New Year’s Day: A Divorce History

On New Year’s Day 2011, the year I discovered that my NPD/sociopath ex-husband was living a double life, I woke up at a friend’s house with a hangover and the discovery that my her sweet puppy had died during the night.

After hot coffee and tears, we all trudged out into the January rain, probably a dozen of us, to bury the dog in a field behind the barn. I had no proper shoes, and my toes froze, and red Virginia mud covered my fancy party boots.

It was a grim beginning to a grim year. Back in the city, my ex-husband would become more elusive and stranger than ever, disappearing on business trips where hotel operators could never locate his name on their guest lists. Distracted by my two little children, I couldn’t keep up with all his lies. By September, things would reach a fever pitch, until the day I opened up his secret email account and everything became perfectly clear.

2011 was not a good year, and it was followed by several agonizing ones.

***

But by 2014, things started turning around. On New Year’s Eve, a friend turned to me and announced it was going to be a good year, and an interesting one. I smiled. “Perhaps, I said. Life is long and mysterious.”

Several hours later, at midnight, this same friend received some big news. Her 47-year-old bachelor brother had gotten engaged that night. This was an event no one predicted. “Life is mysterious,” we laughed.

For him, I suppose, it was a year filled with love and light. And for me, it was a good year, a good start to a good new life.

***

This year, New Year’s Day didn’t start out well  – my brother and his family left for a tourist attraction without us. I was packing our car to go home, and I took too long. They did not offer to help as I took trip after trip up and down the stairs of my parents old colonial, carrying my children’s suitcases and toys and hair dryers and stray boots. It took me forever to load our little SUV, and I got angry and furious and raised my voice and said some truthful but not very kind things about a certain relative or two.

I couldn’t fit everything into the car. I was furious.

But then I looked at my children’s faces, teary because they were missing this precious time with their cousins. I took a deep breath and pulled all the packages out of the car. I placed them on the driveway and slowly started all over again until everything finally fit.

We salvaged the day by skipping the tourist attraction and meeting my brother and his kids for lunch in the city before setting out for our long trip home.

In 2017, I will have to remember that sometimes we need a break. And I might need to redo the simplest of things – thankful that I have a second chance to make things right.

But also, I can’t depend too much on undependable people, even if I love them and my kids adore them. Make my own plans and stick to them if they are important. Sway, but don’t bend to theirs. Don’t agree to do things that make me angry and resentful.

***

But the drama wasn’t over yet. As we pulled into our driveway in the dark that evening, I noticed a light in our garage. I said something about it.

And then it went out.

We all gasped. We had been away for a week, the house should have been empty.

Very reluctantly and apologetically, I called the police. On New Year’s Day, I thought. What did this foreshadow for 2017?

One officer arrived, listened, and told me that others were on the way. Out here in the suburbs, the officers park up and down the block, no flashing lights, silent helpers in the dark. I started adding them up then lost count. They brought a dog. They fanned out across the yard and finally went into the house. I sent my children to a friend’s house. And I sat in the car alone and watched the flashlight beams in my house. Ah, they’re up in the attic, I thought. They’re in the basement. My bedroom. My closet.

And finally, laughter, as the officers came outside, ducking under the plastic sheeting protecting the newly painted door from the rain. For me, relief, and complete embarrassment.

Was someone in there? We don’t know. The officers were nice. Really nice. They told me I did the right thing. They said it could have been my painter, and I could have just missed him by a moment or two – the light stays on for exactly 4.5 minutes. Or it could have been a thief who slipped out the back door and jumped over our fence and into the darkness.

I thanked them, and it was over. My children came back, a friend came over, we poured wine and ordered pizza, and somehow the evening was saved in our bright, warm house.

***

When I think about our start to 2017, I will think about the helpers – those solid men and women in the night. I will marvel at the courage to walk into a house where danger might be waiting. I will remember that we all need help sometimes. And we are ridiculously thankful when people arrive to offer it, even if we’re also embarrassed.

