to reframe circumstances and situations that feel difficult.  It also gives us permission to give ourselves credit.  Look how far we’ve come.  Look what we’ve already accomplished.  If we were capable of doing that, then what else might we be capable of doing?

It’s amazing what a change in perspective will do for you.

Just Keep Going

It’s been a bit since I posted.  I have a good reason.  All the girls were off school for the summer.  Doireann was home from college.  This pretty much defines my summer:

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I also took all four girls on a trip out West that involved getting on a plane.  This really was like herding cats.  While most of them have flown before, none of them recall it as they were very young.  It was the TSA experience that I dreaded the most largely because my youngest daughter has an autism spectrum disorder, and I didn’t know how she was going to handle the special charms of the TSA agents.  As it turns out, it all worked out quite well in the end.  Doireann, my 19 year-old, The Executive of the family took the bull by the horns, so to speak, and led us all through the lines while I headed up the rear.  She was so effective in her leadership style that one of the TSA agents told me this:

“Don’t worry, miss.  Your mom is up there waiting for you with your sisters.”

My…mom?! The TSA agent thought that Doireann was my mother.  Needless to say, that was the joke of the summer.

Alas, the carefree fun of summer always ends with the creep of pending responsibility, and one of those responsibilities for me was lunch with my ex-husband.  He texted me while I was sitting in an airport, and, as soon as I saw his name appear on my phone, I panicked.  I had a massive fight-or-flight response.

I have never understood why mothers in old movies always told their sons, “Be sure to wear clean underwear!” What is that all about? In the moment I saw my ex’s name on my phone, it all came together.  It was like I almost heard Mrs. Cunningham’s voice of “Happy Days” echo in my head: “Be sure to bring clean underwear, Jules!” A strange sensation rocketed through my body from my throat to the depths of my bowels.  It actually felt like I was going to…er…how do I say it politely? Let’s just say that I almost needed clean underwear right there in the airport! Goddamn! Fortunately, I did not, but that’s the moment I understood the power of this response.

I told my therapist about it, and he said, “Oh, animals poop themselves when they are scared.  That’s a very common fight-or-flight response in the wild.”

Well, I don’t like it, but it gave me some insight into how I feel about my ex.  I’m scared of him.  Still!  And, he was texting me asking to meet for lunch.  Great.  He is the father of my children.  We are divorcing.  I needed to do my part and communicate and blah blah blah.  I know how the game is played.  It doesn’t mean I feel awesome about any of it.

But, here is the most basic truth, and this is what I need to say if only for me.  I wasn’t meeting my ex-husband for lunch.  I was meeting my rapist for lunch, and that’s why my first reaction to his text was so strong.

So, I did it.

It went fine.  He was his charismatic, charming self.  I was very familiar with that persona.  We left the restaurant and stood on the curb to say our polite good-byes, and that’s when he said it: “This went well.  It’s been a year now.  I’ve finally achieved some equilibrium.  I think it’s appropriate to open the lines of communication now.”

And that was the moment I felt the pang.  I saw the red flag.  I knew something was off.  What he said hit me funny.  He’s achieved some equilibrium?  That statement ran through my head for hours.  He achieved equilibrium.  Something was wrong with what he said, but I didn’t know what it was.

I got home, and I started crying.  And I couldn’t stop.  For two days.  I tried to talk about it, but that went nowhere.  I couldn’t verbalize or explain what was really wrong.  I talked to my therapist, and I didn’t mention the crying.  I think I felt shame.  I tried to play it off like it was all cool and normal.  Just a minor annoyance.  Like swatting at a fly.  I didn’t even connect the crying to my ex and our lunch.  All the while, that one sentence played through my head like a bad earworm.

“I’ve finally achieved some equilibrium.”

Finally, yesterday, I did, and I’m writing about it here because I’m not the only person who has left an abusive relationship.  It is extraordinarily difficult to walk away from an abusive relationship.  I’ll just point out the obvious.  Not because you’re a sad figure who loves your abusive partner.  It’s hard because you’re terrified.  Sometimes you have zero options.  You are faced with being repeatedly abused or potentially homeless while taking care of children.  The odds are often seemingly insurmountable.  The potential for retaliation is very high.  So, I can now say that I did the hard part.  I got out, and I can’t discount that.  That feels like a miracle.

