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I've had a wonderful evening. But this wasn't it.

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» The nicest thing someone's ever done for me

Thank you
Oh boy, here goes... wasn't sure if I would really be able to do this QOTW justice. It's such an overwhelming subject for me to try and address. But I just found myself writing, and writing, and writing... because I want to send my eternal gratitude out into the universe.

Apologies in advance for length. Hell, nobody has to read it, it's just enough for me to know it's out there.

My relationship with control freak ex was destructive and bad right from the start. I was 17 and slightly damaged, and he was 37 when we got together. He was like nobody I'd ever come across, he was intelligent, insightful, thoughtful... But more than that he was pure logic, and to my young, conflicted self he was the answer to all my problems. He answered questions that I'd never managed to find answers to before. I believed he was The One. He took my low self esteem and self loathing and dissolved it by making me feel I was special, and amazing and perfect.

However. It was quickly established that this came with a price. It was conditional.
If I was "good" he rewarded me with the most amazing love in the world. If I didn't reach his impossible standard, I was punished with abuse, rejection, scorn, contempt - in short being made to feel like the worst and most useless person who ever lived. Some examples: Not giving him instant responses. Letting any man take the impression that I fancied them (not just giving impressions, but anything which did not actively discourage it - so basically I had to be unfriendly to every male I encountered, whether I knew them or not). Giving someone else their cup of tea before him. Taping over a video I thought he'd finished with. Not 'communicating properly'. Not doing what he told me to do no matter how uncomfortable I was with it - and he made it my responsibility to do EVERYTHING from answering the phone, to managing our money, to dealing with people: friends, acquaintances, strangers, enemies - mostly to make people enemies, such was his wont. Voicing any opinions of my own which I dared to have that conflicted with his. The list goes on.

He dumped me frequently for such offences as these, making me beg and promise to change... usually he would tell me I had two minutes to convince him to take me back, and if I didn't manage it I was full of shit and worthless. Despite the "two minute" rule these situations would last hours, sometimes days. Somehow I always managed it eventually, but it was a game with love as the prize and rejection the cost of failure, for which he had made the rules, and I didn't understand them... I would end up utterly wrung out, my mind and body disintegrating.

Basically, he had all the power and I had all the responsibility. His manipulative mind games made me uneasy but I had to convince myself of his absolute infallibility, or I would be having "bad thoughts" which would cause me to collapse in fear and panic. If I even had so much as half a thought I knew he would disapprove of I had panic attacks so severe I threw up. As I was terrified of him sometimes I would lie to avoid his wrath... which led to further panic attacks, and eventually full blown neuroses. I had to police every single thing I said, did or thought. I had to convince myself of all sorts of things, and I had to do it well. I could not harbour resentment. He did a comprehensive job of brainwashing me. In fact, no, he was more clever than that - he actually managed to get me to brainwash myself.

I couldn't work (and he didn't work either) so spent all my time in the house with him.
My life with him was miserable. It made me ill, mentally and physically. I couldn't eat and was very underweight. I had few friends, and certainly none who I shared my inner turmoil with. My family were unaware of the extent of the destructiveness of the situation, but he convinced me they were bad people too, and that I should cut them from my life.

As anyone who has ever been brought up in a strict religion - say, the Jehovah's Witnesses - will tell you, you reach a point where you have keep on believing what you have always believed, because you have to keep going. To admit to yourself the scale of the wrongness would destroy your whole life, and would cause you to realise the magnitude of your wasted self and soul. But sometimes, you just become more and more unstable until the truth comes bursting out of you like an alien out of John Hurt.

So this story has a happy ending. A happy beginning, in fact. After 12 years I left him.

During the split he put me through months of mental and emotional torture, cumlinating in my having a massive mental breakdown... and yet somehow part of me that I didn't know I possessed got me through it. I got through the overwhelming pressure he put me under, the manipulation, the threats to kill himself, the times he held me hostage to get me to change my mind, the times he fought me to stop me getting away from him, his boot in my face when I went for the phone to try and call the police... I stuck it out. There were times when I was convinced suicide was the only escape from the trap I was in. Times when doing things to feel physical pain was the only way to escape the pain in my head. Times when my brain packed up completely and stopped functioning, short circuiting and making me twitch and flinch at random. I knew it was the toughest thing I would ever have to do, and doing it destroyed me, but I did it.

