The Courage to Heal

sunriseOne of the themes I find among my GPYB clients as well as the readers here who post and are not clients is that it is rare themselves credit for facing the truth about things, facing their own inner demons, revisiting the hurtful past in order to heal it and becoming part of the SOLUTION in the world, instead of the problem.

If you accept unacceptable behavior, you are sending the message, “It’s okay to hurt me.” and if it’s okay to hurt YOU, it’s okay to hurt someone else…your son or daughter, your grandchildren, your friends. And it is NOT. When we say, “WHOA, this is not okay there Mr. or Ms. Bananahead…” they may or may not listen…chances are if they are really deranged and/or dysfunctional, they will just hurry along to their next victim. They are done with YOU because you will not play the game where you lose each and every time.

Narcissists only want their victim so long as the victim reflects back to them that they are God’s gift to the Universe. The minute you say so much as “Ow,” you are toast. You have lost your value. And it NEVER comes back.

Sociopaths only want their victim to toy with. It’s a cat and mouse game and they enjoy the game the way a cat sits and watches the mouse try to flee. The cat lets the mouse get almost to the door and then the claws come out and they pull them back in. In a cat and mouse game with a sociopath, you will always be the mouse. You will always think you are getting away and then the giant claws come out to pull you back. “I am not done with you,” says the sociopath. You are only as good as you are still alive and trying to get away. But at some point the sociopath loses interest and then you are done. Dead. Tattered and torn. A lifeless body laying on the floor. I’ve had cats who occasionally behead their mice. You might be beheaded. A headless lifeless form on the floor. Did your life matter? You were prey. You were a victim. You learned nothing and taught nothing. How did it matter? It didn’t.

I’ve told the story on here of my aunt who was a relationship addict/love addict etc. I’ll tell it again for those who are new.

For many years she was a Georgia belle. She started life as an orphaned girl from Staten Island. She was the oldest of 4 girls and had 3 older brothers and 1 younger brother. There were 3 older boys, my aunt who is the subject of this, my other aunt, my mother, my other aunt and then my uncle was the youngest. So 8 kids. Their mother got breast cancer and died when my mother was 5. The youngest 4 went to an orphanage and later to a foster home. The orphanage was a terrible and brutal place…but those 4 were together. My aunt and the other brothers were dispersed to orphanages and then to foster homes…they were separated from their other siblings. The 4 youngest remained close all their lives, the older 4 had a really tough time of life. Their father was an alcoholic who gave them to the orphanages and later visited them all as adults to ask for money.

So my aunt went to work when she was about 12. She was very good at sewing and cosmetics and got a job in a factory. It was truly a “hard knock” life. It was the height of the Depression and their lives just grew dull and dim. Then she got pregnant at 18. The story is that someone slipped something in her drink and the identity of the man was unknown. The story goes that she was at the end of her rope. No home (her foster family kicked her out,) no family (she had not reunited with her siblings yet,) no money and no hope of keeping her job now that she was a single girl who was pregnant.

She met (I am not sure how) an older man who thought she was gorgeous (she was) and sweet (jury was out on that one as she had a temper that maybe didn’t develop until later but she was known for her temper so who knows when it showed up…she had much to be angry about.)

So the older man married her, brought her home to Georgia where they lived in luxury and they raised her daughter (he called her his daughter and she was their only child.) My aunt liked to style hair so he sent her to beautician school and bought her a hair salon. They lived in a big beautiful house in Savannah with an in-ground swimming pool (we were in the Bronx and the idea of an in-ground swimming pool was completely foreign to us. We opened fire hydrants in the summer to get cool!) AN INGROUND SWIMMING POOL???? Oh my goodness. To us you had to be a BILLIONAIRE to have such a thing!!! They also had maids and butlers and a few cars. We had NO car and obviously no maid or butler. When I watched the Beverly Hillbillies the house reminded me of theirs with the see-ment pond and everything. Savannah is beautiful and complete with gorgeous scenery and weeping willow trees.

My aunt developed a southern accent and acted like the proper Southern belle. You would NEVER know that she was raised in Staten Island or had been orphaned or poor. She played the role to the hilt.

