Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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Ruminations of a misty morning

Silently, it rolled in from the west, snaking up the river valley, a soft gauzy blanket of white obscuring all that it enveloped.

I watched its approach. My eyes straining to see through its ethereal nature.

This is the way of falling asleep. The way of losing sight of clarity, of all that is real and true in life.

I watched the fog roll in and remembered a time when I lived within its depths. When my world felt like I was breathing shallowly in the marshmallow stickiness of lies and deceit that encompassed my entire being.

Those were the days when I was lost in dreams of shortcuts to happiness. When I believed in happily-ever-after.

And then I awoke to the dark and unforgiving truth that I was lost on the road to hell.

Frightened and trapped in my fear, I could not breathe deeply. I could not see my hands in front of my face, or feel my feet on the earth.

Terrified I would never find myself again, I became lost in a world of hopelessness.

And then, the fog lifted and I could see the world around me. I could feel my hands touching my face, my feet touching the earth.

Found again, I breathe deeply as the mist rolls in.

There is beauty in the mist gently undulating along the river valley.

The beauty is not in losing sight of the world but in knowing, no matter what the weather outside, I am safe, here, in this place where I stand in the eye of my truth. In this place, what happened then is nothing compared to what I am creating in my life today, day by day, standing true in me, myself and I.

We all get lost on the road of life. We all lose our way. Whether for a day, a month, a year or years, it does not have to be forever.

We can awaken.

We can step out of the mist. We can claim our place in the centre of our world.

For me, it took a miracle and a deep desire to seek forgiveness, to be forgiven and to forgive. It took believing that I was worthy or more than abuse and lies and deceit. It took believing that I am worthy of Love. Of self. Of others. It took believing I am worthy of life.

This morning, I watched the mist roll in and remembered the wonder and awe of being alive.

This morning, I watched the mist snaking up the river valley and saw the beauty of its gentle nature caressing the trees that line the water’s edge. In its memory I saw the beauty of my world today and gave thanks.

I am so blessed.

 


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Me Too. Take Two.

 

I had a note from someone who read my Me Too post on Wednesday. She wrote to tell me that what I had written had brought her to her knees. “I cried and cried,” they wrote. “And when the tears were done, I realized I was so done with dragging myself through the pain of what he’d done. I didn’t need to carry the shame and blame another inch. They were bringing me down. I needed to set myself free so I could get up.”

Someone else wrote to ask me when was I going to stop writing about that journey.  “Why do women keep having to dredge up how badly men treated them?” they asked.

My eldest daughter and I are working on our presentation for Circles of Hope on November 8. We are presenting the mother/daughter journey of our experience of having gone through an abusive relationship, of having lost everything, only to find ourselves on the other side of shame, blame, fear, anger, sadness, sorrow, bitterness and regret. On the other side is only Love.

As we talk and write together about ‘those days’, about the immediate aftermath and the journey through healing, I am constantly reminding myself to breathe.

That was then. This is now.

There is no part of that story that can hurt me today, because the only place that story lives is within memory. And memories can’t hurt me, unless I hold onto them and claim their shadow as my truth. Yet, when I hear my daughter speak of her experiences during those dark days, there are moments when I want to hide from the truth. To defend against what happened. At times, I can feel like such a victim of my own past, I want to hold up a sign for all the world to see and know the truth, “I am a Bad Mother. I am a Bad. Bad. Mother.”

And I breathe. That was then. This is now.

Telling that story, together, is not easy. When I tell the story on my own, I control the narrative. I can paint the picture of my brokenness how I want it to appear.

Yet, telling this story together is so powerful. Freeing. Loving.

I cannot change my daughters’ journey through those dark days. I can change how I respond to her telling of those events.

I can let go of blaming and shaming myself and hold space for her voice to be heard, to be known and claimed. Her story is not my story, and though we went through that journey together, we went through it from different angles. And in those angles, the light broke and refracted differently for each of us.

