Monday, March 23, 2020

The Fight of Your Life

Ending this marriage and choosing a path of recovery has been the absolute fight of my life. I’d been with my partner since I was a teenager, married for 24 years and 3 children. It’s funny what I look back on, knowing what I know now versus just thinking it was “normal,” to accept things that I should never have accepted. It was such a warped definition of “LOVE.” He was handsome, charming and witty. I absolutely adored him. During the whole marriage, I always had this feeling like, “I’m not good enough for him.” Or, “I love him more than he loves me.” He had another side to him as well.

He was an alcoholic and, as I learned later, a narcissist. I tried my best to help him. He functioned well enough to be a good provider. He worked hard but was a binge drinker. I was always so scared after he had a few months of sobriety. Inevitably, he would start bringing home a 6-pack, then vodka. I lived in this cycle for 24 years. He would do something terrible, seem remorseful, temporarily stop drinking and then start the cycle all over again. This happened countless times over 24 years. He said the most hateful words to me “you fucking cunt” and “you should feel grateful that I stick around because no one else would deal with you.” These words would echo in my mind constantly. How could this person I love so much talk to me like this? He would promise to stop, I would try to forget but it kept happening again and again.

I decided to go to therapy. I tried to work on myself to become a better wife and mother. I wanted to heal and work through my own issues with trauma. I started to see the ways in which I felt around him. How my body would respond to him walking in the door, how everyone in the house responded to his moods, how he dictated what the family did. I shared this with my therapist. She and I started to slowly unravel this tangled web of abuse. Week by week, I could see things more clearly. For years, I blamed myself. I blamed my own unresolved trauma thinking that I was the one who was damaged or broken beyond repair. I know now, he liked me to feel “broken.” He had me under his thumb. He had complete control over me. He had someone who would give to him so freely.  I used to think that I willingly gave away all of my power just to keep him at bay. Now I know, I never freely gave of myself. He used coercive control to mold me and shape me however he wanted.

Last year, after a month of silent treatment, I tried to get him to go to therapy but he refused. He said he was done with the marriage. He moved out a few days later. He told our children he was leaving and he left. I was crushed. I couldn't believe he could just walk away so easily. Of course, several months later he tried to control the narrative saying that I kicked him out making it seem like I was the one who ruined the marriage. I’ve learned since then that a “smear campaign” is often part of this process. 

We owned a business together and we decided to close the business once we separated. I emailed our patrons and started to shut things down. Then, out of nowhere, he informs me via text that he has changed his mind. He’s keeping the business. He said that I didn’t really contribute to the business anyhow and characterized me as “playing” like I owned a business but he was the one who did all the work. Of course this wasn’t true. He had already made arrangements with the landlord and signed a new lease. All of this was done behind my back. I was in shock. I was frozen. For weeks, I could not function. I was sick to my stomach and unable to eat. Each text he sent was worse and worse, he would verbally unleash on me. With each sound of a text notification, the knife I felt in my chest cut deeper and deeper. 

Now I see this side to him that is so completely evil and manipulative. He has made many alienation attempts with our children. He undermines me constantly. If something actually serious happens with the kids, he laughs it off. He stopped holding them accountable for their behaviors, painting me to be a militant authoritarian, someone who is controlling and reactionary. The kids love this, of course. One day after addressing bad behavior with my son, I overheard him talking to his Dad on a video call. I heard him say, “Mom is a fucking bitch.” Then his dad said, “Yeah she really is. But everyone thinks she is a saint. Videotaping her would prove how crazy she is.” It felt like he was The Great Oz behind the green curtain, the great manipulator.

There are endless stories I could tell...but only a select few people understand what this is like or believe that this type of abuse even exists. Every stage of the recovery process has been very hard. There are moments when I see the abuse so clearly. Then there are moments when I remember the good times and start to wonder, “Could I have worked harder? Could counseling have saved the marriage?” The answer is, “No.” The damage is done. Furthermore, he was actively seeking to harm me well after the marriage was over. When I start down that path of the “good times” in my mind, I remind myself that he is continuing to inflict harm well after the marriage has been over. He actively tries to hurt me, alienate me from my children, my business, my friends and family. I’m afraid of him. He put a target on my back and continues to seek “revenge” which is so twisted because he was the one who harmed me, not the other way around.

Everything in my life has changed. Just sold our family home and living back with my parents with my children. I’ve started a new career and I’m slowly gaining more confidence. Sometimes I feel broken beyond repair. I keep thinking, “Okay, just one more day. I can do this.” But I feel so heavy sometimes like my feet are made of stone. It has been tough. Counseling helps, I am grateful for the supportive people that surround me who have seen me at my darkest moments.Narcissistic abuse destroys our sense of safety and how we move in the World. It changes every single thing about us.

