Author: Lily Bell

I Am Invisible

I Am Invisible

As I sit here writing this blog post, I realize its sole purpose is to reach certain people. Like every other post, I want to communicate with the people I love, my family. Actually, what I really want is to grab them by the shoulders and shake them hard as I scream “listen to me!”

I’ve always been ignored and overlooked by my family, I’m used to it. But I’ve had an important message for almost four years now. I was WRONGED. My ex-husband tried to murder me for christ’s sake. I NEEDED SUPPORT, but instead I was betrayed and abandoned by the people who should have protected me unconditionally. They know they failed. And because they know it they pretend I don’t exist. First of all, its what they always did and secondly because its the coward’s way out. It’s much easier pretending I don’t exist than it is facing the ugly truth about their behavior.

I am VERY ANGRY. I feel my anger is justified. I NEED to be heard, to be validated. My family may disagree with everything I have to say, but if they loved me they would allow me to express my feelings and acknowledge my pain. It’s real. I am real. And I am good. And I am important. And my feelings matter. At least to me, they matter.

I always felt invisible growing up in my large family. And that is the one thing they’ve validated for me, my lack of importance. So as I prepare for a future alone, I can’t conceal my bitterness and resentment toward every single one of them. They’ll continue to write their insipid blogs about puppies and pretend they’re genuinely kind and empathetic people while I continue to eat up space in their heads. And long after we’re all gone my words will lie here dormant for future generations to find and process and hopefully understand.

My sister once asked me why I was so full of rage. It’s simple. Without rage, I would drown in despair.

Lily

Despair

Despair

I have these feelings of despair like my heart is shattering in a million tiny shards. I can’t breathe and I get the incredible urge to jump off my deck onto the street below. Anything to escape the churning waves of darkness. I’m trying to learn more about despair, to understand why its there and to acquire the tools to survive. So far I haven’t found a way to squelch the anguish I feel. It’s there every day. I deal with it differently every day. And I’m so very tired.

American writer David Foster Wallace wrote about despair, saying “we abuse and devalue what it truly means to feel it.” In his description he said “It’s more like wanting to die in order to escape the unbearable sadness of knowing I’m small and weak and selfish and going, without doubt, to die. It’s wanting to jump overboard.”

I guess that to me is the most accurate description of despair. It’s a “why are you bothering to hang on any more” type of sensation that eats you from the inside out. Because in the end, we are all going to die anyway. And when you feel alienated and afraid you’d rather stop that pain than to suffer while you wait for the inevitable. I’ve been in that state of mind many, many times.

No one has been in my shoes. These shoes have carried the weight of a life brimming with calamity. I’ve always struggled to hang on, clinging to the misery that bound me as if my life depended on it. I didn’t ask to be abused. I didn’t ask for this despair. No one can imagine how it feels to be drowning in what they think is the darkest moment of their life, only to be pulled under by the very people who were supposed to rescue them from the blackness. And I’m tired of holding a rope with no one on the other end to pull me free from the heavy current. I cannot hold onto these tightened ropes that burn my skin and cut off the circulation to my heart. One day I’ll just have to let go and take the final plunge into the dark wave.

Prepared

Prepared

She wanted him dead. A car accident. A suicide. It didn’t matter.
She thought maybe she could will it to happen and one day she’d be liberated.
He had enslaved her, debased and gaslighted her.
He’d owned her body.
Brainwashed her mind.
Stolen her money.
His toxic stench percolated within her marrow.
His phantom handprints still squeezed her face and throat.
They smothered her till the stars exploded behind her eyes.
Her nostrils flared and she gagged on her swollen tongue.
She smelled his burning flesh and hair.
That hair always was an angry, flaming red.
A fitting ending it would have been to watch that auburn crown turn to ash.
Now just ugly scarring remained with a few scattered threads poking through the marbled tissue.
He lived.
Half necrotic and half flourishing within his maniacal existence.
She knew he would savor finishing the task, dousing her this time.
She knew he fantasized about her at night.
She knew he got off to the dream of her screeching as he tossed a match.
She wanted him dead.
He wanted her dead.
So she prepared for battle.

~Lily Bell

Pet Parenting…Again

Pet Parenting…Again

It’s probably safe to say most of us love having pets. They’re expensive little attention whores who make huge messes and constantly demand our attention. But we absolutely adore and pamper our pets. They’re family.