When her daughter (also gorgeous like her mom) was grown (about 18 I think…I was young when this happened. Her daughter was about 15 years older than me.) she married a nice man and had 5 beautiful children. What I remember about them was how blond and tan they all were as opposed to us pasty-faced New Yorkers. They visited New York and we were always running away to Georgia when my mother was angry at my father. Being a good codependent, she would rage at him…he, being a passive aggressive alcoholic, said nothing. When your qualifier says nothing and you are full of rage, you need to ratchet it up, which is what she did. She would threaten to commit suicide (nothing from him,) she would pack our things and we were running away (nothing from him,) she would throw things at him like a 10 gallon coffee pot (he moved out of the way and left the house.) We usually went to Grand Central Station and put our suitcases in the lockers they used to have where the restaurants are now (on top of the central area) and go to a movie (you could see first runs of movies in Times Square before it played in any other area of the city or the country) and out to eat (we went to the Howard Johnson’s when it used to be there (it closed only a few years ago…it was a shell of its former self, but I was sad to see it go.))

So sometimes we made it and sometimes we did not. The best thing was a SLEEPING CAR on the train. I still have a thing for trains and sleeping cars and have been all over the US and both coasts on overnight trains!

Anyway, her husband died. It seemed as if life just fell apart. Her early upbringing, which may have been kept at bay by the charmed life she was living, came flying back in full force. She started relationships with a series of men – drunken losers one and all (dad? is that you dad?) and each one was worst than the last…taking more of her money and abusing her more. Within just a few short years she was living in a trailer park and she lost that trailer when the man (husband 3 or 4 at that point) physically picked her up and threw her out of the trailer, breaking her leg. She left, he got the trailer, and she had just about nothing. Her daughter and son-in-law tried to save her many times and each time she wound up leaving and finding some guy. Whenever she marshalled any kind of money together, she then marshalled together some guy to take it.

Over the years it got worse, if you can believe it. The last time I saw her was when my mother was dying and she came to stay for a while and stole her morphine. A huge fight ensued between her and my other aunt (who never fought with anyone really) and she left and didn’t even come back for the funeral. That was very odd as she just wasn’t the type to miss an opportunity to be histrionic. Throwing herself on her baby sister’s casket would have been the thing that people expected from her at that time.

The next thing I heard she was dead. Beaten up by the man she was living with IN HER CAR. She was in her 70s, living in a car, and beaten to death by the latest “boyfriend.”

When I heard the news and the circumstances, I thought, “But for the grace of God go I.” She had a gorgeous daughter, wonderful son-in-law and 5 gorgeous grandchildren and several gorgeous great grandchildren. What more did she want? Need?

That could have been me and I would not kid myself nor anyone else into trying to think it would not be. Many who would love to deny that they would ever be in this awful situation are simply fooling themselves. We slide down, down, down, without even realizing it. We are fooled by our own complacency, we are lulled into thinking, “I’m not that bad…” when, in reality, we ARE that bad, and getting worse by the day.

Whenever someone tells me that I may have just “matured” away from being with abusive men, I think of this story. Whenever someone tells me that I would have “smartened up anyway,” without therapy or support groups, I think of this story.

We can go our whole lives and have it all, lose it all, and never figure out how to get it back.

That is why it is SO important to do your work and understand that you have a duty to yourself and to the world to straighten up and fly right.

Each time we stand up and say, NO THIS IS NOT OKAY! we send that very important message on behalf of ourselves and on behalf of people who are just going along peacefully, not expecting someone to come along and decimate them to their core.

We have to believe that our determination is not lost on abusers nor on the people who enable abusers. We have to OPEN OUR MOUTHS and say “THIS IS NOT OKAY.” whether it is THEIR behavior or a codependent’s acceptance of or enabling that crazy person.

When I walked out of my abusive marriage in 1987, I had no idea that one day I would have a blog and a book and readers from around the world saying to me, “You helped me so much.” Many times it’s JUST from sharing my story…but the upside is that others don’t feel alone or crazy or stupid. They GET that it’s what has happened TO them, not what is defective IN them.

When I had my first therapy appointment in 1987, my therapist listened to my story (which I was only telling so she could tell me how to get my husband BACK,) and said, “It sounds like fear of abandonment.”

The bells rang in my head. The steeple bell GONG’D in my head. Fireworks were shooting around in my brain. It was an awesome, “my life”-shattering moment. There was a name for what was wrong with me (as soon as I heard it, I knew that was IT!) And if there was a name for it, there was a cure for it or at least some kind of help.


YES THAT WAS IT. Without even having it defined for me, I KNEW, I really really knew that was it. It wasn’t necessary to explain it to me. My life flashed before my eyes and it was NOT a pretty movie AT ALL.

