divorce, Ex, lessons learned, mental health, psychology, YouTube

“Kicking the cat…” What happens when anger is displaced…

Many years ago, when I was a college student at what is now Longwood University, I took a course called Interpersonal Communication. I took it because I was pursuing minors in both speech and communications, and the course counted for both minors. I don’t remember being particularly excited about the class when I signed up for it, but it turned out to be an interesting field of study. I remember it to be an examination of how people communicate in different settings, and while it was not a psychology class, certain psychological terms and concepts were covered. In fact, even though I took Psychology 101 during my freshman year, I distinctly remember learning about the concept of psychological projection for the first time in my Interpersonal Communication course. It was also in that class that I first learned about “displaced anger”.

Although Dr. Nancy Anderson Haga, the professor who taught that class, has long since retired, I remember that she was among the very first professors I met at Longwood when I was a fresh high school graduate attending orientation. I was struck by how energetic, caring, and positive she was. Then a couple of years later, when I was about 20 years old, I was in her class, and she was teaching us about how we communicate with each other. I didn’t know then that one of her lessons would come back to me in bold relief, two weeks before my 50th birthday.

Last night, Bill watched a video his younger daughter sent to him. She was thanking him for a box of goodies he sent to her, with stuff we picked up on recent trips to France and Italy, as well as some very superior German chocolate. In the course of the video, younger daughter talked about how much she loves to cook. Bill also loves to cook. So do I… or, at least I did before Bill took over the job. I used to be a great cook, and always enjoyed it because it was a creative activity. There’s an art to making something taste good, look appetizing, and be nurturing. Actually, I’m not that good at making “pretty food”, but I am pretty good at making food that is comforting. Bill is also good at that, and he’s also a fan of good presentation. He’s been known to plate our dinners with flair.

Younger daughter talked about how one of her in-laws really loves fresh bread, and he likes to have it at every meal. She likes to bake, so she was thinking she might like to make some bread to take over to her husband’s family’s house. I like to bake bread too, especially when I’m in a bad mood and need to pound the shit out of something. Bread baking is great for that.

As she was talking about baking rolls from scratch, younger daughter stated that she wasn’t always sure if people appreciated her efforts. Then her face got very serious and pained, and she said, “The only person who has ever complained about my cooking is my mother.”

One time, she asked Bill if her mother (Ex) had ever complained about his cooking. Bill had replied, “Of course. All the time!” As he was telling me about talking to his daughter about this, he laughed. But I can imagine that when Ex criticized his cooking, it probably really hurt his feelings. Here he had taken the time and expended the effort to make something nourishing for his ex wife, and her only thought was to disdain it in a mean way. Younger daughter then related a story that, frankly, I found heartbreaking. I could also see that telling us the story was making her feel bad anew, even though the incident had happened years ago.

Younger daughter and her older sister were tasked to cook for the whole family. If they didn’t cook, food wouldn’t be made, and someone would probably get into trouble. She explained that Ex and #3 were going through a particularly lean financial period. Consequently, there was very little food in the house. And yet, it was younger daughter’s implied duty to make dinner every night. There she was, faced with the task of making dinner for seven people, but there simply wasn’t much food in the house to accomplish that goal.

Younger daughter looked around to see what there was on hand to make dinner. She found frozen pie crust, instant mashed potatoes, some frozen vegetables, and a single chicken breast. Perfect! She could make a shepherd’s pie, of sorts. That would have been what both Bill and I would have done in that situation. It was quite genius, and she was able to make something edible and probably even tasty.

Younger daughter put together the pie, and was feeling pretty good and accomplished. Then Ex came home from wherever she’d been during the day. Younger daughter proudly presented the pie she had created out of the few ingredients in the house. Ex’s response was to declare it disgusting, refuse to eat, and lock herself in her bedroom for the rest of the evening.

I could tell that relating that story was very painful for younger daughter. But then she brightened and said she was grateful for where she is now. Ex no longer has the power over her that she once had. Like Bill, younger daughter was able to escape the FOG (fear, obligation, guilt). But the scars remain, and I know how that feels. Sometimes, old memories still come up that bring on the pain from the past.

Of course, Bill was pretty angry when he heard that story. I don’t know exactly when the incident happened, but it sounds like it might have occurred when Ex was still being paid child support. I believe younger daughter got the hell out of her mother’s house as soon as she could after turning 18. Either way, it was Ex’s responsibility to see that there was food in the house, and to make sure her children had enough to eat. Complicating matters was the fact that she wouldn’t allow Bill to help his daughters. She was too angry with him for that. We didn’t know this was going on, because they couldn’t and wouldn’t talk to Bill during that time. If Bill had known about this, he would have taken action. In retrospect, we should have taken action when she refused to let him communicate with his kids, but it seemed like it would have been a waste of time, since they were teenagers.

And that’s where the lesson about “displaced anger” comes into play. I remember learning about the concept in that college class at Longwood, and that’s why I titled this post “kicking the cat”. Displaced anger– otherwise known as “misplaced anger”– is when a person deals with their anger by directing it at a less threatening cause. It can take different forms. For instance, a person who was raised in an abusive home, with a parent who beat them, might try to soothe themselves by saying that it was okay that their parent hit them, since “that was how things were back in the day”. Or they might say, “he or she was just trying to make me tougher.” Meanwhile, the righteous anger is boiling under the surface, and it comes out against someone or something that is less able to fight back.

