Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time, in an extremely bizarre reality, I was in a relationship I should not have been in. The warning signs were there, but some people burn so brightly that you don’t seem to notice you’re going up in flames and turning to ash. Immensely large red flares of danger were being sent up so I wouldn’t get burned. Did that stop anything? Not so much.

He was the quintessential “bad boy”, complete with motorcycles, fancy sports cars, tattoos, multiple drug addictions, and a boatload of issues. Maybe the maternal, nurturing aspect of me wanted to fix or heal him. I don’t know, but whatever it is, I’m thankful every single day that it is no longer a part of my life.

Initially there was no reaction or emotion from me towards him. He was just a guy, a guy all kinds of women fell for, but I prided myself on not adding myself to the throng of fools. Until one day, when I was seemingly drawn in like a moth to a flame. Except I wasn’t a moth, I was a butterfly, and yet, I suddenly had to have him. The pull was intense. He was crazy about me; The only person who challenged him, who questioned everything, and who was not impressed by anything. The problems though, they were simmering under the surface, just waiting to come out, one by one.

They started relatively early. I had never been told I was “too skinny” before. Even as a former gymnast that had experienced bouts of bulimia on & off for about two years after realizing that I’d never be an Olympic anything. I did not consider myself “too skinny” or “too” anything, really. I had the mouth of a Marine on leave, a writing career that had taken off in an amazing way, and a guy who told me he loved me, but to this day probably doesn’t know the meaning of the word. You’ll find him in the dictionary, somewhere between the words “Douchebag”, “Hypocrite”, and “Liar”, providing you’ve opted for a Webster’s upgrade.

His career allowed me the independence and space that I like in a relationship. I can’t have someone in my face 24/7, nagging, or standing over my shoulder like a watch dog. It drives me insane. He respected that, until the possessive behavior became more than just one or two phone calls a day. At first it seemed like he was going out of his way to surprise me and brighten aspects of my life, but that wasn’t it. Not at all.

The man could spit out promises just as quickly as he broke them, I just didn’t know he was trying to break me in the process.

The criticism I endured throughout the course of this relationship was harsher than what I dealt with from my family, and even though I had a comeback for everything he said, the words still haunt me…

I went from being vibrant, smart, confident, & 100% in control to depressed, unhappy, paranoid, angry, & jealous. I was reduced to questioning why I was somehow not good enough for him. It was irrational and insane. There was always an inner voice telling me “He’s not good enough for you. What are you doing? This man is poison. Tell him to go to hell and walk away.”

I remember crying one night to my best friend at the time, after a particularly shitty thing he’d lied about. Here I was, the strongest, toughest, most direct chick people knew, asking “Why would he lie to me like that? Why would he lie about something so important? Why am I not good enough for him?” I was devastated by the pathological way in which he’d lie.

My best friend consoled me quietly, basically saying she didn’t know why he had lied or why he would, but months later she told me I was “Too smart, too pretty, and all around way too good for the likes of him!” She was furious that he would hurt me in such a manner and then behave as if all was right in the world, and her anger continued to fuel when he showed up at a work event we all attended with a married woman on his arm. “A friend”, he’d called her. More like a drug supplier he’d hooked up with. He was spiraling and wanted to take me with him, but I would not allow that.

For the record, I was already ass deep in alligators when I realized how big an issue the drugs actually were because they weren’t an issue at the onset. It went from being an old football injury to being an all-consuming, problem-inducing, complete lack of grip on reality. It started out small, as many addictions do, and escalated until it had to be confronted. I did not condone it in any way and refused to support the habit. I was not going to be in a relationship with an addict, period. I was the catalyst to get him into rehab, explaining in list formation all that he would lose if he did not get clean. But as most people can tell you, 30 days in rehab will detox you, it might even get you to talk about why you got into it in the first place, but it’s every single day after leaving a protected environment that matters most. If you have people who love & support you, you have a greater chance at remaining sober. You might slip up, recovery is going to be a constant for the rest of your life, but the effort you put forth is SO important. However, if you immediately return to the same lifestyle and friends you had during the height of your illness, it will revert you right back into it at some point, especially if you have no real desire to be clean, no willpower, and no real desire to live. It’s a way of committing suicide slowly, secretly hoping that one day it’ll all be over and you don’t personally have to do the heavy lifting, or deal with the aftermath.

