On Rising Up From the Ashes

abstract swirl of blue on a black backgroundThis was one of the first posts I wrote on the blog. I wrote the long saga of how the blog became a book over the past few days (under To Publication under pages, not that I expect anyone to read all the way through it but some people interested in publishing and others interested in how the blog became a book have been asking…) and to refresh my recollection of which blogs were written first, I was reading the through the first few blog posts and thought this would be a good one to run.  This is one that is partially in the book. Unedited from the original December 2006.


“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” -Joseph Campbell

When I first left my marriage, I was convinced it was the right thing for about 24 hours. Then I felt plunged into a darkness I had never known before or since. I woke up on day 2 feeling as if I was unraveling. I couldn’t understand it, but I had next to no ability to even begin to understand anything, let alone this HUGE emotional upheaval I seemed to be having. After that first day, I was plagued by anxiety attacks, acute depression and waves of indecision. For weeks, I walked the floors at night and had no energy during the day. I was in so much emotional pain that I had moments of feeling that I was unable to breathe. For a while I was convinced that if I was dying, that would be a good thing.

When I went to my counselor, my goal became to put my marriage back together and go on, somehow, as if nothing had happened.

What I was not understanding was that all of the grief I was feeling was not just the end of my marriage…it was the grief of every loss I had ever had and not reckoned with.

What I failed to understand was that for months before the split I had been moving toward this time.

There was an episode the summer before where my husband’s best friend had locked us out of the house. I was out walking the dog, the kids were playing next door, my husband’s brother, cousins and grandmother were in and out of my house, everyone was in and out on that warm summer’s day. We left the side door open with the screen door closed. To close the side door was to lock it shut behind you. None of us closed it in the summer.

My husband’s friend, on his way out of the house, pulled the side door behind him and we were all locked out. Everyone had keys to the house, my husband, his grandmother, his brother, his cousins and his friend but no one had the keys with them, they all had left them in the house.

I was oblivious to what just happened until I saw my husband coming down the block. I stopped walking the dog and walked back toward him. When we met up, he asked me for a key. Like everyone else, I didn’t have one with me.

This enraged him. He started screaming at me in the middle of the street and calling me all kinds of names. People poured out of their houses to see what the ruckus was. People stared at him and at me. I just stood there, transfixed and embarrassed but something clicked in me about this scene. Something that I would not be able to shake for months.

He had always been critical and always had blamed everything that went wrong on me.

But at that moment. on that street, on that day, I knew it wasn’t me. Few incidents had been this clear that it wasn’t me. Few incidents came with such a scrolling banner that said, “This is not your fault. Everyone had keys. How are you the only one who was supposed to have them on you?”

For the next several months I watched and waited and observed how our relationship was so screwed up and how quickly he pounced on me for every little thing. I was able to stand back, for the first time, and see, REALLY SEE, the way he was treating me. I knew he was finding interest in other things, other women. He was verbally and physically abusive. And he continued to blame everything on me.

Still, once I left, despite all those months of moving away, mentally and emotionally, I was still so bereft I couldn’t speak.

What hit me at that time was a lifetime of not dealing and not coping and not working through. It was not the loss of this one crappy relationship. Yes, I had to grieve the hopes and dreams and having my three children grow up in a house with a mom and a dad. Yes, I had to give up the dream of him finally seeing how good I was and treating me like he loved me. Yes, I had to give up my house and my dreams. I had to break it all apart and that was hard.

But the grief and the emotional reaction was so much more. I had to look at my life, my entire life, and see ALL of the abuse and ALL of the abandonment and ALL of the blame by others.

I had to go down into the abyss.

It was hard. It was horrible. And it hurt a lot. Whenever I thought of most of my childhood, it was like putting my hand on a hot stove. Deal with all that pain plus the end of my marriage and my dreams??? And what would take its place?

I had no idea what to do with all that I was uncovering AND the uncertainty of the future. What would become of me? Of my kids? For so many years, I was told how I couldn’t do anything right. Now it was time for me do something alone. Would I screw it up? How could I not?

With all the sorrow of the past and present and a future so unclear, no wonder I felt crazy all the time.

I did feel crazy and upset for what seemed a very long time. But I did the work. I pushed through it. I journaled, I cried, I went to support groups. Eventually I found a new life that was mine, that was a treasure. Eventually I found a life that was second to none, full of love and loving people. Eventually I plowed through all the bad stuff to make room for the good stuff…and the good stuff came flooding in…

It wasn’t easy but nothing that is easy is a treasure. Treasures are hard won.

When you come face to face with your inner pain, do not retreat.

Go down into the abyss and bring up the treasure that is your new life.

