Yesterday (Halloween) marked one year since our worlds flipped upside down.
One year ago, I was married, with two kids living at home in our oversized house in Tramonto. I was stressed out of mind, unhappy and trapped. My kids were my only source of happiness which I can now see in hindsight, what incredible pressure (all of the above) must have put on them.
We sat down to watch a movie before Trick or Treaters arrived on Halloween 2021, and what started as our traditional Sunday movie day, turned into a horrific act of violence that put my son in the hospital and stopped his Cross Country season dead in its’ tracks. Being ranked in the Top 5 in AZ, my son never got the chance to realize his potential at State his senior year.
What followed were many blurred days. One of my dogs had been attacked by the other during the violence and spent months healing. My daughter was traumatized by witnessing the beating and had her own path of pain. And I? Well, I tried to keep it together the best I could. I filed an order of protection. I filed for divorce. I listed the house. I did my best to keep things as normal as possible for the kids, while continuing to work and trying to manage emotions of my own. Looking back, it was like a death. It was like being hit by a train. It was like being burglarized. It was like the world just stopped, but we somehow had to keep going.
Why do I chose to share the details of such a horrific experience? Because as soon as my son could form a sentence, he said to me, “Mom, we cannot keep this a secret. We need to use our story to help others.” I promised we would and so I will forever continue my mission to raise awareness about domestic violence.
Domestic violence does not just occur in seemingly broken homes. It is not exclusive to age, race, gender or economic status. Domestic violence is actually a common phenomenon that is extremely difficult to talk about. One in three women and one in four men have experienced some form of physical violence in the home. Furthermore, domestic violence is not just defined by physical abuse. Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to maintain power and control over a domestic family member.
Under this definition, we had all been experiencing domestic violence for years. I imagine many out there have too, they just aren’t talking about it. It took a severe physical act of violence for me to open my eyes to the abuse our family was experiencing. My hope is that others can be spared the pain and not only recognize the signs of domestic violence sooner, but do something about it.
I thought the most important thing was to keep my family together, as a unit. I had been previously divorced and so part of my ego was at play as well. I simply could not imagine being a twice divorcee. What would people think? What would that say about me? These are the thoughts I battled over for years.
I am 49 years old and the only thing that matters to me now, is happiness….true, happiness. And if I want my kids to even have a shot at happiness, I have to authentically live a happy life. I tried for years to make them happy by “sacrificing” anything and everything. In the long run, it didn’t work. We all have to find our own path to happiness.
The family has all experienced PTSD over the past year and so the days leading up to Halloween 2022 had all of us on edge.
It turns out that Halloween 2022 was fun but it was also heartbreaking. I was a nervous wreck all day but I was also productive. I had a near panic attack in yoga, but then got lost in work and felt fine. I started feeling incredibly uncomfortable, but then met up with a friend and had a great time.
I was fortunate to spend the evening with my son, his girlfriend, my beau and his daughter all at my new home. We had a great time, but when they left, I cried. I felt all the feels of what has transpired over the last year, both good and bad. I missed my daughter like crazy as she is finding her own way at a school up north. I woke up this morning and felt once again, like I had been hit by a train.
But the reality is….our lives are REALLY good today. I have a beautiful home, the job of my dreams, two wonderful dogs and an incredible connection with my son and my daughter. I am in a healthy relationship with a man who shows unconditional love and support and is truly the most selfless human being I’ve ever met.
I have an incredibly strong support system and a wonderful community. My son is running at the collegiate level and enjoying his first year of college.
My daughter is at a school that every human being on the planet would benefit from as she is learning the meaning to happiness.
Life has never been better and it’s only been one year since it felt as though life was falling apart.
The N2 Company (my employer) honors tomorrow (Nov 2) as N2 Gives Day. We are all encouraged to take time to support the charitable cause of our choice. I have chosen to support Domestic Violence Awareness by continuing to share my experience in the hopes that my transparency will encourage those who are suffering to make change.
We are all responsible for our own happiness and sometimes we have to make big changes to achieve it. I was unhappy for years, but didn’t do anything about it. I am grateful the universe stepped in and forced my hand. As much as I dislike that my children were hurt by this forcing of the hand, I can also recognize that suffering is a stop along the way to happiness for each and every one of us.
Yesterday was difficult. Today is still difficult, but I can also see it for what it is. It is all part of the human experience. No-one goes through life unscathed, we all know that to be true. My story is no harder or worse than anyone else’s and I refuse to let it define me in a negative way. My experience with domestic violence has definitely become part of me, but I see now, just one year later, how it can be used to catapult a happy ending. I can honestly say, I am ready for and finally accepting my happy ending.
“Cause baby you’re a firework, come and show them what you’re worth…”
My sweet girl used to sing this song from the top of her lungs daily. So much so that I finally stenciled it into her wall.
