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After the sociopath: How do we heal? Part 9 – Returning to Wounded Innocence

In the series on recovering from traumatic relationships, this is the third article on grieving and letting go. It is an extension of the last one, which discussed exploring the past to understand our patterns of belief and behavior. This is about how we do it and what we find. Or rather about how I did it, and what I found

Unpacking frozen memories

This week I reached out to someone whose name is part of my history. She was once the lover of a man I regarded as the great love of my life. He was an alcoholic poet who died when I was 23. She is a poet too. I found her web site, read a poem about the first time they made love, and wrote her an e-mail to introduce myself.

She wrote back, asking about his life and how he died. I tried to answer her factually, but found myself drifting over and over into how I felt about it all.

She asked if I ever wrote about him. I told her that, when he died, it was as thought my memory was wiped. I couldn’t remember his voice or the joking banter that was part of our everyday conversations. Except for photos, I couldn’t remember what he looked like. I was so angry, it took me four years to finally grieve him and let him go. At that time, I dreamed about him, and those memories are more vivid than our life together. If I could write anything, it would be only my story. I couldn’t reproduce him in prose. I wish I could.

I wrote a second letter, apologizing for going on and on about my feelings. I tried to tell her more about our life together, getting lost again in telling her about how it was for me as more and more memories returned. Then, within the same day, I wrote her a third letter. Apologizing once again for dumping all this me, me, me on her, a stranger. Telling her it wasn’t my conscious intention when I wrote her, but I was using her to unpack those frozen memories. That’s what she was seeing in these letters.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve done this. Through the years of recovery, I’ve reached out several times to lost people in my history. Always thinking I was just writing to say hi, and then finding memories flooding me. The one the sticks in my mind was an e-mail exchange with my high-school boyfriend, who broke up with me after we begin attending different colleges. It happened at the same time that my mother threw me out, because I’d tried to tell her what my father had done to me and was about to do to my younger sister. My mother accepted my father’s lies about a 13-year-old seducing him. Before this boy broke up with me, I finally told him the truth about me. Then he told me he wanted to date someone else at his new school.

He remembers only the sensible break-up of two teenagers going to schools in different states. But talking to him reopened what I was living through. I was at the edge of adulthood, abandoned by everyone who cared about me. Until then, I survived on an illusion that I could have a “regular life” by pretending it never happened. Now I saw that I was going to pay over and over. I felt how my personality tightened around fear, determination to ward off new monsters, and a hunger for something I called love, but now think was simply safety.

This was one of the foundations of behavior and belief I described in the last article. These events shaped much of what happened later. I didn’t have to think about it intellectually. I felt it. The insight shined like a light on the future of that young adult.

I had to stop talking to him. I was starting to say cruel and provocative things to him, sniping he didn’t deserve. Because in insight, I also saw him as he was, as well as my mother as she was, from the vantage point of the distant future. He too was entering his adulthood, actively shaping his future. How much of his potential could I expect him to sacrifice for a girl who was truly messed up? Would he fight my father? Was there anything fair about expecting him to take care of me, when he never would have gotten involved with me if he’d known the truth? Likewise, my mother, what did I expect from her? She was beaten down, trying to survive with her three younger children, and she was afraid of my father and afraid to leave him. She chose their survival.

I could see how my father’s behavior had damaged me and how my damage burdened other people. It wasn’t my fault or theirs. Whether they took on my burden was a decision about their lives, their resources, what they could handle. I had no choice, but they did. And they had more than me to consider.

I could see how it all came together. Without thinking about the word, I forgave my boyfriend and my mother. Instead of being angry, I mourned for myself, that young girl with no one but herself to depend on. It could have been different. But it was what it was. She had to move on, wounded but with no time or place to heal. She would create a life that reflected the reality of those unhealed wounds. And in understanding this, I forgave myself too. I stopped thinking I was stupid or selfish or incompetent or lazy or anything else. I was someone who lacked the resources that a lot of people took for granted, and I did the best I could.

