Creating new routines

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When I got to work on yet another Monday morning and opened my bag to find the deconstructed tissue box that I had meant to throw in the recycling bin at home, I was not annoyed that I kept seeing the tissue box. I was delighted that I had continued to take my bag home and leave it unopened until I got to work the next day. I haven’t gotten on my laptop at home in weeks.

I turned in my book manuscript and I’m awaiting feedback from my publisher. I am sure there will be revisions, but until I hear back, I am enjoying getting to go home at night and relax. I’m unpacking and putting things up on the walls. I’m making my new home feel like home. I’m reading books (yes, books, printed books!) and taking bubble baths and spending time with people I care about. I’m thinking, “Hey, I haven’t heard from my brother in a while, I’m going to send him a text and schedule a phone call.”

I am working on designing a life and schedule that allows me to do my writing on the weekends, so I don’t need to go home from a full day of my face in a screen and continue having my face in a screen until bedtime. The benefits of this schedule shift are innumerable.

I am better rested.

I am rising earlier and exercising in the morning, which is when I like to exercise.

I am relaxing in the evenings so that I don’t feel like my life is rushing from one thing to the next.

I am, as they say, filling my own cup.

People do well with routine. Routines and habits can be very healthful…or not so much. Now that my deadlines are over (mostly), I’m leaning into creating routines and habits that decrease stress. I used to layer commitments over obligations over responsibilities and I’d end up frazzled, tired, and absolutely depleted, promising myself that this would be the last weekend for a while that I had to do so much. Now, I am working on saying no, even to things that I know would be fun or feel good in the moment. I have to think about how I’ll feel afterward, which is not something I used to think about.

As it turns out, I am a pretty social person (something my ex had trained out of me). When my sister came to visit just a couple of months after I moved out, she met the new people in my life and expressed to me how excited and impressed she was that I had met people and made new friends. She had thought I hated socializing, didn’t like people, and enjoyed my solitude. Make no mistake, I do enjoy my solitude, but I also love to be around people. This is something I didn’t even realize about myself. I am a hardcore introvert who needs to go home and build a cocoon after social events, but I enjoy myself immensely when I’m in the midst of good times with friends.

Rebuilding after leaving abuse is weird. The things you thought you knew about yourself are often not true at all. After a traumatic childhood and a mentally abusive seven year relationship, I am meeting myself for the very first time. And I like myself. I really like myself. I like the version of me that considers herself and her needs for rest. I like the version of me that sees the smile and the brightness before worrying about the thighs and tummy. I like the version of me who no longer chases approval to feel valuable.

So, yeah, I’m really happy about that un-recycled tissue box that means I go home at night and enjoy my life and my free time. Really, really happy.

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Book Review: Decluttering at the Speed of Life

It’s been a while since I did a post on decluttering and minimalism, and I am so excited to give a rave review of Dana K. White’s book Decluttering at the Speed of Life. I downloaded it using the Hoopla app (which lets you use your library card to borrow six titles per month for FREE) and listened on my commute.

I’ve been through some stuff lately, y’all. I am moving for the second time in seven months. When I packed up and moved out of my ex-husband’s house, I realized that I was barely taking up space in that house. I’d pack my items up in each room and look at what was left behind, bewildered that it looked essentially the same. I had been trying to take up space for four years and though I’d hung art on the walls and organized the Pyrex containers the way I liked them, it never really felt like home.

With this move, I was determined to take up space and make my apartment a true home for myself filled with joy. I made a reading nook corner that I never used, I found the perfect chair at the Habitat for Humanity Store that I never sat in, and I used an air mattress as a couch because screw giant furniture. And I was happy there. Until I decided to move again ahead of schedule as part of Operation De-Stress.

Turns out, I still had stuff I didn’t use, need, or even want. Like the two sets of towels I received as wedding gifts that are still in their packaging. We got married over two years ago. Plus, some of the cute towels I bought when I moved in aren’t all that absorbent despite the fact that they match my bathroom theme. They’re in the donate box now. LuLaRoe clothing that I held onto for their resale value are just in the donate box. The white linen skirt I wore at my wedding, which I had planned to use in some piece of inspired transformative artwork, is in the donate box.

Because, hold up, this book has changed my life.

First of all, Dana K. White is the author of the blog A Slob Comes Clean, which started as an anonymous “practice blog” where she could confess her dirty house secrets. But then it turned out that a ton of other people related to her clutter woes and she ended up building a huge following and brand and I’ve consumed her books Decluttering at the Speed of Life and How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind.

You should read these books if you have a messy home that you feel like you can never get out from under. Right now. Find them.

Here are the things Dana has taught me:

  1. The Visibility Rule: Start your decluttering project in the most visible places in your home. Where do you enter your home (and where do guests enter)? Look at your home as if you are a visitor and start decluttering the most obvious spaces. Clear your “slob vision” by looking at your home through new eyes.
  2. Don’t Pull Everything Out: I used to postpone decluttering because I wanted to go in KonMari style and do whole categories at a time. But I have other stuff to do, and I don’t always have the time or energy or wherewithal to pile every piece of clothing I own on the bed, touch it, and ask if it brings me joy. Dana helped me understand that I can declutter effectively without this en masse approach.
  3. The Container Concept and One In One Out: This is something I actually had done before, in my earliest days on the blog. I had a small bookshelf and decided I’d only keep the books that fit. The bookshelf was my container. But this method died a quick and painful death when I moved in with my “collector” ex, who had shelves upon shelves upon totes upon totes of books, technology, toys, hobby equipment, and clothes. And he was a shover. I cannot stand shoving. If a drawer is too full to close and needs shoved, there is a problem. Dana’s book reminded me that if there’s shoving, it’s time to remove something until the container is actually containing things.
  4. Start with Trash and Easy Stuff: Dana’s decluttering steps are so simple and obvious, I feel ridiculous that I never did it her way before. When you’re in your most visible space, start by throwing away or recycling the trash. Then look for Easy Stuff, things that obviously don’t belong in this space. Then…
  5. Take It There Right Now: Get rid of your Easy Stuff by putting it in its proper place as soon as you pick it up. Also, as you’re decluttering, ask yourself “Where would I look for this first?” and take it there RIGHT NOW. (MIND BLOWING – No “Keep” Boxes allowed).
  6. Donate the “Almost Perfect:” This one hit me so hard. If there’s something you keep around but don’t tend to use because you don’t like one thing about it, it’s time to say goodbye. This is what helped me let go of a super cute dress that didn’t fit right in the bust, as well as the aforementioned not-super-absorbent-but-really-cute towels. But now all my towels fit on one shelf in the linen closet with no more shoving!

