She hides behind her smile, her insides riddled with anxiety, her breath shortens while her chest is tight and yet you can’t fathom how deep her troubles run. She disguises it well from the outside world while she fights to get up and face another day.
This friend of yours shares a story with you, one where you aren’t sure if she’s referring to herself or something she’s read, but suddenly you realize, it is in fact her horrific experience. As you continue to politely listen, the shock and disbelief well up. The pain grows in her heart, the agony dims the light in her eyes and as you watch, her body physically changes. She speaks more words, you become uncomfortable and though you don’t mean to, you interrupt her flow with your concerned opinion. Suddenly she turns the faucet off, chokes back her tears and shuts back down. She is experiencing a trigger from a deep gaping wound. Voiceless again, she shoves that secret back down to where it lives.
You didn’t mean to create this reaction. How could you know that this friend standing in front of you has such inner turmoil erupting inside of her? She took a chance on you, trusting you to just hear her cries and take her seriously without judgement or condemnation. So often when she has a moment of bravery and courage to reach out, she does so with the hope of being heard, believed and understood. She hesitates, even retracts some of the information and begins trivializing it once more.
She didn’t “know better”. She struggles with confusion and retraces her steps over the years of abuse. How could she be so trusting, so naive, as she beats herself up now too, feeling so dumb. Over time, she disappeared, even to herself. The coercion and insidiousness of what had become her life, though a little more behind her, the pain engulfs her and she desperately fights to overcome. Her friends observe from their perspective., “She’s a survivor. She’s resilient. She’s strong”. You think you see her solutions and without meaning to, the accusations fly; “if she would just abc, xyz”. “This again?” “Are you still talking about HIM/that?!” These are the worst things you can say to her. All of your well intended thoughts would cause her to retreat back to her darkness where she resides with those secrets that whittle her away.
Never dismiss her need to keep talking. There’s more that keeps emerging with every passing day as she fights for the freedom of her soul. This isn’t one of those things she can keep ignoring and hope it dissipates on its own. No, the poison has to come out with the fear from her oppression. One day you will notice the light returning to her spirit and you’ll know she is healing. Meanwhile, hear her, hug her, just be there.
They have all loved her through the battles they can see, but can you with the ones invisible to you? Is it unconditional or based on her doing what makes you more at ease? She keeps wrestling with the lies she’s been told and the battles still to overcome, wondering if there’s truth to any of it. She is telling you in her own way of her broken spirit, her beaten body, her shame, her wounds, her hurt and her survival. What she doesn’t realize is, she’s truly revealing that she is a conqueror, but she has no idea, not yet. She is still coming out of the affects of his gas lighting leaving her to think maybe she is crazy, but she’s not.
There are days she believes what you dear friend tell her with your uplifting words, but when she needs to run the thread down to the core of its root, listen compassionately, respond with love, offer the gift of your presence and allow her the dignity to process and time she needs to get to the other side. The only way for her to get through it, is to go through it, one hour, one day at a time.
When she comes to you, her heart in her hands, be the light in her darkness and a dose of love because she is running on empty. In doing this, you have given her a gift she will cherish and it reminds her she has another fight left in her…
As if grieving during the painful process of a loss isn’t enough. She thought she had dug her way down to the delusional bottom of the pile and wait, oh yes, there is another heap to dismantle. She had begun to breathe, even find a little peace now and then as she made her way through those still, sometimes agonizing days. She actually found her smile again.
The stages of grief, she can recite those off the top of her head, but more importantly, she understands them when they hit. “Oh, you again, fuck off”, but she didn’t mean it. Embrace each one. Look it square in the face little one. We are survivors, sure, but really, we are resilient fighters and most of all, important as fuck.
She took her almighty shovel out today and said, “alright crap, let’s just see what other bullshit you have for us today” and with one sturdy plunge, the hunt was on. For fuck sake, she thought she had uncovered this one, but there it was in all its glory, hiding like the coward who put it there. “I see you” she said, “and you can no longer hide from me”. As she fought deliberately to force the pile apart, she felt the all too familiar sting of tears welling up in her eyes. What the fuck now? Haven’t we shed enough of these for all we’ve been through girl? As she thought these words to herself, she remembered what she had learned (again) from her oldest, long time friend in her world, “cry till you’re dry honey”. How the fuck is there anything left?
