Their world is slowly but definitely imploding, you can trust me on that.
You may not witness the fall today or tomorrow, but it’s going to happen.
Because when you build your life around
manipulating the truth
stealing money &
ruining your credit
breaking the law
running from authenticity
blaming everyone else
listening to your ego
damaging your own soul
and you rely on smoke and mirrors to convince people you’re a good and/or successful person,
very little has the proper foundation to withstand time.
An unpopular opinion.
I think we should be single for as long as we were in the abusive relationship.
Will this always be the ruler by which to measure our healing and health and readiness? No, definitely not. Because a short-term abusive relationship (half a year, for example) may require much longer to overcome, while a significant long-term partnership (twenty-five years, say) may not need more than two decades from which to “bounce back.”
But it takes time, my friends and fellow survivors.
Time to both hurt and nurse our wounds
and study and learn why the abuse happened
and set some coping skills
and begin to replace the negative with the positive
and experience who we really are, want to be,
and shed all we cannot carry any longer
and figure out just exactly what a “boundary” is
and set some ground rules for what we will not allow again
and adjust the patterns to which we ourselves contribute,
thus breaking the unhealthy cycles of our own making,
and also understand that we are whole without a partner
that who we are to ourselves matters more than who we’ll be to the next date, more than caring too much about how they’ll perceive us,
and that we validate our own existence by prioritizing self-love and -empowerment over what anyone else may assume or interpret about us, our journey, our worth,
that no one else is responsible for our happiness and well-being,
and so on.
Let me share this.
When I left my abuser in 2011, we’d been married for twelve years. I had every expectation that I’d find love soon. I deserved it, after all, because who doesn’t, but also because the abuse and neglect I’d experienced had been so thorough for so long that my gaps were so wide and so deep that I assumed someone would swoop in to save and repair me in no time at all.
It was so naïve of me. And, of course, there were friends who had blazed the trail before me who knew better.
As I was taking on the process of divorce, one such friend told me not to rush. To put a cap on that expectation. It had taken her five years after her own divorce to find the love of her life, and I thought, “Pfft! It’ll never take me that long. I won’t be single forever.”
And (LOL, groan) guess what? Here I am, mere months from the twelve years-divorced mark, still single. If you had told me I’d be alone for as long as I was married, I’d have laughed and cried then cried some more.
Oh, I dated a fair amount, especially early on. Too early. Too eagerly. Without knowing me and having my own foundation from which to operate. Because of this I didn’t see clear red flags, or stay true to myself, so there were men who weren’t right for me at all—and because I hadn’t yet taken the time I needed for everything listed above, those connections resulted in more heartbreak and lesson-learning than successful relationship.
To be fair, there were probably a few men in the mix who were decent enough, just not my type. And I wasn’t wrong to move on. That’s our choice. We earn the right to be selective. “Picky,” some like to say. We owe ourselves nothing less, in fact.
Today I can tell you that my “unluckiness” in dating and relationships doesn’t mean I haven’t been worthy of love, or that I have somehow failed to flip a magic switch, hit a required button, unlock a certain door. It just doesn’t work that way. It also doesn’t mean I’ve failed to “work on myself” or that I have to “love myself more” to somehow earn the love of someone else.
I didn’t always know this, which is why each year on my own has helped me find the distance and clarity I needed to internalize my worth, to build upon my independence, and experience so many amazing and powerful things — as a woman, as a mom, as a survivor — that I simply had to experience without a partner to take away from the Power of Me in it all.
I’m thankful for this. Do I sometimes feel lonely? Yep. Do I sometimes crave companionship? Absolutely. But whereas twelve years ago I believed I NEEDED romantic love, even when I had no idea what that should look like for me, today I can tell you all I NEED is me, and that the eventual partnership & interdependence coming my way will be a gift that only has to be what I want and deserve. I’ll cherish it because of that. Never take it for granted.
I dabbled on Facebook Dating last fall. It was an experiment with myself more than anything, to observe how I interacted and what my expectations have come to be after all this time. After a few months I realized I wanted to see out this twelfth year as single as I’ve been since the divorce. There’s some beautiful accomplishment, a milestone in that, especially as it aligns with the high school graduation of my youngest, the expiration of the legal custody agreement with my ex, and my return home to Kansas City. I just have to see it through this way, you know?
