Be the hero of your own story.

She had a pretty idyllic start to life.

She lived in a nice house, with two parents, an older sister, and a dog. She had a swing set, a sandbox, and a pool. Her mom was on the school council and her dad was always the most popular during Parent’s Week.

When it fell apart, it fell apart magnificently. Her dad moved hours away and had very little time to visit. Her mom moved in with a man who completely consumed her identity until the person posing as her mother had no resemblance to the one she knew.

She looked for escape wherever she could find it. She would join clubs at school that held no interest for her, just so that she could delay going home. She would choose to walk the forty minutes home instead of taking the bus. She would go for walks, exploring every street in her neighbourhood, looking into the windows of happier homes.

When she was old enough, she found escape in boys. She would spend most of her time at her boyfriend’s house, with his family. She would eat there, she would do her homework there, and she would celebrate birthdays and holidays there. She went home to sleep, but then would wake and do it all over again.

Once that boyfriend went to university, she was left alone again. They made plans for her to follow him to school the next year and move in together. Most weekends would involve her visiting him, or him visiting her. The fantasy of the escape kept her going for a bit.

But then the day to day dragged her down. There was nowhere to escape during the week. Her boyfriend wanted to know her every move, so she would come straight home from school and hide in her room until she could leave the next morning. She felt she had no safe space, and her escape just seemed so far away.

So, she found another boy who was willing to fuel her fantasy. She would spend time with his family, eating with them, doing her homework with them, and celebrating birthdays and holidays with them. Even when she went away for university the next year, she would come “home” to his house on every school break. It felt welcoming and it felt safe.

She left university after one year. She ran out of money, true, but worse was that she had run out of fantasy. She returned home, moved in with her boyfriend, and settled for a college program in which she had little interest. Her desire for safety, for security, and for the ultimate escape was greater than anything else. And so she was engaged at 19 and married at 21.

She waited for her happily ever after, but it never came.  She had spent so many years of her life in a toxic home and this had tainted her view on what was normal.  She thought love meant being controlled.  She thought that love meant losing yourself to someone else.  She felt her identity vanish as she was known as his girlfriend, then his wife, then the mother of his children.  But who was she?

Later, she would wonder…had the capability for abuse always been within him? Or had she planted it there? Was it her fault that he had grown into a hateful, bitter, and cruel man? Or had that man always been there, buried beneath false promises?

One day, she woke up.  She realized that she did not need to escape from her life – she needed to live it.  She was not just somebody’s wife or somebody’s mother.  But who was she?

And thus began a journey of self discovery.  A journey in which she ventured out onto her own for the first time in her life.  For the first time, she was dependent on no one.  She built her new life brick by brick, every day realizing the strength she had inside her all along.

She stumbled, of course.  She took some wrong turns and she ended up in some dark places.  But she realized that these mistakes did not define her; rather, they cultivated her.  She realized that it was okay to ask for help and to accept it.  She realized that there were genuinely kind people out there, and she had many of them in her life.  She realized that she was stronger than she had ever known.

She fought her way through the darkness.  She had witnessed abuse, and she had endured abuse, but she was not defined by abuse.  She did not need a white knight to ride in and save her.  She didn’t need the fantasy of escape.  She had the power within her, and it had always been there.  She was the hero of her own story.

 

Photo by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash

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Superdaddy

Every girl’s first superhero is her dad.

Trust me: I’m a recovering Daddy’s Girl.  Every little girl thinks that her daddy can do anything.  He can throw her up in the air and make her feel like she can fly; he knows the best magic tricks and can make anything disappear; he can give her the best, biggest hugs that make her feel like everything is right in the world.

I want my girls to have this.  I want my girls to think that their daddy is the most amazing man in the whole entire world for as long as they can. I know that one day they will realize that their parents are humans: flawed and imperfect like everyone else.  But I will never, ever do anything to cause these girls to have that realization before they need to.  I will never tell them anything negative about you.  Regardless of how things are between us, you are their daddy and I want them to believe that you are an amazing one.

