The Art of Driving Your Own Bus

I’m always interested in knowing what other people’s experience in therapy is like. Mine has been a Godsend. My therapist hits me with real, honest truths even when I don’t want to hear them. She listens to me try to rationalize my feelings and points out what I’m responsible for and what is not my responsibility. A lot of what I feel guilt and sadness for I have no control over. It’s simply a reaction to what has been done to me and what I’ve been through.

Several months ago I had a discussion with someone about therapy. This person relayed their appointment and now their therapist said they needed to “Drive their own bus” and stop letting the events of their past dictate their future. The premise was that, instead of letting the anger he experienced in the past be his driving force in life, he take control and drive his bus instead of clinging angrily on to the roof of it while other people drive it.

One problem with that- this person has used the proverbial bus to run over everything and everyone in his path, leaving a trail of destruction wherever he goes. I was no exception.

You see, in order for therapy to work, you have to be honest. You have to talk about things in a way that doesn’t make you look great sometimes. You have to admit fault. You have to come clean. It’s the only way you get everything you need out of therapy. The only way therapy works is if you are an open book and you have a therapist that gives you honest, sometimes brutal advice based on your own brutal honesties.

Do I think that this person told their therapist they had taken full advantage of a grieving widow and her child mere months after the loss of their beloved husband and father?

No. No I don’t.

I was always a secret in this situation. I don’t expect him to have been honest about me behind the closed doors of an office door, either.

After picking over every single detail of my last relationship with my therapist we have come to many conclusions, but the biggest one is that my intent was to do no harm. I allowed myself to be “the secret” because he convinced me that my existence would hurt his children. He convinced me my existence would hurt his parents. He convinced me that anything more that being a secret fixture in his life and a “friend” in public would hurt him, even though my daughter and I were the only ones who saw pain and loss in this situation. He was a daily fixture in our lives and then he wasn’t. Neither of us understand that to this day.

We were run over, and he was the one driving the bus.

I have struggled with the notion that forgiving someone doesn’t mean forgetting. My therapist and my spiritual mentors pointed out that as Christians, we are called to forgive. We are also called to hold the guilty accountable for their actions. Holding them accountable breaks my heart all over again, although I may be the only person in their life that has ever said “What you did is not ok. I have forgiven you, but I will hold you accountable because that’s what I am required to do so you don’t do this to anyone else”.

The trouble with empathy is that you take on emotional responsibility for what happens to people who don’t care what happens to you. You mistakenly think that everyone is empathetic, and that is not the case. Some people are happy to leave you in the middle of the road bleeding to death after running over you with their bus and moving on quickly to their next victim. Some people are given every opportunity to wrong their rights but don’t.

You can’t force them to. You can hope. You can pray about it. But in the end, personal choice wins every time. I have found myself making deals with what feels like the devil. “Well if he would just produce the title to the car, I could overlook XYZ. If he would just pay me monthly, I can see that he’s making an effort to return the money he took from us, and I wouldn’t have to move forward to make him do it.” My therapist told me his intentions are clear- he doesn’t think he did anything wrong, his parents don’t think he did anything wrong, he’s surrounded by people who enable him so he will never right his wrongs. His lifestyle and beliefs will not allow him to. All traits of narcissistic personality disorder.

Still, I empathize. I pray for the addict in him. I pray for the habitual gambler. I pray for the sinner. I pray for the person who is so broken that, when he saw me that first day in Starbucks minding my own business, decided I was an easy target and continued to break what was left of me. Throughout the entirety of our relationship I kept thinking “He has so much potential. If he could just get his life together he would be so great”. I found myself waiting out the bad times because he promised good times were coming. This person has had opportunity after opportunity to be loved. He has been in the company of some pretty amazing women and blew every shot he had with the same behavior he had with me. There is something really tragically sad about someone who uses and abuses women the way he does. There is something really wrong with someone who can bond with my young child and use her as a way to get closer to me and earn my trust, and then discard both of us like we are nothing. But that’s what happened.

Driving your own bus, to him, meant only looking out for number one. It meant doing whatever it took to get himself ahead, even if it meant taking everything we had. It meant lying, cheating, and stealing. It meant leaving me with a car I own but cannot drive. It meant seeing me so sad, traumatized, and broken by him and telling people that I’m “crazy” and “delusional”.

It’s important to remember as you drive your own bus through life, that you do no harm. The sum of your character is how you treat people. The sum of your character is how you right your wrongs. The sum of your character is how, even when making decisions that hurt people, you correct yourself when you need to.

This requires a bus full of people. My abuser’s bus is empty. That’s the only way he can continue to do the things he does with no remorse at all for the people he has left dead on the road from his abuse.

Mine is full. It’s full of people who keep me level headed and grounded when I just feel like losing my mind. It’s full of people who I trust and love to give me honest advice about how to proceed. I don’t want anything I do to ever be out of vengeance or bitterness, so before every decision I make I pray for my abuser. Every seat on my hypothetical bus has someone in it that I have reached out to for help on how to do the right thing when the wrong thing has been done to us. From my religious leaders, my friends, my parents, my grandparents, Matt’s parents, my therapist, and my daughter- we’re at capacity. Not a single decision I’ve made to hold this person accountable has been driven by hate. It’s been driven by love and empathy for a person who has no love and empathy for anyone but himself.

I have to face my abuser in court this week. I don’t want to. Seeing him and hearing his voice is detrimental to my mental health. The last time I faced him in court I shut down emotionally and found it hard to open my mouth and speak when spoken to by the judge. This person will likely never fully understand the impact he had on our lives. He will never understand how his actions have hurt us. He will likely never care. The last time I saw him in court I just wanted to turn to him and say “You can fix this. You can make all of this go away by doing the right thing. You have the power to fix this”. Unfortunately you cannot will someone into doing the right thing.

Yesterday at church our pastor spoke on loving your enemies and how important that is. He said we should pray for those who hurt us every day, that it may not change them but it will change you. I’ve been doing this since the break up. Every single day, even when it’s hard, even when I’m angry, even when I’m sad- I pray for him. It takes a lot out of me to pray for someone who is not sorry. It takes a lot out of me to pray for someone who continues to hurt us for sport. Sometimes when I’m done I’m a pile of emotions I don’t even understand. But still, I pray.

If you can love someone and care about the well being of someone who hurt you so deeply, it does change you. Hate and discontent for him because of my own hurt feelings has turned into empathy for someone who is just broken. I pray every day that his heart will be changed. I pray every day that he will, for once in his life, do the right thing.

Driving your own bus means doing it with love. It means being cautious and making sure you aren’t hurting anyone along the way. It means making sure the people you form relationships with know who you are and what you are and that, when the relationship crashes, they don’t have to pick up the shattered glass and continue to be cut by your actions.

So every day, I pray. And every day, I have open, honest discussions with my daughter about what it means to forgive and why we forgive. She prays for him, too. She loved him. We both did.

The wheels on the bus go round and round and, if you’ve driven your bus with love and understanding, everyone gets home safe.

Today

One year ago is the day our world started crashing down around us. We were in Colorado for treatment and found out Matt’s cancer had spread “all over”. We could not fly home. He was dying. They knew he was dying. I knew he was dying. Matt knew he was dying. Our daughter was scared to death. Enterprise rental car gave us a brand new Tahoe to drive from Albuquerque to Alabama. We promised him he could die at home and he did, it just took until August for that to happen.

This is a picture of him in Telluride a few days before we found out. He was so weak but obsessed over seeing it from the top of the mountain. We made that happen for him. He looked at the world with different eyes than we did, probably because he knew how close to heaven he really was.

Driving him home was an out of body experience. I have driven those interstates many times in the past, but never had I driven someone I love home to die. Every mile felt like 100. Every gasp felt like it could be his last. I wanted to run. I wanted to take him so far away that no one or nothing could hurt him. He was my protector, and in that moment I couldn’t be his. I couldn’t save him.

Survivors guilt is real. I would’ve taken his place if it meant he got to spend the rest of his life with the people that loved him, especially our daughter. I would’ve gone to the ends of the earth to save him. Accepting that I couldn’t was impossible, but we drove state to state with him completely dependent on oxygen and his condition continued to deteriorate. I live with the “what if’s” every day of my life.

At the end of his life, all he longed for was home. He called out to his parents. Then he started calling out to people who had gone to Heaven before him. He started having vivid conversations with his Grampy, who had died when our daughter was just a baby. It was beautiful to watch him talk to him like he was right there in the room with us, but also crushing to know he was preparing to cross over.

