Let’s Be Honest

Almost 7 years have passed since my children and I fled an extremely abusive situation. In the few years before our escape, we lived in complete isolation as veritable hostages. We crash landed in a domestic violence shelter and for 3 months we had a place where we were safe while we received some help for our extremely severe issues, including depression, PTSD, and anxiety.

Currently, three of my kids are adults living on their own or with a spouse. Four of my children are still minors. Over the past few months a new problem has developed in our home, but it has arisen out of issues from the past. In speaking with my oldest child, Melody, about the present dilemma, she said shelters and therapists don’t tell you that you’ll be dealing seriously with the fallout from being a victim for the rest of your life. And she is correct. They help you deal with your current issues, equip you with better ways to communicate, teach you better coping skills, but they don’t warn you about the future.

So let’s be honest. Let’s really talk about being a survivor.

They don’t tell you that there will be new experiences that will bring the horrors of the past crashing over you faster than you can take a breath. You believe you’ve healed and your scars are a badge of courage — proof that you were stronger than your circumstances. Then something completely new comes along that maybe isn’t even directly related to your past, but it brings feelings that you haven’t experienced yet, or emotions that you stuffed deep inside and haven’t dealt with yet. All of a sudden you’re lost in a sea of all kinds of memory and sensation, trying to tread water, gasping for breath, and all the while the past is weighing down on you so intensely that you don’t know how long you can stay afloat. In a haze, your completely ambushed mind is racing, trying to figure out what the heck just happened.

They don’t think to tell you that you’re going to have to watch your children struggle through certain points in their lives, not with the ‘normal’ angst of every person, but with the demons that refuse to be buried, with the memories that will not allow them to forget, with the fallout from torment that their minds should never have to carry. They don’t tell you how it will rip you completely to shreds, and break you into a million pieces because there’s nothing you can do to fix it.

They don’t mention that there will be times when everything is good, everyone is progressing, so you will become complacent and won’t recognize the signs of depression until it’s too late.

They don’t disclose that sometimes children who have witnessed domestic violence will eventually become so focused on who they don’t want to become that they can’t figure out who they are.

Mostly, they don’t let you know that you aren’t a failure because 7 years out you’re still struggling to keep your family together, on track, and moving forward, while at the same time trying to ward off the evil that wants to destroy all of you and how far you’ve progressed.

Victims can leave the violence, but don’t be fooled into believing that the memory of the violence will completely leave you. Don’t let yourself believe you’re weak because you’re still fighting with the past and you think you should be ‘over’ that by now. Surviving doesn’t work that way.

There’s no timeline for healing. Know that.

There’s no permanence to your progression or momentum. Sometimes you’ll have setbacks, even years later. Accept that.

It does get better, but it doesn’t always stay better. Overcoming a violent past is a journey. You carry a pack and within that pack you’ll find burdens that you can take out, set down, and leave behind. You’ll also find memories that will always be carried with you. The greatest thing about this pack are the tools you will gather along the way. You can remove them and use them as you need, but you will also be able to lend them to others in need of help. The longer you travel, the more you will know how to give from your pack.

Don’t give up. Keep moving forward. There are lots of things you weren’t told, but there’s one thing you need to hear:

You can do it.

 

My Son is a Soldier

My son became a soldier last week.

I was privileged to watch him swear his oath to defend our country. I was a bit disturbed when he had to vow to obey the orders of the President because I rarely, if ever, agree with most of the actions our Presidents take. I’m proud of my son because he is able to set aside his personal political views in order to do a job so many of us have never experienced.

It seems so often that the life of our soldiers — what they endure, and what they have to give up — goes unnoticed and unappreciated by so many as they focus on how right or wrong war is, or try to prove why their political party is ‘better’ or ‘more correct’.

Before Vader was sworn in, I talked to him about this choice he wanted to make, bringing up the very real possibility that war may be coming. I wasn’t discussing it because I didn’t want him to join — I believe the choices my adult children make are very much their own and they need to know their mother supports them — but I wanted to make sure he’d thought it through on many levels. And he had. He explained what he thought about serving in wartime, how his weekly training through Future Soldiers had helped prepare him for the likelihood of serving during a war, and helped me understand that he had peace about his decision. We talked about how our relationship will transition from mentoring into friendship and he liked that idea and the freedom it holds.

I don’t feel anymore that Vader chose the Army to please his father or to try to have some connection to him. I realize that this choice comes from somewhere else inside Vader and I deeply respect it.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have times where I’m afraid, or I wonder if he made the right choice, but I know that’s my emotional mommy trying to take over what I know to be true: this is what Vader wanted to do.

