The worst, the bottom, of my marriage was when I was crying and apologizing and saying, "I just feel pathetic."
My ex-husband looked at me, as I wept, and said, "You are pathetic."
He later went on to say in the fight -- because it was an "I will destroy you" type fight -- to tell me, "You're not pretty. You're not smart. You're not funny. You're not a good writer." Later, he apologized. He was exaggerating, he said. I was pretty.
Granted, I was a nightmare ex-wife. Imagine all the needy graspy anxiety I display in my writing on xoJane, but multiply it by 1,000. I would get drunk and suggest makeout parties, because I thought that would make me, like, a fun wife. Always the one in control, this one. Always thinking I could orchestrate the party for my own amusement, and if I would dancing-monkey-it-up all just the right way, make everyone like me just enough, that everything would be okay. I would be filled up with love for that day, and we would all feel okay.
I now see my ex-husband (who I dated from when I was 20 to 25 and was married to from 25 to 30) as a reflection of how much I hated myself on my inside. How uncomfortable I was with almost everything inside of me and his telling me I did everything wrong (some of the most brutal arguments we ever had were about how I had chopped the vegetables too thinly in the kitchen or cut an onion the wrong way, and how this showed what a selfish person I was).
One of the main ways that I got through the time when we finally decided to divorce was when I decided to listen to this audiobook, "The Breakout Principle." It talked about severing instantly the repetitive loop in your brain by taking yourself out of your experience -- going for a run, taking a shower, drawing a picture -- and just STOPPING the stressful thoughts from overtaking you.
Near the end of having to live with him after we decided it was over, I remember sitting at the kitchen table, listening as he berated me for overcooking the spaghetti, and how we needed to remember not to cook it this way next time, and how the gifts that I was planning on giving to some friends of ours weren't good enough.
As all this was happening, at the time, I was opening up a wedding invitation with a sparkly heel on it. The year I got divorced, I was invited to eight weddings. One of those weddings was my parents' remarriage to each other after five years of being divorced from each other (the same span of time of my marriage).
As my ex droned on about my shortcomings, I grabbed a black Dry Erase marker, and I started blacking out everything on the wedding invitation. Then I drew a little picture of a smiling person. I wrote, "New Life" above the picture. I felt better. My energy changed. Suddenly, I was able to tune out his energy and not let it affect me. "Sorry you didn't like the dinner," I said, dead tone, driving him crazy -- rageaholics get madder at not being able to provoke a reaction more than anything. I was escaping. I saw an escape in myself. A switch had been triggered.
Now, I am very careful how men make me feel, and what they do, and what they say. Do they put me down subtly? I had a man tell me last night, "You're crazier than I am. Why do you put everything out there?"
"Because I'm brave," I said.
"Who says it's brave?" he said.
"Do you want to see the emails that I get from people who tell me that it helps them that I'm talking about what I'm going through? Is David Sedaris crazy? Is Augusten Burroughs crazy? Is Anais Nin crazy? Is Chelsea Handler crazy? Personal memoir and reflection is brave. Getting brutally criticized and told that you suck over some of the most personal experiences you are writing about is not always easy. I do think it's brave, and I do think it helps people. I know it does. I have hundreds of emails to prove it."
Another man I dated quite briefly years ago (he was actually the first man I wrote about in my dating column in The Post, and I dubbed him "Trouble") -- after we went to a screening of "Knocked Up," he said to me, "I watched some of your videos online. I wouldn't have gone on a date with you if I had seen them before." I fell into tears, and then he pulled me closer and I kissed him. He had gotten what he wanted. He had broken me. Beware the man who gets a hard-on when you cry.
I'm no cakewalk. I get that. But I'm starting, inching toward having a sense of personal power and strength in my life. I now get completely turned off when a man thinks he's braids-tugging-on-the-playground teasing-flirting with me by putting me down. It's not that I can't take it -- a funny slam or even a valid criticism I will swallow, integrate or laugh at. But if it's done where I feel like the person is not, at their very core, rooting for me, being honest and fair and supporting me through their actions (and fuck that bullshit lubricant jerkoff of words alone which do dick except make the individual dropping them feel like a champ), well, then I check out mentally.
It's a fight-or-flight defensive thing. It's a pattern-breaking cycle thing. I won't get into it too much here, but my dad is a combat vet marine. He took two AK-47 rounds in the face, and he is a smart charming guy. Has a master's degree and counsels other vets. But his head injury has made him a volatile, volatile source of pain for me throughout my entire life.
When I called him to talk a while ago, as I was trying to work through things from my childhood, he said, "Do I want to hear what a fucked-up parent I was? No, I don't."
Another time, a man that I had written about in The Post (with whom I had gone on a single terrible date and who later ended up being sent to prison for 20 years for raping another woman) was having his sentencing day. I was reflecting on my interrogation with the ADA and all of the awful racist death-threat-y letters I had received because the man happened to be black -- and the whole experience brought up a ton of terrible emotions -- and I called my dad and begged him to ask me if I was okay. "Please," I said. "Please ask me if I'm feeling okay."
"You sound okay," he said flatly.
He would not give me that.
But you see. I am not a combat marine. I am his daughter.
I believe I am worth someone rooting for me. I am worth someone giving me love and being on my side and lifting me up when I'm feeling down and believing in my talents instead of detracting from them. I don't need to repeat these cycles. I am worth someone caring for me and being on my side. I'm not crazy. I am brave. You can put me down, you can tell me what you think is wrong with me and how you think I'm not doing it the right way.
But I will black it out.
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.