Tattered Hearts and Their Repairers

My best friend collects heart-shaped rocks. I’m not sure you would believe the sheer amount and variety her devotion has rendered. It’s impressive, and makes one want to start their own collection.

She gave me this one. Can you guess why by the visual?



Yep. Because it’s scarred, just like my own heart.

Tattered.

Marked by deep grooves that will never completely smooth into non-existence.

And the reason I’m bringing it up is because, as survivors of domestic/intimate partner abuse, we often fall into the trap of thinking someone else will and should fix our cracks and broken spots. That our rescuer is just over the horizon, running our direction with all the salve and bandaging we might need.

But I’m sorry to say, this isn’t true.

And it’s one of the first truths in survival we must face, that no one is going to swoop in to save, mend, or heal us; rather, we simply have wounded and unrealistic, romantic notions of such things.

This is (in part) because we have no idea yet the difficult journey before us. We only know that we want to stop hurting, and to be loved and valued and to feel safe, and on some level that we don’t want to be responsible for making these things happen ourselves. It’s just too much to face. Too big an undertaking when we are so low.

But listen, anyone who *does* swoop in, who allows us to believe they’ll “save” us, is more often than not a vulturous predator who’s taking advantage of our vulnerabilities.

Can you agree with me that that’s the last thing we need?

What we need, instead, is for patterns to stop and cycles to break. We need to teach ourselves about abuse, and learn about self-love. We’ve got to train ourselves to the red flags, and establish boundaries that will protect us into the future.

We must wield our own salve and bandaging, friends.

Because it is the only way we truly heal.

“Am I Being Annoying? Do They Hate Me?” | No, It’s a Trauma Response

I gave this pep talk to my kid this morning, and it just occurred to me that you might need to hear it, too.

(I’ve tweaked it some, since you’re probably not an almost-17yo dude. But I watched as enlightenment crossed his face, and I hope it reaches you, too.)

When you worry others are irritated with you,

that others are blaming you for <insert here>,

that you annoy them and they don’t want to be your friend/coworker/companion anymore,

that’s a trauma response.

And it’s because you’ve been conditioned, by someone in your life, to believe you’re an irritation and annoyance, that you’re the responsible one when things go wrong (and especially if it’s not done their way), and that you have to circumnavigate and/or avoid and/or counter every possible negative emotion they (or anyone else) may experience, at your own expense.

When this anxiety tries to consume you, pause. Remember this. It’s a trauma response.

The chance that your friends and cohorts and loved ones are ready to discard you is so far from likely. You’re not annoying. You’re not bothering them. They’re not prepared to un-choose you.

(So stop feeling so awful, for one, and for two, quit apologizing just for taking up space and being an individual.)

And in the off-chance someone is irritated or triggered by you?

That’s on them. It’s not your fault, your responsibility, your issue to fix.

Head up.

Shoulders back.

Find your center.

Let calm find your spirit.

You are worthy. You are loved. You are human.

Let’s Talk About Forgiveness

Many pieces of our American society — especially through the arm of Western religion — make you think that forgiveness (releasing another from the harm they’ve done you) is required for your peace and well-being.

My hot take is that forgiveness toward the one who abused you is not necessary for proper healing and happiness.

Because wrestling yourself toward that end only keeps them top of mind and maintains their hold on you. That’s not healthy, nor is it productive.

Not to mention, peace comes from educating yourself about what you went through and why,

learning red flags,

establishing boundaries,

identifying your triggers then mastering control of your reactions to them (more often than not),

and determining what healing looks and feels like for you. You and no one else.

Happiness comes when you’re able to define it for yourself. Authentically.

None of this requires releasing your abuser.

Honestly, forgiveness of self may be where it’s at, anyway.

You don’t have to carry the weight, regret, guilt, anger, sorrow any longer. Let it go.

And let go of this expectation impressed by others that you can’t move on or begin again until you forgive someone else.

Your conscious removal of the negativity and trauma can be self-motivated and self-propelled, with no stipulation connected to your abuser.

We need only release ourselves from the harm done.

Vacation My Way

As the house lights faded, my nose burned with emotion.

It’s rare that I don’t feel more than one emotion at once.

That day, last Saturday, it was gratitude, awe, pride, all together.

My kids, both older teens, and I had settled into our seats. Row 13, slightly off center. The theatre had filled fast around us, everyone thrumming with excitement over the renowned illusionist who was due to take the stage any minute.

It was a phenomenal show, I’ll say, but it was more than just a show to me, which circles me back to the emotion of the moment, of our long weekend.

This was our first vacation, the three of us. Our first real vacation—more than a single-night “staycation” in my native Kansas City, which we’ve managed a couple times over the years.

This was the first book-a-hotel-for-multiple-nights, coordinate-and-pre-purchase-event-tix, build-a-full-and-fabulous-itinerary, drive-a-fair-distance-from-home vacation we’ve ever been able to take together in the full decade (and then some) I’ve lived as a single mom and DV survivor.

