Can You Spot Domestic Abuse Early On?

The thing with standing in the empowerment of who you are is once you do it, you feel it when you aren’t anymore.  It would be awesome to be able to say that my break in writing was about profound revelations and delving deeper into who I want to be, but I spent the last couple of months trying to dig myself back into a life that doesn’t serve me.

I was in a relationship.  I was being a girlfriend and seeing where I needed to grow.  I enjoyed parts of being a couple.  I kept looking at the cost of the relationship, and feeling that the benefits outweighed any sacrifice.  I had a few moments of frustration that I wasn’t taking the time to watch the ocean, or go hiking, but I couldn’t blame him.  It was the layers of my history telling me that being in relationship means being in service.

I visited my Dad on Sunday.  Part of our conversation was about the God I was raised to love and serve, and he admonished me that I can’t say I love God if I don’t obey his laws.  (I broke a few major ones in this relationship.) I left saying I loved him, and he said love is obedience.  Just the day before I had seen my nieces.  I told them I knew my boyfriend wasn’t the one, but he was the one for now.  I knew it was about being in the moment, but I didn’t see when that moment ended, but they did.  As I was telling them I wanted them to be authentic . . . I wanted them to stand up to their parents and aunts . . . stand up to me because “no” is an answer and never needs an explanation . . .

I got a call from my sister the next day.  My nieces heard what I said, but I was showing up to them as a lonely and sad woman.  The woman my family had started to get to know was disappearing under the weight of my relationship.  I had grown into someone I was proud of, but I couldn’t see how love and service, and sacrifice meant that I was putting him before myself and taking leaps and bounds backwards.

It was a weekend where I got feedback from my loved ones that shook me.  I didn’t wake up and snap out of it until a conversation with him that showed me how different we really are.  It was a moment where I looked at the ways he wanted to control my finances and other ways I choose to live and it was a moment where I wanted to run.  Having been in the situation before, I was lost again.  Was I overreacting? Am I seeing things that aren’t there? It was both familiar and terrifying.  And it was time to walk away, but I wasn’t sure.  The next day we argued by text and rather than tell me how he felt, he started putting me down.

I watched a video on Facebook today and as it got closer to the end, I started sobbing.  I may just be hormonal, but it resonated profoundly:


Once I ended the relationship, he begged me to take him back and as the second day wore on, he started a text stream of insults against me and my family, making threats and accusations. But I’ve been here before. It only took a moment to gaze in the mirror and remind myself of who I am. It only made me feel better about my decision to end things, no matter what my future without him looks like.

We were together about two and a half months, and I’m still trying to figure out how I missed the signs of abuse that are so clear today. He wanted to help around the house and made changes as improvements. He enrolled me in what he thought was best for my family. He wanted to lead my household but I couldn’t give up complete control and he made that feel like a failure on my part. He made me feel like I was wrong to not relinquish the power I had over my home, even though I knew how ridiculous his request was to me, my children, my family and anyone else that knows me.

I wanted company when I started online dating. I found it. I was convinced that it was okay to spend time with “Mr. Right Now,” but I know it’s better to be alone than in a relationship that doesn’t serve me and make me grow. I’m alone again and being single feels like freedom again.

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What It Means to Make Space for Someone or Something In Your Life

When my ex first left, there was space. I had room in the closet and where furniture left bare walls. There was space in my bed and I always filled it with books or kids when they were with me. I had to adjust my cooking so I didn’t always have way too much food.

The new man in my life has been around a few months and the spaces I try to make feel tight. It’s like a stretched rubberband. There are times that I see a shadow or hint of my past in our future and I stand back and snap in anger and he makes space for me, responding quietly and patiently. He might respond to a comment the way my ex did. He might blow off a concern the way my Dad does. He gets the full weight of what it feels like to know I am not afraid to be alone from the ways I keep trying to push him away and reject him.

And yet, the first time he took out the trash or helped with laundry before I asked, I started sobbing because I’m not used to that kind of help.

I’m fully aware I’m holding him responsible for a past he had no part in and I’m trying not to. He’s listening. He’s shifting from his own comfort as a bachelor and we’re both figuring out how we fit.

At one point we discussed making space and I emptied a dresser drawer for him. There was excitement. There was fear. There was a stretch and space was made. It was a moment to celebrate in our relationship but for my eldest it was a space made that he didn’t have room for. It didn’t affect his things or his personal space other than being in the same common areas but it bothered him. He didn’t make space.

I’m between jobs right now and the timing was perfect for my gallbladder to announce its existence. I just had it removed. Moving slowly, resting fully and asking for help (and being receptive of it) is a way my situation made space for the needs of my body without pressure of work responsibilities.

