I’m really angry today.
I’m not normally angry but it hits me every once in awhile. Yesterday it hit with the force of a truck.
I was a witness to potential domestic violence over the weekend. Two things were said that were very triggering for me. I don’t know the couple well enough to say, “He’s abusing her,” but it is enough to concern me. I rarely see this couple so I didn’t say anything to the young woman, but I’m making plans for the next time I see them.
I’m angry that things will never resolve with my parents. I’ve done so much EMDR work to move through this. However, I’ve had to take a break from EMDR because, even though the days are so much better, the nightmares were increasing. I was reminded of my parents’ hold on the rest of my family the other day and it just brought it all to the forefront again.
I’m angry at my ex-husband because, once again, he pays his expenses at his own leisure instead of as-directed in the court order. He’s a deadbeat but he still has such a tight hold on our lives because until all the kids are 18, he’s involved. He’s just involved on his terms instead of terms that would be best for the kids. (And my parents still think he’s the bee’s knees.)
I’m angry that a customer service representative really screwed up something for me this week. I’m angry at the potential damage that could’ve been done. What if the thing that happened to me had happened to someone else and put them in danger? What about the privacy violation that occurred to both myself and my friends due to this mistake? I feel absolutely violated. I will be contacting the manager today about the mistake and I hope it is taken seriously.
I’m angry that I tried to go for a walk last night to work off some of my excess anger and energy and realized there are no lights outside of my tiny neighborhood. There are miles and miles of sidewalk but not one light. I was trapped in my neighborhood and feeling trapped when you’re trying to work off anger isn’t helpful, no matter how fast you run.
I’m especially angry that I have to be afraid to leave my neighborhood at night because of our current misogynistic president, his administration, and all of his rabid followers who have made this country LESS SAFE for women, POC, and the LGBTQ+ communities. I voted today. Voting is so important. Go vote! As I was casting my ballot, I felt like one small voice. I felt small. But maybe my one small voice will join with other small voices and become a roar.
I know I’ll work through this anger but it will be a rough couple of days until I do. I’ll find my hope again. I’ll find the good in humanity.
Until then, I will feel the feelings and do a ton of self-care.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a relatively new form of psychotherapy. It has been shown to be helpful for people with PTSD.
I’ve been in therapy for a few years. The frequency of my appointments depends on what is going on in my life. Sometimes I go once a month, sometimes I go once a week. For the past 10 months I’ve been going every other week and we’ve been doing EMDR.
Traditional therapy has been helpful to me as I’ve processed the abuse from Bubba. It has helped me through the recurrent stresses of trying to parallel-parenting with him, parenting an autistic child, and handling regular day-to-day stress. Traditional therapy did not, however, help me when dealing with the triggers that lead to PTSD panic attacks. I have gotten really good at recognizing when panic attacks start and I’ve become adept at employing the various coping skills I’ve gathered over the years, but those skills didn’t eliminate the triggers or my responses to them.
Serenity was a big trigger for me. She’d learned her father’s lessons well. She had many learned behaviors from him that would regularly spill out into our interactions. When she said something like sounded like Bubba, I’d completely freeze. I would be in my head screaming at her but I was unable to speak or even move. I couldn’t remove myself from the situation and I couldn’t tell her to stop. This had to be the first thing we worked on with EMDR because it was intolerable to me to live like that with my daughter.
We did the set up work over about one and a half appointments. We created my storage area in my brain where I could file away the EMDR work when I wasn’t in session. We prepared to start with this particular trigger. Then we did a 15-minute EMDR session, specifically centered on my reactions to Serenity.
Let me tell you, it was a really freaky experience! I didn’t really know how this was going to work in practice, even though I understood the theory of it. By the end of the 15 minutes, I was able to envision placing firm boundaries for Serenity when she chose to act like her father. I didn’t know how it would translate into the real world, but I felt empowered leaving my appointment that day.