From that day in 1987 to this one, I have worked so hard to become part of the solution. Not just of my life, but my kids’ lives. No one was going to ask, “What was she thinking?” because some man beat me to death. No one was going to take restraining orders out on my sons because they had learned to become abusers watching their father do it and their mother take it. No one is ever going to raise a hand to my daughters in law, my daughter or my granddaughters. Because they know it’s not okay, they know how to walk out and, as one of my daughter’s scum bag boyfriends learned, I will kill you. I didn’t kill him but I am sure he wishes I did when I got through with him. Being a sweet and someone docile person, she doesn’t give the impression that she has a dragon for a mother who will knock down doors and send letters with her .esq title after her name to your parents saying that if you don’t give back what you took from her (money) hell and damnation is going to rain down upon you all.

That is what I learned to do and that is what I taught my children. You do not abuse. You do not put up with abuse. And God help the person who tries. Hell hath no fury like a recovered person….

We all have responsibilities to ourselves, to future generations, to the WORLD.

Be part of the SOLUTION.

As the great Elie Weisel said, “Neither a perpetrator nor a victim be…”

I’m leaving you with one of the first posts I wrote on this blog, called “The Courage to Heal.” I wish you all peace…today, tomorrow and always…

The blog started on 11/29/06. This was written a week later:

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was within me an invincible summer.” - Albert Camus

It is in our darkest moments, when we feel the weakest, when we feel that we cannot go on one moment longer, that our true tests happen.

It is also the time when our true self is revealed to us. Our egos and everyday masks are pulled away from us. When we are raw and aching and convinced we will not make it, we are left with ourselves and our pain. The unbearable pain of human sorrow from loss, of uncertainty as to what the future brings, of how to repair ourselves after someone or something has turned our entire lives to shambles.

It is here, in the dark, in the pain, in the complete collapse of all we love and all we know, that we come face to face what with what we are truly made of and find the will to go forward.

These are deep, dark and truly frightening moments. We feel bereft and alone, anxious and frightened, unable to be comforted even for a moment. We know not where our salvation or our healing will come from, if it comes at all.

We are not sure of anything except the searing pain in our souls and in our hearts. We cannot think, we cannot make plans, we cannot hold a conversation. We want to take to our bed and never come out. To go to sleep and never wake up. But sleep is impossible and we cannot wish ourselves well and we cannot pray ourselves into immediate wholeness. And we think that is SO unfair. And adds to our pain.

When we have a loss, we feel that loss deeply and undeniably. But if we have not dealt with other losses, every one comes rushing back to us, reminding us that we have not dealt with our losses. We start to fear loss and begin to accept unacceptable behavior from unacceptable people…anything to keep them from walking out…anything to keep us from experiencing loss.

If we have been abandoned in the past, every new abandonment brings up the old abandonment, reminds us of everyone who has ever left. We don’t just feel this new abandonment, we feel them all. Add one more to the pile. Everyone leaves me. The hurt is incredible.

The only way to “feel better” eventually is to stop, in the deepest darkest moment, and face the losses. If you try to avoid this one too, it will just come back to plague you later on. Acknowledge each loss and let them go. Face each abandonment and know that it was what it was, and you have survived those and you will survive this one too.

Journal. I recommend that everyone journal on a daily basis but this is so important when you are hurting. When I was a therapist, my clients would roll their eyes when I said this. In seminars I see the exasperation when I say it. But it is healing and it is an incredible tool. When you are in pain you should journal at least once a day…free form writing…just let it out.

For the person you have lost acknowledge, IN YOUR JOURNAL, all your uncommunicated feelings, what you ask forgiveness for, what you forgive them for and whatever you didn’t tell them.

You don’t have to (and should not) try to do this all in one day, you cannot heal a loss in one day…and you can only do so much in each 24 hours. Spend 10-30 minutes on your list. Then close the book or the computer.

Get up and do something relaxing or invigorating, whichever one feels better to you. If you feel the need to say more things, to have another journaling session, do it later on…2 or 3 times a day…but know when to take a break and be gentle with yourself during the “break” times.

Go easy with yourself when you are grieving…learn to cut yourself some slack. Insist that others cut you some slack, if not by words, by actions. Don’t be the one who is always there. Don’t go places you don’t want to go or do things you don’t want to do.

Know that it is hard work but in order to resolve the losses, all the losses, it has to be done. Allow yourself all your emotions, cry, get angry, get irrational. Just don’t harm yourself or anyone else. If you think you want to, GET PROFESSIONAL help. There are crisis lines or go to your local emergency room. Every emergency room in every hospital can deal with emotional crisis.

If you feel too sad or angry, let your emotions out in your journal, to your friends, to your therapist.

