Full Disclosure of My Greatest Shame

This is a full disclosure post on the part of my life that I’m most ashamed of, even though those who know my story well find no fault for me in my journey, only a well-advised directive that my choice in men has to reflect my worth, not their potential.

And while this has been a developing thought process over the last several years, it was brought to a head, for some reason, through the wedding of Harry and Meghan. Weird, because I’m not a Royal family watcher or fan, I’m certainly not a person for power and position, and I am the last person to be formal and fabled. But I’ve learned a powerful lesson from watching these two and learning their story, and it has helped to heal mine.

To set the stage, all I ever wanted to be growing up was a wife and mom. I come from a long line of long marriages, and my soul desire in life was to carry on that legacy. However, the men in my life who loved the best were not men in positions of wealth or power or influence, and then men who were, were often drunk, violent, and unpredictable. I learned to trust the underdog and reject the seemingly accomplished.

Those who know my story know that I was married the first time to my children’s father, my first supposed love, for 12 years, before barely escaping via a full restraining order and police escort, weighing under 100 pounds. I say “supposed” first love because you can’t truly let anyone in who has abused you and controls you, even if you THINK it’s love initially.

And those who know my story know that I was married for eight months, about three years ago, after being a single parent for a long time….having worked hard, hard, to get myself healthy and whole, thinking that I had finally chosen a healthy, whole person, only to find out that he had been serially cheating me with multiple women, the entire time I’d known him, dating, engaged, or married to him, including the solicitation of sex on Craigslist.

Both of these marriages I’ve documented well. But where my shame lies is with a second, rarely mentioned marriage, that occurred about three years after my first divorce. And I’m not sure why I feel such shame, because I chose not to sleep around, I chose not to just live with someone, I chose not to party and drink my blues away, but I was in such a broken, battered, and bruised spot at the time that I feel like I had no business entertaining a relationship at all, let alone a marriage.

We met on MySpace, dated long distance for a few months, married in Reno, and then, 8 months later, after calling me a nympho the first 8 months of our marriage for WANTING sex, he came home one day and told me that he was bisexual, currently having an affair with both another woman AND a man, at the same time, and wanted a divorce. He’d suffered a TBI a few years before from a motorcycle accident, it had completely changed his personality, and he was just figuring out who he was again, is what I was told. All I DO know was that the TBI really did happen.

So that little girl whose only wish was to be a wife of one husband, for a lifetime, was a three time divorcee; a shame that, for me, I’ve been haunted by for the last decade.

And in that process, one has to then acknowledge that their picker is broken, and try to fix it. And in that process, I’ve learned some things about myself. I’ve always played small, wanting to shrink my talents and personality as to not draw attention to myself and to remain in the background. I have a deep anxiety about my worth, or lack of it, and have felt my whole life that I have had to earn the love I’m given. Which has led me to men that “need” me, and need “fixing”, and have great “potential” and that maybe I can prove my worth by helping them find it.

And conversely, men who are confident and who are powerful, or in positions of authority have intimidated me, made me feel more broken than I already was, and I felt like either they wouldn’t truly love me, and only want to control me, using me as their trophy wife; or I wasn’t worth their genuine love and protection because there was nothing to earn, and I wasn’t worth being valued, respected, and loved, simply for being myself, and my imperfect self, at that. I’ve spent years trying to be perfect because then my weaknesses would be strengthened and my armor fortified.

Needless to say, my own hang-ups, and then my life experiences, have done a huge number on me, and my view of men in my life. And it would be really easy just to succumb and wallow in cheap one night stands, or write relationships off completely, but deep inside me I’m still a believer in the love of the likes of Ruth and Boaz, and furthermore, I’m raising a son, and what kind of a man do I want to raise in him?

