Gratitude, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, Relationships, Self-help, Uncategorized

Letting Go

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Audie, Lizzie, Reggie, Toby and me

Yesterday, my Facebook feed featured a memory from May 3, 2015 – my husband was at a conference in Italy and would soon be returning home. I posted a status that day, anticipating his homecoming with the hope that he would notice how I’d cleaned the house for us – decluttering and deodorizing and downsizing – as a surprise for him. A fresh start and what I hoped would be a poignant “Welcome Home” after his long flight and two weeks apart.

Tomorrow, that same husband, will be returning from the same conference in Italy, but instead of coming home to me, he will be coming home to a new significant other, who most certainly is anticipating his homecoming and planning her own “Welcome Home” that I keep putting out of my mind. I choose not to think about how excited he must be feeling in anticipation of their reunion.

Earlier today, I spotted our former marital counselor as she entered a crowded local venue where I was drinking a latte at the brunch bar. I had not seen her in 7 months.

I used to run into her often while my husband and I were in counseling with her. Since then, I have not run into her, and it was hard to resist the urge to walk over and say hello today. I was so happy to see her.

I thought to myself that if we passed by each other, I would smile and wave at her – she always used to say hi in the past. But, I felt unsure what to do, after all this time, and I realized, seeing her across the room, how much I have missed her, and how much I would like to talk to her, myself, one more time – to tell her what’s happened since we last met.

I did not make eye contact with her, or try to, as she spoke to the lady manning the hostess desk, and before I could act any further, she left the building and did not return. (I presume there was too long a wait for a table).

Letting go of the past is not easy, but in a small town like Athens, Georgia, it is much harder. Especially because a part of me is resisting letting go of the parts of my life that I love here, that I have not already lost.

Meaning the parts that are not my husband.

As of now, my heart has not yet let go of the idea of him, of who he is with her – which I unfortunately am being exposed to repeatedly – and of the idea of what our life together could have been.

Little by little, I’ve come to accept the reality for what it is – what is often called “radical acceptance.”

I was worried that I had lost all my ground three weeks ago.  But, as my friend reassured me that Saturday night, when I felt like I was back at the beginning again, it is not taking as long this time around to accept that our life together is absolutely over – for good.

And yet – letting go and accepting the reality of the ending do not feel the same. I accept that I have to make hard choices – by myself – from now on. I accept that if I stay here in Athens, I risk running into him and his new love, and that great pain will inevitably follow. I accept that if I keep my house, I risk financial burdens I may not be wise to take on, and I accept that if I leave my house, I will risk a less than ideal living situation.

I accept that I am having as much trouble letting go of the life I love in Athens as I had letting go of the life I loved in San Diego.

Ray Charles’s “Georgia On My Mind” is playing on Pandora now as I write this – when I hear that song now, I feel like I’m home – and I sing along – with all my heart – it is mind-blowing how much I have grown to love Athens, Georgia – in such a short time. 

I accept that I’m different than I was when I left California, and that I have a life here worthy of celebrating, filled with new friends whom I love, and who love me in return.

Most of all, I accept that I found a life of my own here, not because of my husband, but in spite of him.

Believe it or not, that is a gift that I accept, but the caveat is: it is now stopping me from letting go, when I know, in my gut, I will never get over the pain of our separation if I stay in this small city where I will always be looking over my shoulder, wondering if he’s there.  Where there are memories everywhere I go. Where everywhere I go, I may run into people who knew us as married, who are his friends and colleagues – which has already happened, more than once.

I feel I am capable of letting go of the reality of him, because I already have, at least as far as leaving him alone to be with her, and to go on with his life without me.

But, letting go of him has not solved the larger problem of letting go of my home that I have built here – and when I say home, I do mean the house, but more so, I mean the full life I have built in this southeastern college town.

(There should be a manual on how to let go. I have heard of a book by Melody Beattie called The Language of Letting Go. I’m not sure what it’s about – now that I think of it, I may visit the bookstore this week and check it out – in case it fits my situation).

Before I left San Diego in 2011, one of my best friends tried to assuage my fears about leaving home by telling me that I would make new friends – he told me, “You’re bubbly and outgoing and friendly. You’ll make lots of friends.”

I believed him – it took a longer time than he predicted – 18 months longer – but he was right. And now, I don’t want to let go – I don’t want to say goodbye to them. It reminds me of exactly how I felt about leaving San Diego – the pain I felt in having to separate, geographically, from people who are so important to me.

What a gift though! What an unexpected gift! To have made wonderful friends on opposite coasts of the country, in two different states, in two different cultures.

Ten years ago, I never would have thought that was possible! I had a hard time leaving San Diego for cities within California that were a mere 300 miles away.

Athens is 3,000 miles away from Southern California.

I never imagined I would grow as much as I did – and I never imagined that I’d do it all by myself. I thought I needed him to show me the way, but when I look back at the last 7 years, I’m certain – I found my own way – to everything, and everyone, that I love here, that is part of my own life – not part of our marriage.

Letting go requires many layers – I’ve done it once, and someone once told me, anything you’ve done once (successfully), you can do again.

Someone else told me, if you do leave Athens, and you miss it, you can still go back someday. And this time – it would be on your terms, and your choice – not his.

And if you stay, same thing – it would be your choice, not his.

How powerful would that be!

The house is the hard part – I have been a homeowner now for long enough that letting go of that joy, that freedom, that independent life – where the choices are mine – is painful. Letting go of the house is going to be a long process – not as long as it took to accept letting go of my marriage, but longer than I have the luxury of giving myself to take.  Life has to move forward – quickly.

