Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It is Time to Have No Fear

On 9/11, like most of the rest of the world, except those sympathetic to the perpetrators, I was profoundly
distressed at the carnage. But unlike just about every other American , I was not afraid of something similar occurring again, somewhere in the US, sometime soon.
What I was afraid of at that point in time was dying, but not of a terrorist attack. I had been ill, very ill - at
one point bedridden and unable to swallow - for at that point almost ten years with what the doctors had been
very slow to diagnose - and quick to classify for insurance purposes - as fibromyalgia. My marriage had been
rocky almost its the start in 1984 and I was convinced after eliminating layer after layer of what I thought could
possibly be making me so sick, that the originating root stressor was the toxic man I had invited into my life.
So on that crisp, clear fall day, I had a lot in common with "America the Abused." I was scared. Of a
premature death before I turned 50. And worse, of being a marital failure, and ending up infirmed and alone. But not of planes flying into buildings, or ubiquitous bombs, or anthrax in my mail, or any one of the myriad of "dangers" we were alerted to in subsequent years. No duct tape, hoarding Cipro, and '60s style air raid shelters for me.
Nevertheless, I did not let my fear cause me to be afraid of what had not yet happened, of what "might" occur, or of the "worst" unknown. The urgent and realistic threat in my life was not a foreign terrorist, but my own spouse who had been playing war games at home for years. The message of 9/11 to me was that life was too short and too precious to keep taking his s---. So roughly one month later, as a birthday present to myself, after one too many invalidating and verbally abusive encounters, I kicked my husband out. After years of alternating between ineffective attempts to reason with the irrational and unchangeable, or cowering in silent, internalized blame, it was liberating.
I cannot say that it hasn't been a rocky eight years, with a protracted legal battle filled with head games and maneuvers that would make Osama proud, but "disaster" never materialized. There is truth in "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." My health has dramatically improved; I am optimistic and thriving. No longer stressed and living with an eternal paranoid pessimist, no matter what life throws my way, in difficulty and challenges, I see opportunity, and openly wonder why I spent so many years in misery. My answer: it was what I came to know and I was afraid of the unknown and change. The abuser had left a psychological mark and a familiarity paralysis pattern had set in. I became "addicted" to being dispirited, in much the same way many of my fellow countrymen, eager to respond to outgoing President Bush's call for patriotism, overdid "the call to the mall," unfortunately, the one thing that they did not allow themselves to be convinced to be afraid of. "Shopping" is never an answer, but only a temporary "solution" that usually creates other, more serious, and longer term problems. I forgoed that indulgence, and as this nation was getting economically sicker, ironically, I was making an almost miraculous recovery. The juxtaposition of fates is curious, and wholly determined by choices made as a result of that fateful day.
So while the rest of the country has made 9/11 a national holiday fraught with undertones of fear and commercialism, the day the world changed forever, and for the worse, and has only recently hopefully awakened and emerged from its 7 year "Rambo and Run Up the Credit Card phase," I celebrate that day as the beginning catalyst for monumental and positive changes in my life. I only wish at the time that my fellow countrymen had used it as an opportunity for self examination in terms of the direction that they and our nation were going, that dare I say may have inspired such a despicable act, instead of inhaling and imbibing fear and hatred and continuing their indulgence in overt materialism. You attract what you focus on, maybe not exactly, but in one way, shape and form, and fear eradicates the ability to rationally and clearly think. We may have brought on the current economic crisis not only by taking our eye off that ball and not noticing what we should have been concerned about, but by attracting negativity in another form by holding on to 9/11 too long and too tight. Just look at the behavior that resulted from that preoccupation. I am not saying forget; I am saying "move on" from one unquestioning National Depression that may have beset an actual economic one. In his final public appearances, George Bush clearly used the events of that day as justification for much of the decisionmaking for the remainder of his presidency. "Most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before 9/11, but I never did." Need I say more - just look at the mess that tunnelvisioned focus got US in! Curiously, his closing comments came on the same day a US Air plane plunged into the Hudson River, not far from Ground Zero, and thanks to the heroic efforts of crew and ground personnel, there were no casualities. It is that selfess and fearless spirit, help without hatred, goodness without greed, that of the coming together of all who affected the rescue, perhaps coupled with that of those who perished on 9/11, that we want to be the enduring legacy of that day, not the US versus evil, black and white dichotomy that permeated the past seven plus years, to the extent that some became close to afraid of their own shadows.
This upcoming Inauguration Day is within 4 days of what would have been my 25th wedding anniversary.
I choose to put a positive spin on the day and have even incorporated my date of divorce, close to the 4th of
July, into my e-mail address as my own Independence Day. A butterfly set free. My hope is that with this new
administration, this country will be as successful in reframing 9/11 and the war and subsequent economic
difficulties in its aftermath, as I was in making lemons out of lemonade. The incoming president is an agent of
change, but he cannot do it alone. We voted him in; the question then becomes, as with an abused woman, do we really want to put the pity party to an end? At this important juncture in our history, we can choose to create a renascent version that rises victoriously out of the ashes, or we can wallow in self pity, point fingers and blame, and bury ourselves in nonsensical and irrational fear and continue to cling with lipservice deviation to the familiar course, not walking the talk, and Change.gov could easily become a huge letdown. For all women who are sitting at home thinking there is no way out, and for the country that is very uncertain where it is going right now, I am here to tell you yes, you may have been abused, but don't let that define you for life. It is time for our individual worlds, and the world, to change again. It is time to make another choice, to have "no fear."