Telling the story together allows ‘the whole’ of what happened to come into view so that we can share, not just the journey into darkness, but our shared experiences of growing through it in to Love today.

Years ago, I fell into the arms of an abuser. It almost killed me.

It also hurt my daughters. It broke their hearts. Caused them enormous pain and angst.

In telling this story together, we are standing for truth. For hope. For love.

When I step out from the shadow of wanting to take away her experience and replace it with something more palatable, less harsh, I know and see and live in the truth. I am not a Bad Mother. I am a mother doing her best to be real, to be strong, to live her life with integrity, grace, kindness and above all, in Love.

When I look at the amazing women both my daughters have grown into being, I know that, regardless of and because of, what happened then, in the now today, we are very blessed.

As I said to my daughter the other night as we talked about our presentation, “The gift is that we are as strong as we are today, because of what we went through together.”

Why is it important we tell our stories, again and again, from every angle?

Because our stories are real, and in their reality and our sharing, together we grow stronger.

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#fbf Can forgiveness change the past?

Once upon a time, I got lost in a relationship.

I fell into the arms of an abuser and almost died.

And then, I got my life back when he was arrested.

I didn’t know who I was, where I was or even how I’d got to that place in which I was living with such deep, dank desperation and sadness.

I’d done things and behaved in ways I did not think were possible for me.

And yet, there I stood amidst the devastation of my life having to acknowledge the truth; I had become that woman who lost her moral compass and fallen into the abyss of abuse.

After his arrest, I looked around me and realized, I was lost. I had seventy-two cents in my pocket, a few clothes and my trustworthy Golden Retriever who had walked beside me for much of that journey. I had to find my way back to living without fear, to living with joy in my heart, and it had to begin with me.

I remember the morning after his arrest when I began writing in my journal for the first time in years. Since I was a child, I have always kept a journal. On the pages of my journal I could write without censorship. I could face myself and find where I stood in my life, regardless of the weather blowing outside.

While with him, I did not write. Writing is about truth for me and I knew my life had become a lie. His lies had become my truth and I was too broken to face it. So I did not write.

Writing it out to face the truth

That first breathless morning after his arrest, I wrote and wrote through my tears.  The words poured out as I tried to exorcise the ghost of his existence and my revulsion of who I had become. I wrote of my horror at what I’d done. My disbelief that I could have believed him, have been so gullible, so stupid, so naïve.

And I wrote about ‘never’. “I’ll never forgive myself.” “I’ll never forget what he did.” “I’ll never be able to get over this.” The ‘nevers’ went on and on to the point I thought they’d never end.

My journal did not disappoint me. I had to face the truth. If I held myself to ‘never’ I would not heal. And I wanted to heal. I wanted to reclaim myself. To rebuild my life and to reconnect with my daughters.

In facing never on the page, I asked myself, “Is this true? Will I never be able to forgive myself for what I did to my daughters’ lives? Will I never feel joy again?”

And then I asked. “Is this what I want in my life?”

My answer was an emphatic “No.”

What I want could only be found through forgiveness

What I wanted was to live without fear. I wanted to live with love in my heart. And most of all, I wanted to reconnect with my daughters. During the final three months of that journey I had disappeared without a word and they had waited for a call from the police telling them that I had been found – dead or alive. They feared the worst.

When he was arrested, my daughters were thankful that I was alive. They were also justifiably angry. At 15 and 17, they did not deserve that terror.

I could not change what I had done. All I could do was ask for their forgiveness.

Forgiveness is healing

Forgiveness is a powerful tool for healing. To receive forgiveness, I had to be able to give it, without qualification or reservation. That meant, I had to be able to forgive the abuser. And, I had to forgive myself.

When I forgave him, I didn’t say, ‘you are not accountable.’ I didn’t forgive him to let him know I forgave him.  I forgave him so that I would not have to hold onto anger, blame, shame or guilt. I forgave him so that I could be free of him.