 

What are the steps in letting go?

The first step is acknowledging that some choices were made for me, but that I still have choices that are mine to make. The outcome is not certain, but I get to make those decisions.

The second step is celebrating the bridges I’ve built, and grieving the ones that I burned, or that were burned by others.

The third step is making the most of every day – with every person. And trying to overcome the fear of grieving by running toward the joy to be found in the open arms of true friendships.

 

 

The fourth step is embracing gratitude – gratitude for who I’ve become – because I am stronger and more resilient than before.

I am a richer person in character, and in wisdom, and in relationships. I’ve been blessed in these last 7 years, in spite of what I have lost.

I was blessed with two perfect dogs that I called mine for 9 years. I was blessed with the honor of being part of a group of writers for 6 years who challenge me, and support me, and inspire me. I was blessed with the opportunity to be part of other local groups, and to enjoy many events and festivities and restaurants and gardens…and so on…and so on…that I would never have known if I had stayed in California – if he had left me behind, as he now wishes he had.

 

 

The fifth step is to pull myself together, as best as I can, with all my injuries – internal and external, emotional and physical, large and small, and make a plan. Adjust as needed. Keep moving forward. At least one thing a day – one of my friends told me. That’s something. Accomplish something every day. Toward the future.

The sixth step is to be open – open to new possibilities. And – to be open in communication with the people here I love – to tell them how much they mean to me, how much I will miss them, how I will do whatever I can to keep in touch so that our friendships continue to grow.

And when I come to visit, which I hope I will, it will be as if we were never apart. For that is how it has been with my close friends out west when I see them, or even when we just talk on the phone.

I have to believe letting go does not mean that I can never go back to Athens at all. It only means I can never go back to him, to the house I lived in with him, to the life I lived with him.

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Audie with Reggie and Lizzie on the patio of our local Starbucks in University City in San Diego

 

Most of the time, in my rational brain, I accept that. But then, there are days like today, where I am reminded he is coming home, from one of his trips, but not to me. Not to our house. Not to our life.

Letting go takes time.

There will always be reminders, even back in San Diego. We met there. We fell in love there. And our best years, as brief as they were (2 1/2 years), happened there.

 

 

It is a bigger place, with more people, and it has also changed since we left.  We have not been back there, together, at the same time, since December 26, 2011. That in and of itself is a buffer. I don’t know that I will ever be able to go to see the Christmas tree at the Hotel Del Coronado, where he proposed to me, without feeling consumed with the pain of the loss. Or visit the Grand Del Mar where we got married. There are other places – UC San Diego, where we both were working when we met. The condo in Renaissance La Jolla Capri where we lived together as a family with our 3 dogs. Those are the places that will bring up memories of the happiest times we had together…once upon a time.

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January 1, 2010 – a week after we got engaged under this Christmas tree at Hotel Del Coronado

But, mostly, it feels like the bulk of our life happened here, just now, just yesterday. Another place, even if it is where we once loved each other, may be what I need, right now, in order to truly, and fully, let go…

I fight the feeling of anger, but lately, I do still feel anger about the unfairness of the past year. The unfairness of being the one who did all the hard work for 10 years, only to have someone else take my place in his life – potentially for the rest of her life – body, heart and soul – without making any sacrifices at all.

But – then I remember – it’s not helpful, and it’s not that black and white. I have to try to let that go, too – for my sake. I’m only hurting myself, not her, and certainly not him.

Letting go of dreams – I have not figured that out yet, not completely. I had so many dreams here. With him. Before we came here, that I did not have, or at least, I did not allow myself to have, before I met him. In fact, I told him so in my wedding vows – I told him how much it meant to me that he had opened my life to dreams that I never would have thought possible to realize.

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Our wedding as I said my vows on the Reflection Lawn: October 25, 2010

Now – letting go of those same dreams – or having to drastically change them to fit the life of a divorced middle-aged woman – has become a battle I keep fighting. It’s like hitting my head against a wall that won’t budge.

Letting go does not have to be hard in every way – and I have found that the silver lining in the clouds is that I have let go of all that small, insignificant crap I used to dwell on. None of those little things matter anymore. That’s a good thing. Letting go of stuff that weighs you down and doesn’t matter is a good thing – in fact, it is a great thing.

I wish it did not come at the cost of letting go of the big things: love, marriage…home, family…him…but it does.

It has also taught me that I need to let go of people who do not feel that I have a place in their life – now that he and I are apart. There are six degrees of separation in a world as small as Athens, and UGA, as big of a university as it is, is still a small world.

I am learning how to let go of people who did not choose me, and to be okay with that. To wish them well with no hard feelings – and to understand that it is not about me – they just feel closer to him.

I was at Barnes and Noble a couple of hours ago – where I go to relax when I’m anxious or stressed. Bookstores are my sanctuary.

A man and his little boy approached the counter in the cafe where I was waiting to order a drink. Taylor, the guy manning the register, pointed out to the gentleman that I was there first.  The father seemed flustered and said he was sorry, he just wanted a cup of water for his son. I told him not to worry, that I was not concerned. I knew he was not cutting in line (and I thought to myself, even if he were, did it really matter? No, it certainly did not!).

About 10 minutes later, the father found me wandering the aisles of the store and apologized to me again. I felt so bad for him at that point because being that he was a person of color, I wondered if he was hyper vigilant to being chastised or criticized…or worse. I reassured him that I was not worried at all and that he did not need to worry about offending me.

