May 2021

The Intersection of Guilt and Abuse: When we fail to believe we deserve better


The Intersection of Guilt and Abuse by DkWeissWriter

When my husband died in April of 2013, I didn’t think I deserved to have a future. And that led me to fall into emotional abuse.

By the time he was diagnosed with male breast cancer, it was already at Stage Four. At least, that’s what I believe. He never told me about having any symptoms until he announced one day that he was going to the hospital for “tests.” But by then, it was too late.

As he got sicker, he fell into deep denial.

He rejected care, wouldn’t let me get involved in his treatment, and demanded that we conceal his condition from his parents. Over time, I dressed the weeping wounds the cancer had carved into his back and hoped I wasn’t killing him. I gave him his nebulizer several times a night and begged him to let me get the hospital bed and skilled nursing care he needed.

But he always refused. Finally, sleep-deprived, and covered in stress-related hives, I yelled at him, trying desperately to get him to see reality, screaming that I just couldn’t take it anymore.

Except he was the one who was dying.

When he was gone, it was as though I’d lost him twice, first to the denial that took away my husband and best friend of 32 years, and second to the cancer that claimed his body. And somehow I felt it was my fault. It would always be my fault. To this day, I don’t much care for Sundays.

After he died, I had a major case of caregiver guilt. And a bunch of memories I didn’t want to be alone with, especially after dark.

A year and a half later, after dating online for a few months, I wound up in an emotionally abusive relationshipI wound up in an emotionally abusive relationship. But back then, I didn’t see the correlation.

Looking back, I see I accepted that poison because I was lost in shame.

Initially — in fact way too early — my new boyfriend told me that he loved me. But six months later, he was whining that I sucked, was supremely selfish and never considered what he wanted. Outwardly, I railed against it. But deep down, I felt he was right. So I hung out with a guy who drove with a coffee cup of whiskey beside him, and balked when it was his turn to pay for dinner but gambled away thousands of his savings, and who threatened to kill himself because he was just that miserable.

Like so many who have been in abusive relationships, I rationalized that I could help him to change. He needed me. Having failed to save my husband, I wanted to save someone, even someone who wasn’t very nice to me.

How many of us have subconsciously fallen into toxicity because we didn’t believe we deserve better?

We wind up with someone enmeshed in their own drama who isn’t good for us, and we think, I guess that’s all I get to have in this life.

It’s not that you consciously decide that you deserve a schmuck, it’s that you settle for one. They’re a distraction from yourself. You don’t have to work on your own pain when you’re constantly mopping up after someone else’s.

And that can be a relief.

Unable to live alone with my memories, I lacked the wherewithal to get out. Nothing was that great, but being with him was somewhat better than being alone.Until it wasn’t.

To resolve my guilt, the first thing I had to do was to confess my sins.

I see now they weren’t unique or even special. Many of us feel guilt over providing flawed care to our loved ones and being overwhelmed and frightened, and even losing our tempers and saying things we regret. Which we regret even more after they’re gone.

One day while leaving a writing class, a fellow classmate asked about my weekend plans. I answered that I was going to try a walking group on meetup, but surprised myself by adding, “Whenever I meet anyone new I feel like I’m hiding something.” Isn’t it often that way, the thing we’re hiding is also the thing we want to shout out loud?

“The best way to get over shame is to talk about it, ” he said. “It’s when we hide our secrets that they fester.” I’d happened, perhaps not so unconsciously, to share my feelings with an older man who’d spent much of his life working on his own foibles.

So I started writing about it. From the responses I received, I learned I was not alone in my guilt. But I still didn’t get rid of my poisonous boyfriend.

My memories made it hard to be by myself for long periods of time. And that inability to be alone was its own kind of beast, feral and immediate, craving warmth, the feel of skin, the solidity of someone lying next to me in the dark, numbing out my shame.

I finally broke up with my boyfriend when he insisted on picking me up after a writing workshop in the city. From the start, he was restless, strung out on pain medication and whiskey. He insisted on crossing a busy intersection just as the light was changing, grabbing my wrist to drag me along with him when I refused. A speeding car almost hit us. By the time that car had screeched to a halt, other cars were coming at us too.

When we finally made it across the street, he blamed me for not trusting him. The ride home wasn’t any better. That day I finally recognized him as an abuser who wanted to take me down with him.

By the time I was done with it all, I was bitter. A different person. No longer the quiet widow who was looking for love. But an angry woman who’d been abused. Yet that was better because now I cared about having a future.

If you’ve ever felt this kind of shame, you are not alone. But I also want you to know in the future you’ll be different. It might not be for months or even years, but there is a different you who wants to be alive. And the you that emerges from the crucible may very well not be the person who you were before. But that person is worth waiting for.