My heart goes out to anyone who experiences narcissistic abuse. You don’t deserve to be treated this way. To anyone who is trying to pull themselves out, it will be the fight of your life. But keep fighting! Don’t give up! I had to rebuild brick by brick, reaching deep to find inner strength day by day. Recovery from narcissistic abuse is not an easy path.  It has taken every bit of strength I could muster.  It makes you learn who you really are and what you’re made of. It teaches who your friends are. It shows you how beautiful your loving nature can be. In the end you will realize, you are worthy of love and you deserve a happy and healthy life free from abuse. 


Thursday, February 20, 2020

I'm No Longer Surviving, I'm Thriving

Just a year ago, I would sit there, disconnected from reality, checking my pulse because I thought I was dying. I couldn’t breathe and I would start to panic. When people say anxiety feels like a weight on their chest, they aren’t lying.  All I wanted was to be sitting in a corner, alone in silence. I didn’t want anyone to touch me, or ask me any questions. Just hearing conversations and my kids trying to hug me was too much stimulation. Every day, I kept praying that I would survive the day. Once I got to bedtime, I would think “Okay, I made it this far, now I just need to fall asleep.” This was how I survived each day for almost three years. My anxiety made me physically feel like I was dying, but emotionally made me feel like I was unlovable and broken. I couldn’t understand how people wanted to be around me, there was nothing good I could offer people. My marriage was failing again, my finances were in shambles, and I couldn’t offer support to others because I was wallowing in my own nightmare. I couldn’t even recognize the reflection in the mirror, I was a shell of who I once was. “I am fat from two pregnancies and eating my feelings, I am ugly because I’m fat and I don’t do my hair or makeup anymore.” These were the things I would say to myself when I saw my reflection. “How could anyone be attracted to this, and on top of it I have resting bitch face because honestly, what is there to smile about anymore?”

I believe God puts people in our lives for a reason, sometimes it’s to save our lives not just here on earth but to help save our eternal lives. Thank God for giving me my chosen family, for giving me a best friend who believes in me even when I can’t believe in myself, she reminds me of my worth and tells me every day that she loves me. She helps ground me when I’m overthinking and worrying. She brings me back to focus on God when I set my eyes upon the rest of the world. She brought me into my women’s group and that has been life changing. Having these women pray for me and over me, it saved me. I doubted so much of the next steps I would be taking in my life. They stood by me, and supported me, and offered me things when I had nothing. I discovered more friends at a woman camp and these ladies knocked my socks off. It was then that I had my breakthrough, and helped give me confidence to leave my husband.

I was in an abusive relationship for almost 17 years. He never laid a hand on me but he destroyed so much. When we were together I couldn’t have a relationship with God, he acted like he was a church going God loving man, but honestly he wasn’t. He saw God as being either punishing or like God should just make things happen for him, especially financially. I wanted a relationship that was God-centered but he wanted it to be centered around him. He was controlling, manipulative, degrading, and worst of all sexually abusive. Yes, your spouse can sexually abuse you. He knew my past and being sexually abused as a child and he exploited it because he shouldn’t have to be punished for what someone else did to me. He wanted me to do things I wasn’t comfortable with. When I would say, "No," he would imply that he could look elsewhere for that need. He said these things as a way to control me. It got to the point where I purposely made myself look a hot mess because I didn’t want him to be attracted to me. I didn’t want him to touch me or say inappropriate things to me anymore.
When I realized how I was feeling, and how his presence made my body so tense, I knew I had to get out of this marriage.

Unfortunately, we seem to live in a society where it’s acceptable to be emotionally, spiritually, financially, and sexually abused by your spouse as long as they don’t physically abuse you. My mom even said to me one day, “but he doesn’t hit you, right?” Like everything else was acceptable to endure. I know she wasn’t the only one to think this way. Honestly, I felt so ashamed to even tell my story, because how dare I leave him and say he was abusive when I have no bruises. I used to pray that he would beat me, that I would anger him enough for him to put me in the hospital, because then and only then would they believe me. When he didn’t touch me, I started to fantasize about how life would be better if he disappeared. I wouldn’t have to share my kids with him anymore, he would just be gone. That’s not healthy either. I will never forget the day where I took my control back. All of this shame and worry it just kept piling on me. I had already been seeing a therapist and taking survivor classes, but I wanted more so I started listening to podcasts.