For better or for worse, 2017 probably won’t be dull. I’m guessing another year of moving forward, falling back a bit, trying to do it myself, having to re-do it, and asking for help sometimes. Hopefully offering help too – and maybe even some happy endings.

 

Thank you World, I Needed That

Thank you to the person this morning who noticed that I dropped a sweater on the sidewalk on the way to the dry cleaners. Thank you, thank you for picking it up and draping it over my driver’s side mirror.

Thank you sweet, efficient ladies who work in the dry cleaners and say yes, I can pick everything up on Wednesday because I have a funeral on Thursday.

Thank you sunshine and cold morning air that’s sure to warm up today – I can sense it, finally, spring finally breaking through after weeks of chilly gloom in this gray city.

Thank you funny Starbucks guy who never gets rattled when people like me say grande when they mean venti, and venti when they want grande.

Thank you, boss, for understanding that I sent my daughter to school today with no sports equipment, even though she has team practice after school – and that I sent my son to school saddled down with sports equipment even though he has no team practice after school – and that I had to go home and then go to their school to sort it all out on work time.

Thank you funny friend for telling me it doesn’t matter if my date liked me or not last night – that it only matters if I liked him – and that you can’t start out a good story about a date by wondering out loud if you were rejected or not.

….

Thank you, all, for showing me that the world is generally a good place, and that people are generally decent and kind. Because later today I need to deal with my ex and his lies about how our dog escaped in his care, and how he signed up my son for a sport – that he’s coaching! – behind my back. And how, somehow, all of this is my fault.

And then I need to check to see if my mortgage check bounced because my ex gave me a custody check ripped so carelessly out of the checkbook that the check number was completely torn off. But I had no choice but to try to deposit it in the machine on Saturday anyhow because it was so late.

….

So, thank you for small kindnesses, world. And for being so ordinary and normal. I needed that.

Dating after Divorce:A Cautionary Tale

“When you loved someone and had to let them go, there will always be that small part of yourself that whispers, “What was it that you wanted and why didn’t you fight for it?”
― Shannon L. Alder

 

When I struggled with infertility for years and years and then finally got pregnant with twins, I felt like I won the lottery. Twins! Adorable little toddling twins. Best friends forever. Double stroller, double cuteness, double everything.

But most of all, they would make up for my painful years of infertility, when I fell behind my friends who had baby after baby after baby.

And then early in my second trimester, I lost one of the twins. Devastated, I struggled every single day though the remainder of that high-risk pregnancy. I never knew if my remaining baby would make it.

But he did. And then I went to get pregnant naturally, giving birth to my second miracle baby just 17 months later.

And now I have two beautiful children. But it was so much harder in every way than having those twins make my family automatically complete. I still mourn for that little baby. I miss that little baby.

….

After the divorce I finally got brave enough to try online dating. Only 24 hours later, I read one perfect little note in my in-box that was otherwise cluttered with random and disturbing weirdness.

Out of the millions and millions of men on the site, this man turned out to be a dad from my children’s tiny’s little school. What a coincidence! What a great story! I thought he was perfect – handsome, sweet, smart, a bit quiet, and, okay I admit it: a serious six pack. He liked the same things that I did, and he had many of the same viewpoints about life. And he held my hand decisively, and made decisions for us, and I felt safe and loved.

I had hit the lottery again. We looked so great together; we had so much fun together. He would make up for all the years of being married to a mentally ill, increasingly hideous-looking loud and evil man.

But my perfect man didn’t really end up being the man I thought he was. He is not a truly terrible person like my ex-husband, but he’s not right for me either.

Deep down I know that it will be okay. But it still hurts. A lot.

I should have known that the first man I met could not make me complete. He can’t take away my suffering. And perhaps that’s not even a fair thing to expect from a mere mortal.

So now I learn my lesson again. Quick and easy fixes are no substitute for the hard work of life. And so I cry and I hurt again like I didn’t know was possible at my age. I grieve something that never was – someone, like that little baby, who would never truly be mine.

