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A Crucible of Heartbreak

My name isn’t Harry. My wife’s name isn’t Demi. I’m writing this on December 4, 2017. I’ve changed the names to protect the innocent. And the guilty.

I’ve walked through a kind of Hell no one should ever have to go through. Ever. My married life was driven so far beyond the point of normalcy that now, even I can hardly believe I tolerated it for as long as I did. While in the throes of the most egregious verbal, mental, and emotional abuse imaginable, I was forced to find the strength and courage to repress a panoply of emotions—anger, fear, hurt, even pity and compassion—to act firmly and decisively, and put an end to the absurdity. I had to draw a line in the sand. For me and my children, it was a crucible of heartbreak.

This is my story.

In the spring of 2017, I made the difficult decision to end a twenty-one year relationship. My wife and I have two children, aged 10 and 13. They’re both boys—intelligent, thoughtful, polite—the results, I think, of me being the primary contact parent for nearly fourteen years. Sadly, for the children, that’s going to change. But they know I was a dedicated, balanced, kind, and attentive father. No amount of manipulation is going to change that.

There were good reasons for me being the primary parent, not least among them my own strong Irish Catholic, family-oriented background. It differed markedly from that of my wife, whose childhood family life was likely abusive—her father left when she was very young—and in constant disarray.

Although our property settlement assigned me more than fifty percent of the marital assets, I failed to attain more than fifty percent custody of the children.

Not for lack of trying. No one in the family law system, it seemed, was willing to step up and make the call to designate me as the primary parent without some kind of “smoking gun,” like a DUII, or drug arrest—or a domestic violence conviction. I understand the reticence—assigning the children to one or the other parent assumes a huge amount of responsibility for children still in their formative years. What if you picked the wrong parent? I’d probably shy away from that decision, too. But having fifty percent custody is now unfortunate, because I’m contemplating a long-distance relocation, and I’m not sure how that’s going to work. The children would be much better off with me, surrounded by my large extended family. However, I predict Demi will fight to keep the boys for most of the year. Anything else, to an outside observer, would look like she’d “lost” the children to me. And in her world, that just wouldn’t be tolerable. What happens to the kids, in the mean time, doesn’t really matter. Not to her, anyway.

Presently, we own a nice house together in an affluent neighborhood. Demi is trying to scare up enough money to buy out my half of our estate. Her motivation is clear—I literally threw her out of the house with restraining orders last March. A judge then affirmed that, allowing me to retain the property and the bulk of the time with the children. My Petition for Divorce cited three main causes for the action: (a) her excessive use of alcohol and/or drugs; (b) being a disengaged, absent parent; and (c) serial infidelity, of which I held indelible proof. Demi launched a bloody backlash, and even tried to have me declared in contempt of court twice. Both efforts failed. Now she’s clawing to get it all back—the appearances, I mean. To her, it’s important that to outsiders, it’s made to look like she “won” the divorce, like her unacceptably bad behavior was somehow vindicated or exonerated. I’m going to let her have that, although there is no logical defense for any of her behavior. She was shown to be lacking in conscience, empathy, shame, impulse control, and basic human decency. She was selfish, malicious, and vile. Demi repeatedly demonstrated an absence of the wisdom, maturity, and moral acumen to instill good values in our two male offspring. She was dysfunctional, and behaved with insufficient integrity to continue acting as a maternal role model. It took me a while to recognize it for what it was, and that contributed to a year—367 days—of conflict in our household before I put an end to it.

In a divorce, there are no winners. Only losers—and in ours, those who’ll lose the most are the children. Especially with her fighting over them like they’re possessions, not people. Her sudden interest in the children is all about outward appearances. That disturbs me because her behavior is, at its core, morally wrong, and I expect that to continue. Either way, it’s not good for the children. At the ages of 10 and 13, they’re still developing. They need both paternal and maternal role models. But despite what she may say, Demi has clearly demonstrated she doesn’t care about that. I’m not worried what the children think of me; they know what I brought to the game. I was always the Pillar in their lives. Meanwhile, she was free to do whatever she pleased, and I enabled that. My bad.

Everything Demi does is about outward appearance. The people and things with which she surrounds herself have all become integral parts of her fake persona. What she wears, what she drives, where she lives, what she drinks, and so on.

My suspicions were piqued when I first attended a group for men in abusive relationships in early 2017. After two hours, I was overcome by a powerful sense of commonality among all the men present. At the next session, the group organizer, a male family therapist with a background in psychology, began introducing concepts like “borderline,” “histrionic,” and “narcissistic” personality disorders. I was immediately alarmed—I recognized far too many behaviors and characteristics. I’d already had a strong sense that something at the core of my wife was very wrong or even missing. And that’s what spurred me to begin further research. My uneasiness soared when the new concepts I was learning could be used as predictors of my wife’s behaviors and reactions.

Betrayal & The Unmasking

I initiated divorce proceedings against Demi in late March 2017 after 367 days of sheer hell. I documented my experience in detail, and learned a few things along the way. Once I’d unmasked her true self, everything changed immediately, and she became downright vicious. Once I knew the truth, she had no further reason to maintain the charade. So she didn’t. It was as simple as that.

In the spring of 2016, Demi began living a life of absentee parenting, frequent late-night partying, and heavy alcohol use. And probably other drugs, too. These were risky and dangerous behaviors. I was gripped by a constant fear she’d hit someone while driving intoxicated, because many of the establishments she visited after work were in parts of town with large pedestrian and bicycle zones. My concerns worsened when I learned she was slipping out of the office during the day in favor of taverns and infidelity. The prudence of my fears was further underscored the day I took her car to Paul, a Portland Audi specialist, who told me he needed to replace the passenger-side front wheel bearings. Paul then asked if the vehicle had sustained an impact, because, he explained, the mileage was “far too low for the bearings to go bad on their own.” My fears were highlighted again one evening when Demi called me from the Interstate Bridge too drunk to speak clearly. I asked her to pull off the road and wait for me, but instead, as I listened, she vomited red wine into her lap and the instrument panel, and kept driving homeward. To this day, it’s a wonder she never got pulled over.

I frequently objected to Demi’s absence from our family life, as well as her behavior and judgment. When I did, she’d predictably fly into a rage. One day in particular, she began shrieking with the pitch and volume of a train whistle. You know—the piercing kind of scream that could peel the skin off your comfort level about the sanity and balance of your life partner. “YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY!!!” I’d simply asked where she was going, and to please explain her whereabouts the night before. The entire night before. “I owe you nothing.” So grandiose was her sense of entitlement.

In March 2016, Demi had entered into a brand new relationship with “Jake Oliphant,” a male co-worker. I’ve nicknamed him “Beavis.” I believe Beavis had become her enabler with regard to drugs and alcohol. I was never able to identify specifically which drugs she was ingesting, other than edible marijuana, wIMG_6688_LI (2)hich she admitted, but I’d sometimes see text messages on the face of her phone featuring a small yellow-and-red “pill” emoticon with cryptic text. The motif appeared enough times to raise my concerns. Demi’s erratic behaviors seemed to be the result of more than a couple of triple Ketel One-and-soda cocktails. My process of discovery also yielded irrefutable proof that she and Beavis would separately slip out of the office in the afternoon, only to rendezvous for drinks at dive bars where no fellow employees were likely to show. Nearby places, like Crackerjacks, Joe’s Cellar, Nob Hill. Then they’d return to the office before close of business. She always drove, and was careful to let him out of the vehicle far enough from the office to conceal their secret. I know that because I had access to on-line credit card transactions. We even experienced a “near miss” one day when I innocently showed up downtown at lunchtime—Beavis had to jump out of the car a block from her office as I spoke with her on the phone.

Often Demi and Beavis drank at the office as well, and I’d seen proof of that, too, in text messages. After work, other bars furnished a meet-up venue. The Marathon Taverna, Broadway Bar & Grill, Maui’s, Vendetta, and many others. Demi appeared to be kiting funds from her generous corporate expense allowance, or simply using family funds, to pay for her illicit outings. Sex probably came afterward, just before she got on her way home to her doting husband and children. What a lovely picture. Demi always seemed to be doing the paying, which made her activities with Beavis ridiculously easy to track.

On average, Demi was absent from our home and family life for fourteen to sixteen hours per day—and often more. By the late spring of 2016, she’d begun returning home from “work” thoroughly inebriated on a regular basis. If she returned home at all, that is. If she wasn’t already with Beavis after work, he’d pressure her for a “drive-by” to his North Portland apartment. When she stayed out all night, she’d sneak in just before five o’clock in the morning, being sure to allow the boys to see her when they awoke. It’s all about appearances, remember? But Eldest knew something very wrong was going on.