Ah, it was beginning to make sense to her. Every layer has another story to tell and all the cover up is eroding away to tell you what you need to know love, one small piece at a time. We can’t possibly take the 9 years from the most current abuser, the 18 years from the one before and the 10 years from the original source of childhood where it all began and have it magically be healed, over and done with it. It just doesn’t work like that. We have more work to do and so it continues.
Here we stand, together but alone, digging, sifting and sorting through the debris and rubble we have been left with. Let’s call this here, “experience”. Some would rather happily shove this shit under a great big rock and never look at again. Others, like us girl, will not only take it out from the dark place of which it’s been buried, grab the microscope and start the deep internal examination. Let’s call this here, “analysis”. This part of the process will help us determine the “whys, how comes and what for’s”. All the answers to these inquiries are crucial to why the fuck we do what we do, love who we love, follow and attach to what’s familiar, accept the unacceptable and tolerate the intolerable. Let’s call this here, “lessons”. The question that often arises during this portion is, “why is this happening?” When the better, more affective one would be, “what am I getting out of this, what am I learning?” No one wants to believe that the mounds of bullshit they’re uncovering and discovering is actually useful information for their own growth, but it truly is beneficial to the sometimes excruciating, always imperative, healing path.
What we will find next is becoming like a treasure hunt to learning who she really is, on her own, with no other outside influences controlling her thoughts and emotions, her soul and her body, just her and her alone on this fabulous ride called life. Why then does our princess in the story of her newfound life keep bumping up against more wreckage that can sometimes halt her in the middle of the deserted road? She asks herself this often while she keeps pushing on.
It is in the ashes where beauty remains. Yeah, yeah, she has this expression down cold having had her spirit burned to the ground and torn down, both literally and metaphorically. Each time she has risen, more grateful than the time before, but she has grown weary of them all. Let’s call this here, “strength”. “Diamonds are created under pressure and can cut through glass. A mighty oak grows strong in contrary winds. A palm tree might bend but it won’t break.” She often relates herself to these well defined comparisons and smiles, then wonders for how long she must endure and drudge through the remaining piles. It all comes down to educating your brilliant, sweet, smart, feisty ass girl and so she digs a little deeper into the soil of her soul…
When did I let cynicism invade my heart? When the emotional upheaval is in full force, does the bottom need to fall out or do I crawl up from the ashes? There’s a heaviness that accompanies heartache. My head and heart are in this non amicable long distance relationship where neither can agree upon things very often. My head can be like, “yeah, you Dbag, I’m done being hurt by you. I’m glad you’re gone. You did nothing more than suck me dry of everything from my soul, leaving my flesh raw, my heart shredded and my spirit trampled. So fuck you and fuck your… everything, asshole. You don’t want me? Fine, I’ll find someone who does”, screams my broken little girl from deep inside. Really I know I’m shouting out to my bio dad, where the core root of my hurts and hang ups live, but I have to start from my now and move my way backwards and you, present time folks, are the lucky recipients who will suffer my wrath.
Then my soft, forgiving heart chimes in louder with empathy, “but he’s sick and damaged, we can love him through it, all of it, wait and see. Wait some more, keep being patient, he’ll see, his heart will engage with ours,” but it never does. “Be more for him, he needs more from you girl. I know he isn’t capable of being what you need, but it’ll be alright, stick with him, it’ll fall into place. I know it’s been years of accepting his small crumbs, but you can live off of those.” That’s the part of my bleeding heart that yearns to connect with that someone who will fill that void. I’m an empty vessel by now. One that’s been giving all and receiving very little in return. I have a God sized hole in my breaking heart that truly only God can fill, not another human and certainly not some man.
