On Tuesday my daughters will be leaving for 7 days with their father and travelling north of Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. Weeks like this are always very difficult for me; it’s been three years since my marriage ended and it still hurts like hell whenever my girls have to be away.
The first time I had to say goodbye to my daughters for a full week was in August of 2016. I wrote something that day that I’d like to share here. The feelings may be slightly less raw now, but the heartache is just as present.
August 5, 2016
My ex just left to take our daughters away for the week. They’re travelling 664 kilometres away to Havilland Bay, 40 minutes north of Sault Ste Marie. That’s a 7 hour drive, give or take, and it’s 7 hours too far.
The reality of having to share our daughters…my daughters…hits home today more than any other. Because this moment will be one that I have to relive again and again and again as we now become “co-parents” instead of husband and wife, Mommy and Daddy.
And yes, I made the choice to leave my unhappy marriage. I chose to walk away and accept this new, awful reality, because I have faith that ultimately, we will all be happier and healthier. If I had stayed a wife, I would have continued to suffer in what felt like a jail sentence instead of a marriage. And so my daughters would have suffered too.
But this feeling…this new reality where I have to share my daughters with someone who betrayed me, used me, lied to me, cheated on me, ignored me, forgot about me, disrespected me…I can hardly bear it.
To watch him show up in his new car, with his now stylish clothes, a new haircut and cool sneakers… To listen to him tell me about how important it is that I make sure he and his family have more time with the girls… To wave goodbye while he drives away with those two precious beings… To smile for my girls, despite the pain inside… What do I do with these feelings??
Two years is what my lawyer told me.
Two years is what my counsellor told me.
Two years until it stops feeling this way.
Two years until this is “normal”.
Two years until I’m okay.
In this moment, it’s hard to believe that life will ever be okay, because although I left my unhappy marriage, I will never leave my children’s father. And they deserve to know him and love him, but damn I want so much for them to understand why I made the choices that I did; understand the hurt and shame and pain that he caused me. That he caused our family.
664 kilometres is much too far between me and who I love most, and yet 664 kilometres will never be far enough away from the man who hurt me most.
Well, I’m calling bullshit on the whole “Two years and you’ll be better” thing. Two years is nothing! It’s been THREE years since my official date of separation and I’m still hurt and angry! I still don’t trust my daughter’s other parent. I’m still in therapy and on psychiatric medication and trying to stop struggling so much! Things are getting better in some ways, but I don’t know how long it will take for me to be able to enjoy the time I have apart from my girls and not have it be so tainted with resentment and fear.
I didn’t want to be a part-time parent, but that’s how it’s ended up. I will always, always stand by the statement that choosing to have THIS life is better than the one I left behind, but that doesn’t mean it’s not difficult every day.
664 kilometres is still too far between me and who I love the most, but I have no choice but to accept it and try my best to get through the days until my heart comes back to me.
*Disclaimer: I am not a legal, medical, or mental health professional; I’m simply a person with experience and ideas, trying to share them. Please take the following suggestions carefully and if you are in an abusive situation and need help, reach out to someone you trust. xxJ
You just slip out the back, Jack Make a new plan, Stan You don’t need to be coy, Roy Just get yourself free Hop on the bus, Gus You don’t need to discuss much Just drop off the key, Lee And get yourself free
If only leaving your lover was as easy as Mr. Simon’s catchy tune makes it seem! And leaving an abusive partner? That’s even harder to do.
I don’t actually have a list of 50 ways to leave your abusive lover. I did start start trying to make one… I had things like, “Sneak out at night and leave a glitter bomb for your now ex-lover to open and find in the morning. All it needs to say is: Fuck you; I’m outta here!” I also included ideas like giving your partner the finger, doing a dramatic hair flip, and then walking off like a bad-ass movie star who never looks at explosions behind them. Or simply look at them, and call upon the Queen of queens, RuPaul, saying “Now sashay away…byeeeeeeeee!!!!” before sauntering out the door.
But those ideas seemed really inappropriate when paired with the actual circumstances of leaving an abusive partner, because I think, unlike Mr. Simon says in his song, that leaving an abusive partner is a process—one that doesn’t end when you physically remove yourself from your partner’s presence. It’s more like a series of physical, emotional, and financial steps away from your disentanglement to that person and towards your re-engagement with yourself.