(Previously published in P.S. I Love You on Medium).
The Intersection of Guilt and Abuse: When we fail to believe we deserve better2021-05-20T14:35:12+00:00

November 2020

When You Think Everyone Else is Doing a Better Job of Widowing

On the beach and unconcerned about my widowing skills. (Photo by my boyfriend Randal who’s a great photographer)

Are you feeling judged? 

When I was widowed, I couldn’t stop thinking I was doing it wrong. Sure, I could get the paperwork done, and get recalcitrant bank employees to change the accounts, and even remodel the bathroom.

But deep down, I kept thinking I was missing something. Otherwise I wouldn’t feel so awful, so completely alone. It wasn’t that I didn’t function, it was that I felt so terrible.

I was just so used to being part of a marriage, acting as half of a pair. Almost everything I did, I was used to running by George. And if I messed something up, he was there to tell me I hadn’t really, and in any event it would all turn out okay.

He kept the self-loathing monster at bay. Maybe your spouse did too. But now we have to do that for ourselves.

I was alone the evening of the 2016 election. I went to a yoga class, then then went to a healing service at a local house of worship. But what I really wanted was George. I wandered what he would have thought of it all, what he would have made for dinner, if we would have stayed up late talking about it. I got through that night, but wondered where I’d failed to be so alone.

Acting on my own, from picking new bathroom fixtures to going out alone at night, felt unreal. It was all so much less than my life used to be, even though it took much more effort.

I worried life would always feel this anemic, and for that, I blamed myself.

If only I had more friends, more ideas of what I wanted to do, and more energy to make it happen (whatever that mysterious “it” was). But I stopped practicing law back in 2001. Aside from taking the odd writing class, I didn’t do much after that beyond fitness, and home stuff, and being with George. After he died, none it was good enough any more. 

Where was that dazzling career that needed me, or network of girlfriends taking me out for spa respites? I blamed myself for never having had children though I’d never missed them when George was around.

Getty Images. This widow probably made that wine and makes a fortune selling it online.

Then there were the photos of widows I saw online. The widows who were laughing with girlfriends, and hosting adorable little dinners garnished with large bouquets of lavender from their own gardens. They were all finding sparkly new lives while I was failing to accomplish much of anything. 

That feeling has persisted throughout my almost seven years of widowhood. I still feel it to this day.

I’m Pretty Sure My Kitchen Despises Me.

The kitchen was George’s domain, he was the gourmet cook. When he died, it became the emptiest room in the house, full of the equipment he used, and his fancy olive oils, with no one to use them any more. His over-sized mandoline slicer looked like it wanted to bite off a finger. Not to mention huge cauldrons I would never be filling, a turkey roaster for gatherings I’d never be hosting, and a sukiyaki maker when I never, ever wanted to make sukiyaki for one. 

Over the years, I tried to reconcile with the kitchen, giving it a remodel, cleaning out all that smug professional-grade equipment, even getting a produce boxed delivered so it would know I thought of it. But I myself am not professional-grade.

The kitchen and I have since reached a detente but it took time. I still don’t really cook in it on nights my boyfriend isn’t around, but it’s finally stopped taunting for my culinary inadequacies. (Then again, anyone who thinks they have a talking kitchen probably has problems).

”You never make homemade soup. You could do that if you hadn’t tossed George’s Cuisinart,” it says softly but reproachfully as I heat up another Doordash feast which includes, I confess, a delicious cream of cauliflower soup from my local bistro. 

”Shut the fuck up,” I say under my breath. “I had you remodeled. Can’t you just look pretty and be quiet?”

This is obviously an image I do not relate to.

Ah, but that talented #cookingwidow with her wildly successful blog makes her own soup. Hell, she’d be making it for her six dinner party guests and spooning it into a Meissen terrine #whenlifegivesyoulemons.

I spoon my own cauliflower soup into a black stoneware bowl, a step up from the takeout container, and settle in alone to watch something young adult and escapist on Hulu. Ah, another night of pretending I’m a college student replete with unbridled hormones, a sense of premise, and an inexplicably nice apartment.

That widow I follow on Facebook would be finding comfort in exquisite homemade succulent gardens and lavender balms. #yougottaloveyourself. The lavender plants I planted in my own window boxes are oddly brown and scraggly. And who started the rumor lavender works as some sort of anxiety panacea anyway? Martinis, I get. Chocolate torte, I need. Even ill-chosen sex I comprehend even though it never worked for me. I’ve bought lavender lotions and shower gels, and…yup, still anxious!

