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The Crossroads

This is the place I go to, over and over. The path behind me is overgrown and eroded; I know better than to take more than a couple steps in that direction. But the path splits where I stand, and I can’t move forward without making a choice.

Until now I’ve only stood at this juncture. One path is treacherous but well-lit and promises scenery and adventure just around the first bend. I, however, am paralyzed by a hundred vividly imagined disasters and one triumphant dream of freedom. The other path is easy but desolate, cold and devoid of anything vital and alive. It looks familiar, though, and I welcome the idea of no one being around to yell at me or call me names.

He always told me I lived in a rainbow unicorn fantasy world where people were kind and fair… and I did. I miss it.

Divorce isn’t fun or easy for anyone. A high conflict divorce is even worse… especially if the conflict is constantly being generated by one person in an effort to hold onto power and control at all costs. Now stretch the proceedings out over three years… and perhaps you understand why I haven’t ventured far. No contact wouldn’t be possible since we have kids, but at least I could have dodged a couple of blows if the divorce had happened the way I’d hoped. You know, with a little dignity and respect… but that was a naïve pipe dream. He always told me I lived in a rainbow unicorn fantasy world where people were kind and fair… and I did. I miss it.

I’ve tried to reach out for help and tell people the truth about what my marriage was like, and was eventually ostracized for it. I’ve asked for help from pastors and church counselors, from therapists and doctors, from family and friends. It was a little shocking at first that their responses were to minimize, rationalize, point out my part, criticize or suspect I was making it all up. Like most victims of long-term emotional abuse, I started to second-guess myself, even wonder if I was crazy (a key part of my then-husband’s endgame — we’ll call him Drew here).

I was too scared to leave. He told me too many times that I was damaged and he’d been a victim of non-disclosure. I would never find anyone else. And it took a long time to come to terms with the fact that my love wasn’t enough to change anything. Twenty years, in fact. And another three since I left (it was literally either leave or die)… and I find myself standing at this Crossroads again, and again, and again, watching everything I loved getting ripped away in Drew’s effort to keep me from setting my foot on the path of truth and life. He promised to bury me, to leave me with nothing, and to wave when he passed me by on the street I’d someday call home. That street doesn’t exist where this path leads.

The second I finally, FINALLY hit that “publish” button, I will no longer be stuck at the Crossroads, done contemplating the somehow safe but dismal road to eternal victim-hood and all-encompassing CPTSD.

I was meant to live, to shine light on all that was lost in the dark, and share the truth in the hopes that I will heal… and possibly contribute to another’s healing along the way. I might hurt some folks, too, but that is not my intention. This is not revenge. This is my story. I deserve to tell it, and then I deserve to finally move on.

Welcome to my blog, the Gaslight Special. I’ve finally arrived.

Time Lies (when you thought you were having fun)

I so desperately want to hold on to any remnant of happiness and functionality this family has to offer that I have developed a somewhat romantic timeline in my head that begins in a fictional era dubbed “pre-abuse “. A few days ago I found this letter I wrote to Drew —in 2013! Had I really named it that long ago? I keep thinking it was me getting sick that provoked the worst of the abuse, but in reality the abuse most likely provoked me getting sick. It’s a good letter… except for the parts I make excuses for everything he does… but it didn’t change anything.

Sunday, Jan 6, 2013, 2:26 AM
Dear D.,
I’m writing this to you because I’ve said it already a million times, and others have said it a million times (parents, kids, therapists, psychiatrists, friends) and I don’t know if it’s ever really sunk in for you. Forgive me if this sounds brutal, but it’s not just me that needs to wake the fuck up. It’s difficult because I’ve tried to get this across to you so many times, in so many ways, and either you don’t believe it or you are not capable of true empathy (the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another). Let me get this out of the way: this is NOT, I repeat NOT any sort of excuse or justification for my actions, which I am alone accountable for.