Forgiving him wasn’t ‘easy’ but it was straight-forward. I have never spoken to him again since his arrest. To forgive him I continually repeated the words to myself and accepted them as truth. “I forgive you.” When the little voice inside me rose up and said, “But…” I reminded it that I had forgiven him and could not harbour resentments, questions or doubts. It was the only way to stop thinking of him.

Forgiving myself was more difficult. I wanted to hold myself pinioned to the sword of self-blame. I wanted to chastise myself. Berate myself. Condemn myself for having been a fool, for having hurt my daughters so much. But, to do so would have meant I did not believe myself worthy of my daughters’ forgiveness. By telling myself I would never forgive myself, yet asking them to forgive me, I was withholding from myself the very thing I wanted to receive.

I forgave myself so that I could be free

And so, I forgave myself. I didn’t qualify my forgiveness. I didn’t define it or limit it to specific events. I simply forgave myself.

I cannot give what I do not have. I cannot receive what I am not willing to give. To receive forgiveness, I must be willing to ask for it, and to give it.

I cannot change the past. I can forgive it.

And so I did. And so it is.

 

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#fbf – Flashback Friday — I wrote the original version of this post in February 2006, almost 3 years after he was arrested.

 


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There’s no ‘getting over’ a Psyhcopath

A woman I have never met writes me an email to tell me how she has just seen the documentary that was created about the journey I took through hell with a man whose lies and deceit almost killed me. It still occasionally appears on Discovery Channel and OWN and I always know when it’s been on. Someone will write to tell me they saw it. That they too have a story like mine.

Often, they will write of their misadventure and ask me, “How did you heal? How did you get over that?”

They will also, as this woman has, thank me for having had the courage to tell the story. To share it. “I don’t feel so alone,” she writes. “I am not crazy.”

It is one of the reasons I did the documentary. So that people know they are not alone. Not crazy. That there is hope, and life, after an encounter with a psychopath, or as I used to call it in the early days of my healing, a P-encounter.

Sometimes, the woman will tell me she is still in the relationship, or trying to break it off. Sometimes, it is a mother writing for her daughter’s sake, or a sister, pleading for understanding. Asking me to help them make sense of what is happening. Why won’t she leave? How do I save her?, they ask.

You must cut off all contact with the “P”. You cannot save anyone as long as the “P” is calling the shots. You are not powerful enough to combat the poison he feeds you, or the person you want to help, with every breath he takes and every word he speaks.

We must first stop the poison from entering before we can heal its effects.

There is no sense in encounters of the “P” kind. They are designed to drive the victim and those around them crazy.

“P” encounters are never about Love. They are always about Abuse.

P-encounters rob you of joy. Of your sense of worth, your self-esteem, your belief in yourself. They destroy hope. They tear apart lives, rip apart families and decimate relationships.

The damage is terminal if you stay  in the relationship. Your heart will wither within your body. It will become capable of pumping only enough blood to keep you alive. But moments of joy. Moments of bliss, of seeing the sunshine and feeling the warmth on your face, of feeling alive and free, those will be transitory, fleeting, brief.

When in a relationship with a “P” you will always be connected to the umbilical cord of his lies and deceit feeding you the poison that is cutting off your blood flow, your free-thinking, your heart. He needs to keep you connected in order for him to stay alive. He will do anything to not let you go.

Fear, manipulation, terror, deceit. These are all tools of the trade for a “P”. They have spent their lives perfecting their art. They are subject matter experts in human manipulation. (and yes, women can be P’s too).

And we, their prey, whether a man, woman or child, are simply a means of keeping their art alive.

How did I heal?

By naming what happened for what it is. Abuse. By stopping all contact, even in my mind, with the ‘memories’ of a lost love. It was never real. It was only the creation of his desire to catch me in the web of his lies.

How did I heal?

By taking one step after another, every single day, and reminding myself as each step took me away from those dark and violent days, that I was not healing from a love story gone wrong. I was healing from abuse.