In October of 2014 I had pulmonary embolisms. There were several blood clots hanging out in my lungs. They could have easily taken a ride in my blood stream and ended up in my heart or brain with fatal results. My birth control pills tried to kill me and I take medicinal side effects seriously. I was told any pregnancy after that would require a shot of blood thinners daily until birth and then it would have to be quickly reversed.

My youngest was 8. I felt it was time for permanent birth control for my irregular cycles. My kids still wanted a sibling but they were open to adoption. My ex wanted more kids. My tubal ligation was scheduled. Just before I was ready for it, my ex told me he was leaving me.

Suddenly I didn’t need birth control. It didn’t make sense to have surgery and no one to help with the difficulties of post op. I was ready to make sure there was no space for more kids but it really didn’t matter.

In the following 2 years I would lose about 40 pounds and my monthly cycle became regular for the first time in my adult life. I would become more patient with my kids and so much anxiety would melt in the shadowed beauty of a sunset.

I went from not wanting more kids to actively creating space for life.

We do this in every area of our lives. We allow things to happen or we do all we can to prevent it. We make time to exercise or we refuse to get out of bed. We make time for friends and loved ones or we find ways to be too busy for them.

Can you see the ways you make space and why some of the promises you keep making end up being consistently empty?

How We Compare Past Pain To Gauge Present Pain But It’s All Relative

My writing feels broken.

Life still moves at the speed of “slow down, WTF!”

That hasn’t kept the words at bay.

My love life has been moving in a positive direction.  It has made change for me and my boys and we’re riding the waves as a family.  For the most part we’re okay but in one very specific way, we’re not.

My firstborn is having a hard time with the changes and not having my home whole has made writing a challenge.  How do I write about doing what feels good, when so much of what I feel is tied into how my son feels and the ways we’re not blending our lives into ways where I can proclaim we’re all doing epic shit.

Friday I drove myself to an ER after pushing through a job interview and saying I had a little indigestion.  The chest pain was bad enough that I was crying.  Not sobbing or asking for attention as much as silent tears and gritting my teeth through the nurse’s questions.  It was bad.  I found my sense of humor.  She was hiding out but given free reign, she’s a bit snarky and had no patience for the whiny bitch next to me.  (If a nurse or doctor is trying to help you after you go see them for help, don’t bother trying to justify kicking them.) I was sent home after being given really good drugs and felt better through the weekend.

Monday morning I called an ambulance after a night of chest pain, vomiting and being unable to sleep.  I know, pretty bone headed of me.  I kept thinking, it hurts, but it’s not as bad as the pulmonary embolisms.  And then it was.  It went from kinda uncomfortable to more painful than full on labor pains pretty quickly too.  I think at some point I may have begged for death while running to the bathroom to vomit and it was only after getting through the night that I called an ambulance and had the paramedic act pretty bored as he realized I wasn’t actually having a heart attack.  They hung out with me and waited for another ambulance to take me to a hospital where I was taken in and tested and poked and prodded and drugged.  The 7 am call included a transfer to my plan hospital and a discharge after 33 hours, with lotsa fun follow up appointments in my near future.  Gallbladders are like lungs.  They’re supposed to function without using pain to grab your attention.  If you feel pain, play it safe and see a doctor.

I kept thinking of my worst possible experiences and I held them up to what I was going through.  I held up the past with the present in a way that let me see that I was not actually dying.  I matched up battle scars to see that I’ve been through bad situations and it doesn’t make the current better or worse.  It reminds me there’s no point in whining about it.  I will get through it.  There are no other options.

That moment helped me find the funny and crack some jokes.  That comparison gave me the clarity to see that I haven’t been able to write, but it’s about me.  It’s not the boyfriend.  It’s not wondering what I can write or if I should. It’s my relationship with my firstborn that makes me feel so shattered that the words stopped.

It’s new territory.  I get to learn and we get to stretch, and in time, this will be one of those battle scars in our relationship I will hold up.  I’ll remember how hurt I am that I have hurt him.  I will remember how torn I feel by the directions my heart is pulling me in.  I’ll remember that in this moment and every moment around it, I’ve been trying to go by my gut and do what is best for me and my family, without sacrificing myself for my family.  It’s a marker.

I will see the parts that were broken.  I’ll compare them to the next terrible thing.  I’ll remember how we managed and the ways that made us stronger.  It’ll be okay.  The words will flow again.