A few days after the initial EMDR work, I got a chance to test it! Treun and I went to Serenity’s apartment to drop off some things for her. We’d been there about 15 minutes when she said something that normally would’ve triggered me. Usually, I would just freeze and stand there. That day, though, I thought, “Nope. Not gonna happen.” I didn’t say a word to her. I simply turned around and walked out the door. Very calmly and firmly. I went outside and sat in my car. I didn’t have any of the signs of internal struggle that I normally did. I wasn’t screaming in my head. I wasn’t shaking. It felt very natural to just turn and walk out of her apartment. When Treun came out a minute later, I was sitting there in awe of what I had done.
It’s been 11 months since that first encounter with Serenity after beginning my EMDR sessions and she hasn’t triggered me once in that whole time. There have been a few times that we’ve been talking on the phone and she’s said something bothersome. I just said, “I can’t continue to talk now. Good-bye.” and hung up. I’m amazed with how empowered I feel now and how much our relationship has improved. Strong boundaries were definitely needed and now that I can set boundaries with Serenity, our relationship is much better.
My therapist and I have continued EMDR to work on my FOO issues. I was about to find out that digging that out wasn’t going to be as simple or as quick as dealing with Serenity had been.
When your husband has been saying for months, “We need to clean out the freezer,” then the door gets left open over night.
And nobody is in trouble. There’s no yelling. There’s no rage. Just simple “these things suck but they happen.”
It was especially a good life lesson for the one who accidentally left the door ajar. All three of us worked together to empty the freezer and lug the bags out to the garbage. We worked together to make a grocery list of things that needed to be replaced right away (ICE CREAM!!!!). We talked about how when we make a mistake, we do our best to fix it and make amends. In this case, that involved literally cleaning up the mess and figuring out how it happened (a piece of cardboard had gotten in the way), and fixing the problem so it didn’t happen again (moving the cardboard away from the freezer).
And yeah, it’s hard to see that much money go out to the garbage but this is a life lesson in “shit happens” with a healthy person.
And that is valuable beyond money.
With everything going on with the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, I’ve been thinking about my own past abuse and how it wasn’t reported to authorities. I was only a child when it happened so it would’ve been on my parents’ shoulders to report it. They chose not to. My mother once told me that they didn’t want to put me and my sister through what would be involved with pressing charges.
I did report it later but only to the son and daughter-in-law of the man who molested me. I felt a pressing need to protect their baby daughter. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself had I stayed quiet and not warned them about the pedophile who was so involved in their lives. The blowback from that was bad enough. My molester’s wife refused to speak to me for over a year and my parents did nothing to intervene. They allowed her to treat me badly because it would’ve rocked the boat even more to stick up for me.
That leads me to question if there wasn’t more motivation for my parents not reporting since it would’ve ripped a gaping wound in our small community. I’m watching our country be torn apart because women are coming forward to report sexual assaults that happened 20-35 years ago and the men in power, along with their supporters, do not like it.
These women are coming forward because they feel a moral obligation to finally tell their stories. I felt a moral obligation to tell my story to select people. Yes, I understand my parents’ reasoning of protecting me but could there have been more to it, that maybe they didn’t even acknowledge in their own minds? Were they trying to keep the image of our perfect happy community intact? Were they unwilling to disrupt the status quo even to seek justice for their daughters?
Unlike the states where Kavanaugh is accused of sexual assault, the state I lived in back then has a statute of limitations that expired. Even if I wanted to, I can’t do anything to bring my attacker to justice. I’ve been thinking, “What if they took away the statute of limitations?” And it kills me to know that it wouldn’t change anything. I’m not safe to do anything about it. The only people who can corroborate are members of my family, the very same people I’ve had to cut out of my life for safety from my abusive ex-husband.
I’m seeing the memes on Facebook and hearing our President say that if you are sexually assaulted, you should report it and that infuriates me! No! You don’t get to tell me how to handle my own trauma. You don’t get to use my pain, or any other survivor’s pain, for your political war. You don’t get to use my trauma to traumatize me further!
I’m not okay today. I’ve cocooned myself in my house and won’t be going out amongst people for awhile. I’ve shut off social media and the news. I’ve turned the tv off altogether. I feel like I’m falling apart silently with all the pain from my own inner child and every other survivor out there. It has been a very triggering week for survivors and I’ve just had enough.
