The women who supported me after abuse became my everything
When my friends ask me how I’m managing as a Solo Mom, I tell them I honestly don’t know. Sometimes it feels like I’m drowning or juggling fire with my bare hands or balancing on a tightrope, desperately trying not to look down.
Being a Solo Mom is the hardest job I’ve ever had. Our experiences are all different, of course, but for me, being a Solo Mom means working overtime to afford rent and bills, cleaning and fixing a home all by myself, cooking meals, wiping tears, staying up with my kids when they’re sick, wrangling two tiny humans during grocery-store outings, reading bedtime stories over and over again, volunteering at school events, transporting kids to preschool and therapy and playdates and supervised visits with their dad, documenting everything in preparation for court, and literally collapsing at the end of the day because I have never been so stressed or so tired in my life.
This is where the tribe comes in. Tribe? you ask. Let me explain.
A couple of years ago, I woke up quite suddenly to the psychological abuse that had been percolating in my marriage for years. One morning, when I couldn’t take it any longer, I left my husband. When I arrived at my parents’ house—in my pajamas with a toddler holding tight to my leg and pregnant with my second child—I was terrified and very much in shock.
My friends and family were at a loss for how to support me. My parents had been married for more than 30 years and had no experience with divorce. Most of my friends were either unmarried or happily married, but I didn’t know anyone who was divorced. And though my family and friends provided an incredible amount of logistical and emotional support—a place to live, meals, cups of coffee, and clothes for my new baby—they were not able to fully understand what I was going through.
In the early days of my separation, I slept and cried and googled. I began an immense personal learning process, a kind of sabbatical in abusive relationships. Voracious in my need to learn what had been happening in my marriage, I scoured websites about emotional abuse, studied up on custody evaluations, and learned the history of the fathers’ rights movement. And in the midst of crying and googling and calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline, I joined a small Internet-based group of women who regularly discussed the abuse they had experienced. Some had been divorced for years and were still healing from the post-traumatic stress disorder caused by living with abuse. Some were still with their abusive partners and were making plans to leave.
I am not exaggerating when I say that these women became my everything and that the very best thing I did for myself was to join an online support group. The women in my support group understood the dynamics of emotional abuse and the aftershock of leaving an abuser because they were living it, too. They were reeling with the same questions I was: Was my marriage really one big, gigantic lie? Are all abusers narcissists? Can an abusive man change? Why did I stay for so long? How will this affect my children?
More plainly put, we spoke the same language. We “got” each other. And though we often hid behind pseudonyms, we were sisters without knowing anything about one another. My online sisters stepped in where my friends and family couldn’t.
One of the beautiful things about living in the age of the Internet is that virtual support groups exist in droves. It’s easier to connect with others who are struggling—whether they’re in your community or on the other side of the world, whether they’re in the throes of divorce or fighting cancer—because the Internet provides a space for that.
I’m now part of a handful of online communities, and certain unwritten expectations exist in each one: that we will all treat each other respectfully, that we will not judge one another, and that we will not share conversations outside the group. These communities are safe places through which we are intentional about holding space for one another. If in the middle of the night someone writes a post in crisis, there are usually group members awake to respond—even just to say “I hear you. You are valuable. I know it’s hard. It gets better.”
I might have gone back to my abusive ex-husband if not for the sisters in my support group. They patiently and vigilantly read my long-winded, panicked entries. They were there to remind me that, statistically, abusers often do not change. But they did not judge me when I admitted there were things about him that I desperately missed because they understood the effects of trauma bonding and knew that abuse is—more than anything else—a disorienting web built on a merry-go-ground of enticingly good times and moments of pure hell.
In my support group, many of us are Solo Moms. Some of us have now moved beyond the pseudonyms and into the world of Facebook, texts, and phone calls. We trade photos of our kids, celebrate favorable court rulings, send each other funny memes, and vent about ex-husbands, work, and the stress of Solo-Mom life.
Joining and participating in a supportive community of women has been a powerful and deeply spiritual part of my journey through divorce and becoming a Solo Mom. I believe strongly in the power of women listening and holding space for one another, and I wholeheartedly encourage all Solo Moms to reach out through the Internet (or in person) to find a tribe.
Below are links to a few virtual support groups and communities:
Out of the Fog. If you are dealing with a loved one with a personality disorder, Out of the Fog is a tremendous resource. In addition to helpful information about personality disorders, Out of the Fog hosts an incredibly active forum. Forum subtopics include coparenting and divorce.
BPDFamily.com. Another website dedicated to supporting families of those with personality disorders—primarily borderline personality disorder. This site has very helpful forums.
The Verbal Abuse Site. This site is hosted by Patricia Evans, author of several books about verbal abuse. Prospective group members must call her office (the number is listed on the website) to gain access to the member boards.
One Mom’s Battle (OMB). This resource is founded by Tina Swithin, author of several books about divorcing a narcissist. Swithin provides consultations and divorce/custody-battle support, and she has started OMB chapters in many major cities across the globe. OMB members support one another virtually but also provide moral support for one another during custody battles.
The Longest Shortest Time (LST). The LST podcast, produced by Hillary Frank, is a “bedside companion” for parents who want to hear they are not alone. The LST podcast has spawned the LST Facebook group and its many LST subgroups (including a single-mamas group). It’s a super-supportive community.
ESME. You’re here already! ESME is a growing community of Solo Moms with resources and discussions pertinent to the unique challenges and celebrations of being a Solo Mom, as well as a confidential community of Sisters where, by answering questions and sharing your challenges, you will find Solo Moms who totally “get it.”
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.