Memories Trapped In Boxes

For most of the years of my marriage, I collected Snow Buddies. They were little figurines put out by the Hallmark Store at holiday time, and their round cheeks and delight-filled eyes gave me such joy. They were the living representation of how I felt (and still feel) about the holiday season. Ok, it’s how I feel about all memory-making times. For any occasion that warranted a gift, my ex would get me a few, first at the Hallmark Store and then scoured from yard sales and other avenues, because they became discontinued. But I amassed a large collection of the little happy figures.

Every year at Christmastime I would lovingly put out all my Snow Buddies: some on the tree, some on their own display, and a few larger pieces on top of bookshelves. They were everywhere, and their jolly little faces always elicited a smile. As the years went by and my collection grew, it was so fun to find new places to put them.

I think half of what was special about them was that my ex took the time to find them. He saw how much I loved them one day at the mall and sought out, sometimes under great difficulty, as many of them as he could possibly find me. So – to me anyhow – they represented love, and our marriage, and our family.

After the divorce, he gave me all of the holiday decorations. The first Christmas, I took out a few of the Snow Buddies, but told myself I didn’t have room for all of them. The next year I didn’t take any out. This year, I took them out but for a very different reason. I took pictures of the entire collection, and listed them for sale. They were bought almost immediately, and I left work one day last week to meet the woman.

She told me of her 4000 square foot house and the entire room she had devoted to Snow Buddies, called her Winter Wonderland. It made me happy to know they would again bring a smile to people’s faces, as they once had to mine. I looked at her and my mind flashed back to being in the mall with my 6 week old firstborn, who is now 18, finding my very first Snow Buddy and squealing with happiness. I could still hear my ex, telling me how much he “would always love my childlike innocence at the sweetest things.” I contemplated how to sum up a collection that meant so much more than chubby, happy snowmen and Christmas.

It couldn’t be done, at least not without sounding ridiculous. I took the money, she took my Snow Buddies, and we parted. As I drove back to work, I ended up behind her car for part of the drive. I briefly thought about waving her down, giving her her money back, and taking my Snow Buddies home … but of course I didn’t. Their home with me no longer existed. As tears streamed down my cheeks, I could see the box with my Snow Buddies in the back of her car, and I said goodbye to that innocent time of my life, when I didn’t know that a family could break apart like this and memories could become too painful to take out of a box and display.

 

 

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While You Weren’t Looking …

… she grew up.

And she is an amazing, insightful, witty, kindhearted woman, who I am proud to call my daughter. And you cannot take credit for this woman, because you haven’t been around for awhile.

She also has a hard exterior, one she didn’t have before. She used to talk about her pain, but then she just closed off. She won’t open that package she put all her heartbreak in for me, and sometimes I wonder how her life has changed and been harder for what she was put through. You can definitely take credit for that.

Why?

Because you, her hero, fell from grace. And this isn’t the typical fall-to-human-status that all parents go through when their children become teenagers and simultaneously know everything while also knowing their parents know nothing. (Insert eye roll here) No, this is different. This was you, looking your little girl right in the eyes, and turning on your heel to walk away. You followed your girlfriend into a lazy, immature, and dirty lifestyle where you put yourself first above all responsibilities. And you didn’t care that she heard, and you told her flat out that her feelings were irrelevant; I say “told” but in actuality you screamed at her.

She came to you, in tears, begging you to go back to being her hero, and you hollered at her for daring to insinuate that you not continue on your path to destruction with your new “love.” Never mind that you had 4 kids and a marriage approaching 20 years. Who cares about those children’s psyches, right? Does it even matter that your kids would struggle and go into therapy to wrap their minds around what YOU did to them and their family, or that the example you gave all 4 of them was to treat their mother worse than you’d treat a rude stranger on the street?

That little girl, though … she was always Daddy’s Girl. She idolized you, and thought you could do anything. You could do anything!! But you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t stop your downward spiral into your chosen new life, and you really didn’t care who it hurt. Remember? You told her! You can justify this all you want, and tell yourself that divorces happen every day and marriages end. However, this wasn’t that way, was it? What you did was so despicable, so shameful, and your older children grasped this completely.

And you wonder why they don’t want to see you anymore?

