2020: I landed in an unfamiliar airport and waited for 2 strangers to pick me up in a car to drive me to an unknown destination. Our 2 hour car ride included awkward chatting and uncomfortable silences. We were all the same: broken women, with uniquely similar stories, seeking validation. Cautious hyper-vigilance discouraged any easy dialogue between us. I was part of a rather fantastic dance I would have preferred to watch, instead of participate in.
I am an introvert by nature, and the anticipation of interacting with new people in a strange environment for a 3 day retreat was almost too much for my already taxed nervous system. However, my intuition knew this was a space I needed to enter.
As we drove over hills, on one lane roads, and through valleys and woods, our minds questioned the map we were given. Dreaded triggers, prompted by surges of adrenalin, flooded our systems. Even when our phone service became spotty, none of us commented because we didn’t trust each other yet.
Finally, our refuge peaked through trees. My car-mates visibly relaxed and my tense shoulders removed themselves from my ears.
We were at a retreat for abused women hosted by Lundy Bancroft, author of Why do They Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. The book changed my life and the lives of the other women at the retreat by giving us words to define our tumultuous lives.
I found lifetime friends at this retreat and one of those friends has given me permission to share parts of her story.
"I sat in the middle of the driveway. My head felt like lead and my heart thundered in my chest. I was nauseous. I was too shocked to say anything but wanted to scream in rage at the same time.
An explosion of unpleasant vibrations seared a scar into my core.
I watched her walk away and did nothing.
There wasn’t anything I could do.
I had already fought in courts, begged them to provide justice, and scraped through impending financial ruin to try to protect my children.
And then this happened. She turned away from me.
The one I gave birth to.
The one I patiently rocked, nightly, dreaming of how I would give her a future.
The one I whose forehead I tenderly kissed.
The one I taught to say, “Mama.”
The one who ran after me giggling and begging to be tickled.
The one who plopped in my arms when she was hurt.
The one who posed for silly pictures as I memorialized her growth.
The one who asked me to braid her hair.
The one who loved creating our special crafts.
The one …
The one …
And now, this.
Just like that.
None of it was her fault. The divorce was too much for her. Her brain was in trauma. Her brain screamed like my brain, utterly confused.
At 14, she was gone. She chose covert manipulations over my well intentioned discipline.
My supporters told me,
'Just stay present. She will come back.'
'Be strong. She needs to see you brave.'
'Love her through the hard. She wants to feel your support.'
But they didn’t see the fury in her eyes.
They didn’t see the resentment she held for me.
They didn’t see her disgust.
And as she walked away, my anguished heart saw her little toddler legs leaving me.
Leaving me wondering, how did my life get here?"
Today, her daughter is 17. She’s been raped. She’s been given drugs, alcohol, and removed from therapy.
She chose her father’s care because he gave her imbecilic freedom at 14. Did he choose this indirect, punitive act to emotionally harm her mother, Amy?
Amy’s life is a history of moments woven into her soul story. I'm going to continue sharing snippets of Amy's story to provide ideas, hopes, and survival suggestions if you are in a divorce with a high conflict individual.
How could Amy have shifted this situation and kept her daughter from choosing her dad? I don't think she could have. Sadly, her story is not uncommon. Clients often experience this unnerving situation.
How does a mom survive this? Community. Amy had friends, support from our retreat, and people she could scream with, cry with and find hope with. Community is indispensable.
Personally, I don't believe her divorce is high conflict, as our system currently labels this type of situation. Rather, one person thrives on contentious communication, leaving the other individual participating in a game of undefined rules, which leads to high conflict. It is a person, not the divorce, who is "high conflict."