I’ll Be Okay, Grandpa

Two days before my grandfather passed away, he asked me a question.

I was sitting next to his bed in the room at the rehabilitation facility where he’d been for the past two weeks; he’d taken a bad turn while fending for himself while my grandmother was recovering from hip replacement surgery.

The room was a nice one; somehow he’d lucked into the king’s suite at the end of the hall, wrapped around the corner of the building with large windows looking out over a tree-lined lawn that ran up to the road several yards away.  You could sit in that room and watch people drive, bike, run, and walk by all day long, and if you shut the door to block out the noise of the nurse’sIMG_4294 station with all its’ alarms and ringing phones, you’d almost forget where you were.

That’s precisely what we were doing, he in his bed and I in a chair with my feet propped up on the sill of the window.  A nurse had asked ten minutes earlier if he would like some ice cream, and his eyes had lit up as he replied “Oh yeah…”, so now he was happily digging into a cup of vanilla; his favorite flavor.

I felt myself drifting off to sleep in my chair (it had been an incredibly long couple of weeks), totally at peace beside one of my favorite men in the world, when he asked me the question I’ll never forget. Over my shoulder I heard: “Are you going to be okay, Meggy?”

He didn’t always call me by that nickname, but when he did, my heart would always melt.  I hated hearing it out of the mouth of just about anyone else, because most people made it sound patronizing – “Megeeeee” – like they were talking to a little child who was a bit slow.  But that’s not how he said it, so he was the only one in the world who I didn’t correct.

“Okay?” I replied, both startled by the question and more than just a little unclear about what he meant.  Turning around, I was somewhat startled by the look in his eyes as I found him staring back at me.  It was an all-knowing look, as though he were looking at me and right through me all at the same time, and for reasons I didn’t understand I felt goosebumps prickle over my skin in response.

“Yeah…are you going to be okay?”

Somehow, abruptly, I realized what he was asking me; the meaning spreading through me the way a wave spreads over a patch of sand on the beach.  283186_10100103663319786_218704_nAnd it filled me with sadness to understand he was asking if I would be alright after he was gone.  Sadness…and guilt, knowing I was the one of all his children and grandchildren who’d given the most cause for worry on that account.

In the blink of an eye I recalled how he’d come immediately to my side after I’d entered the Hazelden-Springbrook rehab facility for my thirty days of in-patient detox and treatment from opioid pill addiction.  Every Sunday, when visitors were allowed, he’d been there, dressed in his best with his hat matching his jacket and his jacket matching his tie and his tie matching his shoes, commenting on how good the food was in the dining hall.  And the one Sunday he’d not been well enough for the drive, he’d sent a letter with my grandmother to let me know how sorry he was to have missed it.

I recalled how he’d welcomed me into his home when the courts had briefly forbidden me from going home as they tried to determine whether or not my mother needed to be protected as my ‘victim’ as the prescriptions I’d been abusing had been written in her name.  It had taken ten days, several appeals by my mother, one long letter by my father to the judge ruling in the matter, and a court appearance to clear things up and let me go home, and until then, grandpa had made me bologna sandwiches every day for lunch and offered to make french toast every night (I only accepted that offer once, as I could tell grandma understandably wasn’t thrilled by the idea of French Toast ten nights in a row).

I’d struggled in ways no other member of our family had ever struggled, handed a felonious criminal record that I wouldn’t be able to shake for many years to come.  And I was embarrassed by it all, and horrifically ashamed too.  But he never made me feel unloved.

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All of that flashed through my mind as I looked at him, in the blink of an eye, and then I nodded my head slowly up and down.  “Yes, grandpa…I’m going to be okay.”  I spoke slowly…carefully…with reverence, knowing I was in a sense making a promise as much as I was reassuring him.

And my answer seemed to be all he needed, because the look faded from his eyes and he returned to his ice cream with a nod and a simple “Good”.

He died two days later, on a Thursday morning in May.

I’ve often thought about that moment since then.  I thought about it when life came crashing down and I ended up facing the courts a second time.  I thought about it during the brief period of time I was in jail; sobbing as I pictured his face and felt I’d let him down.  I thought about it every single time Randall would treat me badly and I’d allow it; seeing his kind blue eyes and hearing his voice – “I love you, Meggy…please be okay” – and feeling deep shame.

229213_918547636126_2469341_nUltimately as I sit here today, on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend reflecting, I have to admit I honestly have no idea what he would think of me now, knowing what’s happened and the turns my life has taken since I made him that promise.

On my bad days, I imagine him absolutely hating me for the stress and worry and financial strain I’ve put on the family because of the fallout of everything that happened due to my mistakes, vices, weaknesses, and poor choices.  I imagine him telling me how disappointed he is that I caused so much stress and worry for my grandmother in these last years of her life; the woman he adored and called his wife for over fifty years.

On my better days, I like to imagine it isn’t quite so bad.  I like to think perhaps from his position above us all he can see into my heart, and see I never meant to cause so much pain, and therefore at the worst feels incredible sorrow and compassion for what’s happened.

But I don’t know.

Some nights he comes to me in my dreams.  On my first night in jail, laying on a hard slab of a bed, shut away in a tiny little box and fighting back feelings of claustrophobia, when I thought surely I couldn’t keep going any more, I had a dream where he walked up and stood before me even as I was feeling pressed flat into the flooimg_3047r.  I remember looking up at him, sobbing and telling him I couldn’t do it any more, even as he extended me his hand and said, simply: “Get up, Meghann.”  And I remember other dreams, when I was in the middle of my relationship with Randall and things had become extremely ugly, where I’d be crying and calling out in the dark, and he’d come to me and hold me tight in his arms, rocking me back and forth and whispering in my ear how much he loved me.

I’d like to think that means he doesn’t hate me, but who knows?  It could also just be the delusions of a desperate subconscious.  I suppose that’s a question I simply won’t have an answer to until the day comes to meet my maker.

Until then, all I’m left with are memories.  Hundreds of beautiful memories…and one memory that brings me sorrow.

I’m sorry, grandpa; I’m so, so sorry for letting you down thus far with my choices.  I’m sorry things took such an awful turn.  But I hope it’s not too late for me to turn things around, and ultimately end up okay.

He died on a Thursday in May, and ultimately we had our service for him on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend; so I have extra reasons to think about him beyond the usual on this particular holiday weekend.  And it isn’t just him I’m thinking of today either; I’m

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My mother and grandmother, his wife and daughter.

also unsurprisingly thinking a lot about the concept of regret, but also about unconditional love and the unique bonds that exist between ourselves and certain people in our lives.

I’d like to think that those who love us in that special, unique way also understand that we are fallible human beings, and that even as we are pretty much guaranteed to make mistakes, we are also redeemable on the other side of our mistakes too.  That’s certainly how I view many of the people in my life……so it’s not impossible to imagine that there are others who view me that way too.

I’m hoping I haven’t let him down yet.  I’m hoping that – God willing – I have many, many years left to make everything right.  And the same is true for anyone else out there who has been struggling and feelings like the odds are stacked against them ever succeeding.  Barring some unforeseen event, generally speaking the sun will come up tomorrow, and for many tomorrows after that; so it’s not too late.  It’s never too late.  Not for me, and not for anyone else.  It’ll be alright.  You’ve got this, you really do.  And so do I.  It’s taken me a while…but at last, finally, things are looking up, and while I have absolutely no doubt I’ll make mistakes again – I haven’t stopped being human – overall I feel how strong I am, and how capable I am of absorbing mistakes now; learning from them, and continuing to move forward.  That is the gift life offers us at the end of a long line of bad decisions and devastating mistakes, if we’re open to receiving it.

So for the first time in several years, I again feel like I can say this with confidence: Yes, grandpa…I’ll be okay.

 



meghann andreassen
Meghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, investor, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis.  All people with inquiries, questions, and feedback can reach her at meghann@meghannandreassen.com

Disclaimer: Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities.

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The “Why” Of It

I’m generally someone who’s pretty good at self-reflection and analysis; when asked questions about myself, if you give me enough time I generally come back with an honest answer about my flaws, my strengths, my weaknesses, my mistakes, my successes, and so on.  But there’s one big question – one I’ve been asked almost from the first moment I started opening up about what had been going on in my abusive relationship with Randall – that I still cannot fully answer.

“Meghann…why do you think you stayed with him so long?”

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It’s the same question asked of all abuse victims.  The one others ask of us, and the one we ask ourselves the longer we’re out of the chaos and able to reflect back with growing clarity on the reality of the hell we were once living in.

I get it; I’d be curious too.  Hell, before my own experiences with it, that was one of the first things I’d ask victims of abuse.  Not from a place of judgment, but from curiosity; trying to empathize by getting a little bit inside their hearts and minds.  And in theory it’s a reasonable, fairly straightforward seeming question, like asking why you turned right instead of left.