And then I see Harry and Meghan, a man of power, position, privilege, wealth, and yet when I see him look at her, I see a man who deeply loves and honors his wife, and everything else fades to the background; who, in all his strength, in his wholeness, he chooses her, not because she was the seemingly perfect choice, but because she was HIS choice, and he is made better still by the compliment of her. And her “being” and value to him is based simply on who she is, not what she can offer, make whole, fix, or make small so that he can shine brighter.

So may I raise my son to value himself enough not to remain a victim, but to step into his sacred masculinity like a boss, and love the women he will with an empowering presence. May I model for my daughter to never use her beauty to lord or power over a man, but to also never shrink in their presence to make any man feel more “manly” and in control, at her expense.

And to myself, may I learn to own my story, never play small again, choose not to make equal with me men who can’t even stand on their own two feet; relish my imperfections and scars because they have been forged by me at a great price; not shy away from men who have their s*** together because I’ve worked my a** off to get mine together, and iron sharpens iron, but rocks, papers, and scissors only destroy each other; and to entertain and choose a partner that looks at me the way Harry looks at Meghan, learning to rest and trust in the fact that I am worthy of a man who needs me for nothing other than me simply being myself.

The Restless Nest Tattoo

When I told my tattoo artist I wanted a tattoo this last time around, I kind of mumbled and stuttered. I wanted a mandala that looked earthy, not bling-blingy; stained-glass, but not showy; colorful for once, but not too bright. Several of the color themes we discussed were no-gos for me. Finally, we settled on the colors of a sunrise. Or a sunset. I was so confused. 

And this confusion is reflective of the rest of my life right now. Because just a week ago I was so angry at my oldest that I wanted to strangle her, almost driving off a cliff in Olympic National Park,  while driving on vacation, due to words that were shared between she and I, that could’ve caused World War III, right there, in our rental car. 

But then two days ago, after dropping her off at college, I shed tears all the way home, then sobbed uncontrollably at the silence and emptiness of the house once I walked in the door. I was mourning  that a phase of my life had come to an end, while another was yet beginning. 

This was what I had raised her to do. The last 19 years of our entwined, deeply engaged lives, have been preparing her for this moment, when she would step from the nest, spread her wings, and fly. That’s what was SUPPOSED to happen.

So why is this mama bird feeling so bipolar, one minute thrilled to have the TV recording space free of the usual 100 episodes of Spongebob, REPEATEDLY recorded by her, while in the next breath, catching my breath, because this will be the first year ever that we have to watch our favorite shows separately; in one breath rejoicing that I don’t have to feed a picky eater every night, while in the next breath hoping she eats enough to keep herself alive while working two jobs and going to school full-time; and simultaneously feeling ecstatic that my oldest child can now experience adulthood for herself, rather than through her rose-colored YouTube vlogs, while always worrying incessantly about whether she’s safe driving mountain roads by herself. 

So I don’t know what this tattoo means. In some moments it’s a sunset, one chapter of life closing; while another moment it’s a sunrise, with the new, next chapter beginning. 

I’m not sure whether it’s the stained-glass seen from the outside, our experiences blending in with millions of other families with young adult children; or whether the glass is seen from inside the darkened room, the light shining through, illuminating this moment in time as our time, our moment, where the grief and joy meet, in mesmerizing patterns of sentimentality and novelty. 

And I’m not sure whether the tattoo reflects the bling-bling of my daughters “bougie mountain” style, or whether it’s  the organic, homespun natural style of me. 

But you know what? I don’t have to choose. It can be all, or in parts, and anywhere in between. Because the symmetry holds it together. The patterns deeply outlined and etched, inked into my skin, are constant reminders that in a world of hellos and goodbyes, of joy and pain, of gift and loss, that the fabric of our lives can’t be woven without both; to have only one and not the other, would be like Van Gogh only painting with one color, or Michaelangelo simply drawing doodles on binder paper, or Beethoven simply plucking  out chopsticks. 

Ecclesiastes says that there is a time for every activity under heaven; and sometimes those moments happen in cadence, together, clinging to each other, in balance. 

