someone who seems to get off on making your life miserable.
“my ex is my spiritual sandpaper”
We all have people in our lives who challenge our sanity, at least from time to time.
Their motives matter not. Sometimes it’s their way of being that drives us crazy. Other times it’s because they seem hell bent on ruining our lives.
I call these people my spiritual sandpaper.
Note that this is a long post. If you don’t care about the backstory and just want to know how I came to forgive my ultimate spiritual sandpaper, jump ahead to the section How I Freed Myself.
The spiritual sandpaper I’m referring to in this post is my daughter’s father. The backstory is that he sued me for custody shortly before her 11th birthday.
Why? Because when I moved from Montana to Illinois, I moved to a town that was about 25 miles away from his. This made a 50-50 parenting split impractical.
His lawyer demanded to know why I didn’t move to his town.
The short answer is that my then-fiancé’s career required it. The long answer is that he wasn’t entitled to choose where my family lived.
Where was he when I was pregnant?
Where was he when she was born?
Where was he when she’d wake up in the middle of the night needing a diaper change or feeding?
Where was he for the first 10 years and 9+ months of her life?
WHERE WAS HE?
The simple fact is that he had chosen a different life path that didn’t involve co-parenting.
But, when he got married and my daughter acquired a couple of sisters close in age, this dynamic shifted. His lifestyle was now conducive to parenting his daughter.
I didn’t want to leave my home and family in Montana. And, I had a fantastic job in the Governor’s budget office, which seemed pretty crazy to give up. But, between my daughter’s desire to explore deeper relationships with her father and new sisters and my fiancé’s desire to live in the Chicago area, the writing was on the wall…
I also knew that the decision about where we moved wasn’t solely mine, as I had a fiancé who had to have a say in things. We debated it at great length, and while I rather liked the town where my daughter’s father lived, it wasn’t going to work for my fiancé’s career.
Kinda like how moving out to Montana so that he could co-parent during his daughter’s first 10 years and 9+ months of her life wasn’t going to work for her father’s career. Sometimes we have to make compromises for our careers, right?
Back to the part where I got sued
If this sounds familiar, you probably read about it in the posts I wrote under the My Story category.
Anyway, my fiancé and I didn’t figure out where we were going to live until late June 2013. But, once we had decided on a general area, I knew that my daughter’s father was going to be furious. And, I knew that he would do everything in his power to “right” the wrong he’d perceive to be happening to him.
So just in case, I hired an attorney.
He responded as I had anticipated. He raged at, belittled, mocked, gaslighted, and threatened me (not physically). It was terrible. Sometime around that point, I stopped taking his calls and only communicated via text or email. That way, I’d at least have documentation of everything he said.
My fiancé and I moved into a condo in an affluent community. A few days later, I was served with a summons to appear in court. He was seeking custody of our daughter. That’s when my hell truly began.
A few days after I was served, it was supposed to be my time with my daughter. But instead of spending time with her, I found myself at the police station in his town trying to get help locating her. I later learned that he had told her that I wasn’t see her after all (maybe that’s being overly generous) and instead brought her to Wisconsin in violation of his own summons, which prohibited either parent from leaving the state without the other parent’s consent. All sorts of nightmarish things were going on in my head.
Opposing counsel ran with the narrative that I was the one who caused this whole mess by not moving to my daughter’s father’s town, and that’s the rabbit hole that the lawyers all scurried down.
I was floored. Why did everyone agree that he was entitled to dictate where I moved?! It’s not like I was taking her further from him. I mean, by my own choice, I reduced the distance that he had to travel to see the daughter that he had never expressed much interest in parenting from 1,500 miles to 25 miles! NO ONE SEEMED TO CARE ABOUT THAT.
The thing is, he needed to keep the narrative about how I was screwing him out of his rights as a father rather than how he was absent by choice – how he had chosen to be the proverbial “holiday dad” – for pretty much her whole life. He was always very good at keeping the narrative fixed on whatever suited him best. This completely escaped the attorneys, at least for a while.
Then there were the lies, misrepresentations, and character assaults that were being spread about me:
My relationship with my fiancé was called into question because we weren’t married. I mean, never mind that I’d known the guy since I was nine years old. And, never mind that we were already engaged to be married. My lawyer suggested that we enter into a civil union to tide us over until we were ready to officially get married. So we did. And then that decision was called into question.