Before we split up, I saw how excited they would get when you come home from work.  They would run (or scoot) to the door yelling for you.  Their faces would erupt into smiles that literally stretched across their entire faces.  Whatever bad things happened in their day didn’t matter in that moment: their favourite superhero was home.

I know that things between us are not good.  I know that it must hurt to have them cry and run away when you come to get them. I know that when they tell you they’d rather stay with me it must cut like a knife.

I would like to believe that at some point we can be, if not friends, friendly.  I hope that we can co-parent to the very best of our ability and give these girls everything they need.  I hope that we can one day do things as a family.  But honestly, I don’t know the future.  I don’t know what we will be like in six months, in a year, in five years.  I don’t know.

But what I do know…is how they would light up when you got home.  How they would ask about you during the day.  How they yell, “HI DADDY!” if we happen to drive past your work. It doesn’t always seem like it, but these girls love you with everything they have.

I promise you that I will do everything I can to preserve that love, to nourish it, to expand upon it.  I will speak about you in only positive ways.  When you are not around, I will tell them how much you love them.  I will give them hugs, and kisses, and snuggles from daddy.  They will never, ever doubt your love for them.

As they grow older and start to ask questions, I will not answer maliciously.  I will answer with honesty and respect.  I will answer so that they know that we did love each other, so very much.  And that out of that love came two amazing little girls.  No matter where our lives take us, we are still a family.  Nothing can ever, or will ever change that.

I know that I hurt you. Please know that it hurt me too, to leave behind our life and everything that I’d envisioned for our future.  Know that I did what was best for both of us.  Maybe you can’t see that yet, but hopefully one day you will.  Know that none of this has been easy for me.  But most of all, know that I will honour and cherish your relationship with these girls.  Because at the end of the day, these wondrous creatures are the only thing that matters.

 

I am covered in skin / No one gets to come in

I had decided to stop dating.

I got to a point where I was happy to just be alone.  I was enjoying my own company and was perfectly content to stop looking for someone to “complete” me.  I felt pretty completed on my own, and that I didn’t need someone else to make me happy.  I finally felt comfortable spending a weekend alone when my kids were at their dad’s.  I didn’t need to fill that time with anything, whether it was having friends over or going on dates.  It felt nice to sit at home and read a book or watch a movie and knit.

So I made myself a very ambitious goal: to watch/re-watch all of the Marvel movies in order.  In true Bri fashion, I did my research.  I researched the order of release, and also the order the Internet deemed correct for watching.  I made myself a list, and I searched Netflix to find which ones were available there.  The first three were not available on Netflix, so I tried to find them elsewhere.

I posted on a Facebook group asking fellow mommies if they had any of the three movies that I could borrow for a weekend.  I said, “I’m looking for things to fill my nights now that I’ve completely given up on the idea of ever dating ever again ever.  EVER.”  One mom replied, “If you change your mind I have a really really great ex-brother-in-law.”  We started talking and she made this guy sound pretty fantastic, so I thought what the hell.  I wasn’t expecting anything but I figured it would make a good story if nothing else.

So I sent the guy a message saying, “So I posted on a mommies group looking for a couple movies to borrow, and instead I got offered you.”  And yeah.  Somehow it clicked.

Now I find myself in a relationship with the most amazing person.  Someone who treats me the way that I want my daughters to be treated by their future partners.  Someone who will laugh with me, and cry with me, and sit in silence with me.  Someone I can’t help but open up to.  I have these walls but I’m finding that I don’t want them anymore; not around him.  I want to let him all the way in.

After our first date, I sent him the link to my blog.  He said he was curious and I figured, I have nothing to hide.  This is who I am, and this will tell you way more about myself than I will ever vocalize.  Here’s the link.  Read it, and then let me know if you still want to talk to me.  Maybe this was another form of self-sabotage, because I fully expected him to never speak to me again.