I’ve always been an animal lover. I grew up having cats and kind of thought of myself as a sort of “cat whisperer” when I was a kid. In fact, I had one kitty that let me dress her in doll clothes, tuck her in a blanket in my doll carriage and take her for walks around the neighborhood. Another one followed me to school every day and sat outside the classroom waiting patiently for me to return (I know, it sounds like a nursery rhyme, but it’s true!).

When I married my ex, I gave up my precious kitties because he was allergic to them. I remember my family constantly asking me why he wouldn’t get allergy shots so we could have a pet. The answer was simple, he didn’t want to have shots and he didn’t want a cat. “But what about you?” they’d ask. I’d shrug and tell them it wasn’t that important to me, that I loved my husband more than I could ever love a pet.

Eventually, we learned that there are hypoallergenic dogs who have hair instead of fur. My ex-husband allowed us to adopt two Cairn Terriers, Cosette and Angus. Poor Cosie wasn’t healthy and she died young. But Angus lived for 15 years. He was partially deaf and blind as a bat. He walked into walls and grunted because he didn’t have the energy to bark anymore. He was sweet and affectionate and I loved him. He was family.

Then on a cold January night, as I was reading in bed with Angus snoring on his little cushion on the floor beside me, I heard a loud pop and a scream. When I went to investigate I saw my ex-husband run past me in flames. He had doused my home in gasoline and set it ablaze, accidentally igniting himself in the process. And that blaze spread so fast that even though I tried twice to rescue Angus the smoke overpowered me and I failed. I watched my house burn knowing my loveable little family member was dying. For three years I’ve been coming to terms with my grief and my guilt for leaving him upstairs and then not returning to save him.

A couple of months ago, Joyanna and I got a cat, a 1-year-old little girl named Luna.  It took no time for us to bond and we’re enjoying being her “parents”. Like all kitty mommy’s I think she’s the prettiest, smartest, most loveable cat on the planet. She’s family. But even new pet parenthood is marred by intrusive memories of Angus and worse still, moments of complete terror and panic. Three or four times now, the smoke alarm has gone off in our building. And as I hear the sirens approach and I’m frantically looking under the bed or behind the couch for Luna, I can vividly see Angus dying on my old bedroom floor. Then I think to myself “If I can’t catch Luna, I’m staying here. And if I stay here, Joyanna will stay here. And if there’s a real fire, we’re all going to die. But I can’t fuck this one up and leave her behind!” I usually fall apart until Joyanna calmly guides me and Luna out of the building.

Like any new parent, I have fears for Luna’s safety. The reality of being ultimately responsible for that little life can be daunting. But MY reality also includes intrusive memories and irrational fears of losing another family member who I love so much. I have to be stronger than my PTSD. I have to will myself to remain calm and to take responsibility for this little life. I have no choice. As terrified and overwrought as I may be, abandoning her is not an option.  Sempre la Famiglia.

 

Self-Care

Self-Care

I’ve learned over the past few years that self-care is a critical part of recovery after trauma. I used to relate the term ‘self-care’ to taking a bath, drinking tea in my PJs, a nap, etc. But the reality is that PTSD sufferers view self-care as so much more than feeling warm and fuzzy. Sometimes it’s staying in bed all day in fetal position. Sometimes it’s dragging yourself to therapy because you’re afraid if you don’t you’ll plunge further into darkness. Or it’s allowing yourself a day to do nothing except cry and feel like shit. Whatever works to keep you alive another day is self-care for those of us with this misunderstood and debilitating brain injury.

What I never thought but certainly learned the hard way is that for many of us, self-care means disconnecting from family members who refuse to embrace our imperfections, who refuse to believe us or respect our feelings. Toxic family members are the trauma survivor’s biggest challenge. And I’ve finally learned after three years of therapy that its better to let go and move on without them. That’s the choice I’ve had to make and at this point there’s no turning back. I’ve cut the cord.

I wish I could say it feels good, but the truth is it’s excruciating. I love these people. My life has been all about these people. Do I hope someday we can reconcile? Absolutely. Do I think that day will come? I seriously doubt it. Although I’ll always carry a degree of hope, I know people are stubborn by nature and the odds of a reunion are slim to none.

I have an open heart. It was that heart that put me in a violent marriage. It was that heart that trusted my family would hold me close, learn the truth about my hidden years as a battered wife and carry me until I could walk on my own again. My heart was open like a gaping wound when my family threw salt in it by appearing in court to defend the man who tried to kill me. I fight on a daily basis to keep an open heart, but I’m not naive anymore. I’ll always be hypervigilant and overly cautious about the people I allow into my life but I refuse to close my heart entirely. I have so much love inside me and I’ll work hard to establish trusting relationships with those I allow inside.

