Once again, my sister Vicki and I found ourselves without food in the house. The difference this time was that we knew where there was food. My parents owned a tent-trailer. The shell of the trailer was made up of metal. When open, the top of the shell became the roof. It was held up by four folding poles that could be locked into a vertical position. When the roof was up, the width of the tent trailer could be expanded by opening two tent pieces that housed a bed on either side of the body of the tent trailer.
My parents would take us camping at a beautiful campsite, across the river, in the US. Originally we had a large tent and later we got this new tent trailer that seemed so much more modern and convenient. Once my parents had set up camp, my sister and I would be left at the site while our parents travelled back and forth across the international bridge to work and whatever else they felt like doing. I have very little memory of them being at these campsites because they would often leave and not come back until the evening.
At the beginning of each camping trip, we would drive to a grocery store near the campsite and buy all of the food that we needed. I remember Mogen David wine, frozen hash browns, eggs, milk, bacon and little individual servings of cereal housed in their own boxes. These boxes could be opened at the top along perforations and be used as bowls, but I digress.
We would buy so much food that it would overwhelm the small fridge in the trailer, but there would be good eating for a few days. Now we were home and there was no food in the house.
I know my mother was out drinking because I managed to get her on the phone. She explained that she was not coming home soon. Vicki and I both knew that there was food still left in the refrigerator of the tent trailer, but it was now closed and in the yard. We had witnessed the mechanics of how the lid of the trailer was raised and thought that it was worthwhile to try to open it ourselves.
The problem was that we were simply not strong enough to lift the top of the shell by ourselves. Driven by determination and hunger, we both did our best to push the top up. We discussed the fact that it did not have to go all of the way up for us to get into the fridge and get some food out. So we both used all of our strength to lift the lid.
Problem was, we got it up enough to unfold the poles and then our strength ran out. The lid came down and Vicki’s hand was caught in the fold of the poles. She screamed and I was worried that the weight would sever her fingers from her hand. I panicked and used all of my strength to re-lift the top. Vicki removed her hand and we both fell to the ground crying. It wasn’t worth risking another try.
I don’t remember how severely my sister’s hand was hurt. I know that she did not lose any fingers for sure. The trouble was, even though her hand was going to heal eventually, we still had been unable to get to the food and there was no telling when a parent would be home.
Vicki, my sister and I, were both in the hallway near the doorways to our bedrooms. I was sitting on the floor crying and upset and Vicki was way past upset. I could hear deep sobbing sounds coming from her. I was too distraught to offer very much comfort.
We were about 10 and 12 years of age and it was about suppertime, which is not accurate, because there was no dinner. We had both been hoping that this was one of the evenings that my mother would appear with leftovers from the Legion. She liked to volunteer at the Legion.
The Legion was a gathering place for people of her age. They would get together and play cards, listen to music, drink and sometimes dance. The building boasted a nice dining area and they would often put on meals for weddings, meetings and special occasions.
This was wonderful in our home. My mother did not cook. But these ladies at the legion could cook! They made mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, hams, beef, turkey, corn and every other type of vegetable that could be boiled until done. On many occasions, there would be so much food left over that they would send it home with the women that had helped serve and clean up. My mother would bring this fantastic food home — but not tonight.
She has just called. We were both hoping that she would show up instead, but she had not. The call had been to tell us that she might be bringing her boss home. This was the seventies and women generally did not work, but my mother did. This was one of her most recent jobs and she wanted to impress her boss.
She explained that she did not want him to think less of her because her house was a mess. It was important that she “look good” when he came around. The question of why her boss would be coming over to the house was never breached.
So we were distraught. Once again she had forgotten that as children we would require food. Well, that and some parenting. Instead, she had called to ask us to help her “look good”. Of course we would. We had no choice. Once we calmed down, we started to clean.
With our new obsession with selfies and the fact that everything seems to orbit around ourselves the concept of arrogance or being self-centered has reached new heights. Another development is to use the words arrogance and narcissism interchangeably. I get it; it has become the common lexicon to call someone a narcissist, because it is trendy.