At the outset, I didn’t know what the hell was wrong with Demi, but I knew normal people don’t treat their significant others the way I was being treated. The little voice in my head was getting louder and louder, and it was screaming “dysfunction!” like never before. The more I observed her behaviors, the more I recognized that “marriage breakdown” was not a good descriptor of what was happening.

The situation began to get out of hand by the end of 2016. Beavis committed two acts of harassment in separate jurisdictions against me and my elderly father on December 22, 2016, and February 4, 2017. That was not enough of a pattern of unlawful behavior to obtain a Protection Order against him, although I tried. These experiences are detailed in another post. I correctly recognized the purpose of the harassment, and I became persuaded that it was the beginning of a plot to accuse me of domestic violence, have me arrested, charged, and removed from our family home. I couldn’t allow that, and I filed a petition for divorce. The abuse—both spousal and substance—had to stop. Demi was served on Friday, March 24.

Beavis subsequently attempted to engage one of my children in my marital conflict, in early April 2017. A minor child. WTF?! I believe his deliberate action—curiously, conducted at 1:10 AM—is tantamount to child abuse. Together with the stalking and harassment, I believe it paints a fairly clear picture of his character—I think we used to call it “Bad Seed.” As a judge told Beavis, he simply had “no lawful nor legitimate reason” for contacting my elderly father or my thirteen-year-old son.

enoughBy the end of February 2017, when I suspected Beavis and Demi might be planning to frame me for domestic violence, I noticed that unexplained bruises began appearing on her arms and legs. There was even one on her left deltoid in early March with a bite mark in the center. I had to ask. Her explanation disgusted me: “a guy on the elevator in Vegas said I looked good enough to eat.”

Lovely.

By that time, Demi had become physically more aggressive toward me when she arrived home at night. Her level of aggression had a positive correlation with intoxication. One night, she made the mistake of texting me photos of her bruises as a way of threatening me. I understood it as a foreshadowing of what she and Beavis were likely planning. That threat was real to me. I was afraid of falling victim to false accusations of physical assault of my wife, or even sexual assault. The situation had gotten so crazy that anything seemed possible. The next morning, I went to Christine H., an attorney I’d hired, and showed her the photos with which Demi had threatened me. Christine’s position was, “let her bring it.”

A divorce—the last thing in the world I’d wanted—had suddenly become the thing I wanted most.

Christine’s response emboldened me. I dared Demi to go to the police with the photos. Please, I thought. Go ahead. File a false police report. I believe she’d been collecting photos for some time, at different times and places. But I’d also been making notes in my journal when I saw any new bruises, and recorded where she’d been, if I knew. There was at least one long stretch where she stayed at the home of friends for more than a week, and returned with new bruises—particularly bad ones. My planned defense was going to rely on my journal, plus the electronic timestamps and geotags embedded in the photos. Electronic geotags from photos posted on social media sites like Facebook, and its Russian counterpart, VKontakte, known as “Veh-Ka,” were how Western investigators discovered active Russian troops had invaded Ukraine in early 2014, when Vladimir Putin openly denied their presence in that country. I was certain Demi didn’t know anything about geotags.

She immediately backed down. A real victim of abuse, I believe, would have and should have used the opportunity to turn me in to authorities. But she’d learned not to play around with false accusations where I was concerned—I might already have evidence supporting truth and reality, which I’d had numerous times before, when she’d lied to me.

Throughout February and March, I’d become increasingly afraid Demi would attack me and then claim I’d hit her. I never raised a hand against her throughout all the years of marriage. Ever. My children are my witnesses. Demi also assumed I wouldn’t act against her because, I believe, she felt she had me financially trapped. She’d even cockily announced privately to a mutual (female) friend, “Harry will never leave me.”

WRONG. I’d been contemplating and planning legal action for some time, particularly as my fear of false accusations rose. My attorneys urged action, while I wavered on the timing. Rick Osborne, a Clark County Sheriff’s Deputy, even advised me to take action for my own safety. “Somebody’s going to get hurt if you let this continue,” he said, “and it could be you. You’re at a disadvantage here.” I trusted Deputy Osborne’s advice; he was well-acquainted with the situation in our household, including the day she tried to seize the kids from my custody and drive them to a movie while visibly drunk. And I’m not talking “a couple o’ beers” here—this was drinking to the point of speaking in tongues. Eldest even noticed the pronounced slurring that day. “What’s wrong with Mom’s voice?”

If the framing plot went forward, I planned to involve Deputy Osborne as a key player in my defense. Still, I wavered on taking action. I simply couldn’t find the resolve to initiate it. I knew it would be a one-way path. I’d loved Demi for twenty-one years, I was committed to family, and I assumed what I was observing was a drug- or alcohol-fueled aberration in her behavior.

But I was dead wrong. It was something much, much deeper.

I changed my mind the night of March 19, 2017, a Sunday, nearing midnight. I was working IMG_8669in my home office with the double-doors tied with network cable in anticipation of Demi’s arrival. Who does that? The situation had acquired that degree of absurdity.

Demi eventually came home. I bid her good night without opening the office doors. She was like a raging bull. I wish I could have taken a video, but I needed my hands and feet to brace the doors. Using her body as a battering ram, she tried to force the doors open. I struggled to hold them closed, hoping she wouldn’t crash through the glass. She was undoubtedly angry I was dragging Beavis into court for a Protection Order hearing on Wednesday that week (March 22). She finally relented, slumped to the floor with her flannel blouse against the glass {camera click: that’s her against the door in the photo below}.

A few minutes later, Demi crawled off to pass out on the bed. That’s when I made the final decision. I had to do it. I had to act. I called 911, reported the incident, and saw my attorneys the next morning. In retrospect, I still wonder whether the framing plan was supposed to go down that night. I’ll probably never know for sure, because I struck first.

For me, the line in the sand had been drawn and crossed. By the end of that week, I managed to have Demi removed from our family home. The apparent plan to frame me for domestic violence especially galled me. I’d given her and our children nothing but love, kindness, and care over many years. I didn’t deserve to be treated like she was treating me. It was pure avarice. And I certainly couldn’t let the framing go forward. As they say in government, good decisions are based on good intelligence—and I had it. I’d been pushed too far. Way too far.

A divorce—the last thing in the world I’d wanted—had suddenly become the thing I wanted most. I gritted my teeth and moved the process forward.

IMG_8670Two weeks after filing for divorce, Demi and I found ourselves on opposite sides of a Vancouver Family Court. Two people who’d once embraced a loving marriage (I’d thought) now bore the cardboard titles of Petitioner and Respondent. My family was in the Midwest, and I only had Matt K., my capable legal gun, at my side. Demi had a young, blondish male attorney named Jordan T., who stood stiff as a soldier preparing to charge the enemy. “Your Honor,” Jordan said when it was his turn to speak, “we believe the husband to be mentally unstable.”

What?! I was stunned. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. But despite my disbelief, I’d come prepared to hear something like that. Jordan’s statement was the first salvo of the backlash that my counselor-cum-divorce coach, Joel Taylor, had predicted not even a month before. He’d told me truth and honesty wouldn’t matter to her; that she would demonize me to the court and friends alike because I had the found the courage to strike out against her, and end the charade. I had rejected her and her unacceptable behavior—and whether deserved or not, it enraged her like never before.

Joel was a psychological professional who regularly convened a group for men in abusive relationships. Joel interviewed me in early February to assess whether I belonged in the group. I must have said something “right,” because he admitted me. At the first group session, I sat in a room with six or seven other men in a circle. And Joel. I listened attentively as the others introduced themselves and related their stories. I was the last to speak. Based on what I’d heard, all I could muster was, “are you guys kidding? Are we all married to the same woman?!” Afterward, when I told Joel I was about to file for divorce, he advised me to speak with him about my situation first. I did, and that was a good move. He talked about how males are naturally at a disadvantage in our nation’s family courts, and that documentation would be absolutely critical.

In the backlash that came after I filed, Demi assumed no ownership of her behavior whatsoever. And it was bad behavior—really bad behavior—the kind that’s completely incompatible with child-rearing and family life. She reacted as if I’d thrown Holy Water on a vampire. Demi denied absolutely everything of which I’d accused her—even in the face of documentation—excessive use of alcohol, being an absentee, adulterous parent, and behaving abusively in front of the children. All of it was lobbed right back at me. One thing became clear: things like truth, reality, facts, and evidence were mere trifles to be tossed out the nearest window. She’d become like a cornered, panicked cat, lashing out with extended claws and bared fangs, trying to draw blood any way she could. I took comfort in the fact that the children knew the truth, but Joel had warned me—that wouldn’t matter in the divorce proceedings. He was right. As a male, the battle was uphill, no matter what had happened. No one in the court system wanted to be the one “who took children away from their mother.” I don’t like it, but I get it.