Except any time I’m asked this, while I can acknowledge a few of the more obvious reasons – chronic gaslighting and conditioning meant while I was in the middle of it I wasn’t really seeing just how bad things were getting – I can’t really come up with a deeper answer that makes any sense.  A deeper answer for how I was attracted to him in the first place without seeing all the warning signs everyone else in my life saw, and why I was able to be manipulated and abused and battered into questioning myself to the point of thinking perhaps he was right, that I had a mental health disorder, that I was unreasonable, that I was needy, that I was clingy, that I was stupid, that I was awkward, that I was unloveable……all things I’d never been told before and things I know at this point I am not.

img_3952I’ve talked to other survivors in my support group, and many of them struggle with the same thing.  The “why” of it.

It’s a fine line to walk, analyzing that question; therapists council against getting too deeply into areas where victims may start blaming themselves for the abuse, since that’s the mindset we all have to climb out of after we first get out and start receiving help, love, and support.  That mindset is key to an abuser’s control, because after all you can’t really hate someone for their actions if you believe that their actions are a result of your behavior, faults, flaws, or sins somehow.

But why?  And how?  I am haunted by these questions.  Why did I believe such a thing, when I know better?  How is it possible that all the knowledge and maturity I had when I met him ultimately did nothing to protect me?  Why did I allow myself to be treated so very badly for so long?  Why did I allow almost all of my red lines in the sand to be crossed over and over and over again, instead of leaving at the first sign of bullshit behavior?  How had I become so dependent on him, in spite of his bad behavior and abusive treatment, that I would rather put up with it than face the world without him?

All these questions haunt me…and not in a pleasant way.  Because really, they aren’t pleasant thoughts.  I never pictured myself as ‘weak’ or ‘pitiful’ or ‘pathetic’ and yet those are words that come to mind as I ask myself those questions.  Surely a stronger woman would have left…right?

My therapist disagrees.  As do the leaders of my support group.  All the experts insist that under the right conditions, just about anyone can become the victims of it.  Still, it’s important to have a basic understanding of how it happened; that’s part of getting to a stronger place and shoring up an even stronger foundation.  But the answer eludes me, remaining just out of sight and just out of reach.

Was it because of my insecurities?  Was it because I wasn’t a perfect size and had a bit of extra padding in places I didn’t like and my thighs chafed if I wore the wrong shorts on a hike?  Could it be that simple?

meghann-andreassen-scared-of-shadowsWas it because he was my ‘first’ everything, and there is power that comes with such a thing?  After all, if I’ve never experienced anything else, how could I possibly compare notes and recognize bad behavior to separate from good?  If his is the only ‘boyfriend’ voice in my head giving me opinions and thoughts, does that mean it was harder for me to hear and see reason?

Perhaps.  All those reasons are possibilities…though I still don’t understand it.  I don’t understand why I ignored all my friends and family, who were pointing out what they saw as a very bad thing.  I trust these people I love; trust them with my life.  So why would I question their motives in telling me they had grave concerns about Randall?

Abusers are good manipulators, and Randall was very good at spinning things in such a way that it was basically he and I against the world.  His family hated me, and my family hated him, and we were going to prove them all wrong by having an amazing, powerful, long-lasting romance and build a happy, successful life together.

Quite a story…quite a fairytale…epic…but ultimately it wasn’t meant to be.  It never could have been, because one of the main players wasn’t real.  Randall wasn’t who he presented himself to be.  He presents whatever a person needs to see, and nothing else.  Who he really is remains shrouded in a dark cloud of manipulation, selfishness, and superficiality.

But here’s the trick…after selling me the fairytale, he tried to blame me when it all fell apart.  And for a brief while, I bought into it.  I thought somehow I was the unworthy one; I was the problem.  Except I wasn’t……I couldn’t have caused it all to fall apart if it  never existed in the first place.

Still, knowing that doesn’t reimg_3047ally help me answer the ultimate question; doesn’t help me sort out the “why” of it.

I can list all kinds of tangible reasons – he was a great manipulator, I was insecure, I bought into his fairytale, trauma bonds are powerful once established in abuse – and put them all over a piece of paper like a game of connect the dots…but that still leaves me without a thread that connects them all together.

Maybe some day I’ll finally have an answer that makes sense.  Maybe with more time and self reflection, I’ll be able to articulate that intangible thing I can’t quite explain yet.  That glue that kept me so stuck to him, leaving me feeling like if I left everything in my life would fall apart.

Or maybe not.  Maybe it will remain an unanswerable question.  Something only understood by other men and women survivors.

Who knows?

One thing I’ve gained through everything at this point is the wisdom to let it go when necessary.  If I’m meant to understand it, I will.  If not…so be it.  Does it still haunt me?  Yeah, it does; it haunts me every time I recall a memory where he was particularly cruel.  Every time I recall a betrayal that tore a new hole in my heart.  All of it haunts me.

But for now…I have to just let it go as one more mystery of the universe to solve another time.

 

 



meghann andreassen
Meghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, investor, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis.  All people with inquiries, questions, and feedback can reach her at meghann@meghannandreassen.com

Disclaimer: Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities.

Have Courage And Be Kind

I’ve been away for a while.  Initially that was because life became overwhelming and stressful and my muse just went into hibernation for a bit out of self preservation.  But then as the days stretched into weeks, I started to consciously keep the muse there because I felt I needed to just sit with myself and my thoughts for a while rather than analyzing and processing and dissecting with my writing.

Many ideas have come to me in that time, and I have lots to share.  But for now, I figured I’d start with something easy.  meghann andreassenSomething light.  There’ll be time for the tougher topics later.

First off let me reassure you that this isn’t going to be an expose on Kenneth Branaugh’s Cinderella adaptation, I promise.  I’ve already done that.  [See: When Prince Charming Rescued Me]

No, I just found the statement fitting for a post this evening.  So now that’s out of the way let’s get on with it, shall we?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been mistaken for weak because I’m generally a kind, loving person.  More than that, I learned the hard way that often the manipulators and con artists of the world view kindness as a character flaw they can exploit to their benefit, by preying on my sympathies and innate desire to help others in bad situations.

Randall was one of those people; he would verbally accuse me of being a bad person while declaring he was practically a saint when it came to helping others, but deep down I think he knew the exact opposite to be true.  Kindness and compassion are traits that have inherently been embedded into the very marrow of my bones since the day I was born, and he exploited that to gain my forgiveness time and time again when he would betray and hurt me with his lies and his infidelities and his cruel words.

Many of the friends he surrounded himself with did the same thing, taking advantage of my kind, giving nature time and time again.  I can’t tell you how manyclose-up-meghann-andreassen times a young man or woman would look at me with big, wide eyes and talk about their hard life and how they were hungry or needed money to get home, and I’d give the money without batting an eye, even when my bank account was dwindling down to zero…and then 90% of the time I’d get laughed at later for falling for “game” that was “run on me”.

It was one more thing to be embarrassed about during my time in that relationship.  I remember starting to withdraw a lot more; offers of kindness shriveling up as I retreated further and further into myself as a means of self-preservation.  And of course that played into Randall’s hands since all of a sudden I appeared like a cold, uncaring fish while he could generously step forward and pretend to be the world’s most generous man.

Manipulation and lies…that is the nature of abusive relationships.  When you look back with the benefit of hindsight, that’s what you realize.  Everything was just one big rotten layered cake of manipulation and lies.

But ultimately I have come to realize that in fact inherent kindness isn’t a sign of weakness.  It’s actually a sign of strength.  It takes incredible amounts of courage to extend a hand of help while hoping – nay, trusting – the other person won’t bite you in return.  On the other hand, bitterness is the easy emotion to feel; tempting and ready at a moment’s notice to overwhelm you and take over your life if you find you’ve been bitten one time too many.

Randall had me ashamed of my kind, forgiving nature; wishing I was harder, sterner, more discerning……but thankfully I’ve moved away from that feeling now.  I’m not ashamed.  I’ve certainly bemeghann andreassencome more discerning, my radar for bullshit far more accurate than it used to be, but as for the rest…it’s still alive and well.  Perhaps a bit scarred and withdrawn at the moment, but any time I see someone who appears to be in need, I feel that part of me poking out of the cave where it hibernates to see if there’s anything I can do for that person.

Can’t help it.

And you know what?  That’s perfectly fine.  I’d rather be taken advantage of a few times if it means helping people who genuinely need it as well.  It’s worth it.  I feel confident enough in myself at this point – in who I am – that memories of Randall’s laughter at my “stupidity” doesn’t affect me any more.

I’m no saint; this isn’t me waxing poetic about how perfect I am.  I have my flaws.  But when it comes to kindness and compassion, that at least I know I have in spades….and I’ve finally learned to wear it with pride instead of shame.  And I hope anyone else reading this who shares those traits can too.  Be proud of yourselves; because you’re far more courageous than those in your life who appear hardened and street smart, with a touch of bitterness and cynicism.  Your heart is still open to others.  Keep it that way.  Stay courageous.  I know that’s what I intend to do.

 



meghann andreassen
Meghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, investor, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis.  All people with inquiries, questions, and feedback can reach her at meghann@meghannandreassen.com

Disclaimer: Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities.

When Forgiveness Fails

While taking a casual scroll down my Facebook feed the other day, I came across a screenshot of a Reddit conversation where people were discussing forgiveness; more specifically they were speaking about how forgiveness isn’t always the solution to the problem.  One of the writers described how it was in fact forgiveness that had allowed her to be abused and hurt over and over and over again, because she was constantly forgiving and trying to forget what the abuser had done to her previously in favor of believing in what he could be instead.