My psychological stability was called into question because I had tried to kill myself 17 years earlier. Never mind that my failed suicide attempt led me to dramatically turn my life around (you can read about that here).
My responsibility was called into question because I had moved away from Montana without first securing a job in the Chicago area. How could I possibly support my daughter, he asked? Never mind that I was interviewing for a job in my field that paid more than his and was waiting tables in the interim. Also, never mind the context in which I had moved.
My housing situation was called into question. I was accused of living in an apartment while he lived in a house. Okay, this was one of the most asinine of the accusations. Never mind that his house was only a half mile away from the border of one of Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods. And, never mind that I lived in a lovely condo/townhome in one of the Chicago area’s most affluent suburbs (and with one of the best school districts in the state). Not that my physical home structure or community affluence should have mattered – what’s wrong with living in an apartment in a quiet neighborhood?! – but it was one of the things that was brought up to make me look like the less desirable parent in court.
My character was called into question. I was portrayed as dishonest (see below) and selfish.
My intent behind a parenting agreement we had drafted before my move was called into question. Context: I had insisted on including verbiage that I was not 100% committing myself to moving to his town because there were multiple unknown factors that would influence where I’d have to live (where I’d find work, where my fiancé would find work, etc.). He disputed both my integrity and the verbiage in the agreement. Important note: in hindsight, I should have never voluntarily and willingly signed any agreement that reduced my ability to parent. This original agreement was drafted solely for his benefit and by his expectation, at my expense.
And there were other things. The phone that I’d bought my daughter “went missing” while it was plugged into a wall at his house and was replaced with one that he bought (and could therefore monitor).
My Facebook account was hacked, and his lawyer shared with my lawyer details of a post I had made that morning that neither he nor his lawyer nor anyone connected with them had access to (based on my privacy settings, blocked users, etc.).
My Gmail account was also hacked, and an important email detailing where to go and when for a job interview magically disappeared. Now, I’m not accusing him of hacking these accounts, but I’ve always had my suspicions. [Spoiler alert – I still got the job.]
The worst, though, was not being able to communicate freely with my daughter. She had virtually no privacy during our calls in the early months of our custody battle. I remember her telling me that the reason she didn’t call more than she did was because her dad would stay nearby whenever she was on the phone with me (even if she was in her room) and that one of the very few times that she thought she had privacy, she caught her dad hanging out on the roof above her – within earshot – when he had no other reason to be up there.
Then there were the times that her father and his parents would extract innocuous information from her and then he’d manipulate it in order to use it against me in some way. Things related to my fiancé’s work, for example. Or how she hadn’t yet made friends at her new school. Or where I was getting the money to pay my legal fees. That sort of stuff. Asking under the pretext of making conversation but with a darker motive. Even she noticed it was happening, but she didn’t feel empowered to stop it.
I wasn’t supposed to “disparage” her father in any way and was super careful avoid influencing anything she said to him. This caused a major rift between my fiancé and me. He had come to truly hate my daughter’s father and the system that allowed this whole custody case to unfold the way it was. Finally, though, I’d had enough and told her what was happening. She was free to say whatever she wanted, but she was no longer naïve about what her father was doing with that information.
The whole experience was beyond brutal. My despair was off the charts, and I felt like the world was caving in on me. I felt egregiously violated by his entitlement and manipulation, and how the court and lawyers let the narrative of the case be dictated by this entitlement rather than the totality of the facts. I was in a very dark place.
Instead of enjoying life in a beautiful community a few blocks from the shores of Lake Michigan with my daughter and fiancé, I was dropping tens of thousands of dollars defending myself against his accusations and doing what I could to protect my daughter.
The thing is, as great as my fear was that I’d lose the most precious thing in the whole world to me, there was more at stake.
I was truly afraid that her father’s (in my opinion) narcissistic ways would damn her to become either narcissistic or codependent herself. And, I was afraid that her spirit would diminish – that she’d come to second-guess her worth and possibly even her intelligence and sanity if she sustained years of gaslighting and manipulation like I had. I also feared that the light in my daughter would extinguish from the toxicity that I suspected she’d come to witness in his home.
We were in and out of court from July 2013 until April 2014, and we reached an agreement (in my favor) right before going to trial. Ultimately, it cost me tens of thousands of dollars, my fiancé’s health, and possibly even the eventual failing of our marriage. I was grateful for the outcome, but let’s be clear – it wasn’t one of those “WE WON!!!” kind of victories.