It made me wonder how I would have felt in that situation several years ago, and I realized, sadly, I might have sweated it, in some cases – not this one. He was just a dad getting his little boy a glass of water. But in other cases, I might have. I used to have a “stick up my ass” as they say – my own version of hyper vigilance.

I’m happy to let go of that in the wake of bigger things, of multiple losses, of straightening out my priorities.

I still battle anxiety. I still struggle with the brain changes that arose from trauma, especially Adverse Childhood Experiences ( A.C.E.) I still struggle with ADD and the challenges that brings. Lately, I am struggling with Major Depressive Disorder from losing my two dogs, and my husband, all in the same year.

Letting go has been, and will be, a process. Grief is a process. It is a maze. It zigzags. It has dead ends, and U-turns, and potholes, and sand traps.

And that’s okay.

 

 

 

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"Me Too", Child Abuse, Grief and Loss, Memoirs, Recovery, Self-help, sexual abuse, Trauma, Uncategorized

“Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right…”

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Image courtesy of Google images

 

(Disclaimer: please excuse the cliche in the title – those who follow my blog know that I do not like cliches and hesitate to use them, as most writers do. But sometimes, a title just fits too well…)

 

What makes them think that it does? What makes them think that because someone hurt them, they have the right to hurt someone else?

Again…and…again…and…again…

My mom, whom I love very much, reads my blog.

Excuse the personal indulgence:

Mom, please, if you do read this post, do not read it by yourself. Please. You have too much pain in your life to deal with right now already. Listen to your daughter.

In the past few years, as I learned more and more about abuse, particularly sexual abuse, and trauma, I learned the term, “grooming.”

No, this is not the kind that refers to pampering your dog, or brushing your hair, or shaving your legs…

This refers to the type of grooming that men who abuse women, particularly sexual predators, use to reel in their vulnerable female victims. (**More often than not, men are the perpetrators, statistically, however, women can also be predators and groom victims – men or other women or children**).

What happens, in general, is that the predator identifies a vulnerable person and manipulates his or her weaknesses. Whatever it is he or she needs, the groomer fulfills that need. It is most often romantic tactics: attention, compliments, physical affection, gifts, and the like.

**For the purposes of this post, I will identify the predator using the male gender, but again – it can be a woman – even though statistically, it is usually a man.**

In my case, it was a man – who caught me at one of the most vulnerable times in my life.

In 2006, my longtime boyfriend, Jim, dumped me in an email. (I found out later he’d been cheating on me, and that his lover became pregnant while he was dating me, and sleeping with her, too. This was not mentioned in that email, of course).

The trauma and humiliation and confusion of that breakup left me vulnerable to the sex predator who’d been waiting in the wings for 2 years, as a “friend,” to groom me…which he did.

I was still so much in love with my ex, Jim, that I was not open to falling in love with anyone else for a long time.  The “friend,” the man who groomed me, whom  I will call “Garp” (one of his favorite literary characters), knew exactly what I needed: comfort, attention, affection, companionship, validation…all the things you might think a girl who’d had her heart broken might be looking for to soothe the pain.

And he knew it. He took advantage of it. He preyed upon that.

Over the course of the next year, off and on, this man preyed upon my insecurities and weaknesses, some of which arose from the loss of Jim, some of which arose from a lifetime of open wounds.

He was always available, he complimented me, told me I was beautiful and sexy, he bought me gifts and took me on dates, and was basically at my beck and call.

To my credit, I was honest with him. I told him I was not in love, and would not be. I told him that this was a transitional relationship for me. Having told him that, I felt I had done my duty by being honest.

He was not discouraged, but little did I know, he had his own agenda, too.

Around the same time I first met “Garp” online (on one of those defunct personals sites), I took a self-defense class where the instructor told us to read the book, The Gift of Fear.

All women should read this book.

If only I had applied what I learned in that book to “Garp,” I would have been saved from being another one of his victims. And perhaps I would have recognized the grooming for what it was: breaking down all my defenses such that by the time he showed his true colors, it would be too late to fight back.

Part of  the reason I never fought back is that I didn’t realize I was being victimized by a seasoned predator. “Garp” convinced me that he was the victim because he was spending all his time, money and attention on me without being “loved” in return.

And I felt guilty. He wanted that. He needed me to feel guilty so that he could control me. Which he did. He controlled what I thought and believed, and how much I needed him.

To the point that on that afternoon in July 2006, I shut down, I talked myself out of it, I told myself that this was not really happening to me. I even told myself, while it was happening, that it was my fault, because he told me it was, that I led him on, that I deserved it.

A good man, a decent man, a man who was not an abuser, would not have done that, even if the “love” was not mutual.

One would think that when he didn’t stop, when I begged him to stop, and when he ignored how I cried, during the whole thing, that I’d recognize I was being assaulted, and try to get away.

But I didn’t. I was paralyzed. I did what many women do.
I disassociated from the moment and pretended that it was not what it was.

I was in shock, later, to the point that I kept seeing him for a few more months. The grooming was so successful that I even reached out to him off and on into the following year of 2007.

It was not until April 15, 2007,  that the full impact of who “Garp” was, and what he had done to me, began to have some degree of clarity. And, I finally began to face the reality – this man I had previously given consent to, decided, one day,  to take what he wanted without that consent.

On the night of April 15, 2007, “Garp” and I had a heated argument on the telephone, and the truth came out. His truth – came out.