You’ve probably considered leaving before—maybe even many times before!—but until now, you’ve always found ways to rationalize staying. You’ve told yourself that your partner will change. Or you’ve blamed yourself and decided to just work harder (just!) to make changes in the relationship. You may feel too scared to face the uncertainty of leaving what’s familiar (even if it’s dysfunctional). You might assume that you’re not worth more than how your partner treats you (they’ve groomed you for those kinds of feelings, remember?), feel like you have nowhere else to go, or there may be children involved and that complicates things.
There are so, so many ways to convince yourself to stay.
When you do, finally, make the heart-shattering, gut-wrenching, completely terrifying yet entirely empowering decision to leave, you begin the step-by-step process of leaving your abusive lover. I have some ideas about how this process might look, but remember that the entire process could take years, or it could happen in the course of a few moments. My experience was that it took years before I felt empowered enough to leave my partner. Others may make it happen right away. You do you, but here’s what I think the process may be like:
You begin to consider leaving as a legitimate possibility. You mull it over, maybe take some small steps to start preparing for it, and you work yourself up towards making the final decision.
You reach out to someone you trust for support as you prepare to leave your abusive relationship. This may be a trusted family member or friend. It may be a counsellor or your doctor; it could be someone at a shelter or on a partner abuse hotline. You seek out the reassurance that someone will in fact be there when you find yourself alone.
If you are an intensely anxious over-planner like me, you will set a time and date for when to inform your lover. You may also draft up a quick and informal separation agreement and have your trusted friend or family member come with you on D-Day to deliver your news and your agreement to your partner, ensuring that everyone present signs and dates the agreement (this is an immensely helpful document if you find yourself in a legal battle post-separation).
Or you don’t plan ahead and one day, you just tell your partner that you’re leaving. Or you kick them out of the house. Or you sneak out in the middle of the night because that’s the safest way for you to leave. You get the fuck out of there, however works best for you! Because that’s the whole goddamn point.
This is where the-post-leaving work begins. You begin to disentangle emotionally from your abusive partner. This might take days. More likely weeks, months, or even years. Having a counsellor, if you’re able, makes this a much steadier process.
You hire legal help, if necessary, to protect yourself when your emotionally abusive ex tries to exert control over you again. There are Legal Aid services in Canada and the United States. There are likely others in different places as well.
You enlist a kickass accountant, if you are able, to make sure your finances are dealt with responsibly. Do NOT allow your partner to dictate this unless you fully understand the scope of the decisions being made. And please do NOT underestimate the importance of taking care of yourself financially. This was a much bigger part of leaving my spouse than I expected and was very hard to deal with during the sweep of intense emotions that came along when I left.
You “get yourself free”, as Paul Simon says, and you manage the best that you can. That’s really what it comes down to.
Voila! You’ve left your lover. And it only took 8 steps! Easy, right?
No. It’s not easy. It’s 100% difficult. Especially in instances of emotional abuse, because people (including law makers and the like) often consider “emotional abuse” to be subjective. And depending on how skilled your ex-lover is at being charming or manipulating others, it may become even more difficult to get support as an abuse survivor. I know this firsthand, because when I left my marriage, I had to fight fiercely for my claims of abuse.
And isn’t that just the worst thing you can do to someone who has just escaped an abusive relationship? Make them fight for the legitimacy of their experience? Fuck that. The lip-service given to emotional abuse is not enough to protect survivors of it, should they choose to, or more likely need to, engage in a legal battle post-separation. If you don’t have children with your abusive lover, things may be different. I’m not going to say that they will be easier—that wouldn’t be fair to those whose legitimate struggles with abusive partners happen without them being parents as well—but I know that when I left an earlier partner who was also abusive, whom I didn’t have children with, it was still incredibly difficult. So difficult, that I’m still dealing with the feelings and fear that developed as a result of that relationship.
So, no. Not having kids doesn’t guarantee that it’s easier to walk out on your abusive partner. There’s still intense fear and risk involved. You still need somewhere safe to go and someone trusted to talk to. You may have to hire a lawyer and advocate the shit out of your experience in order to protect yourself. There will still be so many feelings and experiences to figure out afterwards. You will still be putting yourself in an incredibly vulnerable position by changing the status quo of your life and of your ex’s life.
Emotional abuse is just as scary and just as serious as physical abuse. So, despite what Paul Simon says, leaving your lover isn’t usually as easy as just walking out the door. Anyone in an abusive relationship should be able to leave that situation. Maybe that’s the one part Mr. Simon gets right in his song when he says, “Just get yourself free.”
I had the fight of my life trying to disentangle from my abusive partners. In fact, it still feels like a fight everyday.