 

How We Bounce Back After the Marriage Ends

I was never a tennis player.  I ran around a tennis court with my Dad once.  It was some time right after high school on the open courts in Griffith Park.  I remember having no control of the ball.  I kept swinging my arm up and sending ball after ball over the fence walls and being the person to chase them all.  It was just exhausting.  I hated the experience.  I’m sure there’s a really bad poem about that day on my hard drive somewhere. I’ll spare you the angst.

Take that same ball and include a dog willing to run around and it has a whole different feel for me. I actually enjoy throwing the ball and watching a happy dog chase it down before it lands.  It comes back a slimy mess of drool and it comes back with the expectation that the game would continue.  You throw a ball for a dog to chase and there is an exponential growth of energy and excitement.

That poor ball though, right? You reject it.  It lands and then comes back a mess.  And yet it comes back.  It bounces back.  (Just grab it before the dog gets to really start chewing.)

There are lessons here.

I know more than one cancer survivor.  The word “survivor” sounds very different from who these people are to the life they lead.  I have never met a survivor that wasn’t thriving.  I have never met one that was afraid to say the important things.  I have never met one that wasn’t stronger than they thought they could be, brave in spite of their fear, or courageous through all of their physical pain. They have mastered bouncing back.

I know more than one person that has gone through a failed relationship and the bounce back isn’t pretty.  I spoke with a woman last week and our experiences were similar.  Bouncing back was a long and hard journey that wasn’t a bounce from relationship to relationship to mask what needed healing. At the end of the road we both came out stronger, but at the lowest points, even our mothers had a hard time seeing our pain.

We know how to be alone.

We’re not afraid to be alone.  We even celebrate moments alone and you can’t threaten us with leaving. At one point it was terrifying to hear the sound of an empty home.  It’s possible to find a way to be comfortable sitting at a table for one in a crowded restaurant on date night.  We know the devastation of a relationship that has ended and taken our dreams and expectations with it.  We know how bad it can be and we know we survived with strength we didn’t know we’d find.  Most of the encouragement I had in the beginning was that I am stronger than I think I am.  It was and is true.  Who knew? Others that have been through it knew because I sure didn’t.  It’s something you find out once there is no one around to rescue you but yourself.

We know how to roar.

We have learned how to listen to our own voice and we’ve found the courage to speak for ourselves. We do what feels right because we know there will be others willing to share their opinions without support and we know at the end of the day it’s our choices with the weight in our hearts that will allow us to sleep or keep us up all night.

We know it can always be worse.

Finding your way through a life-change can knock the wind right out of you, and just when you think you can stand on your feet again, the ground shows you it can swallow you up without warning. You’ll hear about friends going through a rough patch and you won’t be able to fully empathize because you know it can always be worse and you know it has been, but you are stronger for it and you can get through it. You offer the nuggets of hope that helped you through the worst of it and laugh at the rest because that perspective shift is the control you needed to launch you past the pain.

We know how to ask for and accept support.

We know when to set our pride aside. It feels terrific to know we can do it all on our own,but sometimes we can’t.  It can be really hard to ask for support and humble ourselves, and know help doesn’t look the way we want it to and it often comes at a cost, but we ask for and accept support anyway because we know we have to.

We learn that it isn’t always about us.

A week ago I was humming to myself.  It was one of those Mariah Carey songs that end up in ranges that even dogs couldn’t hear.  I was humming badly and someone walked in on me in the office kitchenette. I was embarrassed and tried to excuse myself but the woman walking in the room didn’t even hear or really notice me.  In her head and taking up her full attention was the world that sees only her as I was in my world that saw and cared about everything I did.  Our worlds would have never met if I hadn’t stopped her to draw attention to the fact that I expected her to see me.

The world that crashed around me was my world.  In the beginning it was ugly and I was emotionally bleeding all over Facebook and to anyone that I thought cared about me.  Some friends saw more than they wanted to.  Some friends didn’t see or know anything.  Other people wanted the juicy details and my personal hell of a side show. Given space, some people will still really care, but not enough to be present.  Maybe they’ll offer space because they don’t know how to react.  Maybe they have no room for someone else’s pain. Given time, will the opinions of others matter?

We know how to bounce back.

The thing about bouncing back is you are first launched.  You are thrown far, and land hard in a way that throws you in places and ways you would never choose. You end up covered in things you would love to wash off and you accept that some of it is shame and part of that shame never belonged to you.

Shake it off.  Newton’s 3rd Law tells us every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  Live boldly and prepare to be launched.  You were born to fly.

 

 

 

How I Use My Birthday to Plan Life and Death

It’s my birthday month. I know a few people that make it a month long celebration but I’m not that person. I might be too intense for those shenanigans.