And I’m so thankful I didn’t end up tied to another bad dude. That my vulnerable efforts to snag one of those early guys, before I really knew me, didn’t spiral me down the path of another toxic long-term partnership.
With each year that passes I am more comfortable being me, and coming into the person I want and need to be for ME, as much as for the right relationship.
I hope this for you, too.
What do you think? Where are you in your dating-after-domestic-abuse journey?
I didn’t know about the cookies.
Back then I knew about the unbrushed teeth and hair. Limited bathing. He had them looking like ragamuffins.
I knew about how the electric company had shut off power because of nonpayment. I knew about the house approaching foreclosure, and how the deed nearly got sold on the courthouse steps.
Those were the reasons I initially took my ex back to court, when I attempted to modify custody for the first time. Shared fifty-fifty was hell on me and the kids—sending them back into his “care” the nightmare of my life and, of course, it was no dream for them, either. They dreaded going to the point that they would hide from me on transition day. Sob their fears. Beg me to keep them.
I tried to be strong in front of them and kept the doubt and anxiety to myself, but I cried a lot back then, too. Part of the nightmare was that I couldn’t just “keep them.” I was legally bound to giving them over, full-well knowing that in the world of coparenting, you’re the one who gets in trouble if you don’t oblige—no matter what condition you’re sending them to.
This would have been 11 years ago, give or take a few weeks, months. My kids were 6 and 8 or so then.
Last night my daughter, who is now 20, told me about the cookies for the first time. She said that after I moved us out, their dad didn’t keep or prepare food for them at the house I’d left behind. Just a cabinet full of cookies he’d bought in bulk.
After school she’d be so hungry that she’d eat cookie after cookie. And then come dinnertime, only more cookies were on the menu.
As she recounted this to me I flashed back to the time she’d stood (same timeline) in front of the open refrigerator in our shitty, low-income apartment and gasped aloud. “Wow, we must be RICH or something.” Her comment pierced my heart. We only had the food because, in fact, we were poor. Because I’d signed us up for food stamps. But she didn’t know that, and I was offering so much more than cookies.
Which, it turns out, didn’t matter.
If you’ve experienced family court, you know it takes months, sometimes a year or more, to get to the part that matters. This is for many reasons, not the least of which is the attorneys’ ability to ask for continuances and cause delays. It’s particularly handy for those who don’t have the best story to tell and need time to tie up all their loose ends.
Abusive and neglectful loose ends.
By the time we presented before the judge, my ex had done a number of things to improve the living situation at his house. Giving what narrative I don’t know—but it had long been his pattern to trick people out of money—he convinced family to bring his bills and house current, which means he avoided foreclosure just in the nick of time. He also found a new partner and assimilated her with ease. (Or with lies and manipulation, as it were.) She was a package deal, turns out, so upon her insertion in my kids’ lives the responsibilities conveniently changed course. Hygiene became important. Real meals were prioritized. Necessities got handled. It’s like she simply jumped in and did his job for him. And for the sake of court, he took the credit, successfully securing his portion of custody. None of the rest—the context, the truth—mattered.
Unfortunately that’s been a recurring theme with family court for us, as you may remember from some of my other stories.
My son, who is two and a half years younger than his sister, was part of our cookie conversation last night, too. He said, “I don’t remember that at all.” Whether he was just too young or has since blocked parts of childhood to cope the way my daughter has, we’ll never know. “But look at us now. We’re okay, Mom. We’re okay.”
And it’s true, despite everything, despite our tumultuous years as a family with their dad, and the decade of post-separation abuse and trauma since, we’re actually better than okay.
Although my daughter will never eat another fudge-striped cookie again.
Both my kids read this essay, and I share it with their approval. Our stories are cathartic for us. I share for me, for them, and for you, because I want you to know that, above all else, what horrors you experience while “coparenting” with your abuser are surmountable.
Do you volunteer?