It hurts me to see people post things on social media about how soldiers are just killing machines, or that they are murderers. I suppose some people can’t really understand the oath our troops swear until we’re watching our own kids doing it. My son promised to carry out the orders of our President and Congress, period. He will do it no matter what his personal feelings might be at the time. He will do it with honor and courage borne from his incredible sense of duty to the country he loves.

I miss my son. His first several weeks in boot camp require no contact with us. I spend a lot of time wondering where he is, what he’s doing, and how he’s faring. I pray for him many times throughout the day and trust that the God I love and serve goes with Vader and will keep him safe.

Every one of our troops is someone’s son or daughter, someone’s brother or sister, someone’s husband or wife, someone’s daddy or mommy. They are human beings living and working apart from their families to defend our country, to defend us. 

My son isn’t a killing machine – he’s a man of honor who stepped up to the plate to carry out a job so many of us would never do, but love to criticize.

Here at home we’re staying Army Strong because that’s what he taught us and that’s what our soldier needs.

I’m so thankful to love a soldier.

 

Father Of The Bride

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My first husband, Chuck, and I were married in May of 1989. We had a fairy tale wedding — no two people were more in love than we.

A year into our marriage we learned that we were expecting our first child. I was frightened, but from the moment he found out, Chuck was elated. Once I overcame my initial fears, we had a great time planning and dreaming, making lists of names, buying baby clothes, putting the crib together. Chuck wanted a girl and shared with me so many of the things he couldn’t wait to do if we were blessed with a daughter, but the greatest thing he looked forward to was lifting her up and swinging her around in the air.

He died on a stormy afternoon, the day after our baby’s due date. Our daughter, Melody, was born a week later. Devastated over the loss of my husband, my heartbreak deepened when I delivered our beautiful baby and discovered Chuck had been sent the daughter he had yearned for but would never get to meet.

My Melody is now 24 years old and in eight days she will be walking down the aisle to marry her soul mate. She and I have had talks about her daddy, we’ve discussed how to take traditional roles her dad would have filled at the wedding and how to change them to accommodate someone else without giving the impression that they are filling in or taking his place. I was honored when she asked me to help walk her down the aisle and to give the ‘Father-of-the-Bride’ speech.

I’ve lamented the unfairness of his absence during Melody’s life, but today I’m especially grieved that he won’t be physically present on her wedding day. I don’t need lectures on how nothing in life is fair — I’m well aware. It doesn’t change that outrageous feeling, though. Melody and I were robbed, it wasn’t fair, I have never gotten over it, and I know I never will.

But that’s okay. It’s okay to have moments where I say it’s not fair. God hears me and I believe He’s just quietly and lovingly acknowledging that no, it isn’t fair, but it will be alright.

As I take that slow, sweet walk with my daughter on her wedding day I believe Chuck will be there walking with us. I think he’s happy for his baby girl and is bursting with pride over the remarkable woman she has become.

I know I am.

Bad Memories

Today I was watching a video about a woman who was strangled to death by an abusive ex-boyfriend. I had to shut it off before the story ended because it triggered so many horrible memories for me. I thought I was okay, but sitting there thinking about that poor woman led to remembering the times when my ex tried to strangle me. Crying and panicked, I fled to the garage so my children would not be frightened. The panic was overwhelming me and as I tried to push the memories back down, they pushed back just as hard.

I remember what it feels like to be strangled — the burning in my chest, the panicked and racing thoughts as I struggled, the pain in my eyes, the buzz in my head that grew more intense the longer I couldn’t breathe. The pain is unimaginable — the fear is something I can’t describe. I wish I could forget, but I don’t think I ever will.

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Atticus found me in the garage. He held me as I sobbed. He knows he doesn’t have to say anything, he just rides the wave with me until it subsides. Sometimes that takes a while as one bad memory triggers another. I was standing there with my husband cycling through the memories of all the times I thought I was going to die at the hands of my ex and I told Atticus that when I look back, I really don’t know how I survived. God was intervening and protecting me, but I don’t know how I physically survived some of his attacks. Other women die, but I survived.

Tonight those appalling recollections linger. When my mind cannot readily dismiss negative things, they become more like mind ghosts — they haunt me. The past is not my playground – I don’t choose to visit it anymore, but sometimes the memories surface whether they are welcome or not. They leave me weary, and sometimes feeling fragile.

I’m not who I was — you won’t find a victim living in my skin anymore. Unfortunately, there is no delete button to remove the atrocities of my past, but choosing to dwell in the now with the people I love helps me overcome when those really bad memories occasionally surface.

I continue to be a survivor.