If you need help leaving your lover, please reach out to someone you trust, or to one of the places below.
As I said last week, the world is kind of going to shit. And within that chaos, we each have our own pile of crap to manage. It often feels like the shit is hitting the fan and everything is falling apart in our own lives and all around us. What a time to be alive!
When my life was dangling from the shit-covered fan of a messy divorce and major mental health problems, and I was desperately trying to disentangle myself from everything I had known for the past decade and a half, I started gathering an arsenal of tools and strategies I could use to cope better. I’ve already talked about some of these strategies, but today I want to share a new one. Here’s how I learned it:
One day in a therapy session, my counsellor turned to look at me and he asked, “Do you know who ‘Bizarro Superman’ is?”
I’m not exactly a comics buff, but I’ve picked up a bit of knowledge from watching Marvel and DC movies, and from many sessions of playing superheroes with my daughters, so I looked back at him and said, “Yes.”
And my counsellor continued… “Okay, so Bizarro Superman is like the exact opposite of the actual Superman. He exists as a reflection of Superman and does things that seem strange and unexplainable to the rest of us.”
“I want you to imagine that parallel to your real life, there is a Bizarro World. It’s a place where all the crap that doesn’t make sense and isn’t rational and is completely ridiculous exists. And when you come up against something that is nonsensical and irrational and completely ridiculous, you need to stop and remind yourself that it’s all just Bizarro World crap.”
And I went, “hmm” and sat with the idea for a moment.
My counsellor went on: “So when someone says or does something hurtful, just tell yourself that this is Bizarro garbage and belongs in Bizarro World.”
So I learned The Bizarro World Technique, as I’m now dubbing it, and it consists of doing one simple thing: reminding yourself that irrational thoughts and behaviour (whether done by yourself or someone else) belong in Bizarro World and not in the real world. The Bizarro World Technique, or TBWT because I’m lazy and want to use an acronym, is similar to using the Positive Belief Record (or PBR, ’cause who wants to spell everything out every time? Not this girl!) I talked about back in October of 2018. What TBWT has that the PBR lacks is a sense of humour. And humour truly is great medicine. (I think someone said something like that once.)
It’s not always easy (or appropriate) to use humour when dealing with trauma, but sometimes it’s the best way to diffuse tension, open up to creativity, or just get some big emotions out in a way that leaves you feeling better instead of worse—my counsellor and I had a good chuckle on the day that he introduced TBWT to me and I absolutely left that session feeling better than when I had arrived.
As I continue to manage the crap in my own life, and think about how I can do more to help the world, I’ve had to remember this technique of referencing “Bizarro World.” It helps me sift through the mess of thoughts I’m being flooded with and deal with the crazy behaviour I’m seeing from people around me.
I want to be clear though: I’m not saying that we should ignore the alarming and destructive behaviour happening around us. Likewise, TBWT doesn’t mean you should ignore your feelings, or stop working on addressing your personal trauma and your triggers. The technique categorizes these experiences and re-frames them into a much more manageable framework so you can detach from them emotionally and then think rationally about how to handle them. Plus, it might make you laugh! Bonus!
The Bizarro World Technique also reminds us that WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR OTHER PEOPLE’S FEELINGS. EVERRRRRRRRRR.
Recognizing the shitty behaviour of others through using TBWT (or a PBR, or talking to a counsellor, or journaling, or blogging, or talking with a trusted friend…) should be an act of removing any sense of obligation you might feel to fix or change other people. Throwing that junk in Bizarro World means that you recognize that it is someone else’s shit and that your job is simply to manage how you feel and what your behaviour looks like.
Really, it’s about taking ownership of your thoughts and behaviours, so that you can think more clearly and take action with intention.
So when your ex does something typical and shitty and you start to feel crazy, remind yourself that it belongs in Bizarro World.
When you start thinking that no one could possibly be as stupid/ugly/crazy/whatever as you are, throw that garbage thinking into Bizarro World.
When you’ve had enough of the political bullshit our bigoted lawmakers keep spewing, wrap it up in a black garbage bag and toss into the Bizarro Universe.
I sometimes even literally say the words out loud: “This belongs in Bizarro World!” And I won’t think you’re crazy if I hear you saying the same thing.
We don’t need to take ownership for other people’s bad decisions; what we need is more people living authentically in order to help humanity get back to thriving! We need more people to wake up to the Bizarro bullshit they’ve become encumbered by and start putting it where it belongs. What we need are minds free of Bizarro World clutter so that we can make confident decisions and act mindfully and with intention.