I don’t know about you, but I don’t give up easily

We’re closing in on nine years since dday. But I’m still learning what was happening in my life for over three decades. I’m still seeing with fresh eyes how hard I worked to build a life—all the while in the dark about why it was so bloody hard! I had no idea who my then husband was, and how truly dangerous his mother was to both of us. But I don’t give up easily.

For over three decades I tried to make something vaguely resembling family life. Nothing worked. At the time, I couldn’t see that it was just as much his responsibility to manage his mother’s incessant boundary violation demands as it was mine. I was very naïve. If I could not imagine such a mean spirit, I could not identify it when it was standing in front of me. Also, I had been raised to expect very little from life, so hard work and disappointment were challenges that seemed normal to me going into this relationship—even though I had truly hoped for something better. I thought if I worked hard enough on both these relationships, we would get there. I didn’t give up.

I was very wrong.

It is only now in hindsight, with at least some of the information that I didn’t have then about both these two damaged people and their emotionally incestuous relationship, that I can see how they tag-teamed bullied and isolated me. They withheld acceptance with criticism, lies, and cruelty. I had no idea that this was actually my then husband’s survival tactic. He was more terrified of her than I was. As long as she went after me, she wasn’t going after him.

But all those years I kept trying. When I reached out to others for help, they reinforced the wrong idea I already had—that I could change their negative behaviours by being more sensitive, more caring, more understanding. None of us knew then that all this actually had a name and was the end product of her covert abuse of her son, and his development of a secret life as his survival strategy. For his mother, I was the “other woman”. From the snippets I gleaned over the years, I’m pretty sure she was a victim of childhood abuse, and later endured an ugly marriage betrayal of her own. She was a traumatized child who became a traumatized adult. For him, I was the cover for his secret life of sexual and sexualized activities and the alternate target for his damaged mother. I had no idea.

I was trying to be a real person in a real life, and a real wife in a real marriage. I was doomed. But I didn’t know it. So I kept trying. I created room in our life for his mother as our family grew. I worked hard to make her visits special. She, on her part, complained bitterly, criticized daily, and went away unhappy every time. I tried new approaches and ideas. The boys and I would create menus of her favourite things and activities to share our lives with her. Every time I wanted to quit, I would remind myself that she was most likely an abuse victim herself. For three decades I tried. Once, when she changed and extended her travel dates for a visit without asking us, her trip then overlapped a continuing education course I was taking out of town. Bliss! I got to leave the house half way through her visit! But my then husband called me three or four times a day in constant crisis about something. With me gone, she returned to her old target. She went after him with extra intensity because she was furious I had an legitimate reason to leave! He nearly collapsed under the psychological weight of her direct attack.

But I don’t give up easily. I persisted in trying to build a family life. So, if I don’t give up easily, how did I end up divorced and going no contact with his mother?

It was an epiphany moment that came after dday and after I had moved into my own place . I had become desperate to get out from under his abuse—abuse that escalated after he entered recovery and began seeing a CSAT. The CSAT was another addict who had a personal codependent relationship with the 12-step program recovery model, and who held me in the standard callous disregard so many of you have experienced. But, in her favour, she was the person who named covert/emotional incest in my then husband’s relationship with his mother. That allowed me to see the “machine” that had brought us to this point. But there was no plan to deal with it or teach us how to find safety. The machine was still in charge. I realized that by not accepting who these people were, I was giving up on my whole life. I was handing it over to two people who had no other purpose but to use me and abuse me to serve their profoundly damaged psyches.

The clouds parted and I stepped out of their shadow. I saw that I was mixed up about the whole “giving up” thing. There was nothing I could do to change how either of these people treated me. Nothing. I had to accept that whatever was going on within them was nothing I could manage and nothing I could heal. It still makes my eyes fill up thinking about it. Such sadness and loss—not just for me but to see what they had chosen to do with their pain. But I had to accept it. It wasn’t about giving up. It was about accepting truth and fact and who these people were. And even though, at the time, I didn’t have as many pieces of that puzzle as I do now, I had enough. I knew then that by “not giving up” on trying to appease them I was giving up on my life—the only life I was ever going to have.