And so I’m learning to value the silence while I grieve the quiet, appreciating easier menus while being ok with longing for the empty seat to be filled, and resting in the fact that I’ve more than prepared her to make her mark in this world, even while I worry sick that she’s safe while doing so. 

So this tattoo represents all of this experience, from full nest, to a restless nest. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me. And her. 

And thank God I have two more years before I have a fully EMPTY nest. I will need a whole tattoo SLEEVE to express that moment in time.

Queen Anne’s Lace Tattoo

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My daughter was six years old the day I finally gathered the courage to leave her, and her brother’s, father. That day, with the cathartic seriousness of a therapist, my daughter turned to me and said, “Mom, I’m proud of you. You’re finally growing up. You’re finally standing up for yourself, and us.”

She. was. six.

Growing up, all I ever want to be was a wife and mom. While I was a tomboy in every other way, and I had no desire to cook and clean, I DID want to be barefoot, pregnant, and save the world. Little did I know that the world that would need saving would be the one inside the four walls of my own home, and the people most in need of rescue would first be myself, and my two young children.

Because that’s the thing about being in an abusive relationship/marriage. While in hindsight you can look back and see a million red flags pointing to the oncoming storms, at the time, you simply feel the stillness in the air, and hold your breath.

And the deeply etched heartache in the abusive context isn’t just the victim of direct abuse, but it’s the children. The little’s that everyone thinks can’t hear, can’t see, can’t possibly internalize the electrically charged atmosphere; can’t possibly remember years later, if not in conscious memory, than subconscious muscle memory, the stealth terror which froze them in their beds at night, clinging to their stuffed animals; or the stealth fear during the day at not wanting to let their abused parent out of their sight for fear that they can’t protect them; or the stealth anxiety that eats away at their childhood, clawing away the simple joys of the newness of the world, and instead replacing it with the simple and singular focus of realizing that their world isn’t safe, and how do they defend themselves, and those they love, against it?

Which pops the bubble of yet another childhood idealism for children of domestic violence relationships, that of a child being able to trust that the adults closest to them will first and foremost protect them.

That’s where this tattoo comes into play. When I left my abusive marriage, and my daughter spoke the words that have haunted me to this day, I was NOT the person I was supposed to be. And yes, I can justify and explain, and even use solid research to back up why I was an absolute mess at that time in my life. And that matters. And it’s a million conversations for another day.

But today, it’s about her. My then six year old who lived in constant fear and constant anxiety. My six year old who chose to step in the middle of me and her father, because she wanted to protect me from his blows. My six year old who hated all dark colors because they were a sign of weakness to her. Why? Because I only wore dark colors at that time in our lives, and until the day I left her father, she saw me as weak. My six year old was my emotional strength, and what kept me sane, in those early years when I felt like my world was crashing, and spinning, and destructing, before my very eyes; but she carried a burden that was not hers to carry.

And another aspect of being a child of an abusive marriage is that they struggle to know who to “align” themselves with. While they want to protect the parent that is being  hurt, the survival mechanism kicks in as well. So their young and innocent mind decides that they better draw close to the abuser, as scary as that can be, because it’s probably safer than being closer to the abused; heck, the abused can’t even defend themselves, how will they be able to protect them? Their world of clarity and truth is obscured by the dense clouds of confusion, and fraught with the discordant rhythms of a childhood that has been stolen from them.

Then, besides having to heal from all the other trauma that we lived through, once the three of us escaped the situation, another challenge confronted us. I had to earn back the right to be respected, and the right to be the authority, and the right to be the creator of a safe and trusted place…… so that slowly my daughter could learn to be carefree in who she was….. a now 7-year-old. I had no voice, no commanding motherly presence ( still working on the commanding part), and I offered very little hope. And while my love for my children was large, and wide, and deep, and overpowering, it wasn’t expressed in the language where they could sense or feel it. So I had to heal myself,  heal my daughter, heal my relationship with her, and heal our home, all under continuing adverse circumstances. Our home was no longer a war zone, but many other places were still. And I had to learn how to fight for her in those areas too.