The nicest things anyone has ever done for me are as follows...

My family:
For being cool enough to let me go in the first place when I was a headstrong teenager, knowing that if they tried to convince me he was bad I would just dig my heels in and it would cause rifts between us.
For being there with unconditional love and support when I finally found the courage to leave him.
My mum for her pragmatism, for instantly taking me in when he threw me out of the house, making sure I was eating proper meals for the first time in years, and going to bed at sensible times, giving me a copy of How To Mend Your Broken Heart and paying for me to have nine months of counselling.
My stepdad, for his acceptance when he came home to find I was staying for an unspecified amount of time, and for his practical advice and good humour for the following three months of sharing his home with me.
My brothers for forgiving me for falling out with them at CF ex's bidding and shutting them out for four years, and for putting their time and energy into me to help me learn what it feels like to be a normal person. My best friends.

Not one of them ever judged me or said "I told you so".

My boss:
For her empathy and compassion. For her tolerance of my fuckedupedness while at work, not firing me when I was late because I had been prevented from leaving the house by CF ex or had crashed my car because I was too exhausted to drive, or when I forgot to pass messages on because my head was broken. And for her guidance and encouragement towards emotional and spiritual health.

My new ex, the one who has proposed to marry me on my 40th birthday despite our current separation:
For the little extras he gave me when I started going into his coffee shop for lunch, when he realised I didn't have much money.
For his friendship, which made me feel like I was a worthwhile and likeable person.
For his understanding of my neuroses, including my requests that we would never make promises to each other, and my aversion to the word "perfect", whereupon he coined the word "perfucked" to describe me.
For showing me what love TRULY is, and thus achieving the only thing that nine months of otherwise outstanding counselling could not. When I was not sure I deserved his love, he said to me:

"Fuck deserving. Deserving love implies that you can be undeserving of love. Well my love doesn't work like that - you don't have to earn it, it's a gift, I am giving it of my own free will, you can do what you want with it, but you can't give it back because I won't accept it. It's yours now, unconditionally."

So now, at the age of 32, I feel like I have been born again (scuse the god-awful cliche). Every day I am thankful that I've been given a second chance to live my life. I still feel unworthy but so, so lucky to have the people who helped me... and now I have to stop writing because I can't see for tears.
(Fri 3rd Oct 2008, 20:32, More)

» Spoilt Brats

I'm getting wound up already and I haven't even written it yet...

My dad's wife.

When me and my brothers were little we had pretty much an idyllic childhood. My parents worked hard in their own business to give us the best childhood they could. We weren't rich but we did fun stuff and were, we thought, a nice little secure family unit.

My dad was cool. He always had time for us, took us to interesting places every weekend, introduced me to Pink Floyd on his reel to reel, and when I accidentally threw a bag of rotten apples that exploded in his face, which I expected to be shouted at for, he looked at me sternly... then burst out laughing. He let me make fires. He taught me about self awareness, meditation, martial arts, and Eastern philosophy, mind over matter, and neat tricks like how to overcome fear, fall flat on the floor, or pull hot clinkers from the fire with bare hands. He had a little room at the back of the garage where he kept his stuff from uni... we weren't allowed in there but obviously we investigated. We found chemicals that burnt through the floor, and a human skull in a cupboard. And he told me how to make nitro-glycerin. That's how cool he was.

This woman, L, befriended my mum. She was married with two kids. She became my mum's best friend and worked her way into our happy little family.

Then she seduced my dad. She got pregnant. OK, I know she's not solely to blame for this, my dad is equally guilty so far.

This broke up two families. Not only that, but she moved into our childhood home with her daughters, and my mum and us kids had to leave.

It became apparent over the next few years that she was (and still is) a manipulative, devious, bullying, violent, attention seeking control freak.