There’s plenty more, but I really seriously want you to read her book. Also, she has a podcast. I am gonna die of excitement.

On moving on (and moving)

I’m moving for the second time in roughly seven months, so it’s time to declutter again. I’m touching things that were too hard to think about the last time that feel ridiculously easy to toss now. Each day I’m further away from the tumult of March, of deciding to leave my marriage.

I spent several months balancing moments of joy, relief, and comfort with the truth that I was largely depressed. A low, foggy cloud was in the way of healing and even though happiness shone through the clouds consistently and I knew I had good in my life, the fact that I had yanked the rug out from under what I thought was my happily ever after was jarring.

My decision to leave happened in the span of a few weeks. It still seems so strange that I just up and removed myself from a whole life, like a game piece sent directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200. One moment I was a wife trying to start a family with her husband and the next moment I was decidedly single and hurriedly moving everything I owned into a new apartment. And I tried to make it home. It was part of healing, so I thought. I needed the space, the single time, the starting over. I filled the loneliness with casual sex, which I’ve found is not really my thing. I filled the loneliness with unpacking and shopping for colorful things and bringing home new plants. And those things were nice. My apartment was a place of colorful mourning.

But now I’m moving again into a place that feels safe. It feels like home. And even though my same stuff is in it, it just feels right in a way my apartment didn’t. And when I go to the apartment to pack and declutter I realize why it feels right this time.

I’m not running. I’m not desperate. I’m not trying to escape anything. No one is sending me threatening and harassing text messages and having his friend park outside my home to watch me move out.

When I first moved out and into the apartment, I hadn’t had the time to prioritize or declutter things. I was stuffing boxes and moving fast. It wasn’t ideal. So I decluttered as I unpacked, but I held onto things like wedding photos and cards, things my husband had given me in better times, and practical wedding gifts that were still in their packaging.

I even had ideas about turning these items into art projects. I was going to tear strips from my white linen wedding skirt and plaster them to canvas and paint them as a forest of trees. I was going to cut words and well wishes out of the cards and paste them together to form a found word poem about freedom. As a creative, I’m doomed to constantly wonder if I could turn any random idea or object into a powerful statement.

But this time packing and decluttering, it was different. I opened the box of cards, letters, wedding vows, and photos, and I just threw them away. The mix cds with songs that now nauseate me, I just threw away. My skirt is in the donate pile. The notebook in which he wrote one thing he loved about me on each page grew literal mold on it and I threw it away without opening it.

I made the choice to focus on forward. I’m moving into a new home and I don’t want to bring this marriage with me. It’s time to rest. It’s time to put it down.

I still get angry. I uncover more insights into my time with him and I’m just angry sometimes. I spent years of my life on someone who saw me as an ambulatory Amazon Alexa who could bring him toast.

Being treated like that is also something I’ve thrown in the trash.

Memories of bad relationships never go away. They’ll always inform your behavior, and your trauma is no less real even as you move further from your emotional ground zero. But I don’t have to keep physical reminders of the lowest points of my life to remember. I can remember all on my own.

Being able to throw that stuff away was one of the most concrete moments of my healing. I didn’t think about it. I just put it where it belonged. I’m coming out of the fog.

The realities of financial abuse

We’re at a point in society in 2018 where I feel confident people can acknowledge that abuse isn’t just physical. Mental and emotional abuse (through control, negligence, gaslighting, and other manipulations and mind games), sexual abuse, and financial abuse may not leave visible bruises but leave a lasting impression on their victims and survivors. Survivors of abuse often have complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), but I’m not a doctor so don’t necessarily take my word for it.

What I can tell you is that I reached out to my social network to ask for examples of financial abuse from their own pasts and I was overwhelmed by the stories they shared with me.

It is financially abusive to neglect practical life issues in a way that requires your partner to compensate for them. Whether it’s paying a $25.00 parking ticket because you can’t be bothered to put enough quarters in the meter, or it’s paying $150 for unplanned groceries when the freezer is already stocked, or it’s cancelling income-generating work commitments to handle everyday crises, or it’s simply deploying emotional, social and logistical resources to solve practical problems to a degree that sabotages your partner’s health and well-being, it is abusive.

-Elle


My ex bullied and pressured me into having a credit card saying I must build a score. I didn’t want one but he pushed for months. When I had one, his pressure for me to buy one of or pay for half of tons of needless shit was relentless. I made minimum wage and he was bullying me to pay for half of DVDs I told him I didn’t want. Half of new couches I didn’t want. So on and so forth. It really made it hard to leave because I couldn’t make it as easily on my own now, and guess who was on me to pay those cards off. But after him I never took on another card and treated debt like bondage and while he didn’t teach me shit, I taught me a lot through that and now I teach others.

-Rosemary


My significant other used to take pride in having amazing hiding spots. On more than one occasion, I found money hidden throughout the house or his car. Once, we needed diapers and had zero money. I open up his glove box and find $20 hidden in there. I was livid because here I am freaking out about buying our child diapers and he has this money hidden. That he “forgot” about because he “put it up for a rainy day.” Well, I don’t know what’s more rainy than needing diapers for your child.

On a more long term occasion, he took over the finances and never told me anything. Where the money went, what bills we had paid, and when I asked to do a budget, he was always too busy. He told me every pay day how much money I could spend, and it was my responsibility to stay within that limit.

– Bianca


While we were separated he was still financially supporting me while I went to school. One night I asked him to not slam my door and he responded “who pays for your right to use that door?”

I applied for child support the next day.