It’s the unfinished business that stings the most. The loose ends if you will. The unspoken, unresolved, looming questions that desire and deserve to be answered to my satisfaction. I suppose this all began when my bio dad “left me” at the age of 2. His departure would later set the stage for my behavior in all my interactions with every male who walked into my life and then out again, leaving me to feel the sting of his absence all over again. I’ve asked him the questions and silence was on the other end of the answer as he turned and stayed away. We call this feeling, abandonment. The emotions that surround it can range from unworthy, unwanted, undesirable, unimportant, unloveable, discarded, disposable, dissatisfying, disobedient, disdain. I’ve experienced waves of all of these negative thoughts about myself. Of course, they would be reinforced for my lifetime by the partners chosen to bring me more of the same and the familiar. Like a magnet, I drew them in. I’ve created this habitual recognition.
Abandonment has convinced me that, “everyone I love leaves”. As my bio dad was replaced one day by a narcissistic asshole to say the least, slowly over time, mom began abandoning me, emotionally. His hideous displays of abuse over her began spilling over onto me. I wished he would leave, but that was never granted. I was trapped, listening to the lies spouting from his vulgar mouth while I was getting crafty at sidestepping his creepy advances. I blamed her for not protecting me. I drew mentally closer to a dad who was gone. I chased after him for the love, attention and time I craved, but he never rescued me from the hell I was trying to survive. I didn’t blame him. I loved him. Needed him. I silently pleaded. I waited. I hoped. He proved me right about leaving.
I’m such a copy cat and a fraud. I ignored the symptoms for years. In the beginning he lured me in with his sweet talk, his stories of feeling unloved by his own mother, the alcoholic abuse from his own father and the betrayals from his 2 significant relationships. Being the sought after empath I am, I bought every word. My heart cried for him and I would show him how lovable he is. He didn’t just need my understanding and support, he required it to breathe. Fuck. I wasn’t just repeating the same patterns I witnessed between mom and the step monster, I was living them and I was engaging in them, with him. It sickens me to have claimed “I would never live life like her!” and yet, there I was duplicating her life, abused, ridiculed, belittled, objectified and convinced I would never survive on my own as he discarded me like last night’s leftovers time over time.
She caught her breath, every time he spoke to her. Like a predator after his prey, he’d hover around for a few moments, closer he’d move near where she was before he made his way to exit the door. This became his dance he perfected over time. Toss a hook out and see if she’d bite. He set the stage and she was his clueless, leading actress. Innocent and demure, she wasn’t used to this sort of attention, not really. She deflected it at first. Falling back into her old style of safety, she tried to be invisible. Why was he paying any mind to her? She’s long since downplayed her outer beauty to match her painful insides. What could he want with her now, ordinary self she was portraying? She told her friend she wished he’d look at her, give her those enticing words, those stolen glances, that masculine energy that seemed to be pulling her into his vortex. Jokingly she said to her friend once again, come on… but instead she wanted to believe his words and so began what would be her misery of life.
She was so raw and vulnerable from her existence that was always in session and recently turned upside down, that some of the nuances were refreshing and pulling her. in. It was as if he was attuned to her inner most thoughts, could smell her fear, was feeding off her sadness and was going to fix her. Like a lion ready to pounce, he set it up perfectly, calculating his every move. She never saw it coming.
But he was clever. He knew exactly when to throw her a bone and say the right things to make her trust and believe that he was interested in her, even cared about her well being. He gave her glimmers of hope. He showed her a man she had never known before. He quickly learned how to maneuver around her feelings and navigate the ways around her heart. He’d spout out promises and things to make her light up just to keep her on a leash. He was very smart when it came to manipulation, control and getting what he wanted, no matter the cost. Once he had her in his clutches, his plan to devour her whole was put into motion. The confusion invaded her so precisely as he anticipated it would, that she was oblivious to what was happening. It was so insidious and her life as she knew it was forever changing.
Her heart still races as she desperately tries to drift off to sleep, but instead her mind wants to retrace all her steps that she had walked into every trap. How blind she must’ve been to trust him as he dangled a piece of sweet nectar just slightly out reach, but low enough to keep her grasping for it over and over again. His savage, beastly desires drove him to those torturous, mind fuck games that only he had the rule book for.