Charlee was born a firework. She exhibited such passion and fire from the moment she opened her mouth. A soul like Charlee is destined to do great things, she just needs some special guidance. After all, the great ones never walk the straight and narrow path, they veer into the unknown and sometimes even dangerous territory if their energy is not tamed, or if trauma takes them down the wrong path.
And so although I have to be apart from her for some time as she gets the education and training she needs to ensure her superpowers are used for good, I will continue to tell the world about this amazing girl and show my love for her in every way I know how.
10 months ago our family was hit with a bout of domestic violence that turned our world upside down. Although the transformation that we are experiencing as a result of the aftermath is exactly what we need, the trauma has taken its toll on all of us. Noah’s running career changed substantially, I experience frequent panic attacks, and Charlee, well, she internalized it possibly more than anyone.
And so now is the time for her to heal and grow. Charlee is 5 hours away at a school that will help her heal and shine her light so brightly it will light up the world.
With today being National Daughter’s Day, I wanted to ensure I pay proper tribute to this beautiful girl…..my favorite girl in the entire universe.
We welcome love, prayers and positive vibes as she walks this road less traveled.
If you want to further support Charlee’s journey, please visit https://gofund.me/c86c0065
Thank you for your continued support.
#CharleeBria #TranscendtheBullshit #EndDomesticViolence #GlitterInTheAir #BetterDays #NationalDaughtersDay
The healing journey continues. We thank you for your love and support as we could not do this alone. Visit the following for more details:
9 months is the amount of time it takes for a new life to form inside a mother’s womb. It’s amazing that in 9 months, cells can transform into a full fledged human being – one seeing the world with a fresh set of eyes and endless possibilities.
It’s been 9 months since I walked away from the life I knew for 16 years. The early days and months were tough but also exciting (in retrospect). Like a newborn, I had many nights of endless crying, I was cranky, I found myself unable to fully understand this world I was in, and truly baffled by this newfound way of being. It was somewhat of an existential experience because on the other side of all that uncertainty was a budding curiosity and flourishing hope that I was entering into a new space of opportunity and exploration.
Every day that passed I became stronger and more aware of the opportunities in front of me. Colors seemed brighter, friendships seemed more meaningful. I began appreciating more, listening more, opening my heart more and letting go of the petty little things that used to rob so much of my energy.
I spent an entire month with my parents and developed a whole new appreciation for who they are and what incredible parents they have always been. The kids and I started become more of a unified unit. I moved into a new house and made it my own. I made the conscious decision that my home would be a welcoming space for all, filled with love and acceptance.
My son graduated from High School and I celebrated him rather than mourn the loss of an era. My daughter and I started transitioning into a stage of friendship (don’t get me wrong, I’m still the Mama), but our streams of conversations broadened and deepened.
The dogs continued to give us all the love, sweetness and companionship we needed.
And I met Andy. This amazing human being who shows me what it is like to be truly loved. Who makes me feel like the most special and adored person in the whole world. Who walks beside me as a partner and values me for exactly who I am.
To top it all off, I landed my dream job. I was promoted to Director of BeLocal Product Growth at the N2 Company and I am doing work that I truly love at a company that I am fully invested in.
And so the story goes….after darkness comes light. After a hurricane comes a rainbow. After some time (say 9 months), comes new life.
For me, the story goes into a happily ever after. I lost it all, to gain it all.
I thank the universe for loss. Without the great loss 9 months ago, I would have never known what I was missing.
#Yogirunner #TranscendtheBullshit #EndDomesticViolence #EverythingWillChange #BetterDays #Bright #AndSoItGoes #GlitterInTheAir #GutsyChangeMaker
Naked. It’s the perfect word for how I’ve felt the past 6 months. After our traumatic bout with domestic violence on Halloween 2021, we decided to be open about what had transpired, which made us completely vulnerable. We opened ourselves to ridicule and judgement….for being in “that kind of situation”, for being so open, for utilizing social media and other online platforms to share our journey. We felt it. We knew a world of judgement was on our shoulders. But we had a mission large enough to walk through the fires of sneers. We were seeking freedom, for ourselves and maybe even for others.
On the polar side of the scoffs there existed something beautiful. A world full of love and support. We realized how many people out there not only stood by us through our journey but could also relate in one form or another. I heard from moms who were living in a world filled with violence. I heard from men who lived through domestic violence when they were younger. I heard from parents who witnessed their spouse committing domestic violence with their children. It became clear very quickly that there was a far greater purpose for our openness. In sharing our authentic truth, we opened the door to compassion, understanding, connection and love. We were vitally vulnerable.
I’ve blogged every month since it happened. Month 1 I was throwing Glitter in the Air for my army of angels. Month 2 I was coming to the realization that Everything Will Change. Month 3 I admitted to being Uncomfortably Aware. Month 4 I was reconciling with the idea that Better Days were on the horizon. Month 5 I was feeling Bright as I was coming out of the darkness. And now, month 6, I see that this entire time I’ve been Vitally Vulnerable.
