Happy New Year, 2022

Beginnings and Endings and How They Matter

“Count no many happy until the end is known.”

The sage and Athenian lawgiver, Solon, according to Herodotus. Also sometimes ascribed to Socrates, the philosopher, or Sophocles from his play “Oedipus Rex.”

All interesting stories thrive on conflict. If there is no conflict, there is no story worth telling.

I have noticed that all lives are full of conflict. Even when talking with people who, from the outside, seem to enjoy ideal existences, they describe real struggles, heartbreaking losses, crises of faith or doubt in themselves, betrayals, failures, or the pain of having to give up or compromise on their hopes and dreams. I have yet to meet any adult who hasn’t endured a lot of personal suffering, even amid all the beauty and joy in this world.

Life, for all of us, seems to be a series of ups and downs, with our overall happiness depending mostly on where we focus our minds and the attitude with which we handle our personal challenges, rather than on what happens to us. We’re all riding the waves of fate, enjoying highs followed, I think inevitably, by lows, which will soon pass again into new highs. For all of us, during our lives, I believe periods of hardship and suffering are unavoidable, but it is also during these periods where we learn the most and build our greatest strengths. It makes me imagine God as an author, writing stories with each of us taking a turn as the main character, growing through conflicts.

I have come to believe the difference between what people identify as a happy life and a tragic life is similar to the difference between a story with a happy-ending (aka a “comedy”) and a tragedy. The difference isn’t the story itself, but only when you choose to end it.

For instance, if Cinderella’s story had ended when her father died and her step-mother enslaved her, it would have been a tragedy. If it had ended years after she married the prince with, perhaps, the loss of a child that stressed her marriage, or the loss of her husband, or a revolution that resulted in the overthrow of the monarchy with all the nobles having to flee for their lives or else get slaughtered, or any of the other multi-billions of challenges that can occur in life, it would probably have been a tragedy (although, if you go a few years further, with her creating a new and possibly better life, maybe not). Instead, the story ends at what may have been the happiest point in Cinderella’s life, even though she, presumably, has many decades yet to live. Only because the story ended at that high point, her story counts as a comedy.

I’m reminding myself of this now because, at this point in my life, my story seems like an unmitigated tragedy. I had a miserable childhood in an abusive family, where both parents – very honest people – told me directly that they didn’t love or like me and considered me worthless and doomed to lifelong failure. I went from that into a deeply abusive marriage where my husband was far worse and far more cruel and destructive than any in my family of origin. His abuse was not only toward me, but also toward our children. I blame myself now for not realizing how much intentional harm my husband was inflicting on all of us throughout our marriage. My trust in him, failing to see his constant lies, and my love for the man he was pretending to be, failing to note the contradictions between what he said and how he acted, caused me to blind myself to all the evidence that he was truly, intentionally, destructive of those whom he should have loved. He succeeded in leaving us, particularly me, destitute and broken, physically and emotionally. He succeeded in turning our children against each other and against me. He also undermined every value I tried to teach and model for my children. He and his parents taught the children to have nothing but contempt for their very involved, devoted, and loving mother, to act with cruelty, in general, to accept as truth things they should have known with certainty, from their own experiences, were lies, and to scoff at the thought that true kindness and real love do, or even SHOULD, exist. I hold kindness as the highest virtue. Only my younger daughters, however, seem to regularly act with kindness toward anyone, and even they will not identify kindness as a virtue, when asked. In fact, my middle daughter is quick to call it stupid.

I was struggling, and failing, to manage the divorce while on prescribed medications to treat life-threatening, long-neglected health issues. These drugs were causing thick mental and physical incapacity, deep depression and a variety of other horrific side-effects. Then my only brother surprised me by offering to help me.

My brother had been physically and emotionally abusive to me throughout our childhood, fully supported and even encouraged in this by our mother, who is now deceased. With no one else in the world to whom I could turn, I foolishly convinced myself that my brother’s offer to help with my divorce meant that he wanted to make amends and build a healthy relationship with me now that we are both adults and I am in need. Instead, he used the trust I gave him to craft a settlement disastrous for me and my children, forcing us to be entirely financially dependent on him, in exchange for him being able to buy my house at the price he wanted. Then, using the lie that my children and I were “too disgusting for anyone to ever want to help” which he yelled at us, over and over, for over an hour, allowing no response, my brother reneged on his promises and left us destitute, in complete ruin, with no where else to go and no one else who could help us. I realized he had never intended to help us at all – he had just been buying a whole family of punching bags because, as he explained to me in an email, later, he enjoyed abusing us – so much so, in fact, that he thought there must be something wrong with us for failing to enjoy being abused.

