It’s been a while. A looooong while. This blog is now a foreign entity to me, and re-reading some of the entries has shown me how out of practice I am with writing. (I’m not sure I can remedy that – at least not immediately – but I will try. Eventually.)
I’ve also noticed how much I have changed, not just mentally, but how I spend my time, and what thoughts occupy my mind. These days, I don’t have time to compose blog posts pondering pharmaceutical industry corruption and how illness changed me, or engage in idealistic fantasies of how I might fulfill my potential or contribute something worthwhile to the world. I used to think about that a lot, back when I didn’t realize what a luxury it was. Back when I had more time to myself, and in general, and I took both time and lack of personal tragedy for granted. Oh, well. Hindsight, and all.
I guess changes began when my son started high school. For many years, I woke at 7:00-ish in order to get him to school by 9:15, and get myself to work by 10:00. Since high schools here start at 7:25, I had to begin waking up at 5:30 in order to get everything done and get out the door, which might not be as bad if I didn’t still live in this apartment with poor insulation and upstairs neighbors who sometimes walk around right above my head until midnight or later, even on weeknights. Their footsteps are like hammers on my ceiling, which I can still hear through earplugs and the white noise of my air purifier. I don’t know why the fuck they can’t sit down and relax like normal people, but whatever. The point is, I’ve been a sleep deprived wreck for almost 3 years now, and I’m stuck here for various boring reasons which I won’t elaborate on.
The first year or two of this was somewhat okay. I would catch up on sleep on weekends, and school breaks. Summers provided relief as well. Oh, I should mention that I was still sharing custody of my son with his father, so I got more breaks back then. Life was hard, but manageable. But things started to deteriorate when my son’s father’s girlfriend left him and moved out of their house.
Now, this is where I think to myself, “Hmmm. Do I want to post such personal details of my life on the internet?” Although I’ve been open in the past about my internal struggles related to illness, I have never been as blunt as I’m about to be about certain things. But you know what?
1. This is my blog and I do what I want.
2. I am tired of pretending. That statement encompasses many aspects of life, which I may elaborate on in the future, but right now I am referring to one thing in particular.
3. Skirting around this issue mainly functions to protect one person, as well as to hide my own shame. For years I didn’t realize I was doing either one, but at this point I am done with both.
4. No one probably reads this fucking thing anyway, so who cares?
That said, here it is: I’m going to talk about the emotionally abusive relationship I had with my son’s father for 9 years, and how it has colored my life since then. My brief recap can’t possibly do justice to the complexity of this issue, especially if you’re new to abusive relationship dynamics, but a brief history provides clarity, so here goes. Side note: I will write more about this in the future – if not here, then somewhere else. Over the years I figured out that keeping my ex’s behavior secret started to feel like rewarding or condoning it, and I’m not going to do that anymore. If he didn’t want to be spoken ill of, he should have treated me better. Also, I think the Me, Too Movement has made this revelation easier. For all the flaws of our times, something about this era is making it easier to call out injustices and speak our truths. I am grateful for that.
So, here’s what happened in a nutshell. When I was 18 years old, I met someone who I thought was my soulmate, the love of my life, the person I’d spend forever with, yadda yadda yadda, insert more sappy, starry-eyed, cliche love crap here. For 6 months everything was perfect, and I couldn’t believe how compatible we were, and how lucky I was to have found him. Hindsight reveals several red flags, of course, but I was 18 – what the fuck did I know?
Anyway, we started having minor troubles over issues that could have been easily rectified with simple 10-minute discussions, but somehow our talks turned into marathon arguments that wore me down emotionally, and always involved him twisting things around so I was at fault, and me vowing to do better, or try harder, or whatever the fuck.
I should clarify that this happened slowly. We didn’t start off having marathon arguments. We started off talking in circles with me constantly trying to explain my viewpoint, wondering why I couldn’t get him to understand, and concluding that I must not be very good at communicating. Our arguments got progressively worse as time went on, and I eventually endured things that I am ashamed to admit I endured and may never speak of out loud, ever. But again, I thought we loved each other, and he convinced me that our problems were my fault. I didn’t know about abusive relationships, and how this one followed the exact pattern. I just thought I was fucked up, and that I was ruining the best thing that had ever happened to me.