Replay

Soldier Boy

It’s been a roller coaster of emotions this holiday season — from the general business of preparing for Christmas to the gamut of emotions we all experience this time of year. December marked the 5-year anniversary of our flight to freedom from my abusive ex-husband and Christmas Eve would have been the wedding anniversary with that ex-spouse. My kids have mixed feelings about all of this — appreciating their freedom and safety but wishing their father would have made better choices for the family. Bittersweet feelings about a wedding anniversary of the parents who don’t speak to each other any more. The heartbreak of having a father they can’t know or talk to because he’s residing in a prison 1,200 miles away. Not having their birth family intact for the holidays.

All the while they are experiencing the joy of the holidays and the appreciation they feel for their step-dad, whom they all love so much more than I think they ever believed they could — or wanted to. I see them during their extreme highs and their extreme lows. I can tell when they’re hurting, even though most times they don’t say anything. Sometimes we get through these times successfully and sometimes we fail miserably, but no matter what we keep walking together.

Amidst all of the holiday preparations and celebrations Vader asked if we would meet with an Army recruiter he’d been talking to at his high school. He’d taken some practice ASVABs and scored remarkably high and my son was excited to get all of the formalities out of the way in order to enlist. The meeting went well and we were able to set up formal ASVAB testing during Vader’s winter break from school. It turns out that he scored even higher on the real tests. My boy is so excited about enlisting. He’s to be sworn in next week. It’s moving so fast I haven’t had time to take a breath and process most of it, so I cry a lot — I’m so proud of him, yet the severing of the apron strings hurts.

Vader was groomed for service in the military by his father. Since my son was born, I was told that he was going to be a soldier. When we were free from his father I encouraged my son to do whatever he wanted and assured him that nobody expected him to become a soldier just because it was what his father expected of him. Now he’s come full circle and has chosen the military for himself.

Part of my tears are for what was lost for Vader. He can’t call his father and tell him what a huge success he has experienced with the ASVABs. It breaks my heart for my son, and it makes me angry at Rail yet again for the choices he made. He’s missing out on knowing these beautiful children and watching them grow into wonderful people. I don’t feel bad for him, but my heart breaks for my children who will always live with not just the repercussions of a broken home, but the void of the absentee father in prison. They couldn’t pick up the phone to share their good news even if they wanted to, and that makes a broken family all the more difficult to ‘fix’ — it’s another time where we just keep walking and try to figure it out as we go.

I am insanely proud of all of my kids. They’ve been through hell and back and they have all chosen to take those experiences and use them to overcome and thrive. My heart feels as if it might burst right now as I watch Vader transitioning from boy to man. I worry that he doesn’t realize how much I love him or that I’ll always be there to support him. Atticus reminds me that I don’t need to worry about that because if Vader doesn’t realize it now, it will come to him eventually.

Vader, I love you, I’m proud of you, and I’m your biggest cheerleader. I can’t wait to see what’s next for you — I believe great things are coming!

 

Service

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Over the summer my oldest son, Artie, announced to the family that he planned to join the Navy. It was a shock to me because I knew my artistic son wanted to attend art school and eventually design automobiles. I cried and told him no matter what he chose to do I was behind him 100%. We had many discussions about military life, careers, why he chose the Navy.

My very first concern for Artie was how he could truly desire a life in the military because he’s such a mild-mannered, extremely warm, gentle young man. In high school he was encouraged to join the football team because he’s a big guy, but he had no desire to join, fearing he might hurt someone. So my mother’s heart wondered how a military career would suit my son, but I came to understand that with my boy’s gentle and loving heart came a deep desire to honor and serve his country. I see him as my first-born baby boy, but he’s a man wanting to do what comes naturally to men: protect.

Eventually I grew accustomed to the idea as Artie learned more and shared openly with us about his desire to pursue a career as a mechanic in the Navy. When it was time to get serious with the recruiter we discovered that Artie wasn’t currently eligible to enlist because he’d been diagnosed with asthma as a child. In order to join he had to see a specialist and have testing done to make sure he no longer has asthma. His lack of medical insurance has made it a hindrance to join for now, but he’s working to slim down a bit and become more physically fit, which is still a very positive step in the direction he’s chosen. I know he’ll get there when he’s meant to.

Yesterday Vader came to me after school wringing his hands and telling me he needed to talk to me. I knew it was serious and I immediately felt a sense of dread from the vibes Vader was throwing out. He began to tell me how he’s wanted to join the Marines since he was in ninth grade, but when he saw how difficult it was for me when Artie announced his plans for the Navy, he felt that he couldn’t tell me what he wanted to do with his life. I cried and had a small panic attack because I immediately envisioned my son on the front lines and I couldn’t even breathe. He asked for permission to stay after tutoring this week to talk in-depth with the recruiter at his high school. I asked him to give me some time to process that because I was due elsewhere for a meeting.

