Two years ago, on my 31st birthday, I found myself walking around at my birthday party. I glanced around the crowd and felt so much joy for all the people that gathered together to celebrate another year of me. All these people that took the time to dress up, mobilize themselves and to stand there together, having a good time. All of this, all for me.
I remember how I almost teared up, as I realized how loved I felt. It was amazing, such a beautiful feeling. I also remember how these feelings inspired me to write a blog. A blog, writing about how loved I felt and how grateful I was for all my friends and loved ones.
That blog was never written.
Two years later, my memories of this birthday are a huge contrast. On Saturday night I felt so loved. On Monday, my real birthday, I felt disappointed. And only three days later my life shattered in a million pieces. Within one week, I went from so much love, to a terrible despair.
Usually we celebrate our birthday bashes on a Saturday evening, or a Friday. People tend to have more time to prepare for the party, and to recover from it. That’s why I had my room full of love on that day. On Monday we went to a restaurant to celebrate, as it was my real birthday. I dressed myself and my daughter beautifully and packed a few toys, so that she could entertain herself in the restaurant. She was only 2,5 years old back then, so sitting in a restaurant could be a bit boring for her. Together we waited until my husband would arrive home.
I know we should never expect something from anyone, but I had high hopes that my husband would bring me a present. The trip to the restaurant in itself wasn’t really a present, as me and even my daughter would be dining absolutely for free. And to defend myself on this subject, I don’t have high demands. I would have loved for him to bring home a bottle of wine, a bar of chocolate, my favourite beer maybe. Something, just anything. It didn’t have to be expensive, but it feels as an honor knowing that someone is thinking of what would please me, go to the store having me in mind. And then continue the trip back home, thinking of my smile when seeing the little gift.
Then I went numb
So, back to that day. My husband apparently had to work late and arrived later than expected. Empty-handed. He bluntly said that he didn’t really feel like buying me anything.
Disappointed, but still eager to celebrate my day – as I deserve it – we went to the restaurant hoping to turn it into a beautiful night. Although, it wasn’t really. He was grumpy and clearly not motivated to make sure I would have a good feeling about my special day.
Only a couple of days later, it became clear why.
I received a text message from a random stranger on Facebook.
“Hi Nicole, I have bad news about your marriage. Can you please contact me?”
My first thought was that it was some kind of scam. A weird person trying to make me doubt, hoping that I would invest in some sort of service he or she would be offering. But as I checked his Facebook page, I noticed it was a real person, living in our city and as his Facebook status stated, married to a colleague of my husband. My curiosity spiked; what was going on here?
The man called me and told me how he found my husband and his wife sitting at his kitchen table, apparently talking about ‘their future together’. All of a sudden I realized that all those days that he arrived late from work, he wasn’t really working extra hours. Not even on my birthday he had the veracity to head straight home after clocking out at work. Even on my birthday he found it more important to spend time with ‘the other woman’.
We decided to confront him together and as a true narcissist, he immediately opted for the victim role. He became hysterical. Grabbed a knife – which I took away from him. Ran to the computer. And wanted to book a ticket back to Mexico, leaving as soon as possible. A little extra information on this, we did not have much money. In fact, the moment he wanted to spend our last euros, the full amount that was still in our account, was meant for the rent. Yet, he found his crisis that important, that he wanted to spend it all, so that he could return to Mexico in a few days. I made sure he couldn’t, because I was not planning on losing our home.
Nonetheless, he found another way. He booked a ticket for only 3 days later. Only one week after my birthday party, my husband would leave the country and abandon me and his 2,5 year old daughter.
Not only that, he made it clear that he hoped that we would still lose our apartment and that I had to move back into my parents’ place.
This is how I went from feeling incredibly loved, to feeling incredibly alone in only one week.
Cleaning up the mess
The months that followed were very difficult, as I had to clean up all the mess he had left behind. I had to find a way to pay the bills. I had to take care of our daughter, all alone. The divorce process had to be started right away, otherwise I didn’t have the right for many other things. It was a big emotional and administrational mess.
My poor baby got sick, as she suffered from this sudden change in her life. She had to be hospitalized only a few weeks later due to continuous vomiting and her daddy found the guts to blame me for not taking good care of her.
And to top it all off, a few months later we fell into the big nightmare that this pandemic has been for all of us.
Yup, we were only three months into my 31st birthday and my whole world had been turned upside down. What happened to those well wishes, warm hugs and love that I received at my party?
My 32 birthday Party
The next birthday that I celebrated, had to be on a very small scale. COVID-19 started to flare up in the Netherlands and I couldn’t risk people – nor us – getting infected. I celebrated in little groups, with my closest loved ones. I felt love from them, but I also knew that I was keeping people at a safe distance. Safe for the virus, safe for my heart.
All of this caused me to feel terrible. As I was shattered into a million pieces, I spiraled back into a depression. The panic disorder I had been suffering from before, decided to come back. Anxiety was eager to fill up the empty space that my ex left behind and Oxazepam became my new partner in crime.
So, what do you do when you can’t do anything? When even the opportunity to distract yourself with the usual stuff we can do is taken away, as everything is closed because of a virus?
Well, it’s the perfect moment to start building everything back up from scratch. Sitting on the floor, viewing all those broken pieces, creates the perfect opportunity to start shaping everything the way that I would truly desire.
