WELCOME BACK

April 2016: After three years away from this blog I'm back. It was originally started so I could make sense of the madness that ensued after my marriage to a sociopath. Much has changed, grown and been created since then - including reclaiming my full birth name Melanie Pledger.
My voice has become stronger, and so has my mission. I'm here on this earth to share the life-changing magic that developed as a result of my personal journey overcoming abuse, abandonment, manipulation and betrayal. I've learned that many of the rules we've been taught about life are fundamentally wrong. They've been misunderstood by most, misused by some, and deliberately misdirected by the manipulators who live and breathe among us. I've also learned that it's easier and more enjoyable than people think to shift things around...
Now I know there was a reason for it all. So now I'm back to fill in the gaps. To share what I've discovered, and dispel the myths that don't serve us... I look forward to reconnecting with old friends, and discovering new ones.
Thank you for being here.
Mel xxx

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

A Good Year

English: A glass of port wine. Français : Un v...
I've learned so much over this past year that I know now, even against the odds, 2010 has actually been a very good year. Not one I care to repeat, thank you very much, but the good times and psychological shifts I've made surely mean that this year goes down in my memory, at least, as a good year. It's been a year of relentless challenges and frightening lows. There have been times when I've thought I wouldn't ever be able to come through. Times when I've even considered the worst - yes, I can say it now - and now, as I've just celebrated my 46th birthday I can look back and appreciate just how far I've come.

This time last year, you may remember, I'd just been advised that the only option available to me was to sell my home in France, giving half the proceeds to my estranged husband, the rest to the Scottish debt agency who were advising me, and take out a loan to repay the remainder of my creditors. So, had I taken their advice, my son and I would have been left homeless and in debt, while 'he' would still be free to continue living in our Edinburgh flat (for which he had not been paying the mortgage) and would also have had a lump sum of money. Pah!

Boy have I moved on from there! It's been tough and the challenges have been relentless. Yet at every step of the way I have absolutely refused to take no for an answer. I've learned that 'professionals' all have their own opinion - and that those opinions can vary tremendously. It would seem that there is no such thing as 'the' law, there is just 'a' law, which can be flexible to the extreme depending on who I'm talking to and how I phrase the questions. And let me tell you, some of the so-called professional advice I've received this year has been utterly laughable - shameful, really, when I think that there must be many people in a similar situation to me who would not have known how to fight. Many times as a child I was chastised for being stubborn or pig-headed... but you know what? Those qualities have served me well throughout these times.

I'm glad that I'm stubborn, and I've also learned to love so many other aspects of my personality that I'm finally getting to know and understand. When I qualified as a Louise Hay trainer in 1997, we were taught to accept ourselves and others exactly as we are - and since that time, I've done my level best to do exactly that. And the thing is, whilst I've been good at spotting hidden treasures in others, I simply hadn't realised what else had been buried beneath my own shell. The soft, squishy parts of me, the little me, that had hidden away for so long!

Yes, this year has taught me to fight. I've learned how to make £10 last for two weeks. I've learned how to turn up at business meetings with a confident smile on my face, not knowing how I would even find the train fare back to my sister's place. I've learned to keep my head held high and my principles strong, fighting for justice against a stream of legal and financial obstacles. I've learned how to create a new business from scratch - and with nothing - and secure a wonderful range of clients doing the work I love. I've learned how to listen to other people's problems, even while feeling overcome by my own situation. I've learned humility and gratitude for the smallest acts of kindness that people have shown me - anonymous deliveries of vegetables, fruit and flowers from surrounding gardens, invitations to dinner, introductions to new friends and colleagues, shoulders to cry on, forgiveness for some of my more outrageous antics. I've learned that even though there were times I may not have been able to buy a loaf of bread, that I'm always safe and rich beyond any 'outside' measure. For I am surrounded by a host of people I'm lucky enough to call my friends. People who care for me, and who will never let me fall - or fail.

So that, my friends, is why this year has been a good year. Perhaps the best. Because the lessons I've learned about myself and others are absolutely beyond measure. And I am grateful. And happy.

As this year draws to a close, I am excited and clear about my future. Next year is going to be an extraordinary year for me - I know it in my bones. Will it be as extraordinary as the previous year? Yes, I'm confident that it will - this time, though, it will be much more joyful because I am already starting it from a place of safety and happiness. Yes, finally I am content and secure - finally ready to accept all the good that life has to offer me, leaping in to life with my arms and my heart wide open. If I achieved so much from a position of hopelessness and fear, well, who knows what endless possibilities are in store for me now.

Thank you, life, this has been a good year indeed!


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Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The Legacy

It's interesting, don't you think, the legacy that remains way after an experience has been and gone? The imprint that is left on our soul and that permeates through to our thoughts, feelings and behaviours? I was chatting with a wonderful friend of mine about this just the other day. I had said to her, in all innocence - "Oh, there's something I meant to tell you!" and her response had been "why, what have I done?"

She has recently left a long term relationship in which she'd been unhappy for a long time. Living her life treading on eggshells, afraid of her partner's unpredictable and often abusive reactions, for years she was expecting to be chastised or criticised for something she had or hadn't done. The way in which she might say something, or even the way in which she might approach him. Her automatic fall-back position had been to check what she was doing wrong - because, of course, whatever the issue had been when she was with him, it would always have been her fault.

