Sunday, September 29, 2019

Digging deep and moving forward

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog and I wasn’t planning to write one for a while but sometimes you just know when it’s time to get back in the saddle. My last blog was about my daughter not doing well in school. Since then, she graduated from high school and started college with a scholarship and is doing very well—I’m surprised, too. She’s happy, she’s getting out the house, she’s got a new perspective on life and more importantly, she’s being honest about herself and working on her shit. It’s been pretty awesome to watch.

But man, these past few years have been a struggle for me. And it’s not just her constant anger and sadness that were taking a toll on me. I had become somewhat of a constant caretaker to my sick husband who has been in and out of the hospital so many times these past several years I lost track. Holidays became a blur and days were filled with that constant dread of, ‘is today going to be a good day or another bad day?’ I think I finally got to the end of my rope when I came home from work in April to find him unresponsive. I couldn’t find his pulse, his heart was racing so high you could see his shirt flutter on his chest and he couldn’t wake up. Luckily, my daughter had stayed home from school that day (again) and called me and asked me to come home and check on him because he was still asleep at noon. It turned out to be a staph infection—not sure how that happened but the doctor did give me a lecture on keeping my house clean. You know, because people never get staph infections when they’ve been in the hospital repeatedly, but whatever. Add it to the list of things that made me angry that week.

I’m not really sure how my husband survived that episode, but once again, we left the hospital and went home and tried to regroup. He had open heart surgery at the end of May to repair his leaky valve and small hole he had in heart and seemed to be on the mend but then his gallbladder went south and we spent a good portion of the summer in the hospital. He couldn’t drive and I think that’s when I finally realized, I’ve gotta get some help.

We finally got to redeem what was left of summer
break with a trip to the beach.
During all of this craziness in the past few years, I somehow showed up for work at 4 a.m. every day, left around 1 p.m. and freelanced until around 3 p.m. and picked up my son from school. I did the grocery shopping, dropped my kids at whatever activity they did that day, went home to work some more and cook dinner and then pick up kids and then tried to get everyone to sit at the table to eat dinner like a normal family so I could at least get a chance to look at my family and find out how everyone’s day was and then get ready for bed so I could get up in the morning and do it all over again and hope that my phone didn’t ring with someone sick or someone refusing to go to school or someone needed whatever last bit of energy I had left in my body.

And to top it all off, I had grown to really hate my job at the TV station. I loved the people I worked with but the work itself was miserable. My freelance work helped me balance that part of my life for a while, but it just finally got to be too much. My job was to create content for our website and to create content for our social media. I had one other co-worker who did the same job as me and we weren’t scheduled to work weekends, but we were routinely expected to also fill that web content void on the weekend, so it was hard to tune out work or live a normal work routine. And if you’ve ever spent much time on a news channel’s social media page, you know what I was up against. The comments, which we had to monitor, were horrible. “Fake news! Fake news! Fake news!” It didn’t matter what I wrote and reported, there were always the usual suspects that were constantly lurking in the shadows just waiting for me to post a news story about the president’s latest twitter rant or gay marriage or claims that the Georgia race for governor was a complete cluster when it came to voter suppression—these are not my personal stories, these are what us journalists call actual news that people need to know about. And forget facts, those people don’t care if you put logic and facts in a news story, they will stay say it’s fake news and I should lose my job.
I’d have people call at 5 a.m. to ask me why I was reporting lies and how I should lose my job. And these same people don’t just want to hurt your feelings, many of them want to physically hurt you. Walking to and from my car in our gated parking lot became more of a race every day. I was scared. And then when I had to spend the last hurricane sleeping at the station and working 12 hours shifts while my family was safely stashed away on the other side of the state, I realized something very important, I’ll always have the heart of ‘girl reporter’ and I love my free speech, but I’m not going to die for journalism—at least not while my family is so completely dependent on me.

So, in June, I quit that job and took a corporate marketing gig and made the decision to take a break from freelance and try to find myself again. It’s easy to lose yourself when your entire life is all about taking care of everyone else but yourself. It’s easy to set your brain on autopilot and just get up every day, do your job, take care of everything, go to bed and do it all over again. And again, and again.

I decided that after I felt like I had taken that break, I would go back to writing and working on some personal projects I’ve had to put on hold for the past few years since it’s hard to do anything personal when  you work 60 hours a week typing away on your keyboard for other people.