After I filed for child support, he drained our bank account. Two months in a row. The first month I had been able to pull out money for my rent before he attempted to take out all of the money, his transaction bounced and he swore it was an accident, the second month we both did the transactions at the same time, over drafting the account $1500. He has been avoiding service and cut us off financially until it is court ordered, while he draws out the process as long as possible.

-Stephanie


My ex was laid off for about six months and was receiving unemployment at a decent rate because he his job paid really well. I had been saving up money for a trip we were taking, which we postponed in order to cash flow our budget while he looked for a job. The problem was that he wouldn’t talk to me about making a budget. ‘There isn’t a point in making a budget when I don’t even have a job,’ was his response when I wanted to take a look at the finances. All the bills got paid and we didn’t incur any debt during his six month stint of unemployment, but the housework was still all my responsibility and he continued spending at his previous levels while my savings account dwindled to keep him from using credit cards. He routinely used my belief in being debt-free as a way to leverage my extra cash flow to meet financial goals while he never had to be accountable for his own finances.

-Katie


My ex intentionally overdrafted my bank account by $600. He’d spend every dime I earned even if it meant I couldn’t buy necessities for myself or my daughter. He made me get a collateral loan on my car to pay his legal fees, then turned around and revealed he had $1200 stashed in the air vent in our room. He spent it on a mattress and an xbox, both of which he sold shortly after. He bought expensive items on credit in my name then didn’t pay. He pawned my engagement ring. He would sell anything I owned that had any value.

-Anne


My first live-in boyfriend used to spend all of his money (he made at least twice as much as I did ) on fast food and who knows what else and I had to work two jobs while going to school full time to make the bills. I didn’t have food for myself for a week because of that. Thank God one of my jobs was at a restaurant so I at least had one employee meal.

-Gen


Not every story of financial abuse is from a romantic partner. Many family relationships are also tainted by financial control, withholding, and abuses.

When I fled my father’s house because of all the yelling and etc, he took away my emergency credit card, which was in my name but for which he held the main account—because I didn’t have credit yet, being 18. He called me on my friend’s landline (I had fled to my college roommate’s house) to tell me that it was time for me to learn to be “responsible.” I had never failed to pay it off each month, so it was obviously about control and not any kind of lesson in financial responsibility.

-Martha


The woman who raised me for the worst parts of my childhood is a millionaire. Her money has always been of the ways she controls others. She’ll buy anyone close to her anything, but it’s a deal with the Devil. When I was struggling, she offered to buy me a car. I was desperate and picked out a $3000 used car. She took me to the dealer and picked out a brand new Ford Explorer. It was nice, all the bells and whistles. I sat down in the driver’s seat and I remembered another Explorer she’d bought, 12 years prior.
For my ex brother in law and all of the strings that came with it, how he danced like a monkey because she financed it in both of their names and how she eventually let it get repossessed because he wouldn’t dance like a monkey anymore.

I left the dealer without a car. The bus never felt more like freedom.

-Sherry


You mean like when my mom got pissed at me for losing my virginity and forced me to quit my job and closed out my checking account, pocketing the money from it? What about when I was required to pay for a car (and insurance, etc) that I was only sometimes allowed to use and had to share with my mom? What about when they threatened to report that car stolen if I left in it when they were berating me, since it wasn’t in my name even though I’d paid for it for a year and a half? They also threatened to make me lose my scholarships that I had through the district by transferring me to another one for the last 3 months of my senior year, because they were pissed at me for losing my virginity. I went to everyone I could think of at the school for all of this, and no one did jack shit to help me.

-Brianna


I used to help a WAHM in high school and I would hide all of the money I got from that and when I was gone my mom would search my room to find my new hiding places and steal my money. I also couldn’t have a bank account because she would have 100% access to it since I was a minor. I had to ask the lady I was helping to just keep the money then I would tell her what I needed/wanted to use it for. I had to spend birthday/Christmas money right away or it was gone.

-Gen


My aunt funded the difference between living on campus and living off campus for my college. My junior year of college my mother told me my aunt had changed her mind and would no longer fund college expenses. She also told me I was not welcome to stay with family and thus I would have to withdraw from college. I called my college finance office in tears ready to withdraw. They found a handful of scholarships for me to make up the difference and I was able to stay in college.

Years later, my aunt asked why I stopped sending thank you cards after my sophomore year for the college expenses. It turns out my mother pocketed $6,000 total over two years that my aunt had given her to pay my college bills.

This is the most egregious of several similar stories.

-Anonymous

Other readers shared stories of witnessing financial abuse, if not experiencing it directly themselves, as a result of divorce.

My dad lied and got primary custody of us and used to give us, as kids, handwritten invoices to give my mom for “her half” of things. He would nickel and dime her down to the penny for things like “three packs of pens for school” and “6 spiral bound notebooks.” When I refused, he made my brother (who is developmentally delayed) do it. I finally screamed, ‘Use a stamp or walk out to the car during pickup because I’m not going to keep being your mule and neither is my brother’ around age 15 and he finally stopped. The worst part was he was incapable of seeing what an asshole it made him. Like, he cried when I yelled at him. “I could have taken so much more I’ve been so nice” …he was horrified that I thought this was so villainous.

-Rae


My bio-dad would take me shopping with my three half-siblings and step mom, and he’d buy those kids things and not me. If I questioned it, he’d say it’s because he paid my mom child support already, so he wasn’t spending any other money on me.

-Leila

These survivors share their stories in the hopes that sharing and educating others about the realities of financial abuse can help others recognize and escape abusive relationships.

For help identifying or leaving an abusive relationship, please contact the Domestic Violence Hotline. 1-800-799-7233

http://www.thehotline.org/

I’m tired of being tired

I’m tired, y’all.

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I’m the type of person who will hold it when I need to use the restroom so that I can start a load of laundry in the washer and get my dirty dishes out of my lunchbox so that my time in the bathroom is not wasted. As if taking care of something as basic as peeing is a waste of time if I’m not also doing something productive. I’m the type of person who can’t read a book anymore. I have to be taking a bath and reading, or driving and listening to an audiobook, for me to feel like I’m not wasting time by doing something as indulgent as reading a book without accomplishing anything else at the same time.