“I’ve earned my right to be angry,” she said.  And as I was reading the conversation, I felt her words resonate on a deep level.

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I’ve always been an incredibly warm, loving person.  Empathy comes naturally to me, almost to the point where I wish I could turn it off once in a while; when I’m around others I can basically feel what they’re feeling – their struggles, their joys, their pains, their fears, their hopes – and while it makes relating to those around me easy and is beneficial for them, it can often be overwhelming and draining for me.  Moreover, it’s meant in my life I’ve often been perceived as weak or afraid of conflict, because I’m usually the one advocating forgiveness and second chances when it comes to those who have made mistakes; spouting off about redemption, and about how people can learn and grow and evolve from their mistakes.

In reality the opposite is true; I’ve always been quite a strong person at my core, that strength fueled by an innate stubbornness I inherited from both my father and my grandmother.  But when you can feel another’s pain the way I can, and sense their sincerity bleeding off them like an open wound when they are apologetic and ashamed of whatever it is they’ve done, it’s next to impossible for me to rub salt in that wound by being harsh or cruel.  Moreover, God knows I’ve taken a few twists and turns in my own life that have required forgiveness and second chances, and so I’m often looking to pay it forward myself by believing in and seeing the best in others.

Normally this would be touted as a good thing, seeing as how almost every religion on the planet tells us to forgive those around us as part of our own healing and growth process.  Unfortunately when I think about forgiveness as it relates to my abusive ex, Randall, I img_3864have to agree instead with the Reddit writer: it’s absolutely not a good thing.

Generally holding on to anger isn’t something that’s recommended, but when it comes to Randall, only anger seems to be successful at maintaining the firm walls I’ve erected to keep my heart, mind, and soul safe.  Without the anger, I become what I used to be; warm and forgiving, seeing the illusion of him rather than the reality and believing that some day the illusion will become reality if I just love him enough.  Love him enough to drive out all the scars and the wounds and the damage left by what he described as an abusive childhood and years spent caught up in the criminal justice system (including six years in prison).

Yes, surely if I just loved him enough…surely this time, I’d tell myself…this time he’ll finally make the changes he needs to make and become the man I know he is deep down.  That’s always how it would start, after every betrayal, and every cruel word, and every fight, and every uncovered lie or manipulation…he’d smile or give me a glimpse of the illusion I’d originally fallen in love with, and offer his best form of an apology, and I’d start to melt as I looked into his lovely green eyes.  Each time I did that, while I saw it as offering forgiveness and a chance for redemption, in actuality it was me giving him permission to act in an increasingly depraved and cruel manner.  And that’s precisely what he did.

Abuse is progressive, especially when it concerns Cluster-B personality types (psychopaths/sociopaths/narcissists).  It starts out with romance unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, like something out of a fairytale (mental health experts call it ‘love bombing’).  But then once you’re hooked, it slowly starts to change, degrading into abuse more and more even as the abuser starts convincing you that in fact all the negative changes are because of you somehow.  All your fault.  And you start believing it, even as you do everything you can think of to please them, to make them happy and in so doing bring back that original person you fell in love with.

Trouble is that original person isn’t real, and never was.  That person was merely an illusion.  The abusive, selfish, cruel person they become is in actuality who they really are…and that was the single hardest thing for me to grasp about Randall.  Still is on some days, when I have what experts call Cognitive Dissonance; when I remember things through the lens he would give me, instead of remembering things as they actually happened.

It’s part of why having a therapist and trusted friends and family around you as you recover is so vitally importverbal-abuse-meghann-andreassenant; they become your mirrors to reflect back to you the truth, instead of the lies and distorted version of reality you are immersed in while the abuse is occurring.  And it’s also why I have to insist that when it comes to abusers, forgiveness fails miserably every time to improve anything about your situation.

Randall often mocked me toward the latter end of our relationship for being weak or scared of conflict, making sure I understood that it wasn’t just him who thought that way, but also everyone he knew; family, friends, and colleagues.  And part of what confirmed that vision of me was my ability to forgive indiscretions over and over again.  Ultimately my ability to forgive put me in the position to be abused at ever-increasing levels.  That is why forgiveness fails; people like Randall don’t want or need forgiveness, they think they’re just fine as they are, and forgiving them simply says “I’m a pushover, so do what you want with me, I’ll allow it”.

So instead I hold onto the anger.  I force myself to review in vivid detail all the cruel things he said and did; all the lies and the manipulations and the cruel words and deeds.  I do what my therapist had to do for me in the beginning, as I was unable to do it myself: I spell out in black and white precisely what was done to me, without justifications, rationalizations, or minimization.  And any time I do that, the anger comes roaring back…and the protective boundaries and walls are reinforced.

“Why does he deserve forgiveness, Meghann?” My therapist asked me once in the early days.  “And why is it that while you give it to him, he seems to never extend the same courtesy to you?”

Because that was also true; while he’d commit absolutely atrocious sins on an almost daily basis, with the unspoken understanding that I was not to share most of it with anyone img_3952because to do so would get him into legal trouble, he had no problem taking anything I did – whether it was actually ‘wrong’ or not – and broadcasting it to the whole world.  Shaming me for it.  Throwing it in my face any chance he got; any time I ‘got out of line’.

Last time I checked, that is not what forgiveness looks like.  But it IS what manipulation looks like; by broadcasting my failures at every turn, he ensured that when I finally ended the relationship all mutual acquaintances had a horrible view of me and an almost saintly view of him.  I was thankfully surrounded by my own support group; my therapist, who my parents had initially forced me to see somewhat against my will but ultimately who became my strongest advocate, and my family and core group of friends.  They saw the truth for what it was, and had been seeing the truth long before I was ready or able to see it.

I was lucky; some people trying to escape abuse don’t have any supporters.  They are completely alone.  And I can’t even begin to imagine what that must be like.  How difficult that would be.

Point is, I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older that forgiveness isn’t necessarily a blank slate that you need to offer to everyone around you.  People do in fact have to prove themselves worthy of that forgiveness, and if they don’t, well…you are not obligated to give it.  Moreover, you’re not “a bad person” for denying said forgiveness.  That was one of Randall’s little magic tricks too: if I didn’t recover or get over his latest indiscretion fast enough – if I dared to be hurt longer than he was comfortable with, or needed to talk things through a second or third time – he was quick to accuse me of being shallow or petty or unevolved and small minded.  Shaming me into silent compliance.

I know better now.  There is nothing shameful about standing up and acknowledging you’ve been hurt or victimized.  And there is nothing petty about refusing to forgive the one who did you harm; they do not deserve your forgiveness or your understanding, unless and until they take tangible steps toward earning it.

Earned forgiveness.  Not just something that’s expected.  That was another new concept for me; originally prompted by another question the therapist asked: “What has he done to deserve your forgiveness?  Has he apologized sincerely for everything he did to hurt you?  Did he stop the hurtful behavior patterns after you told him it was hurtful and he made his apologies?  Did he evboundaries-2er act in ways that were for your own good?  Or was it always all about him?”

Surprised by the questions, I was forced to sit back and give an answer that made me cringe as I thought back on everything I’d been through.  Yes, he’d apologized many times; he was always quick to offer ‘sorry’ when it was clear that I was upset and that it wasn’t easily going away.  Sometimes he’d even pull me into his arms and hold me, or do something special for me as a way to make amends.  And that’s what would always lull me and lure me back in.  But in truth, those apologies were empty…because he always ended up doing the same thing again, often in even worse ways with far worse consequences the next time.

He cheated on me with Blanche to end the first round of our relationship; and he acted genuinely remorseful, swearing it had been totally out of character for him and that he’d never do it again.  Except he did.  In the second round of our relationship, he lied and hid from me the fact that he’d slept with an almost nauseatingly high number of women; some of them without even using protection.  He lied, shamed me when I’d get suspicious, and then ultimately also gave me STDs because of that unprotected sex he was having.  He was again profoundly sorry…until the behavior patterns started up again.  The flirting with other women.  The feeling in my gut that I was being lied to; that he was keeping something from me, which as it turns out always meant he was carrying on at least one affair behind my back.

He could be incredibly mean and cruel when he was angry; and he’d always be apologetic after the fact when it was clear I had been legitimately and understandably hurt by what he said.  Except within an hour of issuing such an apology, he might be back to yelling at me or barking at me again; calling me stupid and incompetent and any other number of put downs to make himself feel better.meghann andreassen

He continued talking to Blanche, even though maintaining that contact always made me (understandably) insecure and upset.  And even though I approached him about it time and time again, he never stopped, and instead would often shame me for having what any expert says were absolutely normal and expected feelings given the history I shared with that woman.  If he backed off at all, it was always only temporary.

And the examples continued.  I listed them off for my therapist, feeling increasingly numb, and when I was finished she just gave me a sad little smile as I answered her original question: “No, he didn’t do anything to deserve forgiveness.”