To get her own way she would throw hysterical melodramas, sometimes culminating in violence upon my dad. As little children we were confused and blamed ourselves... "You all hate me!" she would scream. And my dad would sit us down and explain to us that we had to be especially nice to her and show her that we loved her, because she was "insecure" and had had a bad childhood. We tried to be as nice as we could, and we were scared of getting it wrong. Of course it didn't make any difference what we did.

They had another child, moved to Wales (far away from his business, parents and friends), and as well as her daughters and their boyfriends, she moved in her mother, sister, and... her ex husband, the one she left for my dad! She made him get rid of anything from his previous life. All his books, his albums, his uni stuff. And his entire family, including his elderly parents... She manipulated him into missing his father's funeral, pleading that she was scared of his mother (and of course he couldn't go on his own). My grandma was the tiniest, sweetest, gentlest woman who ever lived.

She completely disempowered him, not letting him do anything (except work to support the lifestyle she insisted upon for her and her extended family). He couldn't even sign our birthday cards. And we felt that if we dared to want some personal attention from our dad we would be in the wrong.

By this time we had stopped going to stay. We'd realised that all our dad's promises that things would get better were groundless, and we'd lost hope. We knew we'd lost him.

When I was 18 I phoned them. Just for a chat, I hadn't spoken to them in a while. My dad answered the phone and almost straight away he said "do you want to talk to L?". Not really, but I played the game, knowing how difficult she would make things for him if I didn't.

So she came on the line and I said "hello! how are you?" all friendly like.

""What? Why don't you want to talk to me?" she whimpered. And began to wail and scream, throwing the phone down and running from the room. My dad came on the phone, and I told him I had done nothing wrong. The next hour was one of the most painful I have ever endured. He eventually admitted that he knew I was blameless and that she had put on the show to cause a rift between us. But he couldn't stand up to her. I gave him an ultimatum. He chose her.

When his mother fell and broke her hip me and my mum went to visit her in hospital. She was not in a good way. Barely conscious and very frail. We'd had more contact with her than my dad had for a long time, and she referred to us as her family. And she despaired of my dad's situation, it broke her heart. We'd travelled 150 miles to see her. My dad arrived and asked us to leave the hospital so L could visit. We were so furious we were speechless. "She's scared of you and she thinks you all hate her" he said pitifully... We left, knowing that if we didn't there would be a scene of epic proportions.

He has become a zombie. The last time I saw him, at his mother's funeral, he looked like a rabbit caught in headlights... stooped into a permanant fight or flight posture. There was nothing behind his eyes. There's nothing left of the dad I used to know. Just fear.

She's managed to achieve everything she set out for. My dad all to herself, a nice house in the country far removed from the real world, my dad's inheritence, and ultimate power over all of it. All it would take, as with any spoilt brat, is for someone to stand up to her. But they are all too scared.

You may remember if you read my post on the last QOTW that I became trapped in my own nightmare with a control freak. Without going into the psychology of all that, I do find it ironic that everything my dad taught me about overcoming fear was ultimately wasted on him... but proved invaluable to me when I found the balls to liberate myself.

Apologies for length, lack of hummus, and lack of satisfying comeuppance.
(Sat 11th Oct 2008, 15:14, More)

» I'm going to Hell...

I stole a fossilized skull from a church when I was young and nihilistic.

It was very small, probably a child's, and there were two of them next to each other just behind the altar. I only lifted one. Nothing dramatically Indiana Jones-esque happened.

For a while I burned candles on it, and it looked suitably Gothic when covered in dribbly wax.

Then I used it as a bookend for years.

Occasionally I wondered if my miserable and tortured existence was the result of some curse I had brought upon myself.

Then I forgot about it.

Until I had a fit of conscience a few years ago and returned it to the church with a note explaining my regret, and my phone number should the vicar wish to pardon me in person.

Thankfully he did, and I found I had made an old man very happy before he retired.

Presumably my ticket to Hull has been cancelled.
(Thu 11th Dec 2008, 13:36, More)

» Family codes and rituals

Gurney Slade
My family all read The Meaning Of Liff a while ago and (as I'm sure everyone does who has read it) came up with a few of our own.

Gurney Slade is "to distort the face of a loved one, while they are unconscious on a sofa at a party, for the amusement of others".

