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There must be something therapeutic in retelling your most embarrassing moments.
Act 3 of my life is comprised of some of my most embarrassing moments. Some of my most “look like a stupid-girl” moments. But what about that girl still feeling stupid and stuck? What about that girl who feels like she can never get it right? She’s important.
And if that’s you, I’m glad you are here.
In the middle of 2012, just as I was beginning to get my life together, my then ex-boyfriend would throw me into the ring of custody court with him. A ring, like a wrestling or fighting ring full of anger, mistrust and tug-of-war concepts.
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I imagine this custody battle looked similar to what other couples experience. Mudslinging, anger. Frustration. Deviations from our court orders. Harassment. You name it, we did it. We danced that “I hate you! What is wrong with you?!” dance for 2 years!
When the Judge ordered he be given more parenting time but didn’t grant relief of child support, desperate measures were taken.
My ex would get my children from daycare while I was still at work, and would put them to bed in his home before I could arrive to pick them up at my designated time.
It was a nightmare.
But let’s go back for a minute here…remember that great Job I talked about? Back in Act 2?
Yeah. It was great. I had benefits and bonuses. But the downside was my hours. On an average week, I would clock 55-60 hours, easily. I was working from 8:30 am until 6 pm most nights. And on a few nights, I would be required to stay after to tend to a customer. The customer came first so I could work until 8:30 some nights. Plus, I worked on Saturdays as well.
When the Judge granted more parenting time for my ex, he (unknowingly) cut into the little bit of time I was getting with my children surrounding my workday hours.
To say I was devastated was an understatement.
Not to mention, the Judge did this to alleviate the need for daycare costs. But that didn’t actually work because my ex couldn’t pick my kids up until one hour past their free daycare expired. Requiring me to still pay for extended care, even if it was just for an hour.
It would all come out in the wash though, right?
I had hoped.
To minimize my drive time to pick up my kids after work, I changed locations and subsequently moved homes. And it seemed to work for a bit, but then, of course, the arguments came back around.
With my effort to minimize drive time I had increased my bills. I had been in a hurry to move and wanted to get a place that was bigger than my last and more private, so I increased my rent budget by $200 (stupid-girl decision number one).
I was hoping to find a semi-permanent place.
Somewhere we could live long term. I didn’t realize that in the new location other bills of mine would increase. Water, gas, and electric all went up by at least $100 each or more.
I was in a sinking money boat. Barely staying afloat.
And the fighting was still non-stop. The harassment, and bickering. The arguing. The pickup time debates and the requirement for me to call the police often to be able to pick up my children at my designated time. I couldn’t take it anymore, but I didn’t know how to make it stop.
That was until one day in court.
The judge had granted all this extra parenting time, and we were adjusting. The time came to finally decide about child support…the judge raised it!
I was shocked.
And so was my ex.
He stormed out of the courtroom, angry and frustrated. It seemed as though he had only been fighting me so hard to save himself money on his paycheck. And then…he kind of confirmed my suspicions.
Upon exiting the courtroom, he marched up to me and whispered in my ear
“If you don’t drop the child support or at least lower it, I will keep going until I get full custody of the kids. And you know I will win. Look at how far I’ve already gotten.”
Fear struck me, hard.
I was shaken and scared. I knew he was right.
Earlier that month my lawyer had tried to leave my case because I couldn’t afford to continue paying her. I would be representing myself going forward, and with how much progress he had made so far I was sure I would continue to lose.
Roughly a month later, I broke.
I told my lawyer to cut the child support in half like he was asking. Therefore cutting my income even more but I didn’t want to keep losing, and I couldn’t afford to keep fighting.
And wouldn’t you know, after that the fights stopped. The world war three that had been raging ceased.
We managed to get back on good terms quickly after that. No more tug of war with the kids.
Within a few months, the lack of income took its toll, and I realized I would need to move in a hurry, again. This time, back home with my parents.
