Saturday, November 22, 2014

#GirlArmy, Part Two

Hello, Dear Readers!

My husband is home on a visit and has graciously swept the girls off on a fun-filled Daddy Day so that I can sit with you and write some long-marinating blog posts.

Yeah, that was a plural. Imma try to crank out a couple, here.  May only post one today, and then another in a few days, just to give you something to look forward to. Ha ha.

When last we spoke about #GirlArmy, my friend and her daughters had left their home late one night to escape her husband, and fled to my house. It was the beginning of something terrifying and new and courageous and powerful, and we found ourselves in it together.

The next morning, we all woke up, and there was much squealing and delight when it was discovered that there were overnight guests in the house that hadn't been there when my daughters had gone to bed the night before.

Hope and I rustled up some breakfast for the troops and embarked upon Operation: Safe Haven.

I was determined that my home and my presence would be a safe, peaceful, stabilizing foundation for those girls during whatever was coming next. And for Hope, too. It was an awful situation with no solution that wouldn't cause heartache, but this: this was something I could do.

Lots of things happened that next day. 

One of the first: Hope's husband showed up at my front door, wild-eyed, demanding to talk to his wife.

He had his face right up to the glass of the window in the door, clenching his jaw so hard he was shaking. I stared him down through a gap in the blinds and told him to go away; that he would not be coming in, and that she would not be coming out. 

He insisted. I planted my feet and squared my shoulders. "No." 

He insisted again. "No."

I left the door to tell her he was there, hand on my phone to call the police because I wasn't sure of his mental state, and when we returned, he had gone.

I wish I could have said something better, something more poignant, something closer to what I wanted to tell him-- that he and I fight some of the same battles, after all, and I would much prefer to be his ally in this than his perceived enemy.

I wish he could have heard me, that morning, if I had.

But I was afraid for his kids and mine, who were in the room behind me, and I could tell by his eyes that he wasn't in the headspace to hear anything from me. So I turned him away from my door.

It was a terrible thing to have to do, but also something I think his daughters needed to hear me do on their behalf, so they'd know: he wasn't coming in.

One of the next things that happened that day: I told the two oldest girls that my house had an alarm, and that while we were all inside, that alarm was set. "You are safe in this house," I told them. "No one is coming in unless we let them. You are safe here." 

The 15-year old nodded at me solemnly, her eyes angry and huge. I wrapped my arms around the 10-year old, and held her while she shivered and cried.

The details of those early days are disappearing into my fog now, so I don't remember the precise order of things, but I can tell you the main points: Hope needed to make sure that her husband wasn't going to show up back at the house for a while, because she and the girls didn't feel safe with him there.

I wanted them to stay with me. We live 20 minutes away, and school had begun, so it was a bit of a shuffle in the mornings getting everyone ready and a challenge to figure out how to get the high schooler to school an hour and a half earlier than everyone else without making the high schooler spend the night somewhere else, which she didn't want to do and her sisters didn't want her to do (testament to the fear this situation had struck in these girls-- it even trumped normal sibling squabbles!).

But that arrangement would have taken its toll after a while, and Hope also wanted to take some of the power back and reclaim her space, and show the girls that they could be safe in their own home.

So she went to work trying to arrange with her husband-- who was wild with fear and blame over the consequences of what he had done, if not quite (or, frankly, close to) the level of contrition and desire to find help for his symptoms and commitment to make permanent and positive changes in his behavior that Hope and I were hoping to see-- something that would allow her and the girls to come home and him to stay away.

He eventually agreed, reluctantly, to stay with family nearby.

In the meantime, while they were at my house, I tried to distract the girls with as many peaceful, fun, bonding activities as I could think of, so they'd feel anchored in the little community we were creating.

We formed a band: The Girl Army Singers, and began practicing our first cover: "Try" by Colbie Caillat, led by Hope's 10-year old's lovely soprano and my sloppy guitar. 

We recruited a neighbor and her daughter-- in a similar situation themselves-- and set out on Operation: French Fries. The details of the operation are confidential, but suffice it to say: Mission Accomplished!

We'd found a big bird house on the curb on our way home one day that looked like a perfect fairy house, so we placed it in our garden and spent an afternoon making "fairy accessories" to go with it. They made fairy beds, fairy swings, a fairy car, and all sorts of little things for visiting fairies to enjoy. 

A few more women came and joined us there in the fairy garden: Hope's sister. My sister. A close female friend of mine who used to work a women's crisis hotline and who I'd now introduced to Hope as a resource. 