As I went from feeling incredibly loved, to feeling incredibly unloved and incapable, it dawned on me that it didn’t have to do with me. I am fine, I had all those people coming together to show their love to me after all. It was him. It’s him being unpleasant, eager to share his hatred and watch other people suffer. Apparently unbothered by the fact that he is now living far away from his only child. Mean enough to blame me for everything that doesn’t seem perfect in her life, freeing himself from the blame that should be falling on his shoulders.
The series Maid on Netflix
At this moment I’m watching the series Maid on Netflix. I’m following how Alex is struggling to keep her and her daughter’s head above water. Her daughter, interestingly enough, is also 2,5 years old. I feel so much recognition during the scenes of emotional abuse. The disinterest of many people ‘not wanting to pick a side’, while clearly they are backing him up instead of her. How she gets all the blame, while he is being a little child, irresponsible on so many aspects. Buying beers instead of food when he is out of money. Not interested in contributing to the costs of his daughter. Belittling, humiliating. Self-victimizing. Careless of how this affects his own daughter, while at the same time he blames Alex for all the things that she doesn’t do good enough – in his eyes – for her daughter.
But she does, she fights. She takes so much care of her. Her daughter is her priority, at any given moment. Caring for others as well. Fighting for the two of them together, all alone.
The series of Maid on Netflix has had a huge impact on myself. While I’m watching Alex on the screen, in my mind I see myself. I see the obstacles that I’ve had to take. The challenges that fell on our path. The detours I had to take when something didn’t work out. And the blessings that have been popping up all around us. All the people putting her reasons in doubt, even her family. For my mind’s eye, it’s myself that I’m looking at. It’s not Maid on Netflix. It’s the series of Nicole. And Maddy is Sophia.
I’m grateful for Maid, for Netflix and for Stephanie Land. As this series has been able to put many things in perspective for me. Both stories are obviously very different, but at the same time sadly similar. Both me and Alex Langley have been feeling numbed out by the things that overcome us. I’ve also been in the scene of the dark deep well. In the situations that I didn’t dare to speak up, even though I knew I should have. The moments I turned down big opportunities that could have changed my life. And the moments that the voice of my abuser was still awfully present, bringing me down and humiliating me. Making me believe that I’m incapable of anything.
At different moments throughout this journey, I’ve seen friendships fall away. Loved ones, family even. From the big, loving circle in 2019 at some point there were only a few left. And it was difficult to get in touch, as COVID made it difficult to meet many different people. Just like Alex in Maid on Netflix, I can see myself from a different angle, watching all the people and possibilities disappear from the movie screen that’s called life. Being left behind with only the love for Sophia and not knowing where to start.
In this period I decided to start therapy. From one thing came another and right now I find myself in weekly therapy sessions. I started making videos for YouTube, getting confronted with myself and my insecurities, weaknesses, my traits, both good and bad. I’ve been working hard on building back that foundation that we so desperately need in our lives. Understanding who Nicole really is, I’ve been starting to profile myself. And as I now know, I deserve to be loved. As does everyone else.
Emotional abuse is real
Emotional abuse is real and can be very traumatizing, even though it doesn’t sound all too bad. It’s quite hard to convince someone of what you’ve been going through. People tend to compare it to the normal, usual relationship bickering. And maybe if you look at individual situations it looks very much like it. But remember one thing, when someone doesn’t feel any shame for talking that bad about his or her spouse with a third, try to imagine the way he treats him or her when nobody is watching.
There are many different ways in which someone can shatter the foundation underneath your feet. It happens step by step, usually slowly. So slow, that it makes you doubt so, so much. Such tiny steps, that others don’t even notice. And without knowing, they side up with the (un)significant other, joining the humiliation process as they crack the same jokes.
Just like Alex and Sean’s friends in Maid on Netflix.
‘Ah there she is again, ready to spoil all the fun’
‘She never lets you drink in peace’
Yeah, who cares that he has both an alcohol and a drug problem, right? The mess that he will cause in the aftermath is not their problem, as long as they can be there with him for the fun part.
Hopefully Maid on Netflix can help open up the eyes of people who haven’t gone through this sort of situation. Maybe the story of Stephanie Land can help people see the damage that can be done, even when there isn’t always physical damage.
I felt loved, now I feel adored
In the last two years I have learned so much and I’m truly grateful. I accept the hardship that we’ve had to go through, as I know I’m blessed with the lessons that I’ve learned. Having watched Maid on Netflix has shown me how far I have come and how ready I am to move on. It was a very emotional journey, but I’m back and I’m stronger than ever.
You know, looking back. The day that my daughter and I were waiting for my ex husband to come home bearing a gift, he did bring me a gift after all. He left us and freed us from the abuse. I learned to put boundaries and how to fight for better. His gift to me was the realization of how much I deserve to be happy.
And to feel loved.
In one month I’ll celebrate my 33st birthday. I’ve already started the preparations, because I’m really looking forward to it. I hope to gather as many of my loved ones and appreciated friends together, just like two years ago.
I’m looking forward to glancing around, watching their faces. Reciprocating the kind, loving smiles of appreciation. The realization of how many people truly love me, to feel adored.
And knowing that this time around there won’t be anyone who is going to shatter my life into a million pieces again.
Because I won’t let them.
P.S.: the present that I’m looking forward to the most? A beautiful drawing from my daughter. A manifestation of true love, forever guarded on a piece of paper.
P.P.S.: If you haven’t watched Maid on Netflix yet, I recommend you to do so.