My brief synopsis is turning out to be not so brief – SHOCKER – so I will fast forward a bit. For years we went through periods where everything was perfect for a while, then he would randomly explode over something he may have paid no mind to the week before. Typical abusive relationship cycles. I walked on eggshells for years, not even realizing I was doing it, to the point where my brain became wired to be on alert for danger, something I struggle with to this day.
4 years into our relationship, I became pregnant. I was 22 by then, things were going better for us overall, and – it really pains me to say this, and I am cringing so much right now, but – I thought having a baby would change him. What a fucking idiotic, misguided cliche. But I seriously thought the enormity of bringing another life into the world would make him a more empathetic person, who would make a better effort to have a good life with his family. Once again, I was 22, and I didn’t realize this relationship was abusive and there was no hope.
Within 2 years I began seeing a therapist because I was depressed and needed help coping with life. I still thought my relationship troubles were mostly my fault, even though a part of me knew I was being treated unfairly. My therapist was outstanding. She didn’t push an agenda, but slowly helped me understand that what was happening to me wasn’t right, or my fault. She always guided me to my next step after I came to certain realizations on my own. Here are two books she recommended which changed my life:
1. The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize It and How to Respond by Patricia Evans
2. Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft
The second book describes something like 8 types of abusive men. My ex was the Water Torturer and the Demand Man.
I’m sure there are many more related books on the subject now, possibly with greater insight and relevancy, but those were a godsend at the time.
Even after realizing my relationship was abusive, I still tried to get him to change by begging him to go to therapy with me, or at the very least reading some material on it. He refused therapy, as he didn’t trust mental health professionals. (Eyeroll) He read parts of Lundy Bancroft’s book, but not only would he not admit to his misdeeds, he tried to twist things around and call me the abusive one. I guess because I eventually lashed out at him after he would argue with me for hours upon hours, calling me names, mocking me, and verbally assaulting and trying to manipulate me, I was just as dysfunctional in his eyes. Whatever. I finally left him after a total of 9 years, relieved that my son wouldn’t have to grow up witnessing his parents argue in such a disgusting way. He was 3 at the time, and I legitimately thought I was sparing him a lifetime of bullshit by leaving his father.
Fast forward again. The ex met someone new and got her pregnant. (Eyeroll #2). I was still brainwashed into thinking he would never treat another person the way he treated me, for various reasons I don’t feel like elaborating on. At one point he even told me he didn’t want me to become friends with her, because he was afraid she would look down on him for the way he treated me. Oh yeah, I found out later that he told her we split up because he cheated on me. Well, he did cheat on me, but that’s not why I left. I left because it was an abusive relationship and I couldn’t endure another second of it. Guess what? She ended up leaving him for the exact same reason. None of this is surprising in hindsight.
You might wonder why I’m telling you this. Why would I reveal something so personal, which also makes me look bad, and may invite unwanted judgments and criticism? Well, because it’s relevant to how my life has gone the past 3 years. Remember when I said earlier that I still shared 50/50 custody of my son when I first started this blog? Well, I ended up getting full custody of my son because of an argument they had last year. I could easily pretend that it’s normal father-son arguing, and that teenagers are hard to deal with, and blah blah blah. Some of that is true. But some of it happened because this grown adult person can’t function in life without creating conflict for everyone around him. When his girlfriend left, he directed his verbal wrath on our son, partly because he had no one else to argue with, but also because he’s a fucking dysfunctional asshole who doesn’t know how to behave, or how to handle any form of conflict, or any type of challenge to his way of thinking. He will goad you into an argument, twist your words around to make everything your fault so he can berate you further, then act shocked and appalled when you finally snap after fucking hours of being on a merry-go-round of being manipulated, your words being twisted around and used against you. It’s a delightful pattern to be mired in for years of your life, let me tell you. In hindsight, I can’t believe I ever thought my ex reserved this behavior for his partners, and that children would be spared. How embarrassingly naive.
When his relationship with my son deteriorated, I tried again to get him to understand his behavior. We also tried to address things in therapy – he finally agreed to go because he wanted to repair their relationship, but things never got very far because of finances and his employment status. Meanwhile, my son continued to go over there because I couldn’t afford anything else, like paying for extra food for him, or paying for a lawyer to sue my ex for child support and full custody. Hell, I couldn’t even afford to take off work to go see a lawyer, because I’m still working the same crappy job I got when I first left him. Yes, it’s a problem, and no, I don’t know how to fix it.