It is solely up to each and every individual victim out there whether or not to report and how. And if they report, they need to be believed.
It’s that simple.
I was talking to a friend the other day and she was telling me about her boyfriend’s family. They had gone through particularly nasty divorces so they’re both very careful about taking things slowly. They met at a networking event and hit it off as friends. As neither of them was looking for a relationship, they were safe to be friends and share their lives in a non-threatening way. They talked for hours during the weeks as they had time between children and work. They opened up to each other because it felt safe for both of them to do so as they were only friends. He let her into his life and the inner workings of his brain like he’s never let anyone in before.
They were friends for many months before either of them figured out they were falling in love. When they introduced each other to their respective families, things got a bit hairy on his family’s part. The family thought they were going too fast and that she could never know him as well as they knew him! After all, they’d only known each other for about eight months at that point and they’d known him all their lives. Boy, did that sound familiar! My friend explained to me that he was a very private person and only ever let a small, select few people in. She was among them, his family wasn’t.
And that resonated with me. My family also said that they knew me all my life so my friends, who only knew me for two or three years couldn’t possibly know me as well. The thing is, that isn’t how this works. That isn’t how “knowing” someone works. It doesn’t come down to how long one has been acquainted but how much one lets another into their being.
I held myself apart from my family while the true inner workings of my thoughts and feelings were shared with my closest friends. I did share many things with my family, especially my sister, but I held so much about my marriage and what I thought about Bubba back from them.
I can see now that I’m not the only one who does this. When a marriage is abusive, it is common to hide what is happening behind closed doors. And when you don’t see your family every day, it is very easy to filter what information you pass along. When you are seeing your friends a few times each week, it is harder to hide. This is why abusers tend to isolate their victims from family and friends. It is easier to control the narrative if the flow of information is blocked. Bubba kept me away from my family but he could never stop me from making friends. I tended to make friends with the parents of my kids’ friends. The kids wanted to get together often, so we did. And in the last years when Bubba was working (and playing on the side) so very much, I got together with my friends.
I let my friends in. I told them what was going on, even when I was hiding things from my family. At the point when my marriage broke down, my friends knew me so much better than my family ever did. I chose that. I kept it that way. It was solely my decision.
My family accused my friends of brainwashing me, of controlling me, of forcing me into going through the divorce. What my family couldn’t understand is that my friends were keeping me safe. They were helping me make hard decision by trying to see what the possible decisions and consequences of those decisions were. When I would falter and express my longing for it all to go away, they told me if I wanted to reconcile with Bubba, they would support me. They called me on my bullshit and faulty thinking.
Now I have a dear friend who is going through a rough divorce. She is also going through some unrelated family drama. After three decades of taking her family’s abuse and a decade of taking her husband’s abuse, she is developing a backbone and standing up for herself and her child. Her mother is not taking it well. They spoke on the phone recently and her mother actually said her friends are a bad influence! She’s now being told that her friends are coming between her and her family. I’m absolutely incredulous how this happens. Families who are co-dependent and keep an adult child from becoming independent and getting out of the unhealthy dynamic will attack that adult child’s relationships outside of the family dynamic.
They see their adult child’s friends as controlling because they themselves are controlling. They don’t want to lose the control of their adult child so they demonize the friends who are pointing out the dysfunction. My friend knows she needs to set some boundaries with her parents because she needs to protect herself and her son from their dysfunction. But she is scared because she knows my story. I’m just hoping what happened to me can be a sort of map for her as she navigates this situation.
Parents do not know their children well simply because they are their children. Parents do not know their children more than the friends with whom their children share their lives. Each and every person out there chooses who to let in.
Each and every person out there chooses who truly knows them.
We got home and I read through the papers. It seems that Liam changed his mind and decided to stay with Bubba. He’d signed a paper stating his preference. He was old enough to do this and he’d done it.