She's free, now, and is building her own life. Reclaiming her independence and finally starting to believe herself to be the stunningly beautiful, loving, brave and accomplished woman all her friends and family have always known her to be. For years she just thought she was to blame, and did everything she could to appease her partner and keep the peace. Making excuses for his repeated bad behaviour in company, covering over the cracks that the rest of us could see as clear as daylight. These days she looks back at those times and asks herself incredulously "what on earth was I thinking!" shaking her head in disbelief now that she can see so clearly just how damaging many aspects of the relationship had been.

Yes, she's free now. Yes, like any of us who have escaped from similar situations, she can now appreciate the truth of the situation. And yes, also like so many of us, she's still left with the legacy of those many years keeping herself squashed and quiet. Shrinking away from the harsh light of truth, ignoring the signs that things are seriously wrong. Staying silent in order to keep the peace. Appeasing and cajolling, believing that if only you love the other person enough, then everything would be OK. That when things weren't OK, then you blame yourself for not being good enough, or loving enough, or deserving enough. The questions continue - what am I missing? What am I doing wrong? How can I make things better?

Just a few days earlier, during my conversation with Beatrix, we'd had a similar conversation. She had received an entirely inappropriate email from somebody she hardly knew. Vexed and embarrassed by the message, her automatic response was to go back to the person in question and try to understand what must be going on for him in order to prompt such an improper communication. She is a psychologist, and we both share some similar experiences. So I pointed out to her that here she was demonstrating the living legacy of a lifetime spent in an emotionally abusive relationship. Rather than tell the person exactly what she thought, she was intending to put her own feelings to one side and instead do her best to understand where he was coming from - and she'd wanted to do this without appearing offensive in any way shape or form. And yet the message the other person had sent had been both offensive and disrespectful!

This, for me, is a huge legacy - or perhaps a burden - left to many women who have suffered any kind of abuse. Nurturing by nature, we are inherently adept at understanding situations from the other person's point of view. It's a great skill, and is very useful. It's also a great danger when exploited by people who's intention is less than supportive. To those who are lacking in empathy, they know that the target of their unjustified fury will do their level best to understand where they're coming from. That she will bob and weave, listen and learn, do everything within her power to make the other person feel better!

And so we become trapped in a vicious cycle of abuse and blame. The bully's continuing abuse and blame of the victim, and the victim in turn blaming themselves for their inability to make things right. Taking responsibility for situations that were none of their doing in the first place.

When everything was happening to me, I lost track of the number of times I was urged by my friends to not become bitter. To keep open and trusting, and know that what I had experienced was the exception and not the rule. And, whilst my conscious intention was to maintain my unwavering faith in the goodness of human nature, I confess it's been a struggle to stay as willing to accept people as I did before. I've become more selective with people I choose to share my time with. I'm less forgiving of behaviours I would previously have put down to just an intriguing foible or a simple misunderstanding.

For a while I thought that perhaps I was closing down to others. That perhaps I'd become exactly the kind of person I'd been warned by my friends to not be - but now I believe that actually I've become the opposite. Somebody who is exceptionally open and trusting. Somebody who still cares tremendously about the fate of other people. The difference now, though, is that my trust is directed at myself. Now I know my personal boundaries and I know if somebody has crossed the line. And now I won't stand for it anymore. I won't make excuses, I won't shut up and put up - because it doesn't help the other person, and it certainly doesn't help me! And if I can't be honest, open and true to myself, then how on earth can I expect to behave that way with others?

One of my favourite stories that I first heard many years ago puts this beautifully in to perspective. The story exists in many formats, and this is the gist of it. A motivational speaker was busy one weekend working on an important after-dinner speech he was due to deliver the following day. But he was gettting frustrated because the words weren't flowing, and his thoughts were muddled. He was also torn because his small son was nagging him, quite rightly, to come and play with him. He decided that perhaps if he could give his son something to play with for an hour or so, then he could finish writing his speech in peace, and then he could dedicate time with his boy. In one of the Sunday magazines, he'd found a page that depicted the map of the world. So he decided to cut it in to small pieces and give it to his son to put back together again, with the promise that once he'd done that, they could both go out to the park to play. Confident that this task would take his son some time, he settled back in to his writing. He was astounded when, less than ten minutes later, the boy came back to him smiling from ear to ear. The map had been stuck together and the map was perfect. Astonished, the father asked his son how on earth he'd managed to finish such a complex task so quickly? "Easy" replied the boy "on the other side was the picture of a man's face. So I followed that and of course it meant that the map was right as well - now can we go and play?" Laughing, the speaker put down his pen, grateful to his son for not only being so clever but also for giving him the inspiration he'd failed to find by himself. The next day he delivered his best ever motivational speech entitled "When the man is right, his world is right too"

Too often we fall in to the trap of giving our love, trust and openness to others, hoping to make things right, whilst completely ignoring ourselves in the process. It's taken me a long time to truly understand this for myself - and I believe that's why, now, my world is certainly shaping in to a more wonderful place than I've ever experienced before.

Beatrix laughed during our conversation as she realised the habit she'd unwittingly fallen into - needless to say her response to this person turned out to be short, sharp and to the point. He hasn't responded.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Listen Up I've Got Something To Say...

