Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 11

A reply to: A letter from Kaitlin

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Kaitlin–what? Newt is Newt? Norm’s Newt? How can that be?

I guess it figures–never doubt one’s first intuition, right?

But really. You must have been so blown away. Was it freaky? Or creepy?

I want you to know that I never told Norm anything about you: He knows I have pen pals, but he doesn’t know any of your names or anything about any of you–no personal details. Nothing!

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It’s such a mind-blower.

Are you feeling OK?

You sound really great in your letter, actually. You sound happy, optimistic and strong. I’m so glad to hear that you aren’t denying the love you have for Newt. That’s such an important part of healing. Of course you’re not excusing what he did–nothing excuses that. At the same time, you recognize what you share together–your children and grandchildren–and you recognize the validity of your feelings for him.

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I’m also glad that you’re letting yourself grieve, too. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not happy that you’re experiencing grief. What I mean is that it’s so important to let yourself, and your kids, grieve. So many of the women I’ve met keep their hearts hard. They tell themselves that their lives were always awful with their abuser, ignoring the moments of closeness or fun. They try to push away any idea of loss. But there is so much loss: Loss of a dream for what the relationship “could have been”; loss of the reality of a life together; loss of material items–houses, clothing, even dishes and furniture; loss of friends and family. So much loss for everyone involved.

The women I’ve known who’ve let themselves grieve, like Ira and Micah, they’re the ones who are able to move into their new lives. They’re the ones who are genuinely happy.

You sound happy, too–even around the sadness and worry, you sound really happy and strong.

I’m glad you and Ben had a chance to talk and reconnect. He’s going through grief, too. I’ve seen grief tear families apart, when each one suffers it in isolation, and I’ve seen it bring families together, when family members turn towards each other and don’t try to hide their pain.

Life is so tricky. If we can live it together, it’s so much better!

I’m glad you are OK with me telling Norm about Newt. After I read your letter, I felt I had to.

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I really didn’t know what to say.

Norm and Ira dropped by after school one day, when Jena had over a lot of her friends from the afterschool club. It was right after I got your letter.

I knew I had to tell him, but I couldn’t figure out how.

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He looks up to Newt so much, almost as if Newt were a hero to him. I guess Newt has a big personality.

I considered not saying anything, letting him continue to admire Newt and to think of Newt’s abusiveness in the abstract, as something “not quite real.”

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But if there’s one thing that they drum into us in my graduate program, as evidenced in every study, every practice, every therapy approach, it’s that secrets are what allow abuse to continue.

When we face hard truths, it stretches us. But sometimes, through stretching, we grow in ways we never thought possible. Look at you and how you’ve grown in strength and love. We develop capacity by facing the hard truths and loving anyway.

Eventually, I just mustered up my courage and told him.

I’m not sure how he took it. I think he’s going to need to process it for a while.

I need to process it, too.

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Mizuki Suzuki saw me looking concerned and extra thoughtful while we were watching a movie with Jena. When the movie was over, and Jena was tucked in, Mizuki asked me what was wrong.

I told her that a close friend of mine had been hurt by a close friend of Norm’s. She asked if Norm’s friend was still hurting my friend.

“No,” I was able to answer, “though there’s still a lot of residual pain.”

“I imagine there’s pain on both sides, right?” Mizuki Suzuki asked.

“Yes,” I replied, “I know so.”

“In that case,” said Mizuki Suzuki, “they are both very lucky to have the two of you as friends.”

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I took a long run after she said that, so I could think through her words. One of the things we’ve learned in our trauma studies at grad school is that emotional pain is amplified by social rejection and isolation. This is especially important in trauma therapy. One of my more radical professors holds that it’s true in working with the abuser, too: Social rejection and isolation get in the way of healing and recovery, rather than promote it.

I guess I’m glad, at the end of the day, that Norm was Newt’s pen pal. He stayed with him, didn’t he? I just hope that now he knows of Newt’s connection to someone dear to me he’ll continue to stay. He seemed pretty upset when he left, and I recognized that “big brother protector mode” that he switches into sometimes, whenever he sniffs a bully around me.

Maybe I’ll ask Jasper to have a word with him.

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Oh, I’m sorry to share all these troubled thoughts with you! We will be OK. We just need processing time.

And before I go, I have so many congratulations to share with you! Congratulations on Reid getting cleared! Congratulations on being so brave with Newt. Congratulations on reaching out to Ben–I know that must have been hard to break through that wall he put up. Congratulations on Reese and Brooke’s graduation and on their upcoming wedding! You must be so very proud.

And thank you, more than you can ever know, for being my friend. Sometimes, I think of how much I’ve changed through knowing you! I was such a solipsistic scholar before we began writing! It’s through you I learned the importance of putting others first (namely Jena!), and the value of opening my home to another (specifically Mizuki Suzuki), and it’s because of you that I’m now a doctoral candidate in Therapy Studies! That’s right! I’m getting my Ph.D.! I always wanted to be Dr. McCumber! And in eight years (or maybe seven-and-a-half if I work at a brilliant pace) I will be!

