Steal My Sunshine

The first thing I would like to share this week is that we had a leaders’ meeting this past week, and at that meeting, it was proposed that SNAP put together a deposition template from past court proceedings in order that those who are going into court to testify can have something to use as a guideline.

While it is still in the talking stage right now, I think it would be a wonderful means of support for survivors heading to court to face their abusers. It can be difficult to know just what to say or how to put into words what happened. To be able to have some kind of guideline when you are feeling so vulnerable and alone can be a great comfort. More on this as information becomes available.

As long as we are talking about going to court, I watched a documentary this week on women who have been sent to prison for murdering their abusive husbands.

So, what does this have to do with survivors of clergy abuse?

Well, I have often said that details may be different in each case, but the stories and how the abuse comes about are similar. Whether the abuse is by a priest or a therapist, or a teacher, or a spouse, there are similarities in how the relationships begin, progress, and continue to exist if they do not come to an end in some way.

In these cases, they all involved women, but we know that abuse happens to men as well. The thing that I found the most interesting…and disturbing…about these cases, is that time and time again, the women were advised by their lawyers not to bring up anything about the abuse they suffered at the hands of their husbands. The reason for this is it was felt that it showed motive.

We have heard about victim blaming. I’d like to think that times are beginning to change, but I know we still have a long way to go as far as abuse is concerned. For instance, we still tend to ask, “Why didn’t she leave?” instead of asking “If he thought she was that horrible, why didn’t he leave?” or “Why did he beat her or abuse her?”

We are still putting all of the responsibility on the victim. And the victim? One woman said that she had the kids packed up and ready to leave and her husband came home and put a stop to it. She said that he told her she was not leaving and then he locked her in the basement for a week without food or water.

Another woman ran away to another man only to have her husband find her. Her boyfriend ended up shooting the husband and she was charged as an accomplice.

And we have seen that sometimes victims are just too terrified to call the police or they have no means of supporting themselves or a way of escaping the situation. Or their self-esteem has plummeted, and they believe they are worthless. Or they feel that they cannot survive without their partner.

I have mentioned before that I have spoken to survivors who are not sure if what they have been through is abuse. And I get it because I have been there. It sounds kind of crazy explaining what happened to someone who hasn’t been through it. Because as I once said to my own abuser, his words were like smoke in the wind.

How do you explain to someone that a priest was looking at you while consecrating the Host? That he did not take his eyes off of you. That you felt too uncomfortable to go to mass after that because of the way it made you feel. And that you wondered how he could sincerely be a man of God if he used the most sacred part of the mass to stare at you. It sounds like you’re nuts.

And how do you explain defending the actions of your abuser or saying the words, “I think I’m in love with him,” knowing it’s crazy but perhaps the flood of emotion that is felt beats feeling flat and emotionless and alone in the world. Or perhaps you grew up loving and defending an abusive parent who your whole life depended upon.

In any case, any abusive relationship can be complicated. Mental illness and substance abuse can add fuel to an already stoked fire. And sometimes children can be used as pawns in sick adult games.

And then there may come a time when it may come down to kill your abuser or be killed. Or it may feel like there is no other means of escape. Or maybe after years of madness, a person just snaps. And it may be hard for a jury to understand the situation the abused spouse was living in at the time the crime was committed. But in the documentary I watched, these women went to jail for many, many years. And finally, when someone cared enough to try to fight for them and put the abuse on the table as a defense for the murders, I believe it was only one woman out of eight that was granted parole after serving about 30 years behind bars.

My point is that society has tended to blame the victim when it comes to abuse. In certain cases, such as in a marriage…or when it comes to people we tend to hold in high esteem such as priests, society gets uncomfortable and would rather choose to look the other way. And we as a society want to find fault with the victim, because in doing so, we can separate ourselves from that person and such horrible things won’t happen to us.

I feel that it is only in looking at what makes us uncomfortable and facing the truth that we are able to learn. And since abuse is so prevalent in families and at school and at work and in personal relationships, and because each generation that does not learn how to prevent abuse ends up spreading it to their children and their children’s children…it hurts too many people and becomes everyone’s problem.

There are so many misconceptions and misunderstandings as to what abuse actually is and how it happens that still lingers in my own family.

As I have mentioned before, I was attacked at high school by someone I had just broken up with. He threw me to the ground outside of school and whipped a jean jacket with dozens of hard snaps on it over my head again and again. People watched and did nothing.

Years went by and this same person, now a grown man, contacts me via Facebook and asks me to meet him for a drink. I never replied. I just let it go. I figured by saying nothing, it would not spark any anger on his part.

My mom, however, asked me why I didn’t go meet him. After all, it was just a drink…just getting together again after all these years…and what happened took place in high school. He has probably changed since then.

I wasn’t willing to find out.

