For the last couple of months, I have noticed some unhealthy patterns in my daily routine. Not going to the gym, at all. Allowing myself a lot of “treats” because I “deserved it”. Spending too much time in the bathroom because I’d get caught up in Facebook. The behavior that bothered me the most was eating a lot of indulgent food. A box of untouched bagged snack chips sat in our pantry for months. Suddenly I was eating two or three bags of munchies in an afternoon. I wasn’t sitting down with whole tubs of ice cream but I’d buy 4 pints at the store (because they were on sale) and find myself grabbing a spoon and sneaking a few bites every time I was in the kitchen. Each time I did this I would feel deep-seeded shame for my actions. A few times I actually said to others who were around when I was indulging “my shorts don’t fit anyway so I might as well lean into the new size!” No joke. With each extra bite, I knew that I was numbing a nagging feeling of powerlessness I was experiencing as the situation with my son’s father grew increasingly antagonistic.
I’ve drudged through a lot of adversity in my life and think that through it all I have built some really solid experiences and what is, I believe, a pretty wonderful life. Why was I able to make the proverbial lemonade while so many others couldn’t? The answer: resiliency. Resiliency is the ability to bounce back and move on after trauma or adversity. Sometimes the bounce-back factor for me is lower and slower than other times but in general, I have managed to move on. So what do resilient people have in common?
- They are resourceful and have good problem-solving skills;
- They are more likely to seek help;
- They hold the belief that they can do something that will help them to manage their feelings and to cope;
- They have social support available to them;
- They are connected with others, such as family or friends.*
It’s hard for me to see these traits in myself but all signs point to yes, I have them. In times of crisis, I am certain that none of these traits apply. Over the course of my relationship with my ex-husband, he destroyed my relationships with other people and completely isolated me from the very social world I had once been a part of. By the time I ended up in an emergency room I had no one to turn to. My nearest family member was 400 miles away and I had no local friends left. Once I started to recognize myself as a victim of domestic violence and started to understand that my husband wasn’t actually a “good guy who did bad things” I was able to find my way back to the tools that had gotten me out of the pit I fell in after remembering my childhood sexual abuse and after I was raped.
My powerlessness now comes in the form of a family court system that has both failed and protected me and my son. Sure the judge didn’t take my son away when my ex told the courts I was a danger to my child but they also gave him more time with our son despite my accounts of abuse and arrest records. Sure our judge made sure that my boy and I were financially supported during the divorce process but another judge blamed me when I went before her on crutches and asked for a restraining order after I had been tossed like a pillow. Anytime I have asked the courts to step in to help us the other side has come back with ferocious responses and requests. Every time I have stood up for our rights in court I’ve lost more time with my sweet boy. So when I watch my rights being trampled on, stand silently as court orders aren’t followed, and stand idly by as my son tells me he is being hit or called stupid I feel more and more powerless. It is this feeling of powerlessness, this loss of hope that had me in the freezer with a spoon ten times a day.
Last week I said “enough is enough” and trusted that I am enough when I filed another motion with the courts. Two years ago a personality assessment inventory (PAI) was administered to myself and my son’s father during a best interest evaluation. I presented no symptoms of psychological impairment despite living in a hostile environment and withstanding constant attacks from my ex. He, on the other hand, presented diagnostic symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I was so relieved to have this confirmation after spending many months learning about NPD and ways to deal with it after I suspected I was dealing with a sociopath. When I read the report I expected to read that another evaluation was to be recommended, that there would be treatment, that Liam would be with me full-time. Instead, the evaluator completely ignored these results and recommended that I would benefit from psychological treatment. I was crushed and scared. The money from my ex’s family had managed to get him out of even a psych evaluation! When I filed my first motion with the court to have further evaluation, opposing counsel sent me a letter threatening to sue me for frivolous litigation. I was broke and frightened so pulled the motion. No more. Well, yes, I am still broke and scared but no more will I live with that wonder of “what if”. I have asked that the court order a full psych workup and that until a course of treatment and action can be determined that I be made sole legal custodian of my four-year-old son. I am nervous and (still) scared for myself and for my son, who will likely face a lot of verbal backlash from this certification. But I also know that I did the right thing and am continuing to fight for the safety and well-being of my little boy.
Since the motion was filed I haven’t mindlessly eaten anything. I haven’t been lingering in the bathroom with a smartphone and social media. The pain, uncertainty, and powerlessness that was leading me to eat too much is no longer there because I chose to act. Now there are different feelings that I’m dealing with but I no longer feel powerless. Brené Brown asks the question “how do you feel when you believe that you are powerless to change something in your life?” My short answer: pretty fuckin’ shitty. If you want me to dig deeper I’d say small, insignificant, stuck, worthless, and empty. The hard truth is that there are very few situations over which we can take no action. Finding the courage to move and breakthrough that feeling of powerlessness is not easy but it is possible. I’m grateful to be one of the people who have a resilient spirit and I’m not afraid to test it.
*Brené Brown, “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are”, pg 64, 2010
The following PDF of the below image is linked to all posts related to my journey with Brené. Enjoy the trip! 10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living