This post contains my experience and thoughts on domestic abuse, and recovery. If you may be affected by this please proceed with caution.
Looking at the order of things, as they happened in my personal growth, it seems that the 4thoughts prompt ties in quite nicely with my letting go of anger at the boys dad. His treatment of me, and subsequent diagnosis, fit nicely (ha, that’s the wrong word!) with the prompt. However, I don’t want to talk about him, I don’t even want to talk about the way that he made me feel or the damage he did to our family. Time has moved on, and though I was a victim of his behaviours that ship has sailed! Instead I want to touch on how I extracted myself from his web of bad behaviour. By keeping my side of the street clean, and letting go of the unnecessary anger.
Anger which, inevitably, was doing me more harm than good.
When I mentioned timing earlier I was referring to my bukkake party, and how it was shortly after this that I had one of my lightbulb moments. In fact it was the next Tuesday! You see, the plan was that he would have the boys, supported by my mum and his family, every other weekend, and he would speak to the boys on the phone every Tuesday evening, after work. He set the time around his commitment to the daily grind, the boys looked forward to the theoretical call.
Each week they tried calling at the time he set, rarely did he answer.
There was never a text of apology or suggesting another time. No worries, I try to be a good mum and I’ve lost count of the hours I spent consoling my children in a way that didn’t speak badly of their dad. He didn’t need my help with that, and it’s always been important to me that they have as healthy a relationship as possible with him. Instead I would use my counselling hours to process, among other things, his lack of care towards his children. But as long as they were safe, I would persist.
I had found a thing online, as you do.
A technique for coping with narcissists (and indeed any abuser) that you can’t cut out of your life, for whatever reason. It is called they Grey Rock method. This is a helpful technique for managing those relationships when you can’t just end them entirely. While eliminating him from my world was all I wanted, as co-parents this wasn’t possible. What I needed was to become the grey rock. To make myself as uninteresting as possible. Never to react to his bad behaviours. To give him as little feedback as possible. I’m a fan of “keeping my side of the street clean”, a mantra that has helped me through a lot of the times when the children have thrown back nasty comments he’s made about me. It’s not their fault, as children they are entirely vulnerable to those manipulations. What they needed was a calm mum to guide them, not more anger being channelled through them.
So, I had the theory of the grey rock method.
I was learning and externally I displayed it well. But inside I was raging. A melting pot of pure loathing, directed entirely at him. And I couldn’t show him, because I had to maintain the boundaries I was putting in place. If you know children you’ll understand about giving in to a whining child, or even just giving them any reaction to their most irritating of sounds? If you react it reinforces their behaviour as “Yay, I got (x, y or z) by whining, I’ll keep at it!” Well, I was now thinking of P’s bad behaviour in this way. If I let down my aloof guard I would give him the feedback he required to grip tighter.
But as I mentioned, there was anger.
I’d only recently learnt that was what the intense white heat was within me. The catalyst for me leaving had been kept on ice for more years than I cared to recall, and so I’d denied my feelings. Like anyone learning a new emotion I needed support and, fortunately, I received it in the form of therapy. I could keep the rolling boil under control between sessions and process things in my hour. I appreciate not everyone is so lucky, the charity that took me under their care will forever hold a special place in my heart.
So, the Tuesday in question…
The boys made their call and, unsurprisingly, there was no answer. I put the smallest to bed somehow, the usual Tuesday meltdowns always made this tricky. And as I sat reading with the big one he asked to send his dad a message. His specialist subject at the time was Robot Wars, and we were reading facts on it, one of which he wanted to share. I agreed, and he sent the message, a reply came quickly. So he asked if he could make a call. Of course I agreed.
Now, I’m not one to sit in on their calls, it’s not my business what they talk about.