He told me that he’d never wanted to be friends, that he had been after sex (and money, too, I figured out, though he did not say so). He used everything I’d ever told him in confidence, every weapon he could pull out of his arsenal, to humiliate and break me with his words: he told me no one would ever love me, that every man but him would leave me. He said my supposed college education was worthless because all I had to show for it was a clerical job (I was an administrative assistant at UCSD at that time). He said that I’d lose everyone I ever loved because of my mental illness (I have struggled with anxiety disorders and depression throughout my life).

Bottom line: he told me in every which way he could think of that I was worthless, that my life would amount to nothing, that I was unlovable, and that I had no chance of ever changing that unless I stayed with him.

They say history may not repeat itself, but it rhymes (another cliche, ugh).

“Garp” was so familiar – so much like the original abuser – my ex-stepfather, Barry, whom my mother stayed with for 27 years, from the time I was about 10 years old, until she finally cut him out of her life in 2009.

Too late to undo the damage he’d done to me.

Both “Garp” and Barry hated their mothers. Both of them seemed to hate women, in general, now that I think of it.

And both of them were abusive predators.

But, maybe that’s just a coincidence.  Who am I to say…

Let’s start with “Garp,” although, the irony is: one day in 2006, when Barry first met “Garp,” he warned me and my mother that “Garp” was dangerous and should not be trusted.

“It takes one to know one..” (another, ugh, cliche), but in this case, it gave me chills – I knew something was wrong.

“Garp” had no boundaries: emotional, verbal, physical…none.

When I lived in Santa Barbara in 2006, he used to drive from San Diego to Santa Barbara without telling me he was coming, until he was about 30 minutes away from my home. He did not care that he was not invited or that it was a bad time to visit. He’d come anyway, uninvited. One time he just showed up, unannounced, altogether.  Every time, knowing I was too nice to say no, he guilted me into letting him stay for the weekend. Over and over again.

Apparently, during one of these weekend visits, “Garp” broke into my MySpace account – I had the password saved in my computer.

I didn’t find out until two years later when I contacted Jim’s wife on Facebook (he had married the woman he cheated on me with). I was having one of those moments in my life when I made a not-so-healthy choice – I wanted to ask her one question, and one question only: “Did you and Jim get married?” (They did).

Little did I know that she had been angry at me for two years. Because – in May 2006, someone (Yes, it had to be “Garp”) had pretended to be me, and wrote her a hostile note from my MySpace profile.

She kept referring to me contacting her before, which I hadn’t, but she insisted. The more I insisted she was mistaken, the more angry she became about the denial on my end. It was the truth, but it was obvious that something had happened to set her off.

Finally, after three or four times of me insisting that I had no idea why she was so mad at me, nor did I have a clue as to what she was talking about, she finally said, “Let me refresh your memory…You wrote me, Enjoy your time with that womanizer while you can. You will be hurt soon enough.”

Now, luckily, Jim must have talked her down because some people could have read it as a physical threat. I would not have, but some people would. In any case, “Garp” had intentionally put me in jeopardy of having charges filed against me for online threats – as I see the situation he put me in.

I knew why he did it. We’d had a fight that weekend, in San Diego, about Jim, whom he was always insanely jealous of – because I loved Jim, and did not love him. He used to call Jim horrible names, and so on.  On this particular weekend, I walked into a bar with “Garp” and Jim was there. Jim did not speak to me, or vice versa. It was the first time I’d seen him since the breakup email.

Though I had never intended on contacting “Garp,” much less seeing him again, after 2007, because of this “revelation,” I ended up asking him to meet me in a public place. I confronted him, and, as one would expect, he gave me his best stone-cold poker face – and lied. Denied the whole thing. He even claimed – with a straight face – that my mother must have done it.

Right, like my mom would ever do such a thing. She was the only other person who had access to that computer, but not only had she never even heard of MySpace, but really, my mother would impersonate me, and send a hostile threatening note to my ex-boyfriend’s lover?

Gaslighting – pure and simple. “Garp” gaslighted me – though I did not know the term at the time, it is another common tactic of abusers and predators. The term refers to the method in which predators and abusers convince their victims that they are “going crazy,” and do not know what reality is, in order to exert power and control over them. (The phrase was coined from the title of the film, Gaslight, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman).

“Garp” told me a lot about the other women – mostly about the woman he loved before me, Jennifer, and the woman, Lori, he used (by his own admission) after me. I feel particularly guilty about Lori – but he had her so convinced that I’d victimized him that she hated me, to the point that I was afraid of her – and him – so I did nothing.

I feel so guilty that I did nothing. Especially because she had an 8-year old son. I worried about that for years. I still do when I think about it.

“Garp” was an expert – at grooming, at gaslighting – at turning his women against each other to the point that we could not save each other, much less save ourselves.

It reminded me of my mother and me, and Barry – and how he convinced my mother he had been victimized by his ex-wives, and by me, and by his other stepdaughter from his second marriage (Mom was his third wife).

History may not repeat, but it rhymes…

On the night of January 1, 2007, I let “Garp” pet sit Toby for me while I was at an overnight sleep study to test for sleep apnea.

Toby never liked “Garp.” And vice versa.

I should have listened to my dog. Always, always listen to your dog.

The guilt I feel for what I put Toby through – that troubles me the most. Children and animals – should not be exposed to any of that. Adults get to make choices with their lives – children and pets don’t.

“Garp” used to glare at Toby, and was jealous of my relationship with Toby (a warning sign, I know now), but never touched him, so…I thought everything was fine.

I will never forgive myself because it wasn’t.

