For the past two Fridays, I’ve been telling you about my difficult childhood and how that caused me to develop, and hang onto, certain behaviors. [Read more…]
Twenty years ago, Bill and I were about to be engaged, but I asked him to meet my therapist first. After a half-hour chat, Dr. N turned to me and said, “He’s got a job. What the hell do you see in him?” We all laughed, but it underscored my poor marital record.
With husband #1, I felt as if we were family on our very first date, when he made fun of my appearance. A few years after we married, he quit work and retired to the sofa. I wrote in my diary that if I were happy 10% of the time, that should be enough. I left him after the second time he beat me.
Five years after that divorce, I was very lonely. I almost didn’t care that husband-to-be #2, in his mid-thirties, lived with his sister and drove a car that barely ran. A recovered drug addict, he owned nothing in the world. But he was so smart, so artistic, and so compellingly broken. After we married, he quit working, but he never beat me, so I counted myself happy. I gave him a roof over his head and health insurance. He gave me astronomy, geology, history, music, and when he relapsed, drugs.
Why would I, a smart, hardworking honor student, grow up and choose such men?
- Because they were familiar.
- Because I didn’t know how to tell good people from bad. After all, I’d been taught that my father could break my eardrum or give me a bloody nose and still deserve my love and loyalty.
- Because my religion taught me to turn the other cheek, and love the sinner.
As a result, I didn’t know what to do with bad people. Their pain was like a claim ticket. All they had to do was show it to me and I was obligated to cash it.
And what was “bad,” anyway? When I consider what my dad went through as a little kid, I could cry. I love and miss him to this day. That’s messed up, right? To feel so much empathy that you bond for life with an abuser?
Well, it’s textbook codependency. You feel your fate is tied to theirs. You only exist insofar as you are useful to others. You don’t know what to do with yourself if you don’t have a purpose that somehow serves humanity. You’re a people-pleaser, hypervigilant, and/or you have a relentless sense of responsibility for everybody and everything. Maybe you’re addicted to alcohol, food, drugs, sex, or overwork.
As I learn about myself under the guidance of a trusted coach, I’m having a lot of thoughts and dreams. Even a nightmare or two.
But there’s a silver lining: my behaviors, developed appropriately as a child and continued inappropriately into my seventh decade, can now stop. Now that I know they were textbook protective reactions, I can choose how to react, how to behave, and even how to feel.
A few days ago, we babysat our grandkids for a few hours. When their daddy, my son, came home, he insisted we stay and visit a while, and we had a great conversation. When mommy came home, it continued. What a warm, close feeling I had, sharing their lives. But then after we left, I felt that familiar sense of loss, of disconnection. Of being separated from the whole.
Newly informed, however, I reminded myself that no matter how real it felt, it was an illusion; nothing more than learned behavior, nothing more than the fossilized remains of childhood trauma.
If you are in an abusive situation, understand this: abusive behavior is generational. Please get help – if not for yourself (Janay Rice), then for your child, who will in ten or twelve years go looking for a man to knock her out cold in an elevator.
My earliest memory precedes language. I was about 18 months old when I heard my mother crying for the first time. [Read more…]
At this age, many of us are evaluating our lives, wondering why we made so many bad choices.
In her brand-new memoir, my friend Kathy Pooler, nurse, cancer survivor, and all-around-good girl, comes to understand why she married two abusive and borderline-dangerous men. It’s a great narrative which reads like a novel. As I read, I felt like screaming “NO!” Of course, it’s easy to say that now, having earned better judgment after living through my own bad decisions.
In the following interview, edited for brevity, Kathy refers to “magical thinking,” a phrase popularized by the great Joan Didion. In general, this is when you cling to the hope that something will happen to magically change your spouse from, say, a philanderer to faithful, or an addict to drug-or-alcohol-free, if only we love them enough. If only we put up with enough. If only…
Why did you write Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse?
I started out writing a different story about a cancer diagnosis and watching a beloved son spiral downward into substance abuse but realized I could not write about that until I wrote about getting into and out of two abusive marriages…It is possible to climb out of the abyss of poor decisions and go on to live life on your own terms.
Was there any one person who was your inspiration for your main character?
Me. I was driven by the question: “How does a young woman from a loving Catholic family make so many wise choices about career, yet so many poor choices about love, that she and her two children end up escaping from her second husband for fear of physical abuse?” It was time to answer the question that had been asked of me my entire life by those who loved me.
In the book, you say “a loving family, a solid career and a strong faith cannot rescue her until she decides to rescue herself.” Why do you feel that way?
One of the lessons I learned when I wrote this book is that…I only needed to claim and honor my own inner strength. I was the only one who could do it for myself. It sounds so simple, but it took me years to realize this.
What’s the most important thing readers will learn from Ever Faithful to His Lead?
Three things come to mind:
- One does not have to sustain broken bones or bruises to be abused. Emotional abuse is harmful and the impact on the children of mothers who are in abusive relationships is far-reaching and damaging.
- Abuse impacts all socioeconomic groups. I was a masters-prepared nurse from a loving family and yet I got into two emotionally abusive marriages.
- Denial and magical thinking can keep one from recognizing abusive behavior and taking action.
Lynne here. Whew. I’m no stranger to domestic abuse – grew up with it and married into it, twice (but I must clarify that, as with Kathy, we are now in loving, gratifying marriages). But this memoir took me back. On a lighter note, I enjoyed the references to Growing Up Boomer, since Kathy and I are the same age. Ever Faithful is an enlightening book, one that younger women would benefit from reading – before they choose life partners.
Let’s switch gears and talk about the writing life. I asked Kathy:
When do you write? Is it easier to write in the morning or at night?
I don’t have a specific routine. The muse can strike early in the morning, in the afternoon or late at night. I’ve had times when I’ve awakened up in the middle of the night to write because the thoughts swirling in my head would not let me rest until they found a place on the page. I do know that if I do not get my quota of writing done during the day, I often end up staying up late.
Who’s your favorite author?
That’s a tough question because I read a variety of authors. But two of my favorites are James Michener for the rich detail of his historical novels and Ernest Hemingway for his sparse prose that says so much. And of course, Lynne Spreen! I mean, if Jim and Ernie were alive today, they’d want to know her secret for slapping a novel together.
Okay, I wrote that. – LMS
Where can we buy the book? Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, my website, Pen & Publish Press.
10% of the proceeds of the sale of Ever Faithful to His Lead will go toward the National Coalition for the Awareness of Domestic Violence.