Remember that time Clint Eastwood talked to an empty chair on TV?
I keep thinking about that lately.
Remember how crazy he seemed? Remember how everyone talked about how unhinged it made him look for months and months after it aired?
A very close friend just posted an infographic on Facebook about sitting with your discomfort instead of numbing it. How it’s the only way to really process and deal with the shit that hurts us. It hit a nerve because I’ve been (very intentionally) doing a lot of that lately. I’ve had some things in my life lately that make me feel downright unnnnncomfortable and icky.
One of them is realizing, now that I’m somewhat in the homestretch of the legal part of my custody stuff, that what I allowed myself to be in for so long was actual, certifiable abuse. At this age. As smart as I think I am. I did so many gymnastics in my head to believe everything could be different if only explained correctly, if only we could find common ground, if only something would break through to him. If only.
I’ve been sitting with the feelings that take over my body, slowly and completely, every time I have to face that I was so very wrong about so very much and that every memory I have is now recast by what the last five months have made impossible to ignore. The feelings that arise in every cell when I remember a new thing that wasn’t ever what it seemed to be back then – the way the realizations will make my whole body feel like electricity pushing at my skin, like if I could just peel my skin back, or run for a hundred miles, or drink four beers – maybe then it would all stop feeling like this.
I’m also, on the daily, fielding crap still from the outside: my daughter coming home to tell me Daddy says you lie all the time; finding out my daughter spent her birthday and Christmas with another woman without so much as a courteous hello, nice to meet you before I shower your tiny kid with gifts three months after daddy finally and fully got banished from your bed; my daughter throwing up after being fed candy and popcorn and soda all day and me being called a liar in front of her about her being sick at all; the pending child support case because the court order has taken so long for the court to finalize and not one single penny from him for his daughter (him only paying his half of her daycare because I kindly asked the preschool to remind him, in writing, that he, too, signed the contract and was legally obligated to pay); him paying it late every single time it is due; my daughter crying in my arms because she doesn’t understand why there’s another woman around when she wants us to still be together since we didn’t fight when we both took her to the tree lighting ceremony; him blocking my emails (again) because I dared to ask for proof of insurance and registration on a car he didn’t, in fact, have coverage on (verified four days later through my lawyer, which was partly his plan since he thinks not only should I be the only one paying for our daughter’s expenses, but he thinks I have buckets of money instead of the 401k loan I took out to be able to protect my daughter and myself in this whole mess and so he takes joy in racking up my sizable legal bills); the daily knowledge that his character assassination of me may never stop because it’s the only thing he can do to make whatever I may say about him suspect, the only way he can try to preserve the false image he’s spent a lifetime crafting; that still, even after breaking free, his mission is to dismantle anything about me he can.
I’ve finally come out of an almost eight year relationship where one of his main tactics for survival was to cast doubt on my sanity – and the process has been harder and even more cruel than I feared (and I really did fear this part of it and stayed at least two years longer than I should have just to avoid this madness, to avoid having to face that his cruelty could go so much deeper than I had ever let myself believe).
I sit with all of this.
Over the last four months, some of that sitting has made some parts easier. I no longer lose sleep over the things he tells other people about me. After the judge, who is the only other person besides me and my lawyer to see the truth of his words and emails and actions completely, has limited his time with my daughter and postponed a decision about overnight visits until he can show that he will be reliable and less damaging to her stability with his words and actions, it got easier to let go of what everyone else who hears his accusations thinks. It still stings, but the feeling passes more quickly, and I can watch it pass instead of feel all the waves.
I have sat with the feeling, more and more, in the last month, that I fell in love, from the beginning, with a complete fabrication and so the shock and disappointment of that has lessened as I actually name what was done to me and talk to others who are going through the same bizarro world of trying to co-parent with someone who only knows how to counter and attack.
I’m still sitting with the fact that this will never really stop – the best I can hope for is that we have periods of less aggression toward me and that my lack of affection or love for him will keep me steady and detached from the things he does that I, of course, have no control over.
Historically, I’m a fixer, a problem solver. I look at details and make connections and find ways to move forward productively. If A won’t work, and B seems all wrong, I will fucking find C and make it my bitch.
There is a lot about this point in my life that I can (and absolutely need to) do this with . . . I am actively working it all out in writing, in therapy, and in quiet, calm moments of tranquility after my daughter goes to sleep (a time that, for years, was when I would crawl into bed tense and fearful for what would happen next).