Yesterday, I talked to my dad on the phone to catch up and check in and he asked if I was working on my personal writing projects yet. I told him no, and said, I know I’m going to have to dig deep to work on it and I’m not ready to do that yet. As an artist, he understood what I meant, and I was glad to not have to explain it any more than that. It’s not just about digging in and pulling up the anger and sadness that fuels the work, it’s about being in a place where you can unplug from the world long enough to dig deep and find the words you want to say. And plus, part of being able to get up, work, cook, clean, repeat is being able to turn off those thoughts and feelings. At least for me it is.

And quite frankly, I’m not sure if I really am ready to dig deep because part of me is worried it’s going to open up all this sadness and anger I’ve been holding in these past few years because there hasn’t been space in my life to allow those feelings to sink in.

About a week ago, I found out one of my favorite teachers from high school passed away. He and his family had lived across the street from us when I was little, so I had a special connection to him aside from school. I was telling my husband about him and the tears came to my eyes. I realized I instantly shut that down. I honestly don’t remember the last time I just cried or let myself just let go and feel the pain and sadness—or the happiness.

But as my mom says, the feeling is the healing. If you don’t let yourself truly feel those feelings, it’s damn hard to heal that crap. So, I guess it’s time to pick up the old laptop and start healing the way I know how to heal by clicking away at this keyboard over and over until I get those words on the page and can move on to something else. I mean, life moves fast, and if I’m not careful, I’ll be old and wonder what ever happened to that project I wanted to finish. But more importantly, I’ll look in the mirror and wonder what the hell ever happened to that girl reporter who was ready to set the world on fire with her words.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Leave it to Google to put your problems in perspective

Before I get into this blog, I want to be sure to explain that I have a lot of guilt just writing this. In my line of work, I see terrible stories everyday about parents losing their children, having children taken away from them, or parents desperate for their children to return home. I cannot imagine that pain and I’m not in any way trying to say that what I am going through now is in any way like losing a child. I know, in the end, I am the lucky one. I still have my child. I still love her and she deep down still loves me. 
Remember this guy?

That being said, you can probably guess what I am about to write. My 18-year-old daughter has decided she’s an adult now and doesn’t need or want to be at home any longer. Which to some people may sound harmless but the way she has decided to just destroy every important relationship in her life along with her future is nothing short of heartbreaking. 
She’s failing school and very likely won’t graduate from high school even though she’s already been accepted to college and has the opportunity to get scholarships to pay for most of it. She’s destroyed meaningful relationships because she just has to get her way. When she doesn’t get her way, she has an absolute meltdown and won’t stop pushing and poking until she gets what she wants and if you don’t give it to her, well then, she has to keep pushing until that relationship is simply destroyed. The words that come out of her mouth are frightening. Yes, she's in therapy, and now that really isn't working.
And all of this is going on while my husband has been in the hospital and has been very sick and can’t drive or go to work. So, yeah, it’s been stressful lately to say the least. 
But I’m not trying to get anyone’s sympathy—as I said in the beginning, my issues will most likely work themselves out, this will pass, and life will go on. Nothing has been permanently damaged... yet. 
The point of writing this blog is for a few reasons. One, to just let others know that this kind of distress can happen to anyone. And two, to find the humor in a bad situation. Because if you can’t laugh about, what are you going to do? Cry? Sure, I’ve cried, but I’m ready to laugh a little now.  
The other day, I had one of those early morning phone calls from my daughter while I was at work and she was supposed to be getting ready for school at home. She calls with this weak voice that lets me know, she’s about to tell me about how bad she feels and why she can’t go to school again. My neck immediately tenses up at the sound of the weak, “mama?” I tell her she has to go to school and hang up the phone knowing that it’s going to be one of those bad days and there is no telling what is waiting for me when I get home.  
My fingers go to the keyboard of my computer and I type in “how do you kick out an adult child from your home?” My anger slowly starts to slide and I find myself almost laughing. I scan down the page to see the related searches include: 
  1. Can I legally hit my adult child?
  2. It is legal to lock your adult child out of your house?
  3. Can you move out your adult child’s belongings from your home without their consent?
  4. Are you legally responsible to feed your adult child? 
The list keeps going. I start to wonder, what else are parents like me typing into Google after dealing with an ungrateful, self-destructive child? But most importantly, it showed me, I’m not alone—not by a long shot.  
I think the biggest takeaway I’ve gotten through all of this is to learn the answer to an even more important question, “how do you stop enabling an ungrateful, self-destructive child?” Because at the end of the day, the only thing I can control is myself. And the only thing that keeps me going in the right direction is to put an image of my daughter in my head where she walks away from her own children and husband one day because she didn’t get her way and I never made the tough decisions to not enable this type of behavior.  
She has a long road ahead of herself and hopefully she’ll get back on track before she destroys her chance to go to college next year and more importantly, before she destroys all of the important relationships in her life and is left all alone with nothing.  But she has to figure that out—you cannot make someone happy and you cannot make someone change when they do not want to change. Not sure why I need to keep learning that lesson, but apparently, I do. 
In the meantime, I’ll find ways to distract myself with getting out of the house and Google searches. Which reminds me, the related searches for "how can I get my adult child to behave,” are pretty great, too.  

