WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING TO LEAVE AN ABUSIVE ASSHOLE

You’re about to do it, you plucky little mo fo. You’re going to leave the asshole(s) who was (were) abusing you. I admire your spunk. It takes a hell of a lot of courage, and even more strength, to look an abusive asshole straight in his dead eyes and say, “Hit the road, Jack, and don’t you come back, or I’ll make a lampshade of you.” (A little legal advice: Don’t put the lampshade bit in writing.)

Now what? What will happen when you’ve told your not-so-darling abuser to stick it where the sun don’t shine? Well, fortunately, I spent the first 40 years of my life doing in depth field research on just this question. If there was an abuser in the room, I would zing right into his or her force field of abuse, as if drawn there by an invisible tractor beam. It didn’t matter if the abuser in question wanted a platonic relationship with me or a romantic one. What mattered is that he or she was willing to help me feel like the piece of shit I believed I was. Similarly, if there was a cultish, intrinsically abusive social group on the horizon, I would run to the them, flailing and screaming, “Pick me! Pick me! Please abuse ME!”

Luckily, I spent a lot of years working through my shit, and I now know I’m a ballsy, beautiful babe worthy of tons of respect and love. The people in my life behave accordingly, and I treat them like the beautiful, ballsy babes and bros they are in return. In the process of finding ballsy, beautiful babe me, I’ve left lots of abusers in the dust, and now have become what abusers the world over like to refer to as “a crazy bitch.” For the record, I relish it when abusers call me a crazy bitch. It means they are scared of me and trying to deflate and disempower me using their favorite trick–good ol’ fashioned gaslighting.

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But if you are new to the “leaving an abusive asshole routine,” you might not yet understand that being called a crazy bitch is pretty much textbook fallout when you leave an abuser. In fact, you might not know what in the world to expect at all. So here goes. What every abuser I’ve ever left has done the second I said I’m done, and what I am almost certain your abuser will do now that you’ve told him/her/them it’s over.

  1. Get pissed off.

Because historically, every time the abuser gets mad, you buckle. So they will try to reestablish the abusive power dynamic you have shared, up until now. They will do everything imaginable to cow you into staying. They will threaten you. They will tell you that you are a crazy bitch or a narcissist or a meany.  They will say things let, “Go then, bitch. I’m better off without you.”

Avoid abusers while they are in the rage phase of the “Oh, my god, the crazy bitch just left me” throes of woe. In fact, avoid them always. Because while the rage phase is pretty obviously dangerous, at least the danger is on the surface. Abusers are more mentally (and possibly physically) dangerous when they:

  1. Gaslight you.

Gaslighting. Everyone talks about it these days. Abusers are super damned good at it. They will do everything in their power to make you question your version of events. (I didn’t call you a crazy bitch! You called me a crazy bitch!) They will delete photographs and erase videos and go to elaborate lengths to establish their twisted and inaccurate version of reality as truth. They will try to make you question your own sanity. (A former husband who was a serial cheater said, when I cried after finding out he’d cheated on me, “I always knew that if I ended up with a crazy person, I’d take care of her for the rest of my life. Don’t worry. I’m going to take care of you.”) Fuck those guys and their gaslit version of events. Don’t listen to them. Don’t talk to them. You don’t owe them shit. They don’t get another inch of your glorious headspace, ever.

Even when they:

  1. Woo you.

This is the hardest piece of the “I just left an abuser” aftermath to get through unscathed. I promise, it will happen. Your abuser is going to show up on your doorstep, or call in the middle of the night, or email you, or send you a singing telegram, saying how sorry he/she is, how perfect you are, how he/she has finally seen the light and is now going to treat you with all of the respect and love you deserve.

Your abuser very likely knows what your wildest dreams look like, and he or she will make speeches painting beautiful pictures of your future together that look very much like your wildest dreams. He will likely make grand gestures that are very appealing during this time. If you want marriage, expect a ring. If she’s been cheating on you, expect dramatic rejections of her other sexual partners and public declarations of love for you. If you are religious, he will get baptized into your religion. If you are leaving her because she’s an alcoholic, she will join AA. If you are tired of being beaten, he will set up appointments for couple’s therapy. She will buy you trips to the Bahamas. He will buy you flowers. Read this next part with an open heart, because you need to hear it.

What you think is happening:

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What is really happening:

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Your abuser is full of shit. Your abuser has zero intention of following through on his/her/their promises. Or maybe he does, but he doesn’t have the mental capacity/life skills to accomplish what he wishes he could. If you take her back, this is what will happen.

You will have a few good days, weeks, or months, depending on how resistant you are to returning to the way things used to be. This “honeymoon phase” will look much like what the abuser promised when he showed up on your doorstep with roses. You will think you’ve died and gone to heaven. And then, cracks will start to appear in the façade. One day, you will be sitting there with your abuser turned perfect partner, relishing the sunrise, and she will flip a switch and call you an ugly cunt.