I remember in my Interpersonal Communication class, as she was explaining “displaced anger”, Dr. Haga talked about a man who comes home from work, angry with his boss for acting like a jerk. Instead of addressing the jerk boss, since that doesn’t feel like a safe thing to do, the man kicks his cat. Or he gets drunk and verbally abusive, and beats on his wife. Or he snaps at his daughter that the dinner she made looks and tastes like shit. Or maybe, if he’s a really sick and violent person, he takes the family dog out to the desert and shoots it (sadly, I do remember hearing and writing about a man who did this when he was angry with his wife).

It doesn’t matter that expressing anger in this way is harmful to innocent people or animals. The anger feels like it has to come out, and it doesn’t feel possible for the man to direct it toward the appropriate person, so the man directs it at individuals who seem weaker and less threatening. I grew up in a home where I often got abused by angry people– especially my dad and one of my sisters. They would often take their anger out on me, because I was the youngest and, at least for a long time, the weakest. Usually, the anger doesn’t really dissipate, though, especially when there are consequences for expressing anger in such a way. I will also admit that I have expressed anger inappropriately by directing it toward the wrong source. I now try to do better, as much as I’m able. Therapy is a good thing.

Last week, I wrote a post about how I’ve gotten hooked on Code Blue Cam, a YouTube channel devoted to police work. In a lot of the videos, the perpetrators who get busted are clearly mentally ill or under the influence of something. A lot of times, they are also very angry and agitated. I watched a video this morning that featured a man who was extremely belligerent and defiant. The police were trying to be kind and helpful, but this man was consumed with rage. He was extremely abusive toward the police, as well as the civilians who were involved in the altercation which caused the police to be summoned in the first place.

This video begins with a drunk woman who gets hauled off to jail, but it ends with the belligerent man, whose tone goes from extremely rude and defiant, to desperate and pleading.

I found the above video kind of hard to watch… but it was also kind of fascinating, because before the guy was put in handcuffs, he was a complete asshole. I sat there wondering what in the world had happened to him that had caused him to seethe with so much rage. But then, when he was finally arrested and placed in handcuffs, his tone became pathetic. He openly said on more than one occasion that he hoped the police would just shoot him. This is a miserable person with deep problems and a lot of unprocessed anger, which was coming out inappropriately. It wasn’t that different than Ex being nasty to younger daughter for making something she didn’t want to eat for dinner.

Another video, this time involving young men who were in deep trouble and expressing negativity in a destructive way. One of the young men openly expresses disappointment in himself and how his life has turned out… and says he wishes the cops would kill him. He obviously needs help.

Maybe the teens in the above video were trying to be manipulative. I think the guy in the first video was very manipulative, and if these two young guys in the above video don’t get some real help, they will wind up like him and either spend a lot of time in prison or get themselves killed. But I could hear real anguish in their voices. Bad things happened to them that led them to where they are now, and unfortunately, they weren’t able to find the kind of help they needed to avoid ending up on the wrong side of the law.

I have no doubt in my mind that Ex has experienced some really terrible things in her life. I know that she suffered horrific abuse when she was growing up. I’m pretty certain that she’s an extremely angry person, and that anger stems from the people in her life who failed her when she was a child. I think she’s also angry with Bill. He probably had her thinking he could heal her and solve her problems. Bill is a very kind, nurturing, loving and gentle person. I know this for a fact, because I’m his second wife. He doesn’t have a mean or violent bone in his body. However, like most people, he does have a red line, and if you cross it, he’ll be done with you. I think Ex thought she would never reach that red line, because he is such a kind and patient man. But she did reach it, and he decided he was done. So, when she presented divorce papers to him in a very dramatic and manipulative drama held over Easter at Bill’s dad’s house, she never expected that he would agree that their marriage was over and offer to sign the papers. He went off script.

Ex was expecting Bill to say, “No, we won’t have any of that…” and try even harder to please her. That was what he’d done in the past. But, after almost ten years, he was just done. He had gotten away from her toxic influence while they were separated, and realized that there’s life beyond divorce. He found out that he didn’t have to live the way he’d been living. He knew he wouldn’t be alone, and that being broke was temporary. So he called her bluff, and fucked up her vision of what was supposed to happen. She had to adjust, and I think wound up with someone who was even less suitable for her. But she’s smart enough not to threaten divorce with #3, because it’s doubtful she’d find a #4. Or, at least she won’t be able to hook someone by having kids with them.

But she was still left with two tangible remnants from their marriage– their two daughters. So she decided to keep the girls away from Bill, as a means of punishing him for “abandoning” her. At the same time, she treated them particularly badly, because they probably remind her of Bill. As younger daughter got older, she started to develop the same kind of self-preservation skills that Bill has. She started to go off script, and she rebelled. Ex responded by being inappropriately angry. She “kicked the cat”– in this case, younger daughter– instead of finding a healthier and more appropriate outlet for her rage. Instead of being grateful that younger daughter had managed to cobble together dinner with very few ingredients, which were ultimately Ex’s responsibility to provide, Ex was angry and mean. And now, I think she’s paying a price, since it’s obvious that younger daughter is now alienated from her mom.

Younger daughter ended her video call on a happy note. She said she was so grateful to the other people in her life who are kind and considerate. She even said she was grateful to me, of all people. That made me feel really good. For years, I was angry with her and her sister, because I know their dad, and I know he was “kicked” by Ex for years. Now I have empathy for them, because I know they’ve felt the pain from Ex’s proverbial shoe, too. They have been on the receiving end of her misplaced anger. Thankfully for younger daughter, she’s managed to develop the skills to get out of the strike zone. Unfortunately, I’m afraid the people who have chosen to stay around Ex are paying for the independence of those who have left. I can only hope that someday, older daughter will get out of the strike zone, too.