I felt sick. I’d told Liam that I’d take care of it and fix it so that he could live with his dad. I knew it would be a fight but it wouldn’t have been this level of fight. Bubba was fighting for custody of both boys and the charges he brought against me were unbelievable. He claimed that I didn’t provide adequate supervision for the kids, that I never had food in my house, and that I don’t allow my kids to have a relationship with my side of the family.
I was dumbfounded. What the hell?
First, Serenity is an adult and Liam is well past the age to be a legal babysitter in my state. It makes no sense to say I don’t provide adequate supervision. It’s just something to try and make me look bad.
Second, according to my children, I never have food in the house only because their definition of food consists of junk food and soda, which I buy very little of. Not only do I not have the budget to afford such items (thanks to Bubba being thousands behind on child support), but I also strive to have my family eat healthily. I’ve had to let the ideal of not using convenience foods go because of my work schedule, but my fridge, freezer, and pantry are always full of food. The simple fact is that the older two kids don’t want to have to pull something out of the fridge and cook themselves something to eat. They want to binge on potato chips and soda and candy.
Third, I do not choose to have a relationship with my family. Not once have I ever told my kids that they weren’t allowed to have a relationship with my family. Both of the older two have their own cell phones and can initiate contact with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins as they see fit. They’ve also been instructed over and over to let Shane use their phones for such contacts if he wants. I reminded them of family members’ birthdays for the first two years after I left Bubba. None of the children ever wanted to call so I stopped reminding them. I also figured that it was no longer my place since my family had embraced Bubba. It was his responsibility to maintain contact between the kids and the people who chose him. They were his family now and his responsibility.
Treun immediately called the lawyer he’d used for his divorce. He said she was a shark and a shark is exactly what we needed. We set up an appointment and went to talk to her. I printed off some of the emails that Bubba had sent me over the years that showed exactly how verbally abusive he continued to be toward me. I printed off my accounting sheet of child support arrears, detailing what was due, what was paid, and what was owed. I got my original court documents together. And I got the retainer together. Thankfully, I’d gotten a good tax return just a few months before this and I’d saved it. I knew that with the two year mark having passed that Bubba would be taking me back to court as soon as he could find a reason to and I was right. My nest egg would be utterly depleted but the fact that I had it was a miracle to me.
Treun assured me that this time would be different. This time I had a shark lawyer and the support of a loving husband. I was no longer that traumatized woman just trying to escape with her kids. I was in a strong position this time and Bubba was in for a fight.
All those assurances did nothing to stop the PTSD from roaring back to the forefront. The panic attacks started viciously and intensely.
It was time to find a new counselor.
Serenity called me in near panic. She’d been sleeping and heard someone banging on the front door. Since she was home alone, she looked out the window upstairs to see if she could see who was at the door. To her surprise she saw a couple of cop cars in front of our house. She went to answer the door and a man asked for me. She told him I wasn’t home and he gave her his business card and told her to tell me to call him as he had papers for me.
Serenity gave me his contact information so I called him. He told me that he was trying to serve me with court papers that pertained to custody of my minor children. The old terror came flooding back. Bubba was trying to take my kids from me again. It’d had been over two years of not dealing with the courts and I wasn’t eager to go back there. Family court had been a terrible experience for me and my children and we were once again being thrust back into it. I asked the man if he could put the papers in my mailbox as we were going to cut our vacation short and come home late Friday and I didn’t want to wait all weekend to get the papers. He agreed.
Treun and I cut three days off our vacation and headed home. Bubba had timed his attack perfectly. Even though I hate to think it, I really believe that Liam told him that I’d be gone. And I believe that Bubba timed the papers to be served like they were. If it is one thing I know about Bubba, he is still intent on hurting me any way he can.
Even with the stress of knowing those papers and a court fight was waiting for us when we returned, Treun and I still managed to enjoy our time together. I got him lost once because I wasn’t paying attention when I was supposed to be navigating and missed a turn. He didn’t get upset with me at all. We just adjusted our course and kept going. He assured me that it was fine and really no big deal. It really was a good vacation and it showed me that Treun is really fun to travel with. We had a great time just being together, stopping to see whatever sights struck our fancy.
It was like no vacation that I’d ever taken before and I’m glad we had that time together.