Believe it or not, saying that I still felt somehow like I was a bad person.  I felt like it was small of me to not be able to forgive someone.  But I understand things differently at this point; forgiveness isn’t necessary to move on with my life.  I can put him in a box in the back of my mind and move forward into a bright future, but forgiveness isn’t required to make that possible.  Moreover, if I forgave him I’d be more vulnerable to him again in the future of he ever found a way to strike up communication with me again.  So at this point I’ve instead embraced my lack of forgiveness where he is concerned; it’s my armor should he ever try to come back.

Forgiveness, like trust, is a gift to give to those who deserve it in your life; it’s not a right for everyone you meet.  Both must be earned.  And there’s no shame in deciding certain people are in fact unworthy.

 

 



meghann andreassen
Meghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis. For singles, visit Lasting Connections.  To work with Meghann personally, contact her through her website for a free consultation.

**Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities

Illogical Emotion

It’s a struggle as old as time itself.  The thing that separates the more evolved species of the world from the less; the ability to control baser instincts, emotions, and drives in favor of higher levels of logic.  As Mr. Spock would often say when asked by his crew mates how he felt about a given situation, “What I feel is irrelevant”.

(And for those who aren’t Trekkies like I am, that’s a reference to the Star Trek race called Vulcans; a species represented as the most highly evolved, intelligent species in the entire series.  Achieving this status through generations of learning how to suppress and control their emotions, to the point where all that matters in their society is pure, unbiased logic.)

Now, I’m not saying I would prefer that kind of existence; not even close.  Emotions are beautiful things sometimes; they’re a big part of what makes life worth living.  Love.  Joy.  Peace.  Happiness.  Those are all bespock-meghann-andreassen-vulcanautiful to experience, and can leave us awed and grateful for our lives.  But that having been said, I definitely have moments when I wish I could perhaps at least turn the dial back a little on my emotions, and allow logic to instead step forward and take the wheel.

Healing from the abuse, I found this wish became stronger than ever.  I’d walk through the day tormented by feelings that were so painful I wanted to just curl up into a ball and never go outside again, and to my frustration when I’d speak to family or friends most of the time the response I’d get was in the vein of “Stop letting him live so rent free in your head, Meghann; it doesn’t do you any good”.  This response would not only shut me down, but it would frustrate me, because deep down I knew they were absolutely right.  It was the same conversation I’d have with myself internally; logic versus emotion.

And to my frustration, I’m not a Vulcan.  My emotions were determined to be felt and validated, no matter how hard I tried to put them away.

What did I feel?

Unloveable.  Dirty.  Tainted.  Disgusting.  Branded.  Foolish.  Stupid.  Worthless.  In short, I felt like there was no hope for a happily ever after for me, because I was too tainted by everything he did to me to ever find a man who could love me again.

I had done some foolish things while in that relationship; and while therapists and other experts insisted the lies I told were purely an understandable response to a dangerous situation where I was trying to keep the peace, I only feel shame that for a brief time…I became a liar.  Because I’m not a liar.  Quite the opposite; I’m as honfullsizerender-copyest as the day is long most of the time.  And I carry a lot of shame over that.

How would a new man feel if I told him that I had lied to a previous partner once?  How would he ever see me as worthy?  And how would a future man feel once he learned that I didn’t leave Randall even after I first discovered his infidelities and his lies?  How would he feel after he learned that I allowed myself to get pressured and pushed and manipulated into an open sexual relationship?  How would he be able to respect a woman who in essence allowed herself to get treated like complete dogshit over and over and over again, and failed to stand up for herself even as her partner and all his friends mocked her and used her and lied to her and abused her?  How could any man of worth ever love or respect that?

And what about the Herpes?  The STD that guarantees no matter how many years pass, in a sense the consequences from that particular violation will always remain.  And it also means in some way, I always will have to bring up my relationship with Randall before engaging with any new partner.

I hate that.  I hate it so, so much.  And I hate it even more when I hear his voice in my mind, mocking me as he turned to say to a friend: “I can say whatever I want, man; she’s got Herpes…she’s not going anywhere”.  [Read: The Sentence That Changed Everything]

It isn’t logical…but each time I think about that, I burn with shame.  I feel dirty.  Something in me shrivels up and wants to curl into myself, never to come out again.

I know logically it shouldn’t be that way.  I know all the things I’d say to someone else feeling this way; I know I’d tell that person it isn’t their fault.  That they shouldn’t feel ashamed.  That anyone else they meet will understand that and feel the same way.  I know if it was anyone else, I’d trot out the statistics of just how many people in America have the HSV I and II viruses, to demonstrate its not something to be ashamed of, its just another fact of life but it will be okay.

That’s what I’d say…and what I’ve tried to say to my more emotional side when I’m laying alone at night in my bed.  But to shame-meghann-andreassenmy frustration, at least sixty percent of the time it wouldn’t work.  I’d remain alone in the dark, feeling utterly despondent about what the future might hold for me.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is recovery from abuse in its’ purest, most undiluted form.  It’s days and nights where you don’t even see the point in going forward any more, but you keep putting one foot in front of the other anyway simply because it’s all you know how to do.  It’s being crippled by doubt and shame and embarrassment at all times, and feeling as sensitive as an exposed nerve; reduced to tears or angry outbursts seemingly at the drop of a hat.  It’s feeling at times like a numb automaton, and at other times feeling like a wild, feral animal.

If you’re lucky, you find a group of friends and family who are there to support you and be patient with you as you navigate these treacherous roads.

But hear me when I say there are no shortcuts.  There are no platitudes or magic words that could make everything better.  You will heal as fast or as slow as you’re going to heal.  The name of the game is patience.  And on days when you can’t seem to get your emotions under control with logic…be forgiving of yourself.  Let it go.  It’s not a reflection on your strength or your abilities as a person.

I’m as logical as they come; some have teased that I am part Vulcan, because I’m always the one in a situation to put my emotions aside and try to analyze any conflict or issue from a neutral standpoint.  And in fact it was that tendency that almost got me into more trouble with Randall, because I could rationalize or justify almost any of his behavior when under the influence of his explanations and justifications.

Of course it’s understandable that he wants to have sex with other people and struggle with infidelity…don’t you see?  He never really got to sow his wild oatimg_3864s as a teenager before the legal system caught up with him.  It’s just something he needs to do now, and get it out of his system.  Of course he has anger issues…he came from an abusive childhood and then spent years in prison, where it was fight or die.  Of course he’s socially awkward and inappropriate at times…he never had someone to model good behavior.

Oh yes…I could justify all kinds of things, with his help.  He knew full well what a logical person I was; and you’d better believe he used that to his fullest advantage with plenty of points to back up his arguments.

In the middle of it, it all seemed relevant and sensible.  But then when I’d try to repeat it to others, not surprisingly they never came to the same conclusions he’d guided me to.  And now, with time and clarity, I don’t agree with those original conclusions either…which becomes yet another source of shame and embarrassment for me.  After all, surely only a really stupid human being could be so easily duped into basically getting turned into a doormat for all kinds of horrible treatment.

Oh I certainly understand at this point the clinical reasons for everything that happened; I understand psychopaths and narcissists and sociopaths, I understand what happens when a woman is in an abusive relationship, and I know that ultimately everyone encourages the victim to not blame themselves for what happened during the course of the relationship.  The sins are on the abuser, not the abused.  I know all of that, and understand it logically; it’s what I would tell anyone else in a similar situation too.  But emotion never has much to do with logic; and emotionally, I am sometimes downright overwhelmed with guilt, shame, and embarrassment.

I wish I had some kind of magical answer to fix it; some pearl of wisdom to pass on to all those struggling with the same thing.  Unfortunately I haven’t yet been able to find a solution myself.  There is truth to the statement that time makes things better, as I can report with enough time I was no longer haunted with the feelings every minute of the day.  But beyond that, theremeghann andreassen is no magical cure; you have to just continue putting one foot in front of the other, and living your life.  Accept all the invitations you receive, and take advantage of all the opportunities that come your way.  Meet people.  Make new memories that don’t involve the abuser or fill you with shame.  And above all else, surround yourself with people you trust; they will be there to give you support and hold you up when you don’t have the ability to do it yourself.

And don’t look for the cure in someone else either, it has to come from within.  I tried this myself, I have to confess; throwing myself back into the dating game with the idea that if I received compliments and praise from another man, I might feel better about myself.  Unfortunately, people can’t change how you feel about yourself, only you can do that.  And really all I found was I’d leave a date – even a really nice one – feeling more ashamed than before, because in my mind I was sure such a good guy wouldn’t want to be tainted by someone like me.

You have to find the love and the forgiveness from within.  It won’t come easily, and there will be days where it seems horribly unfair that you should have to suffer so much so long after the abuser was ejected from your life.  But keep trying.  Don’t give up.

I’m far better now than I used to be, but I’m not perfect yet.  I have days where something triggers an emotion, and I emotionally shut down.  Days where I exaspeimg_3946rate my family because all I want to do is sit on my bed and stare lifelessly at the wall or lose myself in a marathon of Star Trek reruns.  But it does pass eventually, given enough time.  I’ve learned to be much more forgiving of myself.  And much more patient.  I’ve also learned to not just accept, but embrace my emotions far more than I used to, because unlike logic, the emotional reactions I have to things connect to my intuition and ultimately help me make decisions that are right for me.  Had I been doing this while with Randall, that relationship might have ended a lot sooner than it did, as I wouldn’t have allowed him to continue hurting me so badly emotionally.  That hurt and that pain was my heart telling me Randall was nothing but poison in my life…and I wish I’d listened sooner.