But instead, he would ask me questions about the blog posts.  He would tell me how they made him feel, or that he wanted to give me a hug.  He read the entire thing and he wanted to give me a hug.  I’m not ashamed of who I am.  I’m not ashamed of what I’ve done, or the choices I’ve made.  I know some of my choices have not been fabulous, but they’ve shaped me in some way or another.  But I still wrote him off completely as soon as I sent him the link.  In my mind, that was it.  Fucked it up again.  Classic Bri.

It didn’t work like that.  I am with someone who knows more about me than most people, in such a short period of time.  He likes me for who I am.  It feels incredible to feel confident in my own skin around him; like I don’t have to hide or pretend to be someone that I’m not.

At this point in my life, I feel that who I am isn’t going to change much.  I’ve come this far in life.  My views and opinions may change as I learn more about a subject or through the experiences I have, but overall I feel like I’m pretty done.  I am who I am.  I feel the same about a partner: there’s no such thing as a “fixer upper.”  It’s not my place to change someone else or fix them.  I want a relationship where I can feel perfectly happy being who I am in the company of someone who feels perfectly happy being who they are.

And right now, that’s what I’m feeling.  I am blissfully happy.  I have people I barely know commenting on how happy I seem.  I feel lighter.  I feel calmer.  I feel like me.  Like the real me.  Like the me that was lost for so long, buried under the labels of “Jeff’s daughter,” “Ashley’s sister,” “Ryan’s wife,” “Isabel/Abby’s mom.”

I wasn’t ready before.  I needed to let go of everything else, of the me I felt I had to be.  I’m so happy that I found you when I did, because I wasn’t ready before.  I’m ready now.  I’m ready and I am so wonderfully happy.

 

I am ready – I am ready – I am ready – I am fine

One Year

I didn’t know my marriage was over until it was over.

It was falling apart for years, but I just kept trying to pick up all the pieces and glue them back together. In the end I’m not even sure who left whom.  It was long, messy, and painful.  The only thing harder than feeling your heart shatter is to watch the heart of someone you love doing the same thing.

I loved him right up until the bitter end. I still love him, as the father of my children and someone with whom I’ve shared so much of my life.  But it wasn’t a healthy situation for anyone involved.  I did not go down without a fight – I fought so hard for so long.  I was consumed by the fight to keep us together.  Letting go was the hardest thing I have ever had to do.

I let go of my marriage; I let go of everything I knew. I let go of my home, of my family, of my identity.  I was drowning and when I finally found shore, I didn’t know where I was.  For so long my identity was tied to others: I was Ryan’s girlfriend, Ryan’s wife, Isabel’s mom, Abby’s mom… I had no idea who I was without any of these things.

My first few months on my own were a struggle. I was living completely on my own for the first time in my life.  When my children were with their dad, I felt so lost.  I felt empty and alone, with no idea of what to do to fill my time.  I had an anxiety attack every night my children spent away from me.  My youngest had a lot of medical issues at birth, and even at a year and a half I was still checking on her multiple times a night just to make sure she was breathing.  But if she wasn’t with me, how would I know if she was alive? I tried to fill my time with distractions, which if you’ve read my blog was maybe not the healthiest way to survive.

But I did survive.

And now, I feel more myself than I ever have.  This year has truly been a year of healing, of self-discovery, and of self-love.  Yes, I am Isabel’s mother.  I am Abigail’s mother.  I am Ryan’s ex-wife.  But I’m also Bri.  I love to write, and read, and play guitar, and sing at the top of my lungs.  I love to go for long walks until I get lost.  I love to spend time with my friends, the same friends I spent years being told didn’t like me.  Guess what? They do like me.  And I’m starting to like me too.