Our joking term for our six daughters, #GirlArmy, suddenly became the name for all of us: women standing together, supporting each other, loving each other, believing in each others' strength. We turned our "female" characteristics into assets to help us through difficult situations: inclusion, nurturing, acceptance, emotional intelligence. 

From that point on, while the things Hope needed to do sometimes got harder and scarier, her resolve stayed firm. She had reached out, and we'd linked arms and lent her our strength, and no way were we going to let her down. 

In the months since those first awful weeks, there have been some tough moments. More suicide threats, more harsh words and reckless, unpredictable behavior from Hope's husband. More sorrow and fear for her daughters. More helplessness and dread for Hope. But she has continued to persevere.

She's been able to secure a restraining order that both keeps him away from the family AND allows him supervised visits with his children, which she honestly wants him to have. It also requires him to get the help he needs. 

Most importantly, it gives her the space SHE needs for some healing of her own. I wish that for her, above all else.

There is more to come, for them, and I hope they'll be able to navigate it peacefully and in ways that offer the most benefit to everyone involved. I and others will be here to ensure that Hope is supported no matter what happens.

Hope has been an endless source of inspiration to me, through it all, with her relentless search for sources of beauty and gratitude in the everyday moments of her life. She refuses to be kept down by the heartbreak and fear of the unknown that infuses everything about this situation with her husband, and she looks instead to the positive in others and in the world around her. Every day.

My own role in all of this took me by surprise, and taught me something important about myself that I was thrilled-- and relieved-- to learn.

As you know, I spend most of my time in severe overwhelm.

This thing with Hope and her family happened as my daughters were beginning kindergarten and my husband was out of the country for an unknown amount of time, and I was trying to hold all the threads of my household and establish new routines and navigate entirely new territory-- prime overwhelm time, for me.

But somehow, when the crisis came, some calm, centered part of me took over, and I knew exactly what to do.

I remember feeling strangely divided, as if I were being fed lines from some subterranean part of myself where the command center lay, and I was getting them just in time to use them; not beforehand, not being allowed into the thought processes that created them. It was a bit like flying blind, but I knew the instructions I was getting were the right ones.

I don't feel, most of the time ever, as if I am operating from the perspective of the wise, experienced 43-year old woman that I am. 

As Dr. Oz and I discovered a while back, I still tend to identify as a 19-year old, when I think of who I am at my core. That's the "real" me, as far as I can tell.

But the truth is, I AM a wise, experienced 43-year old woman. I have lived her life. I have done the things she's done. I have collected her moments like stones in my pocket. I have learned her lessons. I know what she knows, feel what she feels, think what she thinks, although I'm not always aware of it at the time.

But she's in there, this woman. This Me. And when I need her, when others need her, she is there in an instant.

She doesn't announce her presence or force a noticeable shift. I wouldn't have known it, really, if it weren't for the hindsight realization that I was handling things quite well, wasn't I, and that was quite odd considering the circumstances, wasn't it, and it was almost as if someone else were driving the bus right now, wasn't it, and hey wait a minute...


PTSD. It's not Multiple Personality Disorder, but boy... you can see it from your house.

Anyway, it was a strange time. I haven't been that over-taxed, especially emotionally, in years, but instead of overwhelmed, I felt... useful. Instead of wanting to shut down, I felt a desire to reach out and be there for someone else.

It felt... I don't know. Something like grace.

I felt uniquely qualified to help. I felt strong enough to be leaned upon. I felt like I had room in my arms, my home, and my heart to shelter people in need. People I loved.

And the best part: I felt as if I were the one being given the gift.

The gift of trust from those little girls, who felt safe in my home. The gift of confidence from their mother, a woman I admire beyond words, that I had something to offer them. The gift of faith from all of them that we are better united than we are apart.

I haven't felt strong like that in a long, long time. I guess when it's your own family you're with, you can convince yourself that you don't have a choice in the matter, so choices and actions don't seem to come from a place of strength but a place of compulsion or habit.

This felt like a choice, and an easy one to make at that. And although the circumstances surrounding it were awful, it was a wonderful thing, to have such a friend, and to be such a friend, and to take part in creating such a loving cocoon of safety for a family I love like my own.

#GirlArmy. A united force of strength, joy, resilience, nurturing, inclusion, gratitude, and love. 

I feel a little as though I'm a Girl Army of one, with these multiple parts acting independently inside my mind and body, so I'll give myself the same advice I'd give the other #GirlArmy:

We'll get through this together, because together we are powerful.

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