Instead, I kept trying to fix their relationship. They didn’t argue every week – sometimes months passed between arguments. But when they did, I tried to give them both tips on how to get along better, things to read and try, etc. During this time, I realized I have some pretty deep PTSD over my relationship with my ex. Trying to help them get along was giving me flashbacks to trying to get along with my ex all those years ago. I became anxious and depressed, and reliving my past trauma practically immobilized me. I desperately wanted therapy, especially EMDR, but absolutely could not afford it. I ended up developing an ulcer from all of my worrying, and all of my fruitless efforts to solve these problems on my own. I inadvertently put myself squarely in the middle of conflict between my son and my ex – each of them texting and calling me whenever things went wrong – while simultaneously working myself to death at a job I hate. I worried about them fighting all the time – even during the months of calm – and hardly ever got to enjoy a moment without that underlying anxiety. On the rare chance I did, my son would usually text me about something ridiculous his dad said, sometimes asking me to come get him, or asking why he couldn’t stay with me full time, even though I had explained it multiple times. And honestly, yes, some of their conflict was normal, teenage angsty stuff, and not his dad being his awful self. But it was all stressful, and I wasn’t handling it very well. I was so accustomed to feeling anxiety, dread, and that feeling of “Oh, shit, I have PTSD and can’t afford to get help…when will this end?” that I didn’t realize how badly it was affecting me. Months passed, and I lost myself. I tried to break up with my boyfriend. I drank a little too much when my son wasn’t here. I withdrew from family and friends. It was a shitty, shitty time.
My son flies to another state to visit my dad and stepmom for a week or two every summer. When my dad offered to fly me up to visit for a few days, too, I decided not to go. I was having trouble with my ulcer symptoms, which strangely enough I can’t even recall now, and was scared to travel while feeling so sick. I wanted to see everyone, and drive over to the assisted living facility to see my mom while there, but just figured I’d wait until the fall. Also, I kind of wanted a few days to myself, after being stressed out for so long. I got those few days, and I’ll admit they were wonderful. I finally felt peace and a glorious absence of stress. When my son returned from his trip, though, all the same stress started up again, and my respite from my struggles were over.
I won’t elaborate much on this last part – it most definitely needs its own entry, and my recap of history is way long by now. I’m just trying to explain why life is a pile of garbage, as referenced in this entry’s title.
During these stressful months I kept thinking to myself, “I should call my mom,” but never did. I ignored a couple other nudges, like an abrupt panic about my parents dying someday, which I chalked up to an impending midlife crisis, and an article about someone famous going insane with grief after her mother died. I read the article during an episode of insomnia one night, and cried and cried, and yet I sill didn’t call my mom. Like I said earlier, I took time for granted.
One morning at work I missed a call from my mom’s friend, who was her medical power of attorney. I got nervous, but figured I’d call her back at lunchtime. Later, when I saw a missed call from my brother, my stomach twisted up in a knot. I went outside to sit in my car and call him back. I found out my mom, who had COPD, was taken to the hospital earlier that day, because she wasn’t very alert when an aide at her facility checked on her. I can’t remember every detail, but this was not my mom’s first hospital stay, and I think they were checking her for infections and trying to stabilize her breathing. They thought maybe antibiotics would help, along with some other medication which I can’t recall. She was put on a ventilator while this other treatment was happening. My brother was driving up to see her with his girlfriend, who hadn’t yet met my mom. I’m sure he thought she would stabilize and they would get to visit, and everything would go back to normal for a while.
I was scared and had trouble concentrating at work, but I tried to cross my fingers and hope for the best. A few hours later my brother called again. He said the doctors thought my mom had been sick with a viral infection and may have aspirated something into her lungs, interfering with her breathing and causing her oxygen levels to drop. He said the lack of oxygen damaged her organs, and that she wouldn’t be able to recover once they took her off the ventilator. Since my mom had a DNR, they weren’t supposed to keep her on the ventilator in order to keep her alive, but they left her on it temporarily so I would be able to fly up there and say goodbye.
