Author: Lily Bell

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

Triggered

Triggered

I used to think the word “trigger” was just an overused term that people apply to insult someone who gets offended or has their feelings hurt. But now being someone with PTSD my perspective has changed. I hate the word trigger, but I respect it. Because I’ve learned that the slightest little thing can ruin my entire day, or sometimes send me into a spiral for a week.

My triggers are the obvious things that pertain to my trauma such as fire, sirens, smoke, loud noises. But lately my family has been my worst trigger. I’ve been estranged from my family pretty much since my trauma. I am astounded and disappointed in them because I learned that while its easy to be a family on the surface, if there is real drama then no one can face it. Deviate from the Catholic Italian family playbook and they turn on you like a pack of hungry wolves.

So while they could blog about their perfect lives and how fulfilled they were surrounded by their babies, they rejected me when the ugliness of my abuse surfaced and disrupted their smooth flight path through life. This cuts to the quick because they watched as my entire life literally went up in smoke from domestic violence but they failed to shelter me from the fallout.  In fact, they enabled the most heartbreaking rejection and family estrangement that followed my attempted murder. Not only was I was shunned and shamed by everyone who was important to me but they participated fully and openly in my condemnation.

I’ve confronted them with my questions about why they participated in events that literally drove me to a suicide attempt.  Almost three years later, I’m still waiting for answers. My sister blogs about gun control and outrage over school shootings. She marched on Washington and posted proud photos of her feminism. She even blogged about her daughter being in an “abusive relationship”. But never has she or anyone in my family acknowledged that I am a domestic violence survivor or that they alienated me, the crime victim. And I get it, it was the easy way out. But I’d really like some validation. They failed me.

I refuse to believe that I’m the only domestic violence survivor that has lost their family because religious, traditional or societal norms taught them to shun and ignore things like sexual abuse and domestic battery. I love my family but I am triggered every time I see a Facebook post or the latest blog about superficial life displayed on a bed of arugula.

Let’s get real, let’s be honest and talk about the HUGE elephant in the room, Christianity, and the shame that drowns all us good Catholic girls if we aren’t the perfect wife, mother, daughter and sister. It’s time to move from the dark ages and talk about abuse and how we as a society enable it.

Lily Bell

I am Muse87

I am Muse87

There was a time a few years ago when I was made to feel ashamed of my social media account “Muse87”. It was reinforced daily that Muse87 was a hateful, vicious, depraved, baby-eating whore. In fact, my life almost ended because my popularity enraged my jealous ex so much he lit my house on fire. And much to my horror the people I depended on to cocoon and protect me believed the convenient stories of sordid and immoral behavior that were spun to justify my near murder. “You drove him to it”, they said. Unbelievably, the victim blaming began and spiraled so out of control I was alienated and shamed to the point of attempted suicide.

Now almost three years since the fire, I have finally come to terms with the fact that I survived domestic violence, and that my “secret Twitter persona” was not secret at all. It was my way of exorcising my “secret battered wife persona”. And the funny thing is I created Muse87 because my ex insisted I delete my old account and make a new ‘atheist’ account alongside him. But batterers want control, and when he felt like he was losing that he acted out in the most violent way.

It is with that background that I introduce you to the new, unashamed Muse87. Me. I hope to use this page as a tool for others with similar stories. I feel that religion, old world family traditions and societal norms are a lethal cocktail to the domestic violence victim, the same as it is for sexual assault victims. As much as I devour information regarding domestic abuse/violence I have never found data or advice specific to the impact of faith and Christian praxis on victims. In my opinion, these are the underlying influences that fail victims/survivors.

Muse87 is proud and unashamed. She is strong, beautiful, sometimes bawdy and always full of humor. I embrace Muse87 and I hope you will too as you join me in extrapolating the truth and discovering a clear path to peace for all survivors.

Lily Bell