Inside the myths

The more I crack open the “truths” of my life to discover what is really inside them, the more I come to realize that luck is a big factor. Perhaps that is too light a word for what I mean – the random way that events coalesce at a moment in time.

The great learning of the angry phase is that we are not responsible for what we cannot control. Our traumatic encounters begin with location and timing. If things had been a little different, we would not have been there. Beyond that, we did not want to be hurt or ask for it. Other people have their own histories and structures of behavior and belief. We did not create them and we cannot control them. If they had been different, it would have come out differently.

In the angry phase, we spend time dissecting what happened, finding what to blame on the circumstances and on the people who hurt us. We look outside ourselves for the reasons our good intentions attracted such bad results.

Twenty-five years after this husband died, another man drove me into healing myself. I believe he is a sociopath. In getting over him, one of the things that moved me from anger into grieving and letting go was a jarring realization that there was nothing I could blame on the sociopath that didn’t seem to be equally true of me. He was using me and he didn’t care about my feelings. True, but I also wanted him to be what I wanted him to be. And though my methods of coercion were more socially acceptable as “expressions of love,” their intention was to persuade him or guilt-trip him into giving me what I wanted.

The same was true for lying or obfuscation. Whatever he hid from me, I hid as much from him. I didn’t share what I really felt or wanted. I kept posing as an adult when I had a wounded child’s needs for unconditional love and complete safety. The same was true for being selfishly uncaring about what I wanted. I claimed to be committed to making him happy, but what I really meant by “happy” was him loving me and making a forever commitment. .

If I had accepted what his words and behavior were telling me about his capacity to give me what I wanted, that would have been the time to decide whether I liked or loved him. No blame. No fault. He fit or he didn’t. The truth was he didn’t. I wasn’t lucky that way with him. His life might have been improved by me, but the opposite wasn’t true. This was a frog, not a prince. It was that simple.

Luck turned on its head

As I get older, and keep cracking open the bits of mythology that make up my beliefs about my own life. I sometimes find surprises.

Writing the former lover of my dead husband, my memories opened up. Because I read her poetry and remember a few things he told me, I knew that she wasn’t certain about him and ultimately sent him away. She knew he was an ex-con. She knew he always had a bottle of beer in his hand. She knew he was seductive and smooth. I understand why she passed on him. She had professional stature, life equity, something to lose.

It was different for me. I was barely 20, desperate for a new life. Equally desperate for acceptance, because I felt like a freak. I had a soul-killing clerical job, no money, no clue of what to do next. I had heard things about him.That he had stocked the library shelves in a brand-new prison and was literate, had read everything. He was already a published poet, and people spoke of him with awe and affection.

When I met him, I saw a big handsome man with a background as bad as mine who had made something extraordinary of himself. The booze and drugs, the terminal liver disease, our shared ability to ignore the fact that he was engaged to another woman somehow just added to the mystique. I looked at him and saw a future that was better than anything I could create alone. That night I stayed with him and never left.

I told her how it began. And then I told her about the end. Watching his character and intellect deteriorate as his liver failed, the blessing of his death in a car accident, my angry refusal to grieve him until I had a psychotic break four years later. But, by the time he died, I had a profession. I was a writer. He fed me books, taught me to edit, gave me rules of writing and thinking which serve me to this day. He left this girl, 13 years younger than him, a new future.

That’s the mythology. In the first letter, I wrote “I was lucky.” I meant lucky to find him, but the words stayed with me after I sent the letter. As I told her more in the second letter, I found myself looking at me through her eyes. My myth of a great romance began to shrivel to the story of a vulnerable child-woman and the out-of-control addict she had chosen as a replacement daddy. I would do anything, accept any treatment or circumstance, as long as he would stay alive and keep convincing me that he loved me. Yes, he was charismatic and funny, brilliant and talented, and probably more tolerant of my childish neediness than almost anyone else might have been. But it was a dead-end ride and I wouldn’t get out of it without more damage.