Vulnerable is a tricky word. We often associate it with weakness or a sense of delicacy. Vulnerable can also be a scary word. Vulnerability leaves us wide open to any and all emotions. By pure definition, being vulnerable puts us in a position where others can hurt us. I decided to be vulnerable right after I had been hurt and betrayed in the most horrific way I could have imagined. Why did I do it? Maybe I felt numb, like nothing else could really hurt me. Maybe I needed the support from my army of angels. Maybe I felt a desire to connect with others who had experienced the same thing or to help others that had experienced the same thing. Or maybe, I was already naked and realized there is strength in being completely stripped down with no coat of armor. Whatever drove me to do it, I have no regrets. My time of healing has no doubt been easier and likely shortened due to the risk I took in being vulnerable.
After I filed for divorce, I said the words, “I will never date again.” As time passed, that changed to “I will never get in a relationship again.” A little more time passed and it moved to, “I will never get married again.”
One month ago today, I connected with Andy. We had incredible intellectual chemistry. We had matching emotional intelligence and a strong physical attraction. We went on a few dates and with each encounter, our connection grew stronger. The connection is so strong that we are now in a relationship. I announced this on FB yesterday and received tremendous support. I also witnessed that good ‘ol ridicule and judgement. I strategically use the word “witnessed” in relation to ridicule as opposed to the word “received” in relation to support. I welcome the support. I simply witness the ridicule.
Sharing this new relationship once again made me vulnerable. But if I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned that sharing my truth, unapologetically, offers me freedom. I am free to be me and to go after the life I desire.
6 months later, I feel as though things have come full circle. I was vulnerable in sharing the pain and by doing so, I was freed from a prison. Today, I am vulnerable in sharing the joy and am once again, freed from a prison. It’s funny how vulnerability yields the same results regardless of how it is used.
If you’ve never allowed yourself to be truly vulnerable, I highly recommend it. Strip down the armor.
In the end, we simply won’t make it through this journey without being vulnerable. We may as well do it in time to enjoy the growth, the gifts and the freedom. Getting naked is not as scary as it seems, it’s actually rewarding beyond imagination.
#VitallyVulnerable #Yogirunner #TranscendtheBullshit #EndDomesticViolence
It’s been 5.5 months since our lives changed forever at the hand of domestic violence. That dark tunnel I was in after it happened seemed never ending. I knew there was a light waiting for me somewhere, but I just couldn’t see it – until now.
I think the universe is on my side. Heaven and earth have finally aligned. Days are good, and that’s the way it should be. These lyrics to the song, Bright by Echosmith, ring so true for me today.
Walking away from everything you know can be overwhelming. But staying in a situation that is darkening your soul can be fatal. Being in a toxic situation may not kill you on the spot, but it will slowly eat away at your essence and eventually diminish your light. I will never regret walking away from that toxicity. Life is good, and that’s the way it should be.
I’ve done more self reflection and inner work over the last few months that the accumulation of my entire life. The strongest realization I’ve had is that my hallmark trade has been to put others’ needs and happiness before my own. I’ve always done all the right things to take care of myself; exercise, yoga, meditate, journal, therapy, self-help seminars / books, decent nutrition…nothing excessive. But I was missing the key element to absorbing all of the nourishment from these pursuits – I was offering all of my oxygen before I took the time to take the deep breaths my soul needed to expand. It’s funny, the universe has its’ way of showing you when it’s time to stop and really inhale.
Today, I think the universe is on my side. I’m slowing down enough to appreciate everything. I am being vulnerable enough to allow others in, and when I let the right ones in, I feel like a million bucks. Incredible people have entered my life. I wake up everyday feeling cherished and valued….not only by others but by myself. I see colors in a different way. And although I can’t 100% speak for them, I can say with mother’s intuition, that my kids are experiencing the same phenomenon.
Yesterday was the funeral for my 34 year old nephew. It was incredibly sad. We mourned the loss of a life that seemed to have been taken too early. But I was also able to feel the warmth of his spirit. Throughout the service I kept hearing his voice saying, “Auntie, Auntie.” I could feel the fire of his soul living on. I’m not sure I would have experienced this the same way if I were still enveloped in toxicity. I have learned that when you are caught up in a toxic situation, all of your energy goes towards survival. You are in constant fight or flight which means your nerve endings are fried. There is no room to feel and appreciate, you simply persevere. Things are different today. It’s like a moonbeam brushed across my face.
Is everyday rainbows and butterflies? Absolutely not. There are tough days. The PTSD associated with Halloween 2021 still wreaks havoc from time to time. The underbelly of our situation is still exposed and raw. BUT, the big difference is that the future is BRIGHT. We are free, we invite connection, love and bliss.