Kids need to learn more of this kind of thing at school. Red flags in relationships. Reporting stuff. We know it is never too early for kids to know how to protect themselves. We need to stop normalizing or minimizing abuse. Or worse yet, holding the victim accountable for the actions of the abuser.

Thank you for reading. Have a great week. I ended up re-injuring the foot I had surgery on when a heavy medicine cabinet decided to fall off the bathroom wall and I was left hanging onto it while it was still attached by wires to the wall. Pulled or tore a tendon in the ankle. Cabinet got fixed. I’m still mending. Please remember to take this week’s poll. Thanks!

Till I Gain Control Again

We all have our own Christmas/holiday traditions and memories that our unique to our own families.

When I was a kid, Christmas Eve was also my father’s birthday, so we would have cake after dinner, and he would open up his birthday gifts. Then after dinner, I would do a Christmas gift exchange with my relatives who lived next door and across the street. Usually, it was liquor and something for the dogs. Or some kind of food item. I liked that part because we got to open those gifts on Christmas Eve, and usually we got a big gift box of cheese and crackers and candy from my father’s sister. This was back in the day when the pizza people wouldn’t even deliver to our house because we were so far outside of the city, so anything that was a snack out of the ordinary was considered special. Plus, we got to have soda with it as well.

So special was this gift to me, that when I first met my soon to be husband’s mother and we had our first gift exchange…well, guess what I got her? Who doesn’t like cheese? Well, his mother, from the look of disappointment on her face. That was one of the first of many life lessons for me. Life as I had always known it, would never be the same.

I have always loved buying gifts for people at Christmas. But, once a gift is given, it is up to the recipient as to what to do with it. Or even if they will acknowledge it.

As I shared in our group meeting, I ordered and sent cookies to two people I knew and got very different reactions. One person was pleasantly surprised and was happy to be remembered. They said they were enjoying the cookies. The other? Not a word. None.

True, once the gift has been given, we have no control over what happens. But we do have control over who gets cookies sent to them next year. Some kind of acknowledgement is nice. Even just to know they got them.

We talked a bit tonight about the holidays and about families and dysfunction and avoidance of certain family members.

I was very hurt this past week. I’m trying to do something to help my eldest son. It’s a big something financially. The thing is, like giving a gift, if you choose to help someone, there shouldn’t be any strings attached. However, my son usually works every Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday but this year, he has both holidays off. He spent Thanksgiving with his dad and his father’s family. He told me outright this week when he stopped by to drop off his rent that he will be off for Christmas, but that I should not expect to see him.

My first reaction, instead of saying something to him, was to reach out to a friend to say……”why me?” Because family does not just say one thing when they speak. Family lives in a hall of mirrors, where words hide in corners and come out after many years and bring their friends with them, magnified and multiplied and bouncing off surfaces over and over again.

“Who was always there for you?” I wanted to ask. Who held you when you cried? Who took care of you when you were sick? Who was home every night with you? Who went to school meetings and to court when your friends were jerks and who got the DNA test when you were 16 years old and had a child? Who took care of your child every weekend? Who drove your child back and forth and had to deal with the lunatic other grandmother who was trying to get kids to beat you up at school?

Who has been paying for repairs for the house you have been living in and who has been charging you only half of what I owe each month so you can have what you need?

And as I told my friend this, how unfair it all was that my son does not see me as the “fun” parent, or the parent he wants to “hang” with, I had to ask myself…well, then, this is nothing new, is it? He has always gotten what he has needed from me. It was his father that he craved the closeness with.

So, now like his dad, he tosses out verbal abuse and rudeness like turkeys from a helicopter on Thanksgiving. With pretty much the same effect. (Not everyone will get that reference)

There was a time when I felt trapped in abuse. I left my ex-husband to get away from what was going on, only to go back to the life I had been trying to escape by moving out and getting married.

And I didn’t understand why this kept happening to me.

And as I told my friend about how hurt I felt that my son did not want to come to see me….and his brother and his baby nephew…on Christmas…after all I had done for him…the answer was pretty clear.

Why am I still giving him so much? What am I not taking care of myself? He is a grown man. And my kid or not, he is not appreciating what I am doing for him enough to treat me with the respect I deserve as his mom.

I read something that a survivor sent me this week. It was about the responsibility we carry as victims when it comes to being abused.

“Responsibility” does not mean “fault”. And it sure as heck does not feel like we are able to do anything about the abuse we get when it happens. I don’t feel like I can do much more than tell my son that he has hurt my feelings when he does not seem to care how I feel. And that doesn’t seem very powerful.

What I am going to say next is not going to be very popular. When we are involved in a dysfunctional dance, we are still dancing even if someone else is leading. Why do I do so much for my son? Because I love him, obviously. But if I am being honest, it’s also because I want him to need me or I want to still be needed. Otherwise, I would not continue to be over-supportive. In some way, I am asking him to love me, instead of taking care of myself first.