Part of what saddens me about the relationship itself is that I defended, protected, and shielded this man. I was the epitome of devoted and loyal to the Nth degree. My love was genuine, and yet I was constantly criticized, going as far as to be told that I wasn’t good enough to be introduced to his parents, who for years, he told me were dead. I’d later find out he only wished they were. Our differing religions was the reason given when I questioned why I was somehow “not good enough” to meet his parents. Who the hell were these people? England’s Monarchy?! How isolated and ignorant were they to think their religion was the only one that existed in this world?! This was not the first time someone had taken issue with my religion and tried to make me feel guilty for it. I was considered “not Jewish enough” by one guy’s family, and now I was being made to feel like I was somehow inappropriate and shameful. And the worst part? He wasn’t religious, AT ALL. 

Suddenly, after years of knowing our religions were different, it became this big issue, and we fought about it a lot. Would I be willing to convert to Roman Catholicism? HELL NO. Would I sign a pre-nup? Whoa, where the hell did THAT come from?! You want to marry me. You’ve asked, I’ve accepted, but now you’re afraid I suddenly want to be with you for financial gain? Are you serious?! Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve always taken care of myself. He knew that. I don’t expect a man to pay for my lifestyle. I’m fully capable of making my own money, buying my own clothes, jewelry, etc.  I think you should want to take care of your partner and be a provider, but relationships are give and take. I did not expect to sit on my ass and be given anything, so I waffled back and forth on that little tidbit. It is a deal breaker if it’s not a document protecting both of us.

The ever-present “Would you please eat?!” grated on my nerves. He’d bring me food for several years of our relationship, but not in a loving, caring, concerned way (I do like it when I’m sick and a guy has the sense to bring me soup or Italian food. There’s something very nurturing about that.), but in an extremely controlling manner. As soon as I gained about 15 pounds from this constant influx of food, I was suddenly told the exact opposite. Now I wasn’t thin enough, I was becoming the woman who he didn’t want anyone else looking at. What was so shameful about being curvy? He’d have a fit whenever we’d be somewhere and someone else would check me out. I was not the one doing the looking, yet he was suddenly paranoid that anyone who checked me out was somehow going to end up in my bed. It was eye-rollingly ridiculous.

He’d do something shitty, and I’d be “rewarded” with jewelry or flowers, sometimes both, depending on the situation. It got to a point where I began to loathe the pink & purple roses I loved so much. To this day if someone sends me roses, I cringe inside. He would promise to be somewhere I needed him to be, but was almost always off feeding his drug habit, or as I would later find out through a friend, a habit for other women.

It was demanded upon me that I be 100% faithful. That was not an issue because I’d never cheated on someone and wasn’t about to start, but because he was the one doing all the cheating, he started having people follow me to find out what I was doing every time I left the house. Stalker much?! It was sick. It was also an excuse.

I’d had enough after confronting someone he often had tail me, and I put my foot down. I’m not big on ultimatums, but he needed to hear what his behavior was doing, that it was unhealthy and damaging, and completely unwarranted and unacceptable. It came down to this: He needed to return to rehab, fully commit to it, and he then needed to be clean & sober for a year before I would agree to marriage. It was time for him to prove that he was worthy of me, not the other way around.

He went to rehab for a few months, coming back apologetic, and for a while things were simply tense. We talked, but clearly he was refusing to hear me. He was about to do something he’d probably been considering for quite some time, and simply hadn’t been man enough to say to my face. With marriage promised, it probably made me believe a slew of lies I was too smart to actually buy into in the first place, but there was something slightly blinding & intoxicating about it. But the truth of the matter is, it was just plain toxic.

The problem with relationships slowly turning abusive is that, initially, we think we’re in the right relationship with the right person, until suddenly, we’re not.

For years after this relationship ended I’d hear “Oh, LET IT GO!” whenever I mentioned how hurt, angry, or betrayed I felt; as if emotions could be turned on and off like a faucet. How could I not feel all of those things?! Saying “I love you” is not a cure-all. Actions speak louder than words. His actions were atrocious.

