The Rollercoaster

On deciding to Leave.

Photo by Matt Bowden on Unsplash

When you’re in an unhealthy relationship, it’s sometimes described as riding an emotional roller coaster. There are moments of connection and intimacy where you feel like you are on top of the world. Then there’s the inevitable fall into despair and disconnection, where you wonder why you are there.

When one person experiences a wide range of mood swings that they aren’t able to control, they may not be able to stop themselves from expressing these emotions at their partner.

If you’ve never experienced this kind of relationship, it can be confusing at first. You might think it’s your fault so you do things to appease the other person. It might take a while for you to understand what’s really going on.

If you grew up in a family with a lot of drama, it might feel normal to you. You might even try to recreate a troublesome parent/child relationship because it‘s normal for you to have a lot of drama in your life. It’s a little bit exciting, riding the highs are fun. The emotional lows might not be worth it.

Either way, you can decide to get off.

I stood in the middle of the sunny kitchen and turned slowly in a circle, standing on the warm tiles. The large windows that offered a view of the lake and the cozy living room had my mother’s handmade quilt folded over the couch. A recently completed mosaic landscape glinted on the mantel.

We had planned the house so I could easily see the playroom where Lee and John were quietly talking to their beloved Tonka trucks. I felt a soft humming in my heart when I saw them, Lee glanced up and a wide smile crossed his face. He returned to his truck, making brrring noises for his little brother who was chirping and bouncing up and down in his jolly jumper.

It had been two years since Lee had been born, followed by John 16 months later. I still remembered the fierce surge of protectiveness that I had felt. It had been a surprising moment when I realized I would do anything for them, anything to protect them.

My eyes flashed wider. In that brief instant, I knew I was strong enough. I’d been waiting for a while.

I just had to find the right moment.

It had gotten worse since John was born. The added responsibility was a lot for his father. The pressure of a growing family weighed him down like heavy stones and he couldn’t seem find a way to enjoy anything in his life. He wasn’t managing the strain very well. When everything was running smoothly we lived in a surreal calm, like we were out on bail waiting for the trial to begin. When it was just the two of us, life had been manageable for him, but as each boy grew older, their needs magnified the problems their father was having. He was becoming less able to cope, and much less able to continue to contain his emotional outbursts.

I didn’t know how to help him accept the new reality of family life. He was so angry most of the time, I couldn’t predict to behave or what I should do to appease him.

Lost in the myriad of details and mountains of laundry that comes with parenting two small children, I was also trying to cope. We rode on the roller coaster of his moods. The highs were calm and sometimes exciting; he was a happy, reasonable person, but the lows were so bad that I was more and more afraid of how far he would go. Sometimes the stress before a blow-up shimmered in the air between us. When I couldn’t stand it anymore I would push him until the pressure cooker exploded and we could move into the peace that followed. The calm times were short-lived and then the tracks would take an upward turn again.

My sister and her family lived a couple of miles away, down a long country road. Their support had been welcome, especially when the baby was new but they had recently stopped visiting. They told me that they could be supportive but only when the boys and I were alone. A couple of weeks ago, there was a confrontation when he came home and my sister was visiting. He stood in the middle of our driveway, eyes bulging out of his rigid face and yelled at her, blaming her for all of his problems. The next day, I called the women’s shelter to see if they could help me. When they said they wouldn’t take me with small children I realized I was completely alone.

The children were starting to notice. Lee spent most of his time playing with his brother in their bedroom when their father was at home. They knew when to be quiet and not disturb him.

We weren’t sleeping very well and we sometimes would wander through the house in the middle of the night. Unable to continue tossing and turning, I would get up and spend hours sitting and writing, trying to think of something that would help our situation.

One night, I went to the couch and slumped down. I pulled the soft crocheted throw over my shoulders, seeking comfort in its warmth. I looked out the window and saw that the moon was full and high in the night sky. The moonlight made the deepening shadows loom large on the front lawn. There was a quick movement and I saw a bulky raccoon lope across the lawn, followed closely by two smaller ones. They ambled down the driveway out of sight.

That evening at dinner, the tension in the air was so thick you could choke on it. I heard the tap-tapping of a fork against his plate and knew something was coming. I braced myself, as he jumped up from the table and came towards me, fists clenched, his face rock with hard marbles for eyes. Something had triggered him and I had no idea what I had done wrong. When he left the house I cleaned up the shattered glass that covered the kitchen floor. I realized that he had wanted to hit me, but he broke the glass instead. I knew next time would be worse and that scared me. I had to do something to protect us. I had to find the right moment.

I was still shaken. Pulling the comforter closer, I tried to get warm.

Then he walked into the living room and hesitated. Sometimes he would wake in the night as well and sometimes he would be as lost and as scared as I was. That was when we could talk rationally about what was going on.

‘I’m sorry’, I said. I was apologizing for his earlier behaviour, as was my habit.

‘I don’t know what to do’ he replied, sitting down in his large leather easy chair. He pushed the latch and the recliner tipped back. ‘You just make me so angry that I can’t help myself’.

I didn’t know either. Hearing those words made me aware for the first time that he was scared of himself too. He knew that his actions were sometimes out of his control. In the calm quiet of the night, I knew it was time for me to say it and I hoped that a moment of clarity had arrived. In this moment, he was coherent and sane and he might listen to me without getting angry.

I summoned my courage.

“I’d better leave before you hit me”. And he agreed.

I was filled with a rush of fear combined with something else as I walked into the spare room and sat down on the edge of the bed. A sense of freedom and excitement was building as I felt the impossible was beginning to be possible. We could be free.

A ripple of joy washed over me, relief rushed through my body, flushing my face. Then it happened. A column of sparks shot up out of the top of my head and covered me in warmth. I became part of the sparkling light and flowed like a clear cold stream of water into the sky. The glittering bliss enveloped me in warm, bubbling laughter.

I wanted to sing and dance and shout at the moon. I flew into the sky and I was in space, deep space, surrounded by large solid yet floating rocks. I landed on one and rested for a moment. Then I stood and turned slowly in a circle focusing on the experience, telling myself to remember all of the details. The river of light was still coming up through me and I was both here and down below. My body was still down there, waiting for me to return. I closed my eyes and was back in the spare room, lying on the bed. My skin tingled and strong energy pulsed in my veins. I lay awake for a long time, reflecting on what had just happened and making a plan for the next day.

Within a week, we were on the move.

Looking back, I realize that a mother animal will do anything to protect her young from a threat. It took courage for me to overcome the years of programming and fear that a lifetime of being pushed around by others had built in me. Part my nerve came from the strong need to keep the boys safe. I am grateful for the courage that I found that evening and the beautiful glittering affirmation I had been given.

Those sparks carried me for years.

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