Demi’s mendacious response was exactly as Joel had predicted. Exactly. I was astonished by the stream of lies. Joel urged me to relax. He knew I’d already been keeping a daily journal of events in my household for months, and the level of documentation made my case different. He encouraged meticulous documentation because, he explained, it could tip the scales in what he predicted would be a high-conflict divorce. Demi would do whatever it took to protect her false self, he said, her false persona, to prevent exposure. He was right. I don’t know what I’d been thinking. Somehow I thought she’d never use her well-honed fabrication skills against me. She did.

Also at Demi’s side stood my sister-in-law, Kim, an officious and meddlesome woman who’d submitted a perjured statement to the court in support of my wife. I could hardly believe I’d trusted Kim so much that I’d gone to her first when I needed help dealing with Demi’s excessive partying and infidelity. What the hell had I been thinking?! Incredulously, Kim betrayed me and the boys that day. After saying she wouldn’t take sides, Kim did just that—the morally wrong side, I thought, in view of the facts. She had listened to me, but by her actions, Kim made it clear that Kim cared only about herself. She exposed herself as a user. But Kim would never see it that way, of course. Instead, she would see loyalty. She believed she owed Demi because Demi had helped her land a decent job a few years before. In Kim’s sworn statement, she had the brazen audacity to declare that I’d even kidnapped the children one day in July 2016 and held them from my wife incommunicado. What?! Kidnapped my own children?! Kidnapped?! Strong words, but not just that. It was perjury, and I knew I could prove it. Still, Kim’s betrayal cut me deeply.

As a quick aside, I need to say something about Kim’s husband, David. David is Demi’s half-brother from the same mother. He is the only person on her side of the family who sent a private condolences message to me when my mother passed away on March 24, 2017, the same day I had to eject his sister from our family home. The message was truly heartfelt. To date, he has not taken sides.

The boys were left in my constant care and custody during Demi’s long absences, and I frequently took them on adventures to entertain them and get them out of the house. I never knew what condition Demi might bring home, so I also helped the children avoid her alcoholic binges. On the day in question, I had taken the boys hiking on Mt. Hood, and to Timberline Lodge. Kim previously knew Demi had turned off my cell phone service that day in July because I’d told her just after it happened. She submitted the false sworn statement to the court anyway. I contacted AT&T Wireless’ legal department and obtained confirmation that my phone service had indeed been turned off on the day in question, and not by me. Fortunately for Kim, I never got the chance to present evidence of her perjury to the court.

Over the next weeks and months, a Court Commissioner and an appointed custody evaluator reviewed the intimate details of our family and our very different family backgrounds, attempting to make the most reasonable decisions for our separate futures. From the outside, it looked like an orderly process; after all, their rulings would directly affect the future care and psychological development of our children. However, our case seemed to receive rather perfunctory treatment because of the extraordinary level of conflict and the backlash of unbridled deceit Demi unleashed. Her responses to my legal Declarations amounted to nothing more than a massive smear campaign against me. Truth clearly didn’t matter, even though these were “sworn” statements. Everything I had detailed about her behavior was flung right back at me as if I had done it. She held nothing back. I now know why—in her eyes, I’d committed the greatest crime anyone could have. I’d dared to unmask her, and expose her true self. In her world, that was tantamount to a capital offense. I hadn’t expected her response to be what it was, but Joel, a specialist in Cluster B personality disorders, had predicted all of it with astonishing accuracy.

I’d invested my faith and trust in our family law system, but I was disappointed by the outcome. My attractive, charismatic, and polished wife had clearly charmed the court-appointed custody evaluator, Dr. Jepson, a gentleman in his late sixties. However, the Court Commissioner, a female, seemed more suspicious. And rightly so. I think she looked at my educational background, my documentation, and saw credibility in my account of events. It was, after all, supported by strong evidence.

At the first hearing, the Commissioner ruled that I should remain in the family home with custody of the children for the bulk of the time, over Demi’s objections. Because of the mutual accusations of drug and alcohol abuse, the Commissioner ordered both of us to submit to regular drug and alcohol testing for the next 120 days. Very fair. I was attending my mother’s funeral with the boys that week, but through my attorney, I asked that the testing would be a randomly-administered ethyl glucuronide (EtG) test, an aggressive alcohol metabolite test with a 72- to 80-hour retrospect. I was certain Demi would have tried to cheat a less aggressive test. In fact, at that first hearing after I discarded her, her attorney showed up in court with the results of an EtS test. That test showed she hadn’t been drunk in the previous 24 hours. Big whoop.

The brutal, high-conflict process I’d initiated schooled me about what I’ve come to call the “divorce industry.” One person’s divorce, it seems, is another’s opportunity to make a few bucks. I discovered the people involved in our case lacked critical knowledge and experience with Cluster B personality disorders, particularly unhealthy narcissism and full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), which is characterized by a dysregulation of emotions, thinking, and behavior. They were easily misled. A personality test administered by Dr. Jepson (the MMPI-2, I believe) showed that my former spouse had scored high for characteristics of not only one, but two of the four distinct Cluster B disorders—NPD and Histrionic Personality Disorder. But those important clues to the truth were either missed or ignored.

The process alarmed me. I began feeling like some kind of bias may have been at work. Was it gender bias? Can a father not be an effective primary parent just because he’s male? In our family, history said otherwise. The court-appointed investigators seemed preoccupied with one thing: if there was abuse in the relationship—and indeed there was—then how was it possible that the male was not the abuser? Dr. Jepson’s report, for example, struggled to describe my successful process of discovering Demi’s infidelity as “coercive control”—a “form of abuse,” he claimed. Really? Had I no right to the truth? As aggrieved spouse, I believe I did. What if I’d been a woman, and hired a Private Eye? Would that be tagged as “abuse?” I think not. To me, Jepson’s report reads as though he believes abusive women—if there really can be such creatures—are actually themselves the victims of “patriarchal oppression.” Males, to some people, are abusive by their very nature.

In addition, some of the “professional” participants in our case were flat-out incompetent. My wife was ordered by our judge to complete an updated domestic violence assessment, for instance. The report was submitted to the court, but the assessor never bothered to contact me, the “victim” of two documented assaults! No one seemed to be asking the right questions. With Demi absent from our home for long hours during the day, evening, and night—including weekends—when the hell would I have had time to be doing all the things she claimed? I was cheating and partying, too? Laughable. Children require time. In fact, they demand it. And raising them demands sobriety and focus. Dr. Jepson, I believe, was just another cog in the local divorce industry. He didn’t really take any interest in what was going to happen, or the outcome, or, perhaps, he was simply so charmed and manipulated that he allowed himself to be misled. That was highly possible, because Demi is slick. Either way, he was another person in the queue to get paid. I expected a trained psychologist to see through her veneer, or at least to suspect that something might be awry. His professional specialty was something else: most of Jepson’s work focused on sex offenders. Perhaps he was an inappropriate choice as custody evaluator.

During my first interview with Dr. Jepson, he noted my multilingual prowess, then smugly bragged about how he’d managed to sneak through his PhD program at Arizona without having to satisfy the traditional language requirement, which in Psychology would have been German. Good for him. In my written response to Dr. Jepson’s Forensic History Questionnaire, when describing Demi’s outlandish behavior, I had prominently used the phrase “sense of entitlement,” well before I’d done any research into narcissism and NPD. I even depicted her entitlement as having alarmingly “epic proportions.” As Harvard psychologist Dr. Craig Malkin has pointed out about unhealthy narcissism and NPD: “… it all comes down to one word: entitlement. It’s the most salient characteristic of the subtle narcissist” (Malkin 2015). Jepson had completely missed it. Or had he ignored it? I can’t be sure which. And where does his misjudgment leave my children? Stuck right in the middle. Perhaps studying German would have served Jepson well. A most conspicuous concept in German psychological literature on narcissism is selbstzentriertes Anspruchsdenken. “Self-centered sense of entitlement.”

A Growing Penchant for Violence

In September 2016, seven months before I filed for divorce, Demi physically assaulted me on two separate occasions with blows to the face. The first assault was in public and independently witnessed; I called the sheriff the second time it happened, which was in our home. She was arrested and charged with domestic violence. (I’ve detailed that experience here. I regretted it the instant it happened, but I look at things differently now.)

Demi was not convicted. And that was my fault. She’d sucker-punched me with a promise to work on keeping our family together. I fell for it, and lobbied the county prosecutor to drop the charges. Hope can be a powerful motivator. I worked hard on the prosecutor, and accomplished my goal. But still, the assault had taken place, and she’d admitted to it to the arresting officers. After I filed for divorce, the court inexplicably ignored this experience, and instead turned to a closer examination of me as a potential perpetrator of “coercive abuse” because I had tracked Demi’s whereabouts for a brief period in 2016, when I suspected rampant infidelity, and again in 2017, when I began to suspect the framing plot.

