One Year Ago

One year ago today, the kindest, most gentle, most loving man I had ever met took his last breath on earth and went to his forever home in Heaven. A huge part of who I am went with him that day.

He made sure we would have plenty of things to laugh at, from his ridiculous requests of where to spread his ashes, to all of the crazy stuff he had stashed away in this house when he died that we found while cleaning it out to sell. Even after he died, the amazon orders he so loved kept rolling in. He loved mail. I let it pile up for months after he died because it was his to open and he wasn’t here.

Life without him is not what we planned. He used to look at me and smile and say he couldn’t wait to see me old and wrinkly. His plan was to work for the railroad for 30 years and retire and watch our grandchildren play. Any railroad wife knows that you suffer through the long years to get to the sweet retirement, but he didn’t make it that far. He couldn’t wait to see Quinn grow up. He doted on her and loved her so much it made my heart explode. He provided us with the best life he could and we wanted for absolutely nothing. He didn’t take anything too seriously and when I say he lit up every room he walked into, he did. His head was always on a swivel because he was always looking for excitement. When Matt was around, the fun began. You never knew what was going to come out of his mouth and he instantly disarmed everyone with his quick wit and charm. If you weren’t his friend before, you were by the time he left. His personality was magnetic and rare. He could make anyone love him.

A huge part of Matt’s life was giving. He would do it quietly, never wanting a second of recognition for it. Over the years that we were together I watched him quietly pay bills for people, send people things anonymously when he knew they were in need, bail friends out of issues they couldn’t handle themselves.. he was just so good. There wasn’t a single person he helped that he did with any expectation of return. When I was very pregnant with Quinn and we didn’t have 2 pennies to rub together, our “treat” was Arby’s one night. It was so cold and the employees were trying to kick a homeless man out of the restaurant in Atlanta. He walked to the register, bought him a meal, and sat it down in front of him and told him to eat real slow and stay as long as he wanted then came back to the table and quietly ate his own food. There was no one who was immune to the goodness of Matt’s heart, because that’s who he was day in and day out. When he was diagnosed with cancer, our entire community rallied around us and carried us and this humbled him every single day. He would sob with gratitude. He wasn’t used to being on the receiving end. He felt things deeply. He felt the pain of other people and was always trying to fix it for them or make it better in some way. He was good in a bad world.

There was no better person to have in your corner in life. I used to tell people “oh you love your husband? Because I LOVE my husband”. We had seen each other at our absolute worst and we had faced hardships that never broke us. We weren’t perfect. I’m a difficult person to love on a good day, but he did. Right up until his last breath, he did. He could see a silver lining where I couldn’t see one. He could take the worst situations and make them better, usually with humor. His instructions for our family were clear when he knew death was coming- move on, love, live, and laugh- because he believed there was humor to be found in every situation.

Cancer didn’t stop him from playing alexa on 10 and dancing around the house. Cancer didn’t stop him from being the best dad he could possibly be to Quinn. Cancer didn’t take that quick wit and charm. If anything, cancer magnified who he was and what was important.

He lived life as if he knew his time on earth was limited. He loved speed, and one of my biggest regrets is saying absolutely not to the “motorbike” he wanted here. I was convinced he would kill himself on it. Should’ve just said yes.

I see him in Quinn every day. She is the most wonderful part about him. All of her quirks and weirdness are a mix of us both, but her great big heart and her ability to make everyone fall in love with her came straight from him.

It breaks my heart every day that she has to live in a world without him. It breaks my heart that she won’t have her daddy there for the important moments. It breaks my heart that she has to hurt because he’s gone. I can’t even put into words the pain of that because it’s insurmountable even a year later. That’s the biggest and most raw pain of all.

Many of our friends have asked what we’re going to do today. Balloon release was suggested, but Matt would rather die than hurt an animal. Today we will eat Oreo cream ice cream because he loved it. We’ll take a fast ride on his favorite curvy road. We will watch videos of him just to hear his voice and look at old pictures of him. We will let the love of God hold us like we have every day since he left this earth for heaven.

Today, as you go through life, remember him. Remember his spirit, his smile, his unwavering love for people and for what’s good in the world. Do something kind for someone else. Be someone’s happy, because he was always someone’s happy. Make an inappropriate joke, laugh too hard at something, and don’t take anything too seriously. He didn’t, and it served him well in his 35 years.

He loved gentleman jack and coke. He loved America. He loved England. He loved chocolate. He loved tacos. He loved guns. He loved singing and dancing. He loved his family with his whole heart. He loved cars, especially fast ones. He could take a car apart and put it back together with relative ease. He loved his job. He loved candy. He loved laughing. He loved life and he loved Jesus. He may be gone, but his spirit lives on in the heart of a little 7 year old fireball who is exactly like him.

Matthew James Smith came crashing into this world on April 5, 1984 and he left it a whole lot darker on August 10, 2019.

I’ll love him forever.