I spend a couple of weeks looking for my perfect birthday gift. I don’t plan what I’ll do. It doesn’t usually work out the way I want it to when I do. It didn’t work out with my ex, and now my kids are set in what they will and will not do.

February is the month when I celebrate my next lap around the sun, rather than the last one I just completed. It’s an opportunity to jump into this next year with a sense of direction and excitement.

I spend a few days dreaming big. It’s a time to think of the ways the year felt amazing and the ways I wanted more than I experienced. The thing about a dream is it hasn’t happened yet. No matter how big or small you dream, you get to create what you imagine. Why not dream big? It’s the difference between dreaming of a slice of cheesecake and owning the shop that makes them all day. You don’t have either in front of you and you get to create the steps to get the goal you’re after. It sounds silly until you imagine the ways you stop yourself from dreaming big. I didn’t dream big as a child. My only life goal was to make enough money to hire someone to clean up after me. It’s a gift I’ve handed onto my kids. At Christmas I saw how I have been living in scarcity to the point where my kids asked for permission to dream of a wish list. I get to dream big so they can see we limit ourselves and we don’t have to.

My first big goal is a trip to Canada. Kid1 wants to go to Canada and I would love to take my boys. That means getting passports and there are steps and documents I need for that. I need to figure out where he wants to go which is hard right now. He’s not talking to me. He hates the idea I have a boyfriend that I want him to get to know. I’m giving him space for a few days, but Canada is about him so we have to find space to make amends. I get to figure out the finances when the single parent rodeo is a difficult and expensive ride and I’m a temp that hops from agency to agency when opportunities present themselves. And permission. I get to see if their Dad will allow me to travel out of the state, let alone the country. There are goals and steps and I get to figure them out and step into each task.

I work out the kinks in my planner. My planner is really just a 3 ring binder with months broken up. Rather than a budget, I set up what is due and when it’s due because bills are my reality. I have goals set to tackle certain things as a priority. I have things listed I want to experience, and I have steps broken down. It outlines my goals, but also my 18-month plan. I have sections for my kids, and finances, goals, what I need to do, field trips and reading lists. The hard part for me is deciding what I can do each day to work toward those goals. It’s easy to procrastinate.

Normally my Christmas task is to write letters but I didn’t get to it at Christmas, so I’m doing that this month as well. I write letters to my loved ones so they have my final words if I unexpectedly die. I keep track of things I would add to my obituary, so it’s easier for whoever gets to arrange that, but I also write letters to my siblings and nieces. Unlike the times when I’ve been depressed and suicidal, writing this out (in it’s morbid glory) is the one way I’m thinking of others.  When suicidal, I was incapable of thinking about others or beyond the next hour.

What is amazing is how the thought of dying really makes you appreciate what you have in living and it often makes me have conversations I would normally put off. It’s a way to force myself to clear the air and be present in my relationships. It’s a way to show my family how much I love them, even when I don’t make time for them in my selfishness.

February is my month to shoot forward into the next year and it looks like a month of planning.

How To Find Closure After Something Special Ends

A few mornings ago Kid3 was singing an Adele song and laughing about it. He found the funny without knowing what it was about, other than the many memes starting with, “Hello.”

I asked if he knew what the song was about and I told him it was about getting closure and saying hello a long time after a relationship ended. Then the jaded bits came out to bite me and it’s worth looking at if it makes my inner cynic stand at attention.

Closure is about being able to move on from something that meant enough to destroy you a bit when it ended. It could be a relationship. Or a job you relied on. Or the death of a person you didn’t expect to die and refuse to let go of. It’s about accepting that something you loved and cherished doesn’t exist in your life anymore and knowing that it isn’t who you are. You are not a broken relationship and the past is not where you’ll find your badassery.

The angry black woman in me said, “you expect someone that failed you while you were both in love to make you feel better now that you’ve had the time to move on?” I mean, true artistry looks like this woman in love. Even when you aren’t amazing, my heart full of infatuation can make something truly terrible look like I can’t live without it. I take your flaws and push them aside because living with them is better than living without you. Take that amazing artist interpretation, give it time and I may just see how much we really weren’t made for each other.

Time will show me the ways I didn’t give space or obsessed way too much over every single detail that seemed relevant but really wasn’t. I’ll see the ways I failed and pride will shove the reasons he failed me to the forefront. And closure sometimes asks us to reconnect to reexamine and release these things. But why?

I’m currently in a relationship. It’s new and I’m still in that happy phase so this really is a look back and doesn’t apply to him. But he’s different. I can see the things I question and his answers shift my perspective. I’m different.

