I was in a relaxing bath thinking when some memories came unbidden, as they are often wont to do. This year, in 4 days, marks 9 years since my father killed himself. This coming March marks 10 years since I left my ex-husband. They are a matched set, you see, because they occurred in the same year. This is a note to perhaps explain some things and to give thanks to a small cadre of people who have seen me at my worst.
First, I need to give a public shout out to those people who have seen me crumble to my barest self, pitiful, mewling, hurting, terrified, and trying to fight my way out of a rush of memories that consumed me. These people may have pitied me or looked upon me differently after, but they never showed it nor said it. They helped me fight my way back from the very edge of absolute insanity and loss, they stood by while I lashed out during my PTSD flashbacks and hurt them physically. They held me down and talked to me, to bring me back to me. They gave me a kick in the ass when I was drowning a bit too much in my own self-doubt or pity. They kept loving me despite it. They kept at least some modicum of faith in me, despite it. Those people would be Kd, Scott, Loki, James, Brandy, and Tracy. (There are others, but I honestly cannot remember some due to my drug-like haze after the flashbacks…My apologies; it is not my intention to slight you.) I showed the worst parts of me to each of them at least once, and they kept me around..they still loved me..they still kicked me in the teeth to remind me I have worth.. and as much as all this that follows is something I can’t seem to say out loud (not because of lack of desire, but because my words fumble when I cannot type them concisely), this is a thank you, to you all.
It took me several years after leaving my ex-husband to realize I was never in love with him. I felt the love, so realizing this was the hardest part of my “getting over” him and “moving on”. He was a highly abusive narcissistic twat, and he turned controlling me in to an art form in many ways..but never fully, which he loathed. It took me years to realize I was in love…with the person he showed me for nearly two years – a person he never was. Being in an abusive relationship, the lines between the real person and the mask is very difficult to discern until it is all over. And sometimes even then, it is hard to see. Narcissistic abusers don’t just drop the mask, you see. They let it slip slightly here and there until you are at the bottom of a chasm of fear and doubt and hurt wondering what the hell just happened. In reality, you have been slowly climbing down that chasm yourself, never noticing your meandering saunter carried you there until the way out was gone from your sight. Being the stupidly loyal person I am, I stayed, thinking I had to at least be there to help him, if he’d have it. Help him become the person he was, the person I knew he could be. I knew he could be because I had seen him. I had lived with him, laughed with him, loved with him. He was there, under all the bile and physical pain. I felt guilty about thinking about leaving, because that’s not what people do. When you love someone, when you’re a friend, you stay and help. You are the calming presence or kick in the ass or helping hand up, right? Even knowing there was a point you had to walk away. But where is that point?? This is something for which I still struggle to find. Where is the line between giving up too easily or staying too long? I dance that line never knowing. But I try. It doesn’t make it easier for me to sleep at night, nor does it quell my conscience at all, but I try. It is not in my nature to simply walk away from something I do not want to do or fear. I have to dance to see where the song goes. So I stayed until it was abundantly clear I passed that line an excessively long time ago.
But leaving something like this is just a physical leaving. It is an important step, but it is the easiest to take, though it is indescribably torturous at the time. I was far over my fear of him, as I’d accepted that he would kill me. That acceptance created a deep well of peace and serenity within me because once I no longer feared death, I could think. I could function. I could act instead of react. I could control my adrenaline instead of letting it control me. That is a trick I have most thankfully retained. Being able to remain inwardly calm and cold and calculating when my world has imploded has served me well in insurmountable ways… Yet that was still the easy part. Which is saying quite a lot considering my mind was racing with thoughts of him showing up at the house while I packed all my daughter’s belongings and a single bag for me. And my guitars and trumpet and computer. I grabbed the important things, you see. 🙂 There was guilt over “giving up” even though I knew that was not what I was doing. There was fear that my daughter would be put in danger if he showed up before we left. I don’t have fear over myself to this day, you see. I only have fear in what happens to my children. That entire relationship and marriage broke some very important parts of me, but it created or strengthened other parts. I now know just how far I will go to survive and to make sure my children do, also. I know how far I am willing to go and of what I am capable, and that is a sobering yet powerful knowledge. There is such strength in this, that words will never be able to actually describe it in its entirety.
I left. I absolute have Katie & Christie to thank for their words and support and love and physical help and protection when I left. They were my rocks and salvation. I tried, and failed, to heal. My dad killed himself 7 months later and I had new deep-cut wounds to try to heal. My internal anguish was put on the back burner for a long while as I dealt with my father’s death and estate, my mother’s declining health, and a house full of people. Somewhere around July of the next year, something in me snapped as I realized I was holding on to a dying ember for a man who never existed. In the interim, I taught myself how to focus on the positive and ALWAYS see something beautiful. Always. During that 16 month period, I completely changed my entire outlook on life and it has made all the difference. It has made ALL the difference.