Someone said to me, “I think I have a right to be mean after all I’ve been through.” Well, I think we have a right to be angry, and to express our anger, but I don’t think we have a right to be mean to anyone.

But there is that line that we have to learn about when we have been abused and unhealthy for so long. I understand. I used to think being assertive meant that I should say anything without caring how someone else felt. It’s not. But it’s a learning process.

I can still love my son without over-giving. I can pull back my support if I choose to do so without being mean. I can still be fair and treat him as I would anyone else who takes what I give and then does not speak to me lovingly.

Someone mentioned that being alone for the holidays is nicer and more peaceful than being with toxic family members. Perhaps I need to look at it that way as well. Toxic people will tend to leave your life as you grow less tolerant of their behavior and begin to take care of yourself. Instead of feeling a loss with my son this Christmas, perhaps I should look at it as I would rather not have you here if you are going to upset me.

It sounds sad, as family and the holidays just seem to go together. But sadder still is feeling the need to grab onto someone’s pant leg as they kick you away.

Healing and growing is a constant thing. We can go from feeling like we are at a “10” one moment and then go to “0” when something triggers us, and emotions take over. But from what I read, it is far better to focus on our own growth and what needs to change within us, than it is to only see what someone has done to us and to feel the need for revenge in order to feel whole.

Very often, it said, getting justice is not as satisfying as we think it is going to be. And by the way, seeking justice is always up to the individual. It is not mandatory and certainly not something that needs to be done if it is going to retraumatize someone. But abusers are out there, not just in the church. And being a nice person or doing nice things does not guarantee good things will be done in return to you. Sometimes people will take you for granted or will take advantage of you. Sometimes we need to learn that it is okay to get angry enough to stop being so nice to people who will not return your kindness.

So, during this week of giving, make sure to give enough to yourself. Make yourself a priority in this season of love.

Merry Christmas to all!

Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough

I had so many things in my head to talk about this week and now I can’t think of a single one.

I guess I could start off with something I ran across in a meeting. When we do our Zoom meetings, I think it is great that people add comments. The only comment I want to comment on is…..my feeling is that it is best not to put contact information out there for everyone during a meeting. Unless, that is, you are a member of SNAP. Otherwise, be cautious about sharing personal information or asking people to contact you, or for that matter, contacting people who you don’t know or have not met personally even if they sound like wonderful people…..or sharing personal information with them if they are not SNAP leaders.

Just saying….as always, please use caution. And I also ask that it is not done during one of my meetings as I am not vouching for anyone’s character by allowing them into the meeting. I do screen but that does not mean I do background checks.

As you know, most of us are healing…if not from priest abuse, then from something in our lives. I think we have to give ourselves credit for how far we have come. Sometimes I talk to people, and it reminds me of those priests of old who would beat themselves in order to be worthy. Like, I said something good about myself so I must now compensate by taking a cane to the kneecap to even things out.

Well, we were raised that way, were we not? Weren’t we taught to die for Jesus and that the meek would inherit the Earth and that we should honor the martyrs? I swear that I felt I could not like myself or anything about myself unless someone else gave me permission to do so.

I don’t feel that beating yourself up every time you have a human feeling helps you to heal. And I am not saying that concept is an easy thing to grasp. I think that there is so very much we need to unlearn. I see myself move forward and then I feel as stuck as I ever was.

I heard the words this week that so many of us fear the most. “I am getting older, and I am so afraid that I will grow old and die alone without ever being loved.”

And that hit me in the gut. Because underneath every other fear, that is the fear that sits at the bottom of the others…pushing the rest to the surface. I don’t want to die alone.

I read a couple of articles about the subject this week. With Thanksgiving, I read about someone who was dreading spending the day by themselves. Someone else had a wonderful answer to that.

Hey…no arguments at the dinner table. No hurt feelings if someone is not invited. No spending all day cooking for people…some of whom you may not really like. Break out your best China and candles. Make a pork roast in your microwave instead of a turkey? Why not? Treat yourself to the nicest, most delicious meal and listen to the music you like and watch what you want to on TV.

Another was a question to someone as to how it felt to be old and alone. The person said that they were over 90 years old, and they went out every day and saw people at the store or the hairdresser and had dinner at their son’s house once a week, and that they did what they wanted to and cherished their alone time. They said they would rather live alone in their small apartment than in a larger community setting.

I think we tend to confuse being alone with being unhappy. Or being older and being unhappy. We are more than likely going to die alone when we go. Perhaps we just hope that there is someone left to care about that when the time comes.

I had an aunt who passed away not very long ago. So many people at her house worrying about her will while she lay alone in her hospital bed. All of these people were around as long as she had money a big house and jewelry to be passed out or cruises to take. I did not see one of those people by her side while she lay dying and supposedly “out of it”.

