Tag Archives: post-divorce dating

I Oughtta Have My Head…

#11 in my ongoing book blogs from “Don’t Try This at Home”

After my divorce and the saga with Rebound Dan back East, did I mention dating in California? I did meet several fellows who looked promising at first.  Harvey the Vet, whom I met at a church dance no less, didn’t work out; turned out his dad beat him as a kid and he  couldn’t trust.  And yes there were enough PTSD stories to raise the hair on the back of a gecko’s neck.  But more in Chapter 4: Post-Divorce Dating.

Then there was Pete the high-priced management consultant.  We met in late 2007 when I had a brief binge on Match.com in an attempt to  replace Dan, another California dream that never seemed to materialize.

St Pauli NA cropPete read The New Yorker and Alan Greenspan’s biography, took me to Zagat-rated restaurants, and toured me in his Lexus from fine museums to the LA Book Fair.  He was a perfect gentleman, articulate, earnestly seeking a relationship, loved music and dancing, and generally on the up and up I was sure.

Pete was the first to say that I ought to have my head examined.

We talked by phone in early July 2008 while I was alone back East after my Dad died and Dan ditched me.  Pete concurred that it was definitely a problem to be unable to cry over my Dad, and so he opined that I ought to see a shrink.

Interesting source for the diagnosis.

Pete at first drank St. Pauli Girl NA.  That stands for “non-alcoholic” but Whu Nhu?  Not me, your clueless Singing Nun; it went right by me.  Then, after six months he’d have a glass of wine with dinner; a few weeks later it was a bottle of wine, then by the time I got back to California later in July 2008, it was a bottle of vodka for dessert, after which Pete physically passed out on his elegant glass coffee table. The last time he asked me out, I pulled up to the restaurant to find Pete outside with a Manhattan in a can. “Please put that away, it’s me or the booze,” I said. He popped the lid, I drove off, and never saw him again.

Five months later, shortly after New Years 2009, his boss informed  me that Pete, 55, had overdosed and died alone with his three cats in his upscale home steps from the sand on Huntington Beach.  At the funeral, just before I sang Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” Pete’s ex revealed that here was no average businessman who’d only had an accident. Pete, she said dolefully, had been in and out of expensive alcoholic rehab clinics like Betty Ford since the age of 15.  He died of sheer blood loss when his gut walls rotted through.

Could have fooled me.  “Gosh, the guy market’s in a lot worse shape than I thought,” I said. “Beware of men who cover up their past,” I emailed the girls.  Oh, men, men, men.

But what I couldn’t grasp was the truth.  Despite Pete’s elaborate fronts and apparent virtues, it was remarkable: I had once again found someone who couldn’t attach.  I had no way to know he was an alcoholic when we met, right?  But in fact, anyone who drank that hard for 40 years would have had his head so far up a bottle that there wasn’t much of his mind left for emotional contact of any sort. Not with man, woman, nor beast (pity the three cats).

What nutty part of my subconscious had sniffed out another of these “No Attachment” folks and bought it again?

If you’d ever have told me, as late as 2005, that I’d move to California, land of fruit and nuts, I’d have rolled my eyes. If you’d told me that I’d move to California and get a therapist for Heaven’s sake, I would have laughed my level New York head off. Who, me, the mortgage-paying, foreign exchange rate-slinging business gal?

But by July 2008, I was ready to believe Pete about one thing:  I definitely needed to have my head examined.

I thawt I Thaw a Thewapist  

I did, I did. I thaw TWO thewapists.  Therapist?  Therapist? Oh the thshame of it all; society so stigmatizes us for even thinking about it.

Group Therapy-Family AgainOut of the dating shark pool I stumbled, into the therapy jungle. That’s right, I took the plunge, despite the massive social condemnation, the incredible expense, and the huge time commitment.  I threw myself into treatment heart and soul for seven months, out of genuine alarm at my own mental state.

How did I find a therapist in the dark depths of 2008?  What an act of science.  Back before my Dad died, I was googling “singles events” in the local Orange County CA on-line newspaper.  Amongst the dances, jazz concerts and “Chocolate Lovers of America” events, (seriously, I kept the printout filed) up came a meeting tagged “Support for singles dealing with divorce.”

