On a Friday night as I sat at the dinner table with my daughter playing a fun question and answer game, my six year old told me her name should have been Melody.
For the first time in months, I felt kicked in the gut. Even though I was sitting still, I felt dizzy. Like I was on an amusement park ride at the end, waiting for the bars to raise so I could unclip the belt and get out. Waiting for balance to return so I could stand up and move on.
I grabbed two fingers on my right hand with my left and squeezed hard. So hard my left pointer finger turned bright red from gripping tightly.
Breathe breathe breathe. Don’t interrogate. Don’t interrogate.
A side effect of a trigger like this that I don’t see talked about much is an almost uncontrollable urge to find out the details of why your lovely child just uttered words meant to injure you deeply.
She just said the name you’ve never said to her. The middle name you had removed from her birth certificate. The one inextricably linked to the yarn ball of lies your life was for nearly a decade.
Your body is charged with an urgency you haven’t felt in so long now. The powerful visceral need to understand in order to control these feelings.
You want to get all good cop/bad cop and see what the hell x said that made your adorable little child spew the words that would hurt you so fucking terribly.
But you can’t.
Because it is your adorable child saying it and not the x.
So you breathe. You pause.
Why that name, bubba?
I don’t know. I forget.
The shorthand he’s taught her for don’t tell mommy cause she’ll get mad and you’ll get in trouble and it’s just between you and me.
She says it a lot these days.
He’s told her that telling me certain things will make him look bad.
(He hasn’t told her he makes himself look bad, but that’s the disorder, right? It’s always everyone else’s problem with the actions, not the actions themselves.)
She always tells the whole story eventually. Because you don’t get mad and he doesn’t get in trouble.
Three days ago, unprompted in the car, she said Just to say, you are a better parent.
You don’t say what you want to say.
You pause. You ask questions.
It’s the only way to go. Learn how she feels. What she thinks.
Don’t lead. Follow.
It’s the only way to help her learn how to trust her own reality. How to tell the truth – to say the truth, but also to recognize it.
Better than Daddy.
Because he can’t just agree with anyone. Like the time he yelled loud and wouldn’t stop and I woke up. He just doesn’t care about the other people.
I was thankful to be driving when she said that.
Out of the mouth of babes, they say.
But that observation was almost the kick in the gut her name comment was . . .
She knows. What you wish she never has to know.
And that time he punched the car. That was scary. Like he might break the glass.
I could tell you hundreds of things he’s done to hurt her. In order to hurt me.
You could read the thousands and thousands of words I’ve posted here so far.
My daughter brought up, in the last week alone, him keeping her from preschool graduation and him punching our car. Him pinning her to the bed when she’s bad.
It’s constant. And has been for almost two years now – my child weaponized against me and her little, growing self placed in the middle and always – always – having to discern truth from lies.
Always. At four and five and six years old.
I am fortunate. I have a handful of friends, more than I can count on one hand, who know a great deal of the madness and hold me steady when things are hardest. They have, literally, saved me from devolving into someone afraid to trust anyone. Have helped hold me up to be the mom my daughter deserves.
I am a good mom. How, I don’t know.
I do know: only with more than a little help from my friends.
I also know: only because I got out and have worked to understand what happened and how to protect us both.
I trust myself now – like I used to before x – and I know what I am doing to protect her is right. And necessary.
I know that speaking up is right for me. That the energy I put into making her life as safe as possible is the best and most urgent use of my time and mind.
But, also, the silence of many who love me becomes deafeningly loud some days.
Has been a low level hum for nearly two years now.
Oh, that’s still going on?
Why does she have to share that?
Why does she have to be so loud about it?
Can’t she just get over it and move on, already?
Telling me to move on and stop spending so much energy on *him* is like telling someone stranded in the middle of the ocean to stop kicking so hard and just envision themselves on land.
I am treading. Furiously. Toward land.
Trust me. I’m getting closer each day. I am.
But the waves and the water are there whether you see them or not. Whether you believe in them or not.
They exist. Independent of you giving them credence or not.
There’s not a week that goes by without some sort of thing that requires triage or defense or documenting to protect her and me in future hearings.
Not. A. Week.
The water gets dangerously close to my nose – and more importantly – to my child’s nose nearly every day.
This life is not a line from a to b and it is not a short path.
It is not a matter of mind over matter or positive thinking or just focusing on the good. No matter if you think it is or not.
Telling a survivor of trauma to ‘let go’ is the equivalent of expecting a person to fall off a building and walk away. It’s not just a memory, it’s a wound.A. Simeone
I woke up one day to realize that everything – everything – I believed to be true was a lie.
This is not normal loss. This is not normal betrayal.
I gave my whole heart – honestly and in earnest, for years – to someone who didn’t love me and lied to me, from the beginning, for personal gain.
I built a life and a family with a sociopathic person who is now laser focused on destroying me in any way he can and nothing – nothing – is off limits.
The only sure fire way to heal from this is to break all contact – something entirely impossible if you share children.
And, as I have learned, the protections available for me and my daughter are slow-going and so hard won your head would spin at the snail pace of family court limits for toxic parents.
