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.

 

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Mastering Crow Pose, Mastering Divorce

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I would like to write that I have conquered crow pose. For a few exhilarating hours I believed I did.

But then I realized that my arms aren’t straight yet, and my knees are too far apart.

I’m just not there yet.

Not this week when my son has a second concussion, I’m missing deadlines, I suddenly and mysteriously gained weight, I am annoyed by the person I’m dating, and am dead tired.

Someday I know I’ll master crow position. But I don’t know if I can ever truly master this divorced, single, working, homeowning, volunteering, mom, friend, dating world. It’s stinking hard, and true balance seems beyond reach. Happiness and joy – I got those, often. But balance and mastery are still out of reach.

 

Judging Divorced People: Just Don’t

 

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The moms were bored. They were about 20 hours into a 36-hour Girl Scout camping trip, an experience that was incredible and life-changing for the little girls.

For the moms, its was the old familiar mix of joy, laughter, hard work, responsibility – and lots and lots of sitting-around boredom.

And so it started.

“Oh, I feel so sorry for this dear friend of mine. She’s divorced….”

And the story unfolds. I try not to bristle. The friend cheated on her husband and has spent the last four years trying to win him back, unsuccessfully. And now he’s getting remarried to someone else, and she’s falling apart.

Oh, and she’s an alcoholic.

“It’s so sad, but I won’t let my daughter go over to her house anymore….”

I sigh to myself. The biggest alcohol abuser I know is a married mother down my block, and everyone seems to allow their children to go to her big old fancy house….

The story leads to another one – divorce and alcohol and heartbreak.

And then a third one, the best yet. “My husband and I just went to a funeral this week of an old college friend who died from drinking. Of course his wife had to divorce him, and that made it worse….”

At this point, I got up and walked away. It was abrupt. I didn’t look back, but I know they all must have looked at each other, shocked and guilty. None are bad people. They were just caught off guard; they forgot they had a divorced mom in their midst.

But it was the tone of over-the-top sympathy that got me. I don’t know the private lives of these particular women. But I know enough about the lives of our peers. Enough to know that feeling sorry for others must make at least some of these women feel better about their own problems, marital and otherwise.

When one of them came up to apologize later, she obviously felt awful. And she’s a nice person. Really. I looked at her and told her my truth: “Oh, don’t worry, I’m not upset. Frankly, when I look around, I don’t think that my married friends are any happier or unhappier than my divorced friends. But I did feel that it was gossipy.”

I paused.

“And I wouldn’t want anyone talking about me that way,” I continued.

“Not that I ever did anything wrong.”

But for some reason, my voice sort of trails away with these last few words. I think I’ve crossed some line.

And I walked away, from her, from the group – feeling proud and ashamed, independent and pathetic, filled with anticipation and regret – another few steps away from my old life.

Imaginary Boyfriends and the Divorced Mom

Imaginary boyfriends. Suddenly they seem to be everywhere.

One woman realized that her 40-something, never-married boyfriend was never going to commit, no matter how hard she tried. Blitzed on $15 fancy cocktails, she slid into his bed after a night out with the girls. When she woke up, she knew. Her perfect boyfriend was an illusion, and she was his booty call, and he would dump her if her demands get too serious. The relationship she believed in was imaginary. It existed only in her head, not his.

Another woman clung too hard to her first relationship after divorce because she was so afraid of living through the pain of breaking up again. The first few weeks with this man were perfect, but it was downhill after that. He was a liar and a creep. But she believed this must be a series of terrible coincidences, and if she worked hard enough, things would go back to those blissful early days. Needless to say, they did not, and day after day as she lost her self-confidence and self-esteem. It all ended when she got dumped, in a maelstrom of yelling and slammed doors and lost car keys and crocodile tears.

A beautiful divorced mom has a long, perfect relationship with a man she cannot marry because he is still married to someone else, a mentally ill woman who never leaves her house. He spends nearly all his time with his girlfriend, but she has never met his children, and probably never will, because he will never get divorced. And the girlfriend continues to date him, and he hangs out with her children and her lovely friends, as she she settles for an imaginary “almost” world.

A recently divorced woman met an almost fully divorced man from back home over the holidays and slept with him right away for fun. After all, she was unhappily married for 20 years, and she should just have fun. Right? But meanwhile, his life was consumed by divorce attorneys who didn’t call back, and angry teenage children, and screaming fights, and threatening emails from a personality-disordered soon-to-be-ex-wife. But the divorced mom hung on to this shit storm, pretending it didn’t matter – after all, it was all casual, right? But deep inside, she cared in a very unimaginary way.

A divorced mom meets a seriously handsome guy just right for her. Yet he’s a bit of a leech, waiting for an inheritance. He has many things going for him, but they all lead to the same thing: making himself indispensable to people who can help him. She does not break up with him – yet – he’s nice and handsome and helpful and cool. People like him. But he’s not the guy she wants him to be. And the relationship limps on, perfect on the outside, until she drinks too much and tells the real story of her imaginary perfect relationship.

The list goes on and on, story after story.

On the outside, these are not the sad, sorry stories of divorce. These are the women who have survived, overcome ugly histories, have have good jobs, and good friends, and whose children love them – women with fabulous hair and skin who fit into tiny jeans. These are the women who are not afraid to put themselves out there, to date again, to fall in love, to risk heartache and failure.

Some may say it’s low self esteem. But I believe it’s something different. I believe it all starts with the sorry state of online dating after divorce and men feeling that there is always someone better out there around the corner. And for this particular group of women, it’s knowing that when you work hard enough at most things, they work out. After all, that’s been their experience so far in life. So why not this, too?

And it’s wanting something so bad that you believe you can fix a situation that’s not fixable.

But sometimes life doesn’t work that way. And now, a rash of imaginary boyfriends. Where it ends I don’t know.

 

 

 

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.

. . .

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.