Armed with nothing but divorce grief and emotional pain, my friend Lola and I sallied forth to that weekly group earlier in 2008 – without a goal or a clue.  But on July 19, 2008, back I went with a vengeance, this time looking for serious answers about my sorry psyche.  Here’s what my notes report:

Dr. Matt went around the room of 8-10 women, asking each what brought us in. “I’ve moved seven times in two years,” Lola said to my shock, though once again I thought I knew the person well. “I left my husband, moved in with my daughter, then with my boyfriend, then I left him. I just keep moving. I’m miserable everywhere I go. No wonder I can’t find someone to love me – I don’t even love me.”

“I lost a 27-year marriage, my Dad died, then I was dumped by the rebound guy and he’s all I can think about,” I said.  “I feel like I’m crazy because I can’t cry about my Dad.  I don’t want to go to work or go out or do much of anything but cry.”

The other women had husbands deeply sunk into substance abuse who were wrecking their finances, or who repeatedly cheated on them in long-term unhappy marriages, or husbands who abandoned them and their small children.

What’s a “Codependent”?

What could Dr. Matt do but explain the concept of a codependent?  “What’s the definition of a codependent?” he asked.  “When a codependent dies, someone else’s life flashes before their eyes.”  Everything he said was spot on; my notes prove it:

“When a child experiences emotionally unavailable parents and is abandoned, ignored, heavily criticized, or feels substantial tension at home, the child is convinced very young not just that they have done something bad, but that they themselves ARE bad,” he reported. “Children cannot externalize cause and effect; in a child’s mind, everything revolves around ‘me.’  When a child sees parents fighting or other stressful behavior, the child thinks it is the cause. When a parent is an alcoholic or a workaholic or otherwise absent, the child thinks it is to blame or they wouldn’t have gone away.

“When even worse parents overtly blame the child, unjustly since it’s a child, the child cannot separate fiction from reality, and again thinks:  ‘I am bad.’  When parents are emotionally unavailable in this way, it creates a false belief structure lodged deep in a child’s subconscious that ‘I am bad.’ ”

“I am bad”? To my shock, suddenly I was resonating on all cylinders. Yikes, there was a part of me that had felt that way ever since I could remember.

My parents were thoroughly clean and upright, never drank or smoked or did anything but work – but they did fight and get angry.  And I sure had never felt they were “emotionally available” to me — what kind of nonsense is that anyway?

What do parents have to do with emotions?  I’d never even heard of the idea that parents were supposed to be emotionally anything with their kids.  Kids who had emotions weren’t behaving properly!  Isn’t it a parent’s job to get rid of emotions in kids, to get kids to grow up?

Trix rabbit caughtEmotions, like Trix, are for kids, right? Boy was I confused.

And then, just sitting there,  suddenly I was cowering in the back seat of the family car in grade school while my parents laced into each other up front. “Please don’t fight, please don’t be angry!” I scrawled madly in my notebook. “What did I do wrong? Why won’t you love me?”

Just like that, right out of nowhere, I was back in grade school.  Oh my.  And, asking my parents “Why won’t you love me?”  Huh?  I just found all this today in my dusty 2008 notebook. Wild.

Dr. Matt went on with his briefing. “Whenever family stress occurs, the child learns wrongly ‘I caused it, I broke it, I’ve got to fix it.’  That’s untrue, plus a child can’t possibly fix it,” he said. “But the child develops ‘repetition compulsion’ – later in life they are always trying to re-live the same childhood trauma, in order to master the situation, to go back and fix it.  It can’t work, it never does, but facts never get in the way of the deep subconscious when it’s bent on a compulsion.”

“Why are you sending me the message that I broke it and you are demanding that I fix it?” I scribbled madly, still bizarrely addressing my parents many decades ago.

Later in life, Dr. M. said, this child gravitates toward spouses and others who behave as the parents did, to people who are distant, angry, or who actually do need fixing – all people who are emotionally unavailable. “ ‘Oh, just like Mom or Dad. That’s a dance I know, I know how to relate to that,’ thinks the subconscious,” he said.