With a ring solidly on my finger, he married someone else, just weeks after saying we were good and moving in the right direction, that he was trying. I had to find out via an announcement his new wife was sending to friends & family. She was pregnant before they even said “I do.” He would go on to have several children with her, each time choosing names we had decided on for our future offspring. That was the icing on the cake. I seriously worried about my ability to be around him in any capacity after that, so I disengaged. I made sure that whenever he’d be around, I would not be present. Hurting someone you claim to love in such a manner is vile, but to then go on living your life as if said loved one never existed is even worse. I started to think I was losing my mind. If it had not been for the fact that I knew the relationship had occurred, and exactly what I had endured, I’d have felt like I was being erased, or replaced.

Up until a few years ago, he & I continued to have mutual friends. I finally got tired of hearing the lies and cut everyone off. “He asked about you.”, “He hopes you’re all right. He just wants you to be happy.”, “He cares about you.” PLEASE! He never cared in the first place, it was a fucking game to him. No matter how many times I would ask these friends not to relay anything he said about me, it would come up in conversation, until I finally changed my phone number and said “No more.”

Not one to eat bullshit politely with a knife and fork, I have gone out of my way to avoid him since all of this went down. I have nothing to be embarrassed about. I didn’t do anything wrong, except believe in a person I shouldn’t have given the time of day to, but hey, we all make mistakes. Avoiding him is my way of remaining a healthy, non-toxic human-being.

I know eventually, at some point, we will run into one another, and I pray that I am not carrying a loaded weapon that day or wearing particularly high heels because even though people tell me I’m not a damaging, harmful person to be around, and that I’d never willingly hurt someone, I cannot promise the desire to harm him won’t be there. Some of the rage goes away with time, but any time the relationship is mentioned or I come across something from that time period, I am flooded with everything I thought I’d already moved past. For me, that lets me know the damage runs deep. It does not, nor will it ever, mean that I care about him. I don’t. I wouldn’t spit on this man if he was on fire.

Once I no longer love/respect someone, my emotions will often turn to pity, anger (at myself & the other person involved), & my anger is a burning rage that can simmer and bubble for years until it is truly out of my system. If the anger is unjustified, it eventually dwindles and the flames put out, but if it IS justified, stay the hell out of my way. I can go from zero to bitch in about half a second.

Unfortunately, there are so many different kinds of abuse in the world, that it’s sometimes hard to pinpoint if you are the abused or the abuser. Sometimes you are simultaneously both, even if you don’t intend to be.

Writing this makes me feel a bit like I’m back in Psych class, but I’ve been revisiting certain things lately, which is why I am writing about such a personal, private matter. If what I’m saying helps even one person get out of a toxic relationship, then that’s important and necessary.

If you’re in any kind of relationship where your words and feelings are being defined in an incorrect manner, where you are constantly insulted and berated, it is time to take a closer look at this relationship. Thinking this person is “the best you can do”, having low, little, or no self-esteem, or coming from a “people pleasing” type of family are all potential signs you’ve probably overlooked. Most people do. When you’ve been taught that everything around you is “normal” and a part of your daily life, you stop questioning things. You begin to lose your inner voice. Once you lose your inner voice, you start to become everything the abuser has defined you as. Your thoughts, feelings, actions, everything is now completely defined by someone else. Moreover, you question yourself and promise yourself you’ll be better for them, that you will do everything right, not realizing that your life is your own, and it is not owned by someone else.

I am a product of abuse. Not just from the relationship I am talking about, but from my childhood. I am very forthcoming about that fact when approached, but generally I keep such things to myself. However, when a person comes to me and needs help, I am the first person to listen, and the first to say something.

For many, many years I handled the abuse (verbal, emotional, and physical) by throwing myself into my writing and my singing. One day I snapped; I’d had enough. I was 100% committed in the fact that I’d kill the other person and spend my life in jail, but I believed in my cause because I was protecting two other people. I took the brunt of everything so they wouldn’t have to. To this day, one of those people denies that 99% of the abuse ever occurred. It must be nice living in such a warped bubble of false memories, but I know what I lived, I know what I saw, and it is sad for me to see this person deny the abuse and become the abuser themselves. If you correct this person, or disagree with them, they will say YOU are abusing THEM. It’s a vicious cycle, however, I know that by standing up and saying ENOUGH, and being committed to putting a stop to it, that I did the right thing. If I hadn’t, I’d be in jail now. Or worse.