One day, while I was at work, my boss went to lunch and I turned on podcast about how a narcissist sexually abuses their victims. Everything that she described, I had experienced with my husband. I’m not a crier but man did the tears flow that day. I could barely finish my work the rest of the afternoon. I picked up my daughter from the sitter, I went home, changed into the ugliest pajamas I had and sat there in silence as my kids played. When he came home from work, I told him I had a headache and needed to lay down. I went to my room, covered myself up and sobbed. I felt so dirty, and so used, by MY HUSBAND! Have you ever watched a TV show where there is a victim of sexual assault, and they just want to shower and clean themselves and disappear? I felt those scenes that day. I slept for a couple hours, I forced myself to sleep so he would leave me alone. I dreamed of a life without him and it was so sweet.

The next day, I woke up and got ready for work, and knew that was the last day I would put up with his bullshit. A switch in me flipped and I took back my control. I began planning my escape. I had no money to support myself or my kids, I was working two part-time jobs, had no insurance, and couldn’t afford my house on my own. By a sheer miracle, my amazing friend was unfortunately going through a divorce herself, and she offered to let the kids and I move in with her. Her kindness surpasses anything I’ve ever experienced and I still can’t believe how much living with her has healed me. Her generosity of a roof over our heads is something I could never repay her for.
Although I was still in transition from the divorce and moving, I felt like I had to keep the peace and make sacrifices so he would sign the papers right away. I walked away from my home, furniture, and child support for a life of freedom. I didn’t want any ties to him. Denying child support was a way for me to take back my control and power. It felt good to look at him and tell him I didn’t need him to survive.

The day of our hearing, I walked out of the court, with my head held high and a big smile on my face. It was liberating. I could finally move forward. I had already picked up my pieces of brokenness and started putting myself back together. Then, I put on my sassy pants and told a friend I’ve had since the 8th grade that I’ve been interested in him since high school. I was terrified of his rejection but I was also terrified of never telling him how I felt. Luckily for me, the feelings were mutual, and he has been so amazing. I never knew this is what a healthy relationship would be like. My friends would always talk about how amazing their husbands were and how they were their best friends and I would be so confused, like are you sure? But I get it now. I pinch myself sometimes because I didn’t know it could be like this. I never felt joy before until now. All of my struggles, worries, fears, tension, pain, and suffering have been worth it.

I went from a place of wishing I would have been beat to death to THRIVING. I have my power back, my ex doesn’t have it anymore. I did the work, I let God move, and He has rewarded me. If God told me years ago “look, you will be happy and find joy, but you are going to have to go through hell and back and probably repeat it, but I promise you it will be worth it.” I would choose that path again if this is where I was heading. I never thought my face would hurt from smiling so much, or that people would tell me what a difference they noticed in me, or that I radiated joy. Me?! The girl with resting bitch face radiates joy! How the heck did that happen? God, my friends, family, my therapist, my support systems, my hard freaking work. The work was hard and painful, and I felt like giving up time and time again, but it was worth every second of trial I faced. Imagine a life where you enjoy coming home, you have fun, you are loved and you know it, and you are happy. It can happen and it is worth it, I promise.


Friday, January 10, 2020

Protect Your Kids By Protecting Yourself

I have spent years feeling stuck, depending on toxic and manipulative people for childcare. As a single mom, sometimes I feel trapped having to rely on people who do not respect my boundaries. Whatever help I receive feels transactional, like I owe them. I have wanted to be “No Contact” with both my ex-psychopathic abuser (the father of my kids) and my narcissistic mother. When I go No Contact with my mom, I find myself allowing my ex to encroach past boundaries that make me feel comfortable. I get stuck in a pattern of allowing him access until he goes too far. Then I push him away and allow my mom back in to fill in with the childcare. Then, inevitably, my mom will go too far, saying manipulative things to the kids about me or placing unreasonable expectations on me. Then I’m back allowing their dad more access because I can’t afford to pay a sitter.

Recently, during the holidays, I found out they have been teaming up and triangulating to work around the No Contact. In other words, if I was setting boundaries with the ex, my mom would aid him in going around me. If I was setting boundaries with my mom, he would aid her in crossing my boundaries. Finally, enough was enough. I decided to take the financial hit and pay for childcare. I am attempting “No Contact” with both of them. It is like fighting a war. They send their Flying Monkeys to guilt me and persuade me.

One of the manipulative messages I hear a lot is, “You’re using the children as pawns.” Another message I hear is, “Your personal boundaries are hurting your kids.” While I know this is not true, I find myself wrestling with this. It has taken a lot of work to come to the conclusion that building a healthy life for me and my kids, free from abusive and manipulative people, is NOT hurting them. I have to remind myself constantly that my personal health actually provides them with protection and freedom from abuse.