I am legally required to continue contact with someone who abuses me and our child. In invisible and secret ways that take dedication and perseverance – and loads of time – to prove to the court.
I broke free to save myself and my child and quickly realized I had entered an alternate universe of parenting that I had no clue I was walking into – thankfully, or I may have stayed even longer just to avoid this water-treading life.
I am better now, though, despite it all. For so many reasons and in so many ways.
But this life is hard and requires a vigilance that can appear rigid to outsiders.
At the same time that reality became, finally, crystalline for me, so did the need to communicate it, to raise awareness, to try to help at least one person not to be ignorant to this reality.
Of abuse and leaving it. But also of how to navigate this life that is so terrifying that you stay in abuse to avoid it.
Of how to not fall for the lies. But also, if you did fall for it and then left, to help navigate a full life while being under siege, as my therapist calls it.
The one unifying factor for all of us who have been emotionally and psychologically abused is how alone and isolated and disbelieved we feel.
Some of you think it can’t be that bad.
Some of you think I should heal faster.
Some of you think I should be quieter in my pain.
Some of you think all of this and more.
I often think of the ACT UP mantra of Silence = Death. It’s true for so many things beyond their urgent cry for AIDS action and help.
I can be quiet and cry into my pillow and pause at work to take deep breaths and unfurl my shoulder muscles and I can hold my daughter’s hand when we are alone and brush her hair from her face when she recounts yet another lie and harmful thing that burrows deep into her brain and keeps her from falling asleep easily.
In fact, I do.
In fact, what I say out loud to any of you is only a fraction of what I field each week, each month, each year so far.
I often stay silent. Very often.
But I don’t do it because it makes you uncomfortable.
I do it because if I share it all, I won’t have time for anything else. And I do take time for anything else.
If you’re tired and need a break from my reality, I can respect that. Of course.
I’m tired, too, and if I could hit pause on this I absolutely would and so if you need that, I will give that. For as long as you need.
But I won’t be quiet because this feels yucky to you.
Nothing changes in silence.
Children and protective parents die in silence.
(At least three more in the few weeks I’ve been working on this draft. At least twenty more since I bought a mug with a now outdated number from the Center for Judicial Excellence of 758 children murdered during custody disputes.)
This abuse thrives in silence. Grows like magical beanstalks and decimates whole homes and young children’s lives.
I have been saved daily, in the small unbearable moments, by the voices of others like me who are in the struggle. Whose very existence is like a rope thrown out to me in the sea. Something small to say I can make it. Even if it’s just until bedtime. I can make it.
I have been as successful as I have so far in gaining small protection after small protection because the ones who entered this world before me have shared their wisdom and their encouragement and have raised their voices, despite being told to be quiet or having eyes rolled at them.
Today, as this is posted, I will have hearing number eight. In less than a year and a half. Hearing nine is already scheduled for the end of the summer and I fully expect hearing ten to be scheduled today, for some time off in the future, to check the status of whatever protections the judge puts in place for my child today (fingers crossed).
This is a long haul. It’s not normal. In pretty much every sense of the word.
This process can fully consume your life.
It’s almost impossible to not either make it your focus or give up completely.
I can’t give up, so it can seem that all I do is fight, fight, fight.
It’s so easy to be swallowed by this fight, this life.
I think that’s what you think is happening to me, but it’s not.
I work very hard to live a full life outside of this madness.
I play with my child. We take weekend adventures. We learn new games together.
I go to therapy. I lie still for acupuncture treatments to help my body shed this constant barrage of new trauma on top of the old.
I talk to friends about completely unrelated things and notice, all the time, things I am grateful for in my daily life.
I am living. Living.
I truly am. A life with love and fun and chores and routine and loads of the mundane.
But this madness and struggle for freedom – true freedom – is a huge part of my daily life and so if I can’t talk to you about it, for whatever reason, there will be a moat between us – a layer of air and water and dirt that keeps you from what’s really happening in my life and what I really have to struggle to fend off, what I really have to work to over and over and over heal from… because I can’t fully heal from abuse until it stops.
And it hasn’t stopped. Not yet. Probably not for a very long time from now.
You don’t get it.
Why I spend so much on my lawyer. Why I spend so much time keeping timelines so I can save time when writing up filings.
Why I can’t just save my kid from this without all the legal hoops.
Why I can’t just let go.
You don’t get it.
But it is this thing whether you see it as that or not.
My daughter’s heart and mind aren’t protected because you think they should be.
And certainly not by my silence and resignation.
My reality is hard and wearing and fucked up, at times.
And so I will say that. I will try to show whoever wants to know.
You can kick me under the table.
And I’ll say Ouch! And then What the fuck was that?
And then I will still say what I feel needs to be said.
I will speak for myself. And my child.
And all those folks who are scared to speak up.
This abuse is the domain of cowards who try to make us all either too afraid to speak up or they try to make us seem too crazy to believe.
And at the same time, they spin and spin and spin to try to keep us too dizzy to talk out loud.
I will keep saying what needs to be said.
Piling up evidence until my child – and all children – are protected from this madness.
I will keep talking. For whoever is listening.
If you don’t get it, you don’t get it.
That has nothing to do with reality.
Not mine, at least.