Because I’d like to make the case for adding volunteerism to your arsenal of healing weapons. And here’s why.
You make new friends.
You gain new skills.
You create a difference.
You expand your passions.
And most important, I think, is that you begin to see your worth through the eyes of your peers and fellow contributors. That piece on its own has so much healing power!
Initially, when my kids were still young and I’d sign up to help with class parties or coach soccer, my reason was to be near them, just to simply have more time together—since I had to sacrifice so much to shared custody with my ex—and engage with their experiences as often as possible.
As they got older, and more involved in extracurricular activities, my volunteer commitments grew along with them. This continued to be about our bond, but also turned into a personal opportunity for me, so that I might challenge myself in new ways and tap into some previously unknown potential. To begin to believe in myself!
Our family world for 6+ years has been fine arts. While my daughter, a dancer and vocalist, doesn’t do any performing now that she’s in college, my son’s in his last year of high school marching band, drama, and show choir. For the duration of both his and her participation I’ve been a stage mom, helping with events, serving as a board officer, and loving every moment with my kids and their friends.
Because my son is graduating in May and I’ll be resigning from these long-term commitments, reflection has set in. I’m realizing for the first time how much these efforts for my kids has outright and consistently benefitted me. That my volunteerism has shown me who I am—not who I believed I was (or wasn’t) for too many years because of a misguided and damaging abuser—and in how many ways I’m valuable.
I’ve learned that I’m personable, and a kickass communicator. I excel with details but also do well with substantive overview. I’m a team player, and can help take the lead, too. Oh, and I’m high functioning!
Turns out these are things I needed to learn about myself as I addressed my experiences in abuse, and in so doing began to understand how much I had to shed and discard at the same time that I had rebuild AND build anew who I truly am. Who I wanted to be.
Could I claim the same outcome for myself if I hadn’t devoted myself to my kids and their programs in tandem with my post-abuse journey? I’m thinking no, to be honest.
I needed to give of myself in these ways to see it return. And boy, I can’t even quantify that gift.
Are you convinced?
Some ideas to get started are to ask your kids’ teachers if they need help, join PTSA or booster clubs, sign up to head a fundraising committee, or become a board officer for one of the programs in which they’re involved.
Don’t have kids? Connect with a local pet shelter, long-term care facility, food pantry, or a nonprofit governing board. Because giving of your time, talents, and attention in an area that makes sense for your interests can and will open the door to new experiences and growth for you.
I’m here to tell you, hands down, it’s so worth it.
[Photo credit to C.A.] Pictured is me, at center, and my daughter from the nose up, as we helped the girls in my son’s show choir get stage-ready before their performance last weekend.
My son’s cap and gown for high school graduation came in this week. In May he’ll don the duo, walk alongside his classmates and best friends, and together — with his older sister, now a sophomore in college — we’ll mark one of our biggest milestones to date.
If you’re a new follower, or haven’t seen posts about my background yet, I’ll tell you it’s been just the three of us for 11.5 years now.
When I left their dad, my abuser (and theirs, if we’re frank), our moments and days — those first years, in fact — were so thick with pain, trauma, anxiety, confusion, impatience, and shared custody that was complicated by — no, made exceedingly hellish by — continuous post-separation abuse. (All the while enabled by our family courts system, but that’s another post.)
Like many of you, I had to start over from scratch as the only parent and provider in my household while crippled by self-doubt, the effects of long-term emotional and psychological abuse, financial abuse, physical location with limited boundary lines and opportunity, and so much more.
I couldn’t see how we would get through such heartbreaking times one day right after another, let alone imagine our future. Back then it felt impossible to wade through my own understanding, growth, and healing while constantly exposed, so vulnerable, fighting for my kids’ well being, and doing everything within my restricted power to protect them.
And yet, it truly was one day right after another. Somehow we rallied and persisted, (eventually) stood up every time we got knocked down, found humor, made happiness, nursed our wounds, relied on each other, and began to internalize that life — even given everything — was going to be okay. Maybe even better than okay, if you use the right lens.
So somehow, as the calendar turns, we keep hitting these milestones together.
My son’s cap and gown are more proof that we’ve made it.