How I freed myself
So, I was sued for custody of my child, and it was brutal. I was in a place of great despair and felt like I was crawling out of my skin; I was literally stewing in a toxic cesspool of emotion. Something had to give, but what?
I had to forgive him. To stop resenting him for brining hell to my doorstep. To uncover the lesson that needed me to find it. To take ownership of how I responded to my circumstances.
The remainder of this posts outlines the exact steps I took to truly forgive my ultimate spiritual sandpaper. Just for perspective, I believe that I adopted this after a month or two into our court case. It’s possible that it happened a little later than that, but I do remember that it happened pretty early on.
If you do what I did with full sincerity and an open heart, I have no doubt that what worked to banish my resentments and forgive the guy who seemed hellbent on ruining my life will also work for you.
Understand that I chose to forgive him because resenting him was poisoning me.
In other words, my motivation to forgive was selfish and simple; I craved freedom from the agony and despair and injustices that were eating my spirit alive. I did not forgive him because I aspired to be a good person.
I didn’t even know how to forgive someone from the depths of my heart. I mean, it’s not like I didn’t know how to forgive in most circumstances. But, at that point I didn’t know how to transform fear, despair, and resentment into something beautiful.
As someone who’s studied yogic philosophy, I figured that meditation or at least some hardcore reflection was going to be necessary. So, inspired by a Dalai Lama quote printed on an old greeting card, I decided to start meditating on feeling compassion for him.
This wasn’t easy. For starters, I was actively immersed in one of the most trying moments of my life.
Also, I didn’t yet have a well-established meditation practice and found myself fidgeting relentlessly as my back slumped and legs fell asleep. And, I received zero support from my fiancé for pursuing forgiveness over hatred. But I kept at it because I was falling apart and knew that the only thing that I truly had the power to change was myself.
I meditated as though my life depended on it (in a way, it did). I meditated on feeling true compassion and love for my ultimate spiritual sandpaper. And, I meditated on seeing him as his highest self – the person who he truly was deep down rather than the beast that my mind had created.
I sent all of the love and light I could muster to him. I visualized embracing him. I even visualized the entire collective love and light of the world embracing him.
The effect that this compassion-centered meditation practice had on me was miraculous.
I stopped feeling fear and grew stronger. The despair and deep-seated resentment dissipated, and ultimately I forgave him.
Of course, there were times when I failed to be a shining beacon of light and regressed back to a fear state. Nonetheless, my new meditation practice made it easier to return to a place centered around compassion, love, and forgiveness.
Transforming what I believed to have been an enormous injustice into an opportunity to become a more compassionate woman was a gift. So were the opportunities to not resent another person under such trying circumstances, set (and honor) solid boundaries, and be the woman I strove to be.
However, the greatest gift was that it shifted my whole paradigm. I learned first hand the power of meditation and the serenity that comes from desiring the same things for my spiritual sandpaper as I desired for myself.
If you are holding resentments – no matter how great – and wish to free yourself of them, why not see if what worked for me can work for you? What have you got to lose?
Try my method for forgiving your spiritual sandpaper.
- Act with impeccable integrity.
- Ask the Universe, God, or whatever resonates to help you be your best self.
- Don’t react when presented with bait. Respond only if you must (you probably won’t).
- Reject the ego’s need to be right with the statement (spoken or thought) “You could be right.” Note that this is true even when you know that they are wrong AF.
- Meditate on feeling true compassion for this person.
- Consider journaling or working through this with a good therapist (if you suspect that narcissism may be involved, seek out one who has expertise in this area).
- Rinse and repeat. You’ve got to truly want this.
It was also very important for me to not pity my spiritual sandpaper. In other words, I wasn’t thinking “He can’t help behaving like an entitled MF! Poor guy…” Framing things that way would have kept me feeling self-righteous and above him; it would have kept me identifying with an ego-driven “better than” or “more spiritually evolved than” mindset.
Listen to my compassion meditation.
This guided meditation is 10 minutes long and is set to beautiful music recorded by Chris Collins. It’s a feel-good meditation that is sure to leave you feeling like you’ve been hug-bombed by a giant warm fuzzy when you’re through. And, you can do it even if you are loving the world and everyone in it!
Click the link to access my Compassion Meditation and transcript.
I’d love to hear from you. Have you tried this approach? Did it work? Do you have any favorite strategies you’d like to share with other readers? Please comment below if you do!