And that something is thank you - yes you. Thank you to all of my wonderful friends and family who have supported and loved me over the past 20 months of roller-coaster fortunes and emotions. I'm perfectly sure there have been many times I've been difficult to cope with - and let me say that I'm now more acutely aware of my character flaws than I was before! But then again, I'm more acutely aware of just about everything that's within me and around me than I've ever been before. I feel alive. Shiny and new. Colourful. Expressive. Expansive. Renewed and yes a little raw, but yet exceptionally peaceful. 

These days I snuggle down to sleep every night blanketed by a beautifully warm and cuddly feeling of contentment - and deep gratitude for who I am and where I am. For what I'm doing and for how my life is shaping up. Every morning I wake up with a smile on my face, and a thrumming sense of excitement for what new surprises the day may bring. And all around me, all I see is good. All the time I'm growing and learning - and now I'm finally loving being a student of life. Because I know that whatever happens, everything is working out for my highest good. Gone is the fear. Gone is the sense that at any moment I may fall - or even that I might not make it. Because no matter what happens now, I know I'm fully alive - and still learning and growing along the way.

There are so many 'ah-ha' moments happening on a regular basis - and each time this happens I now greet the experience with an inner chuckle. No more the "I should have known that!" type of response that I now realise was a constant fall-back. Nope, now my constant mantra is"thank you for helping me to accept this new thing" - whatever it is.

Last week provided me with a series of opportunities to realise something quite profound about how I'd been filtering opportunities. Last week, you see, I was shown immense kindness and love in some very different ways. And it suddenly dawned on me just how much of an issue it's been for me to accept this sort of kindness. I know, I know - it sounds a bit daft - but actually, despite all my best intentions, I've been utterly rubbish at letting people in. At allowing people to take care of me. At actually giving in and giving up to people who's only intention is to make me happy. I must have been a right royal pain in the backside to many who have tried to support and guide me over the years!

Because I suddenly realised that, whilst I honestly believed I had been happy and content with Cam, in actual fact I was never once shown anywhere near the kindness and attention that I experienced from three very different friends just last week. For years I had accepted my relationship as something special. I had accepted the way we were as being the norm. I thought I was lucky, and despite what I now know was coldness, I believed I was happy, loved, and  in love. Pah! What did I know? As I look back now I begin to wonder what on earth I thought I was doing during those years. The Pollyanna approach that I adopted so thoroughly had in fact blinded me to so much more. How could I not have known that the 'love' I was being shown was nothing but a figment of my imagination? And yet I truly thought I was happy - and I am still utterly certain that I experienced true love. But I now know it came from within me and was never reciprocated.

There's a great quote that says "We accept the love we think we deserve" and you know what? I've learned that on a subconscious level I clearly didn't think I deserved very much. I thought I had it all you see - whereas in fact I was squashed and misshapen. But I'd become very used to my prison, not knowing that there was so much more that was out there waiting for me!

No wonder the lesson had to be so shocking! No wonder my whole world had to crumble away in order for me to break free. One of my French friends says I'm "têtu comme un âne" (stubborn as a mule) and you know what? He's right. I held on stubbornly to my ideal that I was living the perfect life, refusing to consider that there could be something better. OK, I guess it's kind of understandable given my less than healthy experiences of 'love' during my formative years - but I had no comprehension that I had been actually denying myself so much for so long!

Which is why last week was such an eye-opener. Small things, but each one gently pushing the lessons home. On Sunday I was collected from the airport and treated to a home-made roast dinner. And I felt really uncomfortable that I was doing nothing to help - nope, my job was just to enjoy and accept. Hmmm... tricky that one... and my friend giggled at my clear discomfort at being looked after. Then on Tuesday I spent the day with another friend who insisted we ate at a top restaurant in Covent Garden, and then went on to enjoy a musical - it was magic, and we laughed and cried together in equal measures! And again I felt uncomfortable - surely I'm meant to reciprocate? Surely I'm the one who looks after other people? How weird did it feel actually being spoiled in such a way? Thursday night I was treated to an early surprise birthday by another friend. He'd bought Happy Birthday banners, and a birthday cake with candles stating I was 21 years old (bless him!) and again I felt embarrassed by the attention. And at the same time I absolutely loved it - all three of my dear friends were gently teaching me to accept kindness and love, with none of them expecting anything in return. Weird. Uncomfortable. New. And... you know what? I love it!

And the chuckles started and wouldn't stop - I've always sought love and affection, and yet I suddenly realised that I hadn't actually known how to accept it. But because these were three trusted friends, they refused to take no for an answer, and just laid it on me. Exactly in the way that so many of my friends have shown me love and support over these past few months at the time I've needed it most. In those times, I guess, I learned to accept because I had no option - I was in a horrid mess, and without their determined interventions, I may not have made it through.

But now, now that I've made it, I'm learning to accept unconditional love and support through the good times - and this, this my friends is a whole new experience. It seems to me that the snuggly warm feeling I finally have within me is now being reflected back to me by other people. And mark my words, I'm now open and receptive to all of it - although I may still struggle at times until I get used to it!

So thank you. Thank you to everyone who continues to be gracious to me, even when I'm being a bit defensive. I'm learning, you see, and as I said earlier on, I'm loving these lessons. THANK YOU!