My attorney labeled the tracking activity my “process of discovery,” and said it would be reasonably defensible. After all, I was simply verifying my suspicions about her partying and repeated infidelity. Is that not fair? The Court Commissioner, a woman, thought my actions were tantamount to stalking, yet it didn’t to rise to a level where she would issue sanctions against me. Did I have the right to seek the truth or not?

I had questions, I sought answers, and I aggressively applied my skillset to get them, and in short order, too. Because of the allegations of domestic violence in my divorce case, court officials and court-appointed officials alike seemed to be searching for every reason to show why it was me—the male—who had to be the perpetrator, despite my wife’s violent track record. We’ll dig deeper into that set of issues later. The good thing is that my children still know who their father is. And I’m certainly no abuser.

The Reality of Narcissism

This blog will contain the story of how Demi and I arrived at the unenviable point of divorce, how her shift up the narcissism spectrum toward full-blown NPD contributed to the high level of conflict between us, and how it is likely to cause significant developmental issues for the children going forward. I will sketch the key characteristics of unhealthy narcissism in the hopes of giving you a set of benchmarks against which to measure your own relationship experiences. In the psychological community, there has been some useful new thinking about the nature of narcissism, and I will present that as well. It offers a compelling framework to help me understand what went wrong in my marriage.

I’ll discuss my personal journey through narcissistic abuse, physical assault, and even the alarming and unlawful harassment by the man I call “Beavis,” Demi’s new narcissistic “supply.” He’s also a Portland attorney. (I find that shocking.) I also take full responsibility for getting myself into this abhorrent situation because, alas, I’d ignored some gigantic red flags. I’d witnessed the same cycle in her relationships twenty-one years hence, when I had been the shiny new object the crow had desired. More on that, too.

Finally, I’ve described my decision to plan and initiate the forcible breakout—how I arrived at that decision and why. I will also make note of things I could have done better. If you’re living in this kind of situation, I hope my analysis will help you plan your escape, and discard your narcissistic partner with less pain than I suffered. Narcissistic manipulation can turn reality on its head. It gaslights you into questioning your own sanity and sense of reality, but in the end, knowledge is still power.

Breaking Free of the Control & Abuse

When a romantic relationship comes to an end, many counselors use the seminal Kübler-Ross Five Stages of Grief to describe the emotions we experience (Kübler-Ross 1969). I’ve thought of the process a bit differently.

Over a period of many months, I moved through four distinct stages. These stages represent a progression from an initially shocked and angry reaction through despair and other sentiments related to helplessness and self-pity, toward a fully proactive interest in deliverance from the psychological turmoil that is infidelity, narcissistic abuse, and divorce. My anger phase, admittedly, was prolonged, but it was prolonged because my values, as I continued to remain in our family home and focus on our children, were repeatedly and violent transgressed as my wife openly flaunted her cheating to me, as if there were nothing wrong with it. Somewhere along the way, I developed a full readiness to turn the tables on Demi, and to prosper from the negative experience she’d served me. If you’re going to discard your narcissist successfully, that’s where you need to be, too. I will have some suggestions about getting there. It’s all about State of Mind.

Anger

In the first stage, my sense of anger and betrayal were both profound and crippling. That’s all I’m going to say at this point. After the unmasking in the spring of 2016, the daily emotional abuse became vicious and grotesque. Demi verbally mistreated me in front of the children, causing the elder to side with me, and the younger to become combative and sometimes acutely disrespectful to his father. This experience is essentially what spurred me to focus on myself, fall back on my advanced education, and begin researching narcissism and NPD.¹ I also arranged ongoing professional counseling for the children. At the outset, I didn’t know what the hell was wrong with Demi, but I knew normal people don’t treat their significant others the way I was being treated. Something was wrong, and deep down, I knew it wasn’t me.

Despair

The second stage encompassed a deep sense of despair, underpinned by fear, resentment, and regret. “What a big fucking mistake!” thundered in my head day and night. I’d wasted twenty-one years of my life with an abusive narcissist. I could have seen it coming, if only…. My marriage had been a total fraud—some kind of contrived virtual reality. And I now had two children with her! Shit! What the hell was I thinking?!

In retrospect, the red flags were all there; I’d simply chosen to ignore them. For years. I felt stupid. The last couple years of the relationship were particularly bad—filled with emotional pain and trauma as the narcissistic abuse cycle crossed the line from Idealization to Devaluation and began to proceed toward Discard. The process ground to a crawl, however, because Demi thought I wouldn’t move against her, legally speaking. Discarding me was too costly, so she asserted and reasserted her overblown sense of entitlement. Horribly, she expected me to tolerate her perfidy and abuse! We entered a limbo of daily verbal and emotional abuse, and her continued substance abuse only amplified it. I felt powerless. After trying to ride the tiger for 367 days, it became abundantly clear I had to take action to end it for the sake of my own sanity, safety, and well-being.

Introspection

I entered a third stage just after I ejected Demi from our family home on March 24, 2017. It was the same day my mother passed away from complications related to Parkinson’s Disease. Although Demi knew of my mother’s death that morning, she expressed no condolences as she left for work. She was unaware that I was serving divorce papers that day, and she wouldn’t be returning home. The thud of the garage door closing that morning was a sound of relief. A sound of finality. A sound of tranquility.

After March 24, I found calm. I sank deep into introspection. I discovered that I still had intelligence, honesty, integrity, commitment, and compassion—all the things I’d first brought to the relationship, to my family, to my children. I rediscovered my intellect. I came to realize that during our marriage, Demi had gradually broken down my personal boundaries—a little bit here, a little bit there. I’d allowed her to walk all over me. I allowed it. Why? Probably my strong sense of commitment and obligation to family. No more. This phase had to be about rebuilding strength and resolve.

I took my two children and flew to the Midwest to bury my mother, with the haunting German lyrics of the 17 Hippies’ song, “Adieu,” playing over and over in my head. Ich bin gekommen, um Adieu zu sagen …

I was saying goodbye to so many things.

Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt, use it—don’t cheat with it.

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

Deliverance

Now, my sentiment is one of gratefulness. Simply put, I am grateful to have had this horrible experience, to have survived it, and to have learned from it. It awakened me in ways I never expected. I am also grateful that the circumstances under which I’m exiting the marriage are not dire. Things could have been much worse, and were definitely heading in that direction. It’s what made me realize I’d best take action to protect myself. My fear of being wrongfully accused of domestic violence was very real. Also, among the people I met through the divorce support group at the Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church in Portland, Oregon, were people whose financial status became very strained by their marital strife. Mine isn’t, and I’m grateful for that, too.

Deliverance from the horror of the experience is my fourth stage, and, as of this writing, I haven’t fully arrived. But this blog has been a great start. I’m developing a solid understanding of what I’d allowed myself to get mixed up with, and why. I now see a light at the end of the tunnel. As I move forward in my life without Demi, I have a need to share my traumatic experiences. How can I use my unique talents to turn this patently negative experience into a healing positive—not only for myself—but for others who’ve found themselves in similar situations? That’s my question, my focus.

I can write. I can research. I can analyze. And I can share my story. There’s no reason why my experience can’t become a springboard for continued self-improvement and service to others.

My deepest concern remains. With court-assigned fifty/fifty joint custody, for my children, the challenges are only beginning. My greatest fear is them being subjected to an emotionally underdeveloped, dysfunctional mother who is bent on controlling their lives’ destiny, distorting all their future relationships as well as their own senses of self-worth. And she’ll launch into their destruction with all the wild abandon of a value-free adolescent without an ounce of comprehension about the threat she poses to their future well-being.

In life, there are no mistakes. Only lessons.

NEXT POST→


¹ I had the honor of working with the renowned political psychologist Margaret G. Hermann, PhD, when pursuing a doctorate at The Ohio State University’s Mershon Center for International Security Studies. Dr. Hermann’s focus was leadership and personality; thus the study of personality types is not virgin territory to me.

References

Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth S. On Death and Dying. Scribner, 1969.

Malkin, Craig, PhD. Rethinking Narcissism: The Secret to Recognizing and Coping with Narcissists. Harper Collins, 2015.



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Turning the Tables on Pain

shardsAs I’ve looked back on my experiences of the past two years, I find myself returning to a single core question: how can I gather up the scattered, blood-spattered emotional shards of this horribly negative experience, and reorganize them? Reshape them into something new, something positive? What the Landmark Forum people call “creating a new possibility?”

It would require action.

I took the first step last week. I searched on meetup.com for a divorce support group in my area. When I didn’t find one, I created it. It’s a closed group, meaning that people not in the group can’t see the membership or any content. That’s for privacy, because I expect at least some participants will be people who haven’t yet taken any action, or are in abusive relationships, as I was.