Which means that we kinda raised each other. Which means that there have been many days when we have been more like sisters than a mother and daughter. Which means that I have worked overtime to ensure that my daughter trusts my authority, feels safe with the boundaries I’ve drawn, and is secure enough to fall apart herself, knowing that I will be there to pick up the pieces.

We were discussing tattoo ideas a couple of years ago. She turns to me and says, “mom, I think you should get a Queen Anne’s lace tattoo.” I look up at her and ask her why.
“Mom,  the meaning behind a Queen Anne’s Lace is ‘haven, sanctuary, place of safety and rest’. You have been, and are that, for my brother and I. You need to have your next tattoo be that as it tells the next part of your story,  our story. We feel safer with you than anywhere else or with anyone else, now; and you don’t understand just how important that is. My brother and I would be involved in so much s*** if it wasn’t for you and your example. ”

And once again, like the raw emotion I felt the day she was six, I look at her, stunned,  in wonder and amazement.

All those sleepless nights, all those deep conversations, all those occasional yelling matches and slamming of doors, all those days when it took all the energy I had to physically cradle her through her rages, all those times I did not back down when she challenged me, the time I believed her when she disclosed the unthinkable abuses that had been done to her……all of the underpinnings of parenting that were magnified a zillion times in our case. All… of….. it….. mattered…. All of it made a difference. All of it created a world of order from chaos, hope from despair, and peace from what started as a war zone.

There are a lot of things I’ve failed at in my life. But being a mom evidently isn’t one of them. So while others toast to celebrate, I get inked.  Cheers!

 

Warrior Tattoo, and thoughts on Dating as Single Parent and Woman

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My first name, Carolee, is a derivative of Carol. My nickname is Carrie. The combination together means “song of joy” and “strong woman” depending on how you look it up. My middle name is Louise. Louise is a French name meaning famous warrior or renowned fighter. “Laoich” is Gaelic for hero or warrior.

I got this tattoo around the time that I made two intriguing discoveries as an adult single parent and woman. Don’t get me wrong. I could apply this tattoo to many areas of my life where I have had to fight for justice and for self-respect. But this tattoo, and it’s placement where I would see it as a constant reminder to myself , was inked as a reminder to me that it is better to be single than to lower one’s standards. And you never, EVER, put someone you’re dating before your children. EVER.

I have seen so many parents of students I teach, children of friends of mine, and just random people around me, who believe that their right to be happy trumps their children’s rights to have a safe and secure home, and the necessary attention needed from their custodial parent in order to grow into healthy adults; a feat that is challenging for any parent, let alone parents who are already navigating divorce or single parenthood for whatever reason.

Upon discussing recently with my daughter a couple of friends we have who AREN’T putting their children first, my daughter turned to me and said, “Mom, I’ve said it before. And I will say it again. You might not have had the best luck with men to date ( true), but one thing I’m so grateful for is that you have ALWAYS put me and my brother first, no man has ever come before us, and I’m so happy you’ve always loved us,and parented, like that.”

And my son, he sends me text messages or Instagram posts, thanking me for being the best mom AND dad he could have:

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Which leads me to the second meaning of this tattoo. I have always wanted to be a person who was respected versus loved. I don’t know why I’m driven to that, but I am. People can love you,but still walk all over you, and not value you. Which I guess some people would say isn’t love, right? And you make a good point. Obviously, as I’m writing this, I realize I’ve pinpointed a place where I still need to heal and grow. But being respected affords you some protection and voice. And if I had to choose between being someone’s muse or their battle partner, I would choose the latter. I have never wanted to be anyone’s plaything, or their trophy, or their status symbol.

Which leads me to the games men play. Women play games too, I know. But since I’m a woman, attracted to men, I will focus on the games that men play. I am 43 years old, not quite as in-shape, or wrinkle-free, or young, as I once was. I am definitely past the “I yearn to have more children,” phase of my life. I don’t party, give the illusion of being a club girl, a casual date, and maybe even a “fun” date (sad, I know).