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Friday, 3 December 2010

Breaking The Silence

It's late, and I've just put the phone down after chatting with one of my longest-standing friends. A wonderful lady I have known for years. Our children grew up together. We share similar professional interests. We also share a particular bond that came to light last year. She was also married to a charming sociopath - for 20 years, so double my own sentence. In fact our husbands got to know each other and did their level best to break our strong bond of friendship. They succeeded for a while, but now we are closer than ever. Ironically it is the behaviour of our respective husbands that have made it possible. Since last year we have been able to share our stories. Compare our experiences. Help each other through the dark days. Encourage each other to notice some of the deeply ingrained responses we sometimes fall back in to as a habit, following years of deliberate conditioning. We know what it's like you see. We understand the pain and indignity. We can identify on levels that people who haven't been through such an experience couldn't possibly understand. We share this common bond of survivors of abuse - and at first, we thought that very few people would ever be able to empathise. We were wrong - and I'd like to explain what I mean. To respect her privacy, I'll call my friend Beatrix.

Towards the end of last year I read a powerful book called The Bigamist, written by best-selling author Mary Turner Thomson. Taken aback by the punch of her story about her marriage to a sociopath, together with the striking similarities in our backgrounds, I decided to introduce myself by email. She called me on my home phone less than three days later, and straight away we chatted with the ease of old friends, as though we'd known each other for years. Right from that very moment I felt the unspoken connection of recognition with her - she knew what it was like. She'd been there. I didn't have to explain. She instinctively knew, and though we didn't say it at the time, there was an instant bond created between us. Highly intelligent, sassy, accomplished, strong and certainly nobody's fool, Mary and I have since become firm friends - soul sisters who know what it's like to be deliberately targeted, deceived, manipulated and controlled. Soul sisters who knows how it feels to realise that what you thought was true and lasting love was nothing more than a sham. Soul sisters who understands the shame and indignity of having to face the truth - and convince friends and family that you haven't lost the plot.

Make no bones about it - escaping from a controlling or abusive relationship is difficult enough. Accepting the truth that you've been treated so badly is even harder. But having to explain what happened to other people is excruciatingly humiliating. Particularly when they will often need to question since, to all intent and purposes "he/she has always been such a lovely person! Surely there's some mistake!" Then there's the underlying implication that you must have been very gullible - stupid even - not to notice the signs. "If what you're telling me is true, then they must surely have been so obvious - how could you possibly not have known? Surely you must have realised something was wrong?" And so it goes on... It's exhausting, and each time becomes a public tar and feathering, as you are forced over and over again to explain exactly how you were so stupid to let somebody else put you in this position.

This is why there is an unspoken code of silence among the vast majority of people who have suffered through any kind of abusive relationship. Partners, parents, siblings, friends, bosses, colleagues - the list is endless, as are the stories and perceived seriousness of the abusers misdemeanors. But the pervasive feelings of disgust and self-hatred lodged deep within the victims is absolutely universal. Beatrix and I talk about this regularly - as do Mary and I, together with many other survivors I've met over the past twenty months. And it IS a code of silence. And along with the silence is the instinctive yet unspoken code of recognition whenever one survivor meets another. After just a few words, the nod of acknowledgement passes between us - sometimes without the need for any further discussion or admittance. We just know. And judging by the number of survivors I've met in my daily life since I became free, there must be millions of people who walk around in silent pain still bound by chains of humiliation and self-loathing.

Control and manipulation tactics are common strategies employed by abusers. Basic yet exceptionally powerful, this form of power play isolates people from the people who support them and undermines their confidence to the point where they can no longer think or act effectively. Believing they are the under-dog, the target is then no longer in control of their own life. The tactics used by abusers will vary depending on their experiences, their level of skill, their targets, and their focus. A corporate sociopath, for example, will typically be exceptionally well-versed in smooth language, subtle body gestures, and impeccable manners. A street thug is much more likely to use physical violence. Encounters with one may well leave you with bruises and perhaps broken bones. Encounters with either of them will leave you with a broken spirit and emotional scars that may never heal again.

When I was working as a Louise L Hay trainer in 1997/1998 I was always deeply touched by the expressions of guilt and shame that people would demonstrate as they bravely shared their stories of mistreatment, usually at the hands of another. Stories that, in some cases, had been kept hidden and secret for decades. And yet, finally telling the truth of what had happened was the easy bit - the hard bit was gently helping them to accept and forgive themselves for what had happened. Yes, you read right - the most difficult part would be helping them to find a way to forgive themselves. Not the other person or people, or even the situation - but themselves. To rid themselves of the shame and self-loathing for allowing such a thing to happen to them in the first place.

From my own experience, my first feelings of shame were when my sister and I were thrown out from our guardians when I was 18 and she was just 13. His treatment of us was absolutely appalling - but I felt that I'd somehow failed. To make matters worse, because my guardian was a well-respected, charming, highly intelligent and very successful professional man, nobody wanted to believe my account of events during the 22 months we lived there. It didn't matter that we'd done nothing wrong - far from it in fact. But, as with so many 'victims' I turned the anger and hatred in on myself. It took me many years to come to terms with what had happened and to finally forgive myself. This experience, as it turned out, has proved to be one of the most useful lessons I could ever have learned. Not only has it helped me to move others through these destructive patterns, it also helped me to explore my own deepest held beliefs and to heal fast and fully following the discovery of my husband's betrayals.