I was there with her in her final hours. So was my cousin who moistened her dry lips. My mother came to see her to say good-bye. My friend was with me. We talked to her about her life and the people we knew and at one point, she was able to acknowledge that we loved her. We finally left her around 1:30 in the morning with the intent to return in a few hours, but she ended up passing away, alone a couple of hours later.

So, when it comes down to it, what does “dying alone” really mean? To be fair, my aunt was never alone while she was alive. She lived in her house with a nurse who came over 12 hours a day and a housecleaner and a relative who ended up moving in with her. But nobody thought about being at the hospital with her in her final hours because it was probably thought that she wouldn’t know the difference. Or some people can’t handle hospitals and death.

It is said that we don’t die alone anyway because someone from the other side comes to help us transition.

But maybe that is not really what we are afraid of. Maybe it’s not the dying part that gets us. Maybe it is the living part that hurts the most. Growing older and living alone.

Yes, maybe that’s what it really is. I get it. Seriously. When we are older, we are no longer considered physically beautiful. We aren’t as firm or as thin as we once were. We may develop illnesses. We may need assistance. We may start to become invisible to people who would rather not have to see us.

What happens if we start to love ourselves but nobody else is around to care? That is truly terrifying. And all too real.

Well, the thing is, we just don’t know, do we? We don’t know what is going to happen. Ever.

There is one thing I do believe, though. We really can’t focus on that fear. Because we don’t know. Because the future is a myth. A big wide-open concept that does not truly exist. Life only happens a day at a time. One day at a time. Those are such beautiful words to live by. Where have I heard them before?

I do believe in living today like we are going to live to be very old. That is, taking care of yourself as best as you can. Take care of yourself like you will live to be 100 but be prepared to die tomorrow. I’m telling myself that, you see. I just bought myself a book called “I’m Dead, Now What?” so I can fill it out for my family in case something unexpected does happen. But I am also trying to drink more water and eat less carbs (I said trying, not always succeeding) and there was a discussion at tonight’s meeting about “Trauma Informed, Gentle/Restorative Yoga” that I want to look into. I also meditate.

Another thing that I feel may be helpful is this….if you are afraid of being alone (not talking romantically or not involved with a partner) as you get older, start now to get involved with groups and friends. Well, Covid doesn’t help unfortunately…..but take walks, visit older relatives, get involved with hospice at a local hospital, or volunteer.

The more you connect, the more valued you will feel and the more you contribute, the less alone you will be. And the more you begin to care about others and their needs and their feelings, the less you may be concerned with your fears.

Hey, again, I don’t know everything. And one size does not fit all. But begin where you are.

Tonight, I had my usual conversation with my mother. She needs stuff from the store. Does not want to go to the store. Should really not go to the store. But needs groceries. I have stuff delivered to her for her dog on a regular basis, and when I ask, she tells me she doesn’t need anything…until she needs everything.

She says she needs to learn how to order things on-line herself. She says, “I am not stupid”. She’s not. I can’t win a game of cards with her. But when it comes to computer stuff with her, I want to pull out my hair.

Why? Because we go in circles. First, she tells me it is my fault that she does not know how to order on-line, because I never show her how. Then when I ask her if she want to try something “right now”, she looks at me (because we can video chat), and I swear to God, tonight she actually said, “You are not my mother”.

She wants to learn. She is not stupid. But she never wants to actually learn because she doesn’t want me to teach her anything. But it is my fault she does not know anything because I never teach her anything. And so, we go around and around… and I either order her food anyway or she sneaks out and does it herself.

Until the next time.

Why? Because we all tend to get overwhelmed when we are confused, or we are facing something unfamiliar and maybe a little scary. We tend to feel that we need to know everything in order to be comfortable trying anything new or making any kind of a move. And don’t get me wrong, we should know what we are doing before making a big move…but it is not necessary to start out knowing everything.

It’s okay for a surgeon to go to med school before they pick up a scalpel. For most people, the idea of performing surgery is terrifying if we know nothing about it. So, we don’t just assume we are stupid if we can’t just jump right in and know how to avoid cutting anything vital. We all need to start at the beginning and be patient.

It’s okay to not know everything right now. It’s okay to understand that things we don’t know about can be scary and overwhelming and that we may end up freezing in fear or moving too fast if we don’t take a breath and slow down and accept that we all had to learn about “A” before we could learn about “B” and that there was a time when “Z” seemed way beyond our reach or comprehension.

One day at a time. One thought to process to move another step.

This past week we lost Phil Saviano. If you don’t know who that is, watch the movie “Spotlight”. Thank you, Phil, for everything.

Free Fallin’

Last week, I mentioned how difficult it was to separate from my ex-husband and how, even now, I have moments when I doubt myself over my past actions and the mistakes I made along the way.