If you are reading this, you have most certainly been part of the healing process. Your support, goodwill and tenderness have literally changed the course for our family. Did you see that shooting star tonight? Were you dazzled by the same constellation?
Did you and Jupiter conspire to get me? I think you and the Moon and Neptune got it right
‘Cause now I’m shining bright, so bright. I’ve always loved the lyrics to that song, Bright, but today they have a whole new meaning.
To the army of angels who have literally lifted us up from what felt like the depths of hell, there is no proper way to thank you and so I will just say, you will forever hold a special place in our hearts. Kindness matters. Love wins!
And a big thank you to Adrienne Perry Photography for capturing these photos that represent our current state so well. Your unrelenting selflessness is admirable and contagious.
Shine bright my army of angels. You literally light up the world.
It’s funny how a magical, beautiful moment can bring on the same intensity as a painful, traumatic moment. Polarity exists in everything. As they say, there is no darkness without light, there is no pain without joy. One extreme emotion simply cannot exist without the opposite extreme emotion.
When you have been traumatized, you are like a dog that’s been bitten. You flinch at life. Afraid that anyone or anything may re-traumatize you. That is until you heal, and healing takes vulnerability.
I have a strong desire to heal, which is why I am choosing to stay extremely vulnerable on my journey through recovery.
It’s been 4 months since our world was flipped upside down through a bout of domestic violence. Since Halloween 2021, both children have been hospitalized, our dog has been severely injured twice, we’ve been “dumped” by the people we called family for 16 years, we’ve had to list the home, navigate a divorce and face financial hurdles.
And most recently, my nephew was shot and killed at 34 years old. Shot and killed.
If that’s not the final kick to the gut, I can’t imagine what will be.
Hope and optimism have always been overly abundant for me. It’s true, I’ve had to tap into them much more than usual over the past 4 months, but there is nothing that will every dry my well. That is a decision I made, a long time ago.
My favorite song in the whole world is “Better Days” by The Goo Goo Dolls. Even when things were great in my life, so many of the lyrics to that song spoke to me. My favorite line is:
“And you ask me what I want this year, and I try to make this kind and clear, just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days. “
Whether things are great or challenging, I’m always keenly aware that there is still a chance for better days.
Back to the concept of polarity. The flip side of having an overload of hope and abundance during difficult times, is the idea that things always can and will get better, even when things are seemingly great.
Anyone that has had more than one conversation with me knows that I am a master at poking holes in things. I can quickly identify problems and sniff out bullshit. Some may call this a pessimist or a perfectionist, but I call it an opportunist. I can see the potential for things to be better in almost any given situation. I will admit, this can be a pain in the ass quality when I’m poking holes that seemingly don’t need to be poked, but it is wildly helpful at times like this.
Things can and always will get better.
I’ve had some crazy intense moments over the past 4 months. I’ve experienced extreme sadness, confusion, anger, frustration, bewilderment, fear, grief, happiness, excitement and denial. But the most confusing emotion for me has been, joy.
Joy is different than happiness. Happiness is derived from superficial pleasures, while joy is a state of internal satisfaction. A song can make me happy. A call from a friend can make me happy. Seeing my child laugh can make me happy. But only profound, spiritual experiences can invoke joy.
The first time I experienced joy was Thanksgiving Day. It was one month after the “event” and I recognized angels everywhere. My overwhelming sense of joy stemmed from gratitude. I was raw and vulnerable and could easily tie my joy to a deep sense of appreciation for the support I was receiving from so many beautiful souls.
I’ve had glimmers of joy since then, but nothing as profound as an experience I had on Port Aranas beach last week.
It was 2 days after I received the news about my nephew. It was a cloudy day (my favorite kind of day) and I was on the beach, flying a butterfly kite that a special friend had gifted me. There was not a sound to be heard other than the waves of the ocean. Beautiful birds were flying right over head and my purple butterfly was high in the sky demonstrating a metaphor of freedom. Like a flash flood, all the events of the past 4 months washed over me. EVERY SINGLE MEMORY entered my sphere of consciousness in an instant. But there was something more powerful present. Joy!
Hearing the waves, watching the birds, seeing all of my hopes and dreams wrapped up in my butterfly kite, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. I knew that everything could and would be more than ok. It would be better.
The duality of emotions was enough to take my breath away. I had no idea how to process the intensity of this experience.
Emotions are on a spectrum and the intensity of any emotion, negative or positive, can trigger the same response. Yes, joy can trigger the same physical response as trauma. Later that day, I went into complete fight or flight mode. All I knew to do was protect myself from the intense emotions.
It’s been 5 days since the occurrence of that emotional washing machine. The overpowering experience has taken almost a week to untangle.
