Tagged: personal reflection

Story of Working Single Mom Style

I cried today. At work. Twice. Once in front of HR. This is cringeworthy stuff and today I did it. Just a few days ago I had a good ol’ sobfest in the bathroom at work as well– doing the obligatory praying that no one walks in to use the bathroom for something so trivial as peeing. So at which point did the official title fairy come down and hand me my “pathetic” badge? To discover my official title perhaps we should dig into the details a bit.

Women, it seems, are NOT allowed to cry in the workplace. Ever. It’s weak. It’s awkward for your coworkers. It’s off-limits. If a woman is okay with donning the “weak” title they may be permitted to cry if their dog has died (as long as it was cute and you always showed everyone pictures) or if you accidentally cut your hand off with a bandsaw. That’s about it. And you have to be the stereotypical weak woman whom the management can refer to as the “girl up front” and will never, never rise enough to break the glass ceiling, much less even attempt it.

I cried in the workplace because I was tired of being weak. My coworker had asked as soon as I walked in that morning, “Did you let [the boss] know that you won’t be in tomorrow?” and that started my brain rolling. I realized that I was fed up and at a loss at being trampled on, used, and considered the weak one. I realized that I would not be in at work tomorrow because I was going to stay home with my son and because of that I would not get holiday pay. But it gets even more infuriating.

My job had actually been very, very flexible with me. When I went to them and said I needed more work they set me right up with a new position for me and now, nearly a full year later, I was still choosing my hours so that I could be home when the kids were not in school. During the summer I worked second shift sporadically so that I was only going in when my husband had the kids. No one else in the office worked second shift. And I was strong. I told them what I could work and only worked then and I got my work done, never missing a deadline, never having any quality issues. But one day, on a fluke day that I was able to, I came into the office during the standard work day, and was called to my boss’ office. “We need someone to work full-time,” he told me. “We need someone consistently here during the day,” he said. “If you can’t do that, we have to let you go.”

Over the next few days I processed and churned and my then far from weak persona came up with a proposal. I had three demands: 30 hours instead of forty hours a week during first shift, a few extra weeks vacation than a normal fresh hire, and I would start when the summer was over. The thirty hours got me leaving two hours early each day so I could still pick up my sons from school, the vacation time made sure we could still travel and do fun things, after the summer was over was so my kids could have one more year of what they are accustomed to before having to adjust to being official latchkey kids.

I told my coworker my plan and she was excited. She had worked there over thirty years and was so happy with me she was glad I was finding a way to make it work so I could stay on permanently. She began talk of being able to retire when it was time, leaving things in good hands.

I emailed the proposal to my boss. He said no.

They wanted a forty hour week. He said they were very, very happy with my work and made it clear that they had no issue with my performance and recognized that I always, consistently got more work done than anyone else on regular time, but he told me no. He told me they would keep me on through the summer, a few more months, so that I could train my replacement: a young, fresh-faced woman who was just ending a temp position… in my boss’ wife’s department.

I couldn’t cry then. I wouldn’t cry then. I was strong. I didn’t need this job. I was allowed to state what I needed and they were allowed to say no and do what they thought best for the department, no matter what their reasoning. I would be fine. I met my replacement with a smile and trained her with all the gusto that I put into any of my work. I was strong.

But a few days ago I cried in the bathroom. Over about a month training went well but my own financial issues were rocky, to say the least. My riding mower broke (after a few attempts at self repair) eventually revealing that I needed several hundred dollars to replace it. My car had an issue I tried to fix by dumping nearly a thousand dollars into it and then, less than a week later, the transmission died. Then my dryer began to squeal. The water hose on the back of the fridge started spraying water everywhere. My oldest son wanted to join soccer and my youngest wanted to learn to play an instrument. All this and my job was ending. My business needed growing but I can’t put the work into advertising and finding clients because during the day I am at this other job. And, in the midst of all this, my husband tells his lawyer that I am capable of making more than four times what I am currently making (and several tens of thousands of dollars more a year than he even makes) so that is why he shouldn’t have to pay any support whatsoever.