I held his hand and counted his breaths. I made him as comfortable as I could. He was in physical pain, and watching him suffer and knowing the cancer was the cause was unbearable. All we wanted to do was fix it and we couldn’t.

Losing Matt taught me a lot about life, but the biggest lesson it taught me was that all we have is today. It taught me to love hard, tell people you love how you feel about them, hug them big, and always be the last to let go.

Today as you go through life, remember Matt. Remember his walk and his faith in God and the impact he made on so many lives. He knew his time on earth was limited and he lived every day like it was his last right up until the very end.

He got to the top of the mountain. The view he has now is unlike anything any of us can ever imagine and I know he is free of cancer, free of pain, and free in the arms of Jesus.

“From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” – Psalms 61:2

39

I used to dread getting older. I remember crying so hard when I turned 30. My 20s were pretty amazing, full of travel and adventure and fun. I thought 30 was the end of the world. What I didn’t know is that 30 was going to bring me more love than I ever thought possible. It brought me Matt. 31 brought me Quinn. And between the two of them, I have been loved more in those years following than most people are ever loved in a lifetime. For that I am so grateful.

After 30, birthdays were my favorite. It was a celebration of all of the wonderful and excitement for what was to come. My first birthday I spent with Matt was in NYC.

When the clock struck midnight and I was officially 31 according to the date on the calendar, I was standing at the highest deck of the Empire State Building with him. My birthday present from that trip involved a little blue box from Tiffany’s and 8ish months later, our Quinn. Best gift ever. He always was one for extravagant displays on birthdays. He once drove all night from Indiana just to surprise me at our apartment door in Atlanta for my birthday.

After 30, my life just kept improving. Sure, there were hard times. But every year I had something new to look forward to. Then cancer struck and birthdays were different. My focus was on saving his life. Last year for my birthday we were in Colorado for an experimental treatment as a Hail Mary to save his life. It didn’t work, he was too far gone.

That was the last birthday we would spend together. He was very sick and fading fast. Still, he tried to make it special. He had this uncanny ability to locate a British pub no matter where in the world we traveled. He knew my love for British beer so he always wanted me to have a pint on my birthday. So last year, we toasted to the year that he was going to kick cancer’s ass. I really thought he could do it. It wasn’t for lack of trying.

I thought a lot about how this birthday was going to be without him. Would I even find a way to celebrate a year that took the love of my life? I decided that we would celebrate like we always do, surrounded by love and laughter.

One of my favorite shows is Sex and the City.

I can quote almost every word from every show. I still hate Berger (because who breaks up with someone on a post it?) and the Russian (because hitting Carrie made me want to break his face). I still cry when Charlotte beats Big with the bouquet at the first wedding. In that moment she felt how my friends have felt recently- a strong urge to protect me from what hurt me. I love Big. But the fact is I’ve loved a few Bigs in my life and they are often not deserving of the time and energy you pour into them. I’m beginning to wish Carrie had ended up with Aiden. Nice, normal, Aiden. Used to, I would swoon over Big. Now I see so much of my last relationship in how he treated her and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Matt was an Aiden.

On this birthday I’m focusing on friendship. My squad is one in a million and, even though it’s spread out far and wide, I know they are with me every step of the way. Even when I have no idea what I’m doing. Even when I feel like a failure. Even when I hate everything and everyone. They love me, just as I am. Some quotes from my favorite show reminded me of my favorite people. Everything in life I need to know I learned from the Bible, my mama, and Carrie Bradshaw.

“No matter who broke your heart or how long it takes to heal, you’ll never get through it without your friends.” – Carrie

My friends. They stand by me through the hardest times of my life. They have most recently watched me lose myself in someone who was not worthy of my time. They were just as angry as I was when I was betrayed. One of them met him one time and said “NOPE!”.

Friends know before we know.

They have seen me at my worst, loved me when I was unlovable, and helped me laugh through the darkness.

They are my girl squad.

Someone asked me once why I say I have so many best friends. It’s because I have the best friends. We raise our children together, see each other through losses, celebrations, and everything in between. I have a diverse group of friends because I gravitate towards people who see the world like I do and don’t take it too seriously. We know we all belong to each other.

“They say nothing lasts forever …dreams change, trends come and go, but friendships never go out of style.” – Carrie

The best friends are the ones you can go months without seeing and then pick right back up where you left off. Moving around a lot means my friends are scattered. We keep in touch as much as possible and never, ever stop supporting one another. When Matt died one of my New Jersey friends hopped on a plane to stand beside me at his funeral. We integrated her very quickly into southern funeral culture. We fed her until she almost popped. She’s catholic, but now she’s an honorary baptist.

“The most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself.”- Carrie

Because of my friends, I love myself more. I love them. They are all a part of who I am. I love who I am when I’m with them. I love who I am when we laugh until our cheeks hurt. I love who I am when we spend nights drinking wine, eating everything in sight, and letting the children run wild. They get me. They are my people.

“Maybe the past is like an anchor holding us back. Maybe you have to let go of who you were to become who you will be.” -Carrie

I don’t want my past to hold me back. Matt didn’t want it to, either. It was his wish that Quinn and I live life to the fullest. I know that time is fleeting and life is ever-changing. It helps so much to be surrounded by strong women who push me to keep going, when staying in bed sounds easier. He never took anything too seriously, even cancer.

“The fact is, sometimes it’s really hard to walk in a single woman’s shoes. That’s why we need really special ones now and then to make the walk a little more fun.” – Carrie

My friends mostly roll their eyes at my shopping habits. They know that my favorite thing to do is pop bottles and tags. It’s hard to be the single one in a sea of mostly married people. But they make sure I never feel left out. They include us in family gatherings and their husbands step up when my daughter needs a father figure in her life. They make sure she doesn’t miss a thing, like the father daughter banquet at church. They even fake excitement when I show them (yet another pair) of my new single lady shoes. Shoes make everything just a little bit better.

“After all, seasons change, so do cities; people come into your life and people go. But it’s comforting to know that the ones you love are always in your heart. And if you’re very lucky, a plane ride away.” – Carrie

In July we’re going to Houston. I cannot wait to hear “this is your captain speaking”. We’ll spend the weekend surrounded by our extended Friend Family celebrating liberty and life. Our kids will play, we will drink wine, laugh, and enjoy time together.

These moments are sacred to me. Time spent with my friends is never wasted.

They have all carried me through the last few years of my life. When I felt like I couldn’t stand up on my own, they literally wrapped me in their arms and dragged me to the next step.

And little eyes are watching us. They see how we love each other. They see how we support each other. They see how we stand up for each other and cheer each other on, even when the world tells us we can’t do something, we’re too loud, too opinionated, or that we should conform. They know better because we know better. They are our legacy. They will be the next group of strong women to beat the bad guy with the proverbial bouquet like Charlotte did when Big stood Carrie up at the alter.

Hear them roar.

So this one is for my girls. I love you all and can’t wait to slide into 40 with you by my side. You’re the Thelmas to my Louise, the Mary Anns to my Wanda, and the Charlottes, Mirandas, and Samanthas to my Carrie.

Here’s to 39 years of keeping it weird, crying til I laugh, laughing til I cry, and never for a second settling for anything less than the people that love me know I deserve.

And to Matt, who always reminded me that I “age well for an old bird”. Cheers, Dimples. I’ll see you on the other side.

How to Spot a Narcissistic Abuser from a Mile Away

Through talking about the demise of my last relationship to friends, my therapist, and family members I have learned a whole lot more than I ever wanted to learn about narcissists. I had never actually dated one, so I feel like the whole concept of these messed up, mystical people was foreign to me before now. So much so that I didn’t actually understand what happened to me until it was over. If you find yourself in a similar situation, I have insight that may help you get through it. God speed.

They hook you immediately.

This is the “love bombing” phase. They like what you like. Feign similar interests, because they don’t really have an identity of their own. They move so fast your head spins because they don’t want you to have time to think rationally about what a healthy relationship is. They latch on to your identity because this makes you like them more. You’ll find that narcissists are “loners”, usually not by choice. He said his ex’s were to blame for losses of friendships. Finding out that he did this to other people was confirmation that I am not the crazy one. Chances are they have alienated everyone who has ever cared about them in any way. The day I met my narcissistic mistake, he actually said to me “Careful, keep doing that and I’ll marry you”. Narcissists shower you with attention and affection that is manufactured to further manipulate you. He never had any intention of building a life with me, but his words and actions said otherwise. He actually made a “list” of things we were going to have together in the future. He placed a picture of us at the top of that list and filled it with houses, cars, and at the end of the list- a big engagement ring. Whenever I would have doubts or start to feel not ok about the relationship he would send me the list and insist I focus on “2020 being our year”. 2020 has so far been anything but that.