I sent texts to my brother, Tate, my daughter, Melody, and my Wonder Twin. My brother was behind Vader from word one, encouraging me that it would be very good for my son and would help him with his anger problems. Melody and I talked back and forth and she, too, suggested that this might be the best thing for him. My Wonder Twin has a son who serves and she was very positive, telling me not to panic, he had a long road to walk and lots of testing to pass.

After the meeting I went home and sat down with Vader. I told him that I wanted him to hear what I’d told all of my kids when they talked to me about major life decisions: find your passion, plan your future, then run towards that future with arms wide open and DON’T. LOOK. BACK. Then I talked to him about two of my concerns. All of his life Vader was groomed by his father for military life — mostly, I believe, because it’s what Rail wanted but wasn’t able to pursue due to a birth defect. I urged him to think carefully about this choice, and that he needs to enlist if it’s what he wants, not because it’s what he knows his father wanted for him. My second concern was that he was choosing military because he didn’t know what else he wanted to do with his life. He promised me he would think carefully about my concerns, but that becoming a Marine was his passion.

I’m worried about the choices Vader will make in the next few months. He’s the child who is fueled by anger and rage and makes decisions based on those feelings. I know there isn’t much I can do except be available to Vader if he wants advice. What it comes down to for me is trusting God to help my son navigate these monumental decisions. I choose to actively place my faith in God — to believe that He will always walk with Vader and provide for him, even if my boy never chooses to follow Him. I don’t say this lightly — I still feel off-balance, panicked, and fearful, but I do know that the more I pray and believe God’s got Vader’s life in His hands and wants the very best for him — even more so than his own mother — those feelings will subside and Vader’s future will sit well with me.

Thank you for joining me today for my very late entry in the A to Z September Challenge!

Quit

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The struggle with my son Vader has not lessened or ended. It changes as he searches for something he’ll never find: the quick fix. He’s looking for that one thing that will erase the past, make it right, remove the pain, return his dad to him. I’ve watched him jump from one thing to the next for almost 5 years. It’s a difficult and painful thing to watch your child experience, especially when the next quick fix is a failure.

Most of us know by now that there is no such thing — that healing takes time, work, and forgiveness, which can be an arduous task. In the meantime, he takes the pain, anger, and hatred out on his family. He is feared by so many of us because we’ve experienced his plunge into rage so deep and dark that it became disturbingly violent. So we choose to placate, tiptoe, and generally avoid his pissy moods as much as we can.

I set some new boundaries lately and called a family meeting to discuss them. I laid out some new rules for Vader about sleep patterns, reasonable bedtimes for a teen who has to be up at 5 am for school, and helping out around the house. My son, of course, had some choice words about all of it, and those included his hatred for God and his ‘decision’ to quit attending church with us. God was one of those things Vader thought would be a quick fix, but when that didn’t pan out he gave up and moved along.

One of the expectations I place on my children is that we all attend church together on Sunday. They aren’t required to speak to anyone, or participate in any other extra activities with the kids at the church unless they so choose. It’s family time, and I hope they will also discover by attending that they are loved and valued in God’s house — it’s a place they can always seek and find help.

So I shot down Vader’s decision about quitting church, which displeased him greatly.

My other kids were hurt and distressed over Vader’s disdain for God. They wanted to know why, but Vader has no answers he’s willing to share — mostly, I think, because he doesn’t really know why himself.

Later on, in our bedroom, Atticus and I were talking about what happened with Vader and the things he said. My husband gently suggested that I need to figure out the right time to quit. I’m not a quitter, and said as much. Then he explained that I need to find the place where I stop thinking I can do whatever Vader needs, or find whatever Vader is looking for, and quit so that God can take over.

It’s a monumental undertaking to attempt to stop helping enabling my child in order to let God take over and be there for him.

Some people believe that when we’re heading in a bad direction in life that it’s God who will take us as low down as we can possibly go in order to bring us around to what is right. I don’t. I believe He allows us to continue choosing what we want, digging ourselves a deeper and deeper hole, until we realize we have nothing and see Him standing right there with us, ready and willing to help us climb out of whatever pit we’ve sunk into so completely. It’s that place where we really meet God — and it’s a situation of our own making, not God’s.

No parent wants to see negative things affecting their children, but I suppose Atticus was saying that I have to let Vader wallow in whatever muck he’s choosing until he sees that God is the One who is always there — the only One who will never fail him. Right now I don’t know that I can step back and let Vader fall on his own — not because I don’t trust God to be there, but because I’m afraid that stepping away would fail my son.

I have so much to think about.