There hasn’t been a budget before now, any/all wherewithal completely lacking. I’ve had so many more important things to do, for literal years. Work. Re-establish and stabilize. Define myself. Fight. Create and maintain a safe space for my kids. Heal.

But it was finally time. And I was finally able to pull it off.

Just so you know, we’re not talking grandiose scale. We took a modest trip, which was exactly right for us.

We did what we wanted. We balanced entertainment with leisure, and lots of delicious food. We enjoyed each other and manifested a peaceful, easy, happy time.

The “vacations” of my life before weren’t so. You probably know, survivor. Trips are mostly filled with tension, usually some ulterior motive, and fueled by someone who cares more about what others think about the projection — and audience consumption — of the fancy, impressive “vacation.” All that matters is how it looks to others, not whether it’s actually fun, enjoyable for everyone, rejuvenating for those who need and deserve it.

I’ve had enough of that for a lifetime. Of the emotions I used to associate with vacation.

But this time, long overdue, I did it my way. My little family did it our way, and it did not disappoint.

I still feel so much gratitude, awe, pride.

And for the first time in years, I look forward to another vacation.

Why I’m More Likely to Believe Amber

I see many women taking pleasure in bashing Amber Heard

and praising Johnny Depp

without understanding there is an emotional + psychological tactic in domestic and intimate partner abuse that is literally called “crazy making,” wherein the abuser convinces the victim and select outsiders, through all sorts of neat tricks and tools, that she is unstable.

And without understanding that some women are “diagnosed” with mental illness when what’s really at play is the symptomatic reaction to abuses they’ve been living with and continually subjected to.

Without understanding the victim’s life has been so stripped of healthy reality and stability that she can’t think straight, communicate well, or represent herself in the best way. Especially when, yet again, she is triggered and attacked by her abuser.

Not understanding this makes us question the women who need to be heard, shown a little grace, given a chance to find their center, their reality, and their stability—which is absolutely possible once they are free from the abuse.

Not understanding this makes us believe the narrative of men who are far from innocent, but instead cunning and charming manipulators who are, somehow, automatically given the benefit of the doubt simply because they present their case so calmly and confidently.

Not understanding this makes us contribute to the societal patterns of sexism and misogyny which dismiss “weak” and “hysterical” women in favor of “strong” and “responsible” men, and loses us to the drama of the shit show they’ve always baited us with.

I can’t. I won’t.

Please listen to the women who, like me, are trying to tell you these things.

We know what we’re talking about.

What’s Not Okay

It’s okay if you don’t know what you’re doing. What’s not okay is anyone in your support system making you feel bad about it.

It’s okay if others want to help you. What’s not okay is for them to take control the way your abuser always did.

It’s okay if you’re still figuring out your boundaries. What’s not okay is for others to take advantage of your uncertainty, then treat you like you’re the one doing something wrong.

It’s okay if you can’t be what others need right now. What’s not okay is for them to expect what you can’t give, especially if it’s more than they’re willing to offer you when you’re in need.

It’s okay if you can’t remember everything (it’s a trauma response). What’s not okay is for others to hold a grudge about it.

It’s okay if sometimes people aren’t happy with you. What’s not okay is for people to act like you’re responsible for their emotions.

It’s okay to feel everything you’re feeling, back and forth, up and down. These are confusing times, your healing. What’s not okay is for anyone to shame you about your journey, or your humanity.

It’s okay if you discard people who don’t belong in your new life.

It’s okay if you piss others off, especially if it’s while doing whatever is best and healthiest for you.

It’s okay when you mess up, even if you feel like you’re losing progress—because you’re not.

And it’s okay to celebrate when you are victorious.

It’s okay when you’re sad, angry, vulnerable, strong, giddy, elated.

You’re going to be okay. Actually, you’re going to be great. Powerful. Happier than you ever thought possible.

Keep going.

Death: Why My Life Started Over

My sweet dad took his last breath on this day twelve years ago.

I was in the room when it happened. In fact, I was the one who realized he wasn’t breathing anymore.

Hospice warns you, you know. They’ve gotten really good at estimating how soon “it” may happen, and what the final-stage signs are. So we were ready, as ready as loved ones can be.

They tell you, too, that your family member will probably choose a moment you’re not minding them, so they can slip away unnoticed. It’s like, one last moment of grace they give you.

That’s exactly what my dad did.

My mom and I were on watch. It was early morning. We’d just tagged out my sister and uncle, who’d sat up all night with him, so that they could lie down for some sleep.

I’d settled into my post, a recliner near his bed, and picked up a box of old pictures. Was showing one to my mom. I can’t remember what it was, but it lightened us. In those seconds of remembering we were pulled away from awareness, and that’s when he left.

I haven’t been the same since.

Because I lost my favorite man ever, yes.

But also…

because it was losing him—working through the cycles of grief, reflection after his death—that ultimately gave me permission, and the courage, to leave my abusive marriage.

Because through the death of a loved one, if you’re paying attention, you realize life is too damn short.

And that it is meant to be lived with a focus on quality, not quantity.

I was not living a quality life, no, and most certainly not a happy one.