As I grow more comfortable with myself, I am becoming more comfortable being alone. If my kids are gone for the night, I don’t need to seek company.  I’m enjoying my own company.  I’m doing things that are solely for me.  I’m taking improv classes.  It won’t help me become a better mother; it won’t help me become a better assistant.  But it’s fun and I’m enjoying myself and you know what? THAT is helping me become a better mother.

I am so happy right now. Really, truly happy.  A happiness that is not dependent on another.  I’m not happy because someone called me pretty or because Isabel had a good week at school.  I’m happy because I like my life.  I am proud of myself for getting out of a bad situation.  I am proud of myself for setting a positive example for my two young girls.  I am proud of myself for knowing my worth and refusing to settle for less.

This past year has been one of the hardest of my life. I started this year as a timid caterpillar, convinced that I would never become anything more.  But I’ve emerged on the other side of this chrysalis of change, and I’m a fucking butterfly.

 

6 Years

It’s been six years since my dad died.

I always think about my dad a lot, but even more so lately. I wonder what he would think of my life now. Would he be proud of me? Would he be disappointed?

He has two beautiful granddaughters that he never got to meet. I bought and sold a home. I ran a successful business and now I have a completely different career that I love. I have a couple more tattoos and half a dozen more piercings. I hope that he would be proud of these things. Maybe not the tattoos.

Conversely, I remained in a marriage that was not happy. It wasn’t happy when my dad was alive, and it got worse in the years after he died. I know my dad supported me in any decision that I made, but I know that he wanted better for me than what my relationship had become. I know that he hoped that I would leave my marriage, even though he never came right out and said it (to me, anyway). I have left it, though. I took five extra years but I did it. I hope that he would be proud of me for that.

My dad and my (now ex) husband got along great at first. My dad gave us money for our wedding; he paid for our wedding bands; and he arranged and paid for the cottage we stayed in for our honeymoon. My dad and stepmom bought a brand new house and had the builders create an amazing basement apartment so that we could move to Guelph to be closer to him. My dad was my first client for my business. He bent over backwards for us.

My ex was completely ungrateful for all of this. When we moved to Guelph he treated it as a vacation and lay on the couch for months doing nothing. Part of our agreement was that we split the household chores for the common areas. Instead, my ex would leave pop cans around and leave messes in the kitchen for others to clean up. And by others, I mean me. He got mad at me for small things and he didn’t care if my dad, my stepmother, or my little brother saw it.

As a former daddy’s girl, my dad always saw me as 12 years old. It didn’t matter that I was grown and married, he saw his 12 year old girl being treated poorly. Tension ensued. A lot of stuff happened that I don’t want to get into, but it ended in my dad asking my ex to leave.

I was completely torn, but I remained loyal to my husband. We found a house to rent and we moved out. This is when my husband completely shut down and things got really, really bad for us. We had our ups and downs after that, but it was never “good” again. My ex’s favourite thing to say about my father was that he wished he would get cancer and die.

We moved out in December of 2010. My dad died (of cancer) in May of 2012.

In the last six-ish months of my dad’s life we got closer again, but it was never like it was before. We never had the same relationship. I was never daddy’s little girl again. Our relationship was forever altered and I never got the chance to fully repair it.

Three days before my dad died he called me. In the six years that have passed since his death, I have never told anyone about the conversation we had.

My dad and my stepmom didn’t know that the cancer was going to win. They remained hopeful and even as my dad got sicker and sicker; skinnier and skinnier; weaker and weaker, they chalked it up to a bad chemo round.

Three days before he died, they saw his oncologist who told them that the cancer was terminal and that my dad had three months to live.

My dad called me from the oncologist’s office. I could barely hear him over the phone. The chemo had made him really weak and his voice was barely audible even in person. I could tell he had been crying, which made it so much harder to hear him.

He told me that he was going to die. He told me that he had three months left to live. And he told me…and I have kept this to myself for six long years…he said, “I’m really going to miss you, Breezy.” That’s what broke me. I lost it. I got off the phone with him and just melted down. I had missed out on a year and a half of my dad’s life and it turns out that it was the last year and a half he had.