I just wanted to add to that by saying that my relationship with my ex-husband was one of….I have to leave, I want to stay….and based on emotions and a need for myself to become less dependent on someone else. In fact, one of the biggest red flags for me in knowing I had to do something was the feeling of needing someone else to alleviate my fears.

I did not want to be in a relationship because being there meant that I felt safe despite the problems that I knew existed. I didn’t want someone else to have control over me or for me to allow someone to have control over me because it was easier than facing my fears and walking away on my own.

In the same way, I didn’t want to acknowledge the red flags. And yet, as much as the relationship would reach a point to where I thought I had to leave, as soon as I did leave, he would begin to try to pull me back in. And that was harder. Way worse. Because it was then like trying to escape from everything that I wanted him to be and everything I felt I needed.

And so when I did finally leave for the second and last time, pulling away felt like trying to learn to drive with a clutch. My movements were jerky and uncertain. There came a point where I knew I needed an ultimatum. And when I say “ultimatum”, let me say that this was not a popular choice with anyone. I said that I could not reconcile without couple’s therapy.

Now, he had already told me that he would never go back to therapy. And my son told me that I knew that he would not go back to therapy. And I tried to not make it sound like an angry ultimatum. but one that made sense. Because in reality, it was not my ex that I was issuing the ultimatum to…..it was to myself.

I needed an end to the craziness. An end to the confusion. An end to the “should I stay or should I go?” dilemma. And I didn’t expect miracles. I just expected something to be different from what we were doing. Something other than “I will try” which sounds great until you are in the middle of things with no other place to go and just depending upon someone else to work on their own issues with no incentive to do so.

Well, he refused. Not a big surprise. And I’d like to say that I was a tremendously strong person who immediately sought a divorce. Nope. What did I do? I bargained. I couldn’t face the results of my ultimatum. But I had painted myself into the corner deliberately so that I could not get out. Bargaining….getting down to please just go with me to counselling like twice a year or something….just to say we are working on things….did not work.

I had to face reality.

I eventually did initiate divorce proceedings. And everyone gets along now okay. But when I feel pulled back into my feelings, I need to realize that there was a reason that I did what I did. And that reason was I needed to stop making decisions based on emotion. Because I didn’t really trust my emotions.

I had to put up a wall….a boundary…..however flimsy it began…to emotionally separate myself from a confusing situation that pulled me in all directions.

I know this is a blog about abuse by priests. But abuse is abuse. And our ability to set boundaries or put our foot down and say “enough” whether to someone else or to ourselves when we don’t have the tools to process a healthy existence at the time, does not matter who we are interacting with or who is trying to manipulate or use us.

But with the priest, the difference is….he would be the one we would be telling this to and the one from whom we would be seeking help.

If there was a blessing for me being psychologically and emotionally abused by a priest, it would be that it put a name to things that happened to me in the past. And it helped me to see that I have to be careful to not let my wall down wherever I go.

And that in itself is difficult, isn’t it? That reaction to betrayal by someone we trusted by not allowing anyone to be close to us in order to protect ourselves is called a “Trauma Response”. That is just one of many trauma responses. And we can even feel conflicted by this….wanting to feel safe by avoiding closeness with others, but than not feeling safe being alone either.

My lack of trust and avoidance has mainly to do with the church. I don’t trust the motivations of those who seem to be kind or helpful. My feelings of distrust are raised whenever I hear someone speak of a good priest who tried to help them and I wonder what was the priest’s motivation behind doing the good deed. Especially if it has to do with a child or a vulnerable adult who is kind-hearted and trusting. I want to say, “please be careful who you trust”.

I am still working daily on becoming more aware of trying to fix things for people and things in general with people. I’m trying to let go of caring too much about what other people think. Like I said….my feeling is it may take a lifetime to change old patterns, but I feel that it all begins by becoming more aware of ourselves without judgment.

I have a friend who I have known since childhood. I reconnected with her after many years and since she had a child many years after I had my kids, we would often hang out at her house while her child was growing up and needed her there. I often would help out at parties she threw for her daughter and I’d play cards with her family….things like that.

One day she said she was going to have a couple of people we both knew from grade school over for lunch and did I want to join them. Having never been very close to the two friends and having not really seen them since grade school, I declined, saying no, that’s okay, they were more your friends and I haven’t seen them in years, or something like that. Never meant it to be something to hurt anyone’s feelings. Didn’t seem like my not being there was important to anyone.

I happened to see one of the friends on Facebook and thought maybe it was time to reconnect with an old classmate. I was ignored. Saw the same person at our reunion and they did not speak to me. It was obvious that our mutual friend had told them she had asked me and I said I was not interested in joining them.

Especially since said friend has not attempted to get together to do anything with me since this happened a couple of years back.

I never thought it was going to grow into anything. Thought she was just having lunch with some friends who I had never seen while I was hanging out at her house….or ever…since grade school. But I felt the need to fix things and make it right.