Bad Romance

Rumination is a big part of healing from an abusive relationship. You go over the details in your mind a thousand times, trying to make sense of what happened to you. In my case, I ruminate to try and get past what happened to me. It’s hard to get your head and your heart on the same level because, at one point, things seemed good. Surviving a relationship with an extreme narcissist means accepting that just because things seemed good, doesn’t mean they ever really were.

My relationship was built on the lie that he did not know who I was. He claimed to not know I was a fresh widow until I told him. He claimed to not know anything about me. If liars spontaneously combusted, he would’ve blown up right there in that chair in Starbucks because, not only did he know, he sought me out for his own financial gain.

When the discard (break up) happens with a narcissist, and it always will, rumination takes center stage. I agonized over every detail of our relationship to tried to make sense of it all. I cried. A lot. My whole body hurt because I felt the loss of something that was important to me. I was grieving the loss of something I had both fond memories and horrible memories of, which is very confusing. Heart and head were not on the same page. Heart and mind were hurting equally and at war with each other.

And then one day I had an epiphany that changed my healing process and changed my outlook completely-

I stopped romanticizing my abuser and my experiences with him.

There is absolutely nothing romantic about being abused. There is nothing romantic about being used and talked down to and cheated on and lied to. There is nothing romantic about a 45 year old man hurting my 7 year old child. There is nothing romantic about fearing for your safety.

When I remember the way it felt to have all those “me, too!” moments the first day I met him in Starbucks, I tell myself that that was part of his sick game. He had studied me, my life, my habits, my history, and preyed on me that day. He knew what he was going to say and do before he ever sat down beside me. What felt like a random moment where two people met and really connected was all part of the disgusting game of deceit he plays with women. I’m not the first. I won’t be the last. I no longer romanticize that moment. Now I get physically ill when I think about it.

When I remember the first time he touched me, the first time he kissed me, and how amazing it felt at that time, I tell myself this was part of the love bombing phase. This was a calculated plan to hook me emotionally and physically so that I could be easily manipulated by him. I tell myself that, just weeks after meeting me, he was doing this same thing to my replacement almost verbatim because she told me herself. He continued to do this to both of us for the entirety of our relationship. And he’s still with her, because she is likely still romanticizing her experiences with him and not identifying them for what they really are- abuse.

Check his phone, sis. Check his social media, his favorite tool for supply. Check his inbox. His multiple accounts under different names, dating profiles he lies on. I promise you he has others lined up. He always does. I’ve seen it. You were one of them.

I used to look back fondly on the time he spent with my daughter. I almost couldn’t believe that he could hurt her like he did, on her birthday no less, because of how much he appeared to love her when we were together. He used and abused my daughter and her emotions. Things I used to think were so sweet I now identify as blatant abuse by him. There is nothing romantic about hurting a child. There is nothing romantic about stealing money set aside to raise a child after the death of her father. There is nothing romantic about making a child cry because you’re a lousy excuse for a man.

Every single time he touched me, every time he grabbed my hand, every time he told me he loved me, every time he texted, called, showed up, spent the night, went out of town with me, every plan we made together- I used to cry over those things because I was so hurt that I would never have them again. I mourned what I thought I lost. Now I’m so grateful that I will never have them again, because I identify them for what they were- methods of abuse. His intention from day one was to drain me financially and add me to the discard pile of women he does this to, and he succeeded.

Romanticizing your abuser happens when your heart and your head can’t get on the same page. Your feelings supersede all common sense. No normal person would put another person through what he put me through. But he’s not normal. He’s a sick person in need of professional help.

I don’t cry over him anymore. I don’t have an ounce of love left for him in my entire body. Seeing him makes me dry heave and I feel panic and my fight or flight kicks in, not because I miss him, but because I’m so disgusted by his very existence in my life in any capacity. I wish that I could just wipe him from my memory and my past completely. I have such a visceral reaction to seeing him in person now and I’m forced to due to court proceedings. My whole body wants to run so far away from him because I identify him for exactly who and what he is- a dangerous predatory abuser who needs to be avoided.

When we broke up (or as I like to call it now, when I broke free) he said “Come on, it wasn’t all bad”. Oh yes it was. From day one, second one, from before he ever even spoke the first word to me, it was bad. His intentions were always bad. I was just collateral damage on his way to financial gain until better supply came along. And she is, too. There’s always new supply lined up for the narcissistic abuser. Their ego won’t allow it any other way.

Rumination is a part of life, but romanticizing my abuser and my experiences with him will never happen again because I see so clearly who and what he is.

My head and my heart are on the same page and the chapters behind me will never be looked back on fondly. I look back on them now with disgust and regret and gratitude that I survived his wrath.

There is absolutely nothing romantic about abuse.

Hug a Teacher

This is Sarah Goodner. This is Q. This is today.

Sarah was Quinn’s first grade teacher. Q started first grade at a brand new school 4 days after watching her dad die. Matt was adamant she start on time so she wouldn’t have to be the “new” kid and the “missed the first few weeks” kid.

Q is a touch me not. She initiates hugs and my heart explodes because I know when she does that, she loves that person big. I tell everyone if you get a hug from her, she loves you so you better enjoy it.

