Category Archives: Art by Asphyxia

Nightmare

It has been almost two years since I moved out of the house I built myself. In one fell swoop, I lost my health, my home, my partner, my son, most of my larger extended family, most of my friends, and my financial security. My life has had a nightmarish quality to it, as I have struggled to adjust. I kept thinking I would wake up and find myself in the familiarity of my old life, to Jesse slipping into my bed for a morning cuddle. I have been homesick for not just my home, but my life.

I am adjusting now. In many ways my new life is better. Except for the thing that matters the very most: my beloved son is not with me. In that way the nightmare continues, day after day after day.

Life Without Toxic Relationships

One advantage to having my entire life wiped out and being forced to start over in almost every single aspect, is that I can rebuild it much, much more carefully. The thing I am doing differently this time is choosing the people who will be in it according to whether or not they have empathy, and whether or not they are manipulative. This article, How to never get involved with an abuser again, changed my life. It says to look at the way a person acts, not what they say, and don’t accept any excuses for hurtful behaviour.

When I read the list of signs that a person lacks empathy, I recognise people I have known. Here are some examples:

• Inability to imagine how their words and actions may affect you;

• Isn’t interested in finding ways to soothe your worries;

• Becomes angry or looks at you with a blank face when you cry or get emotional;

• Is hurtfully blunt and casually critical, and when you become upset, tells you they are ‘just being honest’. Honesty without kindness is cruelty.

• Talks at length about a topic that clearly bores you, without noticing;

• Brings up sensitive topics after you’ve asked them to stop;

• Expects instant forgiveness;

• Invalidates your thoughts, experiences, ideas and concerns;

• Neglecting or ignoring you when you are sick;

• Judgemental;

• Believes they are always right;

• Expects you to accomodate their needs and schedule, without regard for yours;

• Doesn’t ask you how your day was or how your doctor’s appointment went;

• Self-centredness – seems to have plenty of empathy for you but not for others. Watch out – you’re next;

• Indifference to the suffering of others;

• Doesn’t seem to care how their words or actions affect you.

I will add some red flags to watch for of my own:

• Has a vision of how you are or should be, and is more interested in trying to get you to fit that vision than understand how you actually are;

• Offers you something and when you take them up on it, acts like they never offered it;

• Expects you to move out of their way rather than expecting to work around you;

• ‘Forgets’ saying or doing things that upset you when you call them on their behaviour, and tells you it didn’t happen;

• Tells you that you’re over-reacting or being too sensitive when let them know you feel upset or hurt;

According to the article, you can tell if you are being manipulated by looking at your own feelings about the relationship: You often feel guilty; your mood depends on the state of the relationship; you feel inadequate; you never feel sure where you stand; you carefully control your words, actions and emotions around this person; you do things that go against your values or make you feel uncomfortable; expressing negative thoughts and emotions seem forbidden so you hide them; the relationship feels complex and you can’t quite put your finger on what the problem is; you try to figure things out but can’t get anywhere; you want to please this person but keep getting it wrong; you end up in no win situations where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t; you feel afraid of losing the relationship; you feel you are walking on eggshells.

I watch for the above in the new people I spend time with, and if signs of manipulation or lack of empathy come up a few times, even in small ways, I choose not to continue the relationship. I am astonished to see that these traits can show up in the earliest encounters, often in seemingly positive ways. There was a guy who invited me on a date, telling me we’d go for a walk on the beach and that he had a puppy I was going to fall in love with. He did not ask to find out if I like walking on the beach, and he didn’t check whether I am into puppies. He assumed. Red flag: he has a vision of how I am supposed to be, not interested in finding out who I actually am. I stayed with a woman who blindsided me with upsetting text messages during an important meeting. When I looked back I recalled a myriad of other small red flags. I decided to move out before things could escalate. A friend showed me a series of videos on YouTube, and even after I had pointed out that I couldn’t understand them as they didn’t have subtitles, continued to insist that I would find them fantastic. She didn’t notice the bored expression on my face.

I’ve found I can tell a lot about a person by working with them in the kitchen. Say I’m washing the dishes, and the other person wants to wash their hands, what happens? Some people wait until a suitable moment for me, and then reach in quickly to wash. Others expect me to stand aside, or even stop washing the dishes altogether, because it is inconvenient for them that I am in the way. The former have empathy – they are thinking about my experience and taking care not to interrupt it. The latter are focused on their own experience and unconcerned with mine. I keep a very sharp eye on the people in the second group – usually there are other red flags which surface. By watching the small ways people interact with each other, I’ve found I can quickly pick up who has empathy and who lacks it.

Of course, some people are a mix – empathic in some ways and manipulative in others. I have noticed that if I call them on their manipulative behaviour or for crossing my boundaries, they will either respond with concern that they have upset me and a desire to understand better (and to change), or else respond defensively and maybe by pretending that the thing never happened. The people in the latter group get struck off my list. With the former, I watch carefully to see if their intention to change translates to actual change. Do they stop crossing my boundaries in the way I requested? Remember that behaviour speaks louder than words.

By pulling the brakes on these relationships before I become too invested, I have noticed a magnificent effect on my life: it is now filled with deeply empathic, caring people. I have never been so well loved as I am now.

Waking up to another day without you

The indescribable weariness
of opening my eyes to another day
and realising that nothing has changed,
that my boy is still not with me,
that all the strength I needed to get through yesterday
must be called upon again today,
and tomorrow,
and the day after,
and on and on probably into infinity.
And I just want to close my eyes again
and not know about it.

How do you know if it’s parental alienation?

