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 with me, 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 abusive 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. I smiled. “Perhaps,” I said. “Life is mysterious.”

Several hours later, at midnight, this 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 drive 250 miles 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 raised my voice and said a truthful but not very kind thing about my brother.

And then I couldn’t fit everything into the car. I started to cry.

But then I looked at my children’s faces, teary like mine, but because they were missing this precious time with their cousins. So I took a deep breath and pulled everything out of the car. I placed suitcases and winter coats and piles of gifts on the snowy 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 after all – for lunch in the city before setting out for our long trip home. I did not say a negative word to my brother. I knew it wasn’t worth it.

***

The drama wasn’t over. As we pulled into our driveway in the dark that evening, I noticed a light in our garage.

And then it went out.

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

Very reluctantly, 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,. 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 their 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.

Was someone in there? We don’t know. The officers 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. The first evening of 2015.

 

 

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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.

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.

I Blame it on the Flu

I got the flu. It was terrible.

My children went over to play at a friend’s house. There, they met a dog named Stella. And one thing led to another, and now we have adopted Stella.

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Except now her name is Reilly. Because I can’t imagine spending the next 12 or so years screaming “STELLA” across dog parks.

She needed a home; we had one. So, what could go wrong?

Let’s see.

1. I am a divorced (or single) mom who works full-time (well, sort of full-time, technically full-time at least), and I already can’t do it all. My new normal is a deep exhaustion that I’ve only known once before – during the final weeks of my third trimesters. I spend some nights too overwhelmed to do a load of a laundry, and so tired that I start nodding off during dinner.

2. I have never had a dog. My children have never had a dog. We don’t know the first things about dogs.

3. I am a neat freak who shudders at dog hair and dog messes and dog hair.

4. Exactly one week before taking Reilly, I ordered new furniture – all mine, all new, for the first time in my life, perhaps. And most of it is white.

5. After living across the street from a city dog park for ten years, I don’t like a lot of dog owners. They are odd and combative and fight amongst each other and yell a lot about their rights – usually their right to let their dogs run around unleashed and leave poop behind in toddler sand boxes and neighbors’ flower boxes.

6. In fact, I’m not even sure if I like dogs after living across from that dog park. Sacrilegious to some dog lovers. I understand. But honest.

6. Paying for my dog walker might just involve giving up my favorite things (that are, coincidently, my only indulgences): my daily venti skim latte, Uber, wine, an occasional pair of Joie boots or my Splendid tees …

So, why a dog?

It comes down my son, ten years old, who said:

Mom, we need to take Stella, because she’s a rescue, and she’s been through so much. We “had” the divorce, and we went through so much. So we all belong together. We need to take her.

So now we have a little rescue beagle. She’s very smart and very sweet. But she likes to run away, following her nose, and already a dog walker has labelled her “incorrigible.” And that was before Reilly ran through the dog walker’s legs and out the front door to escape.

Let’s see how this all goes.

*ps: I wrote this post a few weeks ago. Just WAIT until you hear exactly how things have gone.

Especially this week.

–Madness

The Car: Where you get to hear it all

I still remember the days when I buckled up my children in the car, and we pointed at things as we drove around:

dump truck!

tree!

big yellow school bus! beep beep!

My toddlers would laugh and clap and scream and yell out the words. Nothing was better than a car ride when you could spot a digger or fire engine or a bridge.

First of all, I had all the answers! And of course I was so pleased that I was teaching my children so many vocabulary words. I could quote studies correlating intelligence and success with how many words a child heard in the first two years of their lives. I had this motherhood thing down – it was a snap.

But of course I didn’t expect the divorce of the century was coming my way. And now my kids are growing up and our conversations have changed. Last week, we ended up talking about how babies are born. It was 8 am, and we were running late to school, and I couldn’t imagine any worse topic, except, perhaps, how babies were conceived. (And I’m sure that’s next.) My daughter solemnly announced that she would rather get her stomach cut open (a c-section) than give birth naturally. My son, horrified, said he was glad he was a boy.

Today we talked about sweat and deodorant because one of my son’t friends apparently wears Old Spice – I didn’t know that Old Spice existed anymore, but apparently it has quite a cult following among nine-year-old boys.

And then there are the terrorism and current event questions that grow more pointed the closer we go into the city: Mom, do we know anyone in the CIA? Do you think Obama should have gone to Paris? Do you think there will be a major terrorism attack in the city in the next year?

The old days were a lot simpler.

When You Have Something Funny to Say, I Will Laugh

My new house has old termite damage. We brought in a contractor because I haven’t closed yet on the house, and the current owners are responsible for fixing any issues. But the contractor didn’t bring flashlight even though he knew he was there to inspect  a dimly lit basement’s subfloors and joists. On top of that, he seemed to believe that I should just move into a house with termite damage without asking the current owners to fix it at all.

He smirked. He interrupted me. He made some bad jokes, making light of the situation.

I did not laugh.

First his jokes were not funny.

Second his jokes were making light of my very legitimate concerns about (1) damage and (2) safety and (3) reselling the house someday and having to declare termite damage.

It was quite possibly the first time in my life that I didn’t laugh at a man’s bad jokes.

He didn’t take it well. Possibly a tough young feminist wouldn’t have bothered to watch him afterwards – to observe his eyes harden in a very unpleasant and mean way.

But I did. I saw it all. And I wasn’t afraid. In fact, he shriveled in front of my eyes – he was instantly revealed as a fat bully, both incompetent and untrustworthy. I found myself wondering why this man would even think for a second that someone like me would laugh along with him. And then I realized that most women would do it. Just to be nice. Just to be pleasant. Just to avoid conflict. I have done this my entire life, and it has never ended well. I think of the mailroom bully in my first job thirty years ago, and I think of the nonprofit misogynist colleague fifteen years ago who used an Australian accent to hide his hostility and incompetence.

The contractor knows that I am the kind of woman who will laugh. He learned it a long time ago, making fun of other women who don’t know if they have wood or vinyl windows, or where their water shut-off valve is located, or how many gallons of water are contained in their water heater. Using humor to demean them.

But now he’s wrong about me. And unwittingly he gave me a new gift and a new mantra: if you’re the kind of man who makes idiotic jokes at someone else’s expense, I will no longer laugh.

I will let the silence sit out there. I am comfortable with this for the first time in my life. You have a choice at this point to man up or to shrivel up.

Oh, and when my trustworthy handyman showed up later to offer a second opinion, he identified the damage immediately without me having to point it out to him. He suggested either pulling up a whole section of flooring or simply adding substantial supports to the joists. I smiled when he told me. I’m not sure yet if I need to blow up my entire nice-girl belief system or just start bolstering myself up more.

Like in that basement, my damage is visible on the surface, and I’m not certain how deep and hidden it goes. I have a feeling that a few things might need to blow up before the rebuilding really begins.