“The textbook case is the codependent wife always trying to rescue her alcoholic husband by paying his bills or covering up his bad behavior.  She’s blindly acting out a childhood repetition compulsion that she’s got to ‘fix it’ – just like as a child she had to cheer up Mom or appease angry Dad.  The original term was ‘co-alcoholic,’ because the fixing spouse is as dependent on the drug as the addict.  They need it around to maintain their subconscious childhood dynamic.”

Dr. M. even managed, hearing me for five minutes in a meeting of eight women, to diagnose my marriage and warn me against a particular brand of non-attaching men. “Enmeshment occurs in people who were too depended upon by one parent, usually the mother, as kids,” he explained, “in the absence of the other parent, usually an absent father. That’s unnatural, so for example, a son who became Mom’s substitute for his absent Dad, will have a deep felt need to escape from ‘too much Mom,’ whether Mom was angel or devil. As an adult, this man has an allergy against relationships; he always has one foot out the door.”

“Larry (my ex) always had one foot out the door!” I scribbled madly, trying to keep up.  “Larry’s Dad was always traveling on business in Europe and his mom made her first born son into a little emperor.  Plus yikes: Dan (the rebound) always had one foot out the door…”

Painting with a Hammer

With such brilliant insights we should quickly be cured, no? Dr. Matt’s words were true indeed. He did fail to mention that they are also the basics in most standard psychiatric textbooks, as I learned ‘way much later.  Too later…

Instead, the RX which came next hit me like a hammer: “You don’t need to go back and fix it. Just let it go,” said Dr. Matt.  Simple as that.  Just think your way out of it.  Just let your head tell your heart where to get off.

I didn’t know then, that this was all head talk, and that head talk has never transformed a heart in human history.  I didn’t know then, that brain science says the thinking frontal brain has virtually no power to influence the emotional limbic brain. [FN1]

“Trying to fix the heart with the head is like trying to paint with a hammer; it only makes a mess,” say John James and Russell Friedman,  the top experts on divorce grief and every other sort of grief. [FN2]  But I hadn’t heard of them yet.

“You know how to take care of others, that’s your expertise,” continued Dr. M.  “But you have another part of YOU that really needs caring for, your hurting child part – so eliminate the middleman.  Stop trying to take care of others, and take care of yourself instead.”  It did sound clever.

Then he lowered the boom. “Go to a safe place and introduce these two parts of you to each other,” he said. “It’s likely they’ve never met. Start with the wounded child part inside you, make sure you’re in a really safe place where the inner child feels safe. Then ask her, ‘Would it be ok to meet another part of yourself?’ Then introduce the care-giving adult part, to the hurting child part and leave them alone together so they can subconsciously process.”

“Leave them alone together?” After his barrage of terrific but crushing data, which had struck such a nerve gusher, this sudden conclusion left my head spinning. It sounded like a gobbledegook segue to nowhere; “go take a long walk off a short pier.” It was an answer to “Now What?” that made no sense whatsoever.

“Do it yourself,” he was telling me.  I had a sinking feeling.

I went home and diligently followed his advice — and I felt much, much worse.  In fact, after a week of trying this out, I got to where I was in such a flat-out panic that I was nauseous.

———————————
This is from Chapter 2 of Kathy’s forthcoming book DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment DisorderHow I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.  Watch for the continuing series of excerpts from her book every Friday, in which she explores her journey of recovery and shares the people and tools that have helped her along the way.

Footnotes

[FN1] Lewis, Thomas, Amini, Fari, Lannon, Richard; “A General Theory of Love”, Random House, 2000. Great link: www.paulagordon.com/shows/lannon/

[FN2] James, John W., Friedman, Russell, “The Grief Recovery Handbook,” Harper Collins, New York, 2009 (original 1998)

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Death and Taxes

#5 in my ongoing book series; original post August 16, 2013

This book was originally called “Death and Taxes,” a spoof on the ironic realities of dating in today’s American post-divorce shark pool.  At the time of my divorce, I was a consultant for several Washington DC arms merchants, and my friend Denise was an IRS official.  I was “death,” and she was “taxes.”