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Scratching the surface

“Scratching the surface.” It’s a phrase we use for a lot for different reasons. Sometimes we use it to tell people we want them to tell us more—“I think you’re just scratching the surface.” Or we use it to tell someone we have more to say—“Hold on, I’m just scratching the surface.”

For some people, scratching the surface in a confession is truly an art form. They know how to admit just enough that you believe they are telling the entire story. I mean you have to, right? If they admit to something you never thought they’d admit to, then they must be telling the full story.

Until you see someone repeatedly “scratch the surface” in a confession, you probably don’t even realize that’s what he is doing.

I just finished the four-part documentary, “Lorena.” It’s about the saga many of us watched unfold on television between John and Lorena Bobbitt. She became famous for cutting off his penis and he became famous for something I’m still not sure of. Their story really should have centered on violence against women, but it turned into something else—something really sad and hopefully something that will start a bigger conversation on violence against women.

One of the state prosecutors interviewed in the doc says she remembers when John was arrested (again) for domestic violence against a woman in Virginia and how the prosecutor went back to look at what he had told police. The reason she gave was that she had learned that men who are serial abusers have a history of giving confessions that only scratch the surface of what really took place. They admit to possibly hitting the woman rather than denying the entire event completely. It’s a tactic used to get people to think, ‘well he must be telling the truth.’ It’s also a great tactic to give the man sympathy and to find a way to turn the investigation back on the woman to make her look like she is exaggerating or somehow deserved a good ole slap in the face--an of course to believe him when he says he'll never do it again.

And this tactic isn’t just used by serial abusers, it’s used by others in in our lives who are manipulative, mentally abusive, sociopaths, and narcissistic. I’ve seen it. It took me a long time to understand that my ex used this tactic. He would get caught doing something big. He would act so sad about being caught and then say, “I’m just going to tell you everything.”

And when you’ve been kept in the dark for so long and all you want is the other person to just open-up and talk to you, you’re willing to accept any morsel of what may seem like the truthful statement you have been dying to hear for years.

The confessions would be explosive—things I’d never heard before. And it would be so explosive that I would quickly assume it had to be whole the story—I mean, how could there be more? Over the years, I would slowly begin to realize, he was just scratching the surface. There was a whole other story going on. I was getting just a crumb of what would turn out to be an entire cookie and that cookie was just a part of an entire package of secrets, lies, deception, and a really tragic backstory that led this person to become this way. 

And when you see that entire package for the first time, you realize why you were OK with the crumbs you got from scratching the surface—the truth can be almost paralyzing. It can be heartbreaking and mind-numbing. I think it’s just human nature to put up a wall that keeps you from “really” wanting to know the entire truth—like you just don’t believe you can really handle the truth and you know your life will change forever once that entire package is revealed.

 But the truth will also set you free in the end. It’s a process for sure, but if you never allow yourself to really know the truth, how will you ever really know what you are truly made of and what your life is meant to be. How can you live your truth if you don’t know the truth?

And the next time someone abusive in your life tries to just “scratch the surface” to turn the blame back on you, just remember there was once this woman who had been repeatedly traumatized by a man to the point she took something very important to him and threw it in a field on the side of the road—and he still had the nerve to try to make her look like the crazy one…. And people believed him.

As Lil Wayne would say, “now, where’s the uproar?”

Sometimes you have to get really mad to see the crumbs of truth are just a part of that bigger cookie sitting in that bag. It’s up to you as to what you do with that anger—but I would suggest shining a light on what’s truly the rest of the story. Own it, tell it, and live your truth now matter if anyone believes you or not. Because somewhere out there, someone else knows you are telling the truth because she has lived through the same crap and she's smart enough to know the difference between crumbs and a whole damn pack of cookies. 

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Gaslight much?

Verb: manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity. 
"In the first episode of her life, Jane is gaslighted by her former husband." 