When I scroll through my Facebook memories, I see that I have been tired for years. When I was in elementary, middle, and high school, I was tired. During college, I was tired. I got married, entered grad school, had a part-time job, and was tired. I got divorced and I was tired. I moved into my own place and had my first full-time job, and I was tired. I moved again and got a new job and had a freelance side business and I was tired. I worked on my exercise and diet habits, lost a bunch of weight, got married, tried to have a baby for 18 months, gained weight, stopped talking to my mom, got on antidepressants, realized I was in an abusive and controlling relationship, moved out, got divorced, stopped talking to my dad, and I WAS TIRED.

September 28-29, 2018 I completed a Ragnar Relay race and I was tired. Like, really really tired. I got 3 hours of sleep on Thursday night, 2 hours of sleep on Friday night, and various naps in a van during a two day 200-ish-mile race. Also my book was due to the publisher on October 1. And I was tired.

Now, the race is over, I have an extension to finish the book so I feel confident in what I hand in to my publisher, and I am looking forward to finally not being so tired.

But there’s one problem: I don’t know how to not be tired.

Overworking myself is not a temporary season of my life. It’s habit I’ve developed since childhood. It’s instinct. I’m always going, going, going, taking on new projects, trying to creatively solve problems, and looking ahead to the next to-do.

It’s exhausting.

I keep hearing stories of people in their 30s and 40s having strokes or heart attacks brought on by stress and I know without a doubt, that could be me. I know I need to slow down, to rest, to be still, to stop being so damn tired. So I’m going to learn.

Decision fatigue

One of the reasons it’s so taxing and exhausting to have so much going on all the time is because of a little thing called decision fatigue. Just having a bunch of stuff to think and make decisions about is a mental stressor. Something as seemingly simple as choosing what to wear in the morning can throw your whole day off if you open your closet to face a bunch of options. We get paralyzed by the decision. It’s one more thing to do.

Gina from This Family’s Journey writes about decision fatigue and how simplifying your life can help reduce stress and boost overall productivity since your brain doesn’t have to have so many tabs open just to make the basic decisions of the day anymore. I recommend you check out her post! (Her email to me was in my inbox for nearly a month, marked unread five different times, while I waited for the motivation to write a post about this topic.)

Reducing my stress impact

I am dedicating the next 6 months toward learning new “lower impact” habits to reduce the stress in my life, focusing on the following areas:

  1. Rest
  2. Food
  3. Movement
  4. Schedule
  5. Creativity
  6. Home
  7. Finances
  8. Work
  9. Social media

If you are also tired of being tired, stay tuned. I’ll be blogging my way through this process as I start over from scratch to learn the basics of human existence. How to eat things that make me feel good, how to get enough sleep to feel good, how to create a home that makes me feel good, and how to do work that makes me (you guessed it) feel good. I want to feel good.

PS. I’m on Facebook hiatus, so follow me on Instagram @caitlinfisherauthor for social media updates.

In her own words: I know what you did and I see you for what you are

Many of the women I know can all relate to having a partner who has been manipulative, controlling, and abusive. Some of them are willing to share their stories with me, which I’ll share here. While they may never forgive or forget, I do hope that sharing their stories can help my friends take another step toward healing.

In this blog post, we’ll hear from Tyra, in her own words. (I may edit for clarity, grammar, etc., and I’ve changed names).

Content Warnings: Emotional abuse, manipulation, physical abuse, financial abuse, mental abuse, parental alienation, drug abuse, sobriety, miscarriage, and adult language


June, 2008. I met who I thought was the person of my dreams. We were introduced by her cousin. We talked on the phone for hours each night while both of us were at work. And by hours, I mean 7-8 hours at a time. I told her my whole life story, she told me hers. I went to visit at the end of June, and ended up moving in with her the first of July. Our relationship was beautiful. She would buy me roses. Every night. I say our relationship was beautiful. And as I start typing…. the only thing I can think of is… “She would buy me roses, every night.” I’m not sure there was much more to it than that… But apparently, I thought that was beautiful. That was it. That was what I needed. Someone to buy me roses. Someone to “accept me for the flawed individual” I belived I was. I had just got clean. I had been clean and in recovery for about 4 months when we met. I had just had a miscarriage 2 months before we met. I had been living in a rundown apartment with maggots in the sink and pizza boxes stacked on the wall behind my desk. I didn’t know how to be an adult, and SHE was going to “love” me despite all of that…

I moved in with her, where she lived with her parents. She worked for her family, so logically, I started working for her family. They hated me. They treated me like trash. Nothing I ever did was good enough. When I was there, and she wasn’t, the internet would be unplugged so that I wasn’t allowed to access it. I was confined to our bedroom. Anything I tried to record on the TV was deleted before I could watch it. I could only shower at certain times of the day. I wasn’t allowed into the kitchen when I was off work, because I made too much noise. I was too loud. I was too … too much of everything. I was too snobby,  too happy, too sheltered. They would talk bad about me to her, and she never once stood up for me. I thought maybe she was a victim too. Maybe she just had to deal with it, like I did.

I believed this. She had just got out of prison. I had a good way of picking the winners. She was on parole. She said she couldn’t move out. She said she couldn’t do anything about it. She said she had to stay there. We had to deal with it. So, naturally, I dealt with it. Bad decision. All this showed her, all this taught her, was that I was willing and able to be okay being treated like trash. I would continue, every single day, to be the better person. Trying to do anything in my power to make these people like me. Turning the other cheek, being walked all over, talked about negatively, with conditions placed, and unforeseen “punishments” for no ill behavior at all. I just stayed. Waited for it to get better. Continued being me. I thought. But me wasn’t happy any longer.

June 2009. I tried to leave. No, I actually left. I met someone. We started getting high. I moved out. I was called slut, whore. I was told how disgusting I was. I was told that I was a piece of trash that would never amount to anything. I was told that I was trash. I was told that she never wanted to have sex with me anyway, because I was disgusting. I was told I should kill myself. The world would be better off without me. But I stayed gone. for about 3 weeks… and then, I broke my ankle. I was still working, but my schedule got changed. I was no longer doing what they wanted me to do, so my schedule was changed. My money nights were taken from me, and I was making less than half of what I had been making before. I couldn’t survive on my own any longer. I had no food, no money, and I was basically homeless after that last week was up at the motel.