By the time I was writing the third letter, I was not telling her about the times he had hit me. The ways he made me carry his grass, because he was already a three-time loser. How, when we were broke, he wanted me to start whoring. How our open marriage was a license for him, not me. How when he became too bored writing the trash novels that supported us, I did it alone. Or how, at the end, he kept getting into serious accidents with other women, until he eventually died in a car with a woman who barely survived it.

In the myth, these were blips in a mostly charmed life with someone who understood me and who my horrible life into something interesting and glamorous. But now I remembered that the last time he went to prison, it was because of a tip by a woman he was living with, who was supposedly working her way through college as a prostitute. I thought about how people with my background make up the majority of prostitutes. The woman who tipped the police about the suitcase of grass in his trunk had gotten rid of him, like the woman poet, like the wife before her, another beautiful and gifted woman who fell in love with him, corresponding while he was still in prison, but gave up on him after his drinking created grief, chaos and endless expense. Like me, they probably all loved him after he was gone, but they got rid of him, because he was dangerous to them and himself.

Looking back at him, another damaged child with a terrible background, and me, who was hungry and bright but with no boundaries or any idea of what a good relationship looked like, I realized that I was luckier than I knew. Lucky that he wasn’t well and needed someone to take care of him. Lucky that, except for a brief scary period, we made enough money writing that he didn’t go back to dealing or trying to turn me out. Lucky that he was probably more kind than he would have been under other circumstances, and that I had the opportunity to see the best more than the worst of him. Lucky that I came out of it with a way to support myself so I didn’t have to submit to the next “rescuer” that came along.

Like the situation with the man who couldn’t be what I wanted him to be, this was a confluence of circumstances. If I hadn’t been so hungry, I wouldn’t have seen him as I did. Nor loved him and mourned him as the soul mate whose good influence stays with me to this day. If he hadn’t been too broke to escape from Albany, I never would have met him. If either of us had more resources, it never would have happened. But I was lucky. He was what I needed him to be, and I was that for him.

Who is under those sacks of cement?

Writers treasure people’s peculiarities. Stories would be boring without them. But, to write well, it is also necessary to dig under the stereotypes of good and evil. My husband’s story didn’t begin with prison, or the dope-dealing or pimping. I knew a few things about his early life, but in retrospect I know more from just seeing how he responded to trauma. He refused to be broken. It was something I loved about him, but it also spoke of entrenched habits of trying to ignore or bury pain. We had this in common.

We thought we were brave, but I’ve come to think it’s braver to face the truth. Which, in our case, was a dance of the walking wounded. Facing truth can take romance out of a story, but facts may be more nourishing. Truth may lead to spontaneous forgiveness, as I forgave my old boyfriend and my mother. It also can show us that we did the best we could. We see the burdens we are carrying and the innocent and good soul who is trying to bear them.

Blaming ourselves is a function of anger. Realizing that we are not perfect, that we live with handicaps, is part of grieving and letting go. Facing it doesn’t mean we give up trying to heal. And forgiveness has nothing to do, ultimately, with the people we are forgiving. It is a choice of what we want to care about, what burdens we decide not to carry. Being mad at a sociopath for being a sociopath and exploiting or hurting us is like hating the sun for shining and giving us sunburn. Facing reality empowers us to deal with it. Wear sunscreen. Trust conditionally.

The best reason to invest in healing from unresolved trauma is because it is crippling. It blocks our ability to mature through experience. It constricts personality structure with fear-based blinders and self-limiting rules that should only be interim strategies, rough protections until we see through what happened. The more we understand the confluence of events, most of which had nothing to do with us, the more trauma tends to lose its glamour and terror. It becomes simply a variety of human experience that we integrate into our knowledge of the world. When we stop mistaking a snake for a goose, because we now know that snakes exist, life becomes that much easier, safer and richer.

In the next piece, we will talk more about the relationship of fear and forgiveness. Until then

Namaste, the unchangeably innocent spirit in me salutes the unchangeably innocent spirit in you.

