Last week, we sat in our living room relaying stories from our separation like war tales. We had our friend, Cynthia, in stitches.
There's Scott's Britney Spears story.
My LA drug den story.
An almost-bar fight Scott got into in Phoenix.
A crockpot full of pot roast in a cigarette smoke-filled room at Circus Circus in Vegas.
Seriously, we have many tales. Many. Tales.
Grace has heard most of mine but not many of Scott's so you can imagine her surprise when he relayed how friends in LA offered to introduce him to Britney Spears. It was a "we know her through our kids" kinda thing.
Grace: "YOU mean to tell me Britney Spears could have been my step-mom?!?!! OH. MY. GOD."
I immediately start singing, "Oh baby, baby...how was I supposed to know..."
Grace (laughing): "Mom, please. No. Just stop. Seriously, BRITNEY SPEARS???!?!?"
As we were taking turns sharing our individual journeys, I jumped in with, "Cynthia, did I tell you about the time my ex was in need of pot (his "medicine") so he took me to a drug house in LA?" Her eyes were like saucers.
Now to be completely upfront, he had offered to drop me off at the place we were staying in downtown LA (a son of an old friend) but I thought I'd feel safer just sitting in the car while he ran in to get the goods. For the record, I'm not completely against pot and have tried it a few times in my life but I am NOT a pot smoker. I knew it helped him (because he said it did), so I was accepting of it but that's as far as it goes. I've never seen cocaine or anything like that in real life. Read: Straight girl from a small town in Ohio.
Upon pulling up to the run down apartment in a pretty bad part of LA, I decided that maybe the safest route was going in with him. It was pretty late at night. God knows what would happen if I was sitting in the car on my own and I was noticed.
Long story short, this straight and narrow then-40-year-old mom from Flagstaff went into high octane small talk mode.
"So Joe, how long have you been here in LA? Was it hard to move from Philly?"
"Does your dog try to bite a lot, or is it just me? I'm normally like the dog whisperer."
"Clever use of this cot as a couch, I'd say! I know it's hard to furnish a home, isn't it?!"
(Unknown woman walks through the living room/AKA drug room and doesn't say a word.)
"Is he (guy laying on the floor motionless) OK? He's ok?? Ok, great. The mom in me wants to put a pillow under his head."
The more uncomfortable I get, the higher pitched my voice goes. By the time I'm asking if the dude on the floor is alive, I was likely only heard by the dog that was trying to bite me. This went on for a bit, because, of course, they had to test out the batch together.
"No, I'm good! None for me, thanks! (Cloud of pot smoke engulfs me and the not-dead-yet guy on the floor.)
Enhaler. Check. Scary "Mod Mom Busted In LA" headline flashing in my head. Check.
"Oh, you make edibles, too, Joe? Where did you learn to cook?" I was an unstoppable question machine that night. Just plop the old Kiersten down in the middle of a drug deal in LA and I will make everyone feel valued and comfortable. Accomodating and smoothing was my coping mechanism, especially when I felt powerless.
In stark contrast, Scott was being offered meet-ups with celebrities and weekends with wealthy women he knew but wasn't interested in at $500 per night hotels. (By the way, he didn't take either which speaks volumes about his integrity.)
Our night and day experiences during our three-year separation make for good stories, but more importantly, they make for a better marriage. Just being able to share it all openly—the good, the bad, and the Britney—has helped us get to know the older, wiser versions of Kiersten and Scott.
Good news! We truly do love each other and I haven't once had to ask, "Is that guy dead?"
Scott and I broke out the karaoke equipment last night and sang our hearts out. No audience. Just us. (Sorry, neighbors, for that one Greatest Showman song.)
I found a few new-to-me songs that are in my limited range and we belted out a couple duets. And then we tried this song: “From Here to the Moon and Back” by Dolly Parton and Kris Kristopherson.
When Scott and I were separated, I would frequently be at his house to pick up the kids or drop them off. I’d knock and then let myself in. Sometimes we would talk, sometimes we wouldn’t.
At the time, Grace was playing the movie Joyful Noise on a loop and I remember standing in the kitchen waiting for her to get ready to come stay at my place and seeing Scott sitting in the living room watching the movie for the 100th time. The heartbreaking scene where Dolly Parton sings about her late husband fills the room and spills into the kitchen. While I’m still waiting to collect Grace, he gets up to walks to another part of the house. We make eye contact but there’s not much to say. His eyes were wet with tears. My heart was heavy.