I was 24 and starting my life over again.
It was around this time that I finally started to embrace the person I am.
I pride myself on my ability to adapt.
When the situation calls for me to move, I move.
When the case calls for me to try harder, better, differently…I do.
I remember calling my landlord and saying “I’m sorry, I can no longer afford to stay here…I’ll be out by the end of the week.” And I was.
A lot of my stuff ended up at the road because I couldn’t take it with me home. My Ex was even kind enough to help me move some things to my parents.
Amidst cleaning out my things and getting stuff arranged again in my parents home, I came across an old journal of mine.
The Journal had chronicled my first pregnancy, the first time I left my ex and talked so deeply about how much I loved him. It reminded me of who we were before the three years apart.
All the good times we had, amidst the terrible ones.
This is where I’m going to stop.
To warn you.
What I did next in my life shocked my family, my friends, and probably my kids if they really were to look at it. It shocked even me.
Me and my then ex-boyfriend… tried our relationship again.
I reasoned with myself that I was 24 and he was now 26, and maybe we had grown up. Even my friends said things such as this:
“You know, everyone grows up eventually Lacy?”
But I didn’t understand domestic violence…then.
Sure, I felt dumb (Possibly Stupid-girl decision number two). But I thought maybe this was our last chance to have the family we want. A family with our two boys, and a little house. You know, the picturesque family photo I had been dreaming of since I became a mother.
I thought surely now, with everything things would be different.
Had I just forgotten how awful and temperamental he had been for the past 3 years? No. But I just chocked it up to scorned lover syndrome. Pay no mind to the manipulation, I really was blind to it.
They say Love is blind and I’m here to tell you Toxic Love is blind and comes with amnesia.
We made a deal that if we were going to try this again, we would have to attend counseling.
He promised. I promised.
The counselor he found was excellent. I truly adored that man. His name was Paul, and he was so knowledgeable, soft-spoken and patient. When we first began counseling, all of our problems looked normal. Considering all the trauma, we had put our relationship through over the years we worked on forgiveness and communication. We discussed unfaithfulness we had both had in the past that we had carried with us for too long.
Around eight months into the relationship though, as most toxic relationships will do, we started to slip into old patterns.
I started to become fearful in our home, and we were arguing a lot more.
Anyone who has been in a toxic relationship will attest to the constant state of confusion you face. Never completely understanding the arguments because they start out as one thing and by the time you finish you’re on a completely different subject. Many healthy relationship arguments shift onto other things, but from what I’ve experienced now they generally still have a beginning, middle, and end.
They conclude when they are done.
Toxic arguments aren’t like that. They start out about a situation, a hurt feeling, a moment or a decision and then end up about the victim. About why they’re wrong, and why their opinion doesn’t matter. It can be gravely confusing to experience one, much less experience them 2-3 times weekly.
A day came where we went into counseling, and the facade of our seemingly healthy relationship started to slip.
Not remembering what the argument was about, but our counselor had started to ask my boyfriend questions. Kind of prodding to understand what he was so angry with me about. It was in that moment that he showed his true colors to everyone in the room.
He got pissed off, yelled some obscenities and said “I don’t need this shit anymore!” and stormed out of the place. After he exited the counselor looked at me.
I was bawling.
I was miserable and didn’t understand how to fix our problems. Well…turned out, my now fiance was creating large storm clouds over our seemingly small problems.
Paul turned to me and said “I don’t think I can help you, Lacy. I’m so sorry, but I see now…He’s abusing you. My best advice for you is to leave him. Things cannot and will not get better.”
I cried harder.
When I left, the weight of my counselor’s words didn’t really sink in.
What was that?
How was this any different than massive blow-up fights that every couple has?
Doesn’t every relationship experience some abuse?
I mean, I guess I just don’t understand really.
I thought abuse was anger. I thought they were the same thing. My fiance wasn’t hitting me, so surely the counselor was mistaken. This wasn’t abused. What was abuse?