So I’m was waivering but I was still not weak, I could still be considered strong. I tried to figure out in my weariness how to make lemons into lemonade and realize that maybe a lump sum up front to go back to school is better than trying to expect a monthly payment from my husband. I got my feet under myself just a tad and talked up how I’m going to pull things together so that I don’t have to rely on the support at all. He doesn’t want to pay? Fine, he can just less pay up front and be done and I would go back to school and move into a better life not needing his support.

A few days ago my trainee signed the official paperwork that she was past the probation period and keeps the job. Over and over I overhear, “Congratulations! So glad you’re staying!” Then I hear her tell them how great it is and how she realized that this job would be better for her than even going back to school because of the benefits and the experience.

Me. Bathroom. Sobbing. My husband wouldn’t agree to the lump sum anyway. He’s insistent on paying nothing at all.

Later that night I got a bill from my husband for half of the high-end school supplies he bought for the boys without telling me. I start to argue but just end up telling him I’ll pay whatever because I can’t weather another fight.

All that is shoulder slumping but today the full extent hit me. How I was the one getting cheated. Today my coworker reminded me to let my boss know I wouldn’t be in the day before a holiday. When you don’t work the day before/after a holiday, you don’t get holiday pay. EVERY time a holiday comes around the kids have something going on where I end up not working the workday before/after. It does not matter that almost EVERY holiday this last year they have spent with their dad or that I would happily work on the actual holiday itself instead of sitting home alone except the company is closed so “our employees can spend time with their families.”  Most of the time the day I am taking off is their dad’s day to be responsible for the kids anyway, but he NEVER takes off. He is perfectly fine just leaving them alone in his apartment all day when they don’t have school while he goes to work.

And the kicker? We work at the same place. My husband is livid that I am still working there and he has been looking for other work, (with my phone number on his resume so I get the calls, no lie) because he hates it there but loves to complain more than he hates to actually move jobs.

I want to work there. My husband doesn’t. Yet he gets to keep his job, gets full benefits, makes his schedule and travels the way he wants to so he can lie to the court that he “needs” a certain placement schedule, and yet whenever he doesn’t have the kids he lives in a hotel and gets all of his expenses paid for by this company and recently he even got upgraded to the latest iPhone through work (which is also a paid expense for his department.) And I am losing my job because I want to leave two hours early every day to do a thing that he would never consider doing: keeping things consistent for our kids and having an available parent say to them through actions that they are a priority.

So today I cried.

But did I really cry because I was weak? No. I cried because I wasn’t strong enough for myself, my kids, my husband, and my boss. Not strong enough does not automatically mean weak. It just means that there is too much pressure.  

Sometimes we simply can’t take the pressure off either. Sometimes the refrigerator will break and we can’t tell it, “Not today.” Sometimes an angry and vindictive abusive spouse will take advantage of you. Sometimes something will happen at work that simply doesn’t benefit you. On those days, it’s okay to cry in the bathroom. It’s okay to feel the injustice and mourn what you’ve lost, are losing, and will soon lose.

Maybe when you’re crying someone else will come in, just thinking they need to pee, and will catch a glimpse of reality. It may seem messy, but it’s reality. If that happens you have another adventure. Will that person be standoffish or understanding? Will they be judgy or comforting? Will you have the opportunity to practice dealing with an unhearing world, or will you have the opportunity to be supported by a caring world? Who knows. That’s what makes it an adventure.

But if you go into the bathroom at work and find someone crying you can be that second person. You can show some compassion and help change a society that often negates emotion. You can wait with them and hand them paper towels from the dispenser to dry their eyes. Because sometimes things are just hard for all of us and you won’t be able to know all the ugly details about that other person, but they need to feel like it’s okay to cry so you can show compassion when they need it. You can know without even knowing.

Oh, and when I cried in front of HR? I felt like such a loser when I couldn’t hold back the tears, but she was one of those compassionate people. She made sure I got paid the holiday pay. Looks like everything will work out. There is hope. Things will be okay.