MEAN GIRL GROWN UPS

Over the holidays, while I was catching up on my professional reading, a particular item drew my attention. It concerned a female judge who had been disciplined for violating judicial canons and basically being stereotypically "bitchy." It was the latter that caught my eye. The disciplinary court, after hearing thirty witnesses, found that she "routinely belittled, berated and badgered court staff." The opinion went on to state that she traumatized some so severely that they could no longer appear before her and that she acknowledged bias against certain attorneys which had resulted in issuing rulings against them. Stunning was the finding that the judge used court personnel, including her law clerk, as her personal servants - to clean her home, rake her yard, bubble wrap her packages and scrub her floors. But the most telling finding of all was that she had lodged a false complaint stating that a court administrator had grabbed an associate's arm and screamed at them. In true mean girl fashion, she fabricated situations that mirrored her behavior to deflect from her own. Her defense: that all of the witnesses were pressured to lie about her. Translation: they must have followed a more powerful mean girl's lead. What else could it be!
I would not have thought much of this, except that it came hot on the heels of my own experience with a mean girl judge. I will spare the detailed specifics, but suffice it to say that this woman outdid her male peers in the "disrespecting me" department, no small feat, as one had authorized the sale of the former marital residence without full disclosure and put a gag and eviction order on me to ensure that, another had characterized my ex's tax fraud to be the mere failure to file a piece of paper, and a third had held a significant hearing in the divorce matter knowing I had not received actual notice of it, was not present, and then authorized the disbursement of almost $80,000 from the aforementioned sale to the perpetrator of the fraud, my former husband! But this judge's bias against me was palpable, from the order in which she allowed me to speak, to the limited amount of time she allocated me, last and least, to her lack of familiarity with the case file and applicable law and her willingness to allow only opposing counsel - a male - fill in her knowledge gap. There was an exchange where she in essence told me to "get lost," and "take it up with (another court)." Of the one day hearing scheduled, I got ten minutes of less than an hour, mostly interrupted. You could feel her venom fill the room.
To say I was disappointed is an understatement. But what I at first couldn't figure out was why. Was she a mean girl grown up? I didn't think so. She wasn't that attractive - "plain Jane" comes to mind - short, straight, salt and pepper mannish hairdo and angular, unremarkable features. I strongly suspect she was not one of the pretty or popular girls in her younger years, which nixed that theory.
Had she been a victim of a mean girl in her youth, and because of that become a mean girl grown up, taking it out on anyone who remotely reminded her of someone who bullied or humiliated her in those dreadful middle school and teen years? Just my luck, I'm told I am "cute," have good hair (albeit short and salt and pepper as well, but with bounce) and look 15 years younger than we both probably are, courtesy of fibromyalgia taut, porcelain skin. However, I don't accentuate or flaunt my supposed pulchritude; no hair color, lipstick only, eyes hidden behind glasses, dress way down. I simply don't care, but apparently she did, still jealous of THAT despite all of her professional accomplishments, giving new meaning to "judging a book by its cover!" Very immature, but given women's propensity to have long memories for past slights, vindictive grudgeholding, and striking out at the most available target, that seemed a more plausible explanation.
Which begs the question, why, forty odd years after the women's movement supposedly liberated us to be all we are and can be, do we still (A) want to be like men, and outdo them routinely in emulating them at their worst, and (B) behave in a petty and non supportive manner toward our own as if they are some threat for some guy's attention/affection in some long ago schoolyard? Biologically neanderthal catty cats! Some of us may just be mean girls grown up who never changed, but could the rest be explained as mean girl grown ups shaped and spawned by youthful victimization? Are we unconsciously creating MORE mean girls? Will I now become a mean girl as a result of this experience? I hope not.
Does it make us feel superior to wield authority in this manner? Because it shouldn't. By acting so unkindly, have we in essence given up on "love" and "niceness" for "our sex is all about power?" I would hope we could achieve a balance there. We may say we've "come a long way baby," but deep down if we behave no differently than men or the mean girls of the childhood cliques and we make our name and feel good about ourselves by stepping on and over others, particularly women, rather than treating them as equals and helping them get a leg up, we've clung to the worst of our gender traits and adopted the most disagreeable and unpleasant of the opposite sex. That's not progress. That's something to be ashamed of. Revenge on the mean girls. I'm all for that - at the time the incident occurred, directed at the perpetrator. Pick on the mean girl that picked on you and get past it; don't pay it forward on the innocent. In so doing, that's one step backwards for you, and by multiplier effect, many steps back for the rest of us.
We live in a country that with the election of an African American president may finally rid that race of the internal violence affected upon it by generations of slavery. We shouldn't have to wait for a woman to be elected to that high office to eliminate the passing down the "mean girl effect." The time for that is now.