There are lots of reasons that teenagers reject their parents. It’s common, a normal part of defining their own identity separate from that of their family.

When a parent has been abusive towards the child, this can lead to estrangement – a justified rejection from the child who wishes to protect themselves from further hurt. Abused children tend to feel ambivalent towards their parent – loving them and wanting to please them on one hand, while simultaneously feeling angry and hurt on the other, and mixed in with all this is a feeling of guilt, a sense that maybe the problem lies with some fault within themselves.

Children who have been alienated, however, show a different set of behaviours/feelings:

• They denigrate their parent with foul language and extreme contempt;

• The reasons given for their anger are frivolous, don’t make sense, and often trivial in relation to the intensity of the anger;

• The reasons include ‘borrowed scenarios’ – i.e., they are angry with the parent for things that never happened to the child, but happened to the other parent;

• There is no confusion, uncertainty, ambivalence – only abject hatred;

• The child insists that they, alone, uninfluenced, came up with the ideas of denigration;

• They support the favoured parent and feel a need to protect them;

• The child does not show any guilt over the extreme cruelty they have displayed towards the rejected parent;

• The anger is extended towards people who are associated with the rejected parent, such as friends and family members.

What it feels like to be a target parent

Right now, every day is a struggle. Sometimes it’s sadness, but mostly it’s an all-encompassing weariness that makes me want to just go to sleep, blot it all out.

In a book by Amy Baker and Paul Fine, Surviving Parental Alienation, I read something that describes my feelings well. ‘As many targeted parents have commented, short of death, losing a child to parental alienation may be the hardest thing a parent has to contend with. In some ways, it might have been more difficult than a death because there was no easy way to explain to other people what was happening. The wellspring of support and comfort that typically surrounds a parent who has lost a child to death was noticeably absent for these targeted parents.  Being a targeted parent required living with an open wound that for many resulted in a feeling of numbness, with the pain and sadness seeping into all of the corners of their life, making it nearly impossible to find any solace or pleasure. Knowing their child was “out there” in the world—growing, learning, changing, developing—represented a kind of slow torture.’

Yep.

And it is true for me, that the wellspring of support is absent. My parents sided with my ex – my mother actually helped to remove him from my care. She has replaced me as his other main care-giver. Most of my family has dropped away, save for a few sweet and supportive people, and so have the majority of friends and support network that surrounded me before this happened. Being gagged, as I have been, prevented from talking about what happened, means I cannot gather the emotional support that could help make this journey easier. That’s why I have decided to make this public and write about it online.

People I share this with often try to comfort me by telling me that some day my child will come back to me. Of course I hope, expect, that some day he will. But nothing, nothing can make up for the lost years, the years I don’t get to help raise him, shower love and affection on him, help him with his homework, take him out with his friends, and watch him grow into a man. There is no need to comfort me by telling me it will be better. Just acknowledge that his absence, now, is a kind of living hell.

Gone

It has been a long time since I have posted much online. My life turned upside down and I ended up involved in a court case which meant anything I said in public could be used against me. That’s over now, and I’m back. I’ve missed the cyber-connections I have enjoyed here, talking with you all about my art and what I’m doing. My art always reflects my inner state, so I can’t share it without exposing what is going on for me. Right now, that’s a pretty raw and heavy experience. But I’m going to go with it, partly because I think there are plenty of you out there who will relate to what’s happened to me, and partly because I am tired of feeling gagged. We put such a taboo on vulnerable emotions and I want to change that. Say it like it is.

So I will tell you what happened to me. I became sick with arsenic and lead poisoning. It turned out we were burning wood that we didn’t know was treated, and sanding bits of old wood that had been painted with leaded paint. I became desperately ill, and instead of looking after me, my ex-partner blamed my illness on ’emotional problems.’ I had to move out, to avoid further exposure to toxicity, and she blocked my efforts to clean up the toxic dust, effectively preventing me from returning to my beloved house, which I had built myself almost two decades earlier, before I met her.

I learnt that this is a type of abuse, and when I looked more closely, I realised that abuse was endemic in our relationship. I ended it. But if I had known what was to come, I would probably have stayed. Not that ’staying’ was really an option when I could not return home! I had never heard of parental alienation until my son disappeared from my life. It is common during divorce for one parent to turn the children against the other parent, by exposing them to anger, doubt, or interfering with their scheduled time together. In the space of two short months, our relationship was transformed from a close, loving, daily connection, to no contact. I cannot tell you the shock I experienced, which I am still reeling from. I thought he and I were so close that nothing, nothing could rupture that. I was wrong.

I took my ex-partner to court, to get an order to attend therapy to restore the relationship between myself and our son. But the wheels of justice turned slowly, too slowly, and by the time I finally got the therapy in place, the damage was done. A month ago, the therapist instructed me to write a ‘goodbye letter’ to my son. I am to ‘let go’. I cannot even begin to describe the heartbreak I feel, the impossibility of this idea. I have been literally paralysed with grief. But I have started painting in my journal again.

My journey to become an artist

When I’m talking about art with people, I often realise they have an assumption that I am naturally gifted at art. While I have naturally had an intense drive to be creative since I was a little girl, I certainly wasn’t born with any innate talent. My skills with visual art have come simply from years of practise.

If you want to see the progression from my very first art journals to discovering my own style and becoming a professional artist, I’ve blogged about it here.

If you know any aspiring artists, especially those who feel a bit daunted or lack confidence in their skills, this could inspire them and also provide some ideas for how to move forward in their journey. Feel free to share this with anyone who you think might be interested.