Divorce is one of life’s most painful experiences. You don’t have to go through it alone. Share with others who are at various stages of divorce and divorce recovery, feel the support, experience deep healing, and then be part of the healing for someone else. I’d like at least one other organizer to come forward. I’d also like to share and work from a very insightful book, Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends (3rd Edition), by Bruce Fisher and Robert Alberti.

The thought of leading a group like this had been gnawing at me for some time. I already had chosen a book I wanted to use as a set of guideposts, and I plan on drawing a lot from my own experience participating in the very worthwhile group that meets every Tuesday and Wednesday at the Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church in Portland, Oregon. That group started an immensely profitable process inside me.

Divorce is tough, whether you’re the Petitioner or the Respondent. I was the Petitioner, but still, ending a two-decade relationship wasn’t easy. I wanted my wife to get help and stop cheating. I wanted her to be a role model for our two male children. I wanted to keep my family together.

I couldn’t control it. I endured the worst for a whole year. I was forced to file for divorce. No one should attempt to go it alone when that happens. Close friends and family are important, but meeting and sharing with people who are in the throes of the same emotions you’re experiencing can be much better. When you share, they get it. Immediately. Opening up and sharing your painful experiences with others creates an authentic connection, and perhaps, by really putting your heart into it—as you strive to comprehend and regain control over your own feelings and emotions—you’ll help someone else through their pain as well.

My group hasn’t yet held its first meeting, but I have a co-organizer now, and a total membership of eight. I think things are looking up.

When People are Disposable

Nothing screams “disorder” louder.

My ex-wife had a solid relationship with members of my family for two decades, including my father. In fact, I thought the two of them hit it off particularly welltrash. Until the day my father alerted me to harassment by her boyfriend, the man I call “Beavis.” Good Lord. My Dad lived 2,500 miles away, yet he was still a target for disparaging text messages. What’s more, I later figured out that Demi was with him, drinking at Hazel Dell Lanes in Vancouver, when the texting occurred. I’ve detailed that shameful episode here.

Everyone in my family was deeply upset. My Dad, a kind, dedicated man who was presiding over his wife’s end-of-life care because of a recently-broken hip and Parkinson’s Disease, didn’t deserve that. Not at all.

My brother wrote Demi and scorched her with words of disdain. I did the same in person. In fact, it turned out that it was the only time my children could recall their father getting really angry. That’s what they told the custody evaluator, anyway. Demi wrote an “apology” to him on behalf of her wayward paramour. WTF! A copy of it came back around to me. Instead of an apology, it was an attempt to smear me!

A month later, when my mother passed away, Demi made no effort to express any form of condolences to anyone in my family, including my father, who’d just lost his dear wife of nearly sixty years. After twenty-two years, to Demi, he’d become utterly disposable. She knows his health hasn’t been good, yet no communication. Not one peep. Normal people don’t do that.

Narcissists and other personality-disordered people are not your average jerks. They have a defined set of observable behaviors that meet the set of criteria for the disorder. They’re all about appearances, and appearances alone. Demi has nothing to gain from further interaction with my father. He may as well be “dead to her” … which, incidentally, is one of her expressions.

Landmark

In a renewed effort to focus my energies, I enrolled in and completed a Landmark Forum weekend seminar at the end of March. I’d been invited to a one-night introductory session in February in Portland by a very good friend who’d just completed his own seminar. Landmark was a positive experience, and I’m glad I committed to do it.thinking-brain-clipart-for-kids-png-14

My friend had told me about Landmark numerous times in the preceding months, but, to be honest, I resisted making a commitment with all the force I could muster. Sometimes the problem with me is that I’m a hard-core skeptic. And I mean really hard-core. I can also be somewhat arrogant when it comes to accepting the advice of others, particularly when it involves myself. Who knows me better than me, after all? Sometimes you just can’t tell me anything. I’m glad that at least I recognize it. But through the absurd adversity of the past two years, I’ve learned I don’t have all the answers in life, and I should at least listen to other voices.

Having said that, during the previous two years, as my marriage and family life careened out of control, I sought the help of three professional counselors and even a divorce support group in Portland. When it was clear I wasn’t going to be able to keep our family together, I enrolled my children with a child counselor as well, knowing that they would need something, too, to help them make sense of the coming storm. I’d tried everything, but enough was enough.

Seeking professional help for myself wasn’t easy, nor was it like me—not at all. Nevertheless, counseling helped me to understand what I needed to do with regard to self-control. Brian, one of my counselors, had bluntly pointed out that I completely lacked personal boundaries with regard to my wife, and that I was allowing her to walk all over me. Hearing that was a punch in the gut. But he was right. He calmed me by reminding me I wasn’t alone in the world.

When my friend initially approached me about Landmark, I doubted that such a broad-based self-help program had anything to teach me, but on a whim, I decided it couldn’t hurt. Landmark is globally one of the most popular programs of its type, and when I attended the Tuesday “sampler” evening with him, I was satisfied that it wasn’t religious or “new-agey.” Know what I mean? I didn’t want to be locked in a room with someone pressing me with a need for more God in my life, or declaring that my ch’i was low and my chakras were horribly out of alignment!

I signed up for the Friday-Saturday-Sunday program, which ran from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm each day, with only one significant break for dinner.

My very first experience Friday morning relit the fires of suspicion. The people who greeted me at the Landmark Center had that certain come-to-Jesus smile on their faces—you know, the kind you see on wide-eyed, young Mormon missionaries right before they declare they have all the answers to every question life could ever pose. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Who wouldn’t want that?

I scanned the room judiciously. The greeters comprised a small grinning army. Shiny brochures featuring attractive, beaming models beckoned from several banquet-style tables. I cautiously collected my preprinted nametag from another table and proceeded past the welcome committee into a large room of about 150 people of all ages, races, and creeds. I selected a chair in the second row and read the large posterboard:

In the forum, you will bring forth the presence of a New Realm of Possibility for yourself and your life. Inside this New Realm of Possibility:

  • The constraints the past imposes on your view of life disappear. A new view of life emerges.
  • New possibilities for being call you powerfully into being.
  • New openings for action call you powerfully into action.
  • The experience of being alive transforms.

My shoulders slumped forward as I stared at it. Phrases with no real meaning. Platitudes.

Damn. My suspicions were being confirmed. But because what I’d heard at the Tuesday-night Portland event had genuinely moved me, I decided to wait it out and listen.

Friday

The Forum leader was an intelligent, capable man in his sixties named David Cunningham. David exuded presence and charisma, and he identified himself as one of the founders of Prevent Child Abuse America, formerly the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse. David also confidently promised that the next three days would transform each and every one of us. Yeah?

Humph! à la Kipling’s camel. But I kept listening.

The first lesson contained a discussion about the nature of Knowledge. There are three types: (a) knowledge we know, and we are certain that we know it; (b) knowledge we don’t know, but we know it exists, like quantum physics for most people; and (c) knowledge we don’t know and we don’t know it’s even out there. That’s the way it was presented, but it’s not meant to be confusing. Instead, the discussion is about differentiating among things which you consciously know and consciously don’t know (quantum physics); as well as recognizing yet another realm of knowledge that contains things we don’t know, and we’re not even aware of its existence.

The second lesson distinguished “facts” from “stories.” Facts, David explained, are things in our lives that have actually happened—the events that occur. Stories are our interpretations of the facts—the way we link and understand them. Shucks, I thought. the Landmark Forum would be of little use to that growing number of Americans who invent their own facts and then spin off interpretations of things that never occurred. “What happened, happened,” David repeated, “and what didn’t happen, didn’t happen.” Okay, I can accept that. We’ll have to be clear about the facts.

David’s point was that throughout our lives, we’ve all collected our interpretations of various events and formed narratives to explain our life experiences. What comes next is important: we, the creators of those narratives, then forget we created those narratives, and we begin to live our interpretations as if they were real—as if they were the facts. Our stories thus become the goggles through which we see, hear, and feel everything as we proceed through life. Any gaps are filled in by our assumptions. Pretty profound, huh? We sweep up anything that confirms our stories as supporting evidence; anything that doesn’t, we dismiss or ignore. This pattern of seeing and hearing only what we want is called, in the language of Landmark, having “blind spots.” Blind spots are in the realm of knowledge we both don’t know, and don’t recognize its existence. David’s argument was that what we miss in life because of our blind spots causes us suffering and prevents us from achieving what we want in life. It squelches our freedom, our power, our self-expression, our peace of mind—and our relationships with others. For instance, a father who is initially shocked and unreceptive when he finds out his son is gay is assumed to be “closed-minded” by the son. And from that, years of a father-son impasse can ensue.