Because soon after commencement he’ll turn 18, and that means the shared parenting/custody plan my kids and I have been bound to for too long will legally expire. Our world will change course. Finally.
Yours will, too. You have to believe it. Keep going. Day by day. Maintain your hope. Take care of your kids, but also yourself. Believe in your future. And celebrate your milestones, every one.
PS. If you think this face is familiar, you’re not wrong. The cap is modeled here by my life-size cardboard cutout of Spencer Reid!
Some people will treat you as if your sensibilities are a vulnerability,
a habitual liability,
because then it’s easier for them to begrudge and ignore your strengths.
You can’t please them.
You also don’t have meet their skewed
and unrealistic expectations.
Just do you,
favor warmth, and that which is authentic
make a concerted effort to know and love ourselves
share pride in each other
stand for what’s right, and defend ourselves
celebrate small victories
support each other
own our responsibilities
laugh more than cry
have fun with no catch, and at no one else’s expense
communicate (even about the hard stuff)
share an unbreakable bond
Because we know how much it hurts to live in an environment that was not built on this kind of foundation, and will settle for nothing less.
What’s on your list?
How is your foundation shaping up?
Are you still working to change your environment?
You can do it. I believe in you.
Just promise you won’t forget how amazing you are.
When it feels like no one is in your corner, that no one is rallying, no one is standing by to throw you a life raft. It’s just you and your tried-and-true sink-or-swim determination. You are amazing.
When the lessons are tough and double-stacked, and you can’t figure out why but it doesn’t mean you’ll give up; you’ll keep going like always. You are amazing.
When others place you under attack, real or false, remember how many wars you’ve already been through. Fought and won, or simply learned and grown from. You are amazing.
(For years my mantra has been, “I’ve been through worse.” It doesn’t minimize the new challenges, but it balances perspective — and my strength — over the breadth of them all.)
When new stresses arise and you can’t establish direction, don’t forget how many times you have already found your way. 100% success rate. You are amazing.
But, maybe especially,
when you pause long enough to realize life has been clipping along with grace and ease, somehow, because you’ve settled into a sweet spot that’s made it easy to forget how frequently and thoroughly you used to struggle. How many times you’ve come out okay. (Sometimes more than okay.) And how fabulously you’ve changed.
You’ve come a long way, baby.
And you are amazing.
the reason you’ve spent a lifetime unsure, driven by self-doubt, and habitually second-guessing yourself
is that someone(s) who held the most power for impact and effect during your formation
(by which I mean formative years, yes, but also beyond: the sum total)
spent more time questioning, criticizing, patronizing you
than they did guiding you with understanding and warmth
or believing in you and lifting you up,
helping you shape confidence and independence?
How possible is that?
And then, what if,
finally knowing this clarifying truth is what ignites the shift for you,
so that you might begin to recognize but also break the patterns,
so that you might begin to build your own confidence and understand your own independence
separate from and dependent upon no one at all?
What if, indeed.
I have a habit of wishing those who upset me a hearty “F*ck you” in my head.
And while I will always insist that anger has a healthy place in our healing, that we should both respect and allow it, I can also acknowledge that I have personally continued to carry unresolved anger for too long. That ISN’T healthy.
So I’m working on making a shift.
The most recent tool in my arsenal that’s helping with this shift is a book by Jay Shetty. It’s called Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day.
[Another book crucial to this conversation and our healing is The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner. Please check that one out, too.]
Shetty’s teachings are powerful and empowering. Nothing too heavy. Nothing too difficult to apply when one is willing for the sake of personal growth.
I can’t remember which piece of his advice led me to make this small and empowering shift, but now,
instead of thinking, cursing, hurling, “F*ck you, <insert name here>,”
I’m more peacefully, in a detached way, thinking, “Go live the life you have made.”
This feels a little less ragey inside. It feels like I’m giving control over to karma, and like it removes me from emotional investment in whatever those who upset me are doing that is unfair, hateful, hurtful… which I like a lot, since I don’t have time for that. I’m too busy living the life I’ve made!
So I’m going to keep working on it.
Want to try it with me?