This was supposed to be funny because we were such soft-hearted, loving women; that is, two of the world’s worst co-dependents. It had the potential for a really wild movie script. Some day…

BrousBlog5a Ben Franklin“Our new Constitution is now established,and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” — Benjamin Franklin, 1789

We crossed paths the week both our marriages collapsed in 2006, raw, uninformed, and in extremis, at a women’s divorce law seminar just outside the Washington, D.C.  Beltway. “Unfortunately, Virginia is not New York or California, community property states where each gets half the assets,” the female lawyer announced. “In Virginia, ladies, you are basically up a tree. If you go to court, the legal fees will cost you whatever you get from a settlement–and then it’s a black box what the judge will do.  He could easily make you pay alimony to your husband.  If you don’t go to court, you might not get anything, either.”

On that unstable note, Denise and I looked at each other and said, “Doesn’t anyone want to network?” Nothing, in short, was certain–except Death and Taxes. We started to meet ad hoc in restaurants and call each other late at night for moral support.

The first thing we noticed was that neither of us had children (after her 20-year marriage and my then 26-year marriage to my college beau). This detail had hitherto escaped our attention. Had I focused on it at the outset, I might have had an earlier clue that something was wrong, not just with my ex, but with my ability to attach. Until I addressed me, anything else I did would lead in circles. But I didn’t.

Instead, we did what everyone else does: we blamed our spouses. They didn’t want children; they were the problem. Later we realized that these were men who couldn’t attach. Women at the legal seminar would ask each other, “why did you get divorced?” and the cause was always the same: inability to attach.

For example, Denise benefitted financially from her marriage. She would wow visitors from the women’s center with tours of her stately home with swimming pool near the CIA. Her antique tables were piled high with albums of photos of their exotic international travels.

But ascending to the second floor, she would escort visitors to a certain room. Inside, all four walls were filled with rank upon rank of book shelves, shelves along every inch of wall. On the shelves were arrayed: Teddy bears. Rows of pink Teddy bears. Rows of blue Teddy bears. Calico Teddy bears. Teddy bears in cowboy suits. Teddy bears dressed as firemen. Purple People Eater Teddy bears. Teddy bears in tuxedos and top hats and sequined gowns and tiaras. Naked normal Teddy bears.

Denise got to where she developed a dramatic flair for all this. She would silently allow a gal to enter the room, take in the scene, let it sink in, pause, then sweep her arm in the grand manner and proclaim: “And this, is Donald’s teddy bear collection.” Donald was her ex.

Clearly, Donald had better uses for his time, than attaching to Denise. One fine day, he summarily left her for his dental hygienist. She never saw a thing coming and wept for months.

It wasn’t until years later that we realized: he never presented her with the challenge to attach, so she stayed and stayed–until he made it physically impossible for the relationship to go on. Not she.

In a sick system too long

No one at the women’s center could believe the situation I stayed in so long. My ex was sweet during our early years in New York, but once he moved us to the Virginia suburbs of Washington, away from the mobility of the subways, he had me where he wanted me and lost interest.  Larry literally got in his car and left one morning and never came back until past midnight–for years.  I was lucky to see him on Sundays.

Larry had his businesses, his political ambitions, his expensive tennis and other sports, and I was the junior partner assigned to support his mission. I got to be the out-front sales gal and fly around the world doing international economic consulting, while he stayed in his office behind the scenes. In my ten years of global travel, he never made a single trip with me; there was no one with whom to share all those memories; he’d hardly look at the photos.

BrousBlog5b Cat You got a Puppy I’d return from two weeks in Tokyo and Seoul to find that the litter box for our two good-sized indoor cats had not been touched by human hands since I’d left. The cats, at least, had the presence of mind to feel abandoned.

With all his high-level talk it never hit me, but by the mid ’90s, it would have been clear to anyone with eyes to see: under all the words, Larry lived by the law of the jungle. He had less than zero regard for my personal welfare. One day I got a lucrative consulting gig, and before I knew it, he’d quit working and had me out paying the mortgage.