But somewhere deep down I know I will pop out the other side of this eventually and start working again to be the best me possible and find the right person out there for my best possible me.

 

 

 

 

Divorcing a Cheater NPD: Dealing with the trauma

For two decades, I lived with a serial liar and serial cheater. He is also an alcoholic, a sex addict, a narcissistic personality disordered person, and a probable sociopath.

We call him Genius because of his great spiral downward, his fall from grace, his descent into insanity in his forties. It’s a reference to when he was called “Boy Genius” by some very important people way back when he fooled us all – just before his spectacular descent into insanity. I suppose I’ll never really know if he was always sick and hiding it, or if he started spiraling downward, faster and faster down the rabbit hole, after he turned forty and after his bipolar, domineering mother died from lung cancer after chain smoking cigarettes for decades.

They were not speaking at the time of her death. She cut her son out of her will and dissolved her grandchildren’s college accounts and would call our voicemail repeatedly and scream, “You can’t ignore ME.”

I would shudder. Somehow I knew that those voicemails had Power.

I am not claiming that the problems started with those voicemails. But they signaled the end of life as I knew it.

. . .

My ex-husband is a man that made a distinguished judge finally scream, “You are a liar. You would lie about anything. I don’t believe a word you say.”

This is a man who came up with regular fake business trips. He would tell me he was traveling to Houston, but then go to New Orleans and other cities to meet women he met online.

This is a man who used an app that sent him fake emails from clients thanking him for dinners that never occurred, late nights at the office that never occurred, and business trips that never occurred.

This is a man who would text anonymous sex partners on an app on his phone while driving in a car with his wife, children, and brother-in-law. An app that would erase everything if he tapped it.

The judge was correct: this was a man who would lie about anything.

. . .

So what is the legacy of the ex-wife?

One day I realized my marriage was sham, and my ex-husband was a crazy lying cheating thief, and that some anonymous sex partners might come knocking on my door at any time to attack me and my babies. My brain brain changed. My reality met my nightmare.

Afterwards I was told that good metaphor is that my skin was stripped off, and I am sometimes raw, exposed. If anyone touches me, I scream.

That is the legacy of the ex-wife.

. . .

There are many other legacies, still unknown, though I like to think that some of them are positive: honesty and courage and resilience and expanded empathy to others who are struggling.

But another legacy is this: you can’t trust your instincts.  Your instincts have spent years telling you that something was terribly wrong, and then when you speak up,  someone convinces you, over and over again, that your instincts are wrong.

This is a terrible thing. You stop trusting your judgement. And you need your judgement to live in this world. You need your instincts to survive. Without these things you can no longer tell when the world is a safe or dangerous place, or when someone is trustworthy or evil. You are so confused that you become paralyzed. Or you make bad decisions about which situations and people to trust, which is why I have to assume that women get caught up dating a certain kind of man over and over again.

And on the other hand, if you can’t trust your instincts, then you become hyper vigilant, and then maybe everyone is evil and cheating. Because that is the safest way to think about things. That way you won’t get hurt ever again.

Or maybe you just get caught up in the cycle that is so familiar to you: hyper vigilance, snooping, not trusting, second-guessing, never really knowing what reality is. It’s an ugly and stressful and soul-sucking place. It’s a place between two worlds: Madness and Euphoria.

And then the hard work begins. Because Madness is not an acceptable place to be. Not for a survivor, not for someone who wants to live again.

. . .

Trust After Betrayal: After Many, Many Many Betrayals

“Trust is like a mirror, you can fix it if it’s broken, but you can still see the crack in that mother fucker’s reflection.” ― Lady Gaga

And after a marriage to a serial-lying, serial-cheating, narcissistic personality disordered person, how does one learn to trust again? Like back in those innocent days before you met your ex-spouse, when the world was simple and good, and people generally told the truth?

Dating after divorcing a NPD is a minefield. A casual conversation about infidelity in Europe can quickly devolve into lunacy. One moment you are laughing and enjoying your scallops at a fancy restaurant, and the next moment your face is flushed, your chest is tight – is that a heart attack? – and you can’t breath or remember what you just said.