A few weeks into the school year while Sarah and I were talking about how Quinn was doing she said they have lunch time hugs. At first it shocked me because in those first few weeks she was very stand offish. Her whole world had just came crashing down around her and she was expected to go to school and behave like every other kid there while suffering a loss no one could really understand. But she just kept reaching out and hugging her teacher.

The two of them formed a special bond. Before school started when Matt was dying, Sarah came today our house so he could be a part of “meet the teacher”. This meant the world to him and to us. He didn’t make it to see her first day of “big school” but cancer didn’t rob him of the excitement of seeing her with her first big school teacher. Quinn said afterwards that “Daddy knows Mrs Goodner and loves Mrs Goodner and I do, too”.

Teachers are special people. In a time where we as parents are all doing the very best we can do for our kids, teachers are, too. Administrators, principals, superintendents- they are all trying to figure out how to navigate this virus and its impact on our children. The same teachers that will pull your child out of a burning school if they have to and throw themselves in front of an armed gunman are the same ones working tirelessly now to prepare a safe classroom for our kids to go back to grow, learn and thrive in.

Pray for them. Be kind to them. And, if you get the chance, put on your godforsaken mask and give them a hug. Lord knows they all need it right now.

We don’t know what the 2020-21 school year will look like yet. But I hope Quinn ends up with a teacher with even a fraction of the heart Mrs Goodner has. And I hope she doesn’t mind lunchtime hugs.

The Grief Cycle

Therapy has taught me how to cope with complex emotions left from suffering through the death of my husband from stage 4 colon cancer and the abusive relationship I found myself in shortly thereafter.

Watching someone you love fight for his life and die a slow death is torture. There is no other way to put it. It’s an out of body experience. There were times that I felt like I was hovering above the situation watching it unfold in slow motion, unable to fix what was happening in front of me. I fought for my family. I fought until we heard the words “I’m so sorry, we feel that hospice care is the right choice at this time. You’ve done everything you could do”. We would’ve gone to the ends of the earth to save Matt’s life. We left no stone unturned. I do find peace in knowing that we did everything we could, but that doesn’t negate the pain of losing him at age 35. The problem with fighting so hard and so long is that everything feels like war. Normal things feel abnormally hard. I am constantly battling a war in my head between letting go and fixing what’s wrong. I’m a fixer by nature. If I can make someone’s life just a little bit easier by sacrificing in my own life, I’ll do it. I used to think this was an attribute. Now I see it as a major character flaw. I also acknowledge that, when I entered into the first relationship after Matt’s death, I was deep in the grief/acute sorrow phase.

I was preyed upon by someone who pretended to not know who I was. He said he had never heard of me, my husband, or my loss. I now know that was not true. I believe there are people out there who seek out people at their lowest point and forge relationships with them because that’s just who they are. They feel more capable manipulating people at their weakest moments because we’re easy targets. This doesn’t always have to come in the form of someone who lost a loved one. In his case he likes fresh divorcees, too. It gives him an immediate upper hand. Truthfully, I would’ve never given him a second look had I been further along in the grief process. I was using everything as a distraction to pull me away from the pain I was feeling and make me feel good. When you meet someone and they shower you with attention and affection and you’ve felt so bad for so long, you love it. You crave it. Who I met was an extreme narcissist that used my grief to his advantage. He crossed boundaries that I should’ve enforced from day one, but I wasn’t capable of enforcing those boundaries. Mentally I was not ok. I was getting up every day, going to work, taking care of my child- shuffling through life like normal. I clearly remember things he said and did and they make my blood boil and my skin crawl now, but at the time he made me feel really good so I allowed them. When you’re suffering from acute sorrow you will grasp at anything and everything that feels better than that.

I remember the first time he called me to come out with him late at night. We had been out before closer to where I live and work, but it got back to his ex wife and, once people found out he was pursuing me, they came out of the woodwork to try and protect me from him. I was angry that people would have the audacity to try and interfere in something I thought was so good, but I regret not taking the warnings now. It could’ve saved me months of heartache. He knew nights were the worst for me, that’s when the dread set in and the bad thoughts flooded my brain. It still is. I had suggested we just hang out at my house and he had said not tonight, so I was surprised when he called. I met him at a bar close to his house at his request. He introduced me to his bartenders and we spent the evening drinking beer and laughing. It felt so good at a time when everything else felt so bad. He was the same overtly charming man I met that day in Starbucks that I wish I could just wipe from my memory forever. I remember everything about the way it felt when he touched me, how he smelled, what he was wearing.. I was floating. He kissed the window of my car when I rolled it up. I left the bar that night with his lip marks all over the window. They stayed there for months. I remember the way it felt when he kissed me that night. I felt equal parts horrible because it felt like cheating on my husband (who had been dead for months, but I still felt very much married) and equal parts amazing because who doesn’t want to feel wanted after feeling horrible for so long?