That’s when the question presented: Could I live with my body and soul this way, a victim, overlooked, mistreated, unloved, the rest of my own days?

And the answer was swift, perfectly clear for the first time ever: No. I couldn’t and I wouldn’t. I deserved better. My kids deserved better. I suddenly knew it.

So it turns out my dad’s passing, his relief and release, was the final catalyst I needed to wake up. To realize not just that I could leave, but that I had to.

My missing him is as big as my journey after abuse. They define me. Both are a daily thing. Some days it’s harder than others. Some days I fully remember and feel all over again; others days I just exist the way anyone does, floating along, doing what needs to be done.

But I don’t forget.

The end of his life started mine over. It’s bittersweet to be thankful for this, and yet… I am.

Life in the Trenches

A reframe

Sometimes, to victims learning how to survive, it feels like life is stuck “in the trenches.”

We use the idiom when we’re feeling beaten down, challenged, heartbroken, threatened, damaged. When we’ve forgotten our hope.

Merriam-Webster defines the phrase as “a place or situation in which people do very difficult work.”

So true. But what is a trench, really. Literally.

Aren’t trenches built for protection?

To provide shelter against the enemy as one rests?

As one gathers strength?

Strategizes?

Until the threat passes?

Until it’s safe to climb out and claim victor status?

Maybe we should start reframing the notion. Consider that the trenches exist for our own protection and well-being, as we shore up for the future.

For life after abuse, beyond the war it manifests within us.

May we should remember that trenches work to our advantage.

Financial & Post-Separation Abuse

Do you want to talk about financial abuse? Because we should.

Financial abuse is a component of domestic abuse 99% of the time. (Source: National Network to End Domestic Violence)

It happens when your abuser hides money, spends freely on their wants and needs while denying you funds, convinces you that you don’t “contribute” to the relationship/family if you don’t earn money yourself (their justification for your limited allowance, if you’re given one at all—common for SAHMs), prevents you from working, forces you to work and absorbs the income, creates debt in your name, “borrows” from friends and family without repayment, and more.

But even after you’ve been discarded, or left on your own, financial abuse long remains a humdinger—especially if you are legally bound to a coparenting plan with your abuser.

They won’t pay child support or contribute to basic and ongoing expenses for the children (including adequate insurance), ignore bills you then must step in to pay, and tie you up in a coparenting arrangement that prevents you from accessing reasonable means and resources. (Keep reading to get what I mean.)

Full disclosure: I don’t just know this stuff because of information on the internet. It’s my own experience.

Everything I shared above was my experience during the marriage.

And I have debt from starting over. (My choice. No regrets.) This includes money I owe family who’ve helped me, and unsecured debt by way of credit card. Because at one of my lowest points I had to open six separate credit cards just to cover living expenses. (I have since paid five off, though I’m not sure when I will be able to tackle the last.)

You may have seen my fairly recent post about living in public housing. It’s because I am bound by a parenting plan — coercive, post-separation control that is legally ensured — to an expensive small town which offers limited job/income options, and it’s all I can afford on my own, given these very real, affecting factors.

Today I am more financially stable than ever — which means I can cover my bills and take care of my kids, which includes some regular living expenses for my college girl — but it is hard to imagine if/when I’ll ever get ahead. And what even is retirement? It’s not looking good for me… But, perspective: I would rather remain in debt, have to scrimp, and work for the rest of my life than be in an abusive marriage.

So many are afraid to leave abuse because they don’t know how they’ll make it financially.

Bystanders say, “I can’t believe she left him, she was so secure because of that marriage and look at her now.”

But are we “making it” financially during the abusive relationship? Were we ever truly secure?

How is that even possible when financial abuse is a component of domestic abuse 99% of the time?

Your Abuser’s Trauma is No Excuse

Okay, so your abuser had a traumatic childhood. Something life-changing, perhaps horrifying, happened to them. The stuff nightmares are made of. It was out of their control.

Or maybe they were, for example, raised by a detached, materialistic father and callous, dismissive mother, so they never felt seen or loved, developed coping skills, learned empathy or selflessness based on the example at home. It was out of their control.

But in what way is that your responsibility to shoulder?

How is that an issue you, solely, must babysit and counter and resolve?

When did that become a reason for you to make all compensations, sacrifices, allowances?

Why does it mean you can be their punching bag—physically, figuratively, emotionally?

No amount of patience or love or pity or exception or sadness for them, on your part, can heal what is broken.

You cannot, will not fix their abusive qualities.

And guess what? Their abusive behavior is not out of their control.

They could choose to recognize that adulthood, real adulthood, means facing and understanding your past, accepting responsibility, doing the internal work that repairs and renews, seeking help and healing techniques, because that’s what mature people who care about themselves — and their affect on others — do.

But it’s not going to happen unless they check in, unless they want a better life and choose to manifest it by their own actions and effort.

Not everyone is capable of that. Some will long choose victim mentality, and continue the manipulative and hurtful functioning that serves them in the now, with no regard to anyone else.

Why do you deserve to be on the receiving end of that?

It’s easy.

You actually don’t.