It hurts and it feels like hell but there is much goodness waiting for you.

Clear the wreckage of the past and find it.

Susan J. Elliott 12/19/06


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5 Responses to On Rising Up From the Ashes

  1. Luna says:

    Susan,
    Sometimes I come here for comfort and support and find treasures that seem to be posted directly at me. I’m having such hard days. And the biggest chunk of it is everything you just posted here. This is where I’m at. This is my stage. I feel so afraid. But I’m plowing through. I do have a few tools to help myself but it’s so hard. This makes me feel “normal” and reassured. This afternoon I sat and cried, while my children played, and just kept repeating “You can do this”. I don’t understand my thought processes, however, I think you just explained what’s going on with me. I unfortunately relate to ALOT of this part of your story. I’m entering my abyss!! This is so hard and painful. This is about the ALL. I’m actually getting the feelings of anger bubbling up right now. It’s all sinking in. This article is a huge AH-HA moment for me.

    • Susan J. Elliott says:

      I remember early on, maybe a month into this, standing outside an Al-Anon meeting where I had gone to deal with being raised in an adoptive alcoholic home and I described it to someone as opening the basement door when the basement is full of junk and mold and insects. You know you have to clean it but you open the door, take a look at everything, feel overwhelmed and slam it shut.

      Eventually you have to stop looking at everything and just concentrate on one thing. I’ll take that old rusty paint can at the bottom of the stairs. I’ll run down and take that up and throw it away…quick down and up and there, I did that. The next day I’ll run down and get that broken mirror…etc etc.

      Other people described it as peeling the layers of an onion, but that sounded too neat for me….for me, I had the cruddy old basement to clean. I have another one that I’ll post as well that reminds me of all this…

      But after a while you have a clean basement and you never have to worry about it again.

      It’s hard and it hurts but half the world are walking around with janky basements not knowing what to do about it. You know. You can do this. You really can!

  2. Susan J. Elliott says:

    Here’s the other post that I was thinking of when I re-posted this one:

    http://gettingpastyourbreakup.com/gettingpastyourpast/2011/01/transformation-2/

    • Luna says:

      Thanks Susan,
      These are very useful for me to read. I am that hot mess. I consider myself to be intelligent but I intellectually struggle with why some days or moments I would even consider trying to fix things with my narcissist/abusive husband. I’m fighting for my life and doing my work but there are irrational thought patterns that really halt me some days. These articles clarify that it’s not necessarily me, but more part of the process. I am clearing my basement out. But I’m definitely still at the stage where I’m running in and finding that one item to pull out. I’m unsure and petrified of my choices. I am also extremely afraid to open my eyes fully and take complete inventory. I know what’s creeping around down there. I’ve peaked enough to have a pretty good sense of the damage and decay. All I know is it’s time. I need to re-model and clean up. I’m ready and committed. I may need alot of encouraging and Kleenex passing, but I willdo this. Thank you Susan. I really have been in a horrible place but knowledge is power. Now I understand this phase. I have some reassurance to my feelings.

  3. Coppergirl says:

    Sometimes ones best insights come about while you’re at rock bottom. After the loss of my previous career, loss of my marriage, was ghosted by someone who’d had a bitter divorce years before and took revenge on subsequent women in his life. Tried to get “out there”, met an extremely scary stalker who worked at my university, then someone who attempted to rape me; I knocked him down. Atop all this was a cancer diagnosis, an insecure job which paid far less than the cost of living. Fear. Loneliness. Anger. Despair.
    After Narcboy, it was again that feeling of powerlessness coupled with an inability to get away from the situation as NB is a colleague. Other colleagues asking what’s wrong, trying hard to act “normal”, NB deliberately baiting me, turning the knife in the wound, disastrous attempts to get “out there”, declining health and greater demands of the last of family, a veritable s$&@storm. Into the abyss again. From there came understanding: NB was a serial cheater with dozens of victims, NO women of education in the region have success in dating locally, perhaps not even throughout this part of the West. A heavily ex-working class, mining, seasonal, anti-education, drug using local male culture doesn’t mesh well with women who are liberal, environmental, health concious professionals. Been that way for decades. All of us chix made really bad decisions and fail to see red flags in an atmosphere of cultural/intellectual isolation. It took that second trip to rock bottom to see this. The abyss also has made me question my retirement plans, that what I had considered a panacea for the issues here may not be after all. The abyss has made me appreciate the need for like-minded community where one doesn’t have to hide who she is. Therefore, I am looking at many options, progressive outdoor towns, living part time elsewhere, even living in other countries. Some day, perhaps soon, something may shove me into the abyss again. If so, I will hunker down, see what it is I need to learn this time.

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