So while at times I know emotions can be frustrating, ultimately I find I don’t completely agree with Spock’s assessment that they are “irrelevant”.  They’re part of who we are.

 

 



meghann andreassen
Meghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis. For singles, visit Lasting Connections.  To work with Meghann personally, contact her through her website for a free consultation.

**Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities

My Cup Runneth Over

I can’t remember the last time I felt so blissfully content.  And as such I hope you’ll allow me this indulgence as I post about everything I’m grateful for today.  (After all, we often do too good a job of writing down our faults and our failures, and don’t spend nearly enough time acknowledging what we have done or what we are grateful for.  I’m the Queen of that!)

For the first time since the nightmare of the abuse and the financial struggles and legal troubles of the past four or five years took hold, I actually feel nothing but hope for my future.  Hope, and a love for myself that has been in hiding ever since my self esteem was shoved into a back corner so it wouldn’t bother or inconvenience my abusive ex, Randall.

My goodness, I feel like the luckiest woman in the world; so fortunate to be surrounded by this much love and support.

img_3946I turned thirty on Friday; and because things were so stressful and chaotic for my family this past year, I wasn’t expecting any kind of big ‘to-do’.  There was a little disappointment in my gut – a little sadness about another benchmark/milestone that would ultimately be forgotten – but I was resolved not to make anyone feel guilty about it; I didn’t want people feeling pressured to do something they couldn’t afford or didn’t have the energy or resources to plan and put in motion.

So imagine my shock when on Thursday, my mom told me to pack a small suitcase with enough comfy clothes for two nights; I asked her why and where were we going, but she just smiled and said “It’s a surprise”.  So I packed my bag, cleared my schedule through Saturday since apparently I was being given a surprise little getaway, and then without any further adieu, we were off.

In the end the surprise turned out to be the beach, but a new place to stay that I’d never stayed in before; she told me that had been important when she was choosing a spot so that I could enjoy my time without any memories attached to the place.  And the fact that she’d thought of that for me left me awed, but that wasn’t the end.  She’d even managed to pack along a couple of wrapped gifts and laid them out for me to admire with anticipation until it was time to open them, and in the early afternoon on the actual day (Friday the 13th) I also got a beautiful rose bouquet from my father.

As if this wasn’t wonderful enough, my phone also kept chiming with messages and alerts from friends and loved ones and family wishing me a Happy Birthday.

“There’ve been so few big celebrations for birthdays for a while,” my mom explained while we were sitting and blissfully watching the water come and go, lapping at the shoreline, “I didn’t want such a benchmark as your thirtieth birthday to just get lost in the shuffle along with everything else.  It only comes once, after all.”

Tears came to my eyes as she explained her reasoning, and I felt mimg_3945y heart swell to the point where it could have burst in my chest.  I realized in that instant that I am the richest woman in the world, because I am blessed with an incredible group of loved ones who have never given up on me, and who have been there to save me even in moments when I didn’t consider my own life to be worth saving.  I wasn’t even thinking I was worthy of any kind of big celebration, given all the chaos I brought into my family’s lives while I was with Randall; including the death threats at the end of it all.  But apparently I was wrong.  Mom didn’t forget.  No one forgot.

And the greatest part of all is that as I was looking at all my birthday wishes on social media and on my iMessages, I realized that pretty much all the well wishers aren’t just casual acquaintences…they’re active friends in my life.  People I actually get to see and talk to.  People who I know, and who know me; who are supportive of me as I am supportive of them.

That’s such a blessing.  I cannot stress enough how important the right support system is for success in any venture.

Love is the most beautiful thing in the world.  Not just the romantic kind, but the love between family and friends.  It can be so wonderful; but often we get so caught up in anxiety over what we don’t have that we miss it.  Or we get so focused on the romantic love we’re lacking that we don’t value the beautiful love and support all around us on a daily basis from other sources.

My family came together on Sunday for a dinner as well to honor/celebrate my birthday; my uncle drove 50+ minutes through ice and snow to get there with his girlfriend, my grandmother braved walking on the icy pavement, and my parents had big smiles on their faces…all for me.  And again as I was sitting at the table and looking around as people raised their glasses in suimg_3955pport and celebration of me, I felt my heart swell to the point
where it was almost painful, tears burning the back of my eyes.

Later I finally gave in to the urge and cried, and when my mother came in to see what was wrong I asked her: “Why did you all do this after everything I’ve done and all the stupid decisions that brought so much stress into your lives?  I never expected any of this…”

And mom just smoothed back my hair, put her arms around me, and said: “Because we all believe that you deserve it.  We believe in all the great things you can and will do with your life.  We love you, and all any of us want for you is to be happy.”

That is real, true love.  Not the fake ‘real love’ Randall offered me, where there were definitely strings attached (like pulling the love out of the relationship as punishment if I wasn’t making enough money).  And I felt humbled in the face of such pure, honest, genuine care and concern…for me.

I’m still not done lavishing them all with gratitude and thanks for the effort everyone made.  But it really drove home the notion that true, solid friendships and family around you is critical to success in life.  You don’t even need tons of family and friends, just a few core people who believe in you and love you for precisely who you are is enough.  Randall always said he and I could go against the world alone if we had to; saying who cares what his family or my family thinks, we don’t need anyone or anything.  And I bought into that notion somewhat for a little while…but thankfully I don’t any more.  It’s not just about img_3963the love you get from a partner, it’s about so much more than that.  And it isn’t about doing things to appease the family either; it’s about trusting that the core group of people who you love have your best interests at heart, and therefore when they speak up or voice concerns you should really try and listen.  I know if I’d listened to even one of the countless warnings my family and friends voiced about Randall, I could have spared myself an incredible amount of heartache and scars that I now carry over my heart.

So take today and look around you at your life, everyone.  Make a list of all the people in your life that you are grateful for; who love you exactly as you are, and are always in your corner rooting for you to succeed no matter what.  And then tell those people how much they mean to you, and how grateful you are to have  them in your life.

Our lives are far too short not to appreciate what we have today, even if there are still things you’re hoping to get tomorrow.

 

 



meghann andreassen
Meghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis. To learn more or to work with her personally, contact her through her website for a free consultation.

**Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities

This Is 30

I was having a conversation with my brother Keith over Christmas, and at one point he said something rather profound.  When talking about our lives – things we’ve learned, where we find ourselves now, and so forth – he remarked: “You know, I used to think once you reach a certain age as an adult, you’ve ‘arrived’ in life.  But now that I’m getting older, I’m realizing I don’t think we ever ‘arrive’.  There is no such thing.  We just keep moving forward all the time.  We’re always moving to the next thing.  The next goal.  It never stops.”

When he said this I instantly found myself applying the sentiment to my upcoming birthday; the big one.  The third decade.  Yes…on a Friday the 13th in January I’ll be turning thirty years old.  (And I’m not sure yet if it’s a good or bad omen to start a third decade on such a notoriously superstitious day.)  marilyn-imitation-photo

I thought about where I’d once envisioned myself being when I reached this milestone.  How once upon a time I’d imagined at thirty I’d own a home, be married to my soulmate, possibly have a child or two, and starting to make all kinds of money from my various ventures that were succeeding (writing novels, singing opera, and working on business/entrepreneurial ventures).

Lofty goals, as it now turns out.  And most of them not realized.  (Then again I also once thought thirty was “old”…and I now understand that isn’t true either.  So some unmet expectations are welcome.)

Instead of owning my own home, I’m currently living with my parents as I recover from an eviction that occurred as part of the end of an abusive relationship with a man my therapist is classifying as a Cluster-B Personality (sociopaths/narcissists/psychopaths).  Instead of married to my soulmate, well…I’m single, and at the moment downright terrified at the prospect of ever opening up my heart again.  So one could say I’m in the antarctic as far as finding a life partner right now; just me and the penguins, and they’re already paired off for winter.

I don’t even own a car; having sold my adorable little blue beetle about eighteen months ago, instead driving a car that belonged to Randall’s ex-girlfriend that she’d given to him (but still owed money on, so in essence I ended up having to take over the monthly payments…one more thing as I look back that I’m embarrassed about).  He ultimately drove that car into the ground; got into a few minor incidents (including one time where he decided to go ‘gliding’ around on icy roads and ended up colliding harshly with a curb), and ultimately it was determined all the damage meant the car had to be totaled.  His ex, Blanche, got out of the car payments, so her life was pretty damn good, and also got rid of the car; while I have nothing to show for that $600 payment each month other than a whole lot of anger and shame.

Not exactly anything I’m proud of so far.