Narcissists suck the life out of you.

You will find yourself emotionally drained almost from the very beginning. But it’s intoxicating, and that’s how they like you to perceive them. Normal relationships don’t leave you feeling emotionally drained, but a relationship with a narcissist does. You will walk on eggshells for months as they continue to isolate you from everything and everyone you love. They want all of the focus to be on them, all the time.

You are constantly on edge around this person, but still want them to like you.

Remember, this is a game to them. The end goal for them is “winning” your attention and affection, then ultimately destroying you. My narcissist has done this to every single person he has dated to my knowledge. Love shouldn’t make you feel like throwing up.

They withhold attention as a power move.

Once the love bombing phase is over, they have you. They will text you 100 times one day, then you won’t hear from them for 2-3 days, then they resurface like everything is perfect. This is intentional. You have become their supply, and they only use you for validation when they need you. Your needs do not matter to the narcissist. Never have, never will. You are nothing more than supply to them, a way to feed their inflated ego. A narcissist doesn’t care where they get their supply from, just that they have it. They oftentimes have multiple supply streams lined up so they are never without attention, which was the case in my relationship.

They don’t want to define the relationship with you in any way, yet keep pulling you in deeper and deeper with empty promises of a future.

A normal person in a new relationship is happy. They are also happy to share that they are with someone who makes them feel good. Narcissists are miserable humans who use people for their own personal gain so you may find that you’re the dirty secret. This happened to me. He would introduce me to bar friends as his girlfriend, then make ridiculous rules for the community that we live in, citing his “privacy” as a main concern. I was told to tell people that we were “just friends”. I was so desperate to make him happy that I did that. He made future plans with me to keep me reeled in, while never acknowledging that I was anything more to him than a friend to everyone around him. In one breath he would have me test driving cars for his soon to be 16 year old child, a child I was not allowed to meet because he told me I would “hurt” his family, and in another he would tell me to maintain the “secret relationship” so he could continue to live and act as a single person. My child and her emotions were used by him to further play this game with my life. His parents had no clue who I was. To the world around him he was a single Mr Nice Guy, but to me he was the guy who told me he loved me and spent the night at my house all the time and took weekend trips with and planned trips for our birthdays together. I should be packing for Vegas with him right now, an idea he had while we were on a weekend trip to Atlanta together. He sat beside me and booked the hotel rooms. I was over the moon excited, he was likely just doing this as another way to keep me hooked and looking past all of his indiscretions and towards a future with him that was never going to happen. Smoke and mirrors.

They will compare you to everyone who came before you, usually when they are mad at you.

I remember the first time I questioned him about something. I was told “jealousy doesn’t look good on you”. The supply is not allowed to question the narcissist. You are supposed to just sit back and let them lie, cheat, and steal their way through the relationship. Any time I pushed back I heard “You’re just like *fill in the blank with an ex’s name*”. They know that you do not want to lose them, nor do you want them to think you’re as terrible as their ex was, so you back off to keep the peace and excuse more bad behavior than you ever have in your life.

They accuse you of emotions they are intentionally provoking.

One of the biggest fights we ever had was on one of the most perfect nights we had together. He spent all night charming me, telling people at our favorite watering hole I was his girlfriend, showering me with affection and emotions, laughing with me, and continuing to pull me in. The minute I reciprocated he got so angry and told me that I was messing it all up, that he didn’t want to talk about feelings with me. It was a very Jekyll and Hyde moment. He punished me that night by leaving in anger instead of going to my house for the night like we had planned. It happened so fast I wasn’t actually sure what had happened or why, everything he was saying and doing just 20 minutes before that was completely different than what led to the fall out of the evening. I cried all the way home and didn’t sleep at all, only for him to pretend nothing happened the next day. Supply is expected to be as emotionally void as the narcissist, unless the narcissist needs an ego boost. Then they’ll allow it, further confusing you, because normal human emotion does not turn on and off with a switch.

They do not respect boundaries.

I would tell him I was in for the night, he would call and insist I meet him out somewhere. I would say no more drinks, he would order me another one. Every bartender in town knew to pour half my drink out when he wasn’t looking. He would not take no for an answer about anything. It was either his way or the highway. I was scared to tell him no.

You find yourself explaining basic human emotions to a grown man.

I wasn’t allowed to have my feelings hurt by him. He would stand me up after me arranging a sitter for my daughter, break plans with me all the time, snap at me for showing my feelings for him when it wasn’t on his schedule, and then he would get mad at me for having my feelings hurt. He would tell me he loved me one night, only to tell me the next day that he didn’t want to talk about feelings and that I was pissing him off. I would try to explain how this made me feel and he would look at me like I had three heads. He would say I was “too sensitive” and just never really understood the disappointment I had when he stood me up. All of my friends hated him for it. I would call them from wherever the meeting point was and they knew the minute they picked up the phone that he didn’t show up. I remember my friend Alex watching my daughter for me one night and the last thing she said to me before I left was “He better show up this time”. He actually got mad at me when I told him that. He didn’t understand why it was a big deal. My time with my daughter is valuable, but he didn’t value my time. The supply’s feelings never matter. My tears were met with laughter from him. He seemed to almost delight in any display of hurt feelings by me. It was another opportunity for him to break me down.

There is always a reason you’re their supply.

I was his supply for money. I believe that he preyed on me because of my brand spanking new widow status. He saw dollar signs. He took full advantage of me, siphoning money from me any chance he got starting less than a month after the first day we met and not stopping for the entirety of the relationship. He used me to facilitate an extravagant lifestyle that he couldn’t provide himself or his children on his own. In fact, he is still costing me money. He sold me a car in February that he did not have the title for. I paid him in full for the car on Valentine’s Day, a day that people in a normal relationship would be celebrating together, right? Well my Valentine’s Day consisted of me meeting him at the bank across from his office to pay him for a car that I still do not have a title to. I have a bill of sale. I have the car. I have no title. He title pawned it. It’s my primary means of transportation, it’s also the first place he told me he loved me. Narcissists like to have full control over your finances and your life. He had both. He still has control over my car, because he refuses to produce the title for me. So the narcissist who claims were were never in a relationship continues to control my life, even after the relationship is dead. This is what these people do. It’s a way to keep you connected to them, even when you don’t want to be.

Gaslighting

He outright denied manipulative behavior and became very angry when I tried to confront him with facts and screenshots of things he had said and done to me in the past and proof of a relationship he had with someone else when he was seeing me. He denied ever telling me he loved me, and actually told me that we were just friends. The very thing he told everyone else about me was what he tried to convince me we were in the end, but he already had more supply lined up that he wanted to move forward with. A normal person would have the “hey, this isn’t working out” talk. Narcissists aren’t normal. Their whole motive is to make you feel and seem crazy. They want to add you to the pile of people who came before you, so you’re the same as the people they called “crazy” and “obsessed” with them. They want to destroy everything about you they pretended to love- your honesty, empathy, integrity.. because all of the things they pretended to love about you are traits they don’t have themselves. They use you as a way to convince their next supply that they are highly sought after and obsessed over by the ex’s in their lives. It makes them feel good to have so many people “obsessed” with them and they use it as a tool.

The next one is the most painful one.

The Discard

I tried to break up with him twice. He would not allow it to happen. Once he even told me he couldn’t handle what I was saying to him and 2 days later he showed up and curled up in the recliner with my daughter to watch disney movies. He knew the way to my heart was her, and he used her at every opportunity to get closer to me. Every time I wanted to step back he would pull me in closer. Narcissists cannot allow you to make the break. They want to destroy you so they methodically plan out your demise to give them more control and more power.

The discard almost killed me. I’m far enough removed from those feelings now that I can talk about them candidly, but during the discard which seemed to drag on and on, I wanted to die. One night after I had been on hold for hours with the airlines trying to rearrange his flights for spring break for him and his children, I felt lower than low. I knew he was distant because he was with someone else, he just refused to admit it. I had no proof, but I had a gut feeling that wouldn’t leave me. I begged him just to tell me. Instead, he called in his sleeping pills to the pharmacy by my house and told me to pick them up. He wanted me to be knocked out while he was with the new one and her family. While they were out having drinks and dinner (presumably with my money) I had been on hold for hours to try and fix something that was not my responsibility to fix that he guilted me into fixing for him. While he was love bombing my replacement, I was taking a handful of his sleeping pills not wanting to wake up the next day.