None of this talk shocked me. These were familiar concepts. There was nothing cultish, or even spiritual—it was all grounded in common sense. David’s discussion of facts and stories reminded me of an article I’d just read by Lisa Arends, about the perils of jumping to conclusions about facts. When Lisa was four, her grandmother used to show her family photos that were all in black-and-white. Being four, Lisa assumed the world once used to be black-and-white. A simple example, perhaps, but it’s the same mechanism.

David suddenly guided us in another direction. It turns out Facts versus Stories is not Landmark’s main event. Instead, David reduced the concept to something that demanded we take action. Comparing our lives to a sporting match, he urged us to use the concepts presented to bring ourselves down “out of the stands,” where we passively live while watching our lives proceed. We need to become proactive participants: we need to move “onto the court,” where we become players in our own lives.

David then invited participants to approach the microphone. Some had questions, but others began to share stories. One woman—I’ll call her Rachel—spoke about years of vicious sibling rivalry between her and her sister. Yet I was struck how simple it was for me to recognize Rachel’s “stories,” and how difficult it was for her to see them. Using her story, David deftly showed how Rachel had imbued an event that happened years hence with a meaning that contributed to further deterioration in their relationship. I sat up in my chair, my interest snared. Committed to her own interpretation and assumptions, Rachel had resented her sister for years. And in addition to the distance in their own relationship, there was a clear impact on Rachel’s and her sister’s relationships with everyone else in their family, including their mother. But now what?

When Rachel had finished, other people revealed the powerful interpretive filters they’d installed over their lives’ adversities. One man had gotten bad grades in school, and realized he wasn’t achieving his financial goals in life because of a constant, tiny voice in his head that reminded him he wasn’t capable or worthy. Other people talked about how they’d medicated with drugs and alcohol when they felt frustrated, undeserving, or unworthy.

David clarified his point: too often, we all live our lives in constant search of evidence that our stories are true. What’s worse is that our desire to be right is more powerful than our desire to be free. As it turns out, we want to be right more than we want close and intimate relationships, as evidenced by the fact that we’ll often choose one over the other. If our story is, “I’m not good enough because …,” then we’ll try any number of things to assuage the negative feelings we have. Yet all the while, we are still searching out evidence to support the story’s veracity. The story developed long ago, and it’s all we know. On the other hand, we may try nothing, and simply assume the story’s true. I began to wonder … did I have stories of my own? Nah—not me.

LOL

Saturday

The winter of 1995 was a tough period of time in my life. After three years of work building a diamond drill bit manufacturing operation in Russia, I found myself at a Trade Zone in the US, to inspect a large shipment of bits. Customs agents were dismayed because the bits were in containers that looked remarkably like Soviet Army ammunition cases (they were). I was happy we’d gotten the shipment out of Russia, because by then, I suspected it would probably be the last time. The Russian side of the company had come under enormous extortion pressure from a guy named Sandgartén, a local “construction” magnate. “Construction.” Ha-ha. The threat was so great we started packing illegal 9mm Makarovs in Russia, and seeking patronage (protection) from other questionable figures whose political stars appeared to be rising in the post-Soviet chaos. I was no idiot—under these new conditions, I knew our fairly complicated operation was going to fail. I also feared the seizure of assets in Russia. It was tragic. The “story” I told myself about the experience was that “well, we’d lost the ability to manufacture our bits competitively.” Oh, sure. There was some truth to that, but in actual fact, there was much more to what happened.

We had to shift strategies rapidly—abandon a fancy marketing campaign and dump inventory on the US market to pay off a six-figure bank loan. There wasn’t going to be sufficient cash flow for anything else, and there was no future. I did whatever I could to survive—consulting with two Ohio law firms, a small Michigan manufacturer, and scrambling to get drill bit inventory to market any way I could. I also did some things of which I’m not proud, largely because I wanted to continue pretending my dream business was alright. I sank into depression, and was forced to retrain my sights on a consulting job with the finance department of a large university. I was bored to tears there. I craved excitement, so I sought escape.

My experience in Landmark taught me that my escapism was one of the things they call a “racket.” Everybody has them, but they’re all different. By the end of 1996, I did escape—from Russia, from the midwest, and into the life that became my reality for the next twenty-two years.

My thoughts were interrupted when David asked us to share one of our stories with the person next to us. I listened intently as my seat-mate shared her relationship with her alcoholic father. We talked, and slowly, the onion’s layers were peeled back. She was uniquely messed up, she thought, because of how her father—who was also her employer—had raised her. He’d been too harsh, too judgmental, and had failed to listen and support her when she was growing up. She was a recovering alcoholic, and she’d had trouble with other drugs as well. Her father’s company was now up for sale, and she wasn’t being considered as a potential buyer. She desperately craved self-confidence, self-acceptance, and happiness. She was also willing to let go of everything in her past that told her she wasn’t capable.

This kind of story was, as we learned the lingo of Landmark, a “racket.” We blame others for things that happened in the past, striving to make our case look as plausible and sympathetic as possible. It’s when we construct a pleasant-looking façade “to conceal our own criminality” in the back of the house, as David put it. We maintain lists of all the things our parents, our exes, our former friends, and our ex-bosses did that damaged us. We collect piles of evidence supporting our accounts of the injustice.

The blaming component of “rackets” is nothing more than a pretense. It’s a way of concealing what’s really going on behind the scenes, and we are getting a payoff from it. Rackets allow us to be right—which means making the other person wrong. We get to dominate them, which means avoiding their domination. We get to justify our behavior, which means invalidating theirs. We get to win. They get to lose. The ultimate purpose of a “racket,” you see, is avoidance of responsibility.

If a person blames his ex-spouse for the failure of their marriage, is it a pretense to justify his own behavior in the relationship? Is a person blaming a lack of decisiveness for business issues maintaining a pretense to protect themselves from having to take a real risk? As I write this blog, I am acutely aware of these questions.

Rackets can also be self-defeating. College graduates, for instance, often blame the job market for a lack of opportunities. Is he or she really trying to distract from a lack of preparation? Rackets have a hidden payoff—that’s why we have them. The way to get free of the racket is to understand its payoff and to clearly see its cost. There is always a cost — love or affinity, vitality or well-being, satisfaction or self-expression. The cost ultimately boils down to a reduction in the quality of our lives. Over time, the payoff gets less and less enticing, and the cost grows steadily worse. We become like drug addicts, willing to give away much of what makes life worth living to buy even the tiniest dose of self-justification.

During the Saturday session, I began to wonder whether I could simply pick up the phone and speak with my ex-wife, Demi. What would I say? I wouldn’t know where to begin, or even what I would say. I didn’t call because I was certain I’d be met with uncontrolled rage. She’s extremely angry that I did the unexpected. But with regard to my emotions, Landmark taught me one big thing: holding on to anger and resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. I need to take care of myself; to finally let go of the anger and resentment—not for her sake, but for my own. To unburden myself. That’s the goal.

Sunday

I have to apologize. I’m not going to reveal the important epiphany that happens on Sunday because it defies description. The Landmark Forum is a journey of discovery about yourself, and you have to experience it. Keep an open mind, and it’ll touch you in a way that’s unique to you.

By the third day, you’re equipped with enough of the core concepts to move forward with breathtaking speed. I did indeed experience the paradigm-shifting moments David had promised on the first day.

What was getting in my way was my constant desire to live in the past as a way of avoiding the future. What I learned, however, is stark, blunt, and quite common-sensical: that the future doesn’t need to be based on the past. Instead, it is whatever we choose to make it—right here, right now, not “someday,” not “eventually.” To move forward, the past needs to be cut loose. Bad things may have happened in the past. It is what it is. What’s in the future? Nothing. Nothing at all. Because I haven’t yet created it.

The only constraints I face are posed by my stories. I am the one telling them. I am the source of the language that shapes my experience, which means I can change it. Now, I alone must claim how my life proceeds, and what kind of life is available to me in the days ahead.

When leaving the Landmark Forum Sunday night, I felt unchained. I really needed that.

Tuesday Evening

I walked away from the Landmark Forum with a whole new approach to both my distant and my recent past. The latter, to my surprise, seems to be fading fast now. The Forum and my interactions with many people there (and continuing interactions in the Landmark Seminar Series) are helping me to focus on letting go of the residual anger and resentment I feel about my marriage. What happened, happened. What didn’t happen, didn’t happen. I need to come to terms with that by collecting the intellectual bits and emotion-laden pieces I’ve strewn all over this blog, and then wind them into a new effort to reach out and help at least one other person who’s in the same kind of situation I was in. Whoever you are, I know you’re out there.

Landmark offers a wide curriculum of courses—everything from communication to personal integrity to finances to leadership. You choose. I’ve signed up for the Advanced Course, the follow-on to the Forum. If the Landmark Forum is about freeing you from things in your past—things that constrain you—in the Advanced Course, you focus on designing a new personal future.