You conspired with your new girlfriend against their mother. You lied on a daily basis, and snuck around, and worked against me together. It’s not just a divorce. You both fed me a pile of steaming crap about things that weren’t real, and when I spoke out against what was happening you both spread rumors that I was “unstable.” It was a clever move but it ultimately failed, because I’m not unstable, and I’m not a lying cheat. But see, your little girl isn’t stupid. (She’s like her Mama) She realized what you were doing, and what both of you lacked the courage to say.

So this little girl, who grew into a woman while you weren’t looking? She no longer looks at you with hero worship in her eyes. I guess maybe it’s easier for you to not see her, so you don’t have to see what is absent from her gaze. While you weren’t looking, she cried herself to sleep night after night, wondering why her father could be so cold and so … different. So gross. While you weren’t looking, she kept me company all the nights you were running around with your girlfriend pretending to be a teenager again, leaving your children behind to act like a fool. Your daughter saw it all, and knows right and wrong. And it didn’t take her long to realize what was happening. She has no use for users, or liars, or closet alcoholics who would rather get drunk with their partner than be present for their children.

Maybe that’s why you consume a colossal amount of booze now? Is it for fun? I mean, when you had a chance to change all of this you certainly did nothing but pour more alcohol for you and your girlfriend, coming home staggering drunk again and again to your wife, who had been cooking and cleaning and taking care of the kids (who watched me cry so many times). So it can’t be regret, now can it?

And even after you gaslighted me and broke the family up on purpose just so the two of you could pursue your teenage romance, you blew every single chance you had to try to be a father. Again. She begged you for years to spend time with her. When you finally, grudgingly, took her out to dinner, you went to an ice cream place around the corner and texted your girlfriend the entire time. While you weren’t looking, I was comforting her while she angrily cried that “All Daddy cares about is his girlfriend and her kids!”

Tonight I went to the play she worked on. It’s her senior year, and this is it. I’ve been to every single show. You? Well you decided your girlfriend and her son mattered more this weekend. So you didn’t see your boys for their scheduled time, and you couldn’t show up to your little girl’s last fall play … not that you’ve been to any of them. While you weren’t looking … she searched the audience until she found me there. She didn’t look for you because she knows you don’t show up.

I hope you enjoy your life. I hope your girlfriend and all her material goods are really all you care about. Because while you weren’t looking, your “pumpkin” grew into a strong woman who has no place in her life for people like you, people who walk away from their families for an easy lay, a cushy lifestyle, and a big house.

While you weren’t looking … our daughter grew up, and your actions have formed her opinions.

I Guess All We Need IS Love

In the last few years I’ve seen the older generation in my family and my friends’ families die. And although it is not completely unexpected, it brings with it both great sorrow at their loss and incredible gratitude for having known them. As I was thinking about each of them today, I was struck by a running theme in all the losses: to a one, each of them were spoken of in both glowing yet simple terms: they loved their friends and family above all else, they were honest, they were true, they were GOOD PEOPLE.

Much has been written and said about the meaning of a good person, but I keep coming back to this. Two years ago my friend’s grandfather died, and the entire town must have been at his funeral. The church was standing room only, and I couldn’t help the tears as person after person got up to tell how this man had touched their lives with his kindness, generosity, and caring. It was beautiful in its sadness, and a testament to a life well lived. Every person had a different story but the source of it was the same: he loved his neighbor as himself. I walked away from that church quite humbled, and I still ponder this quite frequently.

My great-aunt passed a few days ago, and I keep remembering her gentle nature, her love for family and friends, and her joy in being with those she loved. Up until just a few weeks ago she was still liking and commenting on my pictures of my children on Facebook, and she would often share her love of everyone in her life. And again, I’m hearing the same refrain: she loved others, she loved her neighbor, she was a true good person.

There are moments when the evil that does exist in this world seems overwhelming, and when I allow myself to feel defeated a bit at the nasty things that have been done to me by those who masqueraded as friends and even my partner. And yes, they were the opposite of these great people who have passed on: lying for their own gain despite knowing the hurt it would cause, hurting others on purpose, living lives furtively and in the shadows … and do you know what all that is? That is the absence of love. That’s it, it is nothing more complicated than that.

A life lived without love is dark and bleak, and always results in hurting others, because when someone has no love they are walking in pain and that pain lashes out to make others hurt as they do.

A life lived without love will tell many lies, but love tells the truth.

And a life lived without love will be full of self-destructive habits to try to cover up the emptiness inside their souls and numb the pain.