It is true that in your darkest moment, you will find the invincible summer…if you use this time as an opportunity for growth…to become the person you were meant to be. In this dark, dark time you will find that you are much stronger than you thought you were…you will find a way out of the sorrow and the pain…you will find yourself tackling this loss and one day you will wake up and realize you feel better and that the worst is over.

You will go on and you will find the strength and the will to not only survive, but to thrive. You CAN get there from here…a little bit, one day at a time, in small steps. You can do it.

Find your invincible summer.

It is there. Wait for it.

Work for it.

Enjoy it when it comes.


- Susan J. Elliott 12/27/06

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5 Responses to The Courage to Heal

  1. just_hurting says:

    I think what shakes me up about your Aunt’s story is that it really happened! I look back on my love life and my relationships, I am shocked. I have spent years in relationships that were emotionally and verbally abusive in one way or another-either aggressively hurtful like my last relationship or neglectful like my marriage. When you said, “Many who would love to deny that they would ever be in this awful situation are simply fooling themselves. We slide down, down, down, without even realizing it,” it hit me like a ton of bricks that my life has been one failed “do over” of my childhood experiences after another. On top of that, in my most recent relationship, as sick as it is, I would have (and hopefully am beyond this now) would have gone back to him, because he is exactly like my Mom, and it is “normal” to me. I would go back with a guy who was verbally abusive, a possible BPD person with the potential to be physically abusive (because that tends to follow verbal abuse) and abusive to my child, all because it is NORMAL, and what I dealt with in my childhood (no physical abuse, but verbal and emotional). Forget taking care of myself…I would expose my precious 5 year old daughter to a man who was not always nice to her, was manipulative with his own daughters and would potentially be abusive to her all because of my past scars. What blows my mind is one of the things my therapist told me I suffer from along with anxiety and depression is FEAR OF ABANDONMENT. Now, yes, my parents were divorced when I was young, but I was raised by my Mom and stepdad and had regular visitation with my Dad and stepmom, and my parents got along, and didn’t fight over us and didn’t use us as pawns, but somehow, in my young mind I was abandoned by my Dad, when he married and had a new family, and was abandoned by my Mom, because I was always the one to “fix” the problems when there were issues in the house. I was the emotional care taker for my Mom. She took care of my physical (clothes, food, roof, etc) needs, but I took care of her emotional needs. I am the people pleaser, without pleasing myself. I don’t know yet how to fix all this. I am journaling, doing therapy, and on an antidepressant (Prozac). I am being introspective and evaluating about my life. I am in a cycle that started generations before I was even born, and by GOD the cycle is going to end with me. My daughter is not going to have the wounds to heal that I have from my Mom, that my Mom has from Grandma, that Grandma has from Great-Grandma, and the list goes on. I am ending the cycle now. It may have taken me 37 years to come to the decision, but it has been decided. I would never have even realized it without my GPYB book. The light has come on.

    • Susan J. Elliott Susan J. Elliott says:

      I am so glad. Once the light goes on, it is hard to make it go back out. I know that when I was dating, early on, I used to wish for ignorance as I knew too much to let this one or that one go much further. So I had to make hard decisions like let go of this non-abusive but commitmentphobic guy (I went from being with Mom to being with Dad…and Dad was much easier to live with but he was not good enough and I had to move along…) I knew too much to stay but didn’t know enough to know where to go. It’s a learning process…and I cursed how long it took me, but someone told me it’s a long walk into the woods and a long walk out…and I held onto the fact that if I kept doing my work and rejecting those who were not good enough, I would find good enough. And I did. But first I had to get okay with if I didn’t, that was okay too. And it was. No matter what, I was okay. Keep that light on!

  2. scubasteve says:

    Thank you Susan for a wonderful post…

    I now see I have found myself with two very identical women in both my serious relationships in my young 35 years of living. I now see that I wound up with women who the relationship was about them and what the relationship gave to them. I am very different where I am who I am and I bring things to the relationship to make myself and the relationship better.. Both women were very good at putting me in the F.O.G., fear, obligation and guilt. The first lady was especially good at manipulations, ‘threatening’ suicide, holding a knife to my neck. Making up a story of sleeping with others, or actually sleeping with others.

    The second lady… well, I don’t know what was up with that, but I was just never good enough. And all my wonderful things took away from what she wanted, the family with her family, instead of the wonderful things I am to build our relationship. And the FOG of doing anything different than what her mother had planned for her became devastating.