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communication, family, mental health, psychology

Once more with feeling…. “Get down off the cross, SMIL!”

I could certainly write more about my banking woes today, especially since I just read news that indicates that my misgivings with USAA are not unwarranted. They just got hit with huge fines “for failing to timely report thousands of suspicious transactions by its customers.” I don’t know that this incident has much to do with my current issues with USAA, which mainly have to do with them erroneously flagging my account for fraud, but then missing actual fraud… and then when I shifted payment methods because I don’t have access to the violated account, I got another false fraud alert. I called about that, and spoke to a very rude customer service guy who basically treated me like he wanted me to “keep sweet”. I had some fun tweeting at USAA last night, noting that I wasn’t the only one who is pissed off at them. Anyway, Bill and I are now hunting for a new place to do business. I think we found one, so today’s business will be to get the ball rolling with that, so at least I can start the process of divorcing USAA. I am done drinking the Kool-Aid.

Now… on to today’s topic. This one is about family, so if you find my “family” posts inappropriate, you best move on to the next Internet station. I’m in the mood to vent.

A few years ago, I blogged about how my husband’s stepmother has a habit of sending manipulative private messages as a means of getting people to pay attention to her. Her late husband, Bill’s dad, also used to lay guilt trips in a bid for attention. Since my father-in-law is now dead, I’m just going to focus this rant on SMIL.

SMIL used to send manipulative messages to Bill, mostly about how his dad was “getting old” and wanted to see Bill. Bill would get really upset about the PMs, which were loaded with fear, obligation, and guilt. She finally quit sending them when Bill had a rather direct discussion with her about her guilt mongering ploys. He told her that if his dad wanted to see or talk to him, all he had to do was place a phone call, send an email, and make a mature, direct request, instead of sending passive aggressive text messages and private messages on Facebook.

SMIL has apparently been hosting Bill’s ex wife all week. At one point, SMIL (or perhaps Ex using SMIL’s phone) tried to call younger daughter. She decided not to answer the call, because she’s busy. And she also didn’t answer because when she does call SMIL back, SMIL doesn’t bother to answer the phone and “ghosts” her. Younger daughter, thankfully, is pretty smart and resilient, and she realizes that she doesn’t have to drop everything to attend to her step grandmother’s “needs”. But because she’s a decent, basically caring person, these texts are still upsetting and troublesome.

Younger daughter is pregnant and has two young children. Her husband has a demanding job, and they don’t have tons of money. But SMIL apparently doesn’t care… or maybe she just hasn’t considered what’s going on in younger daughter’s life right now. She still sends those maudlin text messages that are all about her. I just want to tell her to get down off the cross!

We are preparing a box of gifts for younger daughter, which we picked up in France a couple of weeks ago. In the box, I have included a well worn copy of Dr. Susan Forward’s excellent book, Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You. I bought and read it years ago, when Bill and I were fairly newly married. It offered great insight into the emotional blackmail perpetrated by Ex, SMIL, and, on occasion, late FIL. I could just send younger daughter a new copy of that book, but I want to send her my copy because I see it as a sign of solidarity. Having watched Bill deal with these bullying tactics over the years, I have an idea of what she’s going through.

Last night, after I finished complaining about USAA, Bill and I talked about this situation. I suggested to Bill that maybe he should ask his daughter if she would be friends with someone who treated her in that way. Legally, SMIL is basically not much more than friend. Younger daughter doesn’t owe her anything. But because SMIL has known her for so long, she knows younger daughter cares about her and values their relationship. So SMIL uses that caring nature as a tool against younger daughter. SMIL is also the type to hold grudges and declare people “dead to her”. But honestly, who’s got the time for such nonsense? Especially when there’s so much else going on in the world?

I was prompted to write about this today because of an article I read in Carolyn Hax’s column in the Washington Post. A woman wrote in about how her sister-in-law loves ski trips and tries to guilt her and her husband into going on them with her. But, for many completely valid reasons, the letter writer doesn’t like ski trips. She writes that her sister-in-law is the type to get drunk and cry when people say no to her. She doesn’t want to be subjected to the guilt trip.

You know what my response is to that? “Just say no.” Seriously. That was Carolyn’s advice, too. If sister-in-law has a meltdown, that’s on her. Hang up the phone. Block her on social media. You don’t have to put up with that. It’s abuse. Or, if that seems much too harsh, just tell the sister-in-law, in a kind way, that you don’t like skiing. Then offer to participate in a different activity that you like better. If you know sister-in-law also enjoys it, so much the better.

Bill loved his father very much, but he didn’t enjoy calling him. Every time he did, his dad would lay tremendous guilt trips on him about not visiting more often or calling him. But then when Bill would call, his dad would be busy. Or he would lay a bunch of manipulative crap on him designed to make him feel bad. Who wants to be subjected to a bunch of guilt when they make a phone call? I know I don’t. Life is painful enough as it is. If a person’s aim is to get someone to call more often, shouldn’t they make the call a pleasant experience? Seems logical to me that that would be the goal.

I do understand that it’s hard not to be a victim of shaming. I’ve been there myself a lot of times. I have a sister who used to try to manipulate me in similar ways. It was uncomfortable and unpleasant to say no to her. But eventually, she came to realize that I make my own decisions. She finally quit with the emotional blackmail, and life has been relatively more peaceful ever since.