Instead of confidently striding into my future, I often find myself questioning my abilities, my intelligence, and my talents (all courtesy of Randall, the abuser who managed to tear down almost every shred of self-respect and self-love I once had).  I find myself feeling afraid a lot, chasing the feeling of being safe even as it stays maddeningly out of reach.  I wake up in the middle of the night when I hear noises, worried Randall or his minions are breaking down the door to rob and violently harm us all (something he vowed he’d do by the end of our relationship).  Lots of fear.  Lots of shame.  Lots of emotions that aren’t necessarily rational, but they are definitely powerful and difficult to control.

In short, I don’t feel anywhere close to “an adult”.  I still at times feel like a lost, confused, scared child who simply yearns to feel safe and loved.

Still, that having been said, the one thing I do have at this point is a career that is blossoming beautifully.  It’s taken many years of hard work, earning my stripes through failures as much as successes; but I’m there now.  Working with Lasting Connections is a pure joy as it expands nationally, my personal success coaching with clients of my own is extremely fulfilling for my soul, and while I’ve had many moments in recent years where I close-up-meghann-andreassenexperienced abject poverty (bank accounts being closed down due to lengthy overdraft fees, eviction for non payment of rent, bills discharged to collections, hungry a time or two because the fridge was empty, you name it I experienced it), I’m moving away from that now in rapid fashion.  Speeding away is more accurate in fact.

I knew it would be that way; I knew there would come a moment when it would all click.  That’s just how it works in this industry.  Still, I almost didn’t make it; I almost threw in the towel many, many times, particularly after I was in a relationship with Randall, seeing as how he was constantly breathing down my neck about why I wasn’t getting big results yet, and ultimately saying I needed to walk away because according to his ‘expertise’ it was a business venture that was dead in the water.  (Read: The Myth Of The Overnight Success)

Thankfully, I was able to hang in there.  And now the checking account is healthy again, the savings account is no longer dry, and I am surrounded only by people who love and support me as I move toward the future.  No more leeches making themselves fat while leaving me dry.

So……it’s true, I’m not where I once thought I’d be when I turned thirty.  I’ve had a lot of failures in my life I didn’t anticipate all those years ago when I allowed myself to fantasize about my future.  I’m a convicted felon.  I’ve spent a little bit of time in jail.  I’ve made fairly big mistakes and left a few potholes in my wake.  I’ve allowed myself at times to be completely and utterly walked over by others; standing silently to the side as boundaries that meant a lot to me were blown to bits, instead of standing up and advocating for myself the way I deserved.

img_3864And love?  I guess as the song says, love hasn’t done right by me so far.  I gave my heart, my virginity, my everything to a man who ultimately proved himself unworthy in almost every way.  Right now I feel like all innocence and light has been stripped from me, and I just count myself lucky to be alive and able to move forward.  I won’t lie, I have days where I despair that I’ll ever find love; thinking perhaps I’m branded somehow as dirty or tainted by everything that happened.  And that saddens me; because I’m still also at my heart a deeply romantic person.  (I know…figure that one out.)

But as I often say to my clients, I’m trying to just put that to one side and keep marching forward.  If you can continue to put one foot in front of the other, no matter what is happening, that’s all that matters; because it’s when we move forward that good things can come into our lives.  Standing still doesn’t invite anything in.

So I’m endeavoring to do my best.

Besides, there’s a way to flip all those negative experiences on on their heads.  Instead of being something horrible or dark or twisted or embarrassing or shameful (as it sometimes is when I reflect), it can all be seen as something empowering.  Because I’m still here, despite everything that happened.  I have managed to find incredible success for myself despite being unfairly labeled as a felon, when so many others carrying that burden are unable to for one reason or another (and I do have to thank my wonderful family and friends for helping me pull it off).  I’ve stayed clean and sober despite the difficulties presented over the years, and only tripped up with one relapse along the way right at the end of my abusive relationship; but I hopped right back on the wagon afterward.  And in spite of the abuses suffered, and the shame I felt in my heart due to Randall’s actions and words, I still ultimately left him.  There are many in abusive relationships who never quite manage to get away, so that is something to be proud of.  All kindness and humanity hasn’t been taken out of me; I still overall am who I’ve always been…albeit a little battered, bruised, and perhaps a bit more cynical than I once was.

I can relate to people in ways I never used to be able to.  I’ve always been an extremely empathic person, but now it’s grown to a place where I’m able to truly offer comfort and help to not just friends and loved ones, but also to clients through my personal success coaching.  I understand addiction, and how it can take over your whole life whether you want it to or not.  I understand what it means to be depressed, to the point where even getting out of bed feels impossible.  I understand what it is to feel hopeless.  To feel lost.  To feel completely and utterly invisible and alone in a world that seems harsh and cruel.  I understand shame; and how you can say or do things that later you would give anything to erase from your life story.  The oppressive kind shame that can make looking someone in the eye next to impossible because you literally view yourself as “less than” whoever it is you’re talking to.  I understand the cutting sting of betrayal; the kind that is traumatic in the sense that you go to bed an entirely different group-photo-meghann-andreassenperson inhabiting a whole different world than when you woke up that morning.  I understand what it means to struggle to trust others, and to be suspicious.  I understand what it is to be overweight, and feel out of place or inadequate due to my dress size.  I know what it’s like to feel ugly; to hate what I see in the mirror.  I understand trauma, and the way it can haunt you and reach out and bite you when you least expect it.

And most important of all…I understand what it takes to pull out of these low points in life.  I’m able to offer my knowledge and help to others.  And I’ve also gained a new appreciation and love for myself that I never had before; my boundaries are firmly in place at this point and no one will ever get them to budge again.  That is a gift in and of itself.

So…thirty?  You may not look like what I thought you’d be, but that’s okay.  You’re actually looking pretty damn beautiful to me precisely as you are.  A shiny new decade to play with, that is free of abusers and jail sentences and trauma and pain.  A decade that can instead be celebrated as the time when I come into my own and truly start to live life the way I was meant to: empowered, wise, and confident.

This is me at thirty.  Let’s do this!

 

 



meghann andreassen
Meghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis. To learn more or to work with her personally, contact her through her website for a free consultation.

**Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities

The Edge Of The Universe

I remember the first time I tried to really ponder the concept of outer space. I was eight or nine years old at a summer camp, and we were all laying on our backs inside a beautiful planetarium, the ceiling illuminated with thousands of stars imitating the night sky.  The speaker was first pointing out various constellations, and then in more general terms talking about how far away everything was from Earth…and then talking about how space itself has an edge. I had no issue with how vast space was. My issue came when the speaker was asked by another camper what was beyond the edge of space. He said, quite simply: nothing, or at least nothing we know of at this time.

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My mind exploded as it attempted to process such a concept as ‘nothing’. I literally couldn’t comprehend it. Of course I understood the words that had come out of that man’s mouth; I knew what ‘nothing’ meant.  My brain just couldn’t then apply the words to a concept that made any sense, instead insisting there had to be SOMETHING beyond the edge of space. A white picket fence of sorts separating it from the next ‘thing’ that would be called something else. That’s just what my human brain needed. Barriers and fences and labels and borders. It’s all I as a human being could understand.

The more I contemplate the relationship I had with my abusive ex Randall, the more my brain hurts in the same way it does when contemplating the proverbial edge of the universe.  While I am intelligent enough to understand logically what a sociopath, a narcissist, and a psychopath is…it’s unbelievably challenging to actually comprehend what it means that the man I loved so much experiences little to no real emotion at all, and to accept the notion that any good memories or loving moments I had with him aren’t real.  That any declarations of love, or times when we were laughing, or instances where he’d snap a picture of me and then put it on his phone as the screensaver…none of it was real for him.  Not like it was for me.

It can be hard to accept that fact, particularly since the love I felt for him was so intense, passionate, and deep.  It’s painful to contemplate just how one-sided the whole thing was.  But accept it I must; andfullsizerender-copy anyone who is recovering from abuse out there, even if the abusers weren’t actually narcissists/sociopaths/psychopaths, must accept this reality as well.  It’s part of the healing process, and also, as my therapist has pointed out numerous times, one of the ways we can avoid becoming entangled with such people in the future.

Randall was that proverbial “bad boy with a heart of gold”…or at least that’s what I thought.  Someone who’d had a hard childhood, and just needed to be loved enough to be saved from all the bad habits and the emotional and mental scars he’d acquired over the years.  But that’s all a lie.  There is no saving someone like Randall, in large part because he himself doesn’t see anything wrong with his behavior.  Ultimately every bad thing he’s ever done (sans a few things here or there) he finds ways to excuse and/or justify.  I watched him do it.

I’d call it his ‘magic trick’ each time he tried to pull it off.  He’d apologize for things in the heat of the moment, particularly if he got caught, and he’d seem extremely sincere.  But if you gave it enough time (sometimes weeks, sometimes months, sometimes over a year) he’d always ultimately come around to insisting that it was understandable/justifiable to have behaved the way he did.