The Instagram widows put me to shame. Homemade coffee table with husband’s face lovingly depicted in mosaic? Check. Teeny Lycra workout gear showing off abs from workout program named after husband? Check. Taking said program public with large IPO? Yup, and it only took six months to find an angel investor!

Here’s the Problem: You’re Probably Going to Feel Inadequate Some of the Time

Oft-repeated words from a favorite yoga teacher

There are so many reasons why. First, you no longer have your beloved to cheer you on and rebuild you when you feel you’ve failed. You have to be your own cheerleader. Which I don’t think we’re trained to do when we’re younger. We’re used to pushing ourselves, and wanting more, and setting goals. Feeling okay isn’t on that list, even though sometimes it’s the most we can do. 

Second, change comes with pain. My career coach says we change not because we have some amazing epiphany wherein the heavens open up to reveal our chosen path, but because it becomes harder not to change. Yes, I am seeing a career coach to find my own sense of promise again.

But that widow with all the Medium followers would already be a career coach, or be supporting herself selling digital remembrance journals (whatever that is), or marketing her own strain of lavender infused with cannabis (called “Lana-bliss”) for de-stressing that actually works. 

We’re feeling inadequate because we’re on a journey. The old selves aren’t working for us anymore and we’re waiting for the new selves we’re going to become. In the meantime, we’re not too crazy about our lives even though change takes courage, and in that way we are growing, even when we don’t realize it. 

We Make It Even Harder When We Judge Ourselves

When I was newly widowed, I wanted to be an entirely different person. One with a support network in place instead of having spent years isolated in my marriage. One who was better at making friends and who knew what to do with her life. One who had lots of connections on LinkedIn (although I couldn’t figure out exactly what I did to get them).  At the very least, one who took comfort in her kitchen, and wasn’t quibbling with it. 

But we can only be who we are. 

There is no one looking over your shoulder judging you except yourself. I hike with a wonderful, accomplished friend. He does so much every day, hiking, writing a book, caring for his grandkids. But he never thinks he’s done enough. He’ll drive five hours to visit with his granddaughter, then be mad at himself when he comes home too tired to write a new piece.

His scheduler, who coincidentally happens to be the same guy, is always dissatisfied with him. He accomplishes plenty, he just needs to fire his scheduler.

Change will come, but not all at once. Could we accept ourselves with the compassion we’d offer a friend (or acquaintance, or anyone other than ourselves). For me, it would have removed a whole extra layer of pain. Instead of telling myself I wasn’t doing the right things, I would have congratulated myself for trying. And I wouldn’t have been angry at myself when I spent a few days on the couch with a book.

So, let’s not judge ourselves. We are getting through this. Often, particularly in these disturbing times, surviving is all we can do.

When You Think Everyone Else is Doing a Better Job of Widowing2021-01-08T18:40:05+00:00

October 2020

Confessing to Loneliness at the End of the World


Sometimes it hurts so badly I must cry out loud, I am lonely. “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” Crosby, Stills and Nash

Hiking (and holding my mask). Nature as a cure for isolation.

Can we admit we’re not okay right now? 

When I was newly widowed, one of the hardest things was having to act like I was fine, grateful to be alive and healthy, with so much of life still ahead of me, and no real problems aside from, you know, that pesky missing husband. No complicated grief here, ha ha.

But what I really wanted to say was, “I’m lonely.”

And, “I spend too much time by myself.”

And, “This sucks.”

But we don’t do that. Who wants to appear pathetic? Especially in a milieu where being busy is it’s own type of currency. So many people I talk to are just so swamped. They will never have time for you, ever, but they will tell you, upon rejecting your offer for coffee or lunch, all about their schedules as if you really wanted a play-by-play of their social lives.

And now, the world feels apocalyptic. So many people are grieving now. 
Bloggers are supposed to offer solutions. Five ways to Spot a Wanna Be Sugar Daddy. Twelve ways to Defang a Narcissist. (Just Block them, really). Eight Ways to Love Spaghetti Squash. (Is that cooking or porn?)

My best idea at this point is being able to admit we’re not okay.

”How are you?”

”I feel isolated. I’m sad and lonely.” (There. Doesn’t that feel better?)

A Little Background

Last summer, driving a friend’s boat and feeling hopeful. That was a year ago.

I wrote a manuscript. I hired a big deal editor to work on it with me. She was encouraging and I worked on my oeuvre every spare minute I wasn’t working on my Masters of Fine Arts in writing. Which I got in May. I sent my manuscript out to agents with my editor’s blessing.

And thud. No on wanted me…l mean it not me, yeah, it.

My one finished fiction piece got rejected by every literary journal I sent it to. Having completed the MFA, I don’t know what to do with it. I’d hoped all the intellectual stimulation and smart people in the program would inspire me to try….something.   