A few weeks after “Garp” stayed overnight with Toby,  he emailed me photographs of  copies of some of the pages of my diary.

Yes, while pet sitting for me, “Garp” had gone through my things, read my diary, found some entries about another man I was seeing, put my dog in his car, and from what he described, put my dog’s life in danger on a road rage trip to Kinko’s to Xerox the pages.

Then, he waited, and bided his time before striking – before blindsiding me with the rage in that email.

He made excuses, of course, for his behavior – he was supposedly just looking for paper to write on.

Months later, I was driving home from work, long after I had cut him out of my life, and lo and behold, I drove past “Garp,” who was driving down my street, which was nowhere near his own job, or his own apartment.

Coincidence?  No.

It wasn’t until Audie that the stalking ended.

In 2009, shortly after Audie and I started dating, I came into work the day after my birthday (I’d taken that day off), and found a dozen long-stemmed red roses in a crystal vase on the desk, with a card, and a CD.

At first, I thought Audie had surprised me with this post-birthday gift. (Audie was a project scientist in the UCSD School of Pharmacy and I was an executive assistant to the chair of the UCSD Mathematics Department when we met).

Nope. They were from “Garp,” whom I had not heard from since he lied to me about the MySpace incident.

He had sent the roses, and the CD of love songs he’d created to express his love for me, and a card with a long, long letter describing, in detail, his obsessive romantic feelings for me, and some extras I won’t publish.

I was terrified.

To this day, I am hoping that I stupidly had mentioned to him where I worked, or given him my business card. Or else how did he know I worked in the Mathematics Department?  I had changed departments/changed jobs within UCSD since that April 2007 phone call, but I told myself it was possible I’d told him I was working in the math department, as small talk, leading up to the 2008 confrontation over the MySpace message.

I told Audie about it, and it took several emails back and forth, but Audie got him to stop – in Audie’s uniquely gifted way of handling difficult situations, and difficult people, without escalating conflict.

But – it was not the end of the emotional trauma for me.

What was worse, was the guilt I felt, and the shame – the shame of feeling I had brought this on myself – by not protecting myself, by not knowing better.

For I felt I should know better, and that I had brought it on myself –  because he was not my original abuser.

I didn’t listen to Barry that day he met “Garp” in Santa Barbara, even though “the gift of fear,” and my gut instinct, told me to.

Why should I trust my original abuser?

Because he was looking in a mirror – Barry saw himself, in “Garp” – that’s why.

I wish that the one time Barry was telling the truth I had listened. But I didn’t.

Ever since I was a little girl, I’d heard, and been taught, that “two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Just because “Garp’s” mother, and Barry’s mother, hurt them as little boys, did not give them the right to pay it forward, and hurt other women, or in Barry’s case, hurt other women and their daughters.

The 27-year-long history with Barry, and the assault by Mom’s first post-divorce boyfriend, when I was 6, have colored and complicated my relationship with my mom my entire life.

Unfortunately, because of what happened in my marriage – because of how the trauma led me to destroy my marriage – I think it always will.

I do hope to come to terms, someday, with how my mother, and my father, did not protect me. I love my parents – but – I also know my life would have been different had they protected me from child abusers.

Now that I am wiser, and have learned a great deal about trauma and abuse, I can at least be somewhat objective. I realize that Barry groomed my mom, long ago – to the point she could not even recognize an abuser, a predator, when one was coming right for her.

When Barry was dating my mother, he spoiled me, and her. Even when they got engaged (too quickly, I might add), he continued to dote on both of us – and on my brother.

After they got married, then, he changed.  Oh, did he ever.

Unfortunately, my father, my stepmother, my grandparents…no one believed me. No one.

I tried to tell them about the verbal, emotional and physical abuse. They told me I was lying, or that I was imagining it.

Eventually I stopped trying to tell them.

There is a lot of detail, a lot of in between, too much to write in this one post (maybe another someday).

But, what I will say is that one day, I tried one more time, to be heard.

During my honeymoon in October 2010, Barry somehow got my new husband, Audie’s, email address, and wrote some inappropriate things about how I looked in my wedding dress.

Audie told me about it – he was confused as to what to do about it – it creeped him out, too.

Thanks to that email, which resulted from the wedding photos that my sister-in-law posted on Facebook, I suffered from intense PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) during the first month of my marriage.

That did it. That broke my silence.

I told my brother and my sister-in-law that while I was very ill in 2002 (and temporarily living with Mom and Barry), Barry had sexually molested me – several times.

They did not believe me.

They sided with the perpetrator, not the victim.

When someone breaks their silence, it is difficult to hear the truth – but – in the end – as therapists will tell you – the family members or friends end up having to make a choice – do they believe the victim or the perpetrator?

They have to choose to believe someone.

When I was a little girl, Barry did not do that, at least I don’t think he did (to be honest, I can’t be sure of anything anymore, in that respect, now that I know how the brain will protect itself from remembering trauma). As far as I remember, it did not happen – then.

However, I was always – constantly – afraid he would rape me. Constantly.

It probably had something to do with the way he walked around the house naked, with no apologies – with a sense of arrogant narcissism that is the hallmark characteristic of an abuser. He talked about having sex, and about his sexuality, overall,  as if he could pounce – at any moment.

I never felt safe from him.

As it turns out, the “gift of fear” served me well, there.

Growing up in my mother’s house, I kept my distance from Barry as much as I could. I fought back against, and defended myself against, the worst verbal, emotional and physical abuser of my lifetime -as best as I could. And maybe, just maybe, that’s why he never did rape me when I was a teenager.