Last night, we tried to sing the song but were both reduced to choked-back tears. You know when you can’t even speak let alone sing? That was us.
We couldn’t speak that day and we couldn’t sing last night, but we could feel it. From here to the moon and back.
I could hold out my arms
say "I love you this much"
I could tell you how long
I will long for your touch
and how far
would I go to prove
and the breadth
of my love for you?
to the moon
Who else in this world
will love you like that?
I promise you that
to the moon
to the moon
I want you to know
you can always depend
On promises made
and love without end
No need to wonder
how faithful I'll be
and on into
to the moon
in this world
will love you like that?
I'll be where you're at
to the moon
to the moon
I would blow you a kiss
from the star where I sat
I would call out your name
to echo through the vast
Thank heaven for you
and to God
tip my hat
to the moon
And I'll spend forever
just proving that fact
to the moon
I'll never forget when Lila—a psychic medium—told me years ago, "Keep writing. You'll be writing books one day." This was in 2009. I didn't even believe in psychic mediums nor did I ever think of myself as a writer. Back then, I was ramping up Mod Mom, raising a seven-year-old and an 11-year-old, and trying to keep it all in balance. It was long before I started channeling children in spirit and long before I ever thought about writing for a living. I was simply writing a blog about my life as a carpenter/furniture designer called Life In My Garage. It wasn't anything special; I was just enjoying writing about my sawdust life with kids in tow.
Nine years later, I'm working on a memoir. GET THE HELL OUT, right?!?! I KNOW! Me? A writer? Nah. Except three years ago I accepted a job as a public affairs writer for a university in town. And prior to that, I was asked to write for a furniture industry publication. OK UNIVERSE, I get it. That Lila—she was right!! Sometimes it just takes a little while for things to become clear...like almost 10 years. Holy crap, I can't believe it took this long.
Let me just say I DO believe in psychic abilities now. Hard to discount something I now live. And I write A LOT. Not only has it become a love for me (and cheap therapy), I've learned a lot about who I am as a writer. In addition, women and men reach out to me about healing from relationship abuse or sexual abuse, and I write them back. Sometimes, it's easy and I feel good about what I've shared, and other times it's hard as hell because I don't have an answer for them or a bridge over troubled waters. (Side note: Now I have that song in my head and it will be here for a day, at least.) I sometimes offer advice about intuitive children or intution in general, too. It's a mixed bag and I love every minute of it. I would never be where I am without the help, love and support from others who helped me find my footing through it all.
I've gotta say, this memoir-writing thing has been a lot of fun, so far. I know I still have memory issues, but as I'm writing I'm remembering more. Remembering detail about the sudden onset mediumship I experienced in my late 30s. I can see it all in my head like a Lifetime movie. When I share the full story with people—life from age 36 to now—they always say OMG this is movie or a book. I tell ya, I'm really starting to believe it myself.
I'm super grateful for the opportunity to tell the whole story. And I'm really thankful to all of you for riding in the passenger seat on this bizarre adventure. As my friend Kari says, "We can drive!"
And we can write. And write. And write. And heal.
I'm extremely honored to know several amazing women who have come through their own battles with being abused and/or the affects of abuse on a loved one. Kari Lanigan is one such friend. She will be guest blogging about her exprience with the cycle of abuse as it relates to relationships. Kari, it's truly an honor to have you as a guest blogger. Your wisdom and experience will help so many!
As a survivor of two marriages compromised by emotional abuse, trauma and neglect spanning a total of 25 years and over half my life, I am constantly surprised at being constantly surprised by the endless manifestations of trauma and abuse and their impacts on relationships. Within the context of romantic relationships of all types and variations the potential for abusive/traumatic patterns to play out becomes exponential in scope and opportunity.
I’m not a professional or even very well educated when it comes to psychology. But if experience and the School of Hard Knocks counts for anything, I have gained some valuable insight into some common patterns and pitfalls that set the stage for dysfunctional relationships and their subsequent traumatic effects on the individuals caught therein.