What did I learn? It is inevitable that the unexpected will encroach our lives. The unexpected can be trauma or it can be profound joy. Regardless of what side of the spectrum it falls on, the unexpected can either be a curse or an opportunity. We get to decide.
I don’t just believe, I know, that things can and always will get better. I chose ALL of the unexpected to be opportunities.
I’m holding on to and appreciating my moments of joy. I’m holding on to The Goo Goo Dolls lyrics:
“So take these words and sing out loud, cause everyone is forgiven now. Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again. “
Every night, the world begins again.
Here’s to Better Days.
p.s.- I am getting a purple butterfly tattoo Sunday. 🙂
It’s been 3 months since our string of tragedies began. But the longer time goes on, the longer I realize we were actually living a horror story for years.
October 31, 2021 and the week that followed brought on acute trauma to our entire family after my son was beaten right in front of the dogs, my daughter and myself. 5 days later the trauma extended when my daughter was admitted to the hospital for a week. There is no greater feeling of powerlessness than not being able to stop pain or abuse with your children. Witnessing my children go through such trauma is likely to cause PTSD and / or other long-term reactions I may not see coming.
I’d love to say that I’ve handled everything like a Pro. I’d love to say that after 3 months I’ve arrived back to the person I once was. But that simply isn’t the case.
It seems the longer time goes on, the harder things get. More and more truths continue to unveil themselves. More and more aftermaths bubble to the surface. And as life continues to move on while I am still trying to pick up the pieces, I have more and more of a desire to become Comfortably Numb.
I love that song, Comfortably Numb, by Pink Floyd. It’s so melodic and calming. The song itself mirrors exactly what the lyrics deliver; “Come on now. I hear you’re feeling down, well I can ease your pain. Get you on your feet again. Relax. I’ll need some information first. Just the basic facts, can you show me where it hurts?”
If ever there existed a song that acted as a drug that could take away the pain, this one would be it.
But there is not a song or a drug or a drink that can take away the pain. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that. So what does one do to take away the pain?
I am committed to honesty through this journey because it is my mission to be an advocate to end domestic violence. But in order to be an advocate I must share the messy truth.
And messy it is. Month 1 was a blur that I only got through with an Army of Angels who helped me throw a fistful of Glitter in the Air. Month 2 was extremely difficult as reality started sinking in and I realized that Everything Will Change. Month 1 was a fog. Month 2 was a haze. As for Month 3? Well, that’s been a real humdinger.
Did you know that 75% of people turn to alcohol when faced with trauma? 75%! The number increases when trauma produces PTSD. Statistics show that 85%+ people who experience PTSD use alcohol to numb the pain. Isn’t it astounding that the majority of people turn to a literal poison that produces self-administered oppression, to get some kind of relief from the pain?
I learned the truths about alcohol a long time ago. I’ve known since my early 20s that it is a toxic substance. Does that mean I’ve always abstained? No. I’ve had times of not drinking at all, to times of drinking too much. The thing is, once you know the truth about something, you can’t unknow it.
But as much as you know the truth about something, it can still be alluring when you are desperate for something, for anything, to numb the pain.
So maybe you get in an environment where you don’t have to drive, you have no responsibilities of kids and that poison being served in fancy glasses with its lies of laughter and smiles is circling around you and summoning the pain you are feeling to succumb to the illusion? Would you partake to get a brief reprieve from the pain? Would you even think twice?
I can tell you what the result would be if you did. “Uncomfortably Numb.” There is not an amount of poison that can fix the trauma. The pain is there beneath the substance and actually stronger when reality returns.
And so it my vow to you, my readers, my friends and myself – that I will walk this untraveled road with a completely clear and sober mind. I choose to be Uncomfortably Aware as opposed to Uncomfortably Numb.I choose to feel every ounce of pain, to battle every nightmare, to walk through every panic attack and to wipe the tears after every cry, without falsely curating my persona by means of the lies distributed in a bottle or pill.
I will be the messy version of myself until I become the best version of myself.
Consider Month 3 messy as hell. Let’s see what Month 4 brings……
It’s been 4 weeks since my last post, “Glitter in the Air”. I wrote that post on Thanksgiving Day, 4 weeks after we experienced a horrible bout of domestic violence and I left the man I was with for 16 years.
It’s hard to believe that my new life has been taking shape for 2 months now. Most days it feels like I’m trying to find my way through a never-ending maze I was suddenly plopped into with no warning whatsoever. But there are definitely moments of clarity now, and rather than relying on the army of angels that wrapped their wings around me in the early weeks, I’m learning to trust and rely on the angels within. I find the words to Gavin DeGraw’s song, Everything Will Change constantly repeating in my mind; “Take those boots off the shelf, wipe that dust of yourself, even if you’ve been through hell; you’re back.”
The thing about it is, I have to be back. Whether I like it or not. Some days I’m excited about it, some days I have no earthly idea how to untangle the web I’ve been entrapped in for almost 2 decades.