After Barry’s death a few years ago, we found out from his brother that Barry was a child molester – that he had sexually molested little girls, teenage girls.

He did have another stepdaughter – one that he groomed – one who adored him, and vice versa, to the point that my mother was actually jealous of her.

Why am I telling you all this?

Good question. There is much more that I’m not telling you.

It comes back around to other posts I have written about PTSD, about trauma, about abusers, and how they manipulate their victims into believing it is their fault that they were abused – about how they manipulate their family and friends into believing that the victims, the ones who have the courage to speak out, are lying.

There are cases, from what I understand, where that does happen.

But it is also my understanding that it is the exception, not the rule.

In fact, what is more common is what I described – the victim is silenced – sometimes for decades – and when they do finally come forward – when they do finally speak out – no one believes them.

No one believes us.

No one believed me.

No one, except my husband – Audie.

Thank God, Audie believed me. I will always love him for believing me.

My mother, being a victim herself, which I won’t write more about at this time, made excuses for Barry, for many reasons, and now, I understand why she did that. For years, I felt it was a betrayal – another way of me being silenced and censored – but now, I understand how emotional abuse works, how women, how people, are groomed into making excuses for their abusers.

I’ve done it myself. We don’t know we are doing it – not until we get help – not until we discover there are many others like us – that we are not alone.

“Garp” made excuses for himself, too – blaming the women, blaming his mother, blaming his sister, blaming, blaming, blaming…

Barry blamed it on me, on his ex-wives, on my father, on the alcohol, on the cocaine, on his mother…

Even if all that is true – even if their mothers have everything to do with how they became abusers – that is no excuse.  (In Barry’s case, pedophilia is much more complicated than that – there is some brain pathway research to support that).

Remember what we are taught – “two wrongs don’t make a right.”

The cycle of abuse is real, though. It is easy for those abused as children, to become abusers themselves, and to become victims of abuse, again, in their adult relationships later in life.

But, it is not inevitable, and once recognized, there is help, and healing can stop that cycle.

I have always been sensitive about being censored – it came up often in my marriage – and I did not understand why, until recently.

The reason why I was so defiant with my husband about not being censored was because when I tried to tell my family Barry was hurting me – no one believed me. And when Bertram Maltz assaulted me in my bedroom when I was 6 – he censored me, too, by threatening to kill my mother and me. By telling me I deserved it, and I better not tell anyone.

And that censorship became integrated into my psyche as part of the abuse – so much so that I lost my sense of realistic expectations – of realistic limitations with my own husband.

I understand the difference now. I wish I’d figured it out sooner – sooner in my marriage.

The censorship – the silence I was forced into keeping for years – became part of the trauma – part of the shame – part of the pain.

The only way to break through that, is to understand what it really is about, and to create healthy boundaries, where it is safe to speak – where those we love want us…to speak.

When they speak, please listen.

Believe the women.

 

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Image courtesy of Google images

 

 

 

 

 

Grief and Loss, Memoirs, Mental health, Relationships, Self-help, Uncategorized

Starting Over at the Beginning

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Painting of Lizzie and Reggie commissioned for Xmas 2010 for Audie
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First picture of Lizzie Roberts – the day Audie adopted her in 2005.

“Don’t you want to leave the painting here? Why do you want to put it in storage? You said you wanted to keep it here last summer because you were worried something would happen to it…” I said to him as he took the painting of Lizzie and Reggie and wrapped it in bubble wrap, along with the photo of Lizzie he took the day he adopted her.

Then he put them away in the box, taped it shut, and said he wanted to take them with him now.

“But they might get damaged in storage…”

“No they will be fine…”

I wasn’t prepared for the panic I felt when he took those keepsakes of Lizzie and Reggie off the shelf: the painting I gave him for our first Christmas as husband and wife, the photo of Lizzie, and Grey Kitty – with her urn – and the funny door hangers I bought him with Frenchie and pug heads, respectively.

Before he left, he took one last look in every space in the house, to make sure he had not left anything behind.

And that was the end – all of his things – were gone.

Last night, at midnight, I knelt down in front of Lizzie’s and Reggie’s pictures.  I placed a hand on each of their urns .

“I would never have known you if I’d never met him…”

And then- it all came crashing down on me –  I gave into the sorrow and the tears came. Hard and fast.

“You’re all gone! All four of you are gone!” I cried – looking over my shoulder at Toby’s pictures and then back at Lizzie’s and Reggie’s. I gripped the edge of the table.  I let out the pain I try so hard to hold in and hide from everyone – this void that I am ashamed to talk about – because I don’t understand.

Why can’t I get over him the way he has gotten over me?

It’s as if the last 10 months didn’t happen – I am right back where I started that night he was packing some of his clothes and personal things.

“I’m not going to bring a lot of stuff with me. I don’t have a lot of room.”

And when he walked over to the shelf, he held the painting, of Lizzie and Reggie, and that look in his eyes, I’ll never forget, as he said, “I don’t want anything to happen to this. It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever gotten.”

Last night, he said the exact same thing as he packed it away: “This is my favorite thing I’ve ever gotten.”

It was not all he said that night in June…because he thought, maybe, if his feelings changed, he’d come back, before December 31st – if he felt a spark at all, he said, we wouldn’t sign the papers.  And he’d come home.

I held onto that hope for dear life, day after day, for a long time – it took longer than that for the reality to set in after he told me, five months early, that it was over.

Now, I’ve had 10 months.

But, yesterday – it was as if he had left all over again – as if I was right back there in June – back to that night when he left.