Back to my friend Beatrix, where I started this post. She is now reclaiming her life - but it's a long road. This is her first Christmas of freedom from a man who, to the outside world appeared charming, charismatic and witty - the life and soul of the party. You get the picture? Since escaping, Beatrix has forfeited a number of her friends who simply refuse to believe that this charming man could possibly be guilty of the monstrous things she has accused him of doing. These abusers can be very skilled you see, and though there may be no visible external injuries, the damage to self-esteem and self-belief can be severe and even life threatening - or worse in some cases. She told me what an important time Christmas has always been for her. How for more than 20 years she'd religiously do everything within her power to make the most of the festive season - and how, every year, her husband would religiously take great delight in destroying her. He'd criticise her for spending too much or too little. Complain about the tree being too big or too small. Whine about the fact that there were too many or too few parties and house visits organised that year. Constant verbal abuse, coupled with a Judas kiss or squeeze on the shoulder and the words"But you know I love you!"

This is why now, I'm so passionate about speaking out. Abuse of any kind is a killer. The silence is also a killer. It strangles people. Self-loathing eats away at confidence. It is malignant, oppressive and relentless - and in some cases it claims lives.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not asking people to speak out or share their stories in such a public arena as the manner I am choosing. I'm simply inviting those of you who have been there too - or who are still there - to know that you are not alone. You may be surprised by the number of people who are out here and who truly understand what you've been through. Like you, they may choose to stay silent. And that's ok. As I said earlier, the code of recognition is often a silent one - but at the very least it's a recognition. It's the knowledge and relief that at least one other person understands. And if you've kept it to yourself until then, well you'll have doubled your team in one fell swoop.

One small step, that's all it takes. One by one we'll find each other. One by one we can join hands until we reach around the world - maybe further. Together we can stand strong, and put an end to this destructive cycle of abuse and shame. I, for one, am determined to keep banging my drum and inviting others to join the band - because I know that together we can make the sweetest soul music as our voices sing out around the world!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The Night I Made A Deal With Dr Hannibal Lecter

Hannibal Lecter

It was nearing midnight on Thursday 9th July 2009. It was a typically warm summer’s night that found me in my bed at home in France, distractedly checking through my emails on the iPhone for the umpteenth time. Anything to try and quieten my mind and bring me back to normality. I was mentally and physically exhausted but my tortured mind and aching soul refused to let me sleep.  No matter how much I tried to rationalize the past ten weekss, or how much I attempted to make sense of the situation, I simply couldn’t find any answers. Peace seemed a very distant memory as I continued to search for clues. What had happened? Where had I gone so wrong? What had prompted my beloved husband of 10 years to lie to me for so long? Why did he need to create so many other lives? What had I done to make him stop loving me? How had I missed the signs? What could I have done differently? The questions circled, round and round my head like the mythological embittered Harpies – snatching at my rising fears, cackling at my confusion, their cruel wings fanning the flames of despair that threatened to engulf my soul.

I am a motivational coach and leadership trainer, was the co-founder of a successful and well-respected training consultancy, and over the past decade I have been lucky enough to work with leaders from some of the UK’s best-known companies. I am known for my ability to quickly get to the heart of the issue, employed for my skills in reading and understanding people, and constantly requested to come in and ‘fix’ problem teams. So how had I been so blind to my husband? We were a team, we worked together, lived together, loved together and had spent nearly every day and night in each other’s company since the day we met – and I loved him totally; heart, body and soul. Only last year we had celebrated our 10-year anniversary together, and just a couple of months later spent his 40th birthday together on the beaches of a beautiful Caribbean health spa. Our life together, as I thought, was perfect!

And yet now, here I am, alone with my son in the beautiful French farmhouse we had lovingly restored over the past 6 years, betrayed and deserted by the person I truly believed was my soul mate, left alone to deal with the enormity of the emotional and financial wreckage caused by my husband’s double life. It had all happened so suddenly – the chance email just three months earlier that led me on a trail of discovery to uncover the horrifying truth that I was married to a stranger. Cold, hard, black and white proof that my idyllic life was in fact a total sham – and the equally cold hard fact that my husband had simply vanished out of our lives the second he knew he’d been rumbled, leaving my son and I to deal with the fall-out. Disappeared without a trace just as quickly as he’d arrived in our lives more than ten years earlier. 

Around and around the questions turned in my head. The Harpies I had named “Who” “What” “Where” “When” and “How” mocking my stupidity, berating my gullibility, and piercing ever more deeply in to my already broken heart.

And then I saw it. It was an email from my dear friend Mary, which pricked my interest. It was a kind and thoughtful message of support, the contents of which seemed harmless – but it was this very email that had me shaking to the core just a short while later.

“…Interestingly, you may or may not know that I am doing my masters degree in forensic psychology at the moment, and recently have done loads of work on sociopaths.  Lets put it this way - Cam shows all the signs - in retrospect of course!  So in fairness, he was highly skilled at fooling everyone.  In fact, not just skilled - it was natural to him.  Therefore, who would have known?  He has no conscience.  And before long, he will find another place for himself, and will never feel any remorse, because he doesn’t know how to…”

Sociopath was a term I had not come across before and so, after a quick scan for more information on the internet, I discovered that a sociopath is also known as a psychopath. My brows furrowed as disbelief and comprehension entered my head at the same time. So I asked the question out loud to see if it made a difference: “You mean to tell me that my husband, my Cam, is actually a PSYCHOPATH?” Chills ran through my body, my mouth went dry, and the Harpies were suddenly very still and very quiet.