My Biggest Racket? Perfectionism. Now I can see the story running in the background—my success in life depended on me doing everything perfectly. This is the “story” that compelled me to endlessly revise, rewrite, polish and repolish my writing, never convinced that it was quite good enough. Perfectionism had me doing every last little thing myself, not asking for and sometimes even refusing offers of help—because no one can get it “right” except me … and that leads me to yet another racket. And a third. I’m also very guarded—very “closed.” I always have been. It’s the factory default, it seems. I think I know why. But I’ve decided to write a new story for myself: that I can open up; that I can have better, more authentic relationships with others, with all of the vulnerability and risk that entails. I decided that people would no longer be threats to me, but instead, become the most precious opportunities in my life.

I’m convinced Landmark is one of the most important educational experiences in the world today. I recommend it. It’s about changing the way you thinking about past adversities, and it’s very mainstream existentialist. There’s nothing weirdly spiritual. Gaining the ability to see beyond your own interpretations of the past and taking full responsibility for your own life experiences going forward are fundamental to changing your mindset and improving the quality of your life.

If the Landmark Forum interests you, you can visit their web site at www.landmarkworldwide.com.

Sunshine Blogger Award!

I recently learned I’ve been nominated for the 2018 Sunshine Blogger Award, “given to bloggers who are deemed to be creative, inspiring and positive, while spreading sunshine to the blogging community.” I was nominated not once, but twice, by the generous bloggers at Surviving the Unhinged & Clan and Fairy Tale Shadows. Thank you.

Sunshine-Blogger-AwareI’m deeply touched by their kind thoughts, as well as the implication of the nomination—that the intensely personal experiences I’ve shared on my blog has been helpful to others. That significance of that implication isn’t lost on me. I’m very grateful to both of them.

This is not at all what I expected—blogging, I mean. What began as a purely selfish, angry rant with no expectations has now morphed into something much calmer, more introspective, cathartic, and therapeutic. And analytical. The act of sharing the story has helped me to immerse myself in a process of release from the chains of anger and resentment. Analyzing the mechanisms that operated in my marriage, at least toward the end, has led me to find other people who’ve had similar experiences in their lives. Some of those people have suppressed their past, and have moved on; others are stuck in a vicious psychological circle of bitterness and pain; still others are struggling to find an exit from the emotional Autobahn of narcissistic abuse. Sharing with others has caused me to pose the most important question I’ve asked myself in a long time: how do I pick up all of the dangerous, scattered shards from this enormous negative in my life, and reassemble them into something positive? Something of which I can be proud, rather than deeply ashamed? Something that can provide a positive to someone else? My blog contains many of the pieces of a work which, at this point, still needs a superstructure, but it’s coming along. I can feel it.

I recently completed an intense weekend in the Landmark Forum, one of the most popular self-help seminars in the world. I suffered some important breakthoughs there, and that’s saying a lot, because I’m the ultimate skeptic about such programs. My next post will cover my experiences at Landmark.

As part of the nomination rules, I now have two sets of eleven questions to address. Here goes …

Questions from Searching for Hope:

1. What’s the most interesting place you have traveled to?

Russia is the most interesting place to which I’ve traveled. It first happened when I was only 20, when Russia was the largest component republic in the Soviet Union. In any case, by the time I was 25, I’d begun a decades-long love affair with Russia. My skin still sometimes prickles with goosebumps when I hear sports fans chanting “Ros-si-ya!” or I hear their national anthem. I was once very much part of that world.

2. Who is your favorite author?

I have two favorite authors, one nineteenth-century, one modern. The first is Mikhail Lermontov. My favorite work is Hero of Our Time—vignettes of life in the early 1800s Russian Caucasus, replete with character observations that are still meaningful today. I especially love the way the author paints the beautiful and rugged Caucasian landscape with literary flourish.

The second is David J. M. Cornwell, a.k.a. John Le Carré. He’s inspired my own writing with a single comment: “let the verb do the work.”

3. Do you meditate?

No, not really. I’ve tried it. I do like to sit quietly and think, however, although it’s not what most people would think of as meditation.

4. What or who do you miss right now?

I miss the life I had three years ago.

5. What song gets you out of a rut?

David Guetta/Sia, “Titanium.” I also like the energy of the song “Radost” (Joy) by the group known as !DelaDap. It belongs to the Balkan Beat musical genre, which hasn’t really made it to America yet.

6. Favorite type of vacation?

A warm, sunny beach, with exploring historical sites a very close second.

7. What’s the one thing you learned about you this year?

That not being so guarded (as I am) can sometimes lead to good things.

8. What motivates you to blog?

I want to reach out, live my life authentically, and share the big negative I’ve experienced with someone who’s in a similar situation, and hopefully inspire him or her to make an exit.

9. Where were you born?

Northwestern Ohio.

10. What was one of the best days of your life?

My fortieth birthday. I spent it in Nice, France, on the beaches, in the cafés, the sidewalk bistros, and then at the Festival aux Fleurs nighttime parade near the Cours Saleya. The sun was warm, the people welcoming, and the wine flowed freely. What a day, what a night!

11. What common misconception do you hate to hear repeated as fact?

I am often annoyed by things repeated so many times that people accept them as truth. One such attribution is that “Al Gore said he invented the internet.” That’s false. Al Gore actually said, “during my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” Gore did take the initiative by working on funding expansion of the already-existing National Science Foundation Network for public use. That eventually became the Internet, but to say Al Gore claimed to have created it is a deliberate misrepresentation of fact designed to smear and ridicule Mr. Gore.

Questions from Kristen Milstead:

1. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Barcelona. Hands down. Un cafè, si us plau.

2. What three things are you the most grateful for?

The kindness of others. The life-changing experiences I’ve had, and the people I’ve met around the world. My best friendships.

3. What is/was your favorite subject in school?

Math and Languages

4. If you could have dinner with one person, living or dead, who would it be?

Mikhail Khodorkovsky

5. What did/do you want to be when you grew up?

I once wanted to be a veterinarian … until I worked at a veterinary clinic! That cured me. LOL

6. If you were given one million dollars, what is the first thing you would do or buy?

I’d buy a modest cabin with an awesome kitchen and a huge fireplace. Then I’d have a big party and ask my friends if they knew of a situation where an influx of money could make a big and lasting difference in someone’s troubled life.

7. What was your favorite age so far?

Forty-four, the year I became a father.

8. What is your favorite type of music?

Tough to answer. I like many different types, depending on my mood. And my tastes are always expanding.

9. What is your favorite holiday?

Thanksgiving. I love to cook for family and friends.

10. On which website do you spend the most time?

Yahoo.com. Okay, time to ‘fess up: I’m a news junkie.

11. What are three words to describe you?

Kind. Intelligent. Resourceful.

 

The Rules:

  • Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you in a blog post and make a link back to their blog.
  • Answer the 11 questions sent to you by the person who nominated you.
  • Nominate up to 11 new blogs to receive the award, and then write them 11 new questions.
  • List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or your blog.

My Nominations:

A R

Story Lynne

ANA

My Eleven Questions:

  1. If you could wake up tomorrow with any new skill or ability, what would it be?
  2. If you could invite any person to dinner, living or deceased, whom would it be?
  3. If you were to die suddenly in the next few minutes, what is the one thing you would most regret not having told someone?
  4. Why haven’t you told them yet? (See #3)
  5. Name the three things in your life for which you’re most grateful.
  6. If you won a $10 million lottery prize, what would you do to impact the greatest number of people?
  7. What have you dreamed you’d like to do in your life, and haven’t yet?
  8. Why not? (See #7)
  9. If your life were a book with chapters, what would be the title of the one you’re living now?
  10. What are two of your “personal rules” that you never break?
  11. What’s one responsibility you really wish you didn’t have?

Thank you!

“Harry”

This Week, One Year Ago

It’s March 22, 2018. One year ago, I was in the midst of a very difficult week.

On Sunday, March 19, 2017, Demi returned home late, near midnight. I was in our home office. I could hear the garage door raise, then heard the purr of Demi’s Audi as she drove in. The door began to lower. An abrupt scraping sound interrupted my thoughts. The garage door had hit the back of her car on its way down. Demi raised the door again, pulled further into the garage, then lowered it. Blitzed.

IMG_8670I knew what to expect. She’d been off drinking with Beavis all afternoon and evening, abandoning the children to my care and custody for the day. I’d gotten used to it. I wrapped the knobs of the office’s double doors with a stout network cable and tied myself in. She came to the doors and demanded that I allow her in. I refused. “You’ve been drinking. Go to bed,” I said. She was raging. She attempted to ram the doors in, but the cable, as well as my hands and feet, held them closed. After multiple impacts, she slumped to the stone floor with her back against the door. That’s her in the photo, sporting plaid flannel. She got up a few minutes later and renewed her effort to force the doors open. It was to no avail. A hundred and fifteen pounds was no match for me and the cable.

