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Us – Against the Ordinary World

Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.

― Carl Gustav Jung

When I first began seeing my therapist, I was there to find out how to behave in a way that would stop triggering my abusive spouse. As sad as that might sound, it was a beautifully transformative moment. I was willing to throw my hands up and say, “I have no idea what I’m doing.” I was able to accept my situation was out of my control. By getting to that point, I was able to listen to advice and grasp my reality. If I kept believing I could learn how to manage and cope with an abusive relationship, kept my limited perspective, and kept blaming myself, there’d have been no transformation.

It took time for me to accept the reality of my situation and even more time to take the steps I needed to progress. Even after I filed for divorce, retained an attorney, and had a restraining order granted, the work was only beginning. How did I let it get to that point? What part of me allowed it to occur?

Learning about Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) scores helped me frame as adverse some of the activities that I’d always considered normal. By seeing and feeling certain things as a child and accepting them as ordinary everyday life, I’d set myself up for some pretty serious setbacks as an adult.

It should be no surprise that I started drinking booze, puffing ciggies, and smoking the devil’s lettuce at the age of 14. It should be no surprise that my social plans frequently revolved around drinking and smoking.

Going to the high school football game on Friday night? Imagine what my friends and I did before and after. After four years of substance abuse while living under my parent’s roof – my father was an alcoholic and a pack-a-day smoker, so those parts were normalized – I was heading off to university.

Living in the dorms at university can be unruly. Not everyone in the cluster of dormitories on my campus enjoyed abusing booze, but you can bet those of us who did found instant camaraderie. We’d regularly break the rules about drinking in our rooms. Even when we were caught and forced into counseling, we laughed it off, knowing we weren’t abnormal. I’d love to find the group of friends I had in my freshman year of college and find out what their ACE scores are. I’d bet there’d be some similarities in our ideas of normalcy as opposed to adversity.

It should be no surprise that I was raped in my junior year of university after having too many piña coladas one Thursday night. I still can’t enjoy drinking a piña colada because my body remembers parts of that night that my mind will gladly never recall.

Of course, I was ashamed. So, of course, I said nothing to anyone. I remember getting into my 1994 baby-blue Nissan Altima and going to McDonald’s to get a cup of coffee and a sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit. I remember the 45-minute drive home. I was hungover emotionally and physically. I convinced myself it was my fault. I tried to block it out and make excuses. I wasn’t surprised by the actions of the aggressor. He wasn’t a good guy. And I let my guard down in his presence. I couldn’t stop hearing my voice repeatedly saying, “No, no, no.” The pitch and fear in my voice replayed in my head daily in the years following that event and even haunted me in sleep.

Since that didn’t help me change my ways, it’s no wonder I continued down a path of destruction guised as normalcy. I befriended and dated people as damaged as I was. I wrapped myself in peer groups that gave me false senses of pride with each terrible decision I made.

And as the universe would have it, I married a man with the same first name as my rapist – after dating two men with that same first name. They say the universe keeps throwing the same problems at you until you learn your lesson. But did it have to be so blatant? And still so unbeknownst to me?

That part of me had nothing to do with my spouse. But that part of me was drawn to what he brought to the table. He helped me to continue to normalize the adverse. It was us against the normal world. But after my eyes were opened, I craved what the normal world had to offer.

Now I need to make sure my children don’t face the same challenges. My family may not have known about ACE Scores and what that meant for me. But I know. And it’s my responsibility to make sure my children don’t have to learn the invaluable lessons I’m learning at 35 years old. I know I can’t shield them from the lessons the universe has to teach them, but I can – and will – provide them, to the best of my ability, safe passage and healthy senses of themselves along their respective journeys.

It’s us amongst the ordinary world.