Kathy



179 Comments on "After the sociopath: How do we heal? Part 9 – Returning to Wounded Innocence"

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  1. Tea Light says:

    Hugs to you too Blue, it sounds like a lot of the pieces are falling into place for you as you move forward in the recovery process. And seeing humour in these situations is a great indicator of you gaining perspective, and distance. Keep up the great work Blue and be good to yourself. Many of us relate to what you write here,I’m sure. I know I can. It took me until I was in my late thirties to get to the point you describe here, of realising no man ( or woman, or child , or job, or drug, or shopping spree etc) can fix you. As Dorothy Rowe says, self help is the only kind of help that fixes us. Other help comes in the form of supporting that work. Take care today Blue. Keep us up to date.



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  2. Stargazer says:

    Great article. I was around when Kathy first posted this. I was in a very angry phase – angry at the world. And also I was in a state of judgment of my own feelings. I was pretty much a hot ghetto mess, as one of my friends would say. I was a year out of the brief encounter with the sociopath, and though I was pretty much over him, I still was unhappy and feeling powerless to change. In reading my old posts, I was constantly battling the noise at the pool and all the inconsiderate neighbors. I felt like I wanted to go live in a cave. Cut to 4 years later……

    What a difference 4 years makes. I notice the pool noise this year, but it hasn’t bothered me at all. This is the first year it just hasn’t been an issue for me. It just blends into the background of whatever I’m doing. I can’t believe I’d ever get to this level of peace, and my reaction to the pool noise is the barometer. A big part of it is that my life is now very busy and filled with things I love. Kathy had told me back in 2009 that I need to do something different to change the channel. Well, now I’m dancing. I have 4 salsa classes – one of them I am assist-teaching. I am practicing for a performance with my most regular teacher. I am taking meditation classes at a place I’ve been going to for many years for aura cleansings, and I’m learning how to do this form of energy work. It is for my own healing right now, but ultimately, I can shift to this from doing all the physically intensive deep tissue massages. I began traveling in 2011 and have had 4 trips to Costa Rica. And the process of writing the blogs for these trips has inspired me to pursue a hobby as a writer, though I’m not sure where that will lead me. I read my old posts from 2009 with so much compassion for how I was stuck back then. Just really stuck.

    The most important accomplishment of the last 4 years is to move from the angry/blaming phase of depression into acceptance. Since then, all of my relationships have improved, and I have many friends. I take all the painful relationships as lessons. I regard these people as catalysts for my growth, and I take responsibility for my own pain when it gets triggered by something someone does. I have begun saying yes to life instead of running from it, and taking the pain that goes with it, but working through it instead of defending against it. I have resources to help me – I’m open to receiving the help. I am opening up to my feelings and processing through them. I’m not afraid to cry, even in a room full of people I don’t know, if it feels safe and appropriate. Much of the anger is gone, and only grief left. And yet there is a backdrop of joy and happiness in spite of it.

    By contrast, I see my sister still stuck in the anger phase, and it’s painful to watch. And there’s nothing I can do about it without getting her anger directed at me. She needs to find her own way. I hope she does. I can hear the anger in her voice whenever I talk to her. She is all about the past and about what evil monsters our parents were. I am all about forgiveness and seeing the humanity of all these people. Living with the ambiguities in my life of how people can have some positive traits and some negative, can nurture in some ways, and cause harm in others, helps me realize that we are all human. I can respond to other’s behaviors in the moment, rather than putting them in a category and labeling them all as bad and running away. I’ve learned that one of the essential parts to being open to life is that it hurts. Sometimes I get hurt. There is also a lot of joy. I have decided to take the pain with the joy. I seek out challenges, even though there are growing pains, both professionally and personally.

    I did not really understand Kathy’s article in 2009. But it makes sense to me now.



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  3. blossom4th says:

    Another great article by Kathy!I can certainly attest to the difference made in our lives by forgiving ourselves instead of blaming ourselves.Also I’ll never angrily say NOTHING GOOD came out of my marriage to spath.