I am spending a lot of time trying to decide what I can do something about and what I cannot. Mostly, I am deep into finding a sort of peace – or, if not peace, a type of truce – with so much on the list that I have to choose not to ignore but to see as it floats through my head, as it makes my stomach feel airy, as it causes me to take a deep breath and sigh in disappointment and then let it pass through my cells so I can keep doing whatever I am doing at that moment.
And so. Cue Clint Eastwood.
Mostly, when I try to sit with my discomfort, instead of fixing it, I end up talking to a chair. Or the shower head. Or the dirty dishes in the sink. Conversations with people I can’t really have: with him, with his sister who has cut me off completely (and so hasn’t asked to see her niece except the limited time she’s with her dad and whose presence in her life I miss the most), with my daughter (who I can’t possibly say the truth to in the way she’ll eventually come to know it herself), with the woman he’s wooing who certainly believes his hot air about my insanity and how I abused him and how I just want him back so will lie and sabotage anything he has with someone else. With myself who can’t believe how much I bought into something that was so, so untrue. Lots of times I’m the one sitting in that chair. And I listen. I really, really listen. Finally.
The two things that do still make me lose sleep, keep me spinning at my own witching hour of 4am, are the way his words and his care of my daughter will damage her (and how I can weather-proof her for these things so she’ll be less dinged-up by them) and the way that knowing he’s actively grooming another woman right now who believes all this love and magic he can fake and who will, someday, if she stays long enough, be deep in a pit of pain, huddled on the floor of her kitchen, trying to figure out how she is being made to be the one doing wrong when she knows, in her gut, that it’s not her, the way that knowing all of this makes my whole body uneasy.
As far as my daughter, I can’t control what he does or says, but there is action for me to take. I can choose to not engage with him except when necessary since every interaction spurs an inequal reactive attack from him, including multiple false claims of workplace harassment and useless police reports filed against me.
I can, and am, taking my daughter to therapy to help her learn how to talk about and name her feelings since he constantly tries to pit her against me and I seem to be the only one of us two who knows how damaging that is for children. I can continue to speak only positively about him and let her express her own opinions on what transpires. When she tells me that he says I lie all the time, I don’t counter it. I just ask her what she thinks, how she feels about that. She’s witnessed things that, when told to him, he says are lies. She knows I told the truth. So I just let her think critically, to ponder her feelings.
I comfort her when she comes to me and grabs my hand and tells me she misses when we were all in the same house. I tell her I do, too. I don’t tell her that what I (and she) thought we had wasn’t real. I just let her have her feelings, let her form her own opinions while I tell her that she shouldn’t worry if what he says will hurt me, that I’m strong and she doesn’t need to worry about me in that way. And I minimize, in any way possible, her exposure to hurtful words or careless actions.
There is some small comfort in knowing that while I can’t keep her from having to learn these things so young, I can give her the space and love to come out stronger. I can do something to make this even a little better.
This other woman, though? I have surprised myself with what her existence brings up for me. I expected to have emotions about him seeing someone else even though I have absolutely no desire to ever entertain that option again. Even though I knew he was already grooming other women before we split (hell, the whole time we were together) and that he would be publicly boasting of real, true love so much sooner than would be healthy or considerate.
But that’s not what’s making me Clint Eastwood when I’m home alone doing dishes or laundry or staring at the darkened bedroom ceiling at 4:38am
I get a pit in my stomach when I think about how she feels right now when I know, I know, exactly what he’s still going to be engaged in with other women, what lies he’s already told her, not just about me (but so many other things both big and small), and how devastated and small she will feel when she realizes that this love bomb he’s exploding in her life right now has shrapnel that may never leave her ribcage.
She has ignored every single request I made of her to meet me if she’s going to be in my daughter’s life and every single plea I’ve made that they give her more time before she is with the both of them together. Ignored. Not even a no thank you or I hear you and I’ll back away from her for now. This seems inexcusable to me, so I try to say to myself Fuck her – she deserves whatever she gets in this.
It doesn’t work. The feeling won’t be fooled.
I don’t respect her. Because she had to be asked to do something she should have done on her own and ignored me completely instead of acting like the forty-something adult that she apparently is (which made me, foolishly, assume that she would do the right thing).