This started the cycle of nights with B. I became his constant bar buddy. He would comment that this was best because we couldn’t have “privacy” if we went out close to where I lived and worked. He introduced me to friends as his girlfriend. I had no reason to believe that I wasn’t in those moments. That’s exactly how he treated me when we were away from “prying eyes”. Every time I would take my daughter to my friend for the night to go spend nights with him she would gently try to tell me that this wasn’t normal behavior. I would gush over him and how he made me feel and go anyway. I lived for those phone calls or texts telling me where to meet him next. It was fun and exciting. There were nights that we spent brainstorming big ideas together and I felt like, in those moments, I saw a glimpse of who he really is behind all the narcissism and misogyny and anger that came out later. I’ve never in my life met someone that has so much potential but chooses to continuously do the wrong thing and hurt people, but that’s just who he is. And when he would break down and open up to me about his own struggles he was almost childlike and I felt sorry for him. I’ll never know what was true and what wasn’t, but my love for who I met and what I saw was genuine. I didn’t know I was being had. I didn’t know anything about narcissistic behavior and I sure did not identify him as a predator. When I was with him, everything felt better. At a time when everything felt horrible, I needed that.

I’ve heard that you shouldn’t make any big decisions or enter new relationships within a year of a big loss. I didn’t think that was true or fair. I didn’t understand the grief cycle or even the process of grief. I had anticipatory grief through the loss of my husband because we knew it was coming so I was further along than someone who had suffered a sudden unexpected loss, but I was sitting firmly in the “acute sorrow, helplessness, hopelessness, depression, and despair” section. The man who preyed on me found me at my very lowest moment and proceeded to take full advantage of my grief.

I didn’t even realize I was being manipulated, but I was. I am normally a very strong person mentally and emotionally, so I didn’t see what was happening because I was at my most vulnerable and most fragile. I didn’t identify that I had been in an abusive relationship with this man until months after it was over. I suffered greatly at the hands of this man and so did my child.

So what happens when you are deep in the grief cycle and someone comes along and uses and abuses you for their own personal gain? Grief magnified by a thousand.

I somehow survived watching Matt suffer from cancer with only one attempt at taking my own life. One day, when Matt was going through treatment and we found out that the chemo he fought through did not work, I couldn’t take it anymore. I went on a drive to clear my head and found myself sitting at an overlook with a gun in my hand. The stress and anxiety of watching him suffer was too much. I felt hopeless and like a failure because I couldn’t save my family. I wanted to end my own pain. I never understood suicide before, but I do now. No one who considers it wants to hurt anyone else, they just want to end their own suffering. I put the gun in my mouth and right before I pulled the trigger my phone rang. It was my daughter asking if she could have ice cream. I unloaded the gun and sobbed. She saved me that night.

Finding out I had been used for personal financial gain, cheated on, lied to, and manipulated by an extreme narcissist sent me right back to that place. I didn’t want to wake up. Every day felt like a nightmare and the shame was overwhelming. I tried to breathe through it, but panic attacks were a daily occurrence. I tried to numb the pain but nothing worked. I didn’t want any of it to be true- the other woman he had been seeing since a month after I met him- none of it. At one point I actually said to him “Just stop it! Act normal! I don’t even know this person you’re acting like!” I was in denial, because the person he was showing me is exactly who he really is. I got angry. I begged. I pleaded. I bargained. I found myself right back in that all too familiar grief cycle, except this time I was grieving someone who purposely set out to destroy me because of his own mental issues.

When I met him he told me his ex was “crazy, delusional, and obsessed with him”. She is not. She is strong, capable, and -like me- barely survived him. In the end of our relationship he used those same words on me. He called me crazy and told me everyone was going to think I was crazy. He called me delusional and told me that dates and times that things happened didn’t happen even though I had proof. He said I was delusional and that he never told me he loved me, never told my child he loved her. He said no one was ever going to date me again because I was obsessed with him. He shamed me for feeling normal human emotions because he is incapable of feeling any of those.

When you’re already suffering and someone causes you more traumatic suffering, it’s really easy to just shut down. Through therapy and writing I have managed to keep going, but only because I have a healthy outlet. I see why people turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. I see why people choose suicide. It’s very easy to feel completely helpless and hopeless.

But you have to keep going. Surrender to it, feel it instead of trying to hide it out of shame and fear that people will view you in a different light. Faith, hope, and serenity are on the other side of everything you’re afraid of.

I wish so badly I could go back to that day in Starbucks and shake some sense into myself. I wish I knew then what I know now about narcissism and how common it is for these people to prey on grieving widows. I didn’t know any better. But when you know better, you do better. Speaking out about it is imperative to my healing process and, if it helps someone else not suffer, I’ll keep writing about it as long as I can.

Words matter. The words you say to people matter, the promises you make, and the words you say to children matter extra. I will continue to use my words to reconstruct what my new life will be. I’m stronger now and am done replacing bad feelings with good just to distract myself. I understand fully that to get to the “new life” part of the cycle, I have to walk through the pain of what broke me in the old life.

There is hope. You have to just keep it moving.

