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.