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JoAnna Bennetthttps://obriencg.com/blog/
I’m a working single mother of two wonderful little humans. I’m also an avid reader, an insatiable learner, and a self-acknowledged survivor. I’m grateful to work at O’Brien Communications Group (OCG) because I’ve learned the self-soothing and restorative craft of writing. I used to resist calling myself a writer because I have a finance degree. I naively thought I needed an English degree to effectively express myself in writing. But now, writer is a title I proudly wear, and writing is something I’ll practice for the rest of my life. OCG is a B2B brand-management and marketing-communication firm that helps companies position their brands effectively and persuasively in industries as diverse as Insurance, Financial Services, Senior Living, Manufacturing, Construction, and Nonprofit. We do this so well because we get to know our clients, listen to their reasons for existing, and share their message loudly and proudly.

19 COMMENTS

  1. Joanna, thank you for your openess with a topic that is sensitive in many ways. Wanting to know what I need to do came through accepting myself as being okay, Does that make senses? I was okay, and what I needed to do was to start believing that things were not always my fault

  2. “By seeing and feeling certain things as a child and accepting them as ordinary everyday life, I’d set myself up for some pretty serious setbacks as an adult.” I think this underscores why I made the decision not to have kids. I guess I never trusted myself to be the model that they would need. I also feared that I would never let them be kids because that was much of my experience growing up. I was born of two depression-era parents. They only knew how to work, and they related best to me when I did.

    In the end, having kids felt like too much responsibility. That’s really sad, I think, as I type it. I do worry about having no one around me when I get older, but I’m not going to second-guess the decision.

    Thanks for you transparency, Joanna. Very thought-provoking.

    • Thank you Jeff. I’m proud of you for making your decision and sticking to it. Most of us don’t know ourselves enough to dig that deep. I understand and empathize with your fears. And while having children is a lot of responsibility, it’s given me more courage and purpose than I ever thought possible. Being a mother changed the way my brain worked, which is something I unknowingly needed.

      And I imagine being the kind of man that you are, you’ll have plenty of people around you as you get older. And just because you have children, doesn’t mean they’ll stick around.

  3. Thank you so much for this honest and profound essay about how important shedding views of “normal” become when we are seeking a different way. When you get confused about love vs abuse at the hands and voices of caregivers who themselves have not interrupted their own patterns of addiction, abuse, or mental/emotional illness, codependency, you keep making choices that mimic the template of staying connected to abusive/toxic people because you really, truly believe it’s your life mission to save them.

    I grew up in a different childhood household with very little alcohol but copious experiences of emotional, subtle -even creepy-physical abuse, a crazy caldron-a systemic, insane mess that had each member falling into specific, yet shifting roles which included walking out the front door in a masterfully crafted pretense of the “perfect family” projected out into the community. I also experienced dangerous situations at school and church-so called “safe havens.” The curiosity and desire to be free of this quagmire drove me-plus, I no longer wanted to live with such terror inside of me. I still made awful choices about my most intimate partners. I was the targeted child (split all bad by my mentally ill mother) so, of course, I carried this script with me everywhere I went until I finally put it through the shredder over time.

    I suppose I lived the imposter syndrome on steroids. Presenting as “Have it All Together” and inside lived terrorized, traumatized, betrayed, worthless until I didn’t which took a thousand times a thousand tiny steps to wholeness, work with many therapists, healers, classes, books, tapes, workshops.

    The deeper work intensified when I had my daughter and then my son. I became fiercely motivated to break as many patterns as I could for their sake, for their beings. I, then, finally embraced that I was worth it…that I could continue my healing and transforming work for me, as a gift to me. I can only clean up aisle Laura. This I know in my bones. I may not ever “change” the world, but I certainly can transform my life-this one precious and wild life and being.

    I appreciate your courage and honesty. I appreciate knowing about ACES. Yeah, I had a whole bunch of adverse childhood deep into adulthood experiences. I don’t know my score (probably off the charts). I think my soul came here this time to do some major clean up deep into the very cells of my being. Healing and transforming continues to be my honor, privilege, and joy. I appreciate you.

    • Oh Laura, your comment has made happy tears flow from my eyes. It seems like we’ve had parallel discoveries. My fierce motivation came after my daughter and son as well. And the deeper I dug, the more I learned I even had to clean up aisle JoAnna. Who knew my patterns of thinking were so off. For so long.