If you do give in to the shaming, chances are you’ll just feel resentment. If someone really loves and cares about you, they don’t want you to feel shame and resentment. A healthy relationship should be respectful, kind, and even loving. It shouldn’t be based on fear, obligation, and guilt. I know I can tell when someone resents me and is faking being nice. I’d rather be alone than be with someone who feels compelled to spend time with me.

Anyway… I know younger daughter does love SMIL. She cares very much about her. But these messages are not welcome or helpful in preserving the relationship. I also know that if younger daughter tells SMIL this, it probably won’t go over too well. But again… you can’t control how other people feel or react. If the relationship is really that important, SMIL can try to adapt. I doubt she’ll ever change, but she can certainly try… or suffer the consequences.

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Ex, mental health, politics

When QAnon brings estranged family members together…

Yesterday, I read a sad article in The Washington Post about how people have lost family members to QAnon. It began with a compelling description about how 24 year old Tyler watched as his mom stocked up for an imagined armageddon. She brought home ammunition, a water purifier, camping gear, and shelf stable food. She started wearing a holstered pistol just walking around her house, believing that there would be days of power outages and civil unrest.

Tyler’s mom told him that on March 4, 2021, there would be massive chaos. That would be when Donald Trump would return to power. March 4, for your edification, is the original Inauguration Day prior to the passage of the 20th Amendment in 1932.

Tyler had been living with his mother since he graduated college in 2019. They were located about an hour north of Minneapolis. As the 2020 elections approached, Tyler watched as his mom became more and more entrenched in baseless conspiracy theories and outright lies. Based on the WaPo’s article, I can assume that she turned into someone he no longer knew. Complicating matters was the presence of Tyler’s stepfather, who is apparently just as entrenched in QAnon.

The confusion in the household and worry Tyler experienced prompted him to seek help online. Last month, Tyler found the Reddit group, QAnonCasualties, which was founded by people who had watched their families fracture over the political climate in the United States. He explained to the moderators of the group that his mother and stepfather have a lot of weapons and are convinced that World War III is about to commence.

Making matters worse is the fact that Tyler hasn’t been working. Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a mild form of autism, Tyler had graduated from a local university with a degree in manufacturing engineering. He quit his job in early January because he hoped to find work that would make use of his newly minted degree. As of yet, he hasn’t found new work. As Inauguration Day approached, he watched his mom grow ever more unhinged.

An old friend had stopped by with a wedding present, since Tyler’s mom had just remarried. Noticing the pistol, the friend asked Tyler’s mom if she planned to shoot anyone that day. And Tyler’s mom reportedly replied, “You never know what’s going to happen with the Democrats. They stole the election.” The friend told WaPo reporters that Tyler’s mom had once been a “wonderful” person who had invited her over for tea and gone kayaking with her. But now, it seems she’s gone completely off the deep end. According to the article:

To protect his family’s anonymity, The Washington Post is only using Tyler’s first name. In an email, his mother blamed her son for the tension in the house, writing that he was disrespectful and refused to look for work after leaving his job earlier this year. She added that she “never even heard of Qanon until very recently” and doesn’t “follow it,” but declined to discuss why she had begun purchasing survival gear and whether she believed Trump would return to the White House in March. “My beliefs about Trump are actually none of your business,” she wrote.

Tyler said he and his mother discussed QAnon one time; a bizarre conversation in which his mother insisted that QAnon prophecies were the product of artificial intelligence. He described an atmosphere of growing conspiracy and fear that pervaded his home. “It started a month before the election,” Tyler said in an interview, “and it kept growing until it felt like she was preaching the Bible to me.”

At first she insisted that Trump, not Biden, would be inaugurated on Jan. 20, and for a while Tyler held out hope that Biden’s swearing-in would jolt his mother back into reality. She would put away her gun and life would return to normal. But, the ceremony in Washington seemed to make little difference at his house in Minnesota.

Tyler truly hoped his mom would be more normal once Biden was inaugurated. He even posted online that she had seemed more “normal” on January 21st. But very soon, she went back to her old ways, insisting that Trump would be back in the White House. So Tyler decided to confront his mom, and that confrontation ultimately led to his being ejected from her home. She even threatened to have her new husband “hurt” Tyler.

Which brings me to the title of today’s post… up until this point, it sounds like Tyler’s family fell apart due to QAnon. But he found help from his other parent– his biological father and stepmother. Tyler had lost contact with his dad when he was a child and they had only recently reconnected. And Tyler’s dad and stepmother were willing to take him in, once Tyler’s unhinged mom tossed him and his belongings out of her house. On February 3, 2021, Tyler texted his stepmother, Heather, and told her that he’d confronted his mom, telling her that he didn’t believe in QAnon or any of his mom’s whackadoodle theories.

Half an hour later, Heather picked up Tyler, who was waiting in the front yard. When he got into Heather’s car, Tyler started to cry. Tyler is now sleeping in his 7 year old half sister’s bedroom. She sleeps in her parents’ room. Not long after the confrontation with Tyler’s mom, Tyler was contacted by his new stepfather, who wrote “When your daddy gets sick of you living there (and he will) don’t bother calling us.”

Those of you who regularly follow my blog might already know that my husband lost contact with his daughters after he and his ex wife divorced. A few years ago, one of Bill’s daughters finally reconnected with him. The other one remains estranged, and is apparently hopelessly entrenched in her mother’s sick, culty world. Last year, just before COVID-19 shut everything down, Bill visited his younger daughter for the first time since Christmas 2004. When she opened the door, Bill said the two of them stood there and shared a long overdue hug. And then they spent the whole two days of Bill’s visit debriefing each other about the events of the fifteen years they had spent apart.