And I get that some people can construe my tattoos as being those that belong to an easy girl, a hard girl, a “been around the block a few times girl”, and maybe part of my attraction to tattoos is because they DO give an illusion of toughness. Because my whole life I’ve had to fight to be taken seriously, to not be seen as naive, and all sweetness and light. So maybe part of my attraction TO tattoos is that they provide a form of armour, a weapon if you may, to keep idiots at bay.

I’m not looking to date right now. I’m pretty burned by what my next tattoo blog will address. But my interactions with other single men, in general, is woefully depressing, and has been, across the years. Dating sites? Anybody can say and purport to be anything. I’ve tried several, and people just aren’t who they say they are. Church socials? Some of the crudest men I’ve dated have been from these circles. Random people you meet in life? All I can say is that I’m grateful for the internet. Everybody I meet who has a potential to be a serious date? I background check them. It’s worth the money, trust me.

But the most frustrating thing to me is that most men, no matter their age, have to be told the same things that my daughter has told guys HER age:

No, I won’t send you pictures of me other than pictures that I would also post on Facebook on Instagram.

No. I don’t want ANY pictures of you other than ones that YOU would post on Facebook or Instagram.

No. I won’t sext you.

No. I don’t want you to sext me.

No. I won’t have sex with you.

No. I won’t watch porn with you.

And no, I won’t be a casual text. I don’t have time for that. Either pursue me, friends first, as a serious commitment, to friendship, at the very least. Or move on to other pastures.

I know that there are good men out there. Godly men. Feminist men. Men of honor. And yes, the pickings get slimmer and slimmer the older I get. Or maybe they don’t. I think that pickings for real men have been slim all along.

But now? Now I know my worth. It can’t be bargained for, or traded in, gambled, or taken for granted. I am FAR from perfect. But for finally in my life, I know what I bring to the table, I’m not afraid to eat alone, and the romantic in me is willing to hide beneath the warrior in me, protected, unless someone strong and heroic enough wants to fight for the right for it to be seen.

Matching “Break The Silence” tattoos

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She and I have been like “Thelma and Louise” since the day I knew about her. I remember the exact day I got pregnant, it was a warm summer evening, a rare moment of peace….. Extended family arrived later the next afternoon. And with that, an onslaught of violence delivered “on the down low” in our bedroom, as was the usual case whenever family from either side was around. Only he wasn’t quiet enough that time….. afterwards, his family asked me if I was ok……. I couldn’t say “no, I wasn’t,” because that would leave me open to “asked for” retribution later that night. So I said I was fine, we all nervously laughed, and my habit of living a double life took on a new passenger.

I had always wanted to be pregnant. I couldn’t wait until the time came. But I quickly found out that, for ME, my growing bump meant yet another liability to try and protect, and detract attention from. With every, “you’re adorable”, or “how cute is that bump”, I would be splayed into the limelight, a limelight that only spotlighted yet another hurl of cutting remarks and accusations, never knowing why my pregnancy only drove his jealously and insecurities deeper into the abyss of illogic.

She arrived on a full moon night, three days after her due date. Later, she would tell me she was only being considerate, that she had been due on my 25th birthday, but wanted me to celebrate my quarter century for myself.

The L&D department was packed that night. The doctors were running around frantic.The wolves might as well have been howling in their packs, outside the waiting room door.

I was in hard labor for 18 hours. After the first doctor told me repeatedly that I “just wasn’t pushing hard enough”, a new doctor came on shift, took one look at “us”, and frantically rushed me into the OR, saying that her head was stuck in the birth canal, and that we were both about to have life-threatening issues and/or injuries.