As the discard phase got worse, he became more and more condescending. The therapist I suggested he see for his many issues and abuse of me he used against me, trying to make me believe that I was the problem. I gave him every opportunity to tell me the truth. I gave him every opportunity to do right by me when it came to the thousands of dollars he swindled out of me. He continued to tell me I was crazy and delusional. The narcissistic discard I experienced felt like death. It was someone telling me they loved me one day, and pretending they had never said that the next day. It was having a constant in my life, someone who claimed that he had “never met anyone like me that understood him” and then having it disappear.

If it feels like the worst break up you’ve ever had, it’s because it is. You’ve likely been abused for the entirety of the relationship and feel more betrayed than you ever have in your life because you come to the realization that everything he said was a lie just to further his own position in the game he played with your life.

The Push Back

There is only one way to handle these people, and that’s to push back. It’s very easy to just run away from the aftermath because you’re so embarrassed and ashamed that you allowed yourself to be manipulated and abused in this way. In my case, no one has ever held this person responsible for anything he has ever done. He has left a trail of destruction in his path and has just moved from discard to new supply with relative ease. Narcissists are very charming and convincing, and they always have new supply waiting for them so they never have to go without the attention they crave. When I began to push back, when I began to demand an apology, the title for the car, and the money he sucked away from me, and the apology I most certainly deserve for all of the above- the real monster came out. There were threats. He became a totally different person. Robotic with no emotion at all one second, raging and threatening the next.

He told me after the first time I wrote about him that it was going to hard for me to date again if everyone saw that I was “obsessed with him”. He demanded I take the post down, claiming I was hurting his children. He threatened to sue me. This was a futile attempt to silence me. I won’t be silent. I know my rights. Every time I speak out, someone else messages me to share their story of their own encounter with a narcissist. They are all eerily similar. Besides, I hope me writing about him serves as a warning to whoever tries to date me from here forward. If it scares away men for the rest of my life, oh well. I’m good alone.

He told me that, if I took him to court for the money or the car title, he would tell the judge the money was a “generous gift” from me to a friend. He actually accused me of wanting to keep a connection with him, when really I just wanted my money and my car title and to be able to move on. He agreed to pay me $1000 a month until I have all of the money he took from me back. He did that one month. $400 the next month. The minute I cut off all contact with him at all and he was no longer allowed to control and manipulate me and when I refused to be his “friend”, the payments stopped. I have no way of knowing whether he’s paying the title company or not. He will not give me the other set of keys to the car. I can’t renew the tag for the car. It’s really the only form of control he has over me anymore. I don’t even drive the car. It makes me sick to my stomach to sit in the drivers seat.

He asked repeatedly if we could be friends. This is what narcissists want. They want to “befriend” you so that you don’t say anything bad about them and so they can keep you as a source of supply. A narcissist always wants to stay connected. If you cut them off completely and go “no contact”, they will often resurface with a fake question of concern to try to reel you back in again, or some new, fake, manufactured drama for them to pull you into. They will message you on multiple platforms even after you block them on one. Don’t fall for this. No contact means no contact.

But no contact does not mean no speaking of the narcissist. Talking about your experience is therapeutic. People reached out to tell me their very similar stories with this same person. People reached out to tell me how similar their experiences were with their encounters with other narcissists. It’s important to understand fully that this is abuse. I didn’t want to label it that, even after I had been discarded. Through therapy I now understand the severity of what I endured and how traumatic it really was and how long it will take me to fully heal from my experience with him.

Every single time I speak the truth about what he did to me, every single time I have a “me too” moment with someone else he’s done this to, every single time I write about my relationship and the impact it had on my life-

I’m taking my power back from him.

To all the people he’s done this to before, thank you. Thank you for trying so hard to tell me, even though I was too far in to listen to your warnings. To all the ones he will do this to after me, I’m sorry. I’m sorry he will use me as a way to get to you. I’m sorry he will use the same old “I’ve never met anyone like you” line on you. My heart hurts to know that he will not stop, but my therapist says these people never change. To change, you have to acknowledge that what you did was wrong, and he is incapable of doing that. I will always be the crazy, clingy, ex to him, and he will never do right by me for the money or the car.

It’s important that you all know that the money he took from me was my inheritance from my husband’s death. It’s money my daughter and I should be living comfortably with. While I’m in possession of a car I bought and paid for that he refuses to provide me the title for, a car that I can’t even drive because the tag will expire soon and I cannot get it renewed without contacting him, he’s driving a luxury car he attempted to purchase with my credit and used my money to make the down payment on. He continues to get ahead, we continue to suffer from his actions.

I am working hard on forgiving him for what he did to us. Forgiveness usually comes easily to me, but I’m at this time unable to do so. Forgiveness won’t change the outcome. Forgiveness won’t make him do the right thing, even though he promised me he would “make it right”.

So on the 10th of every month, I walk to the mailbox. I open it up and hope for some sign that he intends to pay me back. Every month brings nothing at all pointing to good intentions from him. Every month is further validation that his intention from the beginning was to steal from me, abuse me, and leave me with nothing.

I gained a lot through this tumultuous process, but the biggest thing I gained is self respect. I’ll never let anyone hurt us like this ever again. I am enlightened in ways I never thought I would be. I know people like this exist now, and I’ll never let myself be taken advantage of by a narcissistic abuser ever again.

One of the last things he ever said to me was that maybe the next person he met would be the love of his life and he would give her all of the things I wanted from him. For her sake, I hope this is not true. Because he will not magically change his ways for the next person. He will just seek out someone much weaker than me that he can manipulate and control much longer. The end result will always be the same, and she will find herself drained of every single thing she loved about herself. But maybe she will see this, and maybe it will help her through the darkness before it’s too late.

Follow Through

Eight years ago today was the day my life changed for the better. It’s the day I drove to the airport to pick Matt up. This was in my memories today. This is how he felt about that day. The internet is a lovely way to preserve feelings. His words:

When we began talking on Twitter through a community of other people on Weight Watchers, Matt had a girlfriend and I was married, so our friendship was just that: a friendship, consisting of tweets public for everyone to see. Hashtags brought us together. My love for them now stems from what they brought into my life back then.

One day when I was frustrated beyond belief with my weight loss (and my failed marriage) he messaged me privately on Twitter to offer advice. He was very sweet and sincere and seemed very concerned with not making me mad or offending me in any way. After that, we would message each other weekly after weigh ins and celebrate losses and complain about gains. This went on for a year. Well I would complain about gains. Because Matt never gained one single week during his weight loss.

Matt got dumped by his girlfriend. He was dating around and had been set up on a blind date. He went out with the girl once. For the second date she stood him up and he tweeted about it. I responded (publicly) something like “Aw! If I was in England I’d go out with you!”. He messaged me instantly and said that he’d cut off his arm for a girl like me. This made me blush. I had such a big crush on him.

We became absolutely inseparable. Lonely nights in an empty apartment weren’t so bad when I knew I could FaceTime him and see his smiling face. We laughed so much and really complimented each other’s personalities. It became very clear that through all the sadness my divorce brought me, there was happiness around the corner.

My heart was beating across an ocean.

I drove to the airport that day with my hands shaking so bad I could barely keep my car on the road. I had been tracking his flight online all day and knew he had landed. Nervous excitement! The international terminal at the airport had just been open a week and I was super nervous that I’d get lost. I didn’t. I was all dressed up in that same black dress I wore in my Twitter profile picture. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but he loved it.

I walked through the airport and got on the escalator to ride down into the area where he should be, praying I wouldn’t fall. I started scanning the crowd.

When I saw his face every fear I had just fell away. He was pushing his luggage cart towards me with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on his beautiful face. You know in the movies where everything goes slow motion and the music starts and the rest of the world falls away and the people seem like the only two on the planet?

THAT. EXACTLY.

The song that was playing in my head in that moment was Gavin DeGraw’s Follow Through:

“Oh, this is the start of something good

Don’t you agree?

I haven’t felt like this in so many moons

You know what I mean?

And we can build through this destruction

As we are standing on our feet

So, since you want to be with me

You’ll have to follow through

With every word you say

And I, all I really want is you

You to stick around

I’ll see you everyday

But you have to follow through”

And he did. With every single thing he ever said to me, he followed through.