My parents were here the first month after “the incident” on Halloween. They drove in from New Mexico the day after the nightmare occurred, planning on only being here for a couple of days. They ended up staying 4 weeks. They provided a sense of safety and served as my security blanket right when I needed it. I will be forever grateful for their presence. Things were tough those first few weeks, blurry and surreal. But it wasn’t util after they left, when I was all alone with the responsibility, the memories, the emotions and the pain, that the real work began. The moment I realized I was alone in this huge house full of memories, with the responsibility of not only pulling myself from the ashes, but also the kids, I understood I was going to have to dig for strength I wasn’t even sure I had.
I’m fortunate that in my 48 years on this planet, I have not experienced death on a truly intimate level (other than my cat, Java who died in my arms after 16 years together). I’ve lost grandparents and friends, but never someone who was a constant in my day-to-day life. I suppose this mess I am in is like what one experiences after an intimate death. The love and support from others is overwhelming the first few weeks, but slowly begins to dwindle as time goes on. I’ve been on the other side – watching a friend deal with tragedy, and I know that as an observer, it seems that the hard part is likely over after a couple of months pass. However, being on this side of tragedy, I now realize that it is months later when the truly hard part begins. As the world moves on, you are still picking up the pieces trying to create your new norm.
The thing about it is – that overwhelming outpouring of love and support in the early days works exactly as it should. It is immortal and provides what is needed for the many sad and lonely days to come.
One of the great lessons of grief is that you realize it is not the responsibility of others to carry the load. The silver lining of any tribulation is that we gain strength and courage to stand on our own two feet and keep moving on.
As Gavin sings, “You’ve got to grow strong like you’re leading the nation, you’ve got to make the best out of this situation.”
It’s a tough thing, navigating the array of feelings when you have two children relying on you to help them navigate too. The sadness comes and goes without warning. There are moments it is so consuming you feel breathless, and there are times when it transforms into pure, unrecognizable anger. Several months back I learned the skill of being an observer (thank you Adam Grant for teaching this in your book, Think Again). When a deep emotion hits, you take a step back and observe the situation as a spectator. In observing my sadness turn to anger, I realize this is my being’s way of protecting itself. The sadness alone is enough to take me into a deep dark hole from which I may not be able to return. The anger gives me the strength to crawl my way back to reality.
Being the introspective that I am, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand how I landed in such a toxic situation. I pride myself as being a strong, independent woman – so how on earth was I living such a nightmare for 16 years behind closed doors?
That’s the thing about narcissistic abuse – it’s insidious and cunning. It plays on your greatest strengths until those strengths become your greatest liabilities.
As written in Psychology today:
One of the most common misconceptions is that narcissists only look for emotionally dependent partners who lack confidence and self-esteem. In fact, narcissists are often attracted to strong, confident, and self-assured women.
While this may seem counterintuitive, it is important to realize that the narcissistic traits of grandiosity and confidence are really a mask for deep insecurity. What appears to be an overabundance of self-assurance is actually a protective wall designed to block the narcissist from acknowledging his own insecurity and lack of self-confidence.
At the same time, the narcissist uses that sense of self-confidence and assurance to portray a personality that is attractive to a confident, successful woman. She looks for a man who does not need her ongoing support and who has the strength and ability to manage any situation.
Narcissists often feel safe with strong partners as they have always struggled with a consistent parent figure. When you take charge, manage life effectively, and create your own success, this becomes a draw for the narcissist. Coupling this with your ability to show empathy and kindness creates a natural magnet for the narcissist who desperately wants to have those characteristics. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/addiction-and-recovery/202106/why-strong-women-and-narcissists-attract-each-other)
I don’t know what will become of my situation, but I am 100% confident it will be used to help others. At a minimum, I am showing my kids that they can walk away from unhealthy situations at any time. You can talk the talk OR you can walk the walk. I’m choosing to walk the walk. Saying I am a strong, independent woman is one thing, but choosing the hardest path imaginable to protect myself and my kids is a step that requires almost super-human strength. I’m choosing to walk the walk and I hope that in sharing my story, others will have the courage to do the same if they find themselves in an insidious nightmare of a situation.
Something about the holidays makes me want to write. And so here I am on December 26, and our first Christmas in the “new norm” is now behind us.
I spent a good portion of Christmas Eve alone. I burned sage and stomped around the house singing the angriest songs I could find – yelling and cussing like a crazy person (don’t worry, this was all suggested by my therapist). I got SO much anger out in my little Christmas Eve tantrum that I spent the rest of my alone time sipping hot tea while staring at the fire and Christmas lights in complete silence. If anybody was on the outside looking in, they would likely have chased me down with a huge butterfly net and a dose of valium, but it was the most healing thing I could have done. I felt completely vindicated without harming a soul (except maybe my poor tormented dogs who had no idea what I was doing).