THE ELIOT SPITZERS NEXT DOOR

Much ink has been spilled on "Kristen," what it's like to be a highly paid hooker, and Mr. Spitzer and his conduct. Not much has been said about what it is like to be the wife in these situations, and what little is out there tends to suggest a spouse might not find the behavior all that objectionable. WRONG.

I went through something very similar to the Spitzer situation with my now ex-husband, who had a high level security clearance with the Defense Department (DIA). You know, the kind that sat at the table with Rummy. Married twenty years; he admitted under oath to spending at least half of that time with roughly biweekly "massage parlor girls," wasting thousands of our dollars along the way. It got bad when he turned 40; I kicked him out at 45. His employer looked the other way until the tax man ultimately - and quite recently - took him down on a tangentially related matter. The more he got away with, the more temerarious he became in all aspects of his life. The court system in Fairfax County, VA gave him a wink and a nod in the divorce proceedings in 2004, with the Special Commissioner minimizing the lengthy behavior, complete with documented social diseases, a health risk, equating it on fault grounds as tantamount to my fibromyalgia, which he seemed to imply in his report may have justified and provoked it. Despite my fervent opposition, the Trial Court judge, since retired, allowed my ex-husband to sell the marital residence, with its multitude of hidden problems, without full disclosure, at the top of the bubble real estate market, specifically ordering me gagged from truthtellling. In written opinions in two related tort cases, a colleague, still sitting on the bench, grossly mischaracterized the tax fraud as "...not taken steps related to income tax returns..." and "...not filed the necessary tax forms..." Affirmed by higher courts, including the Supremes, it is enough to give one pause as to the intellectual and common sense competency of the judiciary and casts doubt on whether a woman -more specifically, an ethnic New Yorker in a Southern courtroom; yes, they're still fighting the Civil War anytime and anyplace they can - can expect to get fair and equal treatment when a male jurist presides. I witnessed first hand an alacrity to truckle to and acceptance of mendacity under oath - much more common than you would imagine - rather than a willingness to ferret out veracity and do any independent thinking, completely subverting the legitimacy and purpose of the process. What can I say...boys will be boys and the boys' club - dominating as ever, that "glass ceiling" is real - finds a way to protect its own. STILL. I will be pleasantly surprised if Mr. Spitzer goes to jail.

I spent years hoping it was just a mid life crisis and that I could wait it out. And that my ex-husband would eventually stay in therapy long enough to get past the preoccupation. My feeling now is that shrinks don't work unless patients go for the right reason, and appeasing a spouse or because one's been caught doesn't qualify. While it may begin as a curiosity, or a choice, the behavior quickly becomes an addiction, and like all patterns, the longer it has gone on, the harder it is to break. My ex-husband, aside from losing a career that I had sacrificed years in helping him build, went on to remarry someone who spent much of the time between her marriages in liaisons, some with married men, to augment her paltry finances, splurging $30,000 of our savings on her in the first year alone. Those kind of women are out there as well, disrespectful and eager to tip and take advantage of tottering marriages and available for well compensated affairs. Not quite prostitution, but if you look at the dictionary definition, not far from it. Calculated, manipulative preying, one step up from a "pro." As far as I am concerned, my ex-husband got what he deserved, but it saddens me that despite my efforts to help him "rise above his raising," he sunk to THAT comfort level and allowed her to bring him further down. But I digress...

Watching Mrs. Spitzer was painful for me and compelled me to tell my story. And while she may never read this, I believe what occurred in her marriage on a national stage is a dirty little secret in many conjugal closets throughout the nation. It needs to be exposed, discussed and denounced. Responsibility for the betrayal should not be avoidable with "deals." There is no "deal" that can ever completely repair a wronged partner's intense heartache, although I suspect given the Spitzers' wealth, his wife will be paid handsomely to "stay" and live apart. Trust is almost impossible to rebuild in the aftermath and it takes time to heal. Contrary to how it is often cavalierly portrayed, it is not a victimless crime.

