Looking Forward Without Fear

“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me. Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked.” — Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

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Fear has guided my life for far longer than I ever imagined it would. From the time I was a child, until well into my teen years, I feared my mother. Don’t get me wrong, my mother loves me. She is a kind, generous soul, and she would never harm me. I didn’t physically fear her. I feared disappointing her. I feared her finding out I wasn’t the perfect child she once saw when I was little. This fear was best demonstrated in my inability to curse until I was an adult. To this day, I do not curse around my mother, though I no longer fear her knowing that I do occasionally let one fly.

Fear has shaped my love life as well. When I met my first husband, we were teenage kids, but it felt like the love was real. He proposed the summer after we graduated high school, and then, a little over a month later, I found out I was pregnant. He left for boot camp, and I thought things were going to be perfect. However, while he was gone, fear started to seep into my mind. I didn’t know if I wanted to marry him anymore. I didn’t know if I loved him. But, I feared being alone, being wrong and having to raise a baby by myself. So, I went through with the wedding and stayed married for several years, even though we were both unhappy, because I was afraid to leave.

Once I did leave, I move back in with my parents and started to take dead-end jobs. I never thought I’d be able to go back to school. I feared rejection. But, one day, I sent in the application, and I was accepted to The Ohio State University. My first quarter was a little tough, but after that, I took off. I got A after A in my classes, and I graduated with magna cum laude, with research distinction and several awards. I decided that I would never let fear control my life again.

I took a job at the local newspaper, and then I was offered another job at a NC publication, so I packed up and moved to NC. When I moved, I started dating, and in a short amount of time, I went out with several men, only to realize that they were only after one thing — and it wasn’t commitment. So, when I met my current husband, I latched onto him like a mollusk. I loved him, but I always had reservations because he had a sketchy past, no discernible work history, and twisted logic. But, I shoved all of that aside out of love, but also out of fear. After seven years as a single woman, I was afraid that this was it for me. So, I forced away all of the bad, and focused on the little good that rose to the surface, determined to make the relationship work.

If you’re read my blogs, you know how all that turned out. I was afraid to tell anyone about the name-calling. I was afraid to tell anyone about the holes in the walls. I was afraid to tell anyone about anything that was going on in our marriage. I didn’t want people to judge him. And, I wanted to make this work — I was afraid of letting my mother and my family down again.

When I finally did make him leave, fear rushed in again, but not in the form you would think. I was left a victim, and I do occasionally still fear what would happen if he decided to make that trip back. But that is not the fear that took over. The fear I have now is fear of the future, and I’m sick of feeling this way. I had an epiphany today – Fear has been linked to every bad decision I have made in my life. Fear does not keep something from happening. The fear of being alone did not keep me from where I am right now — sitting in a house alone, facing another divorce. Fear of disappointing my family did not keep me from doing just that as I let my ex come back again and again despite all he had done. Fear of my sister dying did not keep her from passing away on May 30 of this year. Instead, it that fear just got in the way of enjoying the time I got to spend with her before she passed.

That is what the pain of this year has taught me. Of all the emotions in my brain, fear is the one that is useless. Sure, there are legitimate things that you can attribute to fear — like locking your doors at night because you have a fear of someone breaking in. Fear for our lives and livelihoods is what keeps us safe in our day-to-day lives. But, that is not the fear that I am talking about.

I have done nothing but fear the world and the future my entire life. In return, that fear hindered me and kept me from making positive decisions throughout my last two decades. So, instead of being fearful about the coming year, I instead look at 2015 as a year of transformation and hope — a year where maybe, just maybe, everything is going to start turning around. I will walk into 2015 with no fear, a new sense of freedom and an open heart. I hope that you can do the same.

Freedom 2

All Twisted Up

“I’ve crossed some kind of invisible line. I feel as if I’ve come to a place I never thought I’d have to come to. And I don’t know how I got here. It’s a strange place.” – Raymond Carver

People who have never experienced domestic violence do not understand the twisted emotions that accompany it. Period.