Story of a day keeping things together

“I don’t get the point of that movie.”

I raised my eyebrows, “Okay,” and put on my teacher voice. “If you had to guess, what do you think the point was?”

“Um… music?”

Inside I was tired and already crying. I did not have the strength to take care of myself but I had to teach this boy. I couldn’t just tell him because he wouldn’t understand. I had to teach it.

I started working around the room, feigning just enough disinterest to not scare him off. “Well, for starters, it’s an underdog story. Do you know what that is?”

“Is that a story about a competition?”

“No, not really, though it can be. An underdog story is about someone who you don’t think will do well but they work hard and you really want them to do well.”

“Oh, every movie is like that. That makes it boring.”

Internal sobs.

************

Being married to a narcissist means years and years of explaining empathy and not having yourself heard. Being discarded by a narcissist means having to rip yourself away from the person you love, realizing that he can’t love you back. Having kids with a narcissist means you may be in serious pain but you have to continue in the pain because you don’t have time to heal.

************

We had been separated 8 months and the pain was still very hard, especially on certain days. This was the first time my kids and I had come up to the cabin after their dad had taken things. There was no dining room table. The central part of the whole place– home to big meals, game nights with the neighbors, and puzzles– was gone. It was a big void and a glaring signal that our lives will never be the same again. Plus, on the way up the alternator on my vehicle had gone out leaving us stranded and alone over an hour away from either home or the cabin after garages had closed. We had to depend on the kindness of strangers and got in several hours later than expected the night before.

I was emotionally wiped. I looked forward to a distraction, so I got the movie “War Dance.” It’s a documentary about a group of orphans from the northern part of war-torn Uganda who travel to the capital where they participate in a traditional African dance competition.

I loved it for many reasons, one being that it helped me understand that my own problems are not the only ones out there. These kids were true underdogs. One child at fourteen had to take care of her four younger siblings. One had been a child soldier and had been forced to murder innocent people. One was now being taken advantage of by her aunt and blamed herself for her parents’ deaths. Those kids have it so hard but they are living their lives and living them well despite the hopelessness of their situations. I felt hope. But then…

************

“I don’t get the point of that movie.”

I no longer had to explain or try to justify my empathy to my narcissistic husband, but here I had to explain to my son and he HAD to get it. How could he not get it? I gave him the basic rundown of the story and how I felt about watching it. I was teaching him emotional vocabulary. He shrugged his shoulders.

I didn’t think I had to go here, but I guess I had to take it to the next step. “C’mon kid.” I thought, “Make the connection. FEEL something.”

“Don’t you remember?” I said, “Don’t you remember the dancing?”

“No.”

At this I think a bit of the pain showed up on my face. How could he forget? So I started explaining to him. “Many people have a hard time understanding a story when it is so much different from theirs. When everyone looks different or they live differently sometimes people have a hard time even realizing it’s real. It doesn’t feel real. But you’ve been there. You’ve seen it. You know it’s real. You saw the dancing and how important it was.”

I started to recount our travels. You see, we had actually BEEN to places like Uganda. My kids should be more prepared to have empathy for Africans than most. We went to three African countries two and four years ago. We saw people practicing traditional African dance complete with fur covered shields for a graduation celebration. We went to a village where, since they knew we were coming, they DANCED us in. They were singing and dancing in a small mud hut when we arrived and they took us by the hands and smiled and danced with us in that rhythmic, close to the earth sort of way. My youngest sat on the dirt floor with all of the kids in the village. We sat and listened as they told us their stories of turmoil. They were horrific stories. We went to a women’s prison where they were singing and dancing and little kids were wandering around, living the only life they had ever known because their mothers were in prison. We went to churches in Africa where the dancing was loud and long and important to them. I pulled up the pictures on the computer. “There you are. Remember?”

“Remember,” my internal voice begged, “you HAVE to remember!”