Random images of famous psychopaths came flooding in to my head – Norman Bates from Psycho, Peter Sutcliffe the Yorkshire Ripper, America’s Ted Bundy and Heath Ledger as The Joker – the absurdity of the idea prompting nervous laughter to erupt from deep within me. And then silence again as I truly began to consider the enormity of this new information. The room was still. My mind was quiet. My heart started thumping loudly in my chest. Holding the iPhone in my left hand, cradling my mouth and chin with my right hand, I read yet another ‘checklist’ for sociopathy and realized with absolute clarity that Cam’s behaviours actually ticked each and every one of the boxes – to a tee. I shuddered, forcing myself to breathe, and blinking wildly, hoping that I had somehow misinterpreted the information.

And that was the precise moment when the archetypal psychopath, Dr Hannibal Lecter made his sudden and unwelcome appearance in my mind – crystal clear and standing just a few feet away from me in the corner of my bedroom. Sucking air through his teeth and smacking his lips, he held me hypnotized with his ice-cold beguiling stare, clearly enjoying my confusion as I quietly considered the overwhelming evidence that my estranged husband, the man I had loved with all my heart and soul, was in fact a text-book psychopath.

“But surely I’d know if I was in the company of someone like that?” I reasoned to myself, the dank smell of Hannibal’s cell now beginning to permeate my senses, his chains rattling my imagination. “But I’m an executive business coach! I’ve been working in the field of personal development for over 13 years! I’m wise to the ways of different personalities and what makes people tick!” I tried to rationalise, becoming more aware that my bewilderment was arousing the curiosity of my uninvited guest.

I was hooked. And as I read further, uncovering facts, examples of typical traits, and stories from other victims of a sociopathic relationship, I was gradually coming to the horrifying comprehension that my friend’s prognosis was correct – and the fact that I was not alone. There were literally thousands of women with stories just like mine. I allowed the weirdly reassuring feeling that I was not the only one to grow within me, gratefully confirming to myself that there were hundreds, thousands – perhaps millions – of other people just like me. Intelligent, professional, and successful women who had willingly succumbed, fallen in love, followed their dreams and been thwarted by the malevolent charms of the skilled and charismatic sociopath. Chillingly, as I now know, as much as 4% of the population (allegedly 1% of females and 3% of males) are afflicted, yet remain undiagnosed, with what mental health officials refer to as “antisocial personality disorder” – or, to you and me, these are psychopaths who live, breath and feed among us. If you think (as I did) that this kind of thing could never happen to you, then think again.

These people are charming, witty and attentive – the life and soul of the party. There are countless stories from women who have fallen for the charms of such charismatic men. Men who can sweep you off your feet, make you believe that you are the most precious person in the world. Men who let you dare to dream that all your dreams have come true and convince you that you’ve found your true soul mate. Men who make you feel that anything is possible, and encourage you to live life to the full. Men who slowly and deliberately bleed you dry, suck out your soul and leave you for dead, without even a backwards glance – but by the time you realize this, of course, it’s too late. Much too late.

Suddenly I began to see things from a different angle. Suddenly things started to make sense. Dr Lecter, for now, faded safely back in to the darkness of my imagination, as I began to replace his image with strangely comforting feelings of relief. The deeper truth was dawning that the experience I was living, my own personal living nightmare, was not something I could have foretold. So I was not to blame for what had happened – there was nothing more I could have done. In fact, I’d had a lucky escape.

This was the beginning of my understanding about what had happened to me. How I’d found myself in such a horrific and unimaginable mess. After three long months, the hurricane of discovery that had all but broken me in its relentless force to destroy all that I had believed in was gradually beginning to loosen its grip in light of this new information.
 

I realized, with frightening clarity, that in order to truly understand what had happened, to come to terms with how I had come to find myself in such a nightmare situation, I was going to have to embark on a journey of self-discovery. I would need to find out more about what had happened to other people. Understand the true meaning behind the word sociopath, or psychopath. Recognise the traits within myself that allowed me to be the perfect target – dig deeply in to my own psyche and explore my own choices in life.  Examine how I’d got here, what I’d believed about myself and others and my own deeply held personal values. And, most importantly, to find my strength and finally heal. 

My years of experience in personal development told me it was not going to be an easy journey. Some of the deeply buried feelings and experiences of my past would need to be re-examined. I would need to dredge through parts of my life I thought I’d already dealt with. Old scars I thought I’d healed would need to be re-opened and treated anew. It would be painful. It would mean re-visiting old chapters of my life. Re-living the hurts of the past in order to truly understand what was going on. And I would also need to venture in to the depths of this new murky world I was beginning to discover. Stand in the shoes of these soulless people I now knew existed for real, and who live and work among us. People who have no conscience. Sham human beings who exist purely to win, who see other people merely as tools to be used and abused – and discarded once they are no longer of any value. 

I was alerted to the sounds of Dr Lecter shuffling around in the back of my mind, his interest clearly intensified by my growing fear at what lay ahead. And I heard a barely perceptible laugh – or was it a cackle – coming from the darkest corners of my imagination. The unpalatable solution hit me like a steam train, and I understood at that moment that he would need to become an ally in my journey; for who better than the archetypal sociopath, Dr Hannibal Lecter himself to help me understand the twisted workings in the mind of a psychopath?