But my new non-fixer awareness said….”why?” How good of a friend is this to talk behind my back and not ever get back in touch with me? And I had attempted to be friends with and talk to her friend and my ex-classmate already to no avail. What did I attempt to fix? Do I tell her that I know what she did? Do I try to fix things with her two friends who by me not having lunch with them may have taken that very personally and want nothing more to do with me? Do I need this kind of drama in my life?

I realize I don’t need to fix this. I send my friend a Christmas card each year. We are friends on Facebook. I’m here if she wants to get together. I have already tried to invite her to something and she declined. Time to let the issue go, leave the door open, but not try to fix things or to get anyone to like me. Does it make me a less likeable person because someone else does not like me?

It sure feels that way. Even though I haven’t really known these people in many years and never see them and they have no affect upon my life. But it feels like a poppy seed stuck in between your teeth. Life can’t go on until that seed is unstuck. Must fix.

But that is how I feel. And I am aware of that. And I am aware that I don’t need to fix things for people. I can be continue to be friendly if I ever run across these people but I don’t need to be responsible for their thoughts and feelings or anyone else’s actions.

One last thing I want to talk about. Noticing the good things in our lives.

I woke up one morning last week to the sound of rain falling outside of my window. It was a dark morning and I didn’t have to get up for some time yet. My little dog was lying next to me with her head near my ear, softly snoring. That sound, along with the rain, was so very peaceful. And I wanted to bottle that moment in time. Because we know all too well that these moments of perfect peace don’t last. Life brings new changes every day. We need to hold onto those moments….to become aware of those moments….and all of the things that bring joy into our lives.

Life changes. Just found out today that someone who lived in my neighborhood when we were kids passed away from cancer. His mom is still alive. She used to let us pick her flowers to bring home to our moms when we were kids.

Blessings to all this week of Thanksgiving. My thoughts go out to anyone who feels alone or who is missing someone they love this holiday.

I Get Weak

This past week when my ex-husband was in the ICU, it brought up so many feelings from the past. Feelings and self-doubt. Did I do the right thing? I know it was not the easy thing for sure. Neither way was the easy way. But sometimes I wonder if things would have worked out better for the family if I had stayed in the relationship.

And with him being so sick (he is home now), it caused us to reach out to each other. We texted and we talked on the phone. And I felt a sense of anxiety at possibly losing a person I have a connection with as far as our children and grandchildren. We have a connection there that I will never share with anyone else. And that brought up memories of good times together and a bond that we will always share.

We met through a mutual friend when I was still in high school. He was 18 and I was 17 and he would come to my school at lunch time and me and some of my friends would hang out in his van and stay warm during lunch. That’s code for other stuff that I won’t get into. He knew everyone and when I was with him, I felt kind of important because then everyone knew who I was. His friends. People I would not normally know or hang out with if I did not know him. A very large group of friends. And he was cute and he was nice to everyone, and it was fun to be with him. And when it wasn’t….I made excuses….so I never noticed the cracks.

When I was 20 and he was 21, I got pregnant. We ended up having a baby, moving in together, and then getting married within a year. Because it was what you did. And for me, someone who wanted to get married and have children….the situation was rewarding. And I was happy. At first.

Now this is the part where I break down what happened, even though I did not know the terms for anything when I was younger.

They call it “Trauma Bonding”.

I loved being married to this man that I loved. I loved sharing my life and our child. I was getting positive reinforcement all over the place.

A lot of things happen in the beginning of a relationship. You have the wedding and the honeymoon and the gifts and the new life and new place and new experiences and friends getting married and showers and babies and you get to see your friends a lot still for awhile because you are still young and many of your friends are still single and they come over to hang out and there’s a lot of activity and things to distract you from each other.

And then along came baby number two for us and we began to look at houses. Oh, boy….more new and exciting things. More good brain chemicals being associated with my husband.

And it was at that points that the cracks really began to show…when I was in our house alone at night with our two babies while he went out almost every night….staying out very late.

I told myself that I enjoyed being at home and being a mother and he enjoyed being out and about with his friends and not feeling tied down. Because that is what you do when the cracks begin to show…..you justify the other person’s behavior. Because it was easier for me to justify him going out all of the time and working every Saturday all day as something he needed to do to be happy….than it was for me to confront him about being out a bit too much and me and the kids needing some attention as well.

Especially when doing so brought about anger and unpleasant words. Things were just easier when he was happy. That is what I told myself.

And in between these not so great days and moments….were anniversaries and parties with friends and holidays with the kids and nights where he was home and things were good hanging out together.