Recently, a nosy family member took to Facebook to tell me how she disapproves of my choices. I wanted to share this because I know there are other parents out there trying to establish boundaries with toxic family members. Often, we are confused by the question…”What is best for the kids?” I’m writing this to tell you that our kids need us to be healthy. They need us to set an example. Our kids need to know it is okay to have zero tolerance for manipulation and abuse. Most importantly, our kids need a healthy mom who is fortified to stand firm against abuse and mistreatment. Here is a portion of the Facebook exchange that took place. Thank you for letting me share.

“Concerned” Family Member: Taking them away is what’s best for you, not your children, then you are using them as a pawn in a hurtful way! Please take an honest look at the situation, can there be a solution or common ground. I hope peace finds you, avoiding certain people who hurt you is fine. But when they do what’s best for themselves over what you want, you’re just going to have to get over your tantrum and grow up! I love you, but you are hurting the one person who has helped you the most!

 My Response: I'm deeply sorry that someone has shared only one side of their story and thus we feel we need to choose a "side". Unless one has walked in another's shoes, I find it irrelevant to call things tantrums or the like. I choose to not engage in manipulative conversations and after 37 years have found that I don't have to sacrifice myself for anyone else's narrative. That's not avoidance or a temper tantrum, rather preservation of the self. No one knows my narrative and no one needs to, because it's not about justification of how I take care of my own mental health. If the people in my life can't support me in finding my own self-worth, I have to assume they aren’t actually on my team. I support anyone who does what's best for themselves as long as it doesn't involve mischaracterization or toxicity towards me or anyone else. And if it does, then we have the choice to stop living in an unhealthy way. If we have communicated our boundaries clearly, and they continue to be ignored, it is my choice to remove those people from my life.

For people who may be in a similar situation, protecting your children from toxic behavior is protecting your children. People that try to use this tactic of "Keep your kids in toxic situations to please the toxic person" is ridiculous. My kids seeing their mother set a boundary with another adult and that adult purposefully crossing it time and again with no consequence in place breeds codependent children that don't know how to validate their own worth and question their reality. Please have faith in yourself to know what is best for your kids and don’t let anyone try to make you feel guilty for wanting to keep your kids safe from abuse and manipulation.


Thursday, December 12, 2019

I Survived, It Was Worth It

My life has never been easy, I grew up in a low income home and was sexually abused by my stepfather, my real father never wanted me, and my mom and I had no connection. My grandparents, great-grandparents, teachers, and friend’s parents were my only positive parental guidance. After high school I moved to Cincinnati to get away from the toxic relationship that i had with my mom. I moved in with two guys and another girl. This small town girl was enamored by the “big city” life. I moved in, thought I was invincible and had an arrogance about me. At my core I was kind and still tried to make friends, and I did, many of them. They were all so wonderful, a few are still some of my closest friends today. One of my male roommates, became a close friend and I tried everything to make him happy. He told me to jump I would ask how high. I don’t know if it was because I was rejected by most of the other men in my life but I wanted so badly for him to love me and want me. I was so blind and addicted to his charm that I ignored all of the red flags of abuse that I was about to embark on.

My confidence and self worth rapidly fell and I was trapped. There were still days and slivers of hope that I would try to convince myself that those small rare moments outweighed the abuse, and honestly I didn’t even realize it was abuse i just figured that’s what love was and it was normal. I would envy the relationships my friends had with their boyfriends/husbands that were healthy and how happy they were with each other.  I slowly became a shell of who I once was, I did things that I never thought I would do, like drank wine until I went to bed.

Finally, I had the courage to leave and get divorced. I thought I was starting over, he put his charm on even stronger, and pursued me. For a couple years I did well avoiding him, and no one seemed interested in me besides him, so I started to open my heart back up to that possibility. I prayed and asked guidance from my Grandpa (who had passed but I still have a spiritual connection with). I thought maybe God was leaning towards getting back together with him but I felt nothing from Grandpa. I chose to get back together, it was a struggle at first because he acted like he was a hot commodity and I had to compete for him. I refused and he broke off what he had going with another woman and chose me. I finally felt like he had put me above others. I again ignored the red flags, I wanted so badly to be loved and to have my son with me 24/7 that I stayed and remarried him. I wanted another child, and along came out daughter.

Once she was born and my time was taken away from stroking his ego, he went back to the narcissistic asshole. The tension was hard at home and myself and the kids were walking on eggshells. I was depleted all over again. I couldn’t understand how I had friends, or why anyone would even want to be around me. I became someone I didn’t recognize and I was not the person, mother, wife, or friend I wanted to be.