Surviving the Narcissist

Since having my whole life turned upside down by a predatory psychopath, I have learned a lot about narcissistic abusers. I have read every article, book, watched every video, and immersed myself into the sick world of these people to try and better understand what happened to me. What I have learned is both heartbreaking and eye opening.

I’m mentally strong. I have seen a lot of trauma in my life. I walked through fire with my husband as he fought for his life against stage 4 colon cancer and then watched him die a slow and painful death. I stand strong in the face of adversity and not much breaks me. But this broke me.

That’s because it’s unnatural for one human to treat another human like their personal atm and ego booster. Narcissists prey on empathetic people because it’s a quality they do not understand or possess. It’s not in my nature to ever use, abuse, and hurt another person the way he did me. I didn’t even understand that I was in an abusive relationship until it was over. I draw strength from the stories others have shared with me about their own experiences with narcissistic abusers. It’s a club I wish I wasn’t a card carrying member of, but if writing about it helps one person not suffer at the hands of these mentally disturbed people I will type until my fingers bleed.

I was born and raised in the south, where we often brush uncomfortable situations under the rug in an effort to keep everyone involved comfortable. I will not stay silent so that he can stay comfortable, much to his dismay. When my precious little 82 year old grandmother hears the entire story, sees the proof, and tells me to give him hell, I’m giving him hell. No question.

The worst thing you can do to a narcissist is expose them for what they are. You begin to unravel the lies they tell and they spiral. Rest assured they are telling the same lies to your replacement and using you and your reaction to the abuse you suffered to play their sick games. You become the crazy ex. Just like the one before you and the one before that. None of you are crazy, you were just pushed to the edge and dared to push back to save yourselves from this man. Remember that.

I believe that one of the greatest tests of my life will be how I handle someone who mishandled me, my child, my emotions, my bank account, my home, and my heart. I won’t pretend it didn’t happen. I won’t hide the truth. I won’t minimize myself or my feelings so that he can do this to someone else. I believe there is no bigger test of a person’s integrity than how they react when they have behaved poorly. He refuses to right the wrongs. I refuse to shut up about it. One of his biggest mistakes was going to war with someone who has walked through the hell of cancer and losing a man who had more integrity in his pinky toe than this monster has in his whole miserable body. I’ve been to war for 3 years. I won’t back down from a clown that destroyed my life in 6 months.

Integrity means doing the right thing even when no one is watching. Integrity means owning up to your mistakes and taking responsibility for your actions. Integrity does not mean preying on someone’s weaknesses for your own financial gain. Integrity does not mean lying and deceiving everyone involved to make yourself look like an upstanding human when your behavior says you’re a liar, cheater, gaslighter, thief, and all around bad person. Integrity does not involve manipulation of the person you are dating and it does not involve manipulation of a child.

The man I dated forced his way into my child’s life. He picked up her order at Starbucks one day when we happened to be there at the same time, ran over to her and said “Here you go, Princess”. He had her just as fast as he had me. When he spent the night at my house regularly he carried her to bed, tucked her in, told her he loved her.. he played dad to a child who watched hers die months prior. He laid in bed with her and giggled, took her to buy special toys to woo her, curled up in my husband’s chair with her to watch movies- all things I should’ve never allowed. I wasn’t thinking clearly, but every boundary I set he crossed in such a way that it was disarming and endearing. At the time I thought my heart would explode. Now it makes me feel physically sick to my stomach to know he involved her in his attempt to sink his teeth into my money and my life. He was lovebombing us. And we fell for it.

He talked to her about the importance of not telling people at church that he spent the night with us. In an effort to make him comfortable and protect his “privacy” he so badly wanted, we walked out and around and out the side door to avoid seeing him so she wouldn’t speak to him in front of his children. This is how he wanted it. She didn’t understand it at all, but he put it all on me. He said he was “protecting” us from people judging me for dating too early after the death of my husband. He was protecting himself so no one would figure out he was dating multiple people at once. He was protecting his own lies. Everything he does is to benefit him and him only. Everything is calculated and planned out meticulously to serve his purpose, no matter how many bodies he leaves on the floor on his way through life. Even the youngest are victims of these animals.

The thing about narcissists that I learned that has proven to be so true with this one is they are chameleons. They mirror the people they are with because they have no identity of their own. He looks like a totally different person now than he did when I met him. It’s shocking really. If you say you like something they automatically love it, too. You share your dream car with them? Oh look, they want the same one. They adopt your likes and dislikes in an attempt to check all the boxes. It draws you in because you can’t believe there is someone out there that syncs so perfectly with everything you like. Except it’s all a lie. The very thing you loved together they will use to devalue you with throughout the relationship. One particular morning when we woke up in our favorite hotel in Atlanta together, him laying in the bed with my favorite red lipstick all over his face, I was on cloud nine. I got in the shower and when I got out we were getting close to check out time. He asked how much longer I was going to be and I commented that I just needed to put make up on and I would be ready. He said something that day that made zero sense that day but caused me to have a lightbulb moment when I met his current girlfriend for a 2 hour face to face chat one day at her request. He told me he didn’t like women who wore make up. I laughed it off at the time because of course he did, he would even tell me “red lips” before we went out. Throughout our relationship dressing up, make up, hair done was not only encouraged it was specifically requested by him. He would always tell me to “make him look good”. I didn’t mind because that’s just who I’ve always been. Now here he was, standing in front of me telling me he didn’t like any of that. When I met my replacement, she told me she never wears make up, rarely dresses up, and wears her hair in a hat all the time. He was already mirroring her and her likes and dislikes to further devalue me and our relationship. It seems small and insignificant but it’s a huge piece to the puzzle. Nothing is wrong with either way of looking or dressing. People are who they are. The devaluing phase is part of the game. But my life is not a game.