I used to call it the Jedi mind trick. The idea that a person can just say something with such resolve that it must be true—say with such certainty that obviously I’m somehow crazy.  
I still have a really hard time if I feel someone is trying to gaslight me. I think it’s probably one of the biggest things in my life that I get really defensive about. Sometimes it’s hard to know if someone is just mistaken about what just happened or if they are trying to manipulate me. Either way, I don’t like the feeling that my memory is completely wrong.  
There is new documentary on Netflix right now called “Abducted in Plain Sight.” It’s truly shocking and will probably make you rethink people in your own life or past. The true story in the documentary shows the extremes of manipulation—a man works for years through a series of lies and manipulation to get into a family and control the parents with shame and guilt in order to take their young daughter away to be his lover. Yeah, it’s creepy as hell. 

I think the response I hear the most from people who watched this documentary, is “how in the hell do you let someone do that to your family?” I’m sure that’s the question this family will now have to endure for the rest of their lives.  
But really, how does that happen?  
If you’ve ever had to live with someone in your life who is a sociopath (Defined as: ‘a person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience) then you know that something as crazy as this movie can happen to anyone.  
And the question, “How did you not know?” becomes a popular question among friends when you finally tell your truth. 
I think the question comes from what most of us feel when we see a movie like “Abducted in Plain Sight,” is simply, “Could this ever happen to me?” 
If you know my story, then you know I spent almost 17 years of my life with someone that I would now refer to as a sociopath. It took me many years to understand that he was a sociopath and what that term actually means. If you know me, then you also know, I’m smart. So, if you think intelligence will protect you, then you underestimate the power of a sociopath. 
For instance, some characteristics of a sociopath include: Superficial charm and good intelligence; absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking; absence of nervousness or neurotic manifestations; unreliability; untruthfulness and insincerity; lack of remorse and shame; inadequately motivated antisocial behavior; poor judgment and failure to learn by experience; pathologic egocentricity and incapacity for love; general poverty in major affective reactions; specific loss of insight; unresponsiveness in general interpersonal relations; fantastic and uninviting behavior with alcohol and sometimes without; suicide threats rarely carried out; sex life impersonal, trivial, and poorly integrated; failure to follow any life plan. 
But I think the most important thing to know about sociopaths is that the traits they seek out in people to take advantage of are the same traits most of us already have--which is why we have to realize that it really can happen to anyone. Your life could be the next trending Netflix documentary.  
Why? Because we all make mistakes. I know in my personal life I did things that I am not proud of and those are the points in your life that a sociopath can use to control you. And that’s how it begins--and from there, it’s just a matter of time before you’re down that rabbit hole and people are asking you the question--how did you not know? 
And the only truthful answer I can give is that a part of me did know but the bigger part of me, the part that I wanted to believe, did not truly acknowledge or even have the power to acknowledge what was really going on in my life. 
I think the best gift I got out of what happened to me many years ago is the gift of knowing that even if you’re a smart, good, loving person, bad things can happen to you. You can end up broke, you can end up with your kids in therapy, you can end up alone, you can end up on food stamps and government healthcare, you can end up in debt, you can end up getting behind on bills, your house can go into foreclosure, you can be publicly humiliated, you can feel like the biggest failure on the planet. 
And why would that be a gift? Because in the end, there is always going to be a part of us that can be abducted in plain sight—for some of us it’s our trust, our marriage, our belief in other people, our faith. For others, it’s their dignity, their family, their home, their money.  And when that end happens, people are going to ask, “how did you not know?”  
I didn’t know. Even though the truth was right there in plain sight, I just didn’t see it. I beat up myself for it. I was embarrassed. I replayed moments over and over in my mind. I’ve seen my friends do the same thing in their own lives—wondering how they allowed someone they cared for to trick them, lie to them, gaslight them.  
It’s OK. Bad things are going to happen to you in plain sight, it’s how you handle it inside yourself that matters in the end.  
I have a friend who is going through a divorce right now and the part I think that seems to bother her the most is that she feels she wasted 20 years of her life with a person that she knew didn’t really love her or respect her. And my response to her is to just forget that part—focus on the now. Focus on what you can control and focus on where you want to go.  
Don’t waste your time beating yourself up or feeling like an idiot or feeling like you have to answer questions about how you didn’t really know. Because in the end, it doesn’t matter what happened. Telling yourself that you are stupid is just a way to gaslight yourself. And why do any of us need anyone else gaslighting us?