He silently laughed as he watched her squirm for relief while she begged for an ounce of affection or a morsel of love. She tosses and turns as the nights turn into months. She feverishly works to reconcile in her own twisted mind, how such a human could exist and worse, keep her under his spell for so many years.
She writes another sad story of her victim role. The one of lies and deception where she was the star attraction and he, the daemonic villain. At last, exhaustion overtakes her and she passes out long enough to wake up and start the cruel cycle over again.
Determined to uncover the answers to questions she’ll never have, but that haunt her still. She searches for more clues, educating herself further, depriving herself of her basic needs. She has become a detective in her own murder case. The one where she is the missing person and the key suspect is at large, living as if, all the while, searching out his next unsuspecting victim for his endless need of fuel supply.
One day she’ll come out of the dense fog and will rise above it all. One day she’ll find the forgiveness to unshackle herself from her own death sentence. One day the sweet taste of freedom will replace the bitterness that swells up her throat. One day the obsession will dissipate and her breath will resume to its normal rhythm. One day this nightmare will come to an end and she will awaken to find herself returned safely to the ground where her feet have been replanted and there is beauty all around…
Married at 18, 2 kids by 19, divorced by 21, remarried by 26, 1 more kid by 29, fading into the darkness by 33 and by 41, she was dead. So what happened to this lady during those in between years? Her death, though shocking and painful, was not too mysterious, yet a heart wrenching loss to those 3 children. Could she have known the ramifications that leaving them would hover over them for the rest of their lives? Her first 2 born already suffered from abandonment from their father leaving when they were toddlers and now there was new fuel added to the fire. Her youngest child would never fully heal from the shock and all of them would be left with this poor excuse, version of a worthless father. Well, technically a step-monster to the older ones and short-changed, selective, convenient, when it worked for him, weak father to his one and only blood offspring.
As life would have it, the abuse happening to her would later manifest into PTSD. She was a newly 13 year old girl, trying to cope with life the best she could when her once devoted, doting, loving and proud mom that she had known was beginning to fade. Shortly after marrying this man and the birth of her baby brother, mom began drinking, heavily, and daily as anger was ranging inside her. She remembers every detail of what mattered to her as she was growing up, but then developed amnesia for the parts that created her traumatized soul. What the fuck was happening? She couldn’t stop her world from spiraling down and the more she tried the worse it became.
This broken framework of a family would move to a whole new town, several hours from the only place she had ever called home. She now had to live in a town so small they only had one stoplight. Her anger intensified, but it had been serving her. It’s what kept her safe and from falling apart inside. It fueled her so others would perceive her as confident. What they didn’t know was it kept them at a distance, far enough so they wouldn’t learn her secrets. No one else lived this way she couldn’t imagine. This dark place where her mom drank herself into oblivion every night so she wouldn’t have to feel, could hide from the truth of her torment and his cruel, viscous ways. Take her into the land where no one spoke of the dismissals and discarding she experienced so he could continue his sorted affairs, blaming her for his indiscretions. This once beautiful, vivacious, confident, fun loving woman, reduced to nothingness. Stripped of her self worth and told of her undervalued existence. This replacement father wasn’t just an asshole, he was a fucking asshole and I had wished for so long that he would die.
She started maturing into a young, pretty teen and by 15 she had her first boyfriend. Really he was the excuse that got her out of her crazy ass house on a Friday night. She had convinced herself she was in love with this boy, as much as 2 teenagers could be, but they bickered more than they got along. Could her hostility have been the cause for that? She wondered today. The asshole, as she so fondly referred to him as now, had started snooping around in her room when she wasn’t home. She found this out when her mom brought the contents of her diary up in a private conversation, asking about her losing her virginity. She was fuming, seeing red and wanted to kill him, but her mom was gracious and kind about it. Now and then that loving, adoring mom would surface, in a semi sober state. Terrified her only daughter might end up a teen mom too, but was satisfied to know the 2 of them were “safe”. Humiliated and pissed beyond measure, she broke up with the boy she “loved”, leaving him confused and hurt, but she didn’t care, much.