Now I’m facing the new year without the means to survive or provide for my children, without the means to get training or hire mentors to help me figure out how to market my skills, without the means to afford to pay my bills or to buy toilet paper, gas for the car, and other basic necessities not covered by food stamps/SNAP. We’re insecure in our home, my brother’s house now, from which we may be evicted at any time, with no where else in this world we can go. There is no subsidized housing available here and nightly shelters are usually overflowing. I have been desperate enough for income to fall for scam “help wanted” ads, since, with my damaged self-esteem, continuing health challenges, and huge work gap from when I was a stay-at-home and homeschooling mother, I have found no one willing to hire me for anything I can physically do. I have yet to find any way to make enough money to survive, much less to restart my publishing business, which had been very promising and winning awards before my husband crushed it in the divorce. My nearest friend is many states away and dealing with a series of personal tragedies which I have no way to ease. My next nearest friend is on the other side of the country and also dealing with severe difficulties on all levels and almost as financially destitute as we are. With the need for car repairs and difficulty affording gas, I am, effectively, imprisoned in my brother’s house. I am isolated, without access to anyone in the world who loves me or cares whether I live or die, much less anyone who will advise or help me in any meaningful way.

On top of all this, on my own, I went off the drugs the doctors were insisting were necessary to save my life, because the drugs were incapacitating me and doing far more harm than good. Without them, apparently, I can drop dead at any moment or, worse, suffer a stroke. It is a terrifying thought, but I cannot live on the drugs they were prescribing that, anyway, weren’t helping the condition for which they were prescribed. So I’m facing my imminent death with the knowledge that, should it come soon, I will die without ever having been loved by anyone, except a few, dear friends whom I now too rarely see and who have needs I cannot meet. I will die without having accomplished anything I had hoped and striven so hard to do all my life, including being a good enough parent to keep my children healthy, safe, kind and loving, and to help them become productive, prosperous adults who feel truly and deeply loved and valued. I am too destitute to afford the burial I would like, or even any burial at all, so I have no idea what will happen to my corpse whenever it might be discovered. I will probably be lucky if my corpse ends up stripped of ID and dumped in some trash bin somewhere in the middle of the night. Judging from the way my kids act toward me – especially my oldest daughter who has now completely shunned me for no comprehensible reason, and who has moved without telling us where she went, why, or with whom, I won’t be at all missed. From what my loved ones indicate, many of them may actually feel happy that I’m gone.

If my story ends here, it is a tragedy.

If I can survive and push through this period, however, then I have the comfort of knowing that there is now nowhere to go but up. I will either die soon, as the doctors insist, or I will heal and get better. I cannot be less loved, less encouraged, or less cared about than I am now. I cannot be poorer than I am now, having nothing but debts and facing homelessness. If I keep striving, and only if I keep striving, I may find my way to climb out of this pit and create a happier life in the future than anything I have ever yet experienced throughout the entirety of my existence so far. (It is a low bar, so should be eminently doable.) With constant effort I may even end up surrounded by good friends who can be a better “family” to me than the toxic people with whom I have been and am now currently isolated.

If only I can save myself now, then maybe I can find a way to save others too – especially my children who, at this point, cannot even recognize how badly in need of saving they are. The people filling my life up til now have always insisted that I was worthless, but with all I am learning during this period of awakening and growth, I may become of real value to others, especially those trapped in or escaping similarly abusive situations. My story, which at this moment seems like a tragedy, can turn into a comedy. In fact, if I were to write a feel-good fiction with a happy ending, this is the kind of dark place where I would likely start that story, to give the ultimate, impossible-seeming triumph at the end, that much more impact.

In fiction, if happy endings come from happy beginnings, it is best to start the story at the point where that original happiness is lost, if not already a distant memory. Only with tragedies do you start with the main character happy and celebrating his good fortune, so he has something to lose, some high place from which to fall. Since I have never had that good fortune and high position, but only darkness, by the rules of literature, my story must be destined to be a comedy.

So here I am, on New Year’s Eve, on the brink of 2022, starting my story in the perfect way for a happy ending.

One Reply to “Welcome”

  1. •It is not holding a grudge. I have been through similar from an older step-brother.
    •They are still under your roof technically. You will wish you had cut off social media connections and been the hard mom at this late age if you don’t.
    •The grooming he’s doing now with the daughter(s), will become his words speaking through them. The brainwashing can be so severe as my daughter reaches 30 after 6-7 years of intense brain-washing. He will eventually discourage, control, and manipulate the same way, preventing generational breaking of abuse if left untreated.
    •I searched your name after your comment on Dr Leaf’s video about community as a force she observed in the healing process.
    •Please reach out as I believe your understanding of helping others in Step-Up ministry you describe can also bring healing.

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