I moved back to Atlanta, the demons seemingly at bay. I thought the worst was over. I began dating again, got a good job, reconnected with old friends and made new. I messed up, I did well, I lived. I was mostly happy. But I never really shared what happened. I tried, don’t get me wrong. I can talk about all of it, but talking doesn’t touch me at all. It is like I am recounting a movie I watched. I started dating someone that I could just BE with. Talking to him helped. I was actually sharing, not just talking. The downside to this is all the walls I didn’t know I created were washed away in a single admission one bright beautiful day. The screaming nightmares began that night. Things happened, the guy and I quit talking, the nightmares remained. I got to where I was drinking half to three quarters of a fifth a night just to sleep quietly, because I was waking my daughter and neighbours every night with my screams. Each night, I was reliving every hit, every kick, every swing, every word and sight and smell. Only in my dreams, I begged and cried and was terrified. In my subconscious state, I was finally allowing myself to feel everything I couldn’t at the time. All the emotions I refused to let myself feel so I could survive came rushing back in a painful recounting of absolute horror that I just could not stop. Except through alcohol. I made it to work every day, I did well, I functioned. I cried myself to sleep in muffled wails and sobs every night. One night each week, I refused to drink to make sure I wasn’t turning in to an absolute alcoholic, where I didn’t feel I “needed” it. I functioned. But I was hurting, and no amount of talking helped. Things happened, as they always do. I quit drinking so much, I began pushing my way back to happy. But when I drank, if I hit my head near or on the scar my ex-husband gave me as a token of his.. esteem.. it would instantly send me crashing back in to those horrors again. I hurt a few people listed at the top during this. But they were calm and patient and compassionate. They were my anchor in a storm of rage and guilt and self-loathing that I still swim every day. They are the reason I survived intact mentally and emotionally. Suicide never crossed my mind, but there are worse things than death. I lived those things constantly a long time, and I dance with them daily, still.
They sat on top of me and held me down while I raged against an enemy they couldn’t see.
They held my face and called out to me to come back to them.
They hugged me when I snapped back to reality, confused and hurting and terrified.
They held me while I cried and raged.
They weren’t accusing when they could have been.
They didn’t admonish me for drinking when I knew this could happen. Not for a while, anyway.
They were, are, will always be, my family. Yes, others exist in my family, also, but all the people tagged above proved beyond all others that we are family. A tribe. A fucked up group of miscreants that are there for each other even if..when.. we screw up royally.
If I am honest, and I usually am a bit too much, I hear, I drank on purpose because I had to get everything out. I couldn’t seem to let that wall down sober even when I tried. Even though I wanted to. I couldn’t seem to face everything. The funny thing is I could remember every sight, smell, sound, word spoken, hit, feeling..everything before the walls were eradicated, casting me in to the murky oil-slick throes of PTSD flashbacks, but I could not once the walls were down. I could remember the emotions of the flashbacks, but never what happened..until one night at a concert. I was dragged outside by Scott and I had a bootprint on my head. That was when the admonishments began. I’d seriously endangered myself and had it not been for him and Loki, there is a pretty good chance I’d be dead or internally destroyed. But that boot to the head jogged everything. And whatever happened while I was on the floor being kicked in that crowd brought everything rushing back while I was awake. As much as I made a TOTAL and COMPLETE ass of myself, it was worth it because the nightmares stopped being a daily occurrence. I have not had a single full-on flashback since, where I got caught in the tides and could not tell it was not reality. I’ve had PTSD tremors, I guess you could call them, where something triggered a memory, but I was there. Present. I was awake and sober for it. I’ve gotten stupid drunk a few times since then where I sunk in to the extreme guilt of “why didn’t I leave sooner” or “how could I” but these people were there when it happened. I guess these are the people I knew I could trust to take care of me, because even the strong cannot always stand. Sometimes we need that tribe, that family, to kick us in the ass, or carry us to safety.
One day, maybe my healing will be complete. Maybe there will be someone by my side that silently understands and squeezes my hand when an errant flash of guilt or sorrow hits me. Maybe not. Maybe it will always be there, because I don’t have that one person who shows me it’s okay to trust again. You know; “the one” or whatever. That “one” you can actually share all the shit with, not just most of it. The “one” you can unpack the luggage with. Not that friends or family can’t help you unpack some, but the last remnants always seem to take that one person who is..present. There. Maybe called a soulmate, best friend, lover, spouse, whatever; that person you can share everything with and rest easy knowing none of your demons scare them at all. They caress your demons and quiet them when they need quieting, and rile them up when there is work to be done. I’d like that peace, but I honestly don’t want the bullshit it takes to find it. But no matter what happens or doesn’t happen in the future, I can rest easy that when I needed to let go, I had good.. no. I had some of the finest twisted freaks and fiends on this planet to hold me tenderly and say it’s okay. I had broken pieces of me brushed aside and I was still loved for the broken mess I was, am, will always be. I was loved despite my faults and failings and fallings. And I was, am, allowed to love them in return.
And to you fine twisted freaks and fiends I am grateful. I am thankful. Every day, I am here because you allowed me to break and you didn’t run. I know I was a mess and I always will be, just as I’ll always be self-destructive and pained and running towards danger with a sneer and two middle fingers proudly pointed up. But you love me anyway, and that’s pretty damn amazing. Thank you, and I love you, too.