He was just mad. I mean, mad all the time?
I don’t understand.
I don’t get it.
But I did start to move towards ending the relationship. Again.
I remember lying next to my then fiance while he slept. Pray-crying. That’s what I call it when you become so emotional through your prayers that they are shaky and tearful. I placed my hand on his back and begged with God to help us. To fix our relationship. Please.
Thinking of leaving felt shameful.
Here I was again, couldn’t stick to anything when it got hard. Same old Lacy. Why is this so difficult for me?
The next day, or within one or two days I told him that if something didn’t change I would be forced to leave. I told him I didn’t want to raise our boys in a home filled with turmoil and distress. Where everyone is walking on pins and needles.
He got angry, then started crying “I need to tell you the truth now…”
He proceeded to tell me that during the time we spent apart and since we had gotten back together that he was struggling with opiates. His addiction has gotten so bad that on some days he would take upwards of 20 pills.
“Finally,” I thought, “a breakthrough.”
This clearly explains everything, right?
Or did it?
Over the next few months, he would start rehab, begin attending Narcotics Anonymous and get subscribed suboxone. He’d begin the weaning process, and then one day I remembered he told me while weaning down…he was just sick of it.
He flushed the pills.
I was so proud of him. So so proud of him.
Moments we had encountered over the past year started to become clear to me. All the times he had been sick. The fact that when he drank alcohol, he’d become unmanageable. Addiction was controlling his life and his mind. And I thought surely now, we would begin to get better.
We decided, to confirm our new commitment to a different path and different relationship by getting married quickly (Stupid-girl decision number three).
We had been engaged for a year but felt we didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a wedding in general. So we tied the knot, with about 15 of our closest family members witnessing, in our church. (With Pastor Anthony as the Officiant, of course.)
We thought we were finally going to get over this hump in our relationship. The one that caused us all the grief.
How often in your life are your problems comprised from one thing?
If you think about it, you’ll likely realize it’s never from one thing. It’s often a combination of things. All rolled together, wreaking havoc.
It’s ADHD and PTSD from our childhood.
It’s that our house is messy and our life unorganized but also because our brain is that way.
It’s weight loss that you want but can’t seem to achieve because your brain doesn’t know how to stay on track and your eating from stress.
In our house, it was an addiction…and about three other things we didn’t realize.
It was my codependency.
The fact that my happiness was utterly reliant on my now husbands happiness. That in itself is so unhealthy. If I started to do something to make myself happy, he’d tear it down.
Which leads me to the second thing:
Some sort of mental struggle within my husband that I still don’t claim to know. I’m not a therapist, and I spent too many years trying to diagnose him and help his “symptoms.” I was sure stemmed from his childhood. Still, something is there. That if he never chooses to address is his choice. But it’s there, and it was ever present in our relationship.
ADHD was there.
ADHD was in me. In him. And presenting entirely different for both of us. With ADHD comes rejection sensitivity, and emotional dysregulation. It comes with executive function mismanagement. Messiness and untimeliness. Moodiness, defensiveness. Rolling all of those things into our relationship made for more than a hump to get over.
It meant we would have to move mountains.
But before we could even scratch that surface something else would throw us back into our ring our fighting.
A house fire.
I was leaving the church with my two children when my then husband called me. From his brother’s phone, which I thought was peculiar.
My world stopped spinning when he said: “Lace, our house is on fire.”
“Yeah, I’m watching it right now, in the back corner of the house. I’m at my brothers (our neighbor) right now. I’ve called the fire department, they’re on their way.”
My parents and I would make our way to my home. Firetrucks from three different jurisdictions filled my driveway and even though the fire was out once we arrived the damage was irreversible. Our 1200 square foot home was gone. It didn’t burn to the ground, but anyone who has experienced a house fire knows the combination of smoke, fire, and water damage can desolate a liveable home in hours.
I stood there. In shock.