How did I get over it?

I didn’t.

It was not something to get over. I wasn’t trying to climb over a fence dividing ‘those days’ from these days now. I was healing from the loss of joy, the ripping apart of all my relationships, the destruction of my dreams, my heart, my belief in my worth, my belief in magic and wonder and awe.

To heal from the loss, I had to reclaim what I had lost. And I couldn’t do it by getting ‘over him’. I had to do it by letting go of the idea of loving him and believing he was my soul mate, my perfect lover, the man of my dreams, my Prince Charming.

I had to stop all thoughts of loving him and the lies I told myself about how I had lost a beautiful love so that I could see myself without the poison of his lies holding me enthralled in the make-believe he’d created when that relationship first began.

I had to become fierce and tenacious and willing to feel the pain of the loss of myself so that I could fall in love with me. All of me. Beauty and the Beast. The abused woman. The woman who deserted her children. Who let go of her life to take that journey to happily ever after and became lost on the road to hell.

I had to fall in love with me, the woman who is caring, kind, sometimes funny (Ask my daughters. They will tell you being funny is not one of my strengths 🙂 ) Who believes in angels and sees fairies dancing on sunlit water and hears the wind whispering stories of far off places in seed pods dancing on the branches of a tree in springtime.

Who believes we are powerful beyond our wildest imaginings because, she knows with all her heart, we are magnificent human beings capable of creating a world of wonder where harmony, joy, peace and Love abounds.

That is the woman I have fallen in love with. And that is how I ‘got over’ the P-encounter.

Namaste.

 


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What a gift each breath is.

I was walking through a dark passageway. No lights. Trees shrouding one side of the lane which passed between two buildings.

It was a shortcut. One I’d taken many times from the visitor parking to my girlfriends condo.

This night, I had just dropped my freshly turned 18 year old daughter and some friends at the bar to carry on their birthday celebrations. I drove her car back to my girlfriend’s where I was staying while in the city and took the shortcut I knew well.

I wasn’t expecting trouble. I wasn’t expecting a figure to leap up from the darkness of the trees. To appear  like a ghost rising up from the shadows.

And there he was. A dark figure calling my name.

For one instance, I froze. I froze and felt fear vibrating throughout my body.

And then I screamed and ran.

I did not stop. I did not respond.

I screamed and ran.

And I kept screaming until I reached my girlfriend’s who, on this night thankfully, had not locked the front door.

I burst into her home, locked the door and she called the police.

And I collapsed.

Later, her next door neighbour would tell me how she could hear my cries through the walls. How my wailing, gut-wrenching sobs broke her heart. How she wanted to cry with me and hold me and rock with me.

I have not thought of that night in a long while. Yet, last night, as I left the office and waited for the elevator, it came back to me. It arrived, unbidden, with the opening of the elevator doors and for a moment, a fissure of fear entered and I wondered if there was a dark figure waiting on the elevator.

It was empty. As was the main lobby of our building.

And I smiled. And breathed deeply. And stepped out into the early evening light.

Spring has arrived early and the air still held vestiges of the day’s warmth.

I was on my way to meet my beloved, C.C., at a restaurant for dinner.

I had nothing to fear.

It was only my mind playing tricks on me.

In the passing of the fear though, I was left with thoughts of my deep-seated tears that flowed that night. I was left with the feeling that those tears, those tears that tore out of my gut and hurled themselves into space were vastly, deeply healing.

And I am reminded of the poem I shared on Monday. Rain, like the sun, are necessary for growth.

Perhaps it is that tears are not grounded in the pain, but are rather, the pain’s release. Tears released my heart to beat freely.

Perhaps it is that tears are necessary to rid our bodies of painful memories, to turn sorrow into wisdom, wounds into joy.

Perhaps, my tears that night 10 years ago were a right of passage to flowing joyfully in love today.

I know it is so.