Narcissists are also opportunistic creatures. If you’ll notice they always position themselves around people who can serve them in some way. You have a boat and it’s summertime? They’re your best friend. You have a wealthy friend? They want them to “invest” in something with them. My narcissist was way too interested in my husband’s estate and when it would be settled. I firmly believe that if it was settled already he would be a permanent fixture in my life. At one point he yelled at me because he didn’t think it was happening fast enough and that I was being “jerked around” by my husband’s attorney. He demanded he come sit in on a meeting because he didn’t think I was aggressive enough. I said no, he raged some more. One of the last conversations I ever had with him- after I found out he cheated on me, took my money, sold me a car he had title pawned the title to- he had the nerve to ask me if I had any good news from the lawyer yet. When I danced around the question to avoid sharing anymore personal information with him he persisted further. My replacement has everything he values in life, and sadly it has nothing to do with her as a person. It’s almost as if he was keeping both of us as supply to see which of us would be the best cash cow and she won based on timeline alone. All he cares about is status, money, homes, cars. He lacks depth. Take away everything he puts value in and he would be gone on to the next person who can provide that for him. But it will never be enough.

Nothing will ever be enough to fill the black hole of his soul. Narcissists lack heart. There is something seriously wrong with someone who can leave such a path of destruction and move on to the next person like nothing happened. This was not a normal break up. This was not “Hey this isn’t working for me anymore. I hope we can still be friends”.

This was

“You’re crazy”

“I never told you I loved you”

“I never told Quinn I loved her”

“We were just friends, Cyndi. You’re delusional”

“You’re obsessed with me”

“People are going to think you’re crazy”

“I had no feelings for you”

“You’re crazy like the rest of them. I hate women and I hate you”

“You made it all up in your mind because that’s what you wanted”

“If you go to the police I’ll tell them it was a generous gift from a friend”

“If you go to the police I’ll tell people this is what you like in bed”

“If you tell anyone I’ll tell everyone you’re a worthless mother”

“I’ll have your job”

“You tell anyone and no one will want to date you ever again”

“Why can’t we just be friends?”

“You’re an unfit mother and I’ll make sure everyone knows that”

“I’ll have her taken away from you if you’re not careful”

“I will rage on you”

“I will slit your throat in your sleep”

“Be careful out there, I know you don’t have Q with you”

“Enjoy being home alone tonight, looks like you’ll be there by yourself”

This was surveillance of my life. This was surveillance of my child’s life. This was the loss of my privacy and months of terror and stalking by a man who does not take no for an answer.

This was abuse. I was abused. I am a survivor of narcissistic rage and abuse. I was physically, mentally, emotionally, verbally, and financially abused.

And I survived. And you will, too. You just have to be strong enough to stand up and speak out.

Do it for the next one. Do it for the ones before you. I’m doing it for Q, because she was his victim, too.

Uncomfortably Numb

I was determined to power through life after my husband died. There has never been a single thing I couldn’t handle on my own with sheer willpower and determination. Matt told me before he died he didn’t want us sitting around crying over him, so to honor his memory I pushed myself into normalcy.

He died on a Saturday. Sunday we went to church. Monday we planned the funeral. Tuesday we held the funeral. Wednesday our daughter started first grade at a new school and Thursday I started work as a teacher at a private preschool. Life had to resume, because he said so.

In my quest for normalcy, I grazed over the fact that nothing would ever be normal again. I thought wholeheartedly that I was doing the right thing. I spent my days at work, my nights taking care of our daughter and it was business as usual at our house. It almost felt like he was just gone for work. I didn’t eat. I barely slept. I drank enough wine to kill the average human. Xanax was my friend. But I fulfilled my obligations as a mom and and employee. I thought I was ok.

I didn’t shed a tear. I thought not crying made me strong. I remember being self congratulatory, proud of myself for not crying. I didn’t realize (and couldn’t have realized) that I was in shock. What happened didn’t catch up with me until months later. I didn’t process it, because I was hell bent on surviving it, despite the overwhelming odds stacked against me. Not one person would’ve faulted me for falling completely apart. I thought I was proving how strong I was by not reacting “normally”. In my mind, I was strong. Everyone told me how strong and brave I was. I thought I was. I was ok until I wasn’t.

I was wrong. I was suffering.