Treun decided to take me to what used to be my hometown for our honeymoon. He knew I wanted to go see my grandmother and an elderly cousin so he thought this would be a perfect time to go. We could also drive just a bit further and see Endellion! It would be the perfect honeymoon for me. Tons of hours in the car with just Treun and me talking.
To tell the truth, there was a small part of me that was apprehensive about the trip. Vacations with Bubba had always been very stressful for me. I did all the planning, packing, and work for the trip while Bubba just went and enjoyed himself. During the vacation, he would treat me horribly and get mad at me when things didn’t go right. Even when things beyond anyone’s control happened, it was somehow my fault. I learned not to fight him about it and just accepted responsibility, apologized, and tried to fix it. Only there was never any fix. When we got home, I’d be exhausted and spent but I’d have to do all the laundry and unpacking. I was able to avoid any kind of vacation with Bubba for the last few years of our marriage for the most part. I’d rather accept the fight about not going anywhere to the sheer exhaustion that came with an actual vacation.
Now here I was planning to go on my first vacation with Treun. What was it going to be like? It started out good. We planned together and packed together. I think I kept looking at him liked he’d grown a second head because I couldn’t make sense out of him helping me. It was strange. Then we left and started the long drive.
Oh. My. Goodness!
We had so much fun! I took my knitting along and we talked and talked. I’d knit and he’d point out interesting sights as he drove. He discovered that I liked to take pictures of each state’s welcome signs as we crossed borders so he made sure to let me know when we were getting close to borders. The drive up was so relaxing. I had just never experienced something so fun before.
We stayed with an old high school friend of mine and her family while we were in my old hometown. I gave Treun a tour of my old stomping grounds. I showed him where I grew up. I took him to meet my grandmother and cousin. As they are both very elderly and not doing well, I figured this was my time to say good-bye.
Before the divorce, each summer I’d take the kids home and each summer, I’d say good-bye to them as if it was my last time. With their failing health and the rift between me and my family, I really did think this was the last chance I had. After our visit, I sat in the parking lot of the nursing home and sobbed while Treun held me. My once vibrant cousin, a woman who helped raise me, was a shell of her former self. She could only mumble but she smiled and knew who I was. She made her pleasure at my presence known. Saying good-bye to her was so hard to do.
We had an enjoyable visit with my old friend and ended up staying for two nights. I got to see another friend who went to college with me while I was there. I love that I still have a connection to my past. I still have friends I grew up with who I see every once in awhile. I value those old friendships. They stuck with me through the divorce. They believed me. They were appalled at the actions of my family. They are safe for me and they are worth their weight in gold.
We said good-bye and headed out to see Endellion for a few days. I was beyond excited and the trip consisted of me bouncing around in the car like a kid at Christmas. After three years of calling Endellion my best friend, I was finally going to meet her in person. I wish I could put words to the excitement that I felt but there are no words adequate enough to convey that.
Endellion had beaten us to where we were meeting (it was easier to find than her house). As soon as I got out of the car, she came running over, picked me up, and spun me around. Endellion is statuesque and she looks like an Amazonian goddess. She is even more beautiful in person than she was on Skype. After a few pictures to mark the occasion, we piled back into our cars and headed to her house.
We spent a few days hanging out with Endellion and her boys. We did some fun touristy things and we went swimming at the hotel where Treun and I were staying. We just spent those few days basking in each other’s presence. I think Treun enjoyed seeing me so happy. I think Endellion enjoyed seeing me being treated so well. I just enjoyed being with two of my favorite people in the whole world.
And then it happened. I got a call from Serenity.
Bubba had planned his attack well and timed it perfectly.
Oh. My. Goodness! How do four people accumulate so much stuff? I’ve given myself a month to get moved into our new home. I don’t think it’s going to be long enough. Seriously. Really. So much stuff.
Now that the boys are gone, I can get busy. Since I’d resigned from one job and was waiting to start the next one, I’d have two weeks to get as much done during the days as possible. Then I’d have two weeks of afternoons to work since I’d be working each morning. One little woman vs. one small house. How could this be a problem?