Soon he had me working two jobs, 14 hour days, 6 or 7 days a week. This went on for ten years. The money was gambled away in his business and political schemes; periodically he’d present me with his credit cards run into the $20-$30,000 debt range and say “take care of it.”

I began to suspect something when I finally googled “marital abuse” and read on a George Washington University women’s website that domestic abuse comes in many forms. I was shocked to read that it need not be obvious physical beating or rape, but that there are such things as purely emotional, verbal, and financial abuse which are still abuse for sure. I’d been clueless. “Whu Nu? He was the Prime Minister of Burma after U Thant,” became my running gag on myself.

While it was dawning on me that I was in deep kimche which could not be thought away by singing “Stand by Your Man” another ten years, Larry began taking the equity out of our home. Late one night, he demanded I sign a $280K refinance. When I refused and tried to leave the house, he got physically brutal, bellowing “You’ve got to protect my credit rating.”

I ran for the bathroom and locked myself in, but never thought of calling 911 on the man I loved (never even crossed my mind another two years). At dawn, I crawled out, signed the papers, then looked at myself in the bathroom mirror and said, “You just signed your life away because you’re afraid to be alone at this age.” I was at the women’s center in days.

Why try to change death or taxes? I’d lived for years as though abuse in relations was just as inevitable. “You’ve been in a sick system so long, you’re numb to it,” Dr. Henry Cloud says; “All your life what was done to you in the name of love was the furthest thing from love.”1 In fact, I was so numb, so frozen, that I was dissociated.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized: But he never presented me with the need to attach, and so I stayed, no matter how miserable I was. And stayed, and stayed, until he made it physically impossible to go on. Not me. He had to beat me into leaving.

Who Dunnit?

Next I blamed the economic decline for badly impacting men. The stealth cause of America’s 50% divorce rate, I thought, must be the economic dislocation tearing society apart. Just as the stock market did not look good, I decided that neither did the guy market. Men were too depressed, too stressed out or too emasculated by the rotten economy to connect emotionally.

BrousBlog5c Work ItI wrote the preceding sentence in 2006, and on the surface, it’s stood up well. More recently this has been dubbed the “mancession,” recession for men.

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, between December 2007 and June 2009, jobs held by men made up 70% of all jobs lost, to the point that TV sitcoms about men posing as women to get hired such as “Work It” have emerged.

Men, when all is said and done, have the need to be builders. They are not all hunters or predators. It is men who build sailing ships and cities and airplanes and travel to the moon, and write things like Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony which require tremendous courage–all of the things which I admire so. We just don’t see a lot of women doing that, because women have a different, important job. A real woman ought to recognize, applaud, and appreciate men for doing their job. But what happens when the economy dies and we pull that rug out from under a man’s feet?

“You betcha! This was a matter of reality and necessity in my generation,” exploded one retired engineer who spent a lifetime building missiles at Boeing, upon hearing my theory. “The Cold War was for real; we had to make those rockets work–or Americans could die. Take away the sense of national mission, and you pull the rug out from under a man’s sense of potency. Do that, and how can men have the self-respect to really love a woman, especially when the women are not as connected to the economic reality and do not understand what is going on?”

Yes, it’s been a nasty economy. But what went wrong with these marriages?  Who Dunnit?  Let the reader beware.

This book spills out onto the page, how I found out the hard way. You will see through my eyes exactly what was in my consciousness (and it wasn’t much at first!) as I walk you through events as I experienced them. You’ve got a ring-side seat in the first row of my astonished brain as I enter a maelstrom which would make Edgar Allan Poe pass out. I do this to you because otherwise you will neither understand nor believe what happens as this mess unfolds. There is no other way to make this story credible.

——————————–

This is part one of Chapter One of Kathy’s forthcoming book DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment DisorderHow I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all. Watch for the continuing series of excerpts from the rest of her book every Friday, in which she explores her journey of recovery and shares the people and tools that have helped her along the way.

Footnotes
FN1  Cloud, Henry, PhD, “Getting Love on the Inside,” Lecture CD, April 2002),   http://www.cloudtownsend.com/resources/, {Co-author with Townsend, John, PhD, of the bestseller “Boundaries,” Zondervan, 2004)

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