I always called it “percentage”. There was always that “percentage” that kept me there whenever I thought that things weren’t right and I acknowledged outright verbal and emotional abuse that was happening…..but I did not want to have an emotional confrontation and I was terrified because I had never lived on my own or taken care of anything on my own, and I had two children as well. So, I did what is known as “freezing”, or deciding to stay in a situation because leaving felt too difficult. Freezing can also mean staying in a situation because it seems like the right thing to do. “Right” sometimes meaning what is best for others or that it feels safer at the time to not make a move.

In a trauma bond between two people, there is sometimes a feeling of a power differential. Whenever I would speak up to my husband, he would threaten to leave or tell me to leave instead of listening to how I felt. And I didn’t want to be an obligation to someone. But the power he held….and this happens often…is that he took care of everything and he knew so many people to do things and for me, my world got smaller so that it became me and my kids and going to work and seeing my parents. I became more isolated but he did not.

A trauma bond relationship has cycles of abuse with intermitted reinforcement of rewards, and then when the partner is beginning to feel hope and renewed affection, there is punishment of some form. People who experienced this type of behavior in childhood…the ups and downs of emotional whiplash, are especially prone to relate to this kind of situation and it can feel familiar and in a weird way….just “the way things are”.

I loved my father very very much, but you just never knew what could set him off at times. Alcohol was predictable but other times, during vacation or an otherwise pleasant times, he could fly into a rage and all you could do was quietly wait it out and pretend it wasn’t happening.

Trauma bonds don’t just happen in romantic relationships. They happen in families as well. Anywhere where you go through cycles of reward and abuse and reward again. Anywhere there are feelings of fear, excitement (anytime adrenaline rises), or sexual feelings….these can create an entrapment where someone stays for what they perceive as something mostly good, or they make excuses because they fear leaving for one reason or another, or because they feel they can’t leave for whatever reason. Or because they have convinced themselves that the abusive person is really a good person at heart, or that life isn’t all happy times.

Another thing to know….we hear about the law of attraction and how we need to put out positive vibes and ask the universe for a good partner or for happiness or whatnot, but as long as we have not worked on our own trauma bonding issues, we unconsciously seek out our unhealed issues in others. Our subconscious seeks out what we believe to be true.

So you can give your order to the universe for a healthy relationship, but as long as we are blaming ourselves for past mistakes, failing to put up boundaries, not being able to see a person for anything other than how they once showed themselves to be even when they begin to change, not seriously believing you are good enough, being afraid to have an opinion, being afraid of alienating or losing people….not because you are rude but because you do what is comfortable to you and you listen to what is comfortable to you…..until you can do that…or at least begin to acknowledge and work on those things….you are going to keep attracting what is familiar to you.

And, after all, familiar is comfortable, right? It’s not easy. That is why, after all these years, I still carry guilt that I feel I must right and I still feel that I should be the one taking care of my sick ex-husband and that I would be there if I hadn’t left and all of those feelings come back. And I’m still trying to control….had I zigged instead of zagged, things would have turned out better. Like everything in life depended upon what I did. Nobody else carries any responsibility for themselves. It’s all on me.

And I need to remind myself, as we all do, that we cannot change anything in the past, and that we did what we needed to do or thought was right at the time with the information we had, and that guilt is a useless emotion that does nothing but destroy you. Make amends as best you can if you need to and forgive yourself.

When it gets tough or uncomfortable in your healing journey, remind yourself that it’s okay (again) to take care of yourself and to not fix things for everyone.

Trauma bonds can last for years. Old emotions can get triggered. You can find yourself getting pulled back in. You may find yourself blaming yourself for things in the past that you cannot change. You may find in healing that you have had faulty beliefs.

For today, it’s enough to be aware that “there’s a name for that”. Just become more aware. Have a great week.

Oh, ex-husband was very very sick. Does not know how he got sick. It was not Covid related. But he is home now and feeling very weak and needing a lot of rest.

Recovery always takes time and focus on taking care of oneself.

MacArthur Park

I don’t know about you, but I find it hard not to worry about the people I love. Even though I know logically it helps nothing, it’s hard not to worry. Do you agree?

I imagine it is a co-dependency thing born of an upbringing that may have included alcohol or parents who were controlling or overprotective or who worried a lot themselves. And it becomes ingrained. A habit. It becomes like a very worn out rabbit’s foot that we have to hold onto in order to ward off bad things from happening.

As children with little control over our world, worry was the only control we had over anything. And my guess is that as we grow, some of us develop into complete adults who have a “good sense” of worry, while others develop a more neurotic, co-dependent sense of attachment worry….where we have a difficult time separating ourselves from others and feel the need to fix and to care for them. In other words, we learn to enable.

In some families, especially in families where alcohol is a problem, the focus tends to be on the one using. So then, the focus tends to be reacting to the abuser. You grow up with this so there is no comparison, really as to what normal is. You learn not to let your emotions get too loud or troublesome and you learn to help fix things to help cover up the embarrassing behavior of the people that you love.