I had the opportunity to meet Gavin in person at a concert we were supposed to go to together after Matt died and tell him what his music meant to us. It was a mainstay in our relationship from start to finish, right down to the day Matt died. We played all of his favorite songs for him. We believed that belief made things real, because it always did for us.

I can’t even describe how it felt to have had someone like that, someone who you can completely depend on to pull you out when you’re drowning. At the lowest point in my life, when I was the most lonely I had ever been, this angel came along to show me what real happiness could be. It was amazing.

When he hugged me, I melted. When he kissed me I thought for sure I would pass out. When I looked into the most sparkly blue eyes I had ever seen, I knew I was in trouble. We finally made our way out of the airport, wedged his luggage in Ruby (who says smart cars have no cargo space!) and started what became the most amazing summer of my life.

Our first selfie together in the airport parking garage

Matt’s original 40 day trip turned into a 90 day trip, with him flying out of America on day 90 at 11:59pm.

Technically, he could have boarded a plane and come right back for another 90 days. But he probably needed to go home and work some before his next trip because I spent all of his money. We had a big “uh oh” when he was in America that first 90 days. This girl? The one with the broken uterus who couldn’t have kids? Well it turns out that wasn’t true. I have the 7 year old to prove it.

She is the best thing that ever happened to either of us. She is his legacy.

I know that bad things happen so good things can happen. I believe in fate. I believe in destiny. I believe that there is a soulmate out there for every single person on this planet. They may not live in your hometown, your state, your zipcode, or even your country. But they exist.

And if you’re lucky enough to have them come into your life like I did, hold them close and as long as God lets you. Because He always wants the good ones back a little too early.

When he hit a knee and asked me to marry him, I laughed at him. And then I said yes. Ate all those “never getting married ever again” worlds really fast.

Cancer stole the best years of his life. Cancer destroyed our perfect family. Cancer took my only child’s dad. But cancer cannot take these memories away from us. In December, we flew some of his remains home to England for a memorial there and so he can be with his family. I placed the box on the exact spot where we kissed that steamy day in May 8 years ago.

The escalator that I thought for sure I would fall down on my way to him. Every single time we went to the airport after that day he would stop me there and kiss me and give me the biggest hug. I would do anything in the world to relive that day one more time. It was magic. If it reads like a fairy tale, it’s because it was. I was constantly in disbelief that I actually got to be happy with someone. I had everything I ever wanted in Matt. He was my person.

All that’s left now of our relationship are memories like this. Dates I cannot forget. Laughter. Love. So much love. And a little girl who doesn’t remember her daddy not being sick. But I remember. He was a machine. He never slowed down. He had more energy than anyone I had ever met and he lit up every room he walked into. His head was always on a swivel, looking for excitement or trouble. Usually both.

Stage 4 colon cancer robbed me of the love of my whole life. We weren’t perfect. Our marriage wasn’t perfect. But we loved every second of life together.

This is the last time I held his hand. I don’t want to remember him like this.

I want to remember him like this.

Full of life and excitement, full of optimism and love. He never saw the negative. He was the most positive person I had ever met. I ask myself all the time “what would Matt do?” Matt would live. And he would keep loving people. And he would keep trying, even when trying is hard.

He promised to love me until the day he died. He always followed through.

Death by a Thousand Cuts

My daughter has been playing Taylor Swift on repeat. Fitting, because her daddy was the biggest undercover Swifty fan around. He wanted to take her to a concert and have matching shirts made. The ultimate dad. She’s stuck on this one song, but the Live version from TayTay’s concert in Paris.

Songs trigger things. Even angsty teenagey songs.

One of my favorite people, a writer himself, told me last night on a phone call that I will cherish (because having guy friends that are just friends is so amazing at this point in my life, shout out to my “safe men friends”)- “No one wants to read about how to sew a button on”. So if you want something that boring, this is not for you. If you want to hear about the underbelly if grief, pull up a chair. It may get weird. It may get ugly. I may cry again.

I don’t cry. It’s weird. I usually only cry when I’m really mad. But today while the rain poured down on my drive home alone, I sobbed. I know this is healthy, but I always feel like a weak person after and I hate that feeling.

Being strong means always holding it in. Picking a place on the wall and staring at it until the feeling passes. Holding it together as long as you possibly can. I did that today. Until I couldn’t.

Carrying around pain is exhausting. It makes the easiest things so hard. It makes the hardest things feel impossible. Today, I shut down. I haven’t let myself do that in a long time but I guess my body needed it.

The thing about grief and pain is that neither is linear. You don’t get to compartmentalize and decide “Today is the day I shut down completely and can’t function!” Your body chooses those days for you, and you have to either force yourself through it and fail miserably or succumb to it. Today I succumbed. I used to think that having what felt like a cold, dead, black heart made me a stronger person. I was just trying to will away the pain I couldn’t handle dealing with.

Panic attacks and few and far between lately but today I felt it build and build until it happened. That feeling of dread, the tightness in my chest, the pounding in my left ear I get when I’m so stressed and so overwhelmed, that feeling that I would rather be unconscious than face the feelings that are next- all of that. It happened.

I ended up in the fetal position praying for it to stop. This is a position I’ve been in many, many times. Still, it seems like such a foreign way to process pain when I’m used to just powering through.

Survival today was not looking. Survival consisted of not making eye contact. Survival was trying so hard to block out the sound of a voice that hurt me so I wouldn’t have to feel that pain again. Survival was and is removing from my life people who cause me pain. Survival was praying that it was over as fast as humanly possibly so I could go back to the safety of my world without him in it. Survival for me today felt like hell.

But I’m here and I’m alive and I made it through another dark day of trying to figure out how I made such a mess of the perfect life I had before it all came crashing down around me, most of it my own doing from really bad decisions on who I let in my circle.

I know I need to feel real human emotions to get past all of the things hurting me. I know that masking them won’t help me at all. I know what I need to do to help myself move forward. The wonderful thing about loving so much is that you feel everything a little bit more than the average person. The flip side of that is that you feel everything bad, too. It’s hard to accept that people will never be sorry for hurting you, but some people are incapable of basic human emotions. Being empathetic should be viewed as an attribute. But today, it felt like a mark against an exterior of strength I’ve fought like hell to build.

When it rains my daughter says “Mama the sky is crying”. Well today, I cried with it. I begged God to continue to heal my heart. And He will, in time. I keep reminding myself that everything is temporary. The harsh reality of that is that even happiness is temporary. And I was happy, even in my grief, for a brief moment in time. Now I’m happy temporarily for different reasons. I want real happiness again.

I have been keeping gratitude lists for a while now. Every day I write down 5 things I’m grateful for. Some days I struggle to find the 5 things. Some days are repeats of the mundane from the day before. Today my list is simple, but poignant at this point in my grief journey-

1) God, because without Him I wouldn’t have been able to pull myself out of bed today to face the hard stuff. When nothing seems real and I’m overwhelmed by the reality of knowing that Matt is gone forever, the only thing in the world that can comfort me is my faith in God. The promise of heaven and the notion that we are on this earth for just a blip in time is my saving grace. I have to remind myself 100 times a day that this life is only temporary.

2) Quinn, because she is my constant. My reason to be here. My reminder that everything good in the world lives in her great big heart. Protecting her heart is my number one goal in life. I may fail at everything I do lately, but I will never fail her because she is the little light of my life.

3) Friends that love me. The outpouring of love the last few months has been extraordinary. It’s hard to love someone who is grieving. Sometimes this means 3 hour phone conversations where you both cry your eyes out and sometimes this means a “You good?” text so they know I haven’t jumped off a cliff yet.

4) Family. From the huge things like making sure me and Quinn feel loved and supported to the little things like my daddy knowing how much I hate pumping gas and not only filling up my car for me, but treating me to a tank of gas, I have the best family. They all loved Matt so much. His loss affects us all so deeply. I would give anything to hear him say “hey mama!” to my mom again and steal one of her diet cokes. He loved her so much. Or for him to yell “mum! Tea!!” to his own mom.

5) Forgiveness. I am thankful everyday that I am forgiven. I am working so hard on forgiving others. It’s something that has always come really easily for me. I will give people a 4th, 5th, and 6th chance even, because I believe in redemption and I believe there is good in the world. I also believe that some people just need someone to believe in them. But as I continue down the road of grief I am finding it harder and harder to forgive people who hurt me. I am praying that I am able to get back to that point. It’s hard to forgive people who are not sorry. It’s hard to forgive people who continue to hurt you with their actions. It’s impossibly hard to forgive people who saw you broken and broke you some more. I pray every day for that to change for me. I pray that I’m able to forgive as freely as I love.