Even the affair he had with Blanche that ended Round 1 of our relationship…he’d always verbally said he was incredibly sorry for what happened, but at the same time, by the end of Round 2 when our relationship was rapidly deteriorating as his abuse became more and more intense, he was starting to say things like “My relationship with her was more real, like we actually had a family together, her, me, and her girls, whereas you and I were long distance, separated by hundreds of miles and only seeing each other a few times a month”.  Statements like that were intended to A) justify what he’d done, and B) wound me by saying that somehow the relationship I’d valued so much hadn’t been as real to him.

chess-match-meghann-andreassen

(And it’s complete bullshit, might I add; long distance relationships are just as real and meaningful as having a relationship with someone who lives down the street.  My feelings for him were strong, and I was loyal.  He was the problem, not me; I just wish I’d been able to recognize that sooner instead of thinking the problem was with me not being good enough for so long.  Constantly trying to ‘measure up’ and gain his approval.)

Those justifications were because he didn’t feel things the way a normal person does.  All the things he did – all the affairs and the lies and the STDs he gave me and the offenses he committed and the hurtful things he said – were because he didn’t feel love like you or I do.  For me, to hurt someone I love leaves me feeling in pain too; but he didn’t seem to miss a beat.  And as I look back, it really was calculated carefully; which moments he was loving and which moments he wasn’t.  When he needed something, he turned on the charm.  When he needed others to view him in a positive light, he was over-the-top sorry, sometimes even crying he felt so bad about what he’d done.  When I wasnmeghann andreassen, girl with rose‘t measuring up to his standards in some way, he turned cruel in order to punish and whip me back into shape.  And ultimately he’d come around to insisting what he’d done was justifiable and the wounded party (in this case me) needed to just let it go and move on.

Everything was clearly planned out with a cold detachment that demonstrated while I was caught up in the throes of passion, he was carefully playing a game of chess.  I was just one more pawn in his game.  And that hurts.  That really, really hurts.

Which is why I have to just let it go.  Whether my brain can really wrap itself around such a concept or not…I have to accept it as fact.  Same as the concept of the edge of the universe.  Maybe I don’t think about it too much any more, because my brain doesn’t need to hurt any more than absolutely necessary (neither does my heart)…but that doesn’t make it any less true.  Accept, and then release.  It’s a simple concept, harder to actually pull off; but in the end it’s rewarding when you succeed.

Some days I’m there.  Other days I’m not.  Just have to keep trying until it ultimately sticks.  Keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Sometimes that’s the most productive thing we as humans can do.

 

 



meghann andreassen
Meghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis. To learn more or to work with her personally, contact her through her website for a free consultation.

**Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities

The Audacity Of Age

“Please stop debating about whether or not I aged well. Youth and beauty are not accomplishments, they’re the temporary happy by-products of time and/or DNA. Don’t hold your breath for either.” — Carrie Fisher

the-naked-hour-young-and-old-women

It’s a touchy subject for women when you start talking about “aging well”. Even as I’m writing this I’m holding my breath while mentally predicting the reactions of friends and colleagues. They usually fall into one of two camps:

Camp One is comprised of the women who insist there’s nothing wrong with preserving youth and beauty as much as possible for as long as possible. This is the camp that embraces plastic surgery, lipo procedures, Botox, weekly facials, clean eating, cleanses, meditation, and anything else that might prove to fight back the ravages of time.

Camp Two is where the women gather who instead let the gray hairs and the wrinkles loose, proudly displaying their age and daring others to find them unattractive or unworthy. Regaling me with stories of long-ago cultures where the old were revered and wrinkles were a sign of godliness.

And then there’s me…rapidly approaching thirty, and for the first time starting to realize I’m no longer in the “young” category, but I’m not considered “old” either. I’m just solidly an adult, noting a few silver hairs and a few extra marks on my skin from many years of suntans, and trying to figure out which camp I want to live in.  I can feel that pressure these days…and how ridiculous is that? How silly is it that I almost preen any time a waiter asks me for my ID, as though validating I’m not “old” yet? Why does it even matter?

There’s no question women feel pressured to fight for preservation of youth and beauty for as long as possible. And I applaud Carrie Fisher (may she rest in peace) for getting out in front of the issue as best she could with her reprisal of Princess Leia in the new Star Wars. Hell, I’d say just reprisingthe-naked-hour-carrie-fisher the iconic role took a lot of guts, since comparisons to her twenty-one year old self were going to be inevitable.

She said something else I loved during Wishful Drinking, her HBO special based on her one-woman Broadway play. And while I don’t recall it verbatim, it was comedically poking fun at the very real (and unfair) reality that she’d not known when she first donned the now-infamous metal bikini from Return of the Jedi that she’d signed an invisible contract with the public to continue looking like that for the rest of her life.  Obviously an impossible task for anyone to pull off…and in Carrie’s case, even more challenging given the legitimate battles she’s fought in her personal life over the years. Everything from Bi-Polar disorder to smoking to weight fluctuations and addiction to prescription medications have left battle scars on her body.

But really…why is that a bad thing? Why is a woman judged when she has the audacity to look her age?

It all boils down to the reality that no matter how far women have come, there’s still an intrinsic pressure from a male-dominated society to look ‘sexy’ and ‘desirable’ at all times…and according to the media, young women with tight bodies are what men find most desirable.  We’re basically objectified from the day the X Chromosome is discovered on the ultrasound.

I was lucky enough to not experience it too much growing up; the men in my life treated me as an equal, and as a competitive swimmer I found validation for my accomplishments rather than what my body looked like.  But what I didn’t experience growing up, I unfortunately made up for in spades while caught up in the negativity of my abusive relationship. Randall surrounded himself with other women constantly, and never forgot to talk about how attractive he found them. Young women who were barely legal, prancing around in tight little shorts and even tighter crop tops, fully aware of all the salivating males as they shimmied and sashayed their way around the living room.img_3047

It was a sobering experience for me…because for the brief period of time where that became my reality, I felt utterly invisible.

Randall talked about other women constantly; this girl’s fat ass that he wanted to squeeze, or the fantasy of how it would feel to enjoy that girl’s tight…ahem. It never ended. And when I’d try and address the issue of how uncomfortable or undesirable it made me feel to have him do that so blatantly in front of me, instead of reassuring me or stopping the behavior, his response would simply be: “Well what do you want me to say? I’m not going to lie…I want to f*ck them. You’ll never be that young again, Meghann…you’ll only get older. You just have to get over it.”

Well, he was an asshole. We’ve established that. And I’m not saying all men are like this, because they’re not. But society as a whole seems to present variations on that message to women of all ages nonetheless. It might be presented differently; a beautifully designed magazine perhaps, or a glamorous actress on the red carpet having her body analyzed by commentators rather than analyzing the roles she’s played. But make no mistake, the message is still the same; and it’s enough to leave scars and insecurities as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon over a woman’s self-esteem.

I know my experience with it was dehumanizing; reducing everything I was down to my age, height, weight, and measurements. It also instilled in me a powerful resentment toward those younger women, even if they hadn’t done anything overtly disrespectful towards me. Instead of feeling a commonality with my fellow females, I felt nothing but mistrust and anger.

In short, it was a highly toxic, unhealthy frame of mind, and I’m grateful to be out of it. But I’ve thought about it a lot since, as I’ve recovered and picked up the pieces of my heart and soul and put it all back together. And the conclusion I’ve come to is simple.  Youth and Beauty are both just part of the genetic lottery; you are either born with the “beauty” genes, or you aren’t. Either programmed to lose your hair starting at twenty, or you’re not. Programmed to be short, or programmed to be tall. You are either predisposed to wrinkles and gray hair, or the-naked-hour-womenyou’re not. (I myself have several strands of brilliantly silver hair starting to appear on my scalp, courtesy of dad’s genes.)

And while I’ll never shame a woman for trying to ‘age gracefully’…I still wish society as a whole allowed women to feel comfortable with the aging process. Because guess what? We all do it eventually.

I wish we as women will finally rise up and take control of how we are portrayed and valued and perceived by our male counterparts. Demand better of them, instead of just giving them a “boys will be boys” pass when there are episodes of chauvinistic asshattery on full display.

Unfortunately we’re not there yet. So until we are, all I can say is try really, really hard not to judge yourself based on your looks or how much attention you get. Instead try to value yourself based on your accomplishments in life. Your education. Your career. The quality of your friends. How you treat others. Surround yourself with people who also appreciate those things in you, and find you beautiful and sexy whether you’re twenty five or fifty five, because of who you are as a person

Accept the following as reality, and get on with your life:

  1. You’re going to get older. So are we all.
  2. There will always be women who are perceived as “prettier”; I don’t care what age you are. Don’t begrudge them their genetic winning lottery ticket; they couldn’t help how they were born any more than you could. Don’t covet or resent. Just love yourself, and remember…they may be sick of being seen for only one thing too.
  3. meghann andreassenThere will always be ‘younger’ women coming up behind you with ‘fresher’ faces and ‘tighter’ bodies. This has been happening since you turned 19 and had the ‘barely legal’ crowd to compete with. So……let it go. There is nothing for you to keep up with; just appreciate yourself as you are right now, and don’t resent the younger generation for being young.  We were all young once.
  4. The majority of men will probably lust after the aforementioned women from time to time, much to your annoyance. But again…let it go. It is what it is. (And let’s not pretend you didn’t notice that cute lifeguard at the pool either…)
  5. Ultimately, a good man will lust for five seconds…and then come back to you. He will appreciate all of the qualities that make you YOU…and usually those qualities have nothing to do with your age or your measurements, and everything to do with your mind, your heart, and your personality. Find that man, and love him with all your heart.