After joining a women’s group at my church they prayed so hard for me and my marriage and I wanted things to work out in God’s vision, but what I soon realized was this was not how God designed marriage to be, this was not love, it was the exact opposite. I went on a spiritual camp with thousands of other women and my small group prayed for me and encouraged me to leave if I had to in order to save myself and my kids. I found a therapist that also led a class for survivors of abuse. I had originally thought that he only abused me emotionally, and since he wasn’t actually beating the crap out of me it was ok. The more I learned and the more I realized how toxic this was for me, I began to plan my escape. The point that changed everything was the day I realized he had been sexually abusive. Yes, your own husband can sexually abuse you. Every sexual experience with him was abusive. We never made love, I was never “freaky” enough for him, yet he would never tell me what he liked, well besides having a threesome and swallowing were priorities. There were many things during the 17 years I’ve known him that I let him talk me into, whether it was sexually, financially, spiritually, and emotionally. He made me believe he wanted to get out of debt but he had no impulse control and spent money we didn’t have. Am I innocent? No, I did my fair share of spending but many times it was against what my goals were because he would throw a tantrum if he didn’t get his way.

My friends, other survivors, and therapist encouraged me that I could in fact leave him. I could make it. After things were put into motion, I walked away from the house I bought and fixed on my own, and decorated. I walked away from many things that I cherished in that home so I could be free. A quote by Glennon Doyle struck me during this time “if a woman has to choose between saving her marriage and saving her soul, she must save her soul”, and that’s what I was doing.

My dear friend had just went through a divorce herself and invited my kids and I to live with her for the time being. I don’t think I could ever repay her for the generosity that she has shown my kids and I. We had nowhere to go and she invited the three of us in. I couldn’t make it on my own, and would have either had to have moved back home in with my grandma or in low income housing. I was scared the most of failing my children because I couldn’t put a roof over their heads. I had kept praying that God would make a way for me to financially get out of the marriage and He opened this incredible door with her.

Once I moved in, the biggest weight that I had been carrying for years had been lifted. I was beginning to sleep again, and perform better at work, and enjoying life again. After the final hearing, it was a relief but felt like another day, I just had a little bit more pep in my step.

Now, I’ve reconnected with an old friend from high school. He is someone I have had feelings for since Junior year but I never had the guts to say anything. Finally, after all this time, I was vulnerable and I told him how I felt. We are dating and taking things slow for now. He made the comment that God had a reason for having us wait this long before we got together, it was his timing and not ours. I have two blessings that I wouldn’t have had and honestly, I don’t know if I would have truly appreciated him as much as I do now. He makes my heart happy, and I feel like I am finally dating my best friend, he makes me feel safe and that I can be myself with him. I can’t stop smiling because of him. It’s as if I handed him my fragile shattered heart that’s been pieced back together, and he delicately took it in his hands and has held it like a newborn baby.

If God would have told me 17 years ago “look, you’re eventually going to be happy, and find joy, and peace, and have two kids and a good man. However, you will have to go through hell and back a few times before this happens”. I would take off my shoes and march through fire if that’s how I would get to the moment I am at now. The struggle, heartbreak, and work was worth every ounce of joy I feel now. Don’t give up, don’t let the lies of a narcissist discourage you because you can do this, you can survive, but you have to do the work. It is worth it.


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

When Your Father is a Narcissist

If you know me personally, you know that the last 3 years have been the worst of my life. I have grown and changed so much in that time that by now you have probably noticed I’m a different person than I was before all of this. 2 years ago, I became aware of the situation I was in, and nothing in my life has ever made so much sense. Since I was a child, I was partially aware that something wasn’t right, but I always brushed it off as my imagination and love for storytelling. But now I know the truth. For the first 13 years of my life, I was a victim of emotional abuse.

I never imagined I would write this, let alone share it with anyone. My entire life I have never been completely happy, and I never knew why. I always had a voice in my head telling me that I was a terrible human being and that I could never do anything right. This voice was born from the abuse. Every time I made a mistake, I would receive an insult masked as a joke. Every time I cried or complained saying that these “jokes” made me upset, I was told I was “too sensitive” and needed to toughen up. To my abuser, what I wanted didn’t matter. I would ask him to spend time with me, but he always said “not right now,” but he would then come to me later when I was doing something and make me feel guilty for “never wanting to do anything with him”. Whenever he was home, he was either watching tv or in the gym, either way, I was being ignored. If he was doing one of those things, he wouldn’t hear a word you say. There were names he would call me, simple jokes to anyone else, but when they are repeated over and over, they start to wear away at your pride and self-image. His favorites were “piglet” and “box-checker”. He called me piglet every time I would get food outside of meals, he would laugh as he said it and I would go along laughing while telling him to stop. As I came into my teen years, I developed a negative body image, and to this day every time I look in the mirror, I see a fat “piglet”. He called me box-checker whenever I decided I wanted to try something new, for example, a new hobby. He always made fun of how I would “lose interest” in everything I tried. I was a child, how was I supposed to know what I wanted to do, how was I supposed to know what my interests were if I didn’t try a bunch of things first? Soon box-checker became “incapable of commitment” in my mind. I have to force myself to commit to something now because I believe that I will inevitably give up.