Do not tell me what you would have done in my situation. Do not tell me how you would have handled it differently. Do not question when I miss him, or when I say I still love him. Because you do not understand.

Survivors of domestic violence return to their abusers an average of seven times before they leave the situation for good. It is a merry-go-round of abuse that is extremely difficult to leave. You love the person who is hurting you. You love them more than you love any other person in this world. They become everything to you. At the same time, because of the abuse, you become nothing to yourself, so they are really all you have in your life. You can’t imagine leaving them. Then, when you do leave them, they become the perfect person you always wanted them to be again, and you go back. The cycle continues. Again. And again.

It is a form of addiction. I recently got a protection order against my husband. Do you how what my first thought was leaving the courthouse? I thought, “I want to call my husband.” Yes. I wanted to call the man who scared me enough to force me to get a protection order. Why? Because I want to know that I still matter to him. I want him to still love me. I still love him.

Confusing? You have no idea how bad I am twisted up inside. I know that we are no good for each other. We hurt each other. I know I have to protect myself and my children against someone who is fighting mental health issues and can become completely unstable in a really stressful situation. That doesn’t mean that heart has flipped a switch and I no longer love him.

I know it doesn’t make sense to you. And if you’re confused, how do you think I feel?

Here are the things I know: I know that I cannot get back together with my soon to be ex husband. I know that we are both broken individuals who are toxic when put together. I know that I have been selfish and self-destructive over the last few months, going back and forth with my husband, and it has been damaging to my children. I am done being selfish. My life is about them now.

Am I ready to go through with the divorce? Not yet. Right now, I’m taking baby steps to move forward. I’ll get there. It will just take time. Right now, I’m more focused on healing my family and getting us the help we need.

To all of the women who are currently dealing with domestic violence, or to those who are survivors, I want you to know that it is not your fault. I tell myself that every day. It was not my fault. It is not my fault. I can’t control another person’s actions. I am not responsible for another person’s actions. I am only responsible for my own.

If you or a loved one are in need of help, please visit The National Domestic Violence Hotline at TheHotline.org or call 1-800-799-7233.

The Monster

The Monster

I hear him, scratching, trying his best
to get in here. He’s rustling things
this way and that, and I can feel the frigid
steam that comes from his mouth

Let him in…

He left in physical form months
and months ago, but the hair
on the back of my neck doesn’t relax
…will never relax

The monster wants in…

The creak, that slam, that settling house
are really his movements, I know it
and no matter how hard to he tries to hide,
I know he is behind every shadow and my eyes

He’ll force his way in…

But it’s not really him…it’s never him
Instead it is whispers and guffaws laced with
“paranoid” and “drama queen”
They’ll never understand
my invisible monster.

Thankful for What I No Longer Have

There are several things I am thankful for this Thanksgiving Day, but this year has a bit of a twist: I am most thankful for something I don’t have.

When I was a little girl, I had a cookie cutter idea of what love was supposed to be — You grow up, meet Prince Charming, have children and live happily ever after. Three decades and two defective Prince Charmings later, I realized that the dreams of a little girl do not always translate to the realities of an adult woman.

So, this year, I am most thankful that the disease that infected mine and my family’s life for two years has been cured. He is gone, banished to another land where he can no longer cause harm to anyone that I love.

Now, let’s move on to the things I am thankful to have this year:

  • I am thankful for my children. My kids are the greatest human beings in my life. They drive me absolutely crazy, and they turn my heart to mush — all in the same day. They have stood beside me during my highest highs and my lowest lows, always checking to make sure Mom is okay, and helping out in any way they can. We do what we can to support each other, and I would give them the world if I could. I am thankful that my teenagers still care enough about their mom to hug me on occasion and spend time with me as much as possible. They are not just dependent on me — my life depends on them as well.
  • I am thankful for my family. Without my mom and dad, without my sisters, brother-in-laws, niece and nephews, I wouldn’t be here today. They have supported me financially and emotionally throughout the years. This year, we have lost one member of that mighty crew. My sister, Becky, went home to be with God on May 30th. I think about her every single day of my life. While her passing has left a huge hole in our hearts and lives, I am thankful that she is no longer living life in pain. That being said, I am a selfish person, and I would rather have her here with us today and always. I love you Becky, and I wish we could have had just a little more time with you.
  • I am thankful for the ladies I call my Power Trio. These amazing women know who they are, and without them, I think I would still be going down a terrible road with a person who dragged me down. They have given me something that few people have been able to give: their time. They have children, husbands and their own lives and struggles. But, they never cease to drop everything to give me 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or even an hour, to ramble on, self-centered and selfish, airing out my problems and begging for advice. They help me dry my eyes and see the good that still exists in the world. I love them, and I hope they love me. I also hope that I can return the love they have shown me at some point in the future.
  • I am thankful for my career. There are very few people I know who are writers and are able to spin their abilities into a lucrative career. I have, somehow, been able to do just that. I hope that I am able to keep my freelance journey going for many years to come.

I’m thankful for what I do have. I am thankful for what I don’t have. And, I am ready to see what the future and the next year of my life will hold. Happy Thanksgiving!

Come Wake Me Up

“I don’t think I could love you so much if you had nothing to complain of and nothing to regret. I don’t like people who have never fallen or stumbled. Their virtue is lifeless and of little value. Life hasn’t revealed its beauty to them.”
― Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago

I remember the first time I met my ex in person. We took a walk near his house and sat on a flight of steps beside a church. We talked for three hours, and he never once even offered to even put his arm around me or hold my hand. Despite all that has happened, I still keep it in my memory as one of the sweetest nights I’ve ever had. It was the night that we established some permanent parts of our relationship — the affectionate “eskimo” kisses, the thumb war battles, and the fact that I wasn’t scared of him, a fact that actually made him tear up. If you knew his history, you would understand why…but that is not my story to tell.

I put him on this pedestal, a man with strong character, a man who loved hard, a man who took control….and never let it go.

I’m on the other side of that story now. It makes me sad to think back to that sweet, tender night and realize that it wasn’t real; that I was probably being groomed by him. You know the drill; he gets me to trust him, isolates me from friends and family, and then decides that I am his to control — his puppet on a string, so to speak.

And I played the part well. I gave him everything he wanted: my money, my time, my home, my attention, my hopes, my dreams — I poured them all into him and let him have control. And then it all went to hell. When I met him, I had a career, an apartment, a car, and a sense of self. Now, I enjoy my career more, but it is not as stable, my car is old and unreliable, and as for my sense of self? Well, let’s just say that Tabs set sail a long time ago, and I’m still struggling to find her in this fog.

That first night seems like decades away now, and I live my life going between emotions of fear, sadness, anger and nervousness. I feel like I’m living in some type of nightmare – one that won’t let me wake up. But, it’s not a nightmare, and I can’t go back to September 25, 2012. I have to let all of that go and start fresh. Someone’s been holding the strings for a long time, and now that those strings are cut, I have to get my legs under me and remember how to do it on my own all over again.

It wasn’t THAT bad….except it was…

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.”
― Ambrose Redmoon

There was a time in my marriage when I thought that being called names like “bitch”, “whore” and C U Next Tuesday wasn’t that bad. I mean, he didn’t hit me, right?

There was a time in my marriage when I thought that having holes punched in the walls wasn’t that bad. I mean, he didn’t hit me, right?

There was a time in my marriage when I thought that being threatened wasn’t that bad. I mean, he didn’t hit me, right?

There was a time in my marriage when I thought that having something thrown at me wasn’t that bad. I mean, he didn’t hit me, right?

There was a time in my marriage when I thought that being badgered or made to feel guilty until I gave in to sex wasn’t that bad. I mean, he didn’t hit me, right?