Or your abuser, who has been attending AA meetings faithfully for a few weeks, will declare himself cured, and you will want to believe him, and also will not want to rock the boat because things are going so well. And then, he will come home drunk. And then, a few weeks later, you will have a black eye, and he will tell you exactly what he really feels, which is that you have completely betrayed him by leaving him, and he now intends to make your life a living hell to punish you.

I promise, you walk back through that door, you will be walking into a hell that is ten times worse than the one you walked out of. And getting out alive next time will be even harder. DON’T GO BACK.

When you refuse his/her advances, your abuser will stop trying to woo you. Then, he/she will:

  1. Blame shift/Play the victim/Scramble for high moral ground.

I have never met an abuser who did not firmly believe that he/she/they were the victim the person who had been abused. I had a man who was literally threatening to cut my head off play the victim when I left. (How could you do this to me??? Remember that time I tied a string on your finger and asked you to marry me and drove you to Vegas and screamed at you outside the chapel for hours because you wouldn’t marry me on the fly? How dare you forget our perfect romance and leave all of our beautiful history in the dust? Did I mention that my parents used to beat me?)

Cultish social groups are particularly good at shaming people who leave them/speak out about their abuse. (Yes, we put on a hit on you, but how could you possibly go around saying we are bad people???? Do you know how much you’ve hurt us????)

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When rage doesn’t work, abusers will almost always switch tactics, crying, rolling around on the ground, trying everything in their power to make you feel sorry for them.

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Treat them like the bratty toddlers they are deep down. Do you give a toddler in the throes of a tantrum a cookie for kicking her sister in the shins? Fuck, nah.

Ok, actually, sometimes, I do, but I like bratty toddlers better than abusers. In any case, my metaphor is unraveling, but the point is, don’t give abusers the cookies they are thrashing for. Give them zero sympathy, and do not for a minute let them make you believe you have done something wrong. It is not your job to clean up the mess of them forever, nor is it your job to take their abuse for even one more minute. Block their number. Block them from social media. Cut off contact. I promise, no matter how “special” they’ve told you that you are, they will be abusing a brand new person/brand new people in no time.

And they will do their damndest to use these people to:

  1. Make you jealous.

Look at me on social media having so much fun! Look at all the hotties who are in love with me! Look at me dancing with all my super cool friends!

Don’t be jealous. Your abuser is an asshat and also a liar. Take a little solace from the fact that his/her/their entire existence is now centered on making up elaborate ruses to upset you, which doesn’t really scream of true happiness. You win, you beautiful, powerful thing, you. You’ve got him right where you want him. Go on with your life and live with all the joy, passion, beauty, and truth that fucker tried to steal from you.

In the meantime, she will:

  1. Try to silence you/turn others against you.

Abusers are often incredibly charming, charismatic folks. After all, if they just went around throwing things, punching people in the face, and raping people willy nilly, they’d have a hard time finding people to enable them. Their surface personas are often (not always) super sweet and wildly alluring. They are often (not always) very successful. And they are (always) super, super good liars. Your abuser is going to do everything in his power to make everyone you know hate you as much as he does.

Once, in the early days of my recovery from being a lifelong doormat, I pissed off this dude who had raped me by confronting him about what he’d done.  As payback, he called my preacher mom in the middle of the night to tell her I was doing “witchcraft prayers,” apparently hoping she would decide her daughter was the spawn of Satan.

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Luckily, my mom is bad ass (I got it from my momma), and she told him to go screw himself, in preacher speak. (The word “screw” was not actually employed, but the rapist never caller my mom, or me, again.)

My point is, every time I’ve left an abuser or abusive social group, the rumors have flown. I wish I could tell you that you won’t lose friends because your abuser is a shit faced liar. And I guess I can. You won’t lose real friends. But you will probably lose people who don’t really love you. You know what I say when people believe lies abusers tell about me? “Sayonara, mother fuckers. Thank God I’ve weeded out the riff raff.” Let the fuckers who believe your abusers go, my friend. Because who needs friends like that?

In addition to running a smear campaign, you abusers will also:

  1. Use any leverage they have to try to destroy you.

If your abuser has any control in any aspect of your life—say you own a house with him/her, or you parent a child together, or he/she is your boss—they will use what they have to try to destroy you. So do whatever you have to do to defend yourself now. Get a lawyer. Stop talking to your abuser, especially in writing. Don’t play nice. Play hardball. Because your abuser definitely will. I wish I could say that your abusers’ attempts to destroy you won’t hurt. But they will hurt like a mother fucker. I wish I could say that the abusers won’t win, but I can’t promise that. I’ve seen too many people lose kids and money and houses and jobs to the tactics of abusers.