You are not responsible for my problems, nor can you fix them, but my problems have become a coping mechanism and reaction/distraction from the bigger issues our family faces. No one person is to blame — we all do the dance. But it needs to be said once and for all that you are EMOTIONALLY ABUSIVE. It shows up verbally, physically, and even in times when you are emotionally absent when people need you. It’s been this way since the beginning of our relationship, and as much as I’ve wanted to protect you from it, everyone seems to see it but you. I’ve had countless friends and even relatives over the years that have told me I should get out, for my sake and for the sake of our children. I can’t tell you how much it hurts me to tell you this, because I don’t want to hurt YOU. I’ve always believed that you’ve been hurt enough in your life, and you deserved someone who would love you through thick and thin, someone who wouldn’t leave you like so many other important people in your life had. In retrospect, this wasn’t fair to anyone, since I was under the illusion that if I loved you enough, if I showed you by example how to be in relationship to others, I could heal you. The first thing I learned when I went back to school is that this belief is THE most dangerous trap a person in the healing professions can fall into. I did it with my mother — I knew how much pain she was in, and I believed that my love and devotion could heal her. When it didn’t, I blamed myself.

The honest-to-God truth is that I got into parent education because of you. I wanted to “teach” you by example how to show up for your children, how to be a father that earned respect rather than demanded it, a dad who could connect and laugh and love and choose to be with his kids doing whatever they wanted to do even when it wasn’t what he would choose. Jonathan was almost six when I became a parent educator, and I wanted to heal his pain too since he was already crying to me how you weren’t there for him, to teach him to ride a bike or skate or surf or whatever. He was even mad at me for getting back together with you because he remembered how much fun he had being with you when we were separated. Things have changed since he learned how to surf and can connect with you that way, but now there are three other children to think about… I know it hurts, but you were right about Nico. He loves you, but he doesn’t like you very much. He feels little connection with you. He believes you don’t care about him, you aren’t proud of him. He’s scared of you. Even Chase has started to talk about how he notices Brent is different from you. He plays football and paintball and music with his kids, he has all their friends over even when Samantha is out of town, he coaches soccer, blah blah blah. But I’ve said all this before, and it has never made any difference, and I do my very best to let it go but it’s SO HARD when you constantly lose it with the kids and really bad stuff happens and I’m afraid to even leave the house. It seems that you can’t even get out of the picture enough to see that you act and sound exactly like Jonathan when you two go at it until you cross that line. The kind of rage you fall into is emotionally, verbally, and even physically abusive. It’s terrifying for ALL OF US. And the times when you just don’t seem to be there… don’t talk at the dinner table, don’t participate in whatever it is we’re doing, don’t connect… that’s almost as hard.

And then there’s our relationship. I’ve told you before that there has never been anyone, ever, in my life that has said and done the devastating things that you have to me. There have been many times that I feel SO hurt I am reduced to a cowering, sobbing child and I wonder, what the hell am I doing?? Why is this happening?And then we talk — rather, I talk and talk and talk and you sit there. And then there’s the apology part, where you tell me how sorry you are and how I don’t deserve this, and things are wonderful — until the next time. And the next time. It’s not because we don’t get time alone together, it’s not because we don’t have enough money, or any of that. I know plenty of people who are in the same shoes that don’t go through this shit. My birthday and Christmas tipped me over the edge. I can’t even begin to tell you how devastated I was. I didn’t need “stuff,” but I wanted something that symbolized how loved and important I was to you and the kids, how much it meant to everyone that I had put Christmas together for us and even the gifts for your family and talking to your mom for hours about everything, and I had to settle with you telling me that you’d decided you weren’t going to leave us. I told a couple people about it and they couldn’t even believe me. V
My dad took Jonathan out shopping for me so the kids could give me gifts. And then what you said tonight about the kids not even wanting to give me anything… well, enough. Look, I am not a victim here. I make my own choices, I have a part in this too that keeps the pattern and the problems in place. But I can’t do it anymore, not if I want to finally heal and reach all the goals I have set for myself and have worked so hard toward.