Who in the world was that woman? Who would think that was all okay?

That was me, just a few months ago. When my husband would scream at me, break things, push me, etc, I would go away in my head and try to will it all away. I wanted to make my marriage work. He didn’t mean it, I would tell myself. It isn’t that bad, because he hasn’t hit me. I was really, really wrong. It wasn’t that bad…it was worse.

Recently, I spent some time researching domestic violence for articles I wrote for a client. It opened my eyes to the scope of abuse. Here are some (not all) of the things I read that are considered abuse:

- Pushing or shoving you
- Holding you down
- Thowing something at you
- Driving recklessly with you in the car to scare you
- Interfering with your driving or forcing you off the road
- Harming or threatening to harm someone or something important to you as a way to punish you
- Embarrassing you in front of your friends, family or co-workers
- Threatening to harm your pets
- Denying incidents of abuse
- Lying to you
- Blaming you for the abuse
- Constantly criticizing you
- Telling you that you can’t do anything right
- Telling you no one would ever want you
- Telling you that you would not survive without him/her
- Being sexual with you when you did not want to have sex
- Making you fear for your life

For a long time, I actually convinced myself that none of that was abuse….because he never hit me. Recently, I wrote a post about how the abuse didn’t end after he left. Incessant harassment and threats of harm, even from states away, have affected me deeply. I will not go into how, because I do not want to give my abuser the sick satisfaction of reading about my thoughts and feelings about his actions in this blog. But, I did stand up to him, and I will get the divorce and finally be free of him.

I want to say something to other women who may be in the same situation: It is scary to stand up to your spouse. You don’t know what he/she may do. You do not know what he/she is capable of, in many instances. However, it is important to get the help you need to get out. That is what everyone has been telling me, and that is what I want to say to any woman or man out there who has suffered physical, psychological, financial or sexual abuse from their spouse. There is help out there. There are people who will help you get whatever you need to get away.

It is never okay for your partner to degrade you. It is never okay for your partner to force you to have sex. It is never okay for your partner to shove you, grab you, hit you, or slap you. It is never okay for your partner to publicly embarrass you. It is never okay for your partner to blame you for their actions. It is never okay. No matter how much you want to pretend it is. No matter how much you think it is your fault. It is not your fault. It was never your fault.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, please visit thehotline.org or call 1-800-799-7233 for help or information.

He Won’t Stop

“YOUR ABUSIVE PARTNER DOESN’T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH HIS ANGER; HE HAS A PROBLEM WITH YOUR ANGER. One of the basic human rights he takes away from you is the right to be angry with him. No matter how badly he treats you, he believes that your voice shouldn’t rise and your blood shouldn’t boil. The privilege of rage is reserved for him alone.” — Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

 

I wrote two articles this weekend about bullying — the tradition kind of bullying and cyberbullying. It’s funny how closely my life connects to both of those articles, even though I am not a child, and I am not being bullied in school.

I’ve had several friends talk to me about this situation, and advise me to not write about it, but I am tired of being silent. I want my side of this to be heard.

As many of you have read in previous articles, I was psychologically abused by my estranged husband. You would think that after he left on Sept 14, the abuse would end, but I am not that lucky. It has continued through text, email, Facebook message, Twitter, and even comments on this blog.

Want to know what abuse looks like? Let me give you an idea:

November 2, 2014 — After weeks of going back and forth with my ex between not talking, hating each other, being civil, him realizing that civil does not equal getting back together, the cycle changed. He began using another tactic – jealousy. He told me that he had started seeing someone, and that he could no longer talk to me because he wanted to be faithful to her. I lashed out, minimally, because it did sting a bit. But then I realized that this was probably just another ploy to either A) hurt me or B) get me back. Either way, I decided to roll with it.