And I’ve learned that like attracts like, so people like this will always find each other. Then they will start a self-destructive circling of the drains of their lives. They will turn on people they claim to love to ensure they have no one who could possibly show them what is absent from their lives, because they certainly can’t have anyone around them who has love in their hearts, anyone who will display that which they lack … it’s too much of a reminder.

I know this, because I was made fun of by these people, I was called “naive” and “prude” and “too emotional.” And I took that inside me and let those words eat at me. And when I displayed the stress of the words and the actions (lies, things designed to hurt me … in other words the actions of those with no love inside them anymore) I was then told I was deficient for having a reaction to their poor treatment of me. And the reality is that my ability to love was a rebuke of the way they lived their lives, so if they could snuff it out they would feel better … and if they couldn’t they would simply remove me from their lives.

And so I was. And I thank God every day for that. If I hadn’t been, I likely would have never left because of my sense of loyalty and the love in my heart, however little they deserved it. That saved me from compromising my principles and values to live where love did not. I now have a chance to live as I knew I should, when my conscience was screaming at me to get out.

I now have a chance to make all these great people who have died recently proud, and happy to know that their legacy was seen, and is not lost. Their lessons have stuck with those close to them, and love your neighbor is the simple yet profound truth of being a good person on this earth.

Karma Will Always Come

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20)

I don’t always start my blog with a Bible verse, but when I do, you can be sure I really really mean it. We all know someone like this verse references, and we’ve all suffered some hurt at their hands I bet. These people look on goodness and not only reject it but put evil above it. I’ve come to the conclusion that the people who do this are insecure and jealous about someone else having a sense of right and wrong that they themselves do not possess, and so whenever they come across someone with this kind of moral compass, the only thing to do is try to squash it.

They can’t risk looking bad by comparison, now can they?

I was emotionally abused for most of my adult life. I was controlled and screamed at, I had vicious names and threats hurled at me by my partner, and I stayed because A: I was afraid they would take my kids, and B: I take my commitments literally and I was going to see this through. Even though it was hell on earth most of the time, it was worth it to me to keep my family intact.

In the above, in case you couldn’t tell, the emotional abuser would be the evil one, and the one who stays because of threats and commitment would be the good. When the abuser was having emotional affairs, that was evil too. Just because they are a serial cheater and couldn’t scrounge up loyalty if their lives depended on it, doesn’t make it less evil.

Do you know what’s more evil? Excusing, rewarding, and joining with the evil person who abused someone. Especially if they abused someone you know. Even MORE so if you they were viciously cruel and abusive to one you called a friend.

But the most evil of all? Telling your friend to put their trust in you, to save them from the abuse, and then using that trust to engineer your friend right out of her own family and taking the abuser for yourself. And THEN telling your friend that his abuse was justified because he was “anxious for his family.” I cannot accurately describe what it’s like to look your friend in the eyes and have her say to you “I know he denigrated and humiliated you. I know you weren’t allowed to go anywhere without him with you. But HE WAS SO ANXIOUS ABOUT YOUR SAFETY!!!”

Then friend goes and gets in the car with the ex. She can’t go anywhere without him now … trying to feel bad. Trying. I wonder if he calls her the same names and threatens to take the kids? I mean, it would be ok, because the poor guy is SO ANXIOUS …

What?? Uh, come again? Poor wittle poopsy was anxious? That is BULLSHIT and you know it. It’s the lamest of excuses for treating another human like crap, and anyone who falls for it is no better than you. NO BETTER. Oops … sorry. I forgot you fell for it.

“Therefore, as tongues of fire lick up straw and as dry grass sinks down in the flames, so their roots will decay and their flowers blow away like dust … ” (Isaiah 5:24) Sounds like karma to me …

I See Through You

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away … or maybe just a few years ago … I actually cared. I’m not saying I don’t care anymore, because to stop caring would be the opposite of who I am. But I’ve taken a page or two from your playbook, and caring is locked away safely where it can no longer hurt me.

I care enough to study what happened to me, like a science experiment. It’s lovely when you can reach that level of detachment, and go over the events and the facts without any attachment to the emotions that used to fill those events up. And I can see a truth, hidden carefully under the wreckage you’ve left everywhere in your wake.

You were at the tail end of a toxic relationship, and looking for a way out. In truth, you had checked out long before. When you formed a new connection, it was intense, deep, and real. It was exciting. But it also scared you … And one of these realizations is that you aren’t as brave as your public persona. It’s less work to take the easy path.