Yesterday was Christmas and I woke up full of hope. Both kids were home with me. It was our first Christmas free of the rule of thumb we had been under for so many years. We could play music as loud as we want, eat what we want, and have a glorious day doing whatever we want! But the first Christmas after a family splits is anything but glorious. It was actually hard as hell. Gifts under the tree were fewer, laughter was lighter, and the memories were haunting.
The most harrowing moment was when my son checked the mail and realized that only his sister was getting gifts from the people he had called family for 16 years. He realized that after not only experiencing abuse from the man he called stepdad, that man and his entire family had dumped him – as though he never existed. The first emotion I felt was a blow of sadness that literally took my breath away. But that sadness immediately turned to anger as Mama bear was ready to attack at this inhumane act of pettiness.
Well, Mama Bear knows attacks don’t help her cubs. So instead, I hugged him and reminded him how much he is loved. And later that day, I had to hug myself and remind this Mama that those painful experiences he is going through will make him an even more incredible human being than he already is.
I am constantly reminded that every step forward comes with an ounce more of strength. Even if the strength odometer moves just a millimeter, the accumulation will be enough. The angels within are brewing because with every new day the realization comes that before the night is over, everything will change.
Turns out that even though Christmas Day was hard as hell, we created new memories of our own that ultimately brought us closer. We enjoyed each other more by eating meals together, taking the dogs on a walk together and playing games together. There was a sense of unity among the three of us that never existed before.
And now that the first Christmas of our new norm has passed, I realize that I feel the power coming on, starting like a fire. This holiday lit the flame and now everything will change.
That’s a good thing.
Have you ever allowed yourself to be truly vulnerable and transparent with raw wounds? As Pink sings in Glitter in the Air, “have you ever invited a stranger to come inside?”
This was the choice I made after deciding (along with my son) that we would not keep the worst day of our lives a secret. October 31, 2021 changed our worlds forever when Halloween took on a whole new meaning with our real- life horror show. From that day forward, I have certifiably been able to use the term “going through hell” without a sliver of exaggeration.
In the month since it happened, I’ve relived that day over and over in my mind. The first few days were a blur. Staying out of bed for more than a couple of hours was a major task. The only food I could stomach was a banana. There were times I sat in front of the mirror and just stared, not recognizing the reflection of the pale puffy woman who looked like she had been hit by a truck. My life felt surreal. It was like watching a movie that kept twisting and turning in the most unimaginable ways. I waited and waited to wake up. It never happened so I adjusted, but not without the help of an army of angels.
In June 2021, I started seeing a therapist. I was angry. I think the first words I said to her were, “I hate people.” I was on the verge of a break-down but didn’t quite understand why. It’s now 5 months later, and it all makes sense. Toxicity was permeating my every fiber. I could feel it, I just didn’t realize the source of it. As they say, I couldn’t see the forest through the trees.
I spent Halloween 2021 at the ER with my son. I had to leave my dog, who had been badly bitten by my other dog, at home with large open wounds. I had a choice, I could either take my dog to the vet, or take my son to the hospital. As much as I love my dogs, nothing trumps my children and so we spent the evening in the ER while my dog was alone at home, bleeding and in pain.
Enter angel #1, my BFF. She came to my home and took care of my dog. She walked away from her own Halloween to help a four-legged friend in need. No questions asked, she just did it.
I didn’t sleep a wink that night. My body was in true fight or flight, jumping into survival mode every time I started dozing off.
The next day I was greeted at my home by angel #2, my former mother-in-law. She had driven all the way from NM to see her grandson. I cried in her arms for what felt like an eternity.
An hour or so later, my ex-husband and his friend arrived at our home. Angels #3 & 4 were there to support not only his son, but all of us. They were ready and willing to do anything we needed.
Angels #5 & 6, my Mom & Dad, arrived just a couple of hours later. These two get the top angel awards as they have been here ever since, pulling the weight that I haven’t had the strength to handle. I can’t put into words my gratitude for them and all they have done. They truly are the wind beneath my wings.
Once I had the courage and strength to be open about our experience, the angels kept flooding in, in numbers more than I can count.
My boss was more supportive than I could have possibly imagined. She was nurturing and calm, listening to me try to piece together the shattered story of my life – all while opening space for me to take care of family and not worry about work. Colleagues sent messages of hope and strength, and one very special colleague in California stepped in and just started handling everything on my plate.
I received a call from the owner of our company. He kindly listened and offered support and prayer. A few days later, I received generous and thoughtful gifts for the kids from my company. These gifts brightened their worlds, which had just been turned upside down.
For at least two weeks I was a blurry version of myself, yet felt no pressure from my company to be anything other than what I was. My company wrapped its’ arms around me and I will be forever grateful.