This doesn’t change the way my mind spins at 4:00 in the morning as sentences I could say to her spiral in my skull and make it impossible to just sit with them and then sleep.
It doesn’t stop the daydreaming about sending her the infographic I saved about the three phases of being with a Narcissist (because while I can’t speak to an official diagnosis, I can testify that the things he has done and said tick every single line in the script narcissists use to trick and then belittle and unmoor the people they are in relationships with) in hopes that she’ll leave during the second phase instead of the end of the third when the damage is deeper and sharper.
Telling myself that she deserves whatever he does to her because she believes his bullshit right now so much that she would ignore the woman who gave birth to the child she spent Christmas and the child’s birthday fawning over doesn’t work because to believe that means this: I deserved everything I got because I tied myself to him so quickly and so fully and believed all the love lies he told me and let him convince me to look at my own trust issues before accusing him of anything (things he was actually doing).
That I deserved it because I believed what he told me about his ex-wife and the women he dated before me, even though I know now that none of it was really true.
To say she deserves whatever she gets means saying I deserve everything he’s done to me and his children and everything he will continue to do to us.
Neither does she. Whoever she is morally, ethically or as a human.
No one deserves to wake up and realize that they have chipped away at everything good in themselves trying desperately to make something real out of a heap of lies.
So I feel a feeling. And I look at it. I don’t numb it. I try to sit with it until it passes.
This one won’t pass yet.
I’ve written about it in other pieces that have been sent out for publication. I’ve tried to make a tender kind of peace that these women will be in and out of my daughter’s life. And oddly, I’m less fearful for my daughter than these other women, this one other woman right now. My daughter has me, and an amazing therapist, and a full family on both sides who will love her intensely and with devotion. And she has a way, already, of seeing the world around her that cuts through the bullshit. The things she has already articulated and noticed about her new situation both floor me with sadness and give me hope for her future as a smart, realistic, whole human being.
This woman, though. She is me. Eight years ago. Standing in front of the train – the slow, slow, slow moving train of destruction – and smiling and feeling like she’s just won the lottery, feeling lucky, feeling loved. She doesn’t have any idea how heavy that train is, how fully it will pin her to the tracks, and how hard it will be to peel herself up from those rails and reconstitute herself into a new version of herself.
We all have times in our lives where we wish we could time travel and warn ourselves of something.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that even if given the chance, I wouldn’t go warn myself because to have seen him for who he really is would mean never, ever meeting my daughter. It’s a horse-pill with jagged edges to have swallowed that realization and to have to re-remind myself of that nearly every day of the last three and a half years.
But this new woman? I could warn her. I could. She won’t listen. Probably. But maybe she would leave sooner than I did. Maybe she would shave less of her own flesh off for him before realizing that his attacks on her were just a sad attempt to further shield his own lies. Maybe she would stop rescuing him from his own mess right now that he’s told everyone is my fault and pretend that’s love. Maybe.
But it’s not appropriate, most people would say. Not my place. Kind of crazy.
Like Clint Eastwood talking to a chair on national TV. Like Chili burning down a house. Like Lorena Bobbitt cutting off the embodiment of what hurt her most.
So I’ll still try to sit and watch that feeling pass through. Feel it move through my body. The intensity of knowing that you could save someone else the pain you endured but that they probably wouldn’t listen. And maybe it would hurt your credibility in the custody case. And it would certainly continue to keep you tethered to a person, to a relationship, to a time in your life when you doubted everything you knew about yourself in the name of trying to preserve the family you thought you created.
As a woman, though, it hurts to keep silent about the harm in the wings.
I, most likely, will sell myself out as a woman in order to hold myself up as a mother. The woman I need to be most concerned with is the one I am trying to guide into being.
Here’s the feeling. I see it. I feel it in my back and my throat and in the way my nose tingles the way it always does right before I cry. I feel it. I wait for it to pass. I send a verbal thank you out for the life I am now living and where it can lead. There’s the ache in my shoulder, the pinprick in my scapula that always comes when I can’t do anything about something painful. I feel it.
Knowing with every ounce of marrow in all my bones that this feeling will never go away. Not as long as he lives. So I will sit with it. And try not to Clint Eastwood my life.
I’ve got to ask myself one question: Do I feel lucky?