But my life is mine alone. Going forward, I will have relationships with family and friends only on my terms.

  • No judgment – You were not the crime victim, you couldn’t possibly know how it feels to be face-to-face with death at the hands of your partner
  • Validation – Listen and believe. You may never understand but if you doubt the validity of my pain then there’s no room for you in my space.
  • Unconditional love – Love me enough to believe in my goodness. Don’t allow outsiders to manipulate facts or your opinion of me.

These are my terms and also the terms by which I will treat others who have the balls to put aside their defensiveness and reach out in reconciliation.

I’m not holding my breath though. Instead, I’m living, loving and creating. My trauma and family dysfunction no longer define me. My self-care regimen will be to grow and learn and love myself in spite of the negativity I lived in the past. I’m at peace.

Lily Bell

Weekend

Weekend

A Prose Poem by Lily Bell

Weekend

I hear you arrive home as the garage door opens
My gut telling me to run, the hair on my arms rising in trepidation
Like a bull, you announce yourself as the door flies open and you’re on me
Why aren’t you upstairs waiting? Why aren’t you naked?
I explain that my obligations are important (my life is important I whisper to myself)
You slam the door shut, grab me and we’re suddenly in the bedroom
The dog grunts because he’s hungry or has to go out or wants a hug
You kick him, slam the bedroom door and the weekend begins
Put this one on, the kinky, crotchless one in your hand
Put it on and get on the bed
Programmed to comply, I pull on the nylon bodysuit,
my breasts squeezing through the mesh, my entire perineum openly displayed for your games
The huge black dildo in your hand, the games begin
You’re so sexy, you’re so fuckable…I love you
My eyes close as I mouth I love you too
Aren’t I amazing? Bet there aren’t a lot of guys that can do it like me. Let’s eat.

Its Saturday morning and you want a 6 am fuck. And a 10:30 am fuck. And one at noon, 2:00 pm, 3:30 and 5 pm.
Each time, you dress me in a differently degrading piece of lingerie personally chosen by you.
Each time, you try and outdo yourself.
See how long I can last? Bet no other guys can fuck their wives 6 times a day. You’re so fuckable.

Saturday night arrives and I’m ready to go out to a friend’s house party.
You announce that we’re not going because the men will all want me.
They’ll want to touch me and that will upset you too much, so we’re staying home.
I protest, saying we made plans and I was looking forward to it.
You’re on me, screaming. This isn’t a fucking three-ring circus!
You shove me and I fall.
You throw your glass, storm out of the house and drive off.
So I wait. And I wait some more, but you don’t come home.
I fall asleep wondering if you’re okay.

Sunday morning and I wake to text messages telling me why I pissed you off.
I think about my actions and how I could have reacted differently.
And still I wait, not knowing where you are.
Around 10:00 am, I hear the garage door open and you’re home.
You apologize, it’ll never happen again.
I’m leery but afraid of another confrontation, so I quietly accept it and reach for my coffee.
Let’s get naked, you say. Meet me upstairs, and wear the topless outfit.

 

 

The Brink

The Brink

On a cold afternoon in March 2016, my family drove me to a suicide attempt. They showed up in court in support of my abuser. They wrote letters to the court saying what a nice guy he was. They sat behind him in a show of solidarity while I sat alone on the other side of the courtroom.

This song is for them https://youtu.be/lcv3RA5Z834

A Family of Two

A Family of Two

Well, the proverbial shit hit the fan a couple weeks ago. I made one last attempt to reconcile with family and it blew up in my face.

It began when my sister reached out to me in her warm, fuzzy, superficial way. It gave me hope of mending the chasm that was left between us after my ex-husband almost killed me. When my direct questions regarding why she deserted me during the most traumatic time of my life were met with Geeyou draw pretty pictures! and Follow me on Facebook! type replies, I had a complete meltdown. I chastised her and the rest of my siblings for their lack of empathy. And of course, it was met with accusations and further alienation. Like a pack of Catholic wolves, they ate me alive, then ran off to celebrate themselves.

To make matters worse, I was also trying to reconnect with one of the most important people in my life after the Las Vegas shooting. Life is short and I realized I don’t ever want it to be too late to say I love you. I’ve had enough drama and I genuinely wanted to move beyond the pain and begin healing together the way a family should. Unfortunately, my attempt was met with misplaced anger and overwhelming bitterness.