For quite a few years, I "knew," but "didn't know." Afraid to ask, scared of what I might hear. Above all else, keep it picture perfect on the outside and maintain the facade. I was as stunned as Mrs. Spitzer looked when my ex-husband started getting pimples on his penis and "butt crack" rashes. That was my wake up call. But through some warped logic and misplaced loyalty, stubbornly Italian Catholic, I blamed myself and attempted to hold the marriage together, enduring the emotional abuse -let's call it what it is - in addition to substantial verbal and some physical accompaniment - for another five years. So many women do that, when in fact the impulse is something we have no control over and has nothing to do with us. We stay silent and suffer, for "love," to preserve our investment of time, because inertia is easier, out of shame and embarrassment, convinced maybe somehow we "deserve it," in shell shocked denial. If we attempt to talk, we often find no one interested in listening, so we quickly clam up. "Stand by your man" is every woman's first instinct, but unless there is true remorse and a substantial effort (versus a promise) to change, it becomes nothing more than enabling.

Try as you might, you cannot "fix it." You cannot "do it" enough times or varied ways to appease the urge, which becomes the third wheel and rival in the marriage. Think Charles and Diana with a permanent but invisible Camilla. Your sexual performance will always be compared - unfavorably - to that of the hooker girls. My ex-husband's ubiquitous mantra was that I was not "a real woman." There is a popular misconception that these emotionally uninvolved encounters, as opposed to affairs, are less threatening and detrimental to the nuptial bond. The converse is actually the case, because in the pursuit of narcissistic pleasure, any crotch will do, the epitome of objectification. "Specialness" and "selectivity", those hallmarks of social "flings," are not necessary to satisfy this hard wired - think pedophilia or homosexuality - predilection. That is not said to diminish the effect that womanizing can have on relationships, but to distinguish it. Hookerville and Affairland are two very different places.


If there are children in the family, the oft cited reason for staying, it is poor role modeling for the next generation, girls and boys alike. With that, I am primarily referencing the male head of household, the blueprint for what manhood is for either sexed offspring. Fathers are the most important men in young girls' lives well into the teen years and beyond, viewed more or less as perfect. To have that image shattered on such a public stage must be devastating for the Spiter daughters. I found out my own father was "human" while in the same age bracket when I discovered he had won at the "numbers" in the pre legal lottery days. At almost 54 years of age, I still vividly recall the incident and it is stuck in my memory for life. And pales in comparison.

I became physically ill to the point of being bedridden and unable to work. The aforementioned fibromyalgia. I had my "Eat, Pray, Love" toilet bowel moment pre Elizabeth Gilbert when I concluded the situation had boiled down to "Divorce or Die." Despite my best efforts, and years of intensive expert therapy, including P/T, massage, acupuncture and rolfing, I was getting worse, not better. The tension in the household was so great that I could no longer urinate or have a bowel movement when my ex-husband was around and for a time had difficulty swallowing. I wonder how many other women being diagnosed with that trendy ailment of the moment, or other medical conditions, are just suffering a severe stress reaction to bad - no make it, unapologetically toxic - relationships with poisonous men. Almost four years post divorce, and I am virtually symptom free. I am happy. Ecstatic. Thriving. Grateful. And it has NOTHING to do with a man. Or Lyrica.

In writing this, my intention is to spark the conversation and educate others on what seems to be currently vastly misunderstood, given the public criticism of Mrs. Spitzer's presence by her husband's side at both news conferences. Appearances can be deceiving. It's complicated. Try to empathize.

In addition, I want to offer other women similarly situated hope and spur the rest to examine the details of their lives. If you feel something is wrong, it probably is. Don't stuff it down; don't play unconscious pretend. TALK, to someone, anyone. Find an ear who will listen. These men do not wear a sign announcing their proclivities. They hail from all walks of life and are generally not the "usual suspects." The propensity cannot be "educated" or "statused" out of them. It is what it is, in this era of disposable people and somewhat sociopathic behavior on the part of both sexes. I found out the hard way that the commitment expressed in wedding vows means (and meant) very little, uttered for the sake of userous convenience and expediency. Before they act, people need to begin to start to think about whether how they're behaving is how THEY would want to be treated in return. There is sadly little contemplation on that point around.

This is not a fairy tale. "Once upon a time" I had such a man in my bed. Look around; check yours. As I write this, it was disclosed that US Senator Stabenow's husband has been similarly compromised. For every "Bimbo eruption" you hear about, be assured there are many more you do not. This is not a phenomena confined to men in the public and/or political eye. They are truly the "guy next door."

Karen Ann DeLuca