I don’t know anything about Tyler’s mom, but although Tyler’s mom’s friend describes her as a “wonderful” person, I have a feeling that she’s another one of those people who hates her exes more than she loves her children. I come to that conclusion, not just because she fell into the QAnon cult, but because of a comment Tyler made to his stepmother. When he texted Heather that his mom had threatened to have his new stepfather “hurt” him, he also explained that he wasn’t actually worried about his safety. He wrote, “I’ve been dealing with this for years. It’s normal for me.

When Bill and his daughter met last year, Bill heard in more detail what it was like to grow up with Ex. There were many threats and promises made. There was a lot of “culty” thinking, not just in terms of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which Ex had insisted on joining a few years before she and Bill split, but also in terms of her own mini narcissistic cult. The girls were forced to write Bill letters disowning him and demanding that he allow their stepfather, Ex’s third husband, to adopt them. Ex had reportedly stood over them and made them write the letters, which she sent Bill just in time for his 42nd birthday.

Something tells me that Tyler’s current stepfather is not his first, since he wrote to Heather that this was not a new thing. Tyler’s mom evidently has a history of coming unglued, and probably sees Tyler as an extension of herself. And when Tyler didn’t want to fall in with her QAnon fantasy, she cast him out… the same way Ex does to anyone who won’t play along with her fantasies. I don’t know enough about Tyler’s mom to say I think she’s a narcissist, but my guess is that she has a “high conflict personality”. And as Bill and I have observed with his ex wife, who also has a high conflict personality, these types of people often get sucked into things as they blame everyone else for their issues. With Ex, it was everything from multi-level marketing scams to the LDS church. Granted, the Mormons didn’t turn out to be all bad. They did help Bill’s daughter escape her mother. But the church doesn’t give things without strings attached.

Younger daughter no doubt feels indebted to the church, and believe me, it’s not unlike the leadership to capitalize on that human need for reciprocity— that is, feeling obligated to reciprocate “kind actions”. There’s nothing wrong with that on its surface. Sometimes, however, “reciprocity” can be abused, and people wind up trapped by the need to pay back a solid, even long after the “emotional debt” has been repaid. This is how groups get control over people and stop them from living their own lives and thinking for themselves. Pretty soon, the lovebombing that occurs at the beginning of the relationship can turn into something sinister and toxic.

I have long believed that my husband’s ex wife runs her life like a mini cult. Anyone in her sphere has to accept whatever her conditions are, no matter how nutty or destructive they are. She’s allowed to do anything she wants, even if it’s criminal, because she had a shitty childhood and no one recognized how “special” she is. She’s allowed to abuse her husbands and her children because she was abused, and she’s allowed to take that abuse as far as she wants with no repercussions, whatsoever. Meanwhile, those of us who have been affected by her behavior and dare to speak out about it get raked over the coals and smeared. She went as far as to alienate Bill’s children, but she also did her best to try to destroy his relationships with his own parents!

Like Tyler, Ex has at least a couple of children who are on the autism spectrum, which makes them more vulnerable to her toxicity. Bill’s older daughter supposedly has Asperger’s Syndrome, and younger daughter has said that Ex’s youngest child, a fourteen year old son, is non-verbal due to autism. Bill’s older daughter, who will turn 30 this summer, still lives with Ex and has supposedly devoted her life to caring for her brother, who will likely never be able to live on his own. Meanwhile, whenever Ex gets pissed off at older daughter, she threatens to throw her out of the house, even though older daughter does the heavy lifting involved with caring for Ex’s son. Sounds a lot like what Tyler went through with his mom.

Incidentally, Tyler went back to his mom’s house about a week after he moved out to pick up his stuff. All of his belongings were thrown out on the front lawn, where they soon became covered with snow. He still hopes that his mother’s Trump fervor will fade and he will eventually be able to reconcile with her. He said, “I just don’t see the humanity in this. I wanted my family back, not this hatred.”

For Tyler’s sake, I truly hope he can reconnect with his mom. I hope she is, deep down, a reasonable and decent person who can grow up and wise up, and see what she stands to lose by continuing to submit to the QAnon bullshit. I don’t know what made her fall down the rabbit hole, but it would not surprise me if Tyler’s mom had some trauma in her life that somehow made her feel ostracized and persecuted. And the siren call of QAnon, which is full of butthurt delusional people must have been much too hard to resist– so hard that she’s willing to kick her own son out of her life.

It’s not that I don’t empathize with the abused. I have no doubt in my mind that my husband’s ex wife was severely abused by many people when she was a child. I can understand why she’s so traumatized. What I can’t abide is her habit of throwing away family members and forcing her children and husbands to disconnect with those of whom she doesn’t approve. It’s possible, or even probable, that Tyler’s new stepfather is partly to blame for Tyler’s mother’s actions. However, reading that he has only now reconnected with his father and his father and stepmother, who have apparently been together long enough to have a seven year old daughter, have welcomed him into their home, gives me a feeling that Tyler’s mom has some serious issues. And those issues, like Ex’s, make her vulnerable to falling into cults from which they never escape.

Sadly, more often than not, the best thing to do in such a situation is go no contact and cut all ties. I don’t think younger daughter has gone completely no contact yet, but she has definitely come out of the F.O.G. since she moved away from Ex. As hard as that is, and as sad as it initially was, in the long run, it’s the only way to find peace, autonomy, and freedom from chaos and drama.