Looking at past relationships, there was a fascination in each man I cared about to the point that I wasn’t caring for myself. I wasn’t writing or finding time to be in my happy place. I was relying on him for happiness and that means I wasn’t happy. That neediness often made him (all of the hims) unhappy.

Take my unhappy ass, add a man who was equally unhappy. Subtract the value for our love and how much we cared about each other and it still didn’t add up to keep us together. In the ways we cared about each other . . . The ways we lied to soften the blow of rejection . . . Ultimately, walking away is the greatest rejection possible . . . And that care still couldn’t keep us connected. Time passes and for me that means head turning weight loss. I return to my happy place that shares way more than you’d ever be comfortable with. I start buying myself flowers and reminding myself of the ways I’m awesome that couldn’t be seen under the shadow of the man I placed on my pedestal, and let’s find that closure!

The reality for me is that I have never been able to find closure in a conversation with the men I once gave my all to. I couldn’t see how he might fail me until he did and once I had that hindsight vision of who he was, I see how he could have never been what I painted him as. I see the ways he could never even communicate what I needed to hear because he’s never been as open or emotionally self aware as I am. I held him to my standard and I know he’ll never meet another woman like me. I’ll never meet another woman like me.

For me, closure comes from hindsight and a vision of what my future should be. It comes in facing the ways I accepted less than I desired and taking notice of the ways I undervalued myself to prove to them they were worthy of my love, affection, time and desire. (My desire though… Not everyone can or should handle that much intensity.) I appreciate the times that were good. I relive a few of the good memories. I’m careful to see them with the perspective of someone that was once in love and is now happy and fulfilled in self-love. I can see the good for the good it was. I can also see the ways it was a relationship I would never wish on a loved one and I can stand tall as I walk away because the closure I needed was always in my control and not at the mercy of a man who failed me and odds are would repeat that pattern.

Find the good. Honor it. See the bad. Recognize how you accepted it and promise yourself to do better next time. Be open to love and let go of fear. That’s the closure you’re looking for. It will come in waves and surprise you when you least expect it to.  Go with it.

Do You Even Know Who You Are?

Juliet:
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

I met a woman today and her name is Sarah. Immediately the name conjured feelings of joy and warmth because my niece shares that name. I think of how closely she resembles me when I was younger, and I’m tickled by the looks she gets to look forward to. I hope she finds as much pleasure in her reflection and body that I do. I think of her quiet and snark. I think of her food joy (anything involving potatoes) and I think of her defiance as a little girl looking me in the face as she poured her dark purple grape juice on my cream colored couch. Her name means so much to me that this woman was automatically shaded in relational love.

It’s like a person that has a first, and then second language as my mom once described it. I don’t actually speak any other languages. Not really. My mom learned English in her late teens after speaking Thai first. She once explained that when she hears a conversation in English, she first translates it into Thai, and then her answer in Thai is translated to English and then spoken. It amazes me the way she thinks. My mom is my hero in so many ways, and her intelligence is the greatest source of my admiration. When I hear a person struggle with English, I think of how amazed I am that they can do what she does.

When this new Sarah introduced herself, I had this inspired moment that probably made me look a little crazy. I asked her what “Sarah” means to her. This was after I explained what it means to me, including the bit about Sarah being the biblical mother of many nations and the more intimate idea of it being about my Sarah Barracuda. She told me about Sally being a nickname for Sarah and a song that goes with it that I have already forgotten. But the name and now the face are cemented for me, and shadowed in kindness that was borrowed from a beloved niece.

The greatest part of that conversation was the idea of “who are you?” that I hit her with. I have moments when I am filled with doubt and fear. These moments look like I’m unable to enjoy the present as I’m focused intently on my future. How are my bills getting paid and what has priority? In these moments when I realize the physical toll of my stress, I remember who I am committed to being to my sons.

I am a brave, courageous, heart led leader. I am a daughter and a mother. I’m an estranged wife going through a divorce and (scandal alert) a girlfriend who feels we’ve both been bashed by the lucky stick. I am not an artist and while I love accounting and finance, numbers are not my friends, but I’m great at stringing words together. I embrace the fact that I’m aging because I love this bolt of lightning time has shaped me into. I’m a bit full of marshmallow fluff and it keeps me warm and curvy. I love what I look like. Mainly I’m a woman capable of love and willing to share my love.

It doesn’t matter what I’m called or how my name is said. You could spit it with venom or your soft lips could whisper it as a caress of sound. Your lips could kiss out the sound as an expression of pleasure or joy.

I know who I am, but who are you, and does your name really matter if you don’t know what it means to you to be who you are? I ask again, who are you?