And then you may also run into the addict/abuser who seems to relish the attention they get from having a crisis and having the entire family focus on them. And no matter what is going on in your own life, you are expected to take care of them. Co-dependents tend to be self-sacrificing. That’s a trait that I would guess would come from years of having to put your own needs second to that of someone else for the good of the family….and as you would tend to see it as a child….your own survival.

So when you grow up on edge, waiting for the next shoe to drop, you can never really let down your guard and relax. And I believe that habit that has been learned carries on into adulthood. And because we already know that there is so little that we can control outside of ourselves, falling back into a state of worrying and trying to fix and putting our own needs last to help someone else is what we know.

We can try to fix or take care of our spouse or significant other. We may find ourselves in a situation where we are doing most of the giving or we are attracting partners who are more than willing to take from us. Or we may find ourselves with unhealthy partners who have addictions that we feel the need to cover for or make up for. It’s a position we feel comfortable in even though it may make us feel uncomfortable and resentful.

And we may find ourselves repeating family patterns of enabling our children. Constantly helping them out of problem situations. Always trying to protect them to the point of not allowing them to make and learn from their own mistakes. Continuously helping them out of situations that they repeat…trying to alleviate our own constant worry but actually keeping us connected in an endless loop that really benefits nobody because it allows dysfunctional behavior to continue.

It’s like buying someone a birthday cake and they forget it outside in the rain and so you buy them another cake because you don’t want their birthday ruined but then you eat the soggy cake yourself so it doesn’t go to waste.

Another problem with worry and enabling others besides it robbing you of your own happiness, is that the more you give of yourself, the more other people tend to take it for granted that you are going to take care of things and the more they take you for granted. And the less reason they have to make any changes in themselves. And although it feels so counter-intuitive to let go of someone….of taking care of them every time they need something because of their own issues….the more it drains you and the less love you feel. In fact, you can start to feel angry.

Anger…..we have always been taught to repress it. Tuck that away. That’s not nice to feel that way. You are not a nice person if you raise your voice or throw up a boundary or ask for what you deserve. You could lose people from your life. I know I have.

That is why I asked the question I did in today’s survey. Not to be personal because I know cheating is a very difficult topic. But because sometimes when people cannot find another way to express themselves and their frustrations in a relationship, they search for validation outside of the relationship.

It may be personal validation or it may be a way of getting back something of what they think they deserve when not getting that from someone they have constantly given to. A way of channeling their anger.

Unlearning co-dependent or enabling tendencies is not easy. But it can be done. Once again, listen to your feelings. I’m not saying that life will change overnight. I’m not saying life will be easy. I’m not even saying I’ve done this successfully myself. But I am saying, become aware of patterns that aren’t working or if you are giving too much trying to help and nothing seems to be helping or your efforts are being met with disrespect or anger if you begin to do something for yourself instead.

Another thing about co-dependent behavior…..it tends to attract unwanted personality types. Users, addicts, Narcissists….you get the idea.

Those of us who have been in relationships with these personality types know that they don’t always show their true colors right away. So those people who think we should know better or choose more wisely should know that abuse takes many forms and it can be hidden well behind pleasant masks. When problems do arise, usually the rest of the relationship is so nice that we make excuses for the person or tell ourselves that nobody is perfect. Or by that time, we are already in too deep.

It’s not easy to walk away from an otherwise nice relationship, whether it be romantic or friendship or family. What I have found is when there is a problem that does not seem like it is going to change, ask yourself if you can live with that because you most likely aren’t going to be able to change anything.

Can you live with a partner who doesn’t value family? Or someone who is constantly needing to borrow money or having you pick up the bill or pay for the things they want? Can you forgive someone who has lied to you or cheated on you? And I’m not saying if you cannot live without them. I’m saying, can you willingly live with their behavior?

Co-dependents tend to blame themselves for things other people do. Most likely because they feel responsible for the other person’s well being and happiness. They have also learned to “clean up” after others whether figuratively or literally. Enabling forms an attachment and it’s so hard to let go when you feel that someone you love may fall without you holding onto them.

Speaking about all of this, I just learned that my ex-husband is in ICU. Our kids are going to visit him today. I called my mother to tell her about this and she said….”What a shame…he is such a nice man.” And I feel so wrong reminding her of why I am not with him. Petty. But hearing her say that makes me feel like things were my fault and I know that makes no sense. I mean, it really doesn’t matter at this point. And I still care about him very much. I miss being married. It was so difficult for me to acknowledge the problems that I could not unsee. I am praying for his full recovery.

Worry. Attachment. Being afraid to let go of someone even if it’s only in our fearful thoughts. Too much of these negative or controlling thoughts and feelings distract us from our own growth and feelings and well-being. Be mindful this week of how much focus is put into things and people and situations that we have no control over. Things that we think we should be fixing somehow for people. Stay healthy.