But I was not inspired. This past summer, one of my best days was taking half a gummie, watching all of Looking for Alaska, and ordering both the dragon roll and the double hamachi maki on Doordash. Such is the power of having not one, but two, graduate degrees.

It all had to count for something. But it didn’t. The universe was supposed to provide, but it was porous. 

Back to the Beginning

Starting again.

My life post-graduation reminded me of when I was a new widow, after the paperwork was done, the dust had settled, the leaky bathroom was remodeled, and…nothing. Now my MFA cohort is scattered, my well-curated schedule of classes, and homework, and editing my alleged manuscript is over, and I don’t know what to do anymore.

Dare I say it, I am lonely? 

I’ve been reading (some really good) articles by widows who are using their special widow powers to get through this time. They say how all of usage now living in a world upended. But we widowed people have had our worlds upended before. We’ve got this. (I do not have this). Sometimes they use my least favorite world: resilient. Resilience a rose-colored blanket we’re supposed to pull over ourselves with so nobody has to see the wounds underneath. That might be kind of awkward.

When my mom died when I was ten, the hardest thing I went through was having to act like nothing was really wrong. I was told how strong I was. But I was pretty unhappy, trying to keep up with hours of home work and new chores and even then I wondered, what’s the point of all this if I’m miserable. (Nope, I’m not bitter. I just became a lawyer at 25 to prove I could get all my homework done). 

I lost my dreams when my husband died.

I’d thought we’d have the rest of our lives together, cooking odd recipes, fixing up our little house. I thought he’d stop being such a workaholic and we’d finally travel together. When he became wheel-chair bound from cancer, I planned on fixing up our backyard to be a lovely place to sit together. At peace. Still in love after 32 years. A quiet kind of love. My dreams were tiny, finally get that deck installed, plant some new flowers for color, get him regular physical therapy.

Then he was gone.

And I did not want to hear the r-word. 

But I could go for a walk and look at the vermillion flowers on the crepe myrtle trees. I could say hello to the people I saw day after day and find some tiny bit of warmth in their smiles. I could add more flowers to my yard, go to yoga classes, breathe in unison with my classmates, and go out to brunch with my in-laws, reconciling with them after the confusion that was George’s death.

Here is what you are supposed to say to yourself when you are panicking, “I am breathing in (deep inhale), I am breathing out (sigh a long exhale).” It sort of helps. I know because I wake up panicked in the middle of the night, roiling about with the ghosts of my dreams.

I am not the r-word. It’s too grand. Too formulaic for a lost dilettante with two unused graduate degrees and a shitload of resentment for the American model of grieving. 

So back again.

To long walks alone and saying hello to the dog walkers. And planting flowers in my yard. And thinking of ways to turn what used to be George’s home into mine. And following the breath in what’s now video yoga classes. 

And saying to myself, “The hydrangeas are blooming. I feel less sad.” 

And thinking there are other dreams. They will come. In the meantime there are ridge lines to walk, and gardenias to feed, and breath to follow.

What I am Doing to Get Through These Times

Okay, I have not truly given up. There are only so many John Green film adaptations. So, I am:

  • Seeing a career coach-most people do this to add value to their professions. I am doing this to see if I can say the word ”career” without sputtering. (I never recovered from the sexist, unequal workplace that was my first–and okay, only–legal job). But I need to believe there is something that will give me purpose and keep me off the daytime gummies. I have homework again. Which would be good except one of my assignments is to write again. Hence yet another resurrection of this blog.
  • Hiking with a very small, socially distanced, masked group. I feel less lonely having a regular schedule with a couple of weekly hikes. I would recommend trying to configure your old groups to be helpful now. My old writing group meets one morning a week on Zoom. I miss the banana bread, but it’s still good.
  • Trying to figure out how I might self, or otherwise, publish my oeuvre. Not sure on this, but I’m not ready to put it in the bin. I feel like a failure with writing these days. And that’s not good. It’s what I’ve done for a long time, from legal writing to when I wrote for magazines. Even though nothing panned out the way I’d planned.
  • Needing to recognize progress. I am currently seeking purpose. When I was widowed seven and a half years ago, being a widow was my sole identity. Surviving widowhood was all I could handle. Trying to recover from George’s denial of his illness, my guilt as his caregiver, and my own fears of being alone, of dying alone, were all I could think about.

    And now it’s time to think about something else. Which means this blog may be moving on to the next question, “What comes after widowhood when it’s no longer all-consuming?”

    Take care until next time, (I’m shooting for every other week),

Confessing to Loneliness at the End of the World2021-01-08T18:44:59+00:00
Go to Top