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.

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Easy Way Out

Staying in my marriage is the easy way out.

If I had a dollar for how many times I’ve heard “divorce is the easy way out”. Divorce is hard, getting to the point where you want a divorce is hard. Staying is easier. Logistically, financially, and for the kids it’s easier. Putting on a mask of happiness is easier than showing my true pain, shame, guilt, and chaos of emotions. 

Divorce is the easy way out because you’re not facing your issues and just leaving. But am I really, though? 

If I stay, I have to fake my smile of happiness to my children. I have to pretend I like my husband. I have to act like everything is fine. I have to keep putting up with his bullshit excuses, comments, abuse, feelings of never being enough, distrust, stress, tension and fuck so much more. 

If I stay, then I have to lay in our bed and be insulted because I’m not thin enough for this position, I’m not doing what he wants, I’m not swallowing, I’m not freaky enough to bring another woman into the bedroom. Then once he’s finished he tells me “there you go” as if he did me the favor. “No asshole, my orgasm didn’t come from you anyways, I did it myself and you weren’t even in my fantasy.” Of course I don’t say it to him because that wouldn’t be the right wife thing to say. But man do I feel it in my soul. 

I was once intimate with him, where I told him my story, I shared my thoughts and feelings with him. Instead of embracing my truth and honoring me, he degraded me and used it against me. 
I didn’t even realize how I’ve longed to be intimate with someone. Not in just a sexual way but in the way where I can reveal all of me, piece by piece and he loves me anyways. A way where he honors my pain and truth and respects my body. He doesn’t just look at me as a resource for his supply, but as a partner, a best friend, and an intimate lover. Things I’ve not had yet.

Do you know how hard it will be to find someone else who will accept all of me? It will take time and may be brutal. Staying is harder, because it’s not the real me inside.
I want my kids to see my biggest smile when I see the love of my life. A true genuine smile. Not a forced smile, not where I have to grin and bare its i want them to see true love. I would rather leave now then let them feel that I only stayed with their father for them and i was miserable the whole time. 

Staying is easier because one house stays one house. I don’t have to purchase new furniture, a new place, or new things. I can save more money if I stayed. It’s cheaper to keep her as the saying goes. 
Figuring this out on my own, processing the loss of a marriage, dealing with my truth, this shit is hard. This shit is heavy and can be unbearable but damn it will be worth it. 

Don’t tell me that divorcing my husband will be the easy way out. My pain and anger are real and it didn’t just happen overnight. It’s not a decision I came to lightly. I want to be happy and I want to be the best version of myself for me and my kids. 

The struggle to be genuine is real, it’s so hard sometimes. Faking, that’s easy.