I suddenly found myself falling into that black hole of despair once again. And it frightened me. The pain I felt can only be described as torture. My anxiety took complete control of every muscle in my body. My brain was on overdrive, reviewing the negativity over and over again. I drank, I took my Ativan, I ran, I did yoga. I sang, drew, painted, went to therapy. My doctor prescribed prazosin, a drug for veterans with PTSD. I was physically ill from the med changes, the stress and the grief. I could barely walk across a room without feeling like the world was tipping. I couldn’t look at a puppy, a child or even a flower without becoming an emotional wreck. I became dissociative as I muddled through each day.

Two weeks have passed and I’d like to report that I’m back on track and thriving. But I’ll be honest and say that each day that passes without tears or rage is a tiny triumph.  I’m processing the grief as if I lost my entire family in some tragic accident. By choosing to think of their betrayal differently, I have the power to move past it.

In this dangerous and hateful world, I am fortunate to have a loving and supportive partner and a home which is our safe haven, our slice of paradise. Our love is more than enough to sustain me. I’m reminded every day that although I was always alone in my big, loud Italian family, I’m never isolated or abandoned in my family of two. My partner holds me when I fall apart, listens as I tearfully release the pain, and shelters me from the harshness of life. That’s unconditional love.

I’ve turned a page. It’s wishful thinking to say I’ll never dwell on the past again, but the next stage of healing and LIVING has begun. BRING IT ON!

Lily Bell

Dysfunction Junction

Dysfunction Junction

I’m estranged from my family. That means we have virtually no communication except for the random email I receive when one of my siblings feels some guilt or ulterior motive to reach out. When that happens, I usually reply with a series of questions or statements indicating that I have glaring questions about why they literally threw me away at the most difficult time of my life. That, of course, leads to defensiveness on their part and accusations that I’m “full of rage” and “lobbing grenades” in their direction. The frustration is excruciating because I’ll never rest until I have answers. I need to come to terms with the fact that nothing justifies what happened, but they will never admit their failure to protect and support me.

But as sad and hopeless as that is, I find myself laughing at the blatant dysfunction in my family. It’s something I’ve always known but never realized the extremity of until recently. For example, my siblings and I will go months with virtually no communication and then suddenly one of them will copy me on an email about my mother that sounds like something in an office memorandum. They have no idea how to communicate except on a superficial level, complete with a list of what she ate, how many bowel movements she’s had and closing with “regards”. I live 3000 miles away and I’m copied on emails asking if anyone has seen mom’s wallet. I laugh out loud thinking how these people that pretend I’m dead still copy me in their “mom” emails. And I watch as each one of them pipes in with their two cannolis worth in an “I concur” type reply. And when they all agree that mom needs Metamucil, they pat each others’ backs and stroke each others’ egos and all is well for the next 24 hours.

The reality is, I am so much happier far away from Dysfunction Junction. The shackles of being the good little Catholic girl are history and my future is free to be me, Muse87.

Lily Bell

Validation

Validation

There are moments that take over my emotions so completely that I’m left astounded and wondering how I, the girl who never cried, end up bursting into tears. The PTSD is like a little monster buried in my belly. I do my best to keep it tucked away but it rears its head when it’s good and ready even when positive things occur.

Today, my partner and I were having a very content and peaceful afternoon when I saw a FaceBook post from my sister-in-law. She and my brother are participating in the annual Walk for Domestic Violence on Sunday to support the women’s crisis center that gave me so much support and guidance, literally helping to keep me alive when I had hit rock bottom. The significance of this unselfish act is immense because they’re the only members of my large family who stood by me after my ex-husband burned down my home.

The questions from the rest of my family began immediately after my ex woke up in the hospital and started manipulating them. You changed your story three times, what did you do to drive him to it? It takes two for a marriage to break down, when are you going to admit your part in this?

I have been asking for three years what my part is. I have a pretty good idea which events got me condemned because my partner and I have been painstakingly piecing together emails, texts and my muddled and often empty memories. It’s clear to us that my family chose to throw me under the fire truck rather than face the ugly truth of what it means to be battered. Sadly, they are incapable of introspect and when life throws them drama that’s not in the playbook they will turn on you to save face. Superficial relationships are all they are capable of as a family unit.

Validation from family is extremely important to domestic violence survivors. And today, for the first time, it slapped me across the face. I am so grateful that my brother and his wife have supported me as best they could since the fire. It hasn’t always been perfect, but it was consistently there. And I know my brother took a lot of crap from the rest of my family, but he has never backed down. His unwavering concern, support, and love have been crucial to my recovery.

So to my brother and his family, thank you for the validation—I love you.

Lily Bell