Speaking of the easy path, when someone has had a childhood where they had to be the adult it can produce either a very mature adult, or one that is resentful and anxious to recapture their missing childhood. When presented with the chance of living responsibility-free (or responsibility-lite) many of these people jump at the chance. They pay no attention to the fact that to do so requires they ransom at least half their soul in the process of not being true to themselves.

It looks like a chance to live “free” as a child/teenager would, but it’s anything but. Shirking one’s responsibilities and betraying the trust people have in you isn’t an alluring or attractive life. And whoever holds that carrot on the end of a stick to you has sinister motives at best, and they give away their true nature. As you join with this poor influence and sink to their level, your heart and mind shrinks to the narrow world view and shallow empathy of people like that.

Like begats like. You become like those you spend time with.

It always seems fun at first. “Eat, drink, and be merry” purports to be the way to live. But life is not just fun. And there needs to always be a balance. What did you give up, to shut part of yourself down? Who did you sacrifice on the altar of fun, thinking you could redo your lost childhood? Because you can’t have a do-over on those years.

Or these.

If you’re healthy, strong, happy, and your career is flourishing, then congratulations! You clearly are living your truth and partnered with someone who is your match and complements you. But if the opposite is true … Well, you may want to check what parts of yourself you sacrificed for the chance to live “stress-free.”

Life isn’t without stress. Happiness doesn’t exist without sadness. Childhood, once gone, is over. The tears and smiles of years long past have ended. Just like the feelings of one you sacrificed for an empty promise of good times and an easy path.

What Kind Of Woman Are You?

Are you the kind of woman who, when you hear about your friend being abused/mistreated, you listen to her tearful secrets of abuse and support her as she unburdens herself to someone she trusts? Do you help her try to find the strength within herself to stand up for herself and set boundaries? Have you set yourself up as the one person she turns to?

What have you done, as her friend, to make her trust you this much? Do you always reach out to check on her? Have you been there every single time he’s screaming at her, calling her names, threatening to take her children? Are you making sure she starts to rely on you?

When she is leaning wholly and fully on you, have you taken advantage of her weakened state to suggest ways that will make the abuse less? Do you turn to her trusting eyes and heart and put thoughts in there, taking advantage of her abused and shattered soul, to steer her in a direction she never would have gone?

What kind of woman are you?

It’s bad enough to tell someone you care when you don’t. It’s cruel to put yourself out there so that someone begins to trust you, only to have emptiness behind your promises of love and friendship. It’s so much worse to take advantage of your friend, a fellow woman, a woman who was being abused, who had been raped more than once by her husband.

But, let’s put the personal aside for a moment. AS A WOMAN, how can you hear the vicious abuse, the rape, the trauma inflicted upon a fellow woman … and not only not care, not only use the stories of every incident to your own advantage, but actually want that for yourself?? How can you look at a man who could treat ANYONE that way, and think “I want some of that! Hearing the way he calls her a psycho b@tch makes me want to lie to my friend and steal him from his family!” (P.S. A man that would abandon his family/children for a girlfriend is SO not attractive)

You can try to rationalize it all sorts of ways. You have, even. But saying the relationship was toxic is a coward’s cop-out. It was TOXIC because he made it that way with his verbal and emotional abuse. And you knew that because you had endless examples of it given to you. What your friend needed was the way out, not a path to worse abuse, this time doubled. You had the option of not reaching out and supporting, but you chose instead to be a lifeline for your friend. It’s too bad the line you threw had weights on the end, to drag her right down and out.

And every day you lie down next to that abuser and think you are living right, and that you did the right thing. How you can think that, I’ll never know. Guess what? You become complicit with what you allow, excuse, and give a pass on. You have become one with it. It’s as good as participating in the abuse of one you called a friend.

So, what kind of woman are you? What kind of friend are you? If the only way you measure yourself is by how good a partner you are to him, you may want to re-examine your priorities and how much influence he’s got over you.

Or not. Maybe you’re happy as His Partner. That might be the answer to what kind of woman you are.

 

 

Abusers Use Fear

I’ve been working through all the experiences I went through in my life thus far. I wrote about this in Don’t Get Divorced, where I was feeling bitter about how my abusive ex seemed to be flourishing, without karma visiting him. But I’ve had other thoughts since then. Everything I said is still valid and true, but I no longer think he’s getting away with the horrible way he treated me.