A side note is that the CSAT was very clear about how dangerous his mother was, but only in respect to him. The CSAT was adamant that she never be told that her son was a “sex addict” who had destroyed his marriage with those behaviours. because that information would be used against him in abusive ways. So the moment had finally come when someone recognized what I was dealing with in her—but I, however, was on my own. As usual.

Most of the women I meet in this work also are women who do not give up easily. That is why they roll up their sleeves and work themselves sick on his recovery, their marriage, wider family conflicts, and keep it all afloat. Unfortunately it usually has no positive effect on any of those categories, with or without prayer and Jesus. And even when they “settle” for the scrap they can find after all that hard work, happiness is barely recognizable as such. Even Jesus said he came that we might have abundant life—not this pinched, dry, numbed, colourless, grim excuse of a life as our lady of perpetual disappointment.

Those of us who do not give up easily may need to recognize the egoic seduction of that trap. We spend our lives thinking we are not giving up, when the whole time we are giving up on our own lives. Accepting who others are, who they are not, and the limits of our power to change any aspect of that, is crucial to the faithful stewardship of our own lives. I believe that if we don’t accept hard truths about others who are abusing us, we lose the will to live ourselves. Some of us will self-harm and/or become suicidal. I came close.

Please don’t give up on yourself.

In an interesting post script, when I stepped away from those abusive relationships, it became crystal clear that the only reason his mother had chances to be with her son and her grandchildren that could have been wonderful memories of family life were because I created them. When I took my finger out of that dike and walked away, his and his mother’s own destructive energy made such gatherings a thing of the past. My adult sons could see what happened when all that was left was those two. I didn’t have to say anything. Even though my ex-husband moved back closer to his mother, their relationship was left on its own to be what it truly was. Broken. Deformed. Unsustainable. I was no longer in the middle of it, trying to carry the weight of its wounds with my own integrity. Even after everything, I told him that if he ever wanted to tell the truth about his life and live in it, I would stand beside him when he did, and that I was pretty sure our sons would be there in a heartbeat. Accepting who he and his mother were did not preclude support from me should he ever choose truth in his life.

Inevitably, she tried to take control of the story about me, creating a narrative of old and new lies to tell her friends. Then, several years later, on the very day I began a new life with someone who came into my life as an unexpected gift , she started to phone me, calling multiple times one day from 8am to after 11pm across two time zones, refusing to leave a message but letting the message run with her breathing on record again and again. I never heard the calls because my phone number had not yet been fully transferred onto Marc’s carrier. So it was a week later that I saw the calls on the record, the message light flashing and heard the “messages”. Uncanny though. It was like she knew the last threads of connection were being clipped, and she needed one more chance to have the last word, control the narrative, and make me her scapegoat. I did not hear those calls, but they were happening.

Readers, I did not “give up”. I accepted the truth and the facts. And I stopped giving up on me. I escaped their tyranny of a determined unhappiness. It was extremely difficult. And I nearly didn’t make it.

But I did make it. And here I am, telling you stories from my life because I have a hunch they will help you make it in your own.

Happiness is not a life without trouble. But happiness also is not that hard to find in a life without abuse. It actually doesn’t take very much to make me happy. One or two of these will do it: A good song. The wind through the trees. An old one-eyed dog curled at my feet. A shared joke. A pretty dish my grandma used. Real hugs. Fireflies at night seen through my bedroom window before I fall asleep. Writing about the things that matter. Growing radishes. A great piece of fabric. So many inspiring lives to celebrate. A hummingbird at the feeder. Texts from my sons. The first snow. And scrambled eggs for supper.

As it turns out, I know how to be happy. I’ll bet you do, too. Chances are, your lives are being controlled by people who aren’t happy, don’t know how to be happy, don’t want to learn how to be happy, and don’t want you to be happy either. Don’t give up on your life by not accepting who others are, and aren’t. It took me three decades to figure that out. Save yourself some time, and do it now.

If you want to talk more about accepting, and not giving up, your story is safe here. diane@yoursstoryissafehere.com

With you,

Diane.

Diane Strickland