Love yourself. That’s ultimately all you can do. And live a life that you’re proud of. If someone makes you feel less than amazing, eject them from your life. They have no place there. And then carry yourself with pride, because you are perfect exactly the way you are.

It’s as simple…and as hard…as that.

 

 



meghann andreassen
Meghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis.  To learn more or to work with her personally, contact her through her website for a free consultation.

**Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities

Hushed: The Power Of The Silent Treatment

When I first began opening up about the abusive nature of my relationship with Randall, a question often asked was: “Did he ever hit you?”

It’s not surprising. Most people’s knowledge of abuse begins and ends with movies depicting a man beating his partner into a submissive corner.  But no…he never hit me. Threw a drink on me once?  Yes.  Acted aggressively?  Yes.  Yelled and belittled and physically demonstrated violent behavior against inanimate objects or other people?  Absolutely.

The worst thing he ever did though – the thing that shook me to the core of my being – had nothing to do with clenched fists or shattered paneling or holes in walls or reckless driving; it had everything to do with silence, and his ability to render me completely obsolete and irrelevant when he wanted to.  Those were the moments that left the biggest scars over my heart.

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It was quite the power move. The man I loved would remove all love, warmth, and affection from our interactions while making it clear that he would not ‘restore’ that warmth or affection until I had adequately atoned for whatever sin I was currently in purgatory for. (And it should be noted that most often this technique was brought out when I had the audacity to push back or refuse to admit I was ‘wrong’ about whatever the talking point of the day was. When talking over me, yelling, and otherwise browbeating me didn’t work, he pulled out the big guns.)

And it worked. It was as emotionally and mentally devastating as dropping a nuclear bomb.

I can still recall the more extreme times he used this technique. I can recall times when his normally warm green eyes would go cold, and he’d refuse to touch me…while at the same time giving warmth and kindness and praise to others as I watched. Smiling and laughing. Complimenting a friend on how loyal he was. Telling another girl/woman she looked ‘pretty’ or that he liked her makeup or her hair. Talking warmly about friends, family, or hell even his ex Blanche who he ‘appreciated’ being in his life. All as though to say “They are worthy, you are not”.

I recall how he would talk to Blanche in front of me with smiles and warmth, and then turn cold the minute he hung up the phone. Or talk badly about me to others, as though I wasn’t even in the room; complaining about all my faults and griping about whatever my latest mistake was, while ensuring I heard every word.  And I vividly remember how if I tried to leave the room,shame-meghann-andreassen the response would be “You can’t leave! You fucked up, man; now don’t be a pussy about it. Take your licks and deal with it.”

It worked.  I’d stay; somehow thinking in my brain that staying was the key to making it stop. That was the key to ‘atoning’. After all, I wasn’t weak; I just had to show him that. Like he said…’take my licks’.

I remember going to sleep at night, and him rolling away from me so that not even his toes touched mine. He was a big man, and that back of his was as clear a ‘keep out’ message as The Great Wall Of China. An unmistakable physical rejection. “You are not worthy of love right now” is what his body language said. Which seemed unnecessarily cruel to me, because surely even in the worst of times your partner is worthy of your love, even if you’re angry with them; but when I’d attempt to point that out, his quick response was always that he was just being honest. And didn’t I want to be with someone who was honest about their feelings, rather than with someone who was fake?

Sure, I mean, when you put it like that………

…………no, actually, it’s still a fairly shitty thing to do to a fellow human being. I don’t care how angry you are. Because I’ve now had ample time to look back and assess, and talk to others, and feel I have a fairly thorough understanding of what falls within the spectrum of ‘normal behavior’ when angry with your partner.  That doesn’t fall anywhere on that spectrum.  But in the moment, before I’d gone on my Clarity Cleanse, I can remember how something in me would shrivel up inside in response to this treatment; thinking I must have done something truly awful to deserve it. Which meant I must be a truly awful person. Because surely only something awful would drive someone to treat a loved one this way, and surely only truly awful people do truly awful things.

……right?

Thankfully with the benefit of hindsight and clarity after the storm, I can say unabashedly that is completely, totally false. Not just false…it’s classically abusive. No fists necessary. Because it’s all about power and control. The person giving the silent treatment is declaring THEY have the power to inject and remove love from the relationship at will; therefore they control the relationship.

Power. Power, and the slow chipping away of a person’s sense of self.  That’s what it’s all about.  Moments like these would shock me to the core, and I would recoil and need days to recover from the trauma of it…withdrawn into myself to the point where I could barely speak to anyone.  It’s what trauma looks like.  And worst of all, it’s 999954_10101296211803066_1798528784_n-2an invisible trauma; unlike a physical bruise, I couldn’t see these wounds, nor could anyone else, and didn’t fully understand them as a result. I just knew I was sad. And depressed. Feeling lonely and worthless. Assuming somehow it was my fault; because again, surely I must have done something awful to drive this man – who claimed to love me more than life itself – to treat me so.

It’s powerful. Incredibly powerful. This kind of treatment can leave anyone with even a shred of sensitivity devastated to their very core; the abuser using the most beautiful of emotions – love – as a weapon. Suddenly love and affection are put on the same level as biscuits in a dog treat bag; doled out when you ‘deserve it’ or when you’ve ‘earned a reward’, and then withheld when you’ve been a ‘bad girl’ by peeing on the floor.  It’s so twisted. Love should never be a weapon. Love should just be love. And the use of it as a weapon of abuse is in my opinion one of the cruelest, coldest, most evil things a person can do to another human being.

I think about all the times I’ve been angry with others in my life. I think about all the times I’ve been hurt or betrayed or let down. And there have been some EPIC moments, let’s not kid ourselves about that. (Hell, HE did some pretty cringeworthy things to me, if you want to talk about betrayal and what falls under the umbrella of ‘truly awful’.) Yet not once did it occur to me to treat a person like they were nothing. Not once did I think it was okay to ostracize them, embarrass them in front of others, or render them voiceless and powerless in their relationship with me. No matter what, I would always try and acknowledge their voice; their right to speak, and their right to feel. Even if I disagreed wholeheartedly, or was bitterly disappointed or let down or hurt by something they had done…I still acknowledged their right to EXIST. Their right to be human. To be fallible and to make mistakes. And in the worst scenarios, when I really didn’t want to talk to them…I told them as politely and kindly as I could that I just needed some space for a little while. I didn’t just turn off my feelings or my affections like a light switch.
And that is ultimately the power of the silent treatment, when utilized by abusers; the silent treatment in essence takes away your right to be human. Your right to exist. Your right to have a voice. To have feelings. Your right to be loved. It all becomes about them. About their needs. Their wants. Their emotions. You don’t matter at all.

It says “beware…because if you make the wrong mistake, I’ll turn off my feelings for you and you’ll be left completely alone, and there won’t be anything you can do to get my love back until you please and appease ME”. It leaves you terrified to make a mistake. Walking on eggshells, and yet thoroughly convinced it’s YOUR fault life is that way.  They hold all the cards, and the only way back through the door of love and appreciation is playing by their rules and giving them what they want. Maybe you’re not letting go of that infidelity you just discovered fast enough.  Or perhaps you aren’t warming up fast enough to that new friend they brought into your home.  Or maybe you are being ‘unreasonable’ about how uncomfortably intimate they still seem to be with their ex.  The meghann andreassenscenarios are endless…and the point is they hold the key to it all.

(And it should be noted by the time the abuser starts doing this, you’re so thoroughly down the rabbit hole you probably didn’t realize you’d handed them that key in the first place.  All you know is you’re in pain, and somehow it’s all your fault, not theirs.)

To me it’s the cruelest form of abuse. The silent treatment is powerful. It’s not a joking matter. And it leaves wounds unlike anything you can comprehend, because it sends the message that you are not worthy of love. And even if it’s only ‘temporary’, that’s an unacceptable, devastating message. Your life partner should treat you with respect above all others. Should have more patience for you than for anyone else. It shouldn’t be the opposite; where they seem to give the best of themselves to everyone else, and give you the coldest, harshest treatments imaginable.

I’ve had to give myself daily affirmations since I first came out of that relationship; affirmations of self-love and self-worth. Reminding myself I’m worthy. Reminding myself I deserve to be treated with respect.

I never find jokes about giving someone ‘the silent treatment’ to be particularly amusing; because to me, it’s no laughing matter. I don’t believe in “kicking a partner to the couch” if he’s messed up, because that is using intimacy (or rather withholding it) as a form of punishment. If I have an issue or a problem, I’ll talk about it. But I don’t ever believe in the practice of withholding love or affection. If you’re truly in love with someone, and they’re truly your partner, it should never be about ‘punishment’…it should be about communicating and partnering to work through disagreements.

 

 



meghann andreassen
Meghann Andreassen is a businesswoman, author, and personal success coach who contributes to this and other blogs on a regular basis.  To learn more or to work with her personally, contact her through her website for a free consultation.

**Names and other personal identifying information of some individuals referenced throughout this blog have been changed to protect their identities