How does the song go? ‘Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free…’
Well, it’s also I’ve learned a gift to be thankful; because that means you have things in your life to be thankful for. And if 2016 has taught me anything, it’s taught me that we humans aren’t guaranteed good things in our lives; sometimes we have to stand up and fight tooth and nail for that gift of thanks.
I suppose it’s a bit cliche to be making this my official Thanksgiving post, but that’s okay. I’m celebrating the fact that I’ve made it to Thanksgiving in one piece…or at least as close to one piece as I could hope to be after everything that’s happened. So no apologies for the cliche!
The holiday season used to be my favorite season. No, not just Christmas; I love it all. I’m an autumn personality, through and through; that calm, reflective time of year filled with rich color and crisp air. So I always loved when the leaves began to turn, when it was time for football on the television and lined sweatshirts to take my dog for a walk. Halloween was an excuse to indulge my inner child by dressing up (I’ll never be one of those adults who is ‘too cool’ or ‘too mature’ for a costume, thank you very much!), and Thanksgiving was always an excuse to indulge in nothing more or less than an overflowing portion of family support, affection, and love.
Except the past couple of years that changed. I was with a man who went out of his way to talk about how he didn’t really care about holidays or other ‘special days’; so even if he’d been invited to one of my family events, he probably wouldn’t have had the patience to sit in the calm warmth of a Thanksgiving celebration for several hours. And of course that was one of the problems: he wasn’t invited.
My family suspected Randall was abusive long, long before I was ever prepared to see it for myself. And while in the beginning they tried – a little – to accept him into the fold, it was too painful they now say to watch how he treated me, and so ultimately in the end he was politely uninvited from events, putting me in the position of choosing to either disinvite myself as well or leave the man I loved alone for the holidays.
Well of course I chose to be with him. How could I not? At the time I was in the throes of devoted, all consuming love, so to me that was the loyal, right thing to do; and moreover, I knew he’d moved from his home state to mine, so if I left him alone he wouldn’t have his own family to go back to as a backup plan.
So no, I couldn’t leave him alone.
Our first Thanksgiving together we spent at a wonderful restaurant that we loved, because it was one of the first places we’d gone for a date. I got to put on one of my favorite blue dresses and do my hair to ‘go out’ as a treat. Only problem was as usual Randall had a habit of eating quickly and then being ready to go; there was no lounging/dining experience with him. No relaxing, eat-and-converse night out. And so I left that dinner much faster than expected, feeling a little bit sad. A little bit blue as I had to take the blue dress back off before I thought I would. And also missing my family; feeling the ache of knowing they were all somewhere else.
And the saddest thing of all is that was the good year. Things just went downhill from there. By the next Thanksgiving, our home was full of the young people Randall had surrounded himself with, including several attractive young women; all people I barely knew, and didn’t really trust. And true to form, he spent most of the day talking to them and worrying about what they were doing. He would verbally say he wanted me there, but as always his actions said otherwise; directed at everyone but me. Plus I’d just learned that one of the young women there was officially going to be staying permanently, as she’d been ‘kicked out’ of her house by her parents for being away too long.
Surprise, Meghann! Happy Thanksgiving!
I was never given proof of this, or allowed to call and speak to her parents; I was just informed this was reality. And when I asked for more details I was met with anger and irritation, being told I was acting stupid and inappropriate and “mean” because by asking so many questions I was making the girl feel “unwelcome”. It worked; I was dutifully shamed into silence. And so suddenly, whether I wanted it or not, I was saddled with a young woman I barely knew living in my home; no job, no school to go to, needing to be provided for and taken care of.
This was becoming more and more my reality every day. Everyone’s needs but my own coming first. More and more of my money needed to buy enough food to feed them all. More and more laundry detergent needed to wash all their clothes. More paper towels needed. More toilet paper needed. Basic things that really add up when you’re providing for more than just yourself, and when you’re also expected to send $1,500 each month to his sister to pay for all of her expenses as well. (With the knowledge that if I couldn’t do it all, he’d become incredibly vicious and cruel…and don’t let him fool you with his protests to the contrary, that’s exactly what he was. Vicious and cruel. But those details are for another day.)
Point is it never stopped; it just got worse. Randall inviting more and more people into his world to adore him and tell him how wonderful he was; people who also helped him keep his secrets from me, especially when it came to who he was sleeping with when I was away at work or with my parents. (Yes, this girl is one of the ones everyone later insisted he had sex with as well. I’ll never know the truth of just how many partners there were.)
And that was my reality.
But it’s not any more. And I am thankful for that. I am thankful that today I am not at risk of being abused any more. I am thankful that I can sit in the peace and solitude of my room and not have anyone or anything to worry about but myself and my own responsibilities and obligations. I am thankful that I don’t have to look at my phone and constantly wonder if Randall is really where he says he is, or wonder how much he’s talking to Blanche (his mistress-turned girlfriend-turned ex-turned something unhealthy and inappropriate). I am thankful that I don’t have to worry about being hurt today, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I am thankful I don’t have to worry that he’s going to go off and get so drunk he ends up getting arrested for disorderly conduct or reckless driving again. I am thankful I don’t have to worry that he’s going to get the urge to head off and spend the last of his money on Meth and just ‘vanish’ for three or four days into a black hole.
None of his troubles are my troubles any more. And for that I am truly thankful today.
I am thankful to be free and safe. I am thankful for the clarity I now have, that I didn’t have even seven months ago when I first told him I was done. I am thankful for the therapist who has helped me understand so much about what has happened to me; teaching me about what a psychopath is, and a narcissist, and what emotional abuse is, and spiritual abuse, and sexual abuse, and physical abuse. Empowering me with confidence and strength to ensure I never again fall into such a dangerous situation.
I am thankful for the support groups I’ve found, with men and women who have gone through similar experiences and can help me feel better with their shared words of insight and wisdom.
I am thankful for my parents, who never backed down or gave in, even when I’d beg them to accept Randall as my partner. I am thankful for their courage, even as they’d do things that led to my being horribly stressed in the moment; what they did forced the issue with Randall, and because of that, I saw his true colors. I might not have seen that if they hadn’t done in the end what they did.
I am thankful for the rest of my family, who I’ll get to see tomorrow and converse with. I am thankful for the peace I know will surround that table.
I am thankful for my career, and for the business partner who stood by me even when Randall went off the rails and called her telling her all kinds of horrible things about me. Sameera stood by me and didn’t bat an eye, and for that I’ll always be thankful; but then again, she’ll tell you that she always thought he was a psychopath so she wasn’t surprised when it all blew up.
As it turns out I was basically the only one apparently who didn’t know and see him for what he actually was. But then again, that’s normal in abusive situations. I’m thankful I know that too!
I’m thankful for my beautiful friends. For Kelsey, who has loved me and supported me every day since I met her freshman year of college over ten years ago (wow!). For Ashley, who has sat with me on the phone as I’ve cried and wept and yelled and screamed and railed at how much I hurt on the inside. My wifey, I call her; and I mean it with all my heart. I wouldn’t be anywhere without their love.
Overall, I’m just thankful. Period. I have no idea what the future holds at this point. No idea if I’ll ever dare try and find love again. No idea how long the whole healing process will really take. No idea where my business ventures and goals will take me. But I’m thankful…because right now I’m looking forward to it again, without any sense of dread or foreboding. Without any fear of being treated badly if I have the wrong answer to a question, or the wrong response to a statement.
My life is my own again. Wholly my own. And that is something to celebrate. Something to be thankful for, today and every day going forward.