My therapist knows everything there is to know about my life. She must think she’s watching a late 80s episode of Days of Our Lives or something. Like sands through the hourglass. She sees things in my life that I think are little things and identifies them as big things that I need to address. Without her, I would probably still be in an abusive relationship with a flaming narcissist. I would probably have allowed him to continue to torment and abuse me for his own personal gain. Without her, I would still be sidestepping the grief process, believing it made me a stronger person. Without her, I may have succumbed to the suicidal thoughts that took me to the depth of my grief and sat me there, unable to move. She says to me over and over again when I try to gloss over things “Cyndi, you can’t walk around this. You have to walk through it.”

Walking through grief is hard. Walking around it meant I could go through life mostly unscathed. I didn’t have to feel the pain and the hurt because I simply was not allowing myself to. I was uncomfortably numb. I was spiraling in plain sight. I grasped at any and every distraction I could just to avoid dealing with it. Unfortunately, one of those distractions was a man that destroyed what little of me there was left and walked away like nothing happened, leaving behind a trail of destruction I have yet to overcome.

I was suffering (and am still suffering) from PTSD, and it took me a while to accept that and identify it as such. The trauma of losing the love of my life was compounded by the trauma of losing someone I thought was so genuine shortly after. That’s what finally broke me. That’s what brought the tears and they didn’t stop. I cry easily now. In March, I attempted suicide. I took enough sleeping pills to kill myself. By the grace of God, it didn’t work, and for that I’m grateful. The weeks following were agony. I was so hurt and betrayed by someone who said he loved me and told my child he loved her. I carry the shame of that to this day. The pain of finding out that wasn’t true was too much to process on top of the grief I was already not doing very well processing and I shut down. I was fortunate enough to shut down when the world did due to COVID so no one really noticed unless I told them. I know now I was in an abusive relationship with a narcissistic sociopath, but when I was in it it felt normal because I no longer understood what normal was. He positioned himself in our lives, took everything he could, then walked away like we were nothing. He used us as pieces in the sick game he plays with the lives of others. He used my daughter and her emotions to get closer to me in order to take advantage of me. I’ll never understand why he preyed on us at our most vulnerable time, but I won’t forget the way he crushed my daughter. Seeing your child cry over a man you allowed into her life was one of the lowest points of my life. She loved him. He played house with us and another woman at the same time. I have forgiven him for what he did to us. Forgetting is the hard part.

See, what I expected was for everyone to be as genuine as Matt. And they just aren’t. Matt and I did not have a perfect marriage, but it was full of love. If he said he was going to do something, you could consider it done. He never let me down. He never let her down. I trusted too easily. Matt did what he said he was going to do always. I took someone for their word and their word meant nothing. I see it now for what it was- he is a predator and I was his prey. So was my child. So was my money.

I have been to the depths of depression. I have walked through the days wanting to die. I have laid in bed at night and prayed for daylight because sleep did not come. I know what it’s like to think the world would be better without me in it. I know what it’s like to be so scared to say any of this out loud for fear of being labeled “crazy”. I have suffered greatly and at times, thought the only way out was checking out for good.

I have to walk through it. I have to face the demons that pull me down when I least expect it. I have to fight every single day just to live, and some days my whole body hurts with grief. Some days I don’t want to get out of bed, but I do anyway. Some days I open my mouth and words don’t come out because I don’t have the strength to say what I’m feeling. There are days that I want to take Quinn and run far away from everything just so I don’t have to see the familiar anymore. There are places I cannot go because it would hurt too bad to relive even the happy times. There are places I don’t let my mind go because the pain is unbearable still.

I couldn’t understand the impact all of this would have on me until I got to the other side of it. I couldn’t even identify that I was in an unhealthy relationship. I didn’t listen when friends tried to point that out because I was too busy avoiding anything painful. As long as the temporary felt good, I couldn’t see the bigger picture.

Matt is gone. I know that. I am acutely aware of that every hour of every day now. No longer do I just imagine he’s gone for work. Every day I have to face the fact that my daughter has to grow up without a father. He won’t be here for birthdays, holidays, first days of school, first dates, graduations, or to walk her down the aisle at her wedding. There will always be a big empty hole where he should be. The difference is now I cry about it. And I deal with it and process it instead of pushing away at the first sign of discomfort and replacing the bad feelings with good but not good for me ones. Instead of sitting in the uncomfortably numb, unable to move, I walk through it. No more side stepping the pain. I’m facing it head on.

I don’t know why I had to go through trauma twice. The first one should’ve been enough to kill me. The second one almost did. I do know that there are people who see people at their weakest moment and take advantage of their grief and I believe that’s what happened to us. I believe you can have the best of intentions and still get taken for the most traumatic ride of your life when you’re barely hanging on from your first trauma. I’m grateful that, at my most broken, I didn’t check out from this life- even though I wanted to. I didn’t want to die. I just wanted the pain to stop and I saw no other way out.

My days are still hard. Nights are still awful. Some days my chest and shoulders hurt so bad from crying that it’s hard to move. My therapist says this is the normal way to grieve and that I have to let myself feel it to heal from it. She also says I can’t rush it, like I tend to want to do when things are uncomfortable. It takes as long as it takes.