People are often shocked to learn that I’ve been through such things. I don’t deny being strong and confident, and I don’t deny that I will say something is wrong when it is wrong, regardless of who is saying it. I will admit to being wrong on the rare occasion that I am. But I will not allow myself to live a life of abuse. I won’t allow someone to define me, to disrespect me, to use me, to tell me what I think, to tell me where to go, or tell me what I am allowed to do. When someone behaves that way around me, I am very happy to show them the door. I know I deserve better.

I look for different things in people now, and I always pay attention to my intuition. It is an immense part of who I am. If someone or something seems too good to be true, then it probably is. If something feels innately wrong, re-evaluate it and follow your instincts. Intuition will never lie to you, but the heart will. If your relationship involves young children, get out NOW. You do not want your child/children to be affected by the abuse inflicted upon their mother in front of them. I know people who have stayed in these relationships because they believed that taking their children out of the home during the formative years was the worst possible thing they could do. It’s not. The worst thing you can do is stay and allow them to think that what they’re hearing, seeing, and living is normal. If you get out early enough, you will save yourself and your child/children a fortune in therapy bills.

Once upon a time, I was a moron. It won’t happen again, because I am firmly committed to not allowing it. No one defines me, except me.

*If you need help getting out of an abusive/unhealthy relationship or are living with domestic violence and don’t know where to turn please go to any of the following organizations for assistance: http://soarinri.org/  http://leavingabuse.com/, http://www.thehotline.org/, http://www.nrcdv.org/dvam/,http://www.teendvmonth.org/, etc.

Do not be afraid to search the Internet or the Yellow Pages for additional resources available to you in your area/country. If your abuser uses the same computer, always be sure to delete your browsing history to protect yourself from additional harm, or go to the library if available and search for information there.*

“Once Upon A Time”, and all material herein, unless otherwise indicated and credited to its owner(s), is copyright © 2013-2015 by Lisa Marino & Blackbird Serenity LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Out Of The Ashes

Out Of The Ashes

One of the first PILD pieces I ever wrote was about drug addiction. It was an incredibly poignant piece of prose, but the basic theme was this: Anyone can become addicted to prescription pain medicine. This is a simple fact.

This is a new blog, and since many of the readers may not know me from “…..And The Moon Sees All”, let me clarify why I am writing about this particular subject.

In 2003, I believe, after years of bizarre pain and recurring injuries that I could not explain, a doctor sat me down and said “All of your tests have come back negative. Your blood work is good, everything’s negative. Your MRI is clear. Your x-rays only show the spinal issues that the MRI showed 4 years ago. Have you ever heard of Fibromyalgia?” I had only heard about it in passing, I did not know a lot about it. Not much was known about it on a whole, but in all honesty, I was a little too distracted, because knowing that what I had was not Lupus was much more prevalent in my mind.

My world changed that afternoon, and has continued to change every day since then. I finally had answers for what was plaguing me. Unfortunately, I did not know just how much the disease itself would plague my life, what it would take away, the time it would rob me of, and I still have no idea what it will do to me in the future.

When all of the pain began, I was put on several different types of pain medication and a muscle relaxer as the standard operating procedure. Coming from a background where I had worked for a professional athlete who’d had his demons with pain medication, I was not a fan of what this entailed. I was not going to become a person that lived her life based on her next dose, nor was I going to become this person that abused what she was given. To this day, I am still one of the most responsible users of medication that I know.

As the years have come and gone, I’ve pretty much adhered to a 2-3 times a day policy, even on my worst days. Technically I am allowed 8-10 pills per day. Many years ago, when the medication simply wasn’t strong enough because I’d been on it for so long, I was taking the maximum allowed dose every single day. Eventually, it all stopped working and I lost my patience. I then weaned myself off of it and now, on the absolute worst days, I will only take something at night. During the day I will take Tylenol or Aleve, but at night, I allow myself the prescription. On days when I cannot move a muscle or get out of bed, I might allow myself a morning pill, but I’ll definitely chastise myself over it.