This next part? This is also the hard part.  I didn’t think it would be, but it is almost just as difficult but differently.  It’s hard because of the emotional fallout.  It’s sort of like surviving a nuclear blast.  The worst feels like it’s over, and everyone is glad to have survived.  Now, the emotional radiation sickness settles in, and it’s time to face the pain and long healing process.

I see a bit more clearly now that being in his presence triggered me.  I overestimated myself, and I totally underestimated him.  I forgot who I was dealing with and my own state of wholeness.  My limbic system, however, had not.  Some part of me knew better.  I am not judging myself.  It simply is what it is.

When he said that he had finally achieved equilibrium he was playing the victim.  He was reversing our roles, and this was exactly what he did in our marriage.  I was never the abuser in the relationship.  He was, but that does not fit into his self-assessment or personal narrative.  This was the tactic he used particularly during the last year of our marriage. Someone had to be the victim, and someone had to be the perpetrator.  This is actually very high-level perceptual manipulation known as ‘gaslighting’.  His remark elucidated that tactic once again.  He had put me in the perpetrator role again, and he was the victim.

So, there he was, sitting across from me, acting as if he was trying so hard because he had been victimized by me!  It was an epic mindfuck, and this is how it works within the cycle of domestic violence.  I would have had an easier time had I anticipated this prior to our lunch.  In fact, I should have anticipated this, but I did not.  As usual.  Consequently, it was triggering and revictimizing.

Some might ask me then, “Why meet him?” That’s legitimate.  Well, we do need to communicate, right?  Why not communicate through email and text? That’s a very legitimate question, too.  For me, I get a better read on him in person, and I have two daughters who still see him.  There is a lot I can learn about a person from an in-person meeting in terms of body language, microexpressions, deception leakage, tone of voice, eye contact or lack thereof, and posture.  Plus, if I refuse to see him, then that is modeled to my daughters who do want to see him, and an accusation of parental alienation could be leveled at me.  I have to model appropriate behavior at all times to avoid unfair accusations.  I am taking the high road as I have always done.  Sometimes I really hate the high road.

Recovering from domestic abuse is a bitch.  I still haven’t achieved equilibrium.  I still have one helluva startle response.  I still have flashbacks from time to time.  I still have a sense of a foreshortened future in terms of my present life.  I struggle every day with sometimes paralyzing fear that the bottom is going to drop out from under me.  It’s irrational, I know.  That’s all PTSD.  I know it, but knowing that doesn’t change the experience.

 While my daughters never saw overt violence, they saw how I acted around him after I was hurt.  They struggle, too.  They watched me learn to walk again after that dreadful hip surgery.  They watched my health decline.  You can’t hide abuse from your children.  Domestic violence is a family affair.

What is the biggest fear? The monster that comes at night? Well, I don’t want to even write it, but I will because we have to say the unspeakable things out loud so that they lose their power.  I also know that other victims of domestic abuse feel the same fear.  When it’s dark and I’m alone in my room, I occasionally become full of dread that I will be alone every night, in my room, for the rest of my life.  It’s a weird almost depersonalized feeling.  I look around my room and, out of the blue, this voice speaks to me in my mind: “What if this is your life? Right now? Sick. Alone in the dark in your room.  Raising your daughters.  Everything depends on you.  Look behind you to see if anyone is there…and…what will you see? Is anyone there?” And, that’s when that mean panic grabs me.

You start to feel tainted.  Unloveable.  Completely unworthy.  Defective.  Replaceable.  Almost as if one day everyone who is presently in your life will suddenly look upon you in horror, see you in all your vulnerability, and walk away.  You want to reach out for someone, but you just can’t.  You can’t because you’re afraid that the very act of reaching out will drive everyone away.  Why? Because everyone you love always disappears and then blames you for leaving.  This is your life experience.

Cognitively, you might know that these are false beliefs and unfounded fears, but, when this panic grips you, it is very hard to get away.  It’s like being driven to the bottom of the ocean floor and held there by breaking waves.  No matter what you do, you just can’t get to the surface for air even though you can see the sunlight shining through the surface of the water.

Do you know why victims of domestic abuse feel this way?

Because that’s what we’ve been told.  Over and over again.  By our abusers.  What’s worse is that our abusers usually started out as people we really loved.  Abusers all seem to read from the same script, and it goes something like this:

“No one will ever tolerate you like I do.  If anyone ever knew the truth about you, they would leave you.  You’re just lucky to have me.  I put up with you, and that’s so hard because you’re intolerable.”

So, you fight like hell to get out, start over, and prove your abuser wrong.  That act of leaving is actually an identity statement.