    So now I have freedom, it is tough to handle sometimes. I always feel like I am doing something wrong still. I am keeping my morals intact, not being the male slut she accused me of that lacks moral fiber.

    I am talking with two ladies. One that reminds me of my last ex quite a bit. Young, fun, flirty, balls to the wall crazy, adventurous and very close to her family. She can talk all night and is completely infatuated with me. I feel like it is the same conversations and same everything that I talked with my ex when I first got to know her. The only difference is this girl doesn’t have the moral stick keeping her posture perfect and knows how to let a little loose and have fun. Plus she loves my Harley…. But, I get the neediness vibe, and the lots of attention vibe. It is intoxicating and draws me in… Is this the same type of personality that will eventually make me feel like crap for being ‘wonderful’.

    The other lady, my age, has been through some tough relationships and had her heart broken. She is very cool. Not needy at all and when I am doing something she says.. have fun and I don’t hear from her unless I reach out. She is independent, doesn’t live with her family and does what she wants when she wants.. And is not needy… Oh and btw not needy. And she already said.. she would never snoop through a cell phone and would kick someones @ss if they snooped through her stuff. Either you are cheating or not and if you want to cheat get out of the relationship. After everything I have gone through, she gets it. She is not afraid of a little therapy and she understands you need to make yourself happy before a you will be happy in a relationship. She is very authentic and she already says I am who I am, take it or leave it. No pretending.

    Both ladies know my situation and have known me for quite a while. They also know that I am not emotionally available as I work my head and heart out, but they both say the same thing to me… that they have never met someone like me and were so jealous of how I treated my ex.. it does make me feel good, but still, I feel like I did everything wrong sometimes and was never good enough.

  3. callie35 says:

    scubasteve – are you planning on dating these women? I am concerned by the description of the first woman. You are focusing on superficial qualities….I guess the description reminds me of a woman my ex goes for because he desires someone who he is passionate about ALL the time. Right before we went NC he told me he was talking to someone new – and we had been doing friends with benefits. I had made a sexual joke and he said ‘I should probably tell you I am talking to someone and I should probably be good’. Then said ‘she is really into me and already deactivated her online profile for me’. This was like after 2 weeks of talking. Her behavior is not healthy. Becoming that infatuated with him that quickly signals a lot to me…she was only separated for a few months before finding him. My ex is emotionally unavailable and selfish and has no empathy. You would have fun with girl #1 for awhile – but you didn’t state anything about common values and that is what is more important then interests or that she is completely infatuated with you. I know that its flattering – but infatuation isn’t love, its infatuation. Its not necessarily a good thing. The other woman sounds like she is fine on her own and doesn’t need someone to complete her but would like someone to compliment her….you two would make each other better is my guess. I don’t know. I am somewhat sensitive to hearing about people like the first woman because my ex always told me something was missing….and by missing he means he didn’t feel like he wanted to bang me all the time. (his words not mine) I don’t think thats realistic and its hard to live up to that. But he chases a feeling and thinks love should be like the movies.

    • scubasteve says:

      Yes… the first lady I have realized in a short amount of time is very very similar to my ex. A lot of redflags in the short time we have talked more than the superficial stuff. I have let her know that I am not interested in perusing my ex. It is tough, because she gives that 24/7 attention I enjoy, but my therapist says is very dangerous.

      The second lady, we went on a lovely date this past weekend. Dinner and comedy show, but we are keeping it light. Nothing romantic… we talk daily and the more I talk with her she is so much a of a 180 from the last 2 girls I dated. I have known this girl for years and we run in the same triathlon friend circle. I am enjoying getting to know her and we do have fun together. She knows I am in no shape for a relationship yet and I feel we are on the same page.. So weird, when I am out with friends or whatever… she says this.. I am going to bed.. have a good night.. I haven’t heard that in years from a woman.. It kind of blows my mind.. Not the call me when you get home.. what time did you get home.. who did you see???

      I feel like this woman is basically telling me.. your a 35 year old man who knows how to live their, just do what you do.. Plus she thinks I should buy another Harley…. funny..

      Still it is only 3 months since the big break up, I think of my ex constantly. Oh how I loved this girl. I sent her stuff back last week with a book on lying and snooping and cheating. I have not had any contact and have no idea what she is doing. I don’t snoop her facebook, google, instagram etc. I no longer have those services. I am concentrating on myself, working on my Ironman training, Lake Placid Ironman is coming soon, and riding the heck out of my motorcycle, that she hated so much.. I know there are many fish in the sea and I should take things slowly when it comes to women right now..

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