My husband was on nights that week. I went upstairs and crawled into bed with him. I curled myself around him. He woke up and saw that I was sobbing. He asked me what was wrong. I couldn’t answer. After a few attempts, I told him that my dad was dying and that he only had a few months left.

My husband. Rolled his eyes. Rolled over. And went back to sleep.

When my dad died I was a mess for about a month. I imploded. I drank constantly. I acted recklessly and sought out bad situations. I have one night where I can’t remember anything that I did, and I’m pretty sure I want to leave it that way. I’ve never felt that dark before.

And my husband? Did nothing. Didn’t hug me. Didn’t kiss me. Didn’t even go to the funeral. I had three friends come up to stay with me for the weekend of the funeral (including HIS best friend), because they cared more about me than my husband. They were there for me. They let me cry on their shoulders. They slept in my bed with me. They helped me fill out insurance forms and made sure I could walk up the steps in the funeral home.

Not the person with whom I promised to spend my entire life. To take care of no matter what. That person was nowhere to be found. That person insisted that I not talk about my father. That I not have pictures or mementos of him in our home.

The last six years have been hard. This past year in particular started out really, really hard…but I’ve really found myself. I’m happy. I like where I am and who I’ve become. And I really hope that wherever my dad is, even if it’s just in my head, he’s proud of me.

Be someone who makes hearts happy.

Yesterday my daughter said to me, “Mommy…I love you because your heart makes people happy.”

This was completely unprovoked.  We were snuggling on the couch close to bedtime.  Isabel was eating a snack.  I kissed her cheek and she wiped it off.  She kissed my cheek so I wiped it off too! She laughed and said, “We should wipe our kisses together!” She kissed my cheek again, and I kissed hers.  And then we rubbed our cheeks together like a couple of weirdos.

We both laughed and then she told me that she loves me…because my heart makes people happy.

I’m not even exaggerating when I say that this is the most wonderful thing that anyone has ever said to me.  Not only is it an amazing compliment, but it’s reaffirming.  In my daily life I really do try to make other people happy.  Every person that I encounter in a day, I try to make smile.  I try to have a positive impact on every person in my life.

But the biggest reason that I loved this compliment from Isabel is that it reflects so much on HER.  It shows empathy, compassion, kindness, and love.  She loves me and she wanted me to know.  I make her happy and she wanted me to know.  She sees how I treat other people and she wanted me to know.

Maybe there’s hope for her after all!

I rag on her a lot.  Not to her face, obviously.  That would be bad parenting.  But behind her back…man, can I trash that kid.

*Before you judge me and call CAS and have my uterus ripped away from me, do you know Isabel? Do you? Have you spent extended periods of time with her? She is a wonderful, strong, smart little girl.  But yeah.  She can be a raging c…omplicated child.*

At home we talk about kindness a lot.  I give Isabel reminders to use kind words.  We talk about “filling buckets” by doing good things for other people.  We talk about the importance of words and compassion and consent.  It is so, so important for me that my girls grow up kind.  I love that Isabel is so fierce – no one will mess with her.  I know that she will not take shit from anyone when she’s older.  She is going to be an amazingly strong, confident woman.  And I know that one day I will be so grateful for that.  But today is not that day.

Today I want Isabel to learn that she can stand up for herself but still be kind.  She can protect her sister but still have compassion.  I want her to grow up and to have someone tell her that her heart makes people happy.  Her heart makes me happy every day.  I mean, sometimes her heart makes me want to stab myself in the eye, but mostly it makes me happy.

I can tell that she’s really “getting it” lately.  She has said some amazingly insightful things lately.  We were talking about blessings one day and she said, “I’m blessed with the most beautiful face in the world and it’s yours, Mommy.”  She could have said “I’m blessed with lots of toys!”, or “I’m blessed with this doll but I could really have more Shopkins.”  But she chose to express her love for me instead.