And the person you are dating looks at you like he has never looked at you before and quietly says, “I think you are making me sound like a bad guy. And I’m not.”

And then you catch your breath and wonder what just happened, and he says the unspeakable: “I think we should wrap this up and go home.”

And you know you have just moments to make big decisions. But your brain is still acting in the way it needed to act for more than a decade in order to protect you. It can’t suddenly catch up and admit that it overreacted. It starts searching for ways to make him the bad guy. It starts scouring memories for slights, suspicions, imperfections, and quickly comes up with a laundry list of faults and problems.

But despite the crazy in your head, you manage to excuse yourself and text a dear friend in the restroom, and she tells you to Scale It Back. In no uncertain terms. I think her first text was, “Oh boy,” like she fully expected this sort of behavior all along from you. And of course she did because she has seen it countless times from you before – and perhaps she has even experienced a bit of it herself, given that she too divorced a NPD.

And so you march out of the restroom, knowing that at least your friend understands, and you pray that the person you are dating will understand you too.

And you apologize. You may not remember exactly what you are apologizing for, but you try your best.

And it’s okay again. At least it’s okay again on the surface, but it will be hours before he will start to relax in your presence, before he comes back to being himself. It will be tomorrow afternoon before you start truly connecting again. You will walk through the city together, hand-in-hand, and you will both laugh, and all will be okay again.

But you cannot truly relax, because deep in your heart and chest cavity and gut, you know he has limited patience for this sort of scene. And that you’ve used up probably two of three strikes already. And you feel helpless because you still wonder about this man, this handsome and calm and disciplined and kind man who is devoted to his children and who comes over to cook you dinner and drive you everywhere and fix your gate. Yes, you wonder come crazy things, and some things that might be less crazy.

One suspicion in particular seems to resonate. All day. You know it is not healthy. But suspicion kept things in check in your marriage. They kept an insatiable and sociopathic NPD in check, albeit briefly.

Suspicion kept you safe once.

And then you remember when you asked your therapist if she thought you could do this – if you could have a healthy relationship with this man, at this time. And she turned to you and said, “I know with certainty that you can have a healthy and successful and loving relationship with someone at some point. I can not promise it will be with this man right now.”

And you realize again that you are broken. You are humbled, and scared. You feel a slight thrill that she believes you can do this, eventually. But then you start mourning the end of this relationship as if inevitable. Then you summon up all your resilience and you rumble forward, hoping against hope for happiness.

Vindication or Moving On?

It won’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who has read my blog that my ex-husband appears on the Ashley Madison list. In fact, he’s an active member right now. Interestingly, he seems only to have discovered this website after the divorce.

I suppose he’s cheating on the Other Woman who contributed in her very teeny, tiny, little minuscule way to the ending of my horrific marriage to my ex-husband – an NPD, sex addict, and probable sociopath.

This is the Other Woman showed up voluntarily in court at my divorce trial to badmouth me – a woman she had never even met. A year later, this still takes my breath away.

She showed up at a divorce trial to badmouth an innocent woman whose husband she “stole” (booby prize that he is), and to repeat lies told to her by her cheating partner that she met on an adult website that makes Ashley Madison look as innocent as Disney.com.

And after she testified, she decided that she wanted her name redacted from the court records. She filed motion after motion, filled with vague references to a terrible and life-altering smoking gun against me, which never appeared of course, delaying my three-year divorce by many more months and costing me the remainder of my retirement funds.

The courts turned her down. She will always appear, by name, in my divorce decree. There is some justice in the world. The decree, written by the judge, states that she perjured herself on the stand. Even though she is an attorney.

In fact, she perjured herself twice during a very short cross-examination by my attorneys. She would have perjured herself many more times, but you are only allowed to ask questions directly related to her previous testimony.

So we never did get to ask about the Big Things. It’s too bad because these are very, very Big Things.