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family, lessons learned, nostalgia

Double repost: It’s graduation season! and Lost in Bloomingdale’s…

Sorry… one more repost. Bill and I were talking about the incident that occurred in the “It’s graduation season!” post last night, and I wanted to preserve the memory. Then I noticed the next post, which was about the time I got lost in Bloomingdale’s as a little kid. I’ll try to write something fresh after these reposts, which appear “as/is”. These posts were written in April 2014.

Apologies if I’ve posted about this before… I probably have, but I think it’s a story that bears repeating. This is not a happy story, so skip it if you prefer something cheery.

Since it is graduation season, I feel impressed to write about an incident that occurred in the year 2003, when I had the great “fortune” to attend two graduation ceremonies.  My own grad school graduation from the University of South Carolina occurred in May 2002.  I guess 2003 was the payback year.

Picture it.  It’s late April 2003.  Bill and I live in a shitty apartment in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Bill is about to get his master’s degree from Webster University.  My sister, Becky, was about to get her master’s degree from American University.  Both ceremonies were going to be held at the American University campus.  American University also happens to be where Bill got his undergraduate degree back in the mid 80s.

My parents were still mostly functional in 2003.  My dad’s mental state was starting to slide a bit, but he was 70 years old and still pretty “with it”.  Though my parents had lived in northern Virginia for a couple of years, my mom didn’t feel comfortable driving up there anymore.  Becky realized that Bill and I lived close enough to the DC area that she could call upon us for a favor.  She asked us to play chauffeur for our parents.  They would drive to our shitty Fredericksburg apartment and Bill would drive us to Becky’s graduation ceremony at American.

Now… I knew what was up.  Becky had phrased her “invitation” in such a way that it sounded like she cared if we were there to celebrate with her.  And, I’m sure on some level, she did want us there because we’re family.  But really, it was about her wanting our parents to attend and knowing they wouldn’t show up if Bill and I didn’t drive them.  At that time of my life, I was less assertive than I am now.  Still, I knew what she was up to.  She was asking a favor of us and expecting me to say yes out of familial obligation.  And Bill, being a brand new son-in-law wanting to make good with my parents, was all too willing to be the driver.  So though I knew we were being used, we agreed to help Becky and my parents, knowing that we were going to get a lovely lunch at 1789 for our trouble.  1789 is a very nice restaurant in Georgetown; in fact, it’s where Bill presented me with my engagement ring the previous year.

So, graduation day rolls around.  It’s early May and the weather is fine.  Mom and Dad come to our apartment and Bill drives my mom’s land yacht to Washington, DC.  We park and go to a gymnasium, which is where the ceremony is being held.  My parents seat themselves a couple of rows ahead of us.  Bill and I sit with Becky’s boyfriend, Steve. 

We were chatting quietly among ourselves.  It was a gym, after all, and people were yelling, clapping, ringing cowbells, and using air horns to congratulate the graduates.  Somehow, we had the misfortune of sitting near the single biggest northern Virginia/DC area cunt on the planet.  Apparently, our quiet conversation bothered her.  She complained to my parents, specifically about me.  I was surprised she knew we were with them, since they weren’t sitting with us.  But my mom said, “We can hear you.” in my direction.

We quieted down; but again, it wasn’t exactly a dignified event.  We listened to the graduation speeches and then the noise level kicked up again.  The massively cunty woman in front of us objected again and said something to my parents.  Why she didn’t just turn around and speak to me personally, I will never know.  It would have been the smartest and most adult thing to do.  But she didn’t… she took her issues to my parents, who felt compelled to correct me.

Anyway, my father suddenly turns around and roars at me loudly enough for everyone in the vicinity to hear him, “Shut up!  You’re DISTURBING people!” 

How I felt when my dad screamed at me at my sister’s graduation…

At that moment, I was completely consumed with fury.  I gave what Bill has described as an absolutely murderous look to my father and the bitch who was sitting near us.  I’m pretty sure if looks could kill, they both would have died instantly.  As it was, I’m certain the look in my eyes conveyed to that horrible bitch and her pansy male companion that I hoped she got into a fiery car crash on her way home from the graduation.  I then got up and stormed out of the gym, mortified and livid. 

Here I was, dressed up and sitting in that fucking gym, not even really wanting to be there, but doing a favor for my parents and my sister.  Moreover, I was being no more disruptive than anyone else at the graduation, including the two men I was sitting with; and I was almost 31 years old, being spoken to like a six year old by my father in a way that was absolutely uncalled for. 

Bill came after me and found me absolutely beside myself with rage.  I was so furious that I told him I wanted to leave right then and there.  He was trying hard to get me to calm down while at the same time trying to figure out how we were going to escape the graduation without a vehicle.  Getting back to Fredericksburg without my parents’ car would have involved taking a train or bus or renting a car.  Owing to the massive child support Bill was paying, we were pretty broke at the time and really didn’t have the money to rent a car or buy train tickets.  So he was trying hard to get me to calm down and go through with the lunch at 1789.

After about a half an hour of deep breathing and venting, I finally calmed down and we found my family.  I was still feeling really pissed at my dad.  I went to the ladies room and Bill was left there with my mom, who went into damage control mode.  She suggested that we sweep this under the rug and just try to have a nice lunch.  Bill, being my biggest supporter, explained that I had a perfect right to be pissed off at my dad for the way he treated me in public.  His reaction was unreasonable and he humiliated me.  Even Becky’s boyfriend, Steve, stuck up for me and said he felt my father’s reaction was way out of line.