Aug 2009. So I called my ex. I begged her to take me back. This is what she wanted. For me to need her. Even after all of the things that were said to me, I still asked to come back. Because maybe she was right. Maybe I would never amount to anything. Maybe the world would be better off without me. But I knew she only said those things because I hurt her. I knew, that deep down, she loved me. So I begged her to take me back. And she did… I was allowed back into the house. With the family that hated me. The girlfriend who hated me. And the job that I hated. I was forced to sleep in the bedroom across the hall. Because we “weren’t really together.” I still had to prove myself. I had to earn her trust back. Which made complete sense, beccause after all, I left her. Right?

So I slept across the hall, used the spare bathroom, and still wasn’t allowed to cook, watch tv or access the internet. I stayed across the hall ,where she would come in just to have sex, and then leave me there afterward, because I was good enough to have sex with, but not good enough to sleep with. I stayed across the hall, where she could keep me under her thumb and continue to control me. I stayed across the hall, to be reminded of what I did, to be reminded of where I belonged, because I was a terrible person. I stayed across the hall, where she could come and have sex with me, even though I was a disgusting whore. But she could use me, because I needed her. She could take advantage of me, because I had nothing else, nowhere else to go. She could have sex with me, because I owed her, at least that. And I stayed..

Dec 2009. By this time, I had been allowed back into the bedroom, but we still weren’t “official.” No pictures of me were posted on facebook, her relationship status refused to be changed. But we were “doing great,” and I was “proving myself trustworthy again.” She came up to me one day and asked if I wanted to have a baby. Now the only thing I ever wanted, was to be a mom. I KNEW I would be a great mom. So I said sure, because what better thing to do, than have a child with someone who treats you with little to no respect. Maybe this would fix everything! She had a 3rd cousin who was pregnant, and we were going to adopt our baby together. When she went to meet her, I wasn’t allowed to go. I sent a letter, but I don’t know if she ever recieved it. We went to every doctor appointment. We got to name our child. I wanted so badly for him to have my father’s middle name, but she insisted that would never happen. She wanted him to be named after her father. We argued about it incessantly, and I was always the selfish one. When we found out the gender of our child, she said his name, and included my fathers middle name in the name. I was thrilled. Oh man, she did love me. I ignored all the moments where she had treated me like trash, argued with me about it, told me it was stupid, etc. Because in that moment, she loved me. I thought.. Looking back, I see it for what it was. A love bomb. Something to keep me in her grips.

I don’t really have a timeline for the rest.

We would argue, I would threaten to leave, she would beg me to stay.. until one day she didn’t. She said “you know where the door is.” And I stayed. Because what else was I to do? I never threatened to leave again after that. There were moments I remember sitting in my car just wanting to die. I called the suicide hotline multiple times, because I was terrified of what I was capable of. We got into fights. I remember one time we were arguing and she pushed me down and I hit my head on the doorknob really hard. I was sobbing, and she reminded me that if I would just stop, that would’ve never happened. There were moments where I would get the silent treatment for DAYS at a time. Anytime I would try to talk to her, because I just wanted to know what I did wrong, I would be told that I was making it worse. If I would just listen, just shut up, just leave her alone, it would be over sooner. I was the one causing all of this. I was the one making her so mad that she couldn’t talk to me. She just needed “time.” So I did. I shut up. I left her alone. Silently telling myself that everything was my fault, and if I could just be BETTER, she would be okay…

Our son was born in August of 2010. On my birthday. That was always something that bothered her. I was always told that he was HER son. They looked alike. They had the same last name. If I ever left, I wasn’t taking him with me she would say. That was ingrained into me. I had to know my place. So I stayed.. We were still living in her family’s home, because “she still couldn’t leave.” Her step mom would stay with him at nights, because she refused to change our schedules so one of us could be home with him. Then, she would proceed to tell us how she didn’t get any sleep at all. I would try to sleep during the day, because I worked nights, but I was the only one who woke with him when he would cry. When he would be hungry, When he would be fussy, When he just needed Love! I was sleep deprived, I was in emotional turmoil. I was discredited for what a great job I was doing as a mother. I was verbally insulted. I just wasn’t good enough. No matter how hard I tried.

Christmas day of 2010, we were still in her family’s house. There was a huge argument between everyone in the house and I just wanted to leave to go to work. No one would move their car for me to get out. I was yelled at by her family. I was threatened by her family. I was belittled by her family. I was told that all of this was my fault by her family. Her 7 year old brother was almost pushed down the steps by her father, on purpose, because he was so mad. And I walked away. I walked to the gas station, because I didn’t know what else to do. A few minutes later, she showed up. She said we were going to get all of our things and move out. THIS WAS IT. We were finally going to be okay! We were going to live the life we wanted. She was standing up for me!

I was wrong. When we moved out, nothing changed. The only thing that changed, was that she was the only one abusing me instead of her family as well.

I quit my job and became a stay at home mom. Which of course meant, that I was responsible for everything. This is when control became really bad. I no longer had an income. I worked for my mom for awhile, but that fell through, and anytime my mom and I would get into a disagreement, if I talked to my ex about it, it would be held over my head for years to come. I was responsible for cooking, cleaning, taking care of our son, everything. But I never did anything right. I started getting high. I was taking pills for anxiety. I was taking pills for pain. I had convinced myself I wasn’t an addict, because I wasn’t like those other people.

One night we all went out to the bar, and her friend was so messed up on pills and alcohol that he tried to hit me. She did nothing about it. Said nothing about it. Just ignored that it happened. A few minutes later we were getting in the cab to go home, when her friend took off walking. She told me to get in the cab and go home with another friend and she would talk to me later. She went to find him. I didn’t go home. I got out of the cab and went looking for her. I tried calling. I tried hollering. She was gone. Her phone was turned off. I called another cab and had them drive me around trying to find her. I kept trying to call her. Three and half hours later, she FINALLY answered her phone. “What the fuck do you want?” She said. I told her I was worried about her, that I didn’t know where she was. That I didn’t know if she was okay, and I was scared. “I told you to go home with David. I’m trying to deal with this here, and you’re bothering me. Leave me the fuck alone and go home!” And she hung up. She later told me that it was my fault that her friend tried to hit me. It was my fault that her friend walked away from the cab, and it was my fault that he no longer wanted to hang out with her. Because I don’t like him. I never once said I didn’t like anyone. I never said those things.