I’ve realized, however, that getting lost in wishing for the karma truck is a dead-end street. Because karma doesn’t always arrive when you think it should. It has its own timetable, and when you’ve been grievously wronged, as I was, your innate sense of justice could make you quite bitter if karma doesn’t visit when it would be *right* in your mind.

I found peace by letting go of my desire for karma. That’s right – I let go of wanting the universe to right the wrongs, and then I found my inner peace. It was right there, waiting for me to see it. And if you are going through a similar situation (although I wouldn’t wish what I went through on anyone) I pray you find a similar peace.

In the midst of this peace, I’ve recognized that to move forward in my life, I need to identify the abusive behaviors I was subjected to, and the repercussions of them in me: the insecurity, the fear of speaking my mind, all of it. The reason for this is, I will *never* allow myself to get into an unhealthy relationship again. I was abused so badly that I was left ripe for someone to take advantage of my trusting nature combined with my lack of self-confidence (caused by abuse), and that is exactly what happened. I was played, really really well. So the best thing I can do for my future is to process everything that happened to me, to guard against future narcissists.

Today I want to talk about fear. We all know what fear is, but when does it become a danger? I think fear is the enemy when it is used to make you fear making your own decisions and/or living your own life. In my past marriage, when we first were dating I was independent and resistant to control. This isn’t the blog to get into the details, but my defenses were slowly worn down, until a year later, I was obediently taking my hair out of the hair clip after he screamed at me (at a wedding, while I was pregnant) (high risk twin pregnancy that I lost a week later) because I knew he didn’t like hair being tied up.

He used a smart approach of intense love followed by insane screaming at me, calling names, making threats. And the threats were always what I most feared. After we had children, of course, it was to take my children away unless I did what he wanted. Before children, he would tell me he was the only one who really loved me and I couldn’t trust anyone. It was a slow move to isolate me, and make me think he was all I had. It’s an insidious yet effective move.

A year into marriage my car needed too much work to fix, so we had it hauled away. Of course, we couldn’t afford a new one at the moment, so with a promise to get another we became a one-car family. I gave birth to our first child not long after, and a year went by … and two … and three. I had another child. We still didn’t have a second car. We lived an hour from civilization, and he took our only car to work every day. I begged for one day a week with the car, so I could take the kids to playdates or the park. He would not allow it. He hammered into my head how many things could happen to a woman alone.

I started to believe him. I was fearful of the world, having been kept from it for so long. I was distrustful and clung to him, because he’d set me up to believe he was my only protector, the only one who could keep me safe in the big, bad world. I started to become thankful for his control … I was like the person looked down on in the quote by Samuel Adams: “If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.”

Maybe that was a little ambitious, but I think you might see my point.

Seven long years went by. After the third child, we FINALLY got a second car. One afternoon I snuck out to go to Walmart. And I say snuck, because I didn’t tell him first or ask permission. I still had a shred of self to be able to do this, and for that I am both proud and grateful. But at the store was quite pathetic. He had sowed so much fear in me (to keep him bound tightly to him) that when we got there I was terrified. Now, we’re talking a Walmart in small-town New Hampshire. This isn’t the inner city. But still, I sat in the car horrified to get out, or take my children and risk … what? I’m not sure. But at the time, I pictured so many horrors of BEING OUT WITHOUT A MAN.

Nothing happened, of course.

Then I got home, made dinner, and waited for my jailer … oops, husband … to come home. He came in, let me know how pleased he was that dinner was on the table, and then spotted the bag from Walmart. The interrogation that ensued was brutal, and took 3 hours. At the end I admitted my wrongdoing and apologized for going out without asking, because he had convinced me that something horrible could have happened and he wouldn’t have known where to go to save me/the kids.

Do you see how he controlled me? How fear was used to make me feel like I could never leave, never go anywhere without him? Devious, and effective. I should have noticed, his father (who lived next door for those 7 awful years) did the very same thing with his stepmother. She also was not allowed to go out without a man, and was a deer in the headlights on the rare occasions she had to.

So here I am, alone for over two years, single mom of my 4 beautiful children, and I boldly go out into the world daily, just like I once did before he came into my life. And now I recognize what he did to me, and I know it when I see it being repeated with others. Some are strong enough to get out. I was. Some stay stuck in codependency.