How could I have known that pulling a manila envelope out of my mailbox would change me forever? But it did – because it set into motion a series of events that scared the shit out of me, yet also presented me with a huge opportunity to face my fears and grow.
My hands began to tremble as I read its return address and then placed it in my lap. I’d had nightmares about this happening since he’d started threatening me, and in a matter of moments that nightmare was going to become a reality.
While my son readied himself in the backseat of the car for the trip to the toy store that I’d promised, I tore open the envelope and pulled the stack of papers out to read them. Sure I could’ve waited until we got home and I’d locked myself in a closet somewhere to lose my shit in private, but in that moment I couldn’t help myself.
Please be advised that this office represents…
As I continued on to read his attorney’s accusations, I felt sick to my stomach. And once the severity of what I was going to have to deal with fully registered in my mind I could not breathe.
He had a lawyer and he’d filed court papers. As if that wasn’t scary enough I wondered how the fuck a single mom like me, with next to no savings, was going to afford a lawyer to protect myself. While my mind raced, everything began to spin.
I was having my very first panic attack in the front seat of my car.
“Is something wrong, Mommy?” my son asked inquisitively.
This was my fault. How could I have been so stupid?! Why couldn’t I have just given in like I normally did?
You see, I’d said no to something my ex wanted and now this was my punishment – a custody battle born from sheer spite.
This wasn’t about trying to take time away from me for being a bad mother, or about my son’s best interests. It was about my ex getting even, and proving that he was still the one in control.
The idea that my child was being used as a pawn enraged me.
“Your father…” I began to spit angrily, and then I stopped myself.
I didn’t want to be THAT mother. I didn’t want to be one of THOSE women that put their child in the middle, no matter how mad I was at my ex for what he had just started. I knew I was a better mother than that.
“Is something wrong with Daddy?!” he questioned, with fear in his eyes.
Fuck. My moment of weakness had just about driven my son to tears. I knew I had to attempt to pull my shit back together for my son’s sake.
Just breathe. You can do this. You have to do this. For him.
I fought back the tears that had formed in the corners of my eyes and opened my mouth.
“No buddy, Daddy is fine. I promise.”
But I’m not.
Why was he doing this to me NOW – years after we’d separated and our son was already happy with the way things were? I knew the answer before I even finished asking myself the question.
I’d said no, and his entire life everyone else had said yes.
For once I’d stood up to him, and his not being able to do anything about it drove him crazy enough to blindside me with a nasty lawyer that could.
A narcissist will attempt to remain in control of his influence over your life long after a separation. Since our split I’d dealt with him trying to control how my child support was spent, what I did during my visitation time, and every other aspect of our co-parenting relationship.
For the most part I’d followed his wishes and instructions to avoid conflict. As much as I hated him having control of my life, it was just easier than dealing with the temper tantrums.
As strong as I’d become, I was still pretty weak when it came to my ex. The truth was, he intimidated me. He’d turned my life upside-down before and I knew he was still capable of it. For that reason I avoided engaging him as often as I could.
But sometimes I had to choose to fight for my son’s best interests. And right now, whether I wanted to or not, I was being forced to. My son’s happiness was at stake.
While my ex couldn’t see past his anger into the future, I could – and the future he wanted just because it was good for him, was not what was good for our son.
I couldn’t ignore or wish away this legal notice – though I did for about two weeks afterwards out of fear. To be honest, I kept hoping someone would jump in and save me until I realized I was the only one that could save myself.
Eventually I put on my big girl pants, picked up the phone, and called several lawyers. I knew I couldn’t win this alone. Seeking legal counsel was one of the scariest things I’d ever had to do.
It took several consultations before I found one I knew was tough enough to fight for me, but when I met with her I knew immediately she was my one.
We both thought it would be an open and shut case – after all I was a kickass mother; I’d never abused or neglected my son. Why on earth would a judge ever take time away from me?
But what transpired over the next few weeks proved otherwise as both of us were tested in ways we never thought possible.
You never know how strong you are, until being strong is the only choice you have.
To be continued…