This smiling woman is dancing with my son while the kids clap out the rhythm. Her husband was murdered 20 years ago and she now shares a village with the murder’s family. Her pain was so real but her heart is so beautiful after forgiveness. Her heart is visible when she’s dancing and the beauty shines through her smile.  I love this picture.

In my attempt to get the kid to make a connection and experience empathy, my own soul just cried at how much he should get it, but wasn’t. He sat disinterested and ambivalent. “Huh.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t remember.” It was only a few years ago. Those trips were some of the most deep and important things we had ever done and it didn’t register. What did I do wrong as a mom that this didn’t sink in?

Conversely, why is how their dad acting taking control? Why is my son acting like this? He almost seemed proud of his ambivalence. Since his dad was gone he seemed almost eager to take his place. It was as if I felt him saying, “Mom is emotional and acts crazy sometimes. Someone has to point out to her how stupid her views are. I can’t even admit to remembering anything because she has to understand she doesn’t matter.”

************

I sighed. No point in pushing. You can’t force it. I can just pray that it’ll sink in later.

“Let’s go make cookies.”

************

The evening before two men, instead of going home after their workday, took the time to work on my vehicle and replace the alternator for us. Then they refused to take any money. I was going to be going back through where they worked the next day so I decided we would make some cookies as a thank you and drop them off at their store. I planned on making a big batch so the kids could have some as well.

But my kids groaned in response to making cookies. “I don’t want to.”

I gathered my strength again and plastered on some fake enthusiasm. “Well you get to you lucky ducks! C’mon out here and let’s do this. We need to say thank you.” More groans.

My smile faltered but I pointed my face the opposite way. No weakness. C’mon mom. You can do it.

I set the kids on jobs. One reading the recipe, one gathering ingredients. They drug themselves sulkily about their tasks but kept going. We took turns mixing and I looked into the bowl, “This looks like it needs a special mixing. Who wants to mix it with their hands?” Sly smile. Opportunity to get sticky cookie dough all over their hands? If that’s not the way to cook with kids, I don’t know what is.

“Nah.” I got from both.

My attempts to keep positive was wearing thin. Inside I was so tired. “Well,” I said, “looks like I will just have to do it. Here, hold my wedding ring while I wash my hands and do the dirty work.” My son grabbed it and dropped it on the floor. He picked it up and dropped it again. “Be careful with that. It’s very special.”

I washed my hands and opened the cabinets to grab the cookie sheets. I froze. Time stopped. I stopped breathing. Long blink. No cookie sheets. My husband had taken the cookie sheets. My brain moved slowly, I could use the… no baking dishes. He had taken the baking dishes too. Nothing was left that was safe to go in the oven. My son dropped the wedding ring again. A tear dropped down my face. My internal sobs showed up on the outside.

************

This is one day out of so very many. Not every one is so hard. Some are harder. And I don’t know what the answer is. Single parenting has many challenges including not being able to call in a partner when you’re tired and overwhelmed. Some days you cry in front of your kids over a stupid thing like not having a cookie sheet. It is quite the underdog story.

As the spouse or ex-spouse of a narcissist you are the weak one, trying, however poorly, to compete with the strong, confident one. You may know the true side to your narcissist but maybe everyone else, including your kids, thinks that he’s just so terrific. Sometimes it’s just you, seeing the true story, who knows to root for the underdog. You know you have a long way to go and so much to overcome, but when you do it will only make the story that much more glorious. It will only make your smile that much more beautiful.

But today you cry and that’s okay because you are not a narcissist and know to feel badly about the injustices. It is sad and that’s how an underdog’s story starts. You’re just in the midst of it.

Realizing Emotional Abuse

“When did it start?” “How long has he been like this?” I get these questions a lot and I can’t say. I guess the real answer is forever. Abuse is inherently sneaky. No one is going to be in a relationship with someone hits you in reaction to your meeting handshake.

I think the more important question is, “when did you know?”