I remember another time, a few months later, we had gone to another bar. The only thing she was doing the entire time we were there, was texting her friend. Yes, same friend from up above. The one who didn’t want to hang out with her anymore because of ME. She was hiding her phone from me, deleting messages as soon as they would send or come in. She would get upset if I asked who she was talking to. I ended up walking home from the bar, and she let me. She didn’t care. She always chose her friends over me. The ironic part about that, is I wasn’t allowed to have friends.

Now let me clarify. She never word for word, told me that I wasn’t allowed to have friends. Narcissists aren’t that blatant… most times. But what she DID do, was tell me that my friends didn’t like me. That they are just being nice because it’s the nice thing to do. Anytime I had a disagreement with a friend, It would be held over my head, it would be repeated to me. I would be told how terrible they are. How they don’t really care about me. How they dont really love me. How she’s the only one who can love me and forgive me for all of the things I repeatedly do. I don’t know what I repeatedly did. She was the only one who could ever put up with my bullshit. “Do you think if I didn’t love you, I’d put up with THIS SHIT? Do you think if I didn’t love you, I’d be okay with your bullshit anxiety? The fact that you don’t fucking listen to anything I ever say? NO Tyra, I do love you, so stop with the bullshit!”

That’s another thing she would always say. That I didn’t listen. I never ever listened. She would tell me to do something, and I would ask for clarification, and her response, instead of clarifying was “you never fucking listen.” Anytime we would argue, it was because “I never fucking listen.” Nothing was ever good enough for her. I remember getting in trouble for not completing tasks the “right way.” But when I would ask for her to help me make a list of things that needed done, she would tell me that I was an adult and I could figure that out on my own. Like Hey, what is it that you want done around the house? You can figure that out. But then… Then, when she got home, and I hadn’t done something she wanted done, that I didn’t know she wanted done, then I was in the wrong. Nothing I ever did was good enough. I was never good enough.

On Dec 2, 2011. We got into an argument. It literally started over a piece of paper. She had wanted me to grab some piece of paper from a gas station. I went to the gas station to get the paper and they didn’t have it. I came back to the house and told her they didn’t have it and she accused me of lying. She accused me of not going to the gas station. She accused me of not asking for the right piece of paper. She said I had one little thing to do and I couldn’t even do that right. I was supposed to head to Kansas City that day to go visit my family. She told me that because I was so angry, that I wasn’t taking “her son” with me. I could go by myself and she’d bring him up the next day. This was just her form of control. This is how she was going to control me in that moment. Of course, this made me even more upset. *let me clarify, I am NOT justifying my behavior in any way, shape or form, I am simply showing how much control narcissists have over us* She went to the bedroom, while holding our son and was getting his carseat out of the closet. She was going to take him to a friend’s house, because I was “way too unstable to drive with him.” I begged her not to do this. I told her I would calm down before I left. Just let me breathe for a minute. But she wouldn’t respond. It was another silent treatment, and this time, she was taking my son from me.

I kept trying to get her to respond and she wouldn’t. So I hit her in the back. All I wanted was a response. I wanted her to listen to me. I wanted her to not take my child from me. The next thing I know, I’m all the way across the bedroom hitting my head into the changing table, I get up, and I’m being shoved into a chair by my neck. I’m sobbing, trying to just leave, trying to apologize, trying to not lose my child. And then I’m against the bedroom door by my throat. “You will never see my child again. Is that what you wanted? Is it? well there you go. You did this! YOU DID THIS! You are insane. Fuck you. We hate you. You are trash. I hope you fucking die. Get the fuck out of this house right now, Tyra!” I fell to my knees sobbing. Please don’t take my child from me. Please. It was as if I was watching everything from outside my body. How could I have been so stupid. How could I have been so dumb? I ruined everything. I was a horrible person. I couldn’t do anything right. And I left…

She called me on my way to my cousin’s house. She missed me. I needed help, and I needed to do something different. I needed counseling she said. I needed help. I was crazy. But if I was better, MAYBE I could come back.

3 weeks later. After I went to anger management counseling and started going back to recovery meetings, I was allowed back home. I think it’s important to mention, that the entire time we lived “on our own” we were never “alone.” We constantly had people living with us. In and out of the house on a regular basis. If anyone would upset her, she would kick them out, and cut off all contact with them. We never did anything just “as a family” someone would always come along with us. It was never just us if we were going to eat, or going to the park, or anything. I didn’t leave the house alone with our child, because she had me convinced that I couldn’t handle it on my own. If I left the house it was by myself or with everyone. It was pretty much like this for the remainder of our relationship.

I changed so much. I tried so hard to be exactly what she wanted and more and I was never good enough. She was naturally dominant, and I’m naturally submissive.. I tried talking to her about BDSM and about how I wanted to be submissive, and her to be dominant. She said that was disgusting. She wasn’t dominant and if I feel like I need to be submissive then I am an extremely weak person. I met someone who was going to help me be a better submissive. They taught me how to top from the bottom. How to re-word things to make myself feel fulfilled. Instead of saying “do you want a cup of coffee?” I would say “Can I make you a cup of coffee?” Instead of saying “what do you want me to do today?” I would say “What can I do today?” Anytime I was asking for permission, I would get a reply. So I continued on this route, because FINALLY I felt like I was doing something right… But In 2014, I had another emotional affair, with the person who was teaching me. I tried so hard to not have feelings. I just wanted them to stop. I ended up telling her about it, because I didn’t want it to continue, I REALLY did want our relationship to work. I cut off all contact with the person, but I never lived that down. She said she forgave me. She said she wanted things to work. She said all these things, but none of them were followed up by any actions.