Romantic relationship is the perfect setup for dysfunctional patterns to play out, as the very nature of romance is to lay ourselves vulnerable to the quirks and personality traits of another human in an attempt to navigate reality in a kind of three-legged race where at least part of life and part of our psyche is joined to another. We will be forced to work together to achieve success as a team. Even if that teamwork is minimal, it is a base requirement nonetheless. If your partner is injured or dealing with a handicap, you will find out as it plays into your version of the three-legged race. You will be required to acknowledge all injuries and handicaps as you move forward, making constant adjustments to your combined efforts. You will likely stumble, fall and even get hurt in the process from time to time.
Perhaps the biggest common mistake in setting forth is in the assumption that our own strength and potential for success will remain in tact and uncompromised while tethered to our chosen partner. So, the first time we stumble, we are inclined toward irritation and blame, rather than to see it as the nature of the game of romance, which as long as we’re in it will require acknowledgement and acceptance of our partner’s limitations and their effects on our own potential as we attempt to move forward together.
That being said, communication is our biggest asset as a team. Without it we can only guess at what each of us requires to optimize our movements. We remain individuals, yet our movements are felt by our partner as long as we remain connected through relationship. If we can’t accept this, then we must be willing to go it alone. It’s that simple, but not necessarily easy. As sometimes communication itself becomes a stumbling point, where often one of the participants decides to stop communicating as a strategy for personal pain relief leaving their partner struggling alone with the weight of the relationship firmly tied to them.
To put it bluntly, “I don’t want to talk about it.”, (meaning, “I REFUSE to talk about it.”), is not a fair option as long a you are part of a team. Period. Opting out of communication in any relationship is at best the equivalent of slamming a door in your partner’s face and at worst is like cutting off their oxygen supply while expecting them to continue the race with you.
Talking about it LATER is a valid option, as is setting up perimeters to help make communication easier. It might even be helpful or necessary to enlist the help of a qualified third party, such as a mediator or therapist, to keep communication on track. The variations as to HOW and WHEN communication will take place are negotiable. But just because one of the parties has trouble communicating, or doesn’t feel comfortable (or even SAFE) communicating, does not afford the option to clam up and avoid communication altogether. Whenever this happens, the connection is broken and the *relationship* is over until communication can be reestablished. You can continue moving around under the label of *relationship*, but by definition this is a pretense and will ultimately expose itself as such, giving way to visible breakup as soon as the person stuck on the other end of “I don’t want to talk about it.” has had enough of carrying the emotional responsibility for both parties.
Along with “I don’t want to talk about it.” goes “I’m not good at dealing with emotions.” and “I’m not into drama.” And that’s fine, as long as there is some willingness and effort to continue to communicate in spite of these viewpoints/limitations/preferences. They cannot be used as excuses from the responsibility of communication, however they are legitimate factors of consideration when negotiating communication styles in the interest of conflict resolution.
There is plenty of information online and through any good therapist about negotiating conflicts with respect to communication styles. Successful navigation of life in the context of romantic relationship, regardless of he level of commitment be it casual sex and dating, to friends with benefits or long term commitment such as marriage, WILL require the ability to discuss emotional issues as well as logistic ones. This truth cannot be avoided. So, if you are one of those who is inclined to say, “I don’t want to talk about it.”, for the sake of yourself, your partner and your shared romantic interests, start by figuring out what you need to address your own style of communication and work with your partner in advance of conflict to form strategies to allow a clear pathway to resolution. Likewise, if you want to talk about it, but are constantly met with hostility or avoidance, you will likely need to involve a therapist to facilitate healthy and safe communication practices. There is no way around it.
The variety of obstacles with regard to communication styles is seemingly endless, as almost everyone has *triggers* related to emotional trauma or limitations with regard to experience. It is extremely helpful to the success of any relationship to be open and honest about even the most subtle twinges of discomfort with respect to communication in an effort to overcome them together, rather than ovoid them. Avoidance is only ever a temporary solution to conflict and tends to compound issues over time until eventually the conflict can no longer be avoided by at least one of the parties. And maybe this is one of he inherent dynamics of romantic relationship: true healing of our emotional bodies. For if we can’t heal, we can’t feel fulfilled in a relationship. And only in solitude can we maintain avoidant behaviors without direct conflict.
Much of the way we prefer to communicate is based on attachment styles formed in early childhood based on our experience with our prominent caregivers.
For instance, a child raised by overly indulgent and responsive parents will learn to rely on others for a significant amount of emotional support and outreach, often to the exasperation of their adult romantic partners.