Through an emergency c-section, she was delivered safe and sound. Everyone went home. An hour later, I was rushed into the OR again. My uterus had collapsed, and I was hemmorhaging. When all was said and done, I had to have an emergency DNC, and I was placed in ICU for a week. I had lost almost 5 pints of blood, necessitating numerous blood transfusions in hopes of saving my life….

Her father came to me the next day, threatening to take her out of the hospital away from me. I must have done something wrong, he argued,  in order to have all the trauma happen to me at birth. Oh wait, he said, he decided he knew what the trauma was. She wasn’t his child, but his brothers’. Repeatedly over our twelve years of marriage, he had pretty much accused me of having an affair with almost every person our age in our lives, including his sister, and a friend I taught with. If I had even LOOKED at someone a second too long for his liking, I was accused of being a whore. In fact, he compared himself to the Hosea of the Bible, and me as the one he “saved”.

But for this particular moment, it was one of his brothers. He was so mean, accusatory, and verbally abusive,  that the L& D nurse told him he needed to leave, that my machines were beeping abnormally, because my heartrate was skyrocketing, due to our argument.

It was there, in that moment, utterly physically and psychologically broken, that my heart broke fully in two. I had been hurt and angered and shamed at his abuse before. But this time, after just giving birth to our daughter, I was fractured in a way that would literally take almost two decades to heal from. And it was in that moment that I created a bond with her that was what propelled me six years later to be able to leave him, to protect her and her brother. Because at that point? I didn’t matter for me. I was nothing. All of my life, for MY life sake, left me that night in the hospital, the day after she was born.

But for my child, and, eventually children? With a more urgent burden than I ever imagined parenting to be, because literally our life and death lay in the balance, I decided that being a good and Godly mom would be THE driving force in my life.

So, 16 years later, when she wanted to get matching tattoos, representing all that we had had to fight through in our lives, just to get to where we were that day, how could I ever say no?

“Break the Silence” is an organization that was started to bring awareness to domestic violence, and how, unlike any other crime except for sexual assault, it’s the silent crime. No one talks about it. What happens behind closed doors stays behind closed doors. It’s family business. It’s protected by shame and denial and terror. It wreaks havoc and chaos on the one place that you’re supposed to feel safe, your home.

And she and I, we raised each other. She protected me, even getting hit once by her father when she was trying to intervene in a fight between he and I, when I couldn’t protect myself. She was my logic and backbone when I was silenced by fear. She was the fighter when I had no fight.

She was born stoic. I remember watching her as a baby. She would take in everything around her. No nonsense. No fussing. Missing nothing. Her eyes could pierce you with a simple stare. She sucked on her binky with an intensity that belied her calm exterior.

The few times she did let down her guard, and showed vulnerability of any kind, I held her dear to my heart like one would hold a fragile glass doll; the moments were rare indeed.  Little did I know just how important that strength and stoicism would be for her a few years later.

And when we did escape, and start to heal, I had to work hard, very hard, to earn her respect, and my rightful place has her authority figure and mom. We have often been more like sisters than mother and daughter.

But I know that now she can look at me, and model herself after me. If I’ve done nothing else right with my life, I have grown into a healthy, strong, woman, who fights for what she believes in, who protects her children, who speaks for them when they can’t defend themselves, and who holds them when they themselves have been broken in two.

This shared tattoo is about so much more than ink, and wrists, and letters. It repesents a bond between she and I that has been forged by the same molten iron, shaped by the same, unforgiving mallet, and cooled with the grace of the same God that has turned those ashes into phoenixes of beauty.

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And people wonder why I don’t get out as much as I could, or live my “own” life more, why I insist on being there for my kids so much. I remember when it was threatened to me  every day that they would be taken away from me. I remember what it was like for our house to be a war zone instead of a home. I remember what it was like when I had to literally fight for them, with every breath in me, some forty-five times in court.

So to say that I take parenting as my number one joy and priority, and that I’m even fanatical about it,  is to define me exactly as who I am. I will never be a hovering parent, but a warrior parent? Everyday.

Before you can break the silence, you have to have found your voice.