I didn’t really get to say goodbye, though. I mean, I made it there and I saw her. She said a few things that didn’t make a whole lot of sense, (and a few things that did, which broke my heart all the more). At one point she sat straight up and opened her eyes and looked right at me. I smiled and said, “Hi!” but she immediately fell back into bed. Nothing happened the way I expected it to, and I have regrets about that time which I won’t go into right now. I spent several hours with her, agitated by the ventilator and out of sorts, and probably not even knowing I was there, but she did sleep peacefully for 3 hours once they took the ventilator off. We lost her early the next morning.
At the moment I am unable to describe how painful and shattering my mother’s death was. Anyone who has lost a loved one knows what I mean. If you don’t know, consider yourself lucky. For 39 years I didn’t know. I had empathy for people suffering loss, but I had never truly understood how such a loss destroys you. As I said before, an entry for another time, perhaps.
Before I left home, I had alerted my son’s father to the possibility of having to leave, and he assured me he would take care of our son. I also called my son and let him know what was happening, and asked him to please, please try to get along with his father, and to just go to his room if necessary, rather than engage in any arguing. I had asked his father the same thing. They both knew my mom was dying. At the time, I had no idea how long she would live, or how long I would be gone, but I needed things at home to be okay so I could deal with the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life.
I spent the next few days alternately numb and distraught with grief, packing my mom’s apartment and deciding what to keep, sorting through pictures to split with my brother, and planning a small memorial service. Time moved in slow motion. Some moments left me crying inconsolably, and others left me frozen, unable to move for hours, as though I was weighted down by a thousand blankets. Every minute thing I did required a disproportionately extreme effort. I kept forgetting the simplest of things, like whether I had just said something out loud, or what the plans were for the following day, even though they were just discussed. I thought my mind might never return.
While I was dealing with this, and a mere 2 days before I was scheduled to return home, I got a series of texts from my son detailing the worst argument he had ever had with his father, and how he would be staying at our apartment by himself the night before I’d be back. (He was 16 at the time, and plenty old enough to be alone for one night.) I was supposed to return home and have that night to myself to mourn my mother’s death before returning to work the very next day, but instead my son was there. And he’s been here ever since. He’s not going back to his father’s house, probably ever, and at this point any hope of reconciliation can’t or won’t happen until adulthood – if even then.
In retrospect, this needed to happen. My son is doing well and has discussed these issues with a therapist, who believes him to be a very emotionally mature and sensible teenager. But did it have to happen at the worst possible moment for me? I guess so, or it wouldn’t have fucking happened that way. Regardless, here I am now, navigating full time 100% every aspect of parenting BY MYSELF while getting almost no child support, working full time at a dead-end job that feels like running as fast as you can on treadmill, and grieving the person who loved me more than anyone else in the world, while trying to make sense of the clusterfuck that has been my life.
Like I said, life is a pile of garbage, but I’m trying to get through it.
I considered wrapping up this entry, but realized I have a few more things to say. Like, why did I spend so much time talking about my ex, and the abusive relationship? All I had to say was, my schedule changed, I’m sleep-deprived, I have full custody of my son, my mother died, and I’ve been too busy to write. Simple. Then I could attempt to write an entry about something else.
But things aren’t that simple. I am angry. I can no longer sit back and pretend that I’m not, or try to make lemonade out of life’s goddamn shit lemons. I am angrier than I’ve ever been in my life.
I am angry noticing all the ways my life has been colored by abuse. Angry that I can leave this awful person and think the problem is solved, but still be haunted by him over a decade later. Pissed that I’ve been affected by him for 22 years of my life, and probably will always carry the scars in the form of PTSD.
I feel absolute, soul-churning, seething rage that I spent the last 6-8 months of my mom’s life so overwhelmed with stress about my ex’s behavior that I called her way less often than I should have. I should have called her more, regardless of whether or not I was having a hard time. I am angry that this stupid bullshit caused me to miss the last moments of her life, and I let it.
I am furious – fucking FURIOUS – that he couldn’t stay peaceful for a mere week WHILE MY MOTHER WAS DYING. I can kind of, sort of, forgive his treatment of me while we were together all those years ago, if nothing else to keep from poisoning myself with grudges and negative emotions. But I don’t think I can ever forgive him for this one.