“I’m not who you said I was! I deserve more.  Look at me walk out the door! Ha!”

But, when you sit across from the very person who hurt you in such profoundly personal ways, it’s easy to get knocked off your feet and forget who you are.  You start to wonder, for a moment, if they might be right about you.  Maybe you’re so afraid because they’re right.  You actually start gaslighting yourself.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is why the next stage of healing from domestic abuse is so hard.  It feels like you’re fighting for your life all over again, and, in some ways, you are.  A life is built upon an identity.  If your identity is up for grabs, then so is your life.

On principal, I have to end this on a positive. I wrote this because I want survivors of domestic violence to know that their experience is understood and valid.  People who love survivors of domestic abuse also need to know what it’s like to recover.  There are good days and bad days.  What can I add to the dialogue? What sagacious words do I have?

Keep going.  That’s it.  That’s what I tell myself.  Keep going.  Some days are great days.  Some days are shit days.  Some days it feels like no one in the world understands just how hard it is to cope with the ontological loneliness and fear.  I’ll find myself asking, “What is going to happen to us?” And, I can’t find an answer.  So, I keep going in those moments, too.

Other days? Well, I start to feel a little more like this:

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I figure as long as I have more good days than bad, I’m headed in the right direction.  So, until I have all the answers, I just keep going.  Relentlessly.  I never give up.

You keep going, too.

**These awesome birds are from The Mincing Mockingbird

 

The Daisy Chain Cafe

One of my good friends is a screenwriter.  A very successful one.  We have a deal.  I am to keep her updated on any and all of my awkward moments in case she wants to add it to anything she’s currently writing.  I don’t know if this will make the cut, but it was embarrassing.  What’s worse, it happened in front of my two oldest daughters only just a few days ago.

A lovely new patisserie opened just a few miles from our house.  Elizabeth and I had just visited the day prior, and we were served by the most darling guy.  I sound like my Great Aunt Esther when I describe him as such.  I can almost hear her say that: “Oh, would you look at him! Isn’t he cute as a button!” He was! It was his energy.  He was demure and flirtatious at the same time what with his beachy blond hair, spray tan, and extra white teeth.  His gay charisma made it much easier for us to match his energy.  He leaned over the counter and grinned at us.  So, we could lean in and grin.  He reminded me of my best friend from college.

Eadaoin, my daughter, was having a bad day.  I immediately thought of this new place.  Having just been, I knew that she would love it.  Real café au lait! Doireann, my oldest daughter, had nothing better to do so she joined us.  They oohed and aahed when we arrived, and, wouldn’t you know, Mr. Demure Yet Flirtatious was behind the counter again.  He recognized me from the day before.

“It was so good I had to bring my daughters,” I announced.

He was immediately animated and showed my girls everything that they could order (we’re all gluten-free).  I couldn’t stand it anymore.  I had to know his name.  He was too friendly.

“What’s your name? My name is Jules.”

“Oh, of course! I’m Sam!”

And we shook hands.

“I’ll bring your coffees to you, ladies,” Sam said with a giant smile.

As we were sitting at the table chatting, Doireann starting talking about a 1990s illegal underground club that one of the older adults she’s tutoring told her about.

“What made it illegal?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Doireann answered.

Always going for the innocent conclusion first, “Were they serving liquor without a license?” I wondered.

“Oh, I’m sure, Mom.  That’s what made it illegal,” Doireann chastised sarcastically.

Not one to be scolded by my 19 year-old, I upped the ante, “Fine then! Were they making it rain E and daisy chaining all night?”

It was at that moment, the moment I said “daisy chaining all night”, when a strange hand appeared next to me on our table.  A masculine spray-tanned hand.

I looked up and saw Sam’s face.  Had he heard me? Oh yes, he had.  He had pressed his lips together as if he were trying to hold back a laugh while looking at the ceiling.

“Dammit, Sam, why are servers so gifted at catching us with our mouths full?”

Our mouths full? Why did I have to say that after I had just said “daisy chaining”?

Sam guffawed.  An honest-to-goodness guffaw.  I started laughing so hard tears started streaming down my face.  He tried to be polite and ask if he could take our dishes, but I don’t think he could string two words together.

He walked away with our coffee mugs in hand, shoulders shuddering from laughter.

I composed myself and looked at Doireann and Eadaoin.  They were just sitting there staring at me.  Like a pair of puzzled owls.

“So, Mom, what’s daisy chaining?”

“Uh…”