November 5, 2014 — After a couple of days of silence, he asked me to send the dissolution papers to him; papers I have yet to fill out because I am trying my best to work three jobs and raise two kids on my own. He told me in his request that it would be best that we pretend we never existed in each others worlds, and also that I was “just a stepping stone to get to a higher platform of bigger, better love.” (Yes, I know, this is why I am the writer…instead of him). Once again, I let it roll off my back, talked to a few friends, and moved forward.

November 7, 2014 — I got an email from my ex at around 4:30am, talking about how he had a new PS3, and wondering if I would like to talk and “catch up” later in the morning. I thought “Fuck off and die” might be too harsh a response, so I decided that silence was best. If you can’t say something nice, right? Around 4 hours later, after telling me that I only had to talk to him if I wanted to, he began emailing me. He emailed me three times, even claiming that someone was buying his phone, so I HAD to contact him back because he had to ask questions about the divorce. He then proceeded to text members of my family to get the message to me that he wanted to talk to me. At this point, I had blocked his text messages, so I only know that he sent three emails. My family members chose to not respond.

November 10, 2014 — The weekend was quiet. Then, on Monday, I received medication here that he gets by mail. I called him to let him know the medication was here, and I would return it to the pharmacy. While he had me on the phone, he asked his questions about the divorce (questions I had already answered during a previous conversation). Then, my phone died. Ten minutes later when I arrived home and plugged it in, I saw that I had three emails — one asking how he was supposed to get here for a hearing, one calling me a dumbass, and one stating that he was going to again contact my family and friends.

This is what he wrote to them in a text message:

“Can someone please tell that morbidly obese cow to contact me about the divorce. No, seriously tell her to stop eating for five min and contact me about the divorce.”

A few family members responded in the way you would expect them to respond, and he responded by talking horribly about my late sister (to my parents), as well as talking horribly to a dear family friend about her mother who is battling cancer. I heard nothing else from my ex that night.

November 11, 2014 — The shit storm commences. Since I refused to answer his emails, and his text messages were blocked, he began email obsessively to both of my email addresses. I received 347 emails between 2:32pm and 10:13pm that day. Most of these emails basically stated that I needed to call him about the divorce, I needed to write down instructions about the divorce for him, etc. At one point, I unblocked his texts to keep track of those, and he sent over 130 texts from 4:07 to 10:26pm. Then, he threatened to call my clients and make trouble for me at work. So, I decided that maybe if I called him, and I was civil, I could calm this situation down. Of course, this was the same mistake I made during our marriage, but still…I had to try.

We talked for an hour and a half or so, and I explained everything about the divorce to him, we talked about life right now, how this is a terrible situation, and about what he was going through. Then, we hung up. I thought maybe, just maybe, things would settle back down. No such luck.

November 12, 2014 — The day started off simply enough. I began talking to him, via text message, trying to keep the conversation light and civil. When he started back into the apologizing and “I love you” phase of our cycle, I tried to shut him down. I told him that the reality of the situation is that we are getting a divorce. I told him I was sorry about that, and I know that it hurts, but it is inevitable.

He then started saying that we should go back to hating one another because it is easier, and I told him that we should remain civil. Then he began texting about the role my family and I had in our separation, and talked of how he didn’t do anything wrong.  At that point, he began getting vulgar, and even talking about how I performed a sex act on the phone with him the night before. This did not happen, and when I asserted that it did not happen, things started to ramp up again and threatened to contact my job about that incident, which made me worry. At that point, I contacted my places of employment to let them know that my estranged husband was psychologically abusive, and he was trying, by any means necessary, to continue to keep a hold on my life.

From 3:33pm until 11:35pm, I received 332 emails asking me why I was lying, telling me that if I did not admit to the sex act, he would continue to message me. At this point, he was blocked again on text message, and I only know of the emails. However, he did send text messages to my family once again, this time, asking if they knew about me performing the sex act with him on the phone and telling him that I am still in love with him, even though I want a divorce. He also took to Twitter, making an account to harass me, and mentioning me in his posts for the entire world to see. Thankfully, they were taken down quickly after I reported the abuse to Twitter.