But on this occasion I had no other option than to stay in the room. I moved to a chair across the room, and he made a video call. What I witnessed had me fuming. P was watching TV and eating his dinner while our oldest recounted his latest facts at his dad. There was an occasional nod or grunt, but mostly he was ignored. With bedtime upon us I asked him to say goodnight and go and clean his teeth. By the time I went to tuck him in the seething in my stomach was about to spill over. Keeping my side of the street clean was going to be incredibly hard, but my boy didn’t need to witness my feelings. Curiosity made me ask if he’d had a nice chat with his dad. It turned out that he’d not noticed his dad wasn’t paying him any attention.
The call had given him exactly what he needed.
I’d done the work, regarding supervision during physical contact, to ensure they were safe. All I wanted was that they got what they needed from him, an area I thought he’d been failing in. To hear from my ten year old child that he didn’t need his dad’s attention to enjoy their telephone contact was a weight off. It’s not ideal, obviously it’s not, but it was a step in the right direction. By the time I reached the bottom of the stairs I’d processed a small portion of my anger, and over the weeks that followed I took huge leaps in learning what they needed.
The main step was that they wanted to stop the Tuesday calls.
He kicked off at this, but had no legs to stand on because of his consistently failing to pick up or respond in other ways.
They wanted to do a couple of activities which I’d been unable to afford without his support. With the help of child support they set a a level of maintenance which he couldn’t wriggle out of. It had taken ten years of parenting, but he was finally contributing financially to their world. And this meant they could actually have swimming lessons and walking boots! (Both at their request.) It also meant I could take them out for hot chocolate after school occasionally, an extra special treat for all of us! There was more, but by taking the time to listen to their needs it was all tailored to them.
Well, within responsible parenting boundaries.
The more we spoke, the more I learned about them. And with my greater understanding of them our bond strengthened. We were able to heal together, as a family and as individuals. My rage subsided which meant that the grey rock technique no longer required effort on my part.
I’m not going to lie and say it’s all been plain sailing.
There have been occasions where I’ve had to call him on his behaviour. But remember, my goals for the children has always been that they are safe and get what they want and need. (Yes, I’m aware this mirrors Sir, but it also precedes him.) I’ve always been a pretty level headed woman, but understanding my anger and how to communicate it in a healthy way gave me the upper hand in our dealings. His behaviour no longer affected me personally.
The last time I had to raise an issue with him was almost two years ago now.
It was the first time I had needed to have this kind of conversation with him since becoming confident in my actions. Arranging to meet at my mums, half way between us I intercepted him at the door. There I stated the facts which had been relayed to me by both children, independently of each other. Then I calmly asked if he was safe to have them or if he needed some time to get support for his problems.
He had a heated debate, his anger at the accusations met my best grey-rock replies.
Another couple months of supervised visits and the difference in him was immense. And do you know what? Now that he knows he can’t manipulate or intimidate me he is such a better dad. Throughout the Covid restrictions he was able to have the unsupervised contact which lockdown permitted. They come home bright and bubbly, full of life. And I get to rest and relax knowing they are in safe hands.
I will never forgive him for treating us the way he did, and I doubt I will ever fully trust him. I’ll always be keeping an eye on their behaviours, prepared for any changes which need attention. I don’t think that vigilance will ever leave me, and I’m glad of that. But by letting go of my anger, keeping my side of the street clean and finding joy in getting to know my children fully- their wants and needs- I know that life is better all round. Not just for me, but for my smalls as well.
There can be life after abuse- from a narcissist or otherwise.
Finding acceptance of my emotions, and letting go of the unnecessary anger, has allowed me to grow infinitely. Both in my own internal world, and as a mum. I’m not perfect, I’ve never claimed to be, but I do aim to keep learning. Only by doing that will I keep going with my recovery. It is an ongoing task, and a path I know many of us follow.
Wherever you are on your journey, keep going!
The 4Thoughts prompt always seems to get my juices flowing. If you’ve enjoyed Keeping My Side Of The Street Clean, check out the Navigating Social Media. Which also linked up to Mindful Moments. There is a new prompt coming very soon!