My mum proudly coined that one and it stuck. We rarely actually indulge in Gurney Slade, more often use it as a threat.

Ooh, and that's another thing. Gurning.
When gathered together for any kind of family event where photographs are taken to remember the occasion, the instant a camera is pointed at any group of us we are gripped by a strange compulsion. We don't pose and smile... we gurn. With no direction or communication, we simultaneously pull the same face (and sometimes each others'). There are no normal pictures of us as a family since Christmas 2005.

Some examples:
Christmas 2006 1, 2
Christmas 2007 1, 2
My brother's wedding (note how effortlessly my sister in law fits in with us).
(Tue 25th Nov 2008, 23:36, More)

» Mums

She experiments on babies
for a living, and utterly enjoys it. (Her research was used in the Child of Our Time series. That's pretty damn cool).

When not at work she spends some of her time lying in her four-berth hammock in front of the open fire in the living room, playing games fiercely competitively on her laptop. Staries, Scrabble and Veggie Fling are among her favourites. When I told her a friend of mine had beaten her Veggie Fling high score she shouted "the BASTARD!" quite loudly, in a crowded tearoom in front of my gran.

She wants a Selk bag for Christmas and she phoned me to ask me whether you can still wear your shoes so she can drive to work while wearing it.

Last year we got her a wormery. She'd been dropping heavy hints so we duly clubbed together, gift-wrapped it and hid it in my brother's car. Christmas morning arrived and we'd all opened our presents. Mum was visibly disappointed that she had received nothing but a pen and so we went and dragged the wormery in from outside. She feigned mystification while tearing the wrapping paper off, and then in a joyous rapture she danced and whooped around the paper strewn room shouting "I've got a WORMERY! I've got a WORMERY!!"
She still loves those little wriggly blighters like her own children, cooing lovingly at them whenever she feeds them. She's very proud of the "worm wee" she gets from them, and offers it to guests as if it was a fine whisky.

She was shopping with a friend in Asda once when there was a fire and the store was evacuated. Most of the shoppers dropped everything and fled expediently. My mum held on to her trolley for grim death as she ran (her friend went one better and threw in whatever items she could in an exhilarating Supermarket Sweep joyride), and they won a fair bounty of loot that day... That wasn't the funniest part though. That was the fact that she was so wracked with guilt she didn't tell anyone what she'd done, and she had nightmares that she'd been caught on CCTV and would be summonsed any day. It went on for months. Eventually she broke down and confessed to my stepdad that she'd done something terrible. She was so mortified he thought she'd run someone over or something. She made him promise not to tell anyone but he alluded to it strongly enough for me to pester it out of her... she made me promise not to tell anyone too, but I couldn't help myself. He still won't let her live it down and asks her whenever they go shopping if she'd like to make a run for it before they reach the checkout...

She is hyper sensitive to all chemicals. If her colleagues are bored and want to liven up an afternoon they feed her coffee and persuade her to take painkillers, then watch her bouncing off the walls.

She has no shame. She will barter and haggle for absolutely everything no matter where she is - shops, restaurants, pubs, markets, . She got a really good mobile deal once which I was envious of. She explained that all you have to do is find a great offer from another company, phone your service provider and tell them that you want to switch. They will want to keep you as a customer and usually offer you the same deal. I didn't have the brass neck to do it so she offered to pretend to be me.

She wears pants on her head to do the ironing.

She can't sleep until everyone in the house is in bed and all the lights are off. One night my stepdad came home late and drunken, after being specifically told not to. She reasoned that if she got cross about it she would be up all night feeling wound up while he would simply fall into an oblivious drunken stupor and snore for England until lunchtime. So she waited up patiently for him, wearing a pink sparkly wig she had bought that day on campus. When he rolled in she said to him "oh noes! I dyed my hair and it's gone wrong!" He was actually quite upset by it, and she went happily to bed to sleep the sleep of the righteous.

She's given me a lot of wise advice over the years, but my favourite is still "wear a pink wig... it'll work better than getting mad".
(Tue 16th Feb 2010, 8:11, More)
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