I really want to write more here about her job as an attorney, and how she likes to prosecutes people. I want to write where she works.

But I won’t. I know I’m dealing with a lunatic.

But now her “boyfriend” has appeared on Ashley Madison, looking for other women behind her back.

Is she surprised?

No, I’m sure she’s not.

Does she even care?

I’m guessing she does, but since she cheats on him too, I don’t think she has much of a case against him.

But I do know, from their history of Disclosed Emails, that this will lead to a lot of drinking, screaming, threats, and possibly even some violence.

And so how do I feel?

Not so good. Some people will find out that my lying ex-husband is a AM regular with multiple accounts. They may find his scandalous profiles. My children could find out someday.

I think a lot of other things though. I believe that people are generally good, and that the good people I know are too busy and happy with their own lives to look through AM lists.

I also think that I’m lucky to have moved so far away from this man psychologically. I think that my life is good. It’s getting better and better.

I think that he’s somebody else’s problem now.

And that sort of makes me smile.

NPD and Divorce: A Traumatized Brain

I told the psychologist my story, or at least what could be told in 50 minutes. At least the parts that I haven’t blocked out.

“I think that a trauma-based framework is the best way to look at your therapy,” she said.

Of course, I thought. I am feeling the PTSD lately. It has arrived again, and I can not budge it, no matter how much I tell my friends that I’m okay – even when I agree with them that I have nothing to worry about. Intellectually perhaps they are right. But the PTSD is stronger than intellect: it gets inside my chest and heart and flows out through my body to my fingertips and toes and the top of my head. It tells me that there is danger out there again and that I need to be hyper vigilant. I can’t let history repeat itself. I need to watch out. I’m scared. A lot.

Along these lines, I mentioned casually to the therapist that Ex is on the Ashley Madison lists – certainly one of his more innocent online activities, actually – and that I was worried about my children finding out.

She asked me why I went and found the list in the first place to look for him. And immediately I knew I was in trouble. Fifty minutes into therapy and already I was showing her that I’m probably certifiable, still snooping on my Ex.

I admitted that I had developed a long history of snooping during the later years of my marriage, always trying to locate and identify the danger and betrayal that I knew were lurking out there. I told her about the years of gaslighting, rug-sweeping, and time after time when I accused my Ex of doing something he was doing, only to end up apologizing to him the next day after he convinced me I was wrong and crazy.

I told her briefly about my three-year divorce in which I peeled away layer and layer of deceit and dangerous activities by my Ex that could put myself and my children in terrible danger. I described how it never ended: every time I thought he couldn’t do anything worse, he did.

She nodded.

“You once needed to do that snooping,” she said. “Your brain developed coping mechanisms that served you and your children well during those dangerous times. They protected you.”

She paused.

“But now your life is different, and your brain needs to develop new patterns.”

I nodded.

“What you did by looking up those AM lists is re-traumatize yourself.”

I sit up straighter. I realize that’s exactly what I have done. I immediately regret it.

“We want to teach your brain to be quiet. Peaceful,” she said. “I think this is what you should be working towards.”

A peaceful brain, a peaceful mind, a peaceful life. Wow, I think. She just described the exact opposite of living with an addict, an NPD, a sociopath. They create chaos and conflict and danger wherever they go, and all innocent people around them get swept up too. This is what I know: this is the PTSD.

I have been working so hard towards the peaceful life since my divorce. I have come so far, it’s amazing. But I didn’t make the connection. Peace doesn’t come from the safe home, the orderly house, the easy job. It comes from within.

Forgiving Yourself for Marrying a Man Who Cracked Up

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What would I say to a friend?

You were young. You didn’t know. You couldn’t possibly predict the future. Yes, there were signs, but you were also hoodwinked by a pro. You had noble and honest intentions. You thought it would work out. You tried your hardest. You never gave up until you needed to walk away. You worked so hard.

It’s okay. It really is. 

You are moving forward. His power is diminished.

It will be even more okay. It really will.