I told her again, what I needed from the relationship. I gave her examples of what I had been doing that she had been responding to. She still denied even considering to learn anything about it. So I continued to do what I was doing, to fulfill myself in the relationship. It was as if I was in a relationship with myself. Nothing I ever did was good enough. If I cleaned the entire house from top to bottom, but missed one sock, that would be the only thing that would be noticed. If I cooked a meal, but over or undercooked ONE piece of broccoli, THAT would be the only thing that would be noticed. If I wore anything I felt attractive in, I would be told that my clothes were too tight or that I looked fat or that my outfit was ugly. Anytime I tried to grow my hair out, I would be told that it looked stupid and that I looked skinnier with short hair. I was told that if I ever colored my hair, she would never be seen in public with me.

The smallest things would trigger her rage. Leaving the radio on my music instead of hers, wearing too much makeup, cooking food too fast, cooking food too slow, the kids being kids while she was sleeping, reading anything, wanting to go to a meeting, wearing dresses, leaving clothes on top of the dryer, folded, because I had gotten distracted, not vacuuming 3 times a day, ONE piece of dog hair on her clothing, being a human and forgetting ANYTHING, asking ANY QUESTION for clarification and and and… The list goes on and on and on…

My anxiety was ignored. I was told I was stupid. Over-reacting. Being dramatic. Anytime I was sick I was told to suck it up. Our son’s anxiety was blamed on me. Anytime he had any feelings that she didn’t agree with… sadness, anger, frustration, fear, anxiety, etc. It was blamed on me. He had learned it from me she would say. Any compliment was really a backhanded jab. She could never give me a compliment. She could never tell me I looked pretty. She could never tell me my hair looked good or my makeup looked nice. She could never tell me that I was a good driver. In fact, she always told me I was a terrible driver. Anytime I cooked anything, I would ask if she liked it and it was always “it’s okay” or “it’s fine.” Nothing was ever GOOD. She would complain about her food anytime we would go out to a restaurant.

This was our relationship for the remainder of the years. In 2017, my nephew asked me to watch his children for him. We ended up having them for over 5 months. We filed for guardianship, and the courts granted me guardianship, but not my ex. This was when things got really bad. There was one night I went to a meeting, and she stayed home with the kids. I woke up the next morning and the two year old had bruises on his butt. She had spanked him so hard that she left bruises. I left less than a week later, I’ll get to that.

Maybe things got worse because she was jealous. Jealous that I could do something she couldn’t. She didn’t want the kids, she just wanted to prove she was “better than someone else” During this time, I had started, yet again, talking to someone else. I am not completely innocent in all of this, I don’t want anyone to think that, but NO ONE deserves to be abused. And not all abuse leaves bruises. So I had started talking to someone. Talking to this person, showed me what I wasn’t getting in my current relationship, and it’s as if my eyes were finally open. It was as if I was READY to finally see my worth, and to accept it.

The 5 main things that lead to me finally leaving:

1.) How much differently the 2 children I had guardianship over were treated vs our child. And the fact that she had left bruises on the oldest of the 2.

2.) One day, I cleaned the house from top to bottom. SPOTLESS. I even used q-tips to clean the base boards. I scrubbed the floor on my hands and knees. The person I was talking to told me how proud they were of me. How I had done such a great job. How I should be proud of myself too. But when the ex woke up finally, and I told her what I’d done, and how great the house looked. Her response was.. “um.. okay?” I was crushed.


3.) We had had  really busy day. Grocery shopping with 3 kids, a supervised visit at jump-mania, a baby shower, and then that same night, the ex had invited her friends and their 6 kids over for a barbecue. I ended up falling asleep on our bed mid-barbecue. When I woke up, I replied to a text from the person I was talking to and told them I had a long day, I was emotionally exhausted and had fallen asleep. Their reply was “Of course you’re exhausted. You needed that nap, why don’t you take some time for yourself and take a bath.” When I left the bedroom from my nap, my ex said to me “I don’t know what is wrong with you. All you’ve done all day long is normal adult shit. You just need to suck it up and get the fuck over it.”

 

4.) I had on a new dress one day that I had got from my mom. I looked beautiful, and I FELT, like a princess. I went home and I said “Don’t I look so pretty?” And her reply was “That looks stupid.” I was crushed. I said “why can’t you just tell me I look pretty?” She says “I’m not going to lie to you. It looks stupid.” I said “I’m not the clothes I wear. You could say ‘You look beautiful babe but I don’t like the dress'” She said “That’s not who I am, maybe you should’ve asked your mom how you look. I bet she would’ve lied and told you she liked it. If you don’t want my opinion, don’t fucking ask for it.”

5.) I was texting with the other person I was talking to on the front porch one day. Our son came outside, looked at me and says “Mommy, why are you so happy?” I said “What do you mean baby?” He replies with “why are you so happy? I’ve never seen you this happy.” And he proceeded to do anything he could to frustrate me, because I was genuinely confused as to why I was happy. THAT is not okay.

I left two days later. I haven’t been allowed to see my child since. It’s been nearly a year. I was slandered all over Facebook. I was slandered to friends and family. My email accounts were all hacked and stolen. She took my phone from me, and it still has the same number, and to this day, she will return any call that comes into it and cuss them out because they called for me on that number. She has told me she hates me. I will never see HER child ever again. She’s lied to the courts. She’s lied to the schools. She’s lied to everyone. She told our child that I no longer loved him. She told him I’m no longer his mommy. He’s no longer allowed to talk about me. She’s taken him out of counseling. She’s taken him out of any extra-curricluar activities. She’s taken him away from ANYONE associated with me.

With all this said, today, I AM FREE. I am free from her narcissistic control. I am free from her abuse. I am free from her thumb. I am free! I have faith that I will see my son again. I have friends I never knew I had, and today, I believe them when they tell me they love me. Today, I have a job. Today, I have my own place. Today, I pay my own bills. Today, I am responsible for me. Today, I am happy. Today, I have self-love, self-respect, and self-discipline. Today, I am me.

I end this, with my first public moment of freedom. A letter I wrote to my abuser after I left. *filled with nsfw language*

I literally thought I was crazy all those years! You made me feel crazy! Like something was wrong with me. You kept me in that state on purpose so you could control me. I’m driving. In a thunderstorm. During a tornado watch. And I’m okay. I’m o.k.a.y. I would call you freaking out and you would tell me I was over dramatic and you couldn’t handle it and proceed to hang up on me and not answer my phone calls for HOURS on end.. Told me that I was freaking out for no reason. Which only furthered my anxiety..