What I can say is you have something in you that is eternal and true, and it is not dependent on the circumstances in your life. In fact, suffering often makes this piece of you shine more brightly in the long run, and when you have walked through the fire, you will be more powerful, beautiful and wise than you ever dreamed possible. (It may take a few years. You may have to wade through a period of pure hell before you get to the heaven part, but someday, it will come.)

I can also promise you this, because I’ve seen it happen again and again in my life. Karma is real. And no matter how many times a lie has been repeated, it is still a lie. And somehow, someway, the truth always sneaks up behind abusers and bites them in the ass. When that day comes, pop the top off a bottle of champagne, pop some popcorn, and watch from a distance, laughing, as your abuser falls.

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(I know we are theoretically supposed to be ever-noble and wish all people well, but who really is/does? No one I’ve met. Let’s be real today. I give you permission to gloat when your abuser falls. If you’re into that sort of thing.)

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Let’s drink to  your unique brand of ballsy and the arc of the universe which, as Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently phrased it, always bends toward justice.

Here’s a little song to pack your bags by.

 

 

 

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A MORNING MEDITATION ON XANAX WITHDRAWAL, RECOVERY, AND THE POWER OF REAL LOVE

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Me, post near-psychosis/death-experience. Strangely, I am more centered and physically healthy than ever before.  I could explain it. But it would take a book. Which I’m writing. I’ve now safely titrated off the Xanax with the help of a doctor. I took the last crumb I was allotted four days ago, and today, I’m more clear than I’ve been in months. Thank God. Thank Love.

I have the joy of housesitting in a beautiful place for a few days, which for me means lots of time for meditation, contemplation, and eating–a few of my favorite things. I’ve been indulging my love for Panic at the Disco, sucking up carbs like a Hoover, and thinking a great deal about the words, “I love you,” how easy they are to say, how hard they are to do.

When I was young, I thought love was an equal opportunity sport, that everyone who said, “I love you” meant it. This left me open to being taken in by every Don Juan and user on the planet. I slowly learned to be a bit more discriminating in choosing the people who walk through life with me, but I was still woefully naïve. Even up to a couple of months ago, I threw around words like “family,” as if a few good times with people who had never shown me their darkness or seen mine could be the same thing as walking through life–the beauty and the pain, the joy and the grief, the births and the shattering illnesses, the birthdays and weddings and divorces and funerals–with people who share your history and blood, people who would find it hard to continue breathing if you ceased to exist.

Over the past five years, I’ve had some experiences that highlighted the difference between real love and fake love for me. In 2014, I sold two books, the first one to Simon & Schuster, one of the biggest publishers in the country.  In the ensuing years, I sold two more books and garnered some awards. I traveled the country speaking and teaching, doing readings and signings, and in some of the places I went, a little cluster of people gathered around me, wanting me to take pictures with them and write my name inside my books. Suddenly, almost everyone who’d ever known me wanted to be my friend, even if I hadn’t spoken to them in years, even if in our prior interactions, they’d actually hated me. Lots of the new people I met wanted to be my friend too.

I’d always been a bit of a freak and an outcast, so the experience was strange for me. I wasn’t a celebrity, by any stretch of the imagination, but I was hip enough that some people thought that sticking me in their back pocket might come in handy someday. Something inside me knew what was happening to me was bullshit, so I became rather introverted and started spending more and more time alone. However, I still genuinely believed that some of the people I met during my travels were true friends. And I was right. Some of them were.

And some of them weren’t.  If you follow my Facebook or have watched my recent interview on Life Edge, you know that in March, I was prescribed Xanax without being told that it was highly addictive and potentially deadly.  I took it as instructed, tried to go off it cold turkey when I began have health issues related to it, and almost died in the process.  I also experienced psychotic episodes, which are a common symptom of Xanax withdrawal, and ended up in the hospital twice. If posting a bunch of weird shit on your Facebook during a Xanax-withdrawal fueled psychotic episode doesn’t weed out the riff raff in your life, nothing will.  I was utterly astonished by how easily people who had called me “family” when I was the glamorous up-and-coming writer threw me into the street when the going got tough.

But the experience also showed me who was really in my corner, the people who would drop anything to help me, even if doing so made them look bad.  When I had my first psychotic episode, I was frankly fucking terrified.  It was the most horrifying thing that had ever happened to me, and I had no idea what was happening until the ER nurses told me I was experiencing Xanax withdrawals.

The first time I ended up the hospital, after enduring days of physical and mental torture, I ran out of my apartment in terror, wearing only shorts and a T-shirt.  I managed to lock myself out in the process, which was awesome.  Apparently, even when I was completely crazed, my Android addiction endured, and I brought my phone with me when I bolted, although I forgot to bring shoes.