Millions of people suffer from Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain. There are a laundry list of side effects from each and the truth is, to this day, I still don’t know for sure if I have one or the other, or a combination thereof. My doctors have been lax. They have found it easier to refill prescriptions and try to refer me elsewhere because what I am going through is truly out of their wheelhouse.

I took very high doses of Cymbalta for 8 years and it did give me aspects of my life back. I almost felt like a regular person again. However, once it stopped working, I could no longer go back on it. I have tried multiple times at the 20 mg level (the lowest dose possible) and even that is too high a dose for my body now. I have tried Lyrica and while I know it helps some people, for me personally, I think it is a seriously awful drug. It was like being 100% aware in a coma. In turn, I’m not touching Savella with a ten foot pole.

My first referral was to a pain management center where they spend the entire day performing epidurals and nerve blocks. Strictly speaking, unless you are done having kids (which I am NOT, and obviously this only applies to women), you shouldn’t be using this as a form of pain relief unless you’ve chosen not to have kids. The risk of an epidural wearing off for me in the future in the middle of childbirth is a risk I am not willing to take. I spoke with my doctor about it and he was mortified that this was the only option being made available to me. He agreed with my perspective and said that if I went through with it, I would absolutely have one fail during childbirth. At that point, I was left without options.

I have tried experimental medications, some of which have only recently been approved for the treatment of Chronic Pain. One in particular robbed me of a week of my life, I will never take it again. I have done several courses of Eastern Medicine and while some of it worked well, others were so temporary that I don’t feel like two hours of pain relief is worth spending a week in bed. Herbs are not addictive, but you do continue to seek pain relief from them if they work. It becomes a different type of pattern, albeit a natural one that isn’t habit-forming.

My next step in this lengthy, exhausting process is a Fibromyalgia specialist. Yes, they do exist, but they’re hard to find and it’s not easy to get on a waiting list to see one. Many of them do not take any form of insurance, except Medicare, so they definitely don’t make it easy for you to seek out pain relief and the proper treatment method for your body. However, I am determined to get in to see the one in my area, even if that means a 6+ month wait, or longer.

I did nothing to cause the Fibromyalgia from creeping into my body and systematically trying to take over. There is a widespread belief that it is caused by physical and/or emotional trauma in your life, and the on-set is different for everyone. It is widely speculated that mine was caused due to a gymnastics injury that lingers to this day, but the truth is, my doctor was simply going over my history and looking for a particular physically traumatic event to try to help me find some closure as to how it may have happened. We will never truly know with any certainty.

Some people have Fibromyalgia or Chronic Pain so mildly, that their flare-ups are just a few days per month. Others are experiencing pain so severe that they cannot function or take care of themselves, their lives change in the blink of an eye. None of us WANT to end up in wheelchairs, but I keep hearing about it and that is incredibly scary to me.

This disease is like many, it is a predator. It targets anyone, it does not discriminate. It can, and it does, happen to anyone.

So, the next time someone tells you they have Fibromyalgia, do not tell them they “don’t look sick”. I can’t tell you how often I get told that I “look great”. Yes, and it takes me 5 hours to look that way.

Don’t judge someone with any form of Chronic Pain or Fibromyalgia. Do some research and do what you can to lighten their load, even if it means cleaning a room for them when you can, taking them to doctors appointments when you are able, or cooking for them so that they don’t have to struggle in their attempts to put a meal together for themselves and/or their family. Be a supportive ear, and don’t take it personally when they inevitably have to cancel plans with you constantly because the pain is too much. They aren’t doing it on purpose, they don’t hate or dislike you, but they DO hate their pain. Do what you can to put their mind at ease. Be kind, be courteous, and above all, treat them the way you’d want to be treated if you found yourself in the same position tomorrow. If they weren’t able to go with you to see that movie, bring it to them when it comes out on DVD and provide them with a fun movie night at home. Make them comfortable. Show them that you care. Take their pain seriously and they will respect you for that. If you walk away from them thinking that they’re faking it or that it’s “all in their head”, pause for a second and factor in the simplicity of karma.