Excuse me while I go laugh myself silly.
When we’d moved out of the house we’d shared with Bubba, we lost half of our square footage. We’d down-sized significantly. I’d given Bubba all of his possessions but we still had had a ton of stuff that needed weeded out. I’d had yard sales. I’d donated loads of stuff. I’d gotten it to a manageable volume to fit into our new, smaller house. But during the two years we lived there, the kids and I acquired more stuff thanks to Goodwill and friends.
Once again I found myself needing to weed out what we no longer needed. And now I had the added bonus of trying to organize Treun’s house so that we didn’t have duplicates of everything taking up space. I had one month to get out of one house and blend our stuff together into another. This was complicated by the fact that when Treun went through his divorce, his ex-wife left their garage full and he just didn’t ever go into the garage. It was full of stuff that he hadn’t looked at in four years.
I ended up taking car load after car load of household goods to the domestic violence agency that had helped me so much when I left Bubba. We took down two crock pots (because for some reason, Treun had two), two sets of Corelle dinner ware (because I hate Corelle and he had beautiful Polish pottery stored in his garage from when he and his ex-wife had tried a trial separation), tons of linens, toys, clothes, and many other items. When I realized that I had furniture that I needed to give away, I asked the director if there was a woman who was starting out on her own who could use it. She got me in touch with a woman who took all of the furniture we had because she left with nothing but her and her child. I also gave her many of the small kitchen items we had duplicated.
Cleaning out my bedroom was tough for me. It was the first place I’d had that was truly mine. I’d painted it the way I wanted, decorated the way I wanted, and used it the way I wanted. I’d found so much healing in that space that it was hard to say good-bye to it. Treun and I bought a new bed. His queen wasn’t big enough and my king had too many bad memories in it. A friend of Treun’s was looking for a bed for his guest bedroom so he took my bed. It felt good to say good-bye to that. There were days that I’d work in my bedroom and sit in there and sob because of the reminders of the past. I found a card from Celia and cried for an hour. It was emotionally exhausting to clean out the past.
The kitchen was the easiest room to clean. I can be very practical when I want to be. I kept what items I used and got rid of things that I hadn’t touched since I moved in. As my kitchen was small, it went pretty quickly. I’d turned one corner of the kitchen into the donation area. It worked really well. When it got too crowded, I’d load it in the car and take it to the donation center.
I was finally able to get into the boys room and clean that. I gave myself a couple of days to do that and it ended up taking the majority of a week to get their room done. Since Shane wasn’t there to complain about every broken toy being thrown away I was free to dispose of anything that wasn’t whole and complete. Shane just had so many toys and books that it took more time that I thought. I had to go through all of the boys clothes and decide what of Liam’s could be handed down to Shane, what Shane had outgrown that I could pass along to a friend’s son, what Shane didn’t wear because it felt weird, and what things I needed to keep.
After an entire month I was finally done moving and cleaning the old house. The last thing I had to do was find someone to give my washing machine. I advertised the washer online and a young couple with a baby responded to the add. We met them at my house later that day. When they showed up, Treun helped the man get the washer into his truck. As they were talking they mentioned that they needed a dryer too. I’d given my dryer to Arcadia since mine was newer than hers. Treun had a brand new dryer at his house that he’d bought for Noble but we couldn’t get it in the door of Noble’s apartment. Since Treun’s dryer is only two years old, we’d just had the new one sitting in the garage. Treun told him that we had an extra dryer and he was welcome to it. We gave him the address and he said he’d be over as soon as he took the washer home (his truck was only large enough to move one at a time). Treun and I went over to his house and switched the dryers out and gave this young couple the two year old dryer. It was just another reminder that I’d married a good man. We hadn’t planned to get rid of the dryer because if Noble moved, he’d be able to use the dryer in a different house. But Treun saw a need and filled it for this young couple who was just starting out.
I turned in my keys to the landlord and drove away from that house and that life. I was no longer a struggling single mom. It was time to go on my honeymoon and start enjoying my life with a wonderful man.
It’s too bad our peace didn’t last very long.