Another tragedy hit just a few days after the first one. As Rodney Atkins says in his famous song, If You’re Going Through Hell, “things go from bad to worse, you’d think they can’t get worse than that and then they do.” I have another angel to thank for introducing me to that song because it reminds me daily, that I am not the only person in the world to go through hell.
Just when I wasn’t sure I had the strength to make it through the domestic violence that had occurred on Halloween, I had a whole new issue on my hands that required a surplus of strength I wasn’t sure I had. But then another angel talked me through things on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. Anytime I called, she picked up. I cried, I cussed, I yelled. She listened. She provided reason. And she just loved me through it.
While I was away one day tending to this other trauma, my father’s car broke down. A neighbor angel swept in and came to help.
Because much of my furniture was gone, I needed a bed for my parents. A family from my son’s Cross Country team not only picked up the bed for us, but came to our house and put it together.
I had no tools so a neighbor let me enter her home (when no one was there) to borrow some. About a week later, a beautiful brand-new tool set showed up on my doorstep. That neighbor knew exactly what this single mom needed and acted on it with a beautiful gift.
I realized angels weren’t just helping me, they were helping everyone associated. Angels, Angels, Angels!
As the weeks went on, I received texts, calls, Marco Polo’s and private messages daily. Some from people in my current sphere of relationships, but many from people I had otherwise lost contact with. I received messages from people thanking me for protecting my children to messages from people telling me they had experienced domestic violence and wished their mother had protected them. The door I opened in choosing to be transparent created an overwhelming sense of community.
So many people told me they were proud of me. And when you are making a life changing move like this, “I’m proud of you” is such a powerful thing to hear.
I’m not sure how these angels knew what I needed, but multitudes of them knew. I even got a call from my brother who I had not spoken to in quite some time. I cried. He listened. He loved me and I knew he was there, and our relationship was repaired.
I got calls from colleagues who were attempting to distract me with work talk, or to just make me laugh. They knew exactly what I needed.
Gift cards to Door Dash and Uber Eats came. Cards from friends to tell me they loved me came. My BFF showed up one night with flowers and my favorite beverage and sat in my room with me in my zombie like state, just listening and being there with her super-sized angel wings.
Less than a week later, she and her husband came to help me put up a TV and then she drove with me across town for a Mexican dinner. I was still in full on walking dead mode, but she was there, once again, right by my side.
My son’s Cross-Country team, coaches and even recruiting college coaches were showing support left and right. They all made sure we knew he had made a name for himself and didn’t need to worry about missing State his senior year. That was incredibly meaningful for us. His former coach sent him gifts in the mail. I got calls from recruiting college coaches just checking in on him. The support from the Cross Country community was endless.
And at his end of the year Cross Country banquet, he received the prestigious Eagle Award for the 4th year in a row. That set back on Halloween didn’t stop him from shining bright all the way through the end of his High School Cross Country career.
So here we are, 4 weeks later on Thanksgiving Day. My parents are still here and my other brother and his son drove in from NM. Rather than relaxing and enjoying the holiday as they all should have, my whole family was at work all day long. My mom and brother tackled Thanksgiving dinner together in the kitchen. My dad was busy hanging pictures and draining / cleaning the hot tub. My brother continued through the night resetting electronics and fixing things I couldn’t figure out. And when he saw me breaking down in the middle of the kitchen for no apparent reason, he stopped everything and just hugged me. No words spoken, just sheer support through a brotherly hug.
I’ve had moments with the kids where we just hug. Moments where we lay in the yoga room and just talk. I feel closer to both of them than I ever have.
And when our injured dog finally got his cone off today, we all rejoiced and swarmed him with snuggles.
The dogs have not left my side once. They literally wrap their paws around me every chance they get.
And today, when I needed to step out into nature and just feel the feels, I listened to Glitter in the Air by Pink and stopped in my tracks to these lyrics:
“Have you ever…..closed your eyes and trusted, just trusted?
Have you ever thrown a fistful of glitter in the air?
Have you ever looked fear in the face and said, I just don’t care?”
Well Pink, I can say, on Thanksgiving Day 2021, that I have. I’m not sure in my 48 years of life I’ve ever truly closed my eyes and just trusted, until now. Because I have enough angels around me letting me know it’s ok to trust.
My angels are the ones that help me to throw fistfuls of glitter in the air, in those moments between the pain.
And because of my angels, I am able to, even if only for brief moments, look fear in the face and say, “I just don’t care.”
At my therapy session last week, she asked me if I still hate people. Through eyes filled with tears I said, “Absolutely not. I had no idea how much love was surrounding me this entire time.”
There is no way to properly thank my angels. But please know that through you, I have courage, strength and hope. You see, my tears these days aren’t just about the recent tragedies, they are also because I’ve been touched so gently I have to cry.
Much Love & Gratitude my Army of Angels. I am incredibly thankful for you.