The way my abuser thought was that I was not my own. He and I would have screaming matches about how he claimed I was his property, how I belonged to him. By now I have done my best to try and forget most of what he’s done, but a lot of it will stay with me forever. One of the things he did that bothered me the most, he referred to as “butt-bees”. He would pinch my butt almost every time he came near me, if I asked him to stop and explicitly told him that it wasn’t ok, he would maybe stop for a few days, a week at most. I got to the point where if he came within 3 feet of me, I would say “don’t touch my butt,” out of a gut reflex. At the dinner table, he would interrupt me every time I spoke, then laugh at how I got angry. He would do this multiple times until I gave up on the topic and sat in silence for the rest of dinner. When he was out of town for work, the entire house was lighter and we all felt an odd sense of freedom, but when he came back, we would forget the old feeling and go back to trying to accommodate his feelings and every whim.

Today, he is not allowed to have physical contact with me by court decree, but he still texts me almost every day. I am not permitted to block his number or else I or others involved could get in trouble. I can probably predict how you would react to these texts; they would make you feel uncomfortable after reading enough of them, you would make the same disgusted face everyone else does. I, however, have grown numb to his messages, they don’t bother me anymore because I’ve received so many. In 3 years, I will be 18, when that day comes, I will change my last name, block him on every platform he could contact me on, and I’m moving out of the state. I am not allowed to be free of him until I am recognized as a legal adult.

I will never completely recover from what I’ve been through. My mind has been so damaged from everything I experienced it will still take me years to get to a place where I can even look at him without feeling terrified and sick. There are more things he has done than those I’ve written here, and I may never share those things outside of therapy.

Although I was never physically or sexually abused, I am still traumatized by what happened to me. Due to my abuse, I unfortunately have a hard time believing that those who are close to me don’t have ulterior motives in our relationship. I always believe that they are tricking me, or using me to get something. It will take time for me to get rid of this belief, and it’s something I fight every day. Additionally, his constant teasing and insults have made me feel as if I’ll never be enough, I believe that no one, besides my mom and brother, will ever truly love me because I’m so imperfect. I’ve always believed this, there has always been a voice that appears in my head whenever I do something wrong asking me “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you do anything right? Do you want everyone to hate you because of all your mistakes?” His words, and those of the voices, made me feel completely worthless, for a few years of my life I considered killing myself, and I thank god every day that those thoughts were never serious enough that I decided to do something.

Being around people is difficult for me because I feel as if I’m an accessory and they all have me there out of guilt or out of their aforementioned “ulterior motives”. I have a dark road behind me, and a long road ahead. My scars will never fully heal, I doubt the voices will ever entirely go away, but I’m going to do my best to rebuild myself as best as I can. I’ve already taken a big step forward. In October of 2019 I was diagnosed with depression, and about a week or 2 later I began medication. I have been doing much better since then, but my depression doesn’t account for everything I feel.

I look forward to the day when I finally get to leave my past behind and get to know my new self. I know that many people will never understand how damaging the effects of this abuse are. There is a specific term for the kind of abuse I experienced, but since my abuser is undiagnosed, I cannot officially call it or him what they are.

Every day I take another step. Every day I trust myself a little more, but I haven’t yet been able to make as big of strides as far as my feelings and reactions towards others. For now, I’m taking it day by day, and as crazy as it sounds, my experiences have made me stronger than I could have ever imagined, and I know that I will make it out of this alive.


Monday, September 16, 2019

Abandoned, Abused, and Codependent

I’ve been abandoned, abused, and I’m codependent.