So no, nobody wants to read about how to sew a button on. And nobody wants to read things that are depressing when life right now is pretty depressing all over the place. Writing about my experiences as they are happening is one of the most therapeutic things that I do. It’s how I process life. It’s how I get through the hard times and celebrate the good. Here’s hoping there is good coming around the corner. I’ll be alright, it’s just a thousand cuts.

The Afterlife

Losing my husband 9 months ago was the most traumatic thing I’ve ever experienced. Watching him suffer was hell on earth. I can spout off colon cancer statistics and treatment options and warning signs almost robotically. I lived it. It consumed my every thought for 18 long months of suffering. I can recall everything that happened in vivid detail. When you live every day in fear that the person you love the most will die, you burn everything into your brain. Even the horrible things.

What no one prepares you for is the afterlife, what happens after the last sympathy card is opened, what happens when the crowds have gone, the next trauma has happened to someone in your community, and people have moved on.

Then it’s just you against the world. Or sometimes, the world against you.

The afterlife is all about survival, but I have learned it has to be as much about recovering from the trauma than it is about survival from it. Merely surviving is not living.

I’m reading a book called “Whole Again” by Jackson Mackenzie. In it, he writes-

“Recovery becomes more about symptom management than root cause resolution. It’s akin to putting out buckets of water every night to catch the leaking rain, rather than fixing the hole in the roof. Eventually the buckets become full, so you’re running around finding new buckets and emptying old buckets, feeling more exhausted with every passing day.

This is the nature of trauma. It keeps you distracted with bucket management so you never have a chance to look up at the roof.”

My husband died on a Saturday. Sunday we didn’t know what to do with ourselves so we went to church because it’s what he would’ve wanted us to do. Monday we planned the funeral. Tuesday was the funeral. Wednesday my daughter started school and Thursday I started my job as a preschool teacher after living a blissful life as a stay at home mom for 6 years.

I was distracted with bucket management immediately.

I think somehow I thought that if I stayed busy and resumed life as “normal”, it would fix the brokenness I was determined not to allow myself to feel. I was traumatized and not dealing with the trauma in the appropriate way. I was running around in circles, trying to keep the buckets from overflowing but never really making progress. I stuffed away every bad feeling with anything that would help as a way to not deal with them. I spent a lot of time replacing the bad feelings with good, the lows with highs, the negative with positive.

When I was at my most vulnerable just 2 months after my husband died, I met someone. In my mind, I thought that somehow this was a naturally occurring relationship. I do not believe that was the case from day one, in retrospect.

Widows, if you have someone take extreme interest in you very soon after the death of your spouse, these people aren’t your soulmates.

This is predatory behavior that you may not be able to identify because you are too busy with bucket management. Be hyper vigilant.

It’s hard to be in pain and have someone come along with the sole intention of taking from you and causing you more pain. But these people exist and they walk among us. The best way to preserve your sanity is to remind yourself that no respectable, caring, loving, or admirable person would ever see you so fresh off of the loss of your spouse and start a relationship with you. Their intentions are not sincere from the beginning.

Grief clouds your judgement. Trauma makes you cling to things that are not good for you. This could be a new “love” interest, alcohol- anything to divert your attention away from working on yourself and healing from the trauma.

What I have learned through therapy for my PTSD associated with watching my husband suffer, die, and then following that up immediately with a terribly abusive relationship is that I am broken. I am a broken person trying to piece my life back together like trying to mend a broken wine glass (I use that analogy because I break every wine glass that makes its way into my house). I kept picking up the same pieces and they kept cutting me, but I was so determined to make it work that I just kept trying and metaphorically bleeding all over everything I touched.

It’s really easy to forget when you’re running around filling buckets that you’re in control. When you’ve lived life in survival mode for so long it’s hard to look up and see the hole and fix it. Sometimes you lack the ability to fix the hole yourself. That’s when you call in the professionals and soak up every bit of information from every book about trauma and grief you can possibly find. Knowledge is power.

Therapy

I cannot stress this enough. Every. Single. Widow. needs a therapist. Male or female, young or old. If you have lost a spouse you need professional help. There is no shame in seeking help. What you’ve been through is the worst of the worst. Your person is gone. Unless you want your family and friends to sit back and watch you self destruct, seek help.

Focus on Yourself

Now is the time to be selfish. Especially when you’ve been a caretaker for a terminally ill spouse. You’ve done the best you could do. You most likely put your own health and well being on the back burner and poured yourself into saving a life. Now it’s time to save yours, because survival is hard. It’s really easy to jump right into saving someone else’s life. I poured all of my energy into a relationship I shouldn’t have even been in so soon after my husband died. In the long run, the pain and subsequent trauma of that relationship far outweighed anything I ever got out of it. What I should’ve done was focus on myself, but I was in “caretaker mode”.

Self care has been the most important part of my grief journey behind therapy. It’s ok to say no to people, it’s ok to splurge on things that make you feel good (we have regular spa nights over here), it’s ok to set boundaries and demand that people respect them.

If you have children, ESPECIALLY if you have children, they need to see that mom/dad is ok. My daughter didn’t need to see me sobbing my eyes out because someone broke my already broken heart. She needed to see mom taking care of herself and focusing on healing us from the trauma, not jumping heart first into a relationship with Mr NotSoWonderful. Lesson learned the hard (and expensive) way.

Have friends who don’t mind calling you out

I am lucky. I don’t surround myself with yes people. I surround myself with genuine friends who will straight up call me out if I’m out of control in any way. You have to be receptive to what they’re saying and not live in denial about it. Have a handful of people who knew about the relationship I was in and told me to run and run fast. I was in denial and didn’t listen. I was too caught up in it, but my eyes are wide open now. I will never ever forgetting crying into my best guy friend’s shoulder and him telling me to get it together and get away from what was hurting me. Everyone needs safe people who do not intend to hurt them emotionally that they can trust to tell them the truth even when they don’t want to hear it. I am blessed enough to have a close group of friends, male and female, that love me and tell me like it is and I love them right back for it.

Pray. All the time, pray.

At the end of the day when you’re all alone with your thoughts and you feel like dying, pray. Pray to get through the next hour. If that’s too long, pray to get through the next minute. Sometimes I pray for sleep just so I won’t have to pray to get through the next 20 seconds. Grief and the aftermath of trauma both come in waves. You cannot numb it. You have to sit in it and feel it to heal from it. What I have learned is that no level of distraction is going to fix this. No amount of “busy” or ignoring it is going to change any of it. I have to do the work to get past it and protect myself from more trauma by not making bad decisions based on previous trauma. The only way I get through the hardest parts is prayer. I have begged God to give me the will to live. I have also begged God not to wake me up the next morning. It’s a delicate balance of sane and insane, broken and shattered. It changes daily.

Get comfortable hitting the pause button

This weekend I did just that. My widow friend and I headed south for sand and sunshine. Sometimes grief needs a vacation, too.

It’s vital for grieving widows to be able to step away from the house they shared with their spouse. The walls can feel like they are closing in at times. Hitting pause and saying “Hey, it’s ok if I get away so I can catch my breath and then come back and face it all again” is ok.

I feel like, for the first time since my husband’s death in August, that I’m finally beginning to heal. I feel like I’m swinging back at the grief and trauma that has been hitting me over and over again since he died and I inadvertently welcomed chaos into my life.

Healing is a daily battle. I don’t know if I’ll ever be whole again, but I hope to go through this life a little less broken than I have been. It sure feels good not to play with broken glass anymore.

Post Traumatic Stressing Out

I hesitate to even type this, but everything is going relatively ok right now. I don’t want to spook up anything crazy, but for now it’s almost normalish (global pandemic and quarantine not withstanding, isn’t it amazing how world chaos can still feel normal?)

Yesterday my anxiety hit a fever pitch. I was shaking out of my skin. I tried to go down my list of things to do when it hits me and nothing worked.

I got the best news I could possibly get the day before. A loved one is cancer free. I still cannot believe it, but I’m so happy.

I got to see my grandparents and my parents and have a day of normalcy in the middle of coronamania.

Q is riding her bike with no training wheels. She got to play on my mom’s boat. Get dirty. Be a kid.

But in my life, every time things are going really good something comes along and crushes it. Yesterday I couldn’t shake that feeling that something bad was going to happen.

My child was happily climbing on rocks and pretending to be a cat with her friend by the water. She swims like a fish, but all I could think about was a busted head and drowning. I couldn’t even enjoy it.

