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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The Issue of Time: A Divorced Mom

A leadership and time management class offered at work.

First thought: Excellent, I need that, BAD.

Second thought: Oh shit, it’s going to take up three days, and I can never fall that far behind. 

And so it goes, the life of a single working mom with nearly 75 percent custody. A mom with two children playing on multiple sports teams and other activities, at a school where every other parent seems to be able to drop everything and show up – all the time. A homeowner, a dating mom, someone who likes to spend a lot of time with other friends, a bit of a runner and a bit of a yogi, a cook and a cleaner and a bill payer, a single mom who doles out discipline and hugs and hopefully some important values and life lessons along the way.

But it’s okay. It has to be. Because if I can’t embrace the craziness of this, I’ll miss the joy of these years.

So, everything gets stripped back. If my kids don’t send thank-you notes (I know – it’s bad – sorry!), if we’re late to practice, if I can’t attend evening work events, if I don’t make it to Girl Scouts (EVER), if I don’t change the oil in my car on time, if we don’t make it to church (almost ever), if I bring my kids out for pizza (AGAIN), if I am last on carpool line, if I can’t remember anyone’s names – it’s going to have to be okay.

But moms like me need to take care of themselves, because if I’m not in good shape, I cannot be a good mom to my kids. And they need me. So here are the things I am going to make necessities going forward: doctors appointments, hot yoga even if it’s at night when my kids are home, running, coffees with old friends to catch up, time with the person I’m dating, hair appointments (yes, I meant that!), a little bit of meditation, and a lot of home improvements since my home is my biggest financial asset.

And FUN. Fun with my two children who are growing up so fast that it takes my breath away. Because one day they will no longer want to hang out with me, and I never want to look back and regret missing this time with them. That would be the ultimate cruelty: the divorced mom who missing out on the joy because she’s scrambling so fast just to keep up.

 

They Always Come Back 2

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Mr. Perfect is back. The first man I dated after my divorce – a man who looks great but shares a lot of extremely undesirable traits with my ex husband.

Like lying.

He started popping up last spring with short perky texts asking me to go for coffee. Most of me was annoyed, but a teeny part of me was thrilled that he just couldn’t stay away, and finally I relented out of curiosity and maybe a little bit of hubris.

But then he tried to switch coffee to a different day. And I remembered who he really was: an unreliable and not trustworthy person.

No thank you, I wrote, and I’m going to be very busy for a long long time so I will not be able to go to coffee with you, Mr. Perfect, not for a very long time in the foreseeable future.

Or ever.

But now, several months later he’s sending texts again. My memory is short these days (Is this the effects of my single working mom life, or too much social media, or just being in my forties?). But I distinctively remember Mr. Perfect looking at me in the eyes and lying to me.

So he’s back, like a bad penny my grandmother would say.

I looked up the expression: Proverb. a bad penny always turns up. A person or thing which is unpleasant, dishonorable, or unwanted tends to appear (or reappear), especially at inopportune times.

I hate the idea of someone being mad at me, or not liking me, especially someone with so many overlapping social ties. But I did nothing wrong. He did.

Should I ignore or block or write a blunt note back? I haven’t decided, but it’s time to get rid of my bad penny for good. I’m finally ready.

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.

. . .

Divorce and Yoga: Stability First, Then Expansion

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Warrior pose, swivel foot, triangle, warrior pose, swivel foot. My hips, wonky from running, don’t like it. But I push it because I want to get good at yoga – really, really good. And so I reach. And reach. I’m not certain if my swiveled foot is really stable though. And are my knees still lined up with my hips? Not so sure, but I reach more. And I feel a warm searing sensation before I crumple.

I get back up and try again. But this time I accept the correction from the instructor. She is in her fifties, with gorgeous skin and a perfect body, and at that moment I want to be just like her. She lines me back up, and I try again, slowly, not reaching until I feel stable.

Another wonky remnant from past injuries is my stiff shoulder, something that I can normally hide from the world. I reach up, but it hurts. My instructor is there again, correcting my arm, pulling it towards the front of my body. It hurts, but it’s done correctly, so it hurts in a good way.

The next time I do it, I reach to the same place, but I correct myself. The instructor spots this, and congratulates me. “See, you corrected yourself. See that?!?”

I smile. I did see that.

. . .

Step by step, with lots of help, we build stability again. When we try to rush things, we fall. But we can get up again, and hopefully we are a little stronger, more stable, and more resilient. Each fall teaches us something.

I wish I could be a yoga expert in six months. I wish I could rush through my recovery from my high-conflict divorce, my serial-cheating, NPD ex-husband. I don’t like the middle parts of things – because, as author Brene Brown says, this is the hard part, this is where the hard work must happen. But it is necessary, and so I guess I need to slow down and do the work.

Stability first. Then expansion.

I think I finally got it.

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.

Lessons from my Dog, Part 1

I got out of the car and stopped to admire the daffodils in my new front yard.

Then I hear it. Someone’s annoying dog barking and screeching and sounding really loud and really annoyingly high-pitched.

I look up, annoyed. Take care of your dog, folks, I think.

Then a movement catches my eye. It’s something popping up against the windows of my front door.

It’s my dog.

A long time ago, I learned a critical life lesson on a playground: Never ever judge another mom. Because before you know it, your kids will do the same thing as that mom’s child, and you will end up in the same position as the mom you once judged. It’s instant mom karma.

That lesson has served me well, but it’s faded a bit through time. I needed a fresh reminder.