From the moment my father found out about me, he didn’t want me. Growing up I had always hoped my father would fight for me and tell me I’m wanted. I never met him until I was in 4th grade. My neighbor introduced us at the high school football game, they grew up together. I didn’t hear from him again until I was in 7th grade and he wanted me to come to his house on Christmas Eve. I didn’t see him again until high school. All that time I wondered what was wrong with me that he didn’t want or love me. My mom and I did not get along through my teen years, I was so mad at her one time that I had my grandparents call up my dad in hopes he would fight for custody for me then turn his rights over to them. They were home to me. He came out to my grandparents house and agreed to ask for visitation from my mom. For six months I spent time at his house every other weekend, except he was rarely there and I spent time with my stepsister and stepmom. On my sixteenth birthday he called and said he had a present for me. I stopped by his house, he handed me a card that had $100 in it and said Love, Dad. He then told me there in front of his house by his car that if I want to continue a relationship with him, then it’s up to me, the ball was in my court. I was crushed because again, I wasn’t wanted by him. A couple years later, while I was a senior in high school I wrote to him. I didn’t hear back so I called to make sure he got what I sent him. He never returned my call. His stepdaughter and I graduated together, but he never came to congratulate me.

Once I moved to Cincinnati and had a family of my own I thought surely, he would want to get to know his grandson and me now that I’m an adult. I emailed him in August, but didn’t get a reply until that Christmas. He said “well next time you’re up stop over.” Well my bold ass called him up right away and said “we are already up here can we stop by tomorrow?” He agreed. We stopped at their new house, they had presents for us. A couple toys for Joshua and a $50 gift card to Walmart for us. I didn’t know what to say, but just accepted it. I could tell he was nervous as was I. My husband had carried on most of the conversation, which was not surprising as he did that a lot anyways. When we left, he hugged me and told me to give him a call and we would talk.i called later that week, left a voicemail and didn’t hear back for about 5 years. When my husband and I got back together and newly remarried I had reached out to my stepsister and was asking her family history questions. She kept asking for us to stop by next time we are up and I told her I appreciated the invite, but I needed to hear it from my father. Within a week, he called and invited us over again. We stopped by, again around Christmas time with more awkward conversation. It was like deja vu except this time we brought presents. Again, they gave us a $50 gift card to Walmart and some toys for Joshua. We left, I didn’t hear from him again until 6 months later when I got a text wishing me a happy birthday. That became a regular 6 month thing, text me on my birthday and on Christmas. I don’t ever know what to say to him, so I keep it short. I haven’t spoken to him or seen him since that Christmas a few years ago, and honestly, I’m done reaching out. I got tired of wondering what was wrong with me that he didn’t want me in his life.

With the absence of my biological father, I had a stepfather who was abusive. He came into my life when I was about 5 years old. He was cold, harsh, and a bully. I never liked him, he always made me feel uncomfortable. Once we moved into the house I grew up in, he started to molest me as I slept. I think he thought I was asleep when he did it, but I would wake up when he came into my room after working second shift and taking off my underwear. I just closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep. When he was finished, he would put my underwear back on me, cover me back up and get ready for bed. This was a regular routine of his for a few years. When I could, I would try to spend the night at my friends or grandparents house. I was too young to know a lot but I knew this wasn’t what dads were supposed to do. One day, I mustered up the courage to ask my best friend if her dad came in her room at night or came in on her when she was changing. She said no. I thought that this definitely couldn’t be right. I told my mom one night that he was touching me down there. I said it in front of my friend that lived next door. My mom was embarrassed I would say such a thing in front of my friend, but I didn’t know the proper etiquette of speaking my truth. That night when her husband came home she confronted him. He asked to speak to me privately and he threatened me and told me that I better tell my mom it was a lie and I only said it so I could see my real dad. When my mom came in, I lied and said I made it up because I wanted to see my real dad. I never spoke of this again until I was in the summer of my 6th grade year going into 7th. They were in the process of a divorce and he was harassing us, so I said “if he won’t stop harassing us then I will tell everyone what he did to me!” My mom wanted clarification so I told her. That confession started a whole slew of therapists and changes. I moved in with my grandparents because I felt safer there. Once he was on trial for sexual battery of a minor he pleaded guilty, and I felt relieved. My grandparents came by school to tell me the news. But I forgot that his nieces and nephew went to school with me. They spread rumors about me and said I was a fucking lying bitch. I couldn’t understand because he pleaded guilty, why would they defend him? Hiding my truth felt better than sharing it because I was ashamed that this happened to me, I felt like people wouldn’t want to be my friend because I was abused, like it was contagious or something.