I am angry that I didn’t just let my son come live with me from the start of these problems, especially since that’s what ended up happening. I could have saved everyone a ton of aggravation. But I was scared of my ex taking me to court and trying to fuck with my life even more, so I didn’t.
I am angry that after years of being removed from the toxicity of our relationship, I forgot the cardinal truth of abusive relationships: ABUSERS DON’T CHANGE. I never should have even attempted to fix these types of problems again, because as I learned the first time, nothing ever works, and all I did was re-traumatize myself.
I am angry and feel guilty that I somehow overlooked the fact that having end stage COPD meant that my mom could die at any moment. How the fuck did that even happen? I guess I was so used to her state of health over the last two years – being unable to talk on the phone one day, but seeming better and more vibrant the next – that I took the gravity of her disease for granted.
Oh and also? Someone at some point told her she had 6 months to live, but no one told me. She didn’t tell me, and neither did my brother or her friend. To clarify, telling me was not their responsibility, and had I called more often, she may have remembered to tell me herself. She wasn’t exactly thinking clearly during every conversation we had, probably because of lack of oxygen, so I’m not mad at her or anyone else. (Well, except myself.) It’s just one of those WTF moments.
So, I have a lot of processing to do. All of this anger, yes. But also, I’ve realized that I have unresolved grief over my mom moving to another state when I was 15, and not being nearby in my adult life. It wasn’t her fault – she left to take care of her sick mother and moving to live with my dad was my choice. Also, neither of us could afford to move, or even visit each other very often after that, but it still sucks. I’m now mourning her death as well as losing her at 15.
I’ve had other realizations as well. Losing my mom created a distinct before and after in my life, just like illness did, but so much worse. I realized that what I thought was the worst thing to happen to me – floxing – was not, in fact the worst thing, in spite of horrific, acute suffering that lasted years. I realized I would flox myself a thousand times over and live my life in permanent misery if I could just have my mom back.
I’m not quite sure how, but her death is changing me. It will be an ongoing process of realizations and transformation, some of which I may explore in this blog.
I do know that death creates a finality which allows you to view your life and your relationships more objectively, especially since there is no room for change. Your relationship with the person who died is solidified in time. There are no thoughts of the future, so you can hone in and examine the past more easily. At least, I can. That’s one reason why I was able to see how my abusive relationship affected me throughout the years, and impacted my relationship with my mother (as well as everyone else). Even before floxing, I would sometimes avoid calling her because I was ashamed of my struggles. I didn’t want her to know how bad my relationship was, even after I realized it wasn’t my fault. Because even then, I still had shame over allowing it to continue, or not realizing how bad it was from the beginning. I wish I could go back in time, and not allow shame to dictate as much of my life as it has.
I think I’m ready to stop hiding behind my shame, or tiptoeing around sensitive issues in order to protect the guilty. Grief has at least partly washed away my filter, and my fear of being vulnerable – somewhat, anyway, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to write this. And it’s fueled a rage inside of me that’s pushing me to speak my truth and reclaim my power. So, in the moments when I’ve gotten enough sleep to articulate my thoughts, and I’m not numb or paralyzed by grief, I intend to do just that. Maybe writing about shame, abuse, or other subjects besides just illness will help me process them. It worked with floxing, after all. We’ll see what happens.
It’s now been months since I wrote the above words. I’m glad I did, as I can tell how they helped me process my situation, but unfortunately I’m now so removed from the flow of the subject that I can’t finish this entry the way I originally intended. I had wanted to mention that I still tiptoed around my ex after leaving, through having to communicate with him weekly about our son for years, though I didn’t realize I was doing it. And that having almost no contact for several months freed me mentally. It enabled me to detox in a way, and recognize my mistakes. I also understand the psychology of abuse in ways I couldn’t when I was still actively engaged with him.
I wanted people who read this to try to understand that, because I feared judgment regarding the way I handled things all these years. I think I’m past that fear now. I figure that, first of all, not many people even read this blog. Secondly, uneducated opinions about abusive relationships and PTSD are irrelevant.
Most importantly, though, I just don’t think I care enough to worry about people judging me anymore. That kind of extraneous shit doesn’t matter in the end. Life is hard enough on its own. People you love die. One day you and I will die. Before that happens I’m going to live my life as best I can, learn from past mistakes by calling and spending more time with the people I care about, and continue to tell the stories that define my life.