Really, I just wanted YOU to tell me it was okay. The person I thought loved me. The person who took advantage of my heart and my soul. The person who ripped my soul from the inside out.. You hated me. To my core you hated everything about me. My confidence when you met me, my support system, my close relationship with my family. So to make you love me more, I gave all those things to you. Until I was nothing but an empty fucking shell who NEEDED you. Needed you to survive and you STILL hated me. And i STILL begged for you to love me. I gave you my everything and it was NEVER FUCKING ENOUGH! I WAS NEVER ENOUGH!! NOTHING I could do, would ever satisfy you.

Clean the whole house? “What about this piece of dust?” Do I look pretty? “That shirt looks stupid, is too tight, [insert back handed bullshit here]” I lean in for a kiss “disgusting, you smoke!” Do all the laundry for everyone in the house and put it all away in one day? “these aren’t folded right. You’re going to stretch my socks. This isn’t hung right. You forgot this sock.” Do you like it? [After I worked REALLY REALLY hard on ANYTHING] “it’s alright.” How’s dinner? [After I cooked SPECIALIZED meals for you because you didn’t like what I was cooking, while ALSO taking care of the kids “it’s okay.” And then you proceeded to get food while at work. Too much hair. Too little hair. Wear it up, wear it down. “If you ever color your hair an unnatural color, I’ll never be seen in public with you!” NOTHING WAS EVER FUCKING GOOD ENOUGH!

“Where’s my keys? My wallet? My belt? My debit card? What did you do with my drink? My trip sheets? My log sheet?” I NEVER TOUCHED any of that shit… But fucking A right I had a panic attack and beat myself up internally every single time. Tyra you’re so stupid. She’s mad because it’s your fault. And It wasn’t. But you sure never told me that. And I ALWAYS FOUND IT FOR YOU! FRANTICALLY, and every time, WITHOUT EVEN A GOD DAMN THANK YOU! Anytime our son was misbehaving, my fault. Anytime he was upset with you, my fault. Anytime he was smart at something, my responsibility. Those were the ways you made me believe you. Put a LITTLE good in there… Right? EVERYTHING was my fault!

You kept me there like your little puppet, and I allowed it. You would show me moments of “love” to give me an ounce of hope, and then RIP IT AWAY until I was begging for more! Until I would bring it up and we would fight bc I WAS CRAZY AND IMAGINING ALL THE THINGS! “Of course you loved me. We lived together Didn’t we?” What the fuck does that even mean? But I fell for it. Yeah.. Of course she loves me. She “puts up with all of my bullshit.” “If I didn’t love you, I definitely wouldn’t put up with this shit.”

Well Fuck you! I’m okay today! I’m not fucking crazy! And I KNOW what you did, and I SEE you for what you are! And I will continue to heal from the TRAUMA you put me through!


For help identifying or leaving an abusive relationship, please contact the Domestic Violence Hotline. 1-800-799-7233

http://www.thehotline.org/

Six life lessons from plants

Right before Christmas 2017, I started a new job in the marketing department at a greenhouse. Aside from an aloe plant and a snake plant that magically stayed alive through several moves and years of neglect at my mother’s house, I really wasn’t super experienced with plants. A boss once gave me potted purple shamrocks on Saint Patrick’s Day and I kept those alive pretty well, but I’d never been a “plant person.”

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Whoa, buddy. I am a certified card-carrying plant lady now. My new home is full of life, through colorful decorations and windowsills covered in potted plants. Yeah, I’ve lost a few. My Instagram feed will show you the “Plambulance” I made to quarantine the plants I accidentally baked in my car (rest in peace, ALL OF THEM). I keep overwatering succulents despite trying so so so hard to not do that. But I’ve found I have really good luck with foliage so I’m just a viney, leafy, tree-y person now.

My wardrobe consists mostly of floral patterns, and I rock about four different floral patterned bags on a daily basis (purse, backpack for work, lunch bag, gym bag). It’s pretty serious. The more I get to know plants, the more I love them and have learned to enjoy quiet time pruning, watering, and (yes, of course) talking to them. Mama’s little babies. Yes they are.

Here are six things I’ve learned about life through caring for my plants:

  1. Grow toward the sun: Some plants will start to bend and bow in search of more light. Do this. What gives you life, what feeds you emotionally? Bend toward it. Grow toward it.
  2. Prune old growth: Each leaf is beautiful and amazing as it grows, but sometimes (through lack of care or maybe just age and growing up), the leaf dies. Or the vine gets leggy. Or the stem stretches, or you get a pest, or whatever. You can’t sit there staring at your Fiddle Leaf Fig being sad you dropped a leaf – prune it off and grow what’s healthy.
  3. Hydrate: Go drink some water. Yes, right now. Unless you are a succulent.
  4. Speak softly: You know those social media experiments where they tell people to either insult or compliment a plant, and then show that the plant that received compliments and praise grows healthier, while the insulted and sad plant dies? Whether or not those are real, scientifically backed experiments or not, why not talk kindly and gently to yourself, given the choice? I wipe my plants leaves with a damp cloth, point out their new growth like it’s a personal victory, and say nice things to them about how pretty and nice they are. If I can do this to a plant on my windowsill, I should be able to do it to myself. When my flapjack succulent is a little droopy and I say, “Baby, what’s wrong, what do you need?” then I can ask myself the same when I am tired, or sore, or just a little droopy.
  5. Breathe: Plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. They reduce airborne toxins and fumes. They breathe. All the time. When their leaves are growing, they breathe. If their roots are overwatered and like “Lady wtf, too much water!!!” they breathe. They breathe while stressed. They breathe while growing. They just breathe.
  6. Get dirty: Playing in dirt is great for you. It builds your immune system, it connects you with nature, and it grounds and centers you in the here and now. Don’t be afraid to go get dirty, whether it’s with a potted plant, a garden, or a hike through your local nature trail.