Somehow, we got in the car and I was sitting in the front seat.  Bill was being nice to my dad, but I was still enraged.  Poor Bill got my claws at one point as we were making our way to the restaurant. 

It happened to be Mother’s Day, and the restaurant was giving out potted impatiens flowers to all mothers.  When they gave one to me, my dad helpfully piped up with “You’re not a mother.”

I said, “I am a stepmother.”  I took the flower and proceeded to have a sumptuous lunch on my dad’s dime.  I had steak and eggs, champagne, two whiskey sours, and dessert.  Bill caught my eye as I casually ran up a big bill.  I made sure my father literally paid for being an asshole to me in public.  Bill knew exactly what I was doing… and I think he approved, even though today I realize it was a pretty passive aggressive thing to do.  Talking to my dad rationally about what he had done and how it made me felt would have done no good.  In my dad’s eyes, he had the perfect right to discipline me in any way he saw fit, even though I was almost 31 years old and married. 

This is the same man who, while roaring drunk, felt it was appropriate to slap me across the face when I was almost 21 years old and the whole family was staying together at a beach house.  He slapped me because he felt I needed to be knocked down to a lower level.  To my credit, I did tell him that he had no right to hit me and if he ever laid another finger on me, I would have him arrested.  To his credit, he never has struck me again, though there were times when he threatened to.  My reminder that I would be calling the police always seemed to get him to back off and simmer down. 

The following week, I attended Bill’s graduation by myself.  Afterwards, we went back to 1789 and enjoyed a more modest celebration lunch, but it was a hell of a lot more pleasant, even if we had to deal with a couple of drivers near the Key Bridge who were intent on cutting in front of us.

I do love my family, but variations of the above scenario have happened to me more times than I can count.  Someone in my family will ask me for a favor of some sort or want me to attend a family event, and then it turns into a huge drama.  I find myself in a situation in which I feel forced to swallow abusive or embarrassing behavior or I find myself regressing to that kind of behavior myself.  They wonder why I don’t want to do things with them anymore.  The scenario I just described is why I avoid family gatherings whenever I can.  I’m just getting too old for that kind of shit.

2003 was an exceptionally dramatic year, but it did give me the balls to stand up to Bill’s ex wife and anyone else who seeks to treat me with disrespect.  Of course, at this point, I realize my dad was probably in the early stages of dementia and that was likely affecting his behavior.  But truly, he has treated me like that for most of my life… with disrespect and condescension.  I simply can’t tolerate it anymore. 

Awkward family photo…  I think my dad must have threatened us with the belt.

AND– Lost in Bloomingdale’s

Lost in Bloomingdale’s…

As I wrote about graduation season, I was reminded of another dramatic event from my youth.  It actually took a long time to get over this particular trauma in the years after it happened, but yesterday was the first time I’d thought of it in a long while. 

I was six or seven years old.  We lived in Fairfax, Virginia, which is a suburb of the Washington, DC area.  At the time of this incident, my sister, Becky, was about seventeen or eighteen.  We generally got along, though she had a tendency to be moody and would get very upset and angry whenever the mood struck.

Anyway, one day she decided she wanted to go to Bloomingdale’s at Tyson’s Corner, which is a huge shopping mall in northern Virginia.  For some odd reason, she decided to take me with her.  My parents had company coming over.  Maybe that’s why she took me… they may have told her to get me out of the house as a condition of driving the car.

So we went to Bloomingdale’s and they had a kids’ area where there were books and toys.  Becky told me to stay there and read while she went shopping.  I stayed there for awhile.  I really don’t know how long.  It could have been a few minutes or an hour.  I was a kid and a few minutes probably seemed like an eternity to me.  All I know is that at some point, I got bored and decided to go look for my sister.

I started wandering around, but I couldn’t find Becky.  Before too long, I got lost.  I started to cry.  Eventually, a matronly looking black woman approached me.  She said, “Little girl, are you lost?”

I was sobbing uncontrollably, but managed to tell the nice lady that I couldn’t find my sister. 

She said, “Come with me.” 

I followed the lady, who turned out to be a plain clothesed security guard.  She took me to her tiny office and called my parents, who said they’d be right there to pick me up.  Meanwhile, Becky was still out there in the store, looking at the latest fashions.

The security guard took me to what must have been a room designated for lost children.  All I remember about it was that there were couches and a nurse worked there.  Why there was a nurse working at Bloomingdale’s, I’ll never know.  It was the 70s, though.  Maybe she just looked like a nurse.  I remember she wore a white uniform that resembled a nurse’s outfit of that era.

The security guard finally found Becky, who was furious with me and swore she’d never take me anywhere again.  She kept asking the “nurse” why they hadn’t paged her.  The nurse said they didn’t have a paging system in the store. 

My dad eventually showed up at the mall.  He had his friend with him.  They were chuckling about my frightening ordeal.   I remember being very worried about Becky being so mad at me for wandering off.  Had this scenario happened today, God knows what kind of invasions that would have invited into our home.  I’m sure someone would have called CPS!  Not that I would have agreed with that, of course. 