      I know I am far from perfect, but I’ve also learned that perfection isn’t something I want to strive for. I think for me, knowing my ACE score was part of my acceptance. I wasn’t a terrible person, bad deep down in my core. I was damaged. And just because I was damaged, didn’t mean I was unfixable. It just meant I had some more work to do.

      Thank you for sharing a part of your story with me. And thank you for healing yourself. It’s no easy task. But it’s so worth it. I’m sure your children are better people for you hard work too. And is there anything more important than that?

    • Your mention of the script made me chuckle. I remember one time going to a doctor’s appointment a few days after my mother had gone. The doctor looked at me and said, “Are you the good daughter that married a doctor or the bad one with tattoos that drives a Cadillac?” I laughed and said the latter. But I felt in my core – it was my script to be followed. It was set in stone. I was the bad one.

  4. Joanna thank you so much for being so bold and sharing this moving and inspiring story! Low hat lady! You can be proud and I’m sure your kids are lucky for having you as mom! When we develop resilience through adversity, it’s irresersible and goes a long way!

    As you brilliantly described it, your transformation was possible thanks to your honesty in admitting to yourself how much you suck!

    I also learned it the harsh way… And what actually saved me (cauz I was almost killed by a narcissist while I was trying to heal from an existential crisis) was the following:

    • Honesty to admit I’m so imbalanced & lost, and that I am ready to do something about it. I had no choice anyway :)
    • Openness to challenge my limiting beliefs — which are so ingrained I was taking them for the truth — in relation with the principles (our original center we were all granted at the conception; our spirit).
    • Bravery to stay with the huge pain of meeting my life-time conditioning constructs; which we are all able of, but that we’re just wired by the ego to avoid adversity.
    • Consistency to re-write my subconscious program on a daily basis — the only way the defeat the two constraints & differences between the conscious and subconscious minds: the speed and the way of learning.

    Thanks again for making me feel what I felt!

    • Without knowing how to put it in words, I followed your exact bullets. My soon-to-be-ex-spouse has narcissistic traits, but he suffers more from anti-social personality disorder, PTSD and a TBI. A scary rageful combination. But it was my fault for allowing the behaviors as long as I did. I knew him for over twenty years and I knew the type of person he was. I craved the instability and dug deeper into the self-loathing. It wasn’t until I gave up that I was able to turn it around. And my children gave me courage that I never knew I had. But know that I’ve found out who I am – and who I can be – I’m ready for what all life throws my way. The good, the bad and the ugly!!

  5. Joanna, thank you for your transparency. As I like to share with my clients, “Are you going to wait until you have a gun to your head before you change your situation?” Unfortunately, many wait for such times to make changes. Thank you for showing families that there are other ways to deal with such adversity. I appreciate your candor and courage. Keep up the excellent work!

    • There was one point in my relationship that a gun was pointed at me and I still stayed. I didn’t even call the police. I went down the stairs after I calmed down and asked him to give it to me. I didn’t trust him with it, but still thought I could help him. So I hid it under my pillow and stayed awake all night while he slept on the couch.

      He had PTSD and a TBI from his military service. I blamed most of his behaviors on those two factors. But in hindsight, that was part of his excuse. He didn’t get help. He didn’t want help. He only wanted power and control.

      I’m a better woman and mother from surviving this. And I’d love to let others know there is another way.

      • Keep sharing and keep reaching out, JoAnna! I would really like to raise the bar for abused men and women. If your partner won’t get help, refuses help, let’s not let a gun-to-the-head be the deciding factor. You know what I mean?

  6. I remember pleading with my therapist, “tell me what I need to do”! What books should I read, how should I act, think, everything. He’s the therapist, right? He know what to tell me to do.
    That was precisely my problem. Although I did do any of the rebellious acts you did (in my mind at the time they were all damnable offenses) but I can certainly empathize with you. Thank you Joanna for being brave.

    • Thank you for the compliment John. I’ve had to become brave throughout this journey and I’m a better person for it. Although a few books helped me along my journey of self-discovery, if they didn’t come to me at the right time, they wouldn’t have mattered. I’m glad I’ve made it this far and can’t wait to see what the future holds.

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