How is it possible that my feelings are right back where I started at the beginning? The last 10 months – how could it feel like they never happened – when I know very well that they did.

I thought I would be all right. But I wasn’t. I thought because I prepared myself ahead of time, for what I might feel like yesterday, that I would be okay. But I wasn’t.

And I’m not.

Since he left last night, I have been feeling claustrophobic in this house. I feel like someone’s hands are around my neck, gripping it, and choking me.

I feel lost in this house.

It suddenly feels empty, and larger than life.  And the loneliness is overwhelming me.

I cry as soon as I come into the front room, and see their painting is gone, and the pictures are gone.

I hurry past the ugly brown desk that I asked them to move into the dining room after they removed his beautiful table. I can’t even look at it. The curio is gone, and the coffee table, and all of his things. All of them, every last one.

There is so much emptiness – the spaces where his things were – I suddenly can’t breathe.

I didn’t realize it would feel like this. I didn’t realize that I was holding onto the things he left in the house as a way of unconsciously holding onto him, and our marriage. There must be something wrong with me – it makes no sense.

Except – grief doesn’t make sense. It never does.

I’m sitting in my green chair, looking out the window. In the room where the dogs’ photos and keepsakes are – it is the only room left that feels safe now. Safe from the agony that is gripping me. My classical music is playing – the newly-sprouted leaves sway in the wind. The lush trees dance as the trunks move from right to left. It seems like winter was never here…

I know that there is no way I can explain to him, or to her, or to anyone, why I feel this way.  I am ashamed that I still feel this way.

Only someone who matters to you can make you feel anger…or joy…or pain…or…love.

He is lucky. He is no longer affected – not negatively, not positively – there is nothing. It is just a blank. I am invisible. I am mute. I am a phantom of a love story that I am beginning to doubt was ever real for him at all.

All I know for certain is that I don’t want to feel this way – the only person that I’m hurting now is myself -not him, not her.

I do not want to hurt either of them – not that I can – only someone who matters to you can hurt you.

But I know that I am hurting myself, not intentionally.  Pretending like I’m fine, and more importantly, acting as if I’m fine, is so much harder than I thought – and I have not been able to do it as well as I wanted, or needed, to.

I tried so hard to be perfect, that inevitably, I failed to do so, when I had to.

It is just too hard to be perfect, and to never make a mistake – especially in this, of all things – losing the person you love most in the whole world, that you love more than you’ve ever loved anyone.

It is too hard to be perfect -watching them leave you – watching them run toward someone else – because you were not enough.

Because no matter how hard you tried to fix what you did, and said, that was wrong – you can never make it right. Because the love was not strong enough to withstand your mistakes. Because all he can see…are your mistakes…

“You’re a good person, but a wife is something special.”

He was sitting at the dining room table – I’ll never forget.

It was the last thing he said to me, in August, before he told me, two days later, “I do not want to continue our marriage.”

It took me two more weeks to fully process that our marriage was really over.

And now, I’m back there again, as if it just happened. And I don’t know how to stop the hurt.

One of my best friends in San Diego called last night, out of the blue, thankfully, to check on me. I told him what happened, what I’d done – what I’d said – last night after he picked up the phone in his car. I heard a ringtone that I didn’t recognize, he looked at me, and I knew, I knew who it was. And then he answered the phone.

We were at the Starbucks drive-thru – on our way back home from his storage unit.

I was so mad at myself (I still am), but, the hurt was so strong, what I said, it just came out.

I had come so far with him – to the point that I almost thought he was not stressed around me anymore.

And then the reality of the two of them – right there in his car – hearing her voice, and  him talking to her – it just – it was too much for me – on the hardest day – the last day – the day he was taking the last of his things from our home – the absolute end of our decade-long life together.

At that point, I could not think straight. It was just too much for me to hold inside.

I’d held the pain in for 3 weeks, hidden away, and in that moment, it pushed its way up to the surface – all the pain of losing him, for good,  to her.

My friend told me to stop being so hard on myself – we’d spent so much time together in this house, the house we shared, in the last few weeks, it was understandable, he said, that I’d feel like this. He also told me that he’d known me for long enough (19 years) to see how far I’ve come, how much better I am – he told me 5 years ago, and 10 years ago, he never could have talked to me about what happened like he did last night. I would not have been able, or willing, to listen to him. And now I was, he told me.

I told my friend, “5 years ago I was with Audie, and that’s what happened. I couldn’t listen to him tell me these kinds of hard things.”

I was thinking an hour ago, as I was thinking about when she called, and about what happened after that conversation – that it was a good thing, in a strange way, because it made me think about her in a different light than I had since I found out about their romantic relationship, about a month ago.

I understand why she feels the way she does about him. I don’t know much about her life, but the little I do know, I admire and respect.

It is unfortunate the way she and I have this man we love, in common, now, but I think, I sense, from what happened in his car, that she doesn’t wish for me to be hurt.

For me, I think, in other circumstances, if I were anyone but his soon-to-be former wife, I would admit that I know that this isn’t easy for her, either, and that she’s doing the best she can, in this awkward situation, just like I am.

Falling in love with him, is something we have in common, and there’s no way to navigate that easily – no way whatsoever. But I don’t feel angry at her, strangely. I did, for a while, but not now.

I understand – when you fall in love with him, you just want to be with him – you don’t want to have to wait for the final chapter of his previous life to end, in order to begin the first chapter in yours.