“If I help you, Melanie, it will be "turns" with us too. Quid pro quo. I tell you things, you tell me things. About yourself. Quid pro quo. Yes or no?”  his perfect and calculated logic slithered towards me, the words and the consequences of what I was about to do sending shivers through my body. I would need to let Hannibal Lecter inside my head if ever I was going to become free. 

This was my invitation. To myself, and within the safety of my own imagination – at least for the moment. It was the only way to regain my sanity and claim my life back. And, surely, this couldn’t be any worse than the real life experiences I had already survived? And so I nodded my silent agreement and the deal was done. I would allow the specter of Hannibal to steer me as I unravel the past and make sense of my pain. A smug sneer crept across Dr Lecter’s face, as he pulled himself upright and acknowledged my consent “Brave Melanie. You will tell me when those lambs stop screaming, won’t you?” 

So this was the beginning of my recovery. I started preparing for my own personal voyage of soul-searching, education, self-questioning and personal discoveries right through to the eventual victory I knew was waiting for me. I’d have to return to the innocence I once knew, and in returning there I knew I’d have to face some ugly and painful memories. Rearrange them to make sense of what had happened, and to ensure that I would never again be taken in by anyone whose sole intention was to hurt me.

Hannibal fixed me with his steely eyes and held tightly to the bars in his cell “Clearly this new assignment is not your choice” he hissed “rather I suppose it is a part of the bargain but you accepted it Melanie. Your job is ultimately to craft my doom. So I am not sure how well I should wish you but I'm sure we'll have a lot of fun. So let’s start at the beginning – tell me everything you know”

With that his image once again faded away, and I truly felt that I had just made a deal with the devil. But at the same time, I knew that my journey to freedom had begun.


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Wednesday, 1 December 2010

"They Know The Words But Not The Music"


Well, now that I've started to share, I'm going for it. This is a diary entry I wrote this time last year. It brings back so many memories, and makes me so proud of just how far I've come since then. Oh, and by the way, I'm still intent on creating that band... 

November 29, 2009
It’s Sunday evening and I’m pondering Dr Robert Hare‘s book "Without Conscience" – a fascinating, and disturbing read that has given me even more proof that yes, I was indeed married to a text-book psychopath. It is said that these people, convincing though they are to so many, “know the words but not the music”. I like that analogy – it resonates with me on so many levels!
And I’m also still smarting from the insensitive comments from a relative who called me on Friday to find out (rather belatedly) what has been happening over the past seven months. During the conversation, I found myself justifying and explaining the situation, doing my best to overcome her blatant disbelief that I could find myself in such a dire predicament – almost as if I’d done it on purpose, and certainly implying that it was clearly my own stupid fault! Rather than find out how I was doing and whether I needed any help, she challenged me over and over again with the question “Surely, an intelligent woman with your positivity and get-up-and-go should have been able to see the signs?”  And each time I explained that yes, with hindsight and a good understanding of what I had been dealing with, then yes indeed those signs were there. Well disguised, but there none the less – and I had been totally blind to them and deliberately blinded by him. I told her time and time again that a psychopath uses ruthlessly surgical precision to trap and bleed their targets dry. That there are many more women – much more intelligent and much more successful than I – who have also fallen prey to these creatures and who have been left in even more serious financial and emotional situations than where I find myself now!
And each time I have to explain the story, to do my best to convince people of the facts, I feel I’m once again reliving the horror and crazy emotions I lived with for the decade I was in the cold grip of a sociopath. And I am both astounded and horrified by the number of times I find myself in the situation where I need to justify what happened. You see, people just don’t believe me – either because they can’t accept that such people exist or, if they knew him and had seen him with me, because it would mean they’d have to admit they’d also been totally conned. So I listen to the objections, I keep my calm, and I answer their questions truthfully and in full. But let me tell you, at times I just want to bang my fists on the table and scream in their faces “Why can’t you see? It’s ME and my SON who are the victims here! Why don’t you believe me? Stop making it worse!”
Through his years of study, Dr Hare has uncovered overwhelming evidence that “tragically, these victims often cannot get other people to understand what they are going through” citing the situation faced by one such victim who says “…everyone, including my doctor and lawyer and my friends, blamed ME for the problem. He had them so convinced that he was a great guy and that I was going mad, I began to believe it myself…” and THIS is where the cycle of abuse has to stop. This is when my blood boils to read so many accounts of victims having to re-live their misery. So many people who can never end their sentence, even after escaping from their abuser. An abuser who, by the way, is left scot-free to move on to the next willing target – often with the support of the original victim’s so-called friends!
My experiences, and the accounts from others, remind me of the 1944 Hollywood film Gaslight where the husband (played by Charles Boyer) is convincing his loyal and unsuspecting wife (Ingrid Bergman) that she is losing the plot, when actually all along he is just using her to find hidden jewels belonging to her aunt – whom he had already murdered. The film makes such a lasting and shocking impression, that the expression “gaslighting“ has been adopted to mean “ruthlessly manipulating an individual, for nefarious reasons, into believing something other than the truth”. Sounds far-fetched? Well, it’s exactly how I have been feeling. And the relentless disbelief of others – sometimes even when faced with the stack of black and white evidence I've collected to prove my point – is absolutely exhausting. I feel like I'm on trial, over and over again.
Dr Hare, and others, talk about psychopaths “knowing the words but not the music” – or in other words, putting on a good show but having no heart or soul in the production – and for me, I find myself stuck in this repeating this pattern as I try to garner support from those very people who should, in my opinion, believe me in the first place.
I’m a strong, determined and accomplished woman, but even I am beginning to wonder whether there’s any escape from this cycle of abuse. Two very dear friends of mine have had similar experiences – one is getting herself out of a current situation, the other escaped over 20 years ago. Both are displaying the same legacy of self-doubt when giving their account of the facts – both, still, asking the same question “perhaps it IS me after all?”
Yet these are good, wholesome, innocent and truthful women, and this pattern HAS to stop. And I, for one, am going to speak up and speak out – loud and proud – and do everything within my power to create an orchestra to blast out the truth. Bring together a band of people, whose clear voices and blazing conviction will finally get others to sit up and take notice. Together we will move our audiences to tears, as we share our stories, as we sing of our battles, and we beat out a rhythm of defiance so passionate, so compelling, that friends, family and professionals alike finally understand our message. Let’s hope they join us and stand up against these monsters, finally giving support to the innocent victims. Innocent people whose only crime was to fall in love with the wrong person.
Together we can move mountains. Together we can create the kind of powerful soul music that psychopaths will never be able to understand.  
So now – who is willing to stand up with me, bang their drum and create a revolution?