I am not being dramatic when I say that I cannot live with the emotional abuse any more. It probably will end up killing me if I don’t do something. And I have every intention of being around for a long, long time. I’m not trying to guilt-trip you, make you feel like some kind of monster, or add to the stress you already feel. I’m not saying that you haven’t done the best you know how or that you ever wanted to intentionally hurt me or anyone else. I’m not trying to justify or blame you for the huge mistakes I have made. If I have one thing going for me, it’s that I am aware of, willing to admit, and proactive about changing the behaviors that are harming people, myself included.

I can’t fix you. You can’t fix me. It’s up to me to turn my stuff around. And it’s up to you to turn your stuff around.
I love you so much… I never wanted to believe anything except that we would grow old together, and I still don’t. I refuse to believe that we can’t heal this and grow in amazing ways, that we can’t have a relationship based on love, respect, and communication. But to do it you might have to practice being vulnerable and just as much of a mess as I am, and really try to see the bigger picture of the serious issues we face as a family. I hope you decide to try.
Love, A.

There’s No Such Thing as Monsters

I used to tell my kids that monsters weren’t real. They would be afraid of the shadow in the closet, or the creaking tree outside the window, or the tap-tap sound coming from the bathroom. Monsters, they’d claim. But I was able to convince them otherwise – usually by simply exposing what was actually there. There’s no such thing as monsters, I’d tell them, we are safe.

I lived in a world remarkably free of monsters for the first twenty five years of my life. My core belief was that people were essentially good, and the ones who had strayed were just waiting to be loved back into who they really were. I don’t believe things without reason, so I’d conducted plenty of research… and I found that not only was I onto something, but I could provide the love that brought them back home. I sought to make the world safe for the dangerous and the endangered by acknowledging their forgotten goodness. I hope that makes sense. I never thought I was special, but I did feel different (as most empaths do). The only catch was that if my strategy didn’t work, it wasn’t because they were incapable or unwilling to change or be loved. The reason could only be that my love was somehow lacking. I wasn’t good enough.

I didn’t understand why at the time, but people like me tend to attract quite a few predators. You know, the narcissists, bullies and emotional vampires. I also appealed to a lot of incredibly wonderful, passionate and loving people, and it wasn’t always easy to tell the difference. But there was always a moment in which the mask would come off and I’d make my escape. Not always unscathed, either. But I blamed myself every time — I was inadequate and ineffectual; they were not to blame for the wounds that had shaped them.

Now I know better. Now I understand that while they do not choose the trauma, at some point there is a disconnect from humanity and conscience. They cease to know and love, and instead control and consume. That sounds a lot like a monster to me.

I married one. I was with Drew for almost twenty years and we brought four children into the world. I love my children with every fiber of my being, and I know I’ve dealt them terrible wounds for which I don’t know how to forgive myself. I told them there was no such thing as monsters, and I was wrong. All their lives they have watched their father tear me down and beat me up, without ever laying a hand on me. I left once when the first two were still little, and I most remember the fear I felt as I fled without warning one day while he was at work, hoping the restraining order and ex parte custody would protect us. Trauma bonds, however, are no joke and any abuser worth their salt knows how to mend and repair what they’ve cut or broken. Eight months later I was back, believing his apologies and sobriety, believing he’d changed. The reality was that he never forgave me for momentarily relieving him of his power and control the day I left, and he would have plenty of opportunity to make me pay. Our children would witness most of it, and learn. I did my best to instill a moral compass and solid ideas about right and wrong and dignity, kindness and respect… which I know they carry with them. They also carry the knowledge that their dad thought all my “hippy parenting” was a bunch of crap ( not the word he’d use) and that I was just screwing them up because the real world wasn’t a democracy. His parenting style was aimed at undermining mine – or simply finding ways to get out of parenting, quite honestly. And I stayed and allowed it to happen, because it wasn’t really a big deal. None of the hurtful things he did over and over were that important. Every marriage has its challenges. Especially when you’re married to a monster.

I would like to tell my kids the truth, and I tried, because I love them and hate to see them get preyed on, but I guess I was pretty convincing all those years ago. No such thing.

It’s going to be a process, figuring out where to start and stop with my posts. I don’t want to plan it all out, but I don’t know how to find a tidy and-that’s-all-for-today place to end. So I’m doing a force- quit. See you soon.