Matt used to say, post cancer diagnosis, that the worst had already happened. Nothing else could touch us because we were already facing the absolute worst thing. He had such an outlook on cancer and life and what was coming and he never let it stress him like I did. My worst nightmare was losing him. I live in that nightmare daily. I still wake up and, for a second, forget that he’s gone. I still reach for him in bed. I still think I hear him coming in from work. I still walk into the garage and expect to see him standing at his work bench building a gun and humming happily because it was his favorite thing to do until his fingers got so bad from neuropathy that’s he just couldn’t. When it hits me all over again that he’s gone, I have to force myself to get up and live. Some days are ok.

Most days are hell on earth.

Yesterday was seemingly perfect on the outside, but inside I was dying.

I didn’t even acknowledge that I had PTSD until my therapist looked me in the face after hearing me talk and said “That is PTSD. Every word you just said”. Somehow I thought I was above that. I thought if I could power through the days that it would make what is, not. I thought that by not admitting it it would mean I was doing ok.

Well I can’t. I’m suffering from constant fear and anxiety and I hate it.

I want to be the mom who sees her kid having fun and doing regular kid stuff but if I lose her, get me to the nearest padded room. She’s all I have left in this world and I won’t survive that.

My mom told me after Matt died that I couldn’t stop Quinn from being a kid. She told me that I still had to let her spend the night with friends, family, have fun, and not just keep her at home all the time just to make myself feel more safe. Mama’s are full of advice you need to hear but don’t want to hear. Mama’s are always right.

A huge part of grief is distraction. Distraction and staying busy works for a while, but eventually you have to be alone with your thoughts and you have to face the monster. I understand why people numb the pain of grief with alcohol. It’s effective short term, and you really just grasp at any and every straw fo feel good when you feel so bad. I understand why people throw themselves into another relationship shortly after losing a spouse. Replacing the bad feelings with good. But when that goes south, you are forced to reevaluate.

I am blessed. I’m covered. I have the best friends and family anyone could ask for. I surround myself with good people and they know when I’m hitting the grief wall, or rather, when it’s hitting me. They sit with me in that feeling. Sometimes it passes quickly, sometimes it lingers. It’s important to have people who can sit with you in the lowest times and just be there for you. My friends can make me feel better without saying a word.

Matt wasn’t scared of anything. He was an urban explorer when he lived in England and a very talented photographer. Breaking into abandoned places to take pictures of the ruins was one of his favorite things to do and he had a group of people he loved to do it with. Yesterday one of his UrbX friends messaged me and sent me pictures I hadn’t seen before. I love seeing those, because it’s a glimpse into his life before us. This one had me rolling laughing. I can almost hear the picture. They captioned it “It’s a boy!”

He was always up for the next big adventure. He never let the fear of dying slow him down. This was even true towards the end of his life. All he could talk about was heaven and how beautiful it was going to be and who he would see there. I know that he’s at peace. I have begged God for peace for myself. But some days that turns into “God, I’m tired. Take me now. I’m ready to see him”. Survivors guilt is also very real unfortunately. I don’t understand why him and not me. I bargained with God a lot when he was sick. The worst thing in the world to me is for a little girl to lose her Daddy. I told God that I would gladly take his place so she would have him to grow up with. Their bond was unbreakable.

He fought so hard to live. He never gave up. Every single time I think that I can’t do this, or that I just want to crawl in a hole and never come out or move in with my parents so I don’t have to adult, I think about how hard he fought to be here for us. And I pick myself up and force myself to rejoin the living. It would be so easy to let the waves of grief take me down and leave me there. No one would fault me for that. But he would be so mad at me if I squandered my life away when his was cut short. More than anything, he wanted us to be happy and move on.

The waves of grief are hitting me hard. Just before I can catch my breath another one hits. I can almost hear him telling me to get back up and fight. So every day I do.

The longer he’s gone, the more we hurt. We find good in every day, and we survive knowing that every day on earth is one day closer to him in Heaven. But the pain and anxiety may never go away. Losing your whole world changes you forever.

I wish I could just go back in time for one day to have not a care or worry in the world. One more day of family fun with him. One more laughing until we cry over something stupid. One more dancing in the kitchen. One more “Daddy’s home!” coming through the kitchen door. One more pajama ice cream trip. One more big Matt hug. One more looking over at him in church and seeing his hands up in the air praising God when he had every reason in the world to turn away from God. One more time hearing him say how he couldn’t wait to be old and wrinkly with me. One more day with the love of my whole life.

I don’t know what our future brings. I don’t know if life will ever be back to normal. What I do know is that PTSD is not only real for grieving widows, it’s all consuming. Keeping my head above water is a group effort at times. So I’m just over here waiting on the waves to calm down so I can breathe again.


The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. – Psalms 18:2

Kill, Steal, and Destroy

The devil comes to steal, kill, and destroy.

The devil doesn’t come into your life like a character in a children’s book with horns and a sinister look on his face ready to snatch your soul. The devils walks in, sits down, pretends he doesn’t know who you are and what you’ve been through, smiles, and starts pulling you down with him. The devil tells you everything you want to hear. He may seem charming, but his motives are not. He may seem sincere, but he has motives unseen.

The devil will intoxicate you with attention. He will steal you away from friends and family. He will control your life.

He will steal your money. Kill your spirit. Destroy your life. He will lie, cheat, and steal. He will use you up and discard you and not care about your well being.

Widows, especially. Take warning-

These people not only exist, they walk around amongst us waiting to catch us in the most vulnerable position so they can attack us when we’re weak. Let my story be a cautionary tale of what not to do.

There are 2 ways to handle being a widow in my opinion, and neither is wrong. Either you become the victim or the survivalist. I chose the latter. People couldn’t fathom the idea that I could actually laugh and be happy and enjoy life while grieving but it is not only possible it’s vital for survival. I couldn’t fathom the idea that there are people out there that would take advantage of me and my daughter so soon after the death of my husband, but I’ve lived it and learned a lot from it.

It’s important to know that, if you find yourself in this situation, this is not your fault. Abuse is abuse- whether it be mental, physical, or emotional. Manipulation is manipulation. Lies are lies. Theft is theft. Plain and simple.

I was in a relationship where the other person tried (and succeeded) in pulling me away from everything I loved. He made me paranoid to be in the one place I clung to during Matt’s illness- my church home. He made me think that everyone was gossiping about me, when people just wanted to protect me from what they knew he was. Abusive people isolate you from the people and places you love because the people there will expose them if they don’t. I walked through church on pins and needles when it used to be my refuge and my safe place. I believe that God will send people to protect you from this kind of evil. I believe that the right people finally talked sense into me. I’m grateful for them.

This was the last contact I had. My hands shook when I typed it. Living in fear is not something I expected when I entered into a relationship with someone. This is what narcissistic abuse looks like. Months of agonizing. Months of apologizing for things you aren’t even responsible for. Months of walking on eggshells. Months of deceit. Months of stress. Months of manipulation. I’m free of it, but scarred from it. I can finally sleep in my house alone again without being scared. Kind of.

Widows, especially ones that cared for terminally ill loved ones, are in a unique position of vulnerability that I didn’t previously recognize in myself. I see it clearly now. When you put all of you energy into saving someone’s life it’s hard just to turn those feelings off. You care so deeply for people, even to your own detriment. You become even more empathetic when met with someone who convinces you they’ve just had a bunch of hard breaks their whole life and that they have been the victim of “vicious women”, when in reality, they are the monster. When someone comes into your life and sells themself as something they’re not, you believe them until they give you a reason not to. If I had a dollar for every time I said “Thank you for telling me that, but I am choosing not to judge him based on his past”. And here I am, thousands of dollars and precious months and sanity lost.

Women- you do not have to let people like this in your life just because being alone is hard and lonely. You know what else is hard? Explaining to your friends and family how the “nice guy” you were seeing swindled money away from you. Telling my parents and Matt’s parents how much and how was one of the lowest days I’ve had since Matt died. Dealing with the aftermath of the abuse almost killed me.

You know what else you don’t have to do? You don’t have to be embarrassed about it. You don’t have to sweep it under the rug or pretend it didn’t happen just because you feel like an embarrassment to your family or your dead husband’s memory. Talking about it openly and honestly helps. Not talking about it protects the abuser and further steals, kills, and destroys your soul.