November 13, 2014 — While Wednesday was ridiculous, Thursday brought indirect threats. He began emailing me, telling me that he was coming here, that he would find me and catch me. His email titles would read things like “Real soon my dear and a lot sooner than you think.” While I was 95 percent sure that he was not coming here, I stayed vigilant, knowing that you cannot ignore someone with a severe mental illness, especially one with abusive tendencies. That day brought 117 emails from 9:06am to 12:08pm and 108 text messages, which I had started to monitor again by request.

He began trying to concoct this trip he was making to Ohio by pulling pictures off the internet and sending them to me, and not emailing for long periods of time, to make me think he was driving and had no phone service. At that point, the emails ceased and the text messages began again. He also decided to start putting the question about why I performed the sex act (which again, I did not perform) all over Facebook, on my friends pages and pictures I was tagged in. He even put it on an acquaintance’s page, under a picture of my nephew’s T-Ball trophy ceremony. How sick can you get?

Anyway, the texts continued on Thursday evening, with comments like,

“Remember all your chances to answer truthfully because once I get there face to face you will be begging for your chance to have been truthful”

From 9:40pm to 12:41am on Friday, he tried to convince me that he was either on his way to Ohio or that he was in Columbus over 22 more text messages.

November 14, 2014 — He started texting me at 10:45am on Friday, trying to feed me a story about being in Columbus, and having a broke down car. He said he needed help. Since I wanted to know where exactly he was, I called his bluff and told him to turn on his locator, so I could find him. He said it didn’t work. Then, I asked for the address where he was, and he said I would probably try to set him up. Obviously, I wasn’t buying it. This went on for 33 texts, until I finally couldn’t take anymore. I told him that it amazed me that he thought I was falling for any of this, and I told him I wasn’t scared of him anymore. Granted, probably not the smartest thing to do, but what would you do with this situation?

I received another 17 texts from him throughout the day, and I realized that by responding, I gave him exactly what he wanted — contact with me. He even said as much in his text messages:

“I think you love this attention honestly. Actually I know you love the attention lol.”

I realized that he thought this was flattering…that I wanted this, and I felt, well, I felt violated.

November 15, 2014 — The morning was relatively quiet, with only three text messages. I went to my niece’s birthday party, the grocery store and then to Starbucks with the kids. When I pulled in the driveway, I got three new texts, and the game changed again:

“Is it wrong to have sweet blissful dreams of resting the barrel of a gun against your forehead before pulling the trigger?”

“I have a great idea for my Christmas present for you and your family ;-)”

“Honestly it’s for the best for everyone and I want you dead before Christmas I hope”

These are the first direct threats I’d received from him since June 2014. But, this wasn’t the “I’m going to choke you out.” This was a threat to kill me. I kept a record of the incident, stayed vigilant, and went about my Saturday evening.

November 16, 2014 — The day was relatively quiet. He sent 35 text messages that were non-threatening, for the most part, asking me to call him, and stating other random things.

November 17, 2014 — This morning has been relatively quiet as well. Three text messages asking to talk, but nothing else.

 

So, why write all of this out?

The answer is simple: This is my truth. This is my testimony. This is my letter to all of you about what has been happening the last few days. I have text messages, emails, screen shots and backed up cloud drives that can prove my story.

Do I think that my estranged husband is capable of killing me? No. However, I am not taking any chances. Every man who has ever hit a woman or killed a woman in an abusive relationship had a point where he was not an abuser…a point when he was not a murderer. There is always the first time. If something ever happens to me, this is my story.

I assure you, I am getting the help necessary, but I do not want to discuss that here. However, there is one more point that I do want to address. People close to me, people I love, have said I should just ignore this, that I should change my email addresses, phone numbers, and that I should just shut down my social media pages. Tell me, what would that solve? Why should I be punished because he is harassing me, stalking me, and basically continuing to abuse me from afar?

I am standing strong. I am not responding to him the way he wants me to, and my silence will continue.