Soon after, the leering was becoming more intense and uncomfortable to the point that she loathed having to even go to the kitchen for a snack or even water for fear of him being in the living room where she would have to pass through. Usually no words were exchanged, only a slithering, slimy look that made her shiver with ice through her veins and blood in her eyes. Sickened by the very sight of him, she found opportunities to be gone more than she was home. One day she came home from school to find a woman in the kitchen, a stranger to her. Thinking nothing of her until mom came home and asked if she saw this person. A few months later, these parents would separate for what ended up being 1 1/2 years this time. Another discard, the fond, control game he played. By this point she had deemed them both crazy and she wanted no part of their insanity. She declared to them she had a job, a car, friends, school and a life, finally and would not be moving. She further informed them that she knew they would reconcile and the fuck if she would turn her life upside down for them ever again and she didn’t.
She had chosen the worse of the 2 evils to remain in this God forsaken town that had grown on her. Convincing herself this was temporary and short term. He works a swing shift so she would rarely have to experience the abuse and inappropriateness of his behaviors. She could handle this. She had toughened up more than ever. Her life depended upon it. Less than a year went by and they proved her right when they bought their next home on the other side of town, big enough for us all to have our own rooms. It was 2 months before her graduation and she’d had enough. She was done. Dramatic exit scene. Her first experience with her newly developed dissociative behavior. A screaming match with her mom, explosive words of I hate you! Followed up with shaming accusations of you’re weak, why can’t you just quit drinking?! A quick packing of her things and she was gone. There may have been more expletives, but she was tapped out, checked out, already gone. She left behind an older brother whom she loved and wondered why he stayed after graduating the year before and her baby brother whom she adored and worried so over, but she feared to stay even though she was terrified to leave, but what choice did she have? This would start her pattern for the rest of her life.
The next 5 years would deliver her into the early makings of her first real, adult relationship with the man she eventually would marry and have 3 sons with. She never went back to their home, not to live, but now and then to see her growing up little brother and even her mom. She avoided interactions with her first abuser as much as possible. She often wondered if her mom ever knew, had any inclinations or concern for her only daughter’s well being, but then how could she as she was drowning deeper and deeper in her alcoholism. That was a word she had learned and identified with, qualifying her mom as one. Anger was still very much alive within her, seething at the core of her being. It was just showing up as less of a frequent visitor. As those years rolled on, her mom sank further into depression and into her bottles, hiding them more and better, so she thought. She came around less and less trying to normalize her own life, whatever that meant. It mortified her to remember this once shining light of a lady who was reduced to her darkness of hell. She blamed him for all of it. Mom’s shame, her pain and our abuse and neglect.
It was nearly the weekend and her mom called, wanting to visit her now grown, young, adult children and their significant partners. We lived close by one another and just short of flipping a coin, she surrendered and said mom could stay with us for the weekend. We all got together for a family dinner, just the 4 of us and mom. By Monday morning everyone had work to get to including mom. She needed to “get going” she told her. Reluctantly, they said goodbye, unbeknownst to any of them it would be the final time they would see her sad, sweet face. It had been a surprisingly pleasant weekend. She chalked that up to his absence. We parted ways, as we all went off in our separate directions to live our own lives now.
A week went by and it was 5 am on a Saturday. She was at work when she got the call. His voice on the other end, so blunt and cold, your mother was in an accident, she didn’t make it. She sank to the ground, the corded phone still in her hand as the tears sprung to her eyes and ran down her cheeks. All she could repeatedly ask him was, “was she drinking?” His answer never came, but in her heart, she knew. She sat there, numb, not knowing what to do, needing to do something, but what? Last week she had a mom. A mom she had forgiven after all those years of despising what she considered her weakness. A mom who loved her with all she had, but had none to give herself. A mom who she accused of neglecting her for some man who abused her, them, all of us. A mom who deserved to live because she had so much to live for, but she never knew any of it. A mom that was loved even though she couldn’t love herself. She will forever wonder… Where had she gone?