Walking home from school one afternoon, I told her that I am the luckiest mom in the whole world.  She said, “God made the perfect girls for you, didn’t he?”

So what’s the difference? What is so different lately that she’s all of a sudden GETTING IT? Don’t get me wrong, we still have eye-stabbing moments.  But we get past them quickly and go back to our love-fest.  So what is it?

I like myself.

This is a new thing.  I’ve had an epiphany.  If I met myself in the street, you know what? I’d like myself.  I would want to be my friend.  Up until very recently, I would have found myself annoying and needy and clingy.  Until recently, I didn’t understand why anyone was my friend.  I felt like my friends were only there because they were too nice to tell me to go fuck myself.  They were too nice to tell me that they didn’t actually want to be my friend.

But…my heart makes people happy.  My words make people laugh.  My actions make people smile.  And I like myself.

A lot of my difficulties with Isabel stem from the fact that I see so much of myself in her.  When she has a tantrum, I can remember exactly how that feels.  And I get frustrated with myself that I can’t control her behavior.  My frustration frustrates Isabel.  Which agitates me.  Which agitates her.  And it goes back and forth, feeding off of each other’s anxieties.

But you know what? I do see SO MUCH of myself in her.  But…that’s not a bad thing.  Look at me.  I’m smart.  I’m funny.  I’m kind.  I’m trying to be strong, even though I’ve been beaten down again and again.  These are traits that I WANT my daughters to have.  So why am I so upset when her behavior reflects my own? When I see myself in her, why am I getting mad? It’s because I’m getting mad at my OWN thoughts, my OWN feelings, my OWN behaviors.  I’m trying to stop her from being me.  But I’m starting to see that being me…isn’t such a bad thing.

I’m sorry, Isabel.  I’m sorry that I haven’t been the mom you deserve.  You ARE smart.  You ARE funny.  You ARE kind.  And I am so grateful every single day that you are my daughter.  You’re right, kid.  God DID make the perfect girls for me.

A very important list

I love lists.

I do. I write lists constantly.  It helps with my anxiety to see things on paper in front of me.  To-do lists are everywhere in my world.  Organization is beauty for me; it’s one of the reasons I love my job.

I also apparently love choosing the wrong guy. I am really good at it.  I find someone that seems so good for me, and then…they aren’t.  I need to break out of the patterns I have created for myself.  I need to be specific.  I need to be picky.

So, in true Brianne fashion, I have created a list of qualities that a potential partner must have. No settling.  Not anymore.  I’m too old to settle and I have two amazing little girls that don’t deserve to have someone in their life that isn’t going to be there long term, or isn’t going to be a positive role model.

There are some incredibly random items on this list, but trust me: they are all there for a specific reason. I am an open book – if any items need clarification or explanation, I’d love to provide it.

  • Tall (5’10 or above)
  • Well groomed
  • Smells good
  • Has post-secondary education
    • Doesn’t matter what type of PSE
    • Doesn’t matter if they graduated or with what degree/diploma/certificate
  • Has a stable job
  • Owns a car
  • Lives on his own (not with parents, roommate, etc.)
  • Owns at least one suit
  • Good grammar/spelling
  • Smart
  • Good sense of humour
    • Is funny
    • Thinks I’m funny
  • Can participate in witty banter
    • Sarcastic
    • Appreciates my sarcasm
  • Good relationship with parents, but not overbearing
  • First date must be an actual date
  • Friendly with wait staff, store clerks, etc.
  • If he has kids, must see them on a very regular basis
  • Likes at least one sport
  • Can recognize at least one Matthew Good song
  • Punctual
  • Swears, but not every other word
  • Doesn’t vape
  • Drinks but not every night, and not to excess
  • Does not speak negatively of any exes
  • Self-sufficient
  • Smiles in photos
  • No earrings
  • Treats me with respect
  • Trusts and is trustworthy
  • Not sexist/racist/homophobic/anything douchey