Even that question is sketchy. For a long, long time (forever?) things seemed… off. It was more about the confusion I had. As things went on more and more things simply did not add up. I spent years and years trying to understand and now I realize that I was actually getting there. But I didn’t feel like I was actually getting there. I felt like I was getting further away. I felt crazier.

I had more questions than I ever had answers and now, in hindsight, I realize that that was me actually starting to get it. I was starting to get it because, in truth, there was no “it.” It didn’t make sense because there was no it. Every time I hit a dead end I circled back and tried a different angle. As I dug and dug, each time reaching a non-answer, I kept finding myself with less and less ground. I built supports and took on enormous amounts of blame because I was the only one working.

*****

I had some friends who, with great amounts of alarm and concern for me, made sure I got to the local women’s center. I was a shell of a person yet still digging away. Why can’t I please him? How come when I go to my therapist to fix me she only wants to talk about my marriage? Why do I keep not being good enough for him? Am I self-sabatoging? Sure, he says incredibly hurtful things but he has a right to his opinions. It’s my part to show him grace. And plus, I am flawed, he has a point. Around and around. That was my brain. I was stuck. It was all that was left.

I still existed. I still went to work, got the kids to school, I still did everything I was supposed to but internally I was always on the loop: Why can’t I please him?…

I spoke to the advocate assigned to me and I cannot describe her, maybe one day I will be able to. All I can say now is she was unfamiliar but yet I was drawn to her. She spoke little but when she did I was both revolted and drawn to her words. It was cognitive dissonance like I had never experienced before (and I had experienced a lot!)

She said, “here we call those people abusers. Is it okay if I refer to him as your abuser?” My insides fought. NO! YES! I glanced into her eyes. She was so kind! I quickly made a compromise with myself. I will let her call him an abuser. It’s what she knows because those are the types of people she always works with. I will know the truth… but to please my conflicted thoughts I didn’t clarify what that truth was. I just decided I would allow her to call him my “abuser.”

Through the rest of that surreal conversation my insides fought. I cried in pain. I revolted at the thought of putting any blame on my husband. I tried to be strong and make purposeful decisions. I was there to get advice on how to leave him. I was there to appease my friends and prove I didn’t belong there and I really just needed to stay with my husband. I was in turmoil.

And even though I had experienced extreme amounts of turmoil in the past several years, although I had cried myself to sleep time and time again for years and years—nothing I had experienced before was like this.

The situation was so bizarre to me I felt split in two. I was like I was sitting at the table crying and I was also standing in the corner watching myself. The crying self I was very, very familiar with. The watching self bluntly pointed out what she saw as she watched this “movie.” “Wow, that’s what an abused woman says.” My crying self heard that statement and cried harder and tried more to defend him and the more she defended the more the watching self shook her head, “Wow, she’s really lost.” All the while the assigned advocate and my friend both sat with me lovingly caring… and my friend started to become an advocate and my advocate started to become my friend.

During that meeting I never said anything specifically bad about my husband. I just talked about how I felt and that was enough for an outsider to see the truth. This bothered me. How could someone judge my husband as an abuser without his perspective? I knew that he was so confident that he was right to be upset with me. How can his perspective be understood with him not there?

My friend looked at me and said, “Do you think that he is sitting somewhere crying over the state of his marriage like this?” I froze. I knew from loads of training what my husband liked and didn’t like. I was trained to know all his possible reactions to any possible thing. In that moment, with that specific question, I realized that he didn’t really care about our marriage. He didn’t care that I was crying because in all of his inconsistent reactions, he never cared if I was crying. He didn’t care about our marriage because he never did anything to fix it. He only gave feedback on why it was my fault when I brought the issue to him. He took great offense at how I had wronged him that got us to this state in our marriage but he never actually DID anything.

And as my crying self paused and looked up to take in this question, my watching self came over and put a caring hand on her shoulder.

*****

And although nothing made sense, it all added up. It all added up to nothing. The answer was nothing. At the bottom of my problem was that my husband was empty. He had put it all on me because I was the only thing he could put anything on. He couldn’t blame himself because nothing was there. He was GOD and because he was NOT God everything that didn’t add up (which was everything) was someone else’s problem. And the person who was there, the person who cared the most, the person who did the giving… was me. He needed more ego and he took it from me. He needed a scapegoat and there I was. His problem became mine because I was the only person who could handle a problem.