Thank you so much for everything!

Your friend forever, too,

Meadow

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Forgotten Art: Meadow – Kaitlin 7

A reply to: A letter from Kaitlin

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Dearest Kaitlin,

There’s so much in your letter that I want to respond to, but let me put first things first.

I gather from your letter that you’re not feeling safe in regards to Newt, or Reid, either. It also sounds like you are ready to begin to take steps to divorce Newt.

It’s very important to have safety measures in place before you begin the procedures.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline, www.thehotline.org, is a great place to start, even before you begin filing any paperwork.

They can let you know how to develop a safety plan. Another valuable resource is  WomensLaw.org, which offers information about how to file a restraining order, if needed (and don’t dismiss this possibility, just because you know and care for these two brothers). WomensLaw can also connect you with programs near you, including free and low-cost lawyers. Both of these resources are great first-stops as you begin your plans.

They offer free online chats, too, so when you feel you need to talk with anyone, 24/7, they’re there for you. My friend Micah told me that she would often call the hotline (1-800-799-7233) when she started feeling panicky. She said for the first dozen times she called, she wouldn’t even speak. She just held the phone to her ear and listened as the advocate stayed on the line with her. Knowing they were there, Micah said, gave her the strength she needed during the roughest times.

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So I wanted to bring that up first because it’s the most important thing. You need to be safe. These resources can help.

I’m so glad that I can be on your support team! I know I’m not very good at giving support–like you say, I’m analytical! And my empathy doesn’t seem to translate into comforting words but into action-steps or intellectual theories.

Those websites I linked to also offer references to services near you that offer free support–nearly every town and city has a place like House of Hope, where those who have experienced domestic violence can go get support from others. This would be support that’s actual support–not like what I offer!

Guess what, though? I have exciting news! I’m ready to learn to be better at all of this! I’ve enrolled in a graduate program to get a master’s in art therapy! Classes start next month, but I’ve gotten a head-start on the readings and research. Oh. Man. Do I have a lot to learn! My dream is to be able to offer art therapy at HoH and the refugee center. I suspect that art offers a way to heal from past trauma, and so I want to learn how that works.

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The best part is that as I learn more, I’ll be able to be a better support person for you!

You are already in my top-tier support! You’re so kind, so sharing and giving, and… just you! It makes me smile to think how everyone who has you in their life benefits.

OH! The other important part! Congratulations on becoming a new grandma! Jordan sounds lovely, and Brooke does, too.

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I loved hearing about Dakota. You know that I’ve got a special spot for adopted kids. Ben sounds like such a good big brother. I know how valued a big brother can make a little sister feel!

Your feelings don’t sound like they are a mess to me, Kaitlin. They’re feelings! We have all sorts of feelings! And I can understand how you would still think of Newt with fondness and even love. It’s OK to do that and to also feel afraid of him and hate him, even, at the same time. We don’t have to have just one set of feelings! We feel what we feel. Our feelings don’t have to make sense.

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I don’t think you need to force yourself to open up to Leroy more than you feel ready to. It’s evident that you love him and that he’s there for you. You can just take it as it comes, sharing what you feel ready to share without pushing yourself in ways that make you feel unsafe. Sometimes talking helps, and sometimes it doesn’t. Trusting yourself to know what you need in the moment might be the best approach at this point.

Well, some big changes have come into my life in conjunction with my decision to go back to school!

First there’s Youssef! He’s our new nanny. Since I wanted to be able to have time to focus on my studies, I decided I’d hire him. We both felt it would be good for him to start right away so that Jena could get used to him before I had to leave for classes.

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She loves him! And he adores her! I feel so happy when I come home from the library to find them playing together or to see him reading her a bed-time story.

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When Jena first came to me, it seemed best for it to be just the two of us. That let us form close bonds. And now, it seems right for Jena’s sphere of care-givers to expand. This is helping her to build trust as she sees that more people than just me can offer her love and nurturing.

It’s been a big help for me, too. Youssef is wise, kind, and has a wealth of experience. Being able to talk with him about the things I’m learning provides me with every bit as much as what Jena gets. We’re so happy to have him in our lives.

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Just like with you, when you get one you get two, and our home circle seems to be expanding!

Did I mention my friend Mizuki Suzuki to you? (Don’t you love her name?) We met when she came to repair a broken stereo, and we became friends that first visit! Since then, our friendship’s deepened.

She is also going back to school when the new semester starts. She’s going to become a teacher! Because she lived all the way out in San Myshuno, and because she’ll be quitting her repair job to return to school here in Windenburg, and because Jena and I have this huge house all to ourselves, I invited her to move in with us.

And she accepted!

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I’ve been amazed how much it helps having another adult in the home. Mizuki is so thoughtful, too, always looking to see what needs to be done and pitching in with a smile.

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I think you would love her–she’s funny, childish, and creative. She will make a perfect primary school teacher! She’s focusing on the Waldorf method because, as she says, she wants to “educate the whole child!”