I am no longer numb. I feel. I feel things so deeply now, especially pain and sadness. But with that I also feel joy. I find joy in things I couldn’t see clearly when I was at rock bottom. I find reasons to live. When I find myself falling down in a hole again, it’s those moments of joy that pull me out. Memories of the wonderful life I had with Matt motivate me to make my daughter’s life just as wonderful as I possibly can. Losing him changed me. The only way to continue to honor his life is to show her that, even when times are hard and people hurt you and you feel like giving up, you keep going.

If you are grieving, don’t try to be a hero. Letting yourself feel it doesn’t mean failure. It’s ok to grieve. It’s ok to feel pain. It’s ok to fall apart. You don’t have to be everything for everyone and you most certainly do not have to put on a brave face. Surround yourself with people who are comfortable with seeing you cry. It doesn’t make you a stronger person to push it all away. It breaks you down further.

And if you find yourself in the darkness and see no way out but death, find the strength to get help. Talk to someone. Reach out and let someone pull you up and tell you it’s only temporary, because it is. The world needs you and you will make it, but not without help. You have to be willing to ask for help. You may have to crawl to help. But you’ll walk again, you just have to walk through it and not around it. It may feel like walking through fire, but you have to feel it to heal it. If the only thing you can do is mutter the word “Help”, it’s enough. You are enough.

And so am I.

When Jesus saw her lying there and knew she had been there for a long time, he said to her “Do you want to be made well? Then pick up your mat- and walk.” – John 5:6-8

The Pursuit of Happiness

Independence Day was always one of Matt’s favorite days. As an immigrant, he knew what it meant to leave the only home he ever knew and move here hoping to live the American dream. He loved everything this country stands for and lived every day if his life here to the fullest. Every year up until he was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer, we spent the 4th picking blueberries in the morning, followed by swimming, bbq, and drinks in the afternoon, and topped off the night with fireworks. He cried every time he heard the star spangled banner. He embraced American culture and everything that went along with it. He believed in the good of America. He was happy.

Since he died in August, I haven’t been happy. I have had moments of happiness. I have had temporary happiness that served to fill my need, but it was always fleeting, and I chased it hoping for the same “high” I got when I was with him. Depression after the death of a loved one is debilitating. You are never the same. You find yourself looking around wondering why anyone has a single reason to smile. When you do find those slivers of happiness, you hold on to them. Not because they’re good for you. Not because they’re the right fit. But because you’ll do anything, even minimize yourself, to not feel so alone.

In my pursuit of happiness, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that some days you just have to sit in the hard. Every day has some good in it, but the underlying grief that I’m left with affects every corner of my life. It affects personal relationships, my health, my finances, the way I handle conflict, the way I handle disappointment.. I wish I could flip a switch and feel differently. I can’t.

The lack of happiness makes me feel the pain and disappointment of situations differently. With great love comes great loss, and I find myself reeling every time I suffer a loss now. After much self reflection I have figured out that what my therapist says is right- it takes time.

You can’t speed the process. You can’t ignore the hurt and pain because it will compound and eat a hole in your soul. You can read every blog about loss, every self help book, tear your knees up praying, look for comfort in the bottom of a wine glass, and nothing will ease it until you put in the work and let time do it’s thing.

Time is cruel, though. Every passing day I am reminded that I’m not getting any younger. Every day I think about how hard life is alone, raising a small child by myself. Dealing with depression, anxiety, and grief and also trying to be a good mother, friend, teacher, and daughter is tough. I’m lucky that the people around me understand how hard it is for me to do simple things right now. I’m lucky that my daughter thinks I’m doing a great job even when I know I’m not. She doesn’t remember her dad before cancer, which means she doesn’t remember me as a mom before cancer. This fact crushes my heart. We had it all. Now she has a shell of the mom she had because life just feels so hard. Still, I try. Pool parties and bomb pops and music and smiles. I try.

Grief changes the trajectory of your life. It would be easy for me to stay in relationships where I don’t feel valued or respected just to hold on to a shred of something normal. I can’t do that to myself, and won’t. I know my worth, I know what I bring to the table. More importantly, I know that I’m a child of God and that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Reducing myself to nothing to be in someone’s life is not God’s plan for me.

Days are hard. Nights are harder. Allowing myself to sit in the discomfort of grief without outside relief is sometimes more than I can mentally handle. I shut down. I go days without sleep. Food. I have to remind myself to drink water. Things I used to enjoy are not enjoyable. I don’t know which way is up and sometimes, I don’t even know what day it is. Simple things seem overwhelming, overwhelming things seem impossible.

Every morning I congratulate myself for making it through the night. For now, I’ll keep pursuing happiness. For now, I’ll keep fighting the demons that try to take over and pull me deeper into the darkness of depression. Every single second of every single day I will continue to pray that I’m able to rebuild my life and make it into something beautiful. I know God makes graves into gardens. I know that my happiness is not comprised of a person or a thing. It’s inside me somewhere, and I can’t wait to feel real, genuine, long lasting joy again. Only then will I be free.

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.