He would not have such strong romantic feelings for her, or be so drawn to her, if she were not a wonderful person, too, in her own unique ways. I’m sure of that. And I’m sure she’s trying her best to be fair, too, in her own way, under the circumstances.

It gives me peace to think the best about her, and I want to continue to try to focus on wishing happiness for him, even though I am grieving for the loss of our future together.

I know it is not going to be easy, and I don’t know how long it will take. My friend said I will never completely stop loving him, and I know that’s true – he was my husband, and we were together almost 10 years.

He and I feel differently, but I know that’s how I feel, and if I can give myself permission for it to be okay to love him, as long as I keep trying to move forward, and to continue to heal  – then maybe there’s nothing bad, or wrong, if I do not get to where he is at.

We are different people – I don’t know if it really means it was never real – because he feels nothing now at all – but I think it is okay if I do feel these things.

As long as I can somehow find a way to re-open the gap between June, and now, that suddenly closed completely, when he was here in this house, our marital house, ending our life together for good.

I know that because I had to be perfect, I couldn’t be. It was just impossible for me. I wish it had been enough to be better, to have come as far as I did, but I couldn’t be perfect.

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I know he needed me to, but I couldn’t do it. He told me many times that when he’s in love with someone, they don’t have to be perfect, and I was far from perfect.

I’d like to think that there were many things about me that were perfect for him – he used to say to me, “You’re perfect for me.”

He said it many times, those first two years, but he also said, if he’s not in love, and the feelings are gone, all the things that would never bother or upset him before, now…

I do not think he is unusual that way. I think being in love, we have blinders on. Maybe that’s why it is so easy for me to focus on his good qualities, and it’s always been that way. Even when I got upset, I got over it so easily, because in the end, I loved him so much, I only saw the good.

Even now – I still only think about the good.

I guess that’s not a good thing – especially now. But, it’s not a choice. It just is.

I wasn’t prepared to start over at the beginning, but I’ve been told, it won’t take as long to get back to where I was – to full acceptance and being able to bear the pain, and the grief, without it taking me down like it has today and last night.

I don’t know how to stop being so hard on myself – he told me there’s no point in beating myself up for what I did.  And yet, we fell into that conversation loop I thought we’d put to rest, after she called, and he reminded me of the reasons why I lost him –  how do I not beat myself up for that?

He told me he’s not angry. I believe his connection, his feelings, for her, have a lot to do with that. I’m glad he’s okay. I want him to be okay, even if it’s not with me.

I think my friend is right. Up until he took the last of his things, I was okay living alone in this house. Through Lizzie’s death, Reggie’s death, I was okay in the house.

But now, I feel like it’s a gravesite – because it is – it is the gravesite of my life with them, and I have never, ever felt so alone in my entire life. I have never ached for anyone the way I ache for all of them.

I do not feel like I want to go back to San Diego the way I did in the very beginning, and this is so sadly ironic – I left my last home to be with him, and now I think I have to leave this home to heal from losing him.

It feels like I’ve come full circle – back to the beginning – leaving one home for him at the start, and now leaving another home because of him at the end.

After last night, I realized that I have no choice. I have to try my hardest to find a way to be at peace with his new dreams with her, and to lay to rest, once and for all, the dreams I had with him.

The first day after a death is the hardest – the shock is real.

I must be in shock, I suppose, but I don’t feel numb. I feel the pain of everything.

Today, I was thinking back to four years ago. This weekend is the 4-year anniversary of the weekend I came back home – to him and our dogs.

My mom was very ill for a long time, and when I should have been here, I was in San Diego, in 2012, and 2013, and then for almost 5 months in 2014-2015 when she was acutely ill.

During that time, she said something to me, that I can’t stop thinking about today. She said, “I just want to be normal.”

On February 3rd, the last day I saw him before he began moving out, he said to me, “I understand. You’re just different.”

Normal is not different.

I think she came back into his life, this year, at the right time, and I came into his life, 10 1/2 years ago, at the wrong time. And sometimes, sadly, that’s just how it is. It just comes down to luck and timing. But, also, sometimes, when it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.  And when you know, you know.

I believe, that’s what’s happened between them – I may be wrong, but that is what I believe. A casual friendship, over the years, led them to reconnect at the right time in his life, when he was ready – he wasn’t looking for it, he told me. That’s usually when it happens.

Ironically, he said the same thing to me ten years ago, when we met, for the first time, but he must not have been ready then – his life is set now. He has fought the hard fight and come out on the other end. I imagine it’s the same for her, though I don’t know, but I think so, the little I know, it sounds like it. And that’s usually when people are able to make it work – when everything else has come together for them first – and then, the relationship feels effortless.

I wonder – my friend told me that I will always have to live with, and cope with, the part of me that led to the difficulties I had in my marriage. That is something that I am finding difficult to accept. I hope I can.

I am grateful he also reminded me that I am a wonderful person. Last night,  I needed to hear that.

I don’t know if Audie believes that, too, but even if he did, I know that it is too late now. It would never be enough.

Starting over from the beginning was so unexpected, and I have new regrets now. But, I hope I have not undone whatever good I did when I was able to choose the high road these last several months. I wasn’t perfect, neither was he, but, it truly is hard to be perfect in a divorce. I think that might be impossible, actually.

Every journey begins with the first step.

For now, I am determined to do what I set out to do – to be helpful,  to be brave,  to be gracious, and thoughtful, and mature – and considerate –  anything that I can do that makes me proud – to be me.

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Audie, Reggie, Lizzie, Toby and me: my former family. In Balboa Park, July 27, 2011