I joke that it’s a good thing. I wouldn’t want just half a child educated! Or just a third! And how would one decide which third? Shall you educate the right leg and stop there?

Whole is much better!

It turns out that for Mizuki there’s another benefit in living with us: She and Youssef have become an item!

I was so surprised to come home one day and find them in each other’s arms!

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I felt a little awkward at first. Then Mizuki said that it simply happened quickly. They met here at our place, when Mizuki would come to visit. Then one day, before she even moved in, she dropped by while I was out and Youssef invited her in to wait for me, and they got talking and felt they had a connection. She hadn’t mentioned it to me when she moved in because at that point, it wasn’t romantic. But in the days after she moved in, it became so.

I find it sweet, and I’m happy that Jena can be around a loving couple.

I don’t seem to have any interests in romance, myself, or any romantic feelings towards other people. So I am happy that Jena can have a model of a healthy romantic relationship without my having to provide it!

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Well, it seems there’s so much change in both our lives as our circles expand.

I want you to know that I’m always here for you. I’m enclosing my phone number, in case you ever want to call. It would be amazing to hear your voice!

Take good care of yourself, Kaitlin! I treasure you!

Lots of love,

Meadow
555.555.1212

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Forgotten Art: Norman – Newt 7

A reply to: A letter from Newt

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Hey, Newt.

Yeah, I’m writing you back.

You’re still Newt. You’re still the guy that recognized I had feelings for Ira before I did. You’re still the same guy that inspired me to get together with her.

You were still this same guy back when you were writing me before.

And you’re still the same guy now. Only now, you’re more honest.

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It takes a lot of courage to face up to what you did and share it with someone. You risk everything.

I’m not going to make it easy for you and pretend it doesn’t matter. It matters.

I’m not going to pretend this is easy for me. This is tough. I’ve got all kinds of feelings that I don’t want to have.

But if it’s tough for me, what’s it like for you?

You’re the one sitting in it right now.

I’m not obligated to stop being your friend because you’ve been violent. You’re not evil. You’re human. Now you’ve got a chance to learn self-regulation. That’s what my sister calls it.

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Aari has been violent. I guess I mentioned that in my last letter. I know I made light of it. I didn’t face up to it, actually. But it’s an issue that we’re having to deal with. I go with her and her mom to House of Hope once a week.  I go for Partners Group. Ira goes to her group in the room across the hall, and Aari goes to Kids Group upstairs and then while we’re at Social, she stays for Individual. All this talking and learning and setting strategies and plans helps us with the fall-out and learn to deal with the times when Ira and Aari feel triggered. I’ve been learning more about trauma and the cycle of power and control than I ever wanted to know.

Most of what we’re going there for is Aari, who doesn’t know what to do with the anger she feels.

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When I was a kid, bullies were ostracized and punished. It’s different now. Now, at Aari’s school, she’s comforted. The kids she yells at or punches are comforted, too. But Aari isn’t ignored or shut out.

Her teacher says that Aari suffers, too. So they help her feel safe. And then she has to face consequences for what she did. Sometimes, kids stop being her friends. Those are the toughest consequences, and she always comes home feeling sad on days when that happens. Sometimes, she spends time breathing or running the track or practicing the mindfulness activities her school teaches. Those are consequences, too.

My uncle’s been talking to me about this concept in Buddhist psychotherapy called “Brilliant Sanity.” It goes like this: Inside everybody is this spark of openness, clarity, and compassion. It’s our fundamental nature, and it’s in everybody–every sentient thing.

My uncle then went on to talk about phi and perceptronium and how consciousness is everywhere and in everything. But I stopped paying attention anymore. I was thinking about brilliant sanity.

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That’s something hopeful.

I’m not making excuses or trying to make it easy or provide short-cuts for you. From what I’m learning, there are no short-cuts. Just a lot of hard work.

I’m just saying that I realize that I can still be your friend. You probably need friends more now than before. It’s when we’re down that we need friends.

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You got a lot to work through. Like decades. But it’s work worth doing.

My uncle says the thing about life is that as long as you’ve got work worth doing, life is OK. Even when it’s tough.

They’ve got a poster in the room where the Partners Group meets, one of those Grand Canyon, mountain-type posters, with this quote on it:

“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.”

– Steve Maraboli

I didn’t mean to get preachy. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and hard. But it’s important, too. I’m still your friend. I’m still grateful to you.

Well, I better go check on our plans for our new solar panels. The engineer was supposed to email me the latest schemata. Remember that I said something about Tibetan singing bowls? One word: Resonance. Light is waves, too, bud.

Your pen pal,

Norm

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Author’s note: If you suspect or know that a friend of yours is abusing his or her partner, you might find this article from Everyday Feminism useful and supportive: 6 Ways to Confront Your Friend Who’s Abusing Their Partner. Some of the ideas and phrases in this post come from there.

If you or someone you know is involved in an abusive relationship, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7, 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).