    When I first came to LoveFraud,I had been secretly blaming myself for not doing more to defend our girls,during the marriage.Ox Drover helped me to understand that I needed to forgive myself;there were just some things we were unable to control~just as Kathy brought out.Kathy’s mom reminded me of myself in that aspect-of just trying to survive.

    And though our marriage proved to be a SHAM,our 3 beautiful daughters are very real,and they are a big part of the reason I was able to make it through all those yrs with spath!I am grateful that I married spath for the reason that I have these 3 girls,2 granddaughters and another grandchild on the way!



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  4. FFWR says:

    Great article and follow up comments by all.



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  5. blueskies says:

    Hi All:)x

    Great article.x

    It’s been 5 years since I first found LF, and I return now occasionally to ‘see how everyone is doing’ and to ‘top up’ and ‘touch base’ but don’t post much anymore.

    Stargazer It was lovely to read your post today – its very affirming and resonates very much with my healing experience.

    Right now things are going well for me, I haven’t won the lottery or owt, but I am returning to life. every day I notice things – feeling joy again, becoming active, feeling relaxed, losing fear, finding forgiveness, seeing a future – its wonderful.

    looking back right now its hard to believe the depth of darkness and pain I was in back in 2008-2009 and since. I was absolute road kill:( I feel that the relationship with the dangerous evil person literally stripped me of soul and sanity:( There were so many painful and ugly levels of processing – at times I thought that life would always be tainted and ‘ruined’ by my experience and that I had lost my heart and mind for good:(. Its taken time but I don’t feel like that today.

    I really wanted to post today to thank you ALL so much for sharing, and supporting each other and being there, like an emergency service at first for me and now like old friends I don’t call that much but I know are always there!

    I will NEVER forget how much this site has helped me and so many others. Sending EVERYONE love and hope and bravery to just keep going, encouragement to keep coming here and moving forward forward! And I will try to keep doing the same with you.xx

    BlueSkies.



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  6. NeverUnderestimate says:

    I agree blue skies. I haven’t done alot of posting on my experience. But everyone shows so much support and I really feel safe on this site. Since marrying my husband, it’s been hard dealing with his sociopathic life. I am a lawyer and so is he. I have had to put my career on hold to help him raise his 2 children. And I have a daughter from a previous marriage. I have always worked so when I married and moved in with him. He was established atty here and making good money and needed my help with his kids. Especially the 11 yr old who has always felt rejected by his mom and is a daddies boy. But what amazed me was how both kids at the time 7 and 10 warmed up to me, they were just so happy someone cared and was paying attn to them. Before dad worked and mom was with new boyfriend, not really wanting anything to do with her kids. But as soon as I entered the picture and she found out that I was bonding with her kids, that’s when she began targeting me.. Doing things like telling the kids teacher horrible things, spreading lies about me. Thank goodness she only has supervised visitation or she would tell the kids horrible things about me. Which she is trying to get unsupervised visits and as long as she doesn’t speak bad of me and my husband, we want her to see them as much as possible. But that seems a very hard thing for her to do. She hates me so much for I guess taking care of her kids because she won’t. I have never been a step mom and I don’t always want to be given the situation I am in, and the torment my husbands sociopathic ex wife puts me thru. I have had blogs started in my name by her saying how I hate the kids, not sure her motive except trying to make me look evil step mom. And make herself feel better for being a horrible mother. I had to file a police report on cyber stalking to finally get one taken down. It was taken down but not after legal action was pursued. She was just in the newspaper for being arrested at 3 in the morning from routine traffics stop and had warrants for hot checks. We try to shelter kids from stuff like that. But now at the ages of 11, 14 they had friends tell them. They were really sad about it because she makes them feel she is doing better then too hear she is in jail again was another disappointment.



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  7. blossom4th says:

    NeverUnderestimate,
    I just replied to you in another thread (the one about the mother losing her job due to ex’s stalking),and here,I get to learn more about you and your story!I’m glad the children are getting the attention they need,but sorry they are hearing all about mom’s antics! 🙁



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