As a teen, I kept trying to find someone who would want me. I wasn’t the pretty or popular girl, I was awkward, overweight, but at least I was funny. I wanted a boyfriend so bad, just to say I had one, but again, no one wanted me. In my immature stupid brain, I thought “if I do this with a boy, he may like me enough to ask me to be his girlfriend.” Well that didn’t happen, no matter how many times I tried. My senior year of high school, I finally got a boyfriend, he was from a different school, and I felt wanted for six months until he broke up with me for another girl.
After I graduated I moved to Cincinnati, seeking for someone to want me. I was trying to do the same thing I did in high school, which didn’t seem to work out this time either. Then my roommate pursued me even though he had a girlfriend. For some stupid reason I felt wanted and pursued and thought maybe he would break up with his girlfriend for me. Nope, she broke up with him. I assume it was because she was not of fan of our “friendship” and I don’t blame her. He became my husband, ex husband, husband again, and now soon to be ex husband again. This time for good. The only time I felt wanted by him was when I wasn’t his.

All of this fuckery has structured me in a way that I have a need to be reassured that I’m loved, wanted, funny, kind, admired, etc. it’s not just from love interests I need this from, but friends and family and hell even strangers. Even though i need this reassurance, I have a hard time accepting compliments. I think and sometimes say “are you sure you’re talking about me? I’m not that great.”
These needy codependent feelings have led me to the wrong person time and time again. I want the right person, for now I am working on becoming a recovering codependent. I don’t want my worth and happiness to depend on the admiration of others. I do good things, I love hard, I value my people, I am a good momma, and I love Jesus.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

A Surprise Conversation with My Son

Recently, a thing happened. A thing I'd spent a little time worrying about over the years. My son googled me. I'd hoped he'd google me as Erika Bright; the name I use in social media, “Bright” being his dad's last name. I never changed my last name to Bright because when we got married, my own father was terminally ill, and I couldn't bring myself to let go of the name “Eisenberg.” So my name stayed, officially, Erika Eisenberg, on my clinical license to practice social work too. My son was looking up my business when he happened upon old news articles about me. He yelled, “Mom, I'm looking you up!” cheerfully, as I sat on the couch with my husband. We were in between episodes, binge watching “New Girl”. Jeff and I looked at each other, nervously..waiting. I shrugged. It was bound to happen eventually. I might have liked for him to be older but..oh well.

My almost eleven year old turned to me, in alarm, “Mom, were you raped?” He asked. 

“Umm, yep.” I said casually. “A long time ago..(1996).”
And there it was. The conversation I'd been wondering about how to handle for years. We talked about how it was a host father on an abroad program who'd been sexually harassing me and had harassed other exchange students too. We talked a little about why it was national news at the time. I had asked in a private letter to my college that my college institute a sexual harassment policy on abroad programs.  The college declined. And then I went public, suing them for a sexual harassment policy on abroad programs and yes, for money too. The college went the route of circling the wagons, character assassination, and victim blaming. Some people told me I deserved it because I was drunk when it happened. Some called me a liar. Some focused on what I was wearing. All the same old shit that any woman or child who goes public experiences.

I told my son that there are articles that suggest that I received millions in a settlement. Nope. Not ten million. Not 3 Million. Not 1 Million. Far less. But enough that I could invest a little, and move to a woodsy, mountainous area after graduating from college, and work, surrounded by woods and sunshine, and hike with my two dogs and my boyfriend (now husband). Nature therapy. The woods and the mountains were vast, peaceful, healing.

And as part of the settlement,  the college DID institute that sexual harassment policy on abroad programs so that when a student comes to them with concerns about a host family member, the program facilitators have a clear plan of action to follow. Other colleges across the US took notice and created policies too. My lawsuit was one of the first of it's kind and it set a precedent. And even though that was a very painful,  traumatic time in my life, it has deepened me as a person. I wouldn't wish that pathway on anyone. But here I am. I am a therapist, a trauma and EMDR specialist, and a social worker doing what I can to advocate, empower, educate, and make positive change. And I'm a parent, trying to raise a boy who understands consent, and respects women.

My son asked if I know other people who've been sexually assaulted.

"I do", I said. "It happens to lots of people but most people don't talk about it. They keep it secret. When I was 21 yrs old, 'Me Too' wasn't a thing. More people are talking about this stuff openly now. But only if they want to. It's hard. There's still a lot of shaming and victim blaming that happens."

My son asked, "Did you blame yourself?"

I said, "Sometimes, I did. I grew up believing bad things that happened were my fault. That thinking started at a very young age for me.  It took some time as a grown up, to learn how to be assertive, how to set boundaries. It took time, and therapy to undo some really crappy early life conditioning. It took time, therapy, healthy relationships. Learning to grow into who I am now. I'm OK with that. I love my life. I feel good.  I'm strong, I'm capable, I'm a kick-ass friend, mom, spouse, and therapist."

My son smiled big, and said, “Mom, I'm really proud of you.”

And that was that.