It was a scary incident when I was a kid, but I survived it mostly unscathed… and Becky did eventually forgive me and take me on other outings.  She even joined me in Europe when I was traveling there on the way home from Armenia.  Given how certain parts of that trip turned out, maybe it would have been better if she’d kept her promise not to travel with me anymore… 

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Ex

Stepping out of the FOG…

Bill left yesterday for another business trip. This time, it’s a long haul business trip, so he’ll be very tired when he gets home next week. However, something special is planned for this trip to the United States. Bill is going to Utah from his TDY site to see his younger daughter again for the first time since Christmas 2004. The last time he saw his daughter, she was barely 11 years old. She was extremely alienated, and they were at my father-in-law’s house, the same place where Ex had presented Bill with divorce papers back in 2000.

During that Christmas visit, which I had refused to attend, Ex and her third husband were also visiting Bill’s dad and stepmother. They’d brought Bill’s ex stepson, his older daughter, younger daughter, and Ex’s kid with her current husband. I was “invited” to that fiasco too, but declined to go for many reasons. The main one was that I don’t even like spending Christmas with my own family. I don’t want to do it with my husband’s ex wife. She had told Bill that the kids didn’t like me (which I knew from firsthand experience wasn’t true). I reasoned that I deserved a peaceful holiday too, and had no desire to spend it in a hostile environment around people who resent me simply for marrying a divorced man. I didn’t think anyone but Bill really welcomed me there, and we couldn’t afford the trip, anyway. So I stayed home and looked after the dogs, and Bill went to see his kids for the last time. Until now…

For years, I was very angry with Bill’s daughters. I’m still pretty annoyed with older stepdaughter, although I have an inkling as to why she still has her head so firmly lodged up her ass. I kind of get it. She lives with her mother and is convinced she can’t make it on her own, even though she has plenty of people who have offered to help her and she’s proven that she has life skills. She’s also reportedly taking care of Ex’s last kid. It’s good of her to do that, since Ex is a shitty mother. She really is. I don’t want to get into specifics of why she’s a shitty mother in this post, but she’s done plenty to demonstrate that she’s not well and has no business raising children. Those who have followed my older blog probably remember some of the stories. I may come off as a bitter, angry second wife, but I think I have good reason to feel the way I do. I have lived with the aftermath of Bill’s first marriage for 17 years now, and it’s only been within the past several years that we’ve finally managed to unload some of the baggage that accompanied it.

Younger daughter, who was always the more vocally hateful of the two girls, came around a few years ago. She and Bill Skype and email regularly. She’s married now, has two children, and has evidently escaped the “fog” that comes from living with a narcissist. You know that term “FOG”, right? Fear– obligation– and guilt. It’s employed a lot by damaged people who want to control others. She and Bill have talked about what it was like to get out of that “foggy” environment, in which there were constant threats, ultimatums, and carrots on sticks. Both realized that they felt a whole lot better once they got away from the “FOG”. Actually– I never liked fog for another reason. It was the nickname for the God awful Muzak radio station my dad used to listen to all the time– WFOG. Just thinking about being forced to listen to his brand of easy listening Muzak is enough to make me twitch.

The funny thing about FOG is that once you’re out of it, it’s like an amazing epiphany. You realize what the problems were; you discover that escape isn’t impossible; and you want to help others to freedom. But they’re still spinning with the fear, obligation, and guilt themselves and they won’t take the life ring that is thrown out to them. So they stay mired… stuck in the quicksand, surrounded by FOG, and suffering while the escapees look on helplessly. It’s like watching someone trapped in a cult, and if you truly love and care about someone, it’s an awful thing to witness. I have often remarked to my mother-in-law that it must have been hell watching Bill struggling with his ex wife. She really did some awful things, not just to Bill, but to people who love him. And that especially includes Bill’s mother.

Bill and I both have a lot of experience dealing with people who employ FOG to get what they want. We respond differently, though, because we have different temperaments. Bill is endlessly patient, kind, and understanding. He’s an empath, and although he does have a “red line”, it takes a long time to reach it. He’s a very forgiving person. I, on the other hand, am a lot less tolerant of people who treat me badly. I get angry and “hard”. That’s not to say I don’t ever forgive. Of course I do. But it takes a lot less to really piss me off and a lot longer to get back into my good graces. Fortunately, most people don’t care about being on my good side, so I’m free to feel unabated contempt toward those who abuse me. Mostly, I just cut them out of my life as much as possible and, if I’m lucky, time erases much of the pain associated with being around them.

At this point, I think I have mostly forgiven Bill’s younger daughter. She seems to have turned out decently despite being raised by an incredibly toxic mother. I think she benefitted from knowing some good people who helped her. I am no fan of Mormonism, but in younger daughter’s case, I think being a church member was a huge blessing. And I love that Ex had used the church as a parental alienation tool that ultimately backfired. Serves her right. Younger daughter is also very strong willed and smart, and she’s definitely proven that she’s resilient.

I have high hopes for Bill’s visit with his daughter. He’ll meet his son-in-law and his two grandchildren, and hopefully it won’t take 15 years for their next visit to occur. I’m sure they’ll have a lot to talk about and clear up. Some of it will probably be painful, but I know there are some discussions they need to have. I hope they can have them and strengthen their bond. It would be nice for Bill to be able to be a dad again. I know he misses it. Maybe next time they see each other, I’ll be there, too. We’ll see…

Anyway, it’s gratifying that Bill is getting this chance. It’s a long time coming. I’m sure I’ll hear all about it when Bill comes home next week. And then, a few days later, we will have a home visit to determine our worthiness to adopt a new dog. I think 2020 is going to be a banner year for us. Incidentally, Bill asked our current landlord if he minded if we got a new dog. Landlord said, “It’s your house. Do what you want.” Our move to Wiesbaden has really turned out to be a blessing, even if I do miss some things about living in Stuttgart.

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