Where a child raised by abusive or neglectful parents may learn to withhold emotional outreach and avoid communication during conflict to the point of being unavailable to their adult romantic partner’s emotional needs.
And if by chance, a person is raised in an environment which provided a healthy balance to their emotional requirements, demonstrating both availability as well as advocating for independence in resolving conflicts, there may be limited understanding with regard to their adult romantic partner if they should fall into one of the above mentioned categories.
The point is we are all uniquely wired and subject to our individual experiences and perspectives. So when we engage in romantic relationship it is crucial that we are willing to bring that experience to the table with an open mind and a willingness to share, grow and expand rather than avoid, stagnate and hold fast to our crutches and survival tools. We have gained a third leg! The challenge is to learn how to mobilize it effectively rather than blame it for slowing us down. And always remember to HAVE FUN!! After all, isn’t that the point of romance?
This week, I've heard from four different women seeking advice on dealing with childhood sexual abuse healing/legal matters as well navigating life with an abusive partner or ex-partner. I'm so grateful they are reaching out. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I have lived it and hope what I'm sharing is helping.
Part of my healing journey has involved therapy. In fact, I hadn't been to see my therapist in months until yesterday. While I didn't feel I necessarily needed to work on anything specific with her when I booked my appointment, I knew I wanted to catch up. And I'm soooo glad I did.
Deanna Vance—a wonderful therapist I've known since 2012—was a volunteer at the non-profit I founded called the The Little Light Project. She's worked with families and children for roughly thirty years. It's funny to think that I met her because she volunteered her time and expertise for the non-profit, but ultimately, she became one of my life savers. I started seeing her when I was coming to grips with learning about the childhood sexual abuse I endured in early 2014. Then, when Scott and I split, I saw her pretty regularly. It takes one moment in her presence to know her heart is as big as Texas and her heart was bleeding for me while fully understanding that the journey I was on was painful, but ultimately healing.
Yesterday, I happily sat in the calm of her cozy office excitedly relaying all the stuff that's transpired since I saw her last. Let me tell ya, it was a lot!! I told her how Scott and the kids are doing, and about the memoir I'm writing about my life's journey. She listened intently with a huge smile spreading across her beautiful face. After all, she saw a very shattered, confused, crying Kiersten in many sessions over multiple years.
Three years ago, I shared with her that I would get this weird energetic buzzing feeling on my right hip when I would tell her about an incident where I was being shamed. I was perplexed by it but at the same time, much of my intuition had started presenting itself in physical ways as far back as 2009. Chills. Pains. Smells. Sounds. The whole shebang. She helped me understand that the buzzing sensation I was feeling was "Little Kiersten" trying to get my attention. I've written previously about how I felt I wasn't in touch with my inner child and thankfully, both therapists (one at the university and Deanna) said I was not experiencing Dissociative Identity Disorder. I flat out asked and was happy to hear they both agreed—I was not dealing with multiple personalities, but rather with the repression of abuse. I had also buried my little self. They both said my personality was strong and in tact—I wasn't splintered but I wasn't integrated with my child self.
What does that feel like to not be at one with your inner child? Here's what it's like. When I wrote a letter to my childhood abuser telling him I know what he did and how I felt about it, tears started rolling down my face but I didn't feel any build up of emotion. You know how you feel when you're about to cry? I didn't have that. That's how separated we were. When I would endure shaming speak, I would feel the pulsating, buzzing sensation and if it was severe, I would start shaking uncontrollably. That had never happened before 2014 but it clearly took physical signs for me to understand that my emotional pain body was carrying a lot of past trauma that was being triggered—ultimately showing me where I needed to heal.
I told Deanna that I haven't had that feeling in a very long time and that, for me, it points to integration with my little self. I had pretty much forgotten, at one time, I was feeling that sensation a lot. Apparently, Little K needed to be heard. She needed the abuse to stop. She needed me to step into my power again. Once I did that, all of the physical signs disappeared.
My therapy life saver confirmed my revelation and reminded me that when I do feel triggered, it's merely a reminder that I need to let myself feel whatever it is in order to heal it. It's taken almost a full year to get here, but I did it! And I'm immensely grateful.
If you are healing from abuse, pay attention to the physical cues you experience. There's a pattern and a roadmap in the bizarre world of physical, intuitive signs. And it's a life saver, believe me.
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