Empty Souls - Time For Me To Speak Out


I'm about to open Pandora's box. I'm nervous. I'm excited. I've got the push-me-pull-you voices of reason and doubt working overtime inside my head. But I've decided to do it. I've purposely never spoken about this subject on my blog before now. But today I've decided to come out of the closet and write about something that is very close to my heart. Why today? Well, why not. It's the first day of December (my favourite month) it's snowing (the French countryside looks beautiful) and I've just read yet another article describing a set of people (this time a county council) as "empty souls with no empathy for their fellow human beings". 

Each time I hear a comment like that, something deep within me resonates with recognition and anger. Because I know what they mean - I've been there. I know what it's like to stand and face an empty soul. Someone with no conscience. No compassion. No empathy. Someone who's only driver is that of winning. An empty shell who believes the law is for other people, and who thinks human beings are simply trinkets to be played with and thrown aside when they're no longer of any use. A soulless creature so skilled in the art of mirroring and deception that you simply don't know what you're dealing with - until it's too late. Because by that time you'll have been sucked dry, abandoned and left for dead. I'm talking about people we call sociopaths, or psychopaths.


Don’t be fooled by the Hollywood image – a sociopath is not someone you can pick out from the crowd. In fact 1 in 25 people are thought to have this particular personality disorder yet lead seemingly normal, in some cases glittering lives. Yes, these people are living, breathing and moving among us - right now. If you are reading this in a place where there are more than a handful of people around, then it’s probable that one is just a few feet away from you. But you wouldn’t know.


Charismatic, charming and often referred to as the life and soul of the party, these people are in fact ruthless predators who choose their targets with surgical precision. Their every move is calculated, as they mimic your deepest hopes and desires, their seeming success sweeping them along on a red-carpet of acceptance and adoration. If you are picked out as a target, you’ll feel loved and adored, the most precious person on the planet and you’ll willingly give them your heart and soul. Trust me - as I said, I've been there.


You’ll have little or no chance to see the truth until it’s too late… once they’ve bled you dry emotionally, mentally and financially. They'll do it right in front of your face - and you won't even realise what's happening. Once they've got what they want, or they've been rumbled, they’ll walk away without a backwards glance, leaving you dazed, confused, and trying to pick up the pieces of your broken life, while they trip happily on to their next willing victim.


Because these are not real people. They lack the one thing that makes the rest of us human – they have no conscience. They behave like machines under the convincing guise of a genuine and caring human being. And with automated exactness they will ensnare you, suck you dry, discard you like rubbish and then fire up and move on, confident in the knowledge that nobody will believe their victim’s story. I am not a doctor or a scientist. I have not spent years studying this subject. But I did spend a decade living as the perfect prey for a ruthless sociopath, and I’ve spent the twenty months since my discovery learning all I can about this particular personality disorder and comparing notes with other targets who have survived. Their stories are scarily similar.


Life’s Little Lettuces so far has been about me. It's been about my own journey out of chaos. My attempts to explore how I got here and what made me such a typical target. It’s been my personal cathartic diary charting my voyage of self-discovery to ultimate truth and final freedom. I'm not saying I'm done with my discoveries - far from it. In fact in many ways I feel I've just begun! No, it's just that now, as from today, I'm going to bring a new angle in to my blog.


Because now I feel it’s time to stand up, speak out and fill in some of the gaps. To write about the often misunderstood subject of sociopathy and the emotional fallout from abusive relationships in more detail. To bring it all out in to the open. It's time for me to say out loud: "Yes, I know how it feels to be trapped in an abusive relationship! I have been sucked in and used by a charismatic sociopath - more than one in fact! But now I'm free and I know what it takes to get here!" 


My hope is that by speaking out and sharing my experiences I can help support a few of the millions of people who have suffered from some sort of abuse in their lives. And for those who are still living under the shadow of cruelty or exploitation, perhaps I can add to the encouragement they need them to help them break away before it's too late.


Well... There you are. I've gone and done it now. I've opened Pandora's box... so now there's no going back...