But I was scared. Really scared. I had already concluded that she and Beavis intended to frame me for domestic violence, and this was the start of it. When it became clear to Demi that she wasn’t going to gain entry to the office under any circumstances, she crawled off—to the bedroom, I assumed. I stayed in the office for another fifteen or twenty minutes until I was sure I couldn’t hear anything, and the coast was clear. Silently, I untied the door knobs and crept into the foyer. I already had my car keys in my pocket. If she suddenly materialized and came at me, I intended to make a break for the front door. That didn’t happen.

In the first-floor master, I found Demi fully dressed, face-up on the ornate, four-poster king. Passed out. I know she was passed out because I gently placed my hand on her cheek. Just for a moment, while the deep, deep sadness of my predicament overwhelmed me. Tears of grief streaked my cheeks as I gazed upon her delicately chiseled face. I was in a dark, emotional abyss. Demi’s cheek was cold to the touch, and she didn’t react. I returned to the office, closed the doors, and dialed 911. I spoke with an operator and asked that a record be made of the attempted assault. I told her I wouldn’t need assistance that night, but I promised that if my wife roused, I’d call back. I hung up. Not knowing what to do, I sat there for hours, pondering my dilemma. This was a ridiculous position to be in. This was my own house. This was no way to live. And this was not normal, by any means. I’d tried as hard as I could to maintain normalcy; to keep our family together. Demi had a serious problem, and her problem had begun to endanger me in ways I never imagined.

I couldn’t save Demi from herself. I had to save myself instead. I made the decision that night to proceed with the divorce.

Now, fast-forward to Wednesday, March 22. That was the day I dragged Beavis into court for a Protection Order because he’d harassed me and my elderly father. I’ve detailed those events in a separate post. I entered the courtroom at 8:55 and instantly had to choke down the bitterness of treachery in its utmost form.

Demi had left the house very early that morning, and I assumed she must’ve had an early meeting at work. When I walked into the courtroom, there she was, sitting in the gallery—next to Beavis. Her betrayal cut deeply, like a jagged, rusty blade—ripping, rather than slicing. Demi attempted eye contact with me, to twist the knife, of course, but this time I refused her the opportunity. Her presence was high treason. And there was nothing “normal” about any of this.

As I awaited my turn before the judge, my thoughts turned to love. Yes—love. I had loved Demi for twenty-one years. Had she loved me? Ever? I’d already begun to have serious doubts, but now I felt the last bits of hope slipping from my grasp. But what the hell was it, then, if not love? Had two decades been a total fraud? Couldn’t be. Could it? And if it was love, how could she just switch it off like that? Who does that? Nothing screamed “abnormal” louder than the events of that day, exactly one year hence.

My petition for a Protection Order against Beavis was denied because, as the judge explained, the circumstances failed to meet the requirements under the statute that the offending events number at least three, and be in the same jurisdiction. I had only two events, in two different jurisdictions. Still, the judge, a Court Commissioner named Kristen P., issued a sharp verbal warning to Beavis: “… I think it has been made extremely clear that this type of contact with family members, if it were to continue, or if there was any contact with the children, and it continued, it might be grounds for Mr. — to come back and renew his petition for an Anti-Harassment Order. So it’s been made clear that no contact of this kind is wanted by this family. The court is finding that it’s an inappropriate type of contact. You had no legitimate or lawful purpose to contact his father.”

The judge’s warning validated that day’s action against Beavis. Here was a man who oozed avarice and rapacity; nothing seemed sacred or off-limits to him. When the proceedings were over, I allowed Demi and Beavis to vacate the courtroom ahead of me. I sat and waited. When I finally exited, I went straight to my attorney’s office and signed the Petition for Divorce they’d prepared under my direction. I riffled through the papers; the air of finality was asphyxiating.

The iron horse I’d stoked and fired on Wednesday thundered into Demi’s office around midday on Friday, March 24, when she was served with her copies of the papers. I’d been forced to erect a wall to protect myself. There was enough evidence of a threat to me that the judge issued an ex parte Protection Order. Demi was prohibited from returning to our home and contacting me. Friends reported to me that she was devastated.

And rightly so. She earned it. She deserved it. I didn’t want to hear it. She’d finally pushed me too far, and at last I’d found the elusive resolve to bring my long nightmare to an end.

My mother passed away that same day, March 24. I took my two boys and flew to the Midwest to honor her, and my father, as he laid his wife of nearly sixty years to eternal rest. Requiescat in Pace.

A Word about Documentation …

I can’t write enough about the importance of documentation. What I’m talking about, however, is unassailable, irrefutable documentation. What is known as “contemporaneous” documentation—a play-by-play account of events in your household recorded when they happened.

journalAs you contemplate taking action against your wayward, abusive spouse, one of the most important things you can do is begin a journal. Make sure it’s daily. Note down the times of comings and goings, and any stops at stores, restaurants, etc.—anything a bank statement might corroborate. If you’ve already sought counseling, you should periodically share copies of your journal with your counselor. That way, when your angry spouse unleashes the predictably vicious backlash of deceit when you finally do file for divorce, your counselor can corroborate your account, because he or she has already seen it.

When I finally got the nerve to file the petition for divorce, my wife’s response to the court included a hastily-created “journal” of her own that purported to show me as an absentee parent. She’d noted that I was likely “out drinking” on nights I’d been attending my divorce support group at the Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church in Portland, where they kept an attendance sheet. Her effort was ridiculous, and it ran for a mere couple of weeks. My journal, on the other hand, covered almost a full calendar year. I’d also noted down any places visited so that credit card purchases could be matched to the journal, if necessary. One of our credit cards even electronically recorded the table number, server, and number of guests—so when Demi said she was meeting a group, I knew when she was lying. I now recognize that in addition to listing the intricate details, I should have shared copies with my counselor or with chosen members of my divorce support group.

Still, the journal was immensely helpful. I petitioned the court for relief from a marriage with a fairly long list of bad behaviors, including verbal, emotional, and physical abuse, excessive alcohol use, serial fidelity, and absentee parenting. Some of the events in my account had also been supported by calls to the authorities. The whole thing oozed with veracity because of the level of detail. I think it convinced the court that I could not have gone back and invented any of it, particularly the account of events on Saturday, February 4, 2017, when Demi showed up intoxicated at home, trying to intervene in my plans to take the children to see Star Wars: Rogue One at a downtown Vancouver movie theater. That afternoon, she gave chase for nearly five miles, honking her horn, flashing her lights, and trying to edge my Ford Expedition off the road with her faster Audi A4. Her behavior scared the boys—and me. My response was to call 911 as I drove. Unfortunately, Demi broke off her chase, jumped on I-5 South and scooted across the Columbia into Oregon before Clark County Sheriff’s Deputies could get into a position to apprehend her. I was disappointed. If she’d only kept following me for another quarter-mile … if she’d only kept up her chase for a few minutes longer, the outcome of our custody evaluation might have been very different, not 50/50. But the officers had already been on their way, and there was a twelve-minute running call between me, a 911 operator, and a Deputy that day, as the events were happening. Those are real records, and they’re public. Demi’s attempts to retell or “reinterpret” the events of that day are doomed to failure. (See my article on gaslighting, because it’s what narcissists do.)

What I learned later was that she’d spent the morning at the Hazel Dell Bowling Alley, and Beavis, her “boyfriend,” had been sending my elderly father disparaging text messages about me that morning. How irritatingly juvenile. Demi was likely with Beavis at the bowling alley while he was doing that, encouraging him.

One of the most important things I learned was that documentation is absolutely critical—but not just any documentation: it must have been recorded when the events happened. Stop and think of how President Trump’s legal team is highly concerned about the potential existence of fired FBI Director James Comey’s “contemporaneous notes.” If such notes indeed exist, they will be extremely damaging to Trump. They will contain the truth about what was said between the two men.

Guest: Using the Label “Narcissist”

I’ve struggled with using the label “narcissist,” even though, as I continued my research, it was clear that my ex-wife exhibited most of the personality disorder’s key characteristics. I’m sensitive to the objectification that a label brings to a complex, living human being. Applying a label is as much about simplifying and categorizing observations as it is unburdening myself. Some days, I’m comfortable using it, but other days, I feel like I need to yield to the Goldwater Rule. Still others, I wonder whether the label hasn’t become a bit cliché, considering the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I’d like to share this well-written piece by Kristen Milstead.


I’m well aware of what has popularly been termed the “Goldwater Rule,” which is a section in the American Psychiatric Association’s Principles of Medical Ethics that states that a psychiatrist should not provide a diagnosis to someone that he or she hasn’t personally examined. The implications of this rule are clear for my application of the term …

Source: On Labeling: Who is the Narcissist Label For?