I had the wherewithal to call two people—my mom and my best friend Polyxeni–and they showered me in love from far away, called an ambulance for me, then called me while I was in my hospital bed to talk me through the worst of my suffering.  My brother kept insisting he was going to drive to Philadelphia from Albuquerque to pick me up.  My children called me repeatedly to make me laugh, because they know that heals me like nothing else.  My boss at Rosemont, the wonderful Carla, picked me up from the hospital and whisked me away to her castle in South Philly—acquired my new Xanax prescription for me (the hospital therapist instructed me to safely titrate off, not go cold turkey), fed me, tucked me into bed, got me on an airplane home. I received literally dozens of messages from people who had seen my crazy posts on Facebook and were worried about me.  Not for one second did I feel alone during the ordeal. Thinking of the mercy with which I was showered during this experience makes me cry.  I’m a sloppy mess of a girl these days, every time I think about the people who love me. (Thank. You.  You know who you are.)

I now consider a few people beyond my biological family, who have walked through years of shit with me, who have been tirelessly at my side during some of the bleakest times of my life, to be family. Because they have behaved like family in times of true need and darkness. But I will never, ever use that word to describe casual social groupings/friendships again. Because family is sacred. And the problem with taking shit and labeling it gold is it makes you forget what gold really is. It makes you believe that all gold is shit. It makes you forget to value anything at all.

I’m still relatively young, and just this year, I have stumbled upon the reckless, wrecking, astonishingly beautiful truth that I know absolutely nothing. Everything I thought I knew was a bullshit philosophy handed down by a culture flawed enough that it is the process of literally destroying the planet. A culture so broken that it quickly infects every child born into it with a creeping sense of dread and self-loathing and not-enough-ness.  A culture that plays at throwing around pretty words about compassion while rich people’s vacation houses sit empty, and poor people die in the streets.  A culture that monetizes airbrushed youth and leaves its wise, aged ones to rot out their final years in nursing homes. How could I pretend to think anything I had learned from this myopic, greedy, naval gazing culture was anything but trash? I can’t anymore. Not when I look out at the stars and see how big the universe is, how small I am, how petty my concerns are in light of the vast expanse of spacetime, and then whatever lies beyond that.

But the one thing I am pretty sure about is that for me, love is the meaning of life, and I know who loves me, and who doesn’t, and whom I love, and whom I don’t, and this infusion of love clarity in my life is so much more valuable than any physical treasure. I think the reason we become jaded when it comes to love is we mistake bullshit for love. We mistake the easy “I love you” for the “If you go down, I’m going down with you.” We mistake the “we got drunk together one night and kissed” for the “I’m showing up in your hospital room and cleaning up your puke, and I’m not telling anyone about how ugly you looked when it’s over.”

Love doesn’t fail us. Our inability to distinguish love from bullshit fails us.

It could be argued that my Xanax withdrawal episode pretty much cost me everything I had going for me.  I had just moved to Philadelphia to teach in Rosemont College’s MFA program, and I had to come back to New Mexico to be with family and recover.  While some of my dearest friends are dearer to me than ever, I’ve lost colleagues and clout as well.  Which should seem catastrophic.  But weirdly, it doesn’t.  It has been so beautiful to be surrounded by people who truly love me as I come out the other side of this darkness.  It has been such a gift to wander the mountain upon which I was raised, drinking in sunsets and meteor showers.  I care about my writing more than ever now (I have no less than four books in process, and I’ve been writing non-stop for weeks), but I care very little for my career.  Because trying to achieve a “career” feels like bullshit.  I almost died, and the life I have left feels like a bonus to me.  I’m not wasting my bonus life on bullshit.  I’m giving the time that has been given back to me to the only thing that matters in this world.  I’m giving my time to love.

A few weeks after I got home, I went on a little road trip to clear my head.  Driving is meditative for me.  I never really process anything that has happened to me until I drive it out.  I rented an economy car for the adventure, but when I got the rental car center, the guy only had a fancy white Jeep Wrangler, so he gave it to me for the same price.  Jeep Wranglers were my daddy’s favorite—my daddy, the first person who showed me what love really was, the person whose love has sustained me for a lifetime, even though he’s been dead for more of my life than he was alive.  It felt serendipitous, the gift of this fancy shmancy Jeep, and as I climbed in and started the engine, “The Power of Love” was playing.

I started to cry because love has saved me again and again and again.  I hate to say it, because I’m not a huge Huey Lewis fan, but I think that song may be my life’s theme song.  It’s strong, and it’s sudden, and it’s cruel sometimes, but it might just save your life.

That’s the power of love.

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A little slice of magic from one of my evening walks on Elephant Mountain, unfiltered and much loved.