I do not think of that night often. And when I do, I think not of the man who rose out of the bushes to try to capture me once again in his weave of lies and deceit and hold me prisoner to his abuse. I think instead of the power of my voice to cry out against abuse and rise up above the pain to sing my song of freedom today.

Smiling, I stepped out into the spring night and drove off into the sunset to meet my beloved.

What a gift each breath is when filled with love.

 


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Nature is a natural anti-depressant

IMG_6220I read a fascinating article at Tales from the Conspiratum about research coming out of McMaster University on the effects of anti-depressants on our brain’s ability to cope with stress.

It doesn’t make depression better. In fact, it could be making it worse, suggests Wade Hemsworth, author of the article from the McMaster University Daily news, “The Science behind commonly used anti-depressants seems to be backwards”. 

It’s an interesting read that suggests for people suffering from the most common forms of depression, SSRIs might actually be an obstacle on their path to recovery.

Nature, writes Tales from the Conspiratum, is still the best anti-depressant.

It is one of the challenges of depression. That which is healthy, healing and natural for recovery is also that which takes energy. And energy is not high on the list of things to expend when depression is clouding every thought, breath and feeling.

Had I gone to a doctor and been diagnosed when in the depths of a relationship that was killing me, I might have been prescribed anti-depressants.

I had no energy. My thinking was dark. I had constant suicidal thoughts. I had little to no belief in getting out of the relationship alive. Every joint, muscle, cell of my body hurt. I would awake in the morning and wonder if I didn’t have some incurable disease because it hurt so much to move out of the bed. I hoped I did. That would put an end to my misery.

And then, he was arrested and I was given the miracle of getting my life back.

Overnight, my bones stopped aching, my joints stopped hurting. When I walked, my hands were no longer clenched tight into fists. My gait was no longer stiff.

Yes, suicidal thinking still clouded my mind, but not every moment.

Without the poison of his abuse feeding me lies about my worth and my right to live, I could see clearly that without him, I had only one task, to heal so that my daughters could heal too.

It became my sole purpose in life. To do whatever it took to ensure my daughters knew, what happened to me had nothing to do with my lack of love for them. I knew as teenagers they could easily translate my disappearance into ‘I am not loveable’ and I could not let that happen. They had to know they are loveable exactly the way they are.

At the time, I remember believing what happened had everything to do with a lack of love for myself. In retrospect, miles from those dark days and nights of wishing to die and feeling like I already had, I can see that it was never about love, always about abuse.

What happened to me had everything to do with being in an abusive relationship.

Once the abuser was gone, I was free to fall in love all over again with me, myself and I. The depression that had clogged every fibre of my being began to lift as I began to see clearly, without him I had peace of mind.

I was blessed. I was in a time and space, surrounded by the loving support of my sister and her husband, to heal without fear. Everyday I would walk in the woods with Ellie the wonder pooch and breathe in freedom, exhale sadness. I would look up into the trees and see the limitless possibilities of the sky above and know, in freedom from abuse I could do anything.

I didn’t take an anti-depressant. I took nature’s natural gifts and breathed deeply into all she had to offer to help me heal. I was surrounded by beautiful seascapes, mountains soaring to the sky in rain-forested glory. Wrapped in nature’s embrace, beneath the sky and wind, beside the ocean, amidst the trees and wind-swept vistas of Vancouver’s north shore, I found the one thing I savoured and needed most, freedom.

Being in an abusive relationship is depressing. Staying in one is nullifying.

For a long time I couldn’t see that there was only one thing in the world that could change the sadness and fear that permeated my being throughout that relationship, and that was to walk away.

And then I did.

I had a lot of help and I am grateful. Walking away from abuse into living life beyond the edges of my fear has been a great gift. I don’t look back to remind myself of what he did. I look back to remind myself that that was then, this is now. And now is the gift of time to live with peace of mind, a joyful heart and restful soul.

And now is the time to walk in nature and give thanks for all her beauty shimmering in the air I breathe.