Standing up for yourself and against what is wrong will never be wrong. Taking back control when you’ve lost it to someone else will never be wrong. Trying to see the good in people when there is none will never be wrong. Admitting that you believed a string of lies and facing the reality that people out there would actually take from a grieving widow and her child may hurt, but holding them accountable for what they did to you and making sure it will never happen to anyone else ever again isn’t revenge.

It’s justice.

The devil comes to steal, kill, and destroy.

He comes dressed up as everything you thought you ever wanted.

Clinging to God and the hope that He will protect you and He will be all you will ever need liberates you from feelings of self doubt, guilt for trusting people who were not to be trusted, and all of the pain that comes with betrayal and abuse isn’t weakness.

It’s power.

Psalm 107:13-16 – Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness, and broke away their chains. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron.

https://youtu.be/4BpirBRWGUs

“Let every lie be silenced

And all depression cease

Let every dark assignment

Bow down at Jesus’ feet

Let every curse be broken

Let every storm be tamed

And all that come against us

Be bound in Jesus’ name

Your presence is my greatest weapon

Pushing back the darkness

Breaking every chain

My worship opens up the heavens

Crushing every stronghold

When I speak Your name

Your presence is my weapon

Your presence is my weapon

Your strength will not be shaken

Your love will not back down

Death has been defeated

What can stop me now

I hold on to what You’ve spoken

You said that I am free

You’ve given me Your promise

You are my victory

Your presence is my greatest weapon

Pushing back the darkness

Breaking every chain

My worship opens up the heavens

Crushing every stronghold

When I speak Your name

Your presence is my weapon

Your presence is my weapon

Your word and a melody

Are making a way for me

You defeat the enemy

This prison is shaking now

And these walls are coming down

Your presence makes me free

I am free

Your presence is my greatest weapon

Pushing back the darkness

Breaking every chain

My worship opens up the heavens

Crushing every stronghold

When I speak Your name

Your presence is my weapon”

Victims of abuse, I see you. I hear you. I believe you. My friends and family witnessed this. Validation of the abuse is sometimes all you need to help you through it. Having people say “We were there and we saw and heard what he did to you” is all you need. Confirmation that he did this to others makes you feel less alone. The discard phase is the hardest part but you will get through it. These articles helped me understand my complex feelings about what happened. You are not alone. Take back your power. Break the chains and never look back. But talk about it. Because hiding it gives them power they simply did not earn. My therapist encourages me to continue to write and speak out about the abuse I endured. I already suffered from PTSD because of the death of my husband, having an abusive relationship immediately after was a double whammy. Through therapy, writing, and prayer I am healing myself. Oftentimes women are embarrassed to talk about abuse, like they in some way caused it. It’s important to know you are not alone . Don’t give anyone who doesn’t deserve one a seat at your table. And don’t ever be jealous of his next victim. He will not change for her. There is no magic switch that will flip that will allow him to be a good person. He will continue the same pattern of narcissistic rage and abuse long after the last time he hurts you. They do not change, they only change their target and their supply. Be thankful you escaped before they destroyed you, which is always their end game.

https://pro.psychcentral.com/recovery-expert/2019/10/narcissistic-abuse-recovery-healing-from-the-discard/

https://medium.com/bullies-assholes-i-have-known/sleeping-with-the-enemy-bb69754875c7

https://pro.psychcentral.com/exhausted-woman/2015/09/ten-tips-for-victims-of-sociopathic-behavior/

As for me and Q, we’re doing ok. We have had some scary times because of all of this, but we are safe and taken care of. I pray every day for protection for us so that we never have to feel this kind of pain and betrayal ever again. She’s all I’ve got. I’m all she’s got. Never again will I ever let anyone use us again. Guarding her heart and knowing that alone is better than abused.

Oxygen

Dealing with a global pandemic has turned our entire world upside down. Oddly enough, it hasn’t changed much in my house. Our world has been turned upside down for 2 years. Our schedule that we previously craved along with all normalcies of being a happy two parent household?

Gone.

Everyone who feels like their life is spiraling out of control and they can’t handle the changes?

Welcome. That’s what cancer and death does to you. We’ve been sitting in this for a while, and though I am most certainly no expert on the subject, I have tips to get you through this.

Let go of your expectation of normal

Nothing is ever going to be the same. Every schedule you had, every daily thing you took for granted- that’s gone. This is it now. It may get back to somewhat normal, but this will always be lingering in the back of your mind. You will never have a single day in your life that you don’t fear this on some level. It may keep you up at night. I haven’t had a solid night of sleep that didn’t involve outside help since the day cancer came down on us. This is your cancer.

Routine helps, but you’ll always crave the simplicity of the routine you had before.

I was a stay at home mom for 5 glorious years. I cooked 3 meals a day. My house was clean. Clothes were folded and put away fresh out of the dryer. My husband would come in the door from work and knew he was getting a home cooked meal. His job was to provide for us, and I provided for him by keeping house. He never wanted me to work outside of the home and I enjoyed the comfort of knowing I didn’t have to. Anything we wanted or needed was there for us. Q knew she had a mom who was at every school function, every birthday party, everything. When Matt was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer at age 33, our entire lives became about fighting the disease. We leaned on other parents to step in when treatment prevented us from being there for our daughter. Our community fed us for months. I had to learn to let go of the control I had over my household and my traditional role of wife and mother. Still, I craved the routine. I wished so badly that I could just go back to the easy days of Mother’s Day Out and brunch with my friends, leisurely strolls through Target to buy things I didn’t need, and the comfort of knowing that I was taken care of. I’ll never not crave those days.

You will mourn your old life.

It’s ok to be sad that your child cannot finish the school year. It’s ok to want so badly to dress up and go out to a restaurant and eat cheese dip and drink margaritas and make small talk with friends you bump into. It’s ok to miss play dates, birthday parties, and fun times with your friends. Human connection was robbed of us during treatment and we felt like we were being left behind by our core group of friends. The space we held in the lives of others was forever changed by cancer. I mourned that for a long time. This is no different. We all crave human interaction. We all crave community. Cancer families know the pain of this, and now everyone is getting a glimpse of what it’s like to mourn your old life and feel helpless and completely out of control of your new one.

You will fear death.

Before Matt got sick, I never thought about death much. I couldn’t let my mind go there. My biggest fear was protecting my daughter from everything bad in the world, and then the worst possible thing happened- her whole world died right in front of her. Every day felt like a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from. Even when we knew death was coming, I was still afraid. Matt had accepted what was and was ready to go home. His death was not a shock to us because he was home on hospice, but afterwards I became terrified of dying myself and leaving our sweet baby with no parents. The mental and emotional anguish this causes is insurmountable. The feeling of dread is overwhelming. For many of you, this is the first time in your lives you’ve let your mind go there. This thing could take you out. You have to accept the fear and continue living, because so many people do not get the opportunity to do so when illness strikes. No one is immune, just like with cancer. It doesn’t pick and choose.

You will break down life to the basics needed for survival.

Matt and I talked a lot about what we needed to survive while he was battling cancer. We broke it down to the most simple things- a roof over our heads, food, water, oxygen, and each other. Nothing else mattered. Nothing else does matter. When you’re fighting something that feels so overwhelming and all consuming, you have to look at the things that are important and let go of every single other thing weighing you down. Making future plans doesn’t matter. All that matters is today and what you do with it and how you treat people. Don’t let your need to return to normalcy cloud your judgement on that. Tomorrow is promised to no one. We took everything day by day, minute by minute, and in some cases- second by second. Breathing, especially in the end when he was on oxygen, mattered most. As long as he was taking deep breaths and his heart was still beating, we were ok.

Accept what is.

The day he died we knew it was coming. He was tired. His body had fought so hard. If love could’ve saved him, he would still be here. He was so loved. In the end, all we had was love. There was no schedule, no bill due, no job that was more important than that. Knowing that he got to leave this troubled world for perfection in Heaven was a comfort to all of us. When they came to remove his lifeless body from our home, the sky was beautiful. Streaks of orange and light right in front of our house. Nothing I could’ve done was going to change the outcome. I had to accept it for what it was. Down to his very last breath, he was loved. We have accepted that he is no longer here, even though our hearts break every day.

I don’t know how COVID will impact the world we live in longterm. I don’t know if my family members will survive it. I don’t know if I will.

But I have accepted it for what it is- just life. Nothing is promised. No job, no relationship, no expectation of comfort is promised to any of us.

All we can do is love as hard as we can, do the best we can, and continue to breathe when it feels like we’re gasping for air. Make every breath you have count, because we are all just simply passing through this world.