The truth was that I was actually exceedingly strong. I had been taking on all of my flaws and issues as well as his. No wonder I was starting to crack.

I was reduced to crying in a domestic violence center because, as horrifying as it was to me, it fit. We’re all broken people. Everyone has flaws. Whether someone hits you or not, if they expect to put all of their flaws on you, that’s abuse. It hurts you.

The advocate called him an abuser. Even though he never laid a hand on me. My husband was an abuser. They knew this because I was sitting there deeply hurt because of him.

*****

Did I fully understand all of this then? No. But it was the start. It was when I started to feel the truth. It was also when the watching part of myself actually got a voice. She cares about the crying self but she’s much more purposeful, cerebral, and honest really. I suppose she’s the one who’s writing now. It’s good to have her back.

A Time To Reflect: recognizing the effects of emotional abuse

Timing is key. I looked at the clock, calculating time. I needed time for the oven to run a full self-cleaning cycle before I had to leave but I also had to get the birthday cake done. There was no leeway. Good thing I did have the brown sugar in the pantry as I remembered. I turned back to cutting the cherries to make sure I had enough to do along the edges of the cake as well. I had plans too for the full time the oven was doing both its baking/cleaning things and kept moving to make sure everything was done. When I left the house and locked the door, birthday cake under my arm, I gave a long sigh and squeezed my eyes together to block the uncomfortableness. No time for pain. Keep moving.

I got the kids from school and kept them busy until it was time to drop them off. I drove to my husband’s work and unlocked his car. I gave them quick hugs and handed the oldest the cake, “I bet he will really love this cake, it’s his favorite. Have a great birthday day with dad. Remember where the gifts are so you can surprise him?” He did. I quickly said goodbye, again driven by time. Any minute he would be out of work and I needed to be gone. I didn’t want to leave the kids alone but I needed to be gone. I drove away suddenly lost. I had spent so much time, so many years, devoted to trying to make my husband’s day. I didn’t know how to do anything else. Now what?

Emotional abuse is strange phenomenon. It can get you to a place where you are so controlled that, even when it’s just yourself, you play out the script. My husband’s birthday. I offered that he have the kids on that day although he had never asked. I took them to buy gifts, I wrapped and hid the gifts, I cleaned the entire house from top to bottom, I made his favorite cake. My brain had an alarm bell going off somewhere inside, long muted and muffled by the abuse. Somewhere my brain remembered how he treated me. My brain remembered that I had asked that I could be the one to stay in the house and he had told the counselor, “it’s MY house, it’s like I built it from the ground up with my own two hands!” Somewhere my brain put together that I was arranging flowers beautifying a table that I was not welcome to sit at. I had in fact made family dinners from scratch nearly every night for years and years and the truth was the dinners were accepted but I was only just allowed to sit and was now it was clear that I wasn’t welcome. I was no longer even allowed. The planning was done. I did all the juggling and preparing and made everything perfect but now that the time was here to appreciate the work and celebrate on my husband’s birthday I wasn’t allowed. So I was drifting. Lost.

Why do we treat each other the way we do? Why do people like my husband expect everything but are appalled at the idea of giving anything? Why do people like myself give everything but think deep down inside there must be a valid reason that we really do deserve nothing in return?

Why do we keep doing what we do and what makes us finally stop? And, perhaps most crucialy, how do we go on in life after the “stop.” Who are we without the businesses of trying to fill the black hole of shame with birthday cakes, clean ovens, and flower arrangements? Who are we?

That’s what this blog is about. I’ve been discovering that although my experience is just as unique to me as yours is to you, so many things end up the same. As we work though the questions we may just find a lot of the same answers.

 

photo credit: Ian Webb (jukebox) <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/14279070@N05/33343339856″>Time</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>