This however, can be really confusing for those of us dealing with an individual with a full-blown case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), a true narcissist. It is disheartening the word “narcissist” has lost its meaning. These are dangerous people and by using the label for simply arrogant people, narcissism is less likely to be recognized for the pathology that it is. Such is life. No judgment on the usage, but some clarification is in order.
One of the traits of some narcissists may have is arrogance. According to the diagnostic manual DSM-IV-TR a narcissist:
• “Expects to be recognized as superior and special, without superior accomplishments
• Expects constant attention, admiration and positive reinforcement from others” (DSM-IV-TR)
Yeah, that’s arrogance!
More dangerous of course, is to attribute the characteristics of arrogance to all narcissists (when I say narcissists here, I’m talking about people with NPD). The problem swings both ways, yes, some narcissists are arrogant and some arrogant people are narcissists. However, not all narcissists are arrogant and you can be arrogant without actually having NPD. Wow, that seemed confusing.
The fact is that not all people with NPD appear arrogant. I often hear the defense, no they are not a narcissist, they are: shy, not arrogant, very friendly, easy to get along with…those sorts of statements that seem to eliminate the possibility of NPD.
Ted Bundy, the serial killer, was so likable many people did not believe he murdered a bunch of people in spite of huge amounts of evidence. I’m not suggesting that he was a typical narcissist. I’m trying to point out that sociopaths do not appear as evil, arrogant people with the sound track of Jaws conveniently playing in the background. They are sociopaths and can pretend to be whomever they want to be.
Just as often a narcissist will appear meek, weak and in need of special care. This is a different way to endear a different type of audience. Narcissists can be shy, quiet and timid, at least they can appear that way.
The more frightening of narcissists are complete chameleons and will appear different to different people and this is only discovered if these people talk and realize that they have completely different takes on who the person it.
The important thing to remember is that narcissists wear masks. They determine what their audience will respond best to and they play that role, often switching between confidence and uncertainty, arrogance and self-ptiy as the need arises.
So, to wrap up, someone that has NPD is not necessarily arrogant and someone that is arrogant is not necessarily a narcissist. Go ahead, take the selfie, it does not mean you are a sociopath.
Regardless of your relationship with a narcissist, several patterns seem to ring true.
1. They don’t care about you.
This is the most hurtful of their traits but it is the most consistent. It can be confusing because they often “pretend” to care about you and this is one of the reasons that people stay in these painful relationships for so long.
See it from their perspective. You have a purpose in their lives. They need you for what you provide for them be it the necessities of life, adoration or nourishment or you are their receptacle; a place for them to dump their negative emotions. In any case, this is your role, so if you leave they will have an unmet need. They have learned what it takes to keep you in their lives and because of that you may mistake some of their gestures or gifts or thoughtful acts as a sign that they care about you. This is not the case; they just know how to keep you around.
2. They must always win.
Realizing this helps to make disagreements and decisions make sense. They are often sore losers to the point that they’ll accuse you of cheating if you win at a game; or they will just be unpleasant. As far as making plans, if you want something that they don’t want, it is expected that they will not only disagree with you, they will let you know how subpar your suggestion is and why it is not valuable.
This can become confusing because they will often use tactics to get you to agree with them. On the surface, this can seem as though you “agreed” to do what they wanted, but further examination will reveal that they only do what you want if they also want to do it, or it will make them look good.
Common ways of convincing you to do what they want are by arguing that their idea is better, promising that you will get your way next time or simply convincing you their idea is far superior. If you insist, they will make your life hell and sooner or later you’ll agree with their ideas so that you don’t have to go through the drama that follows when you want your way.
3. They do as little work as possible, unless it benefits them directly.
For instance, they may work really hard at their careers because they benefit directly and success in a career is a way to get nourishment from people. i.e. people are impressed The flip side is that they do as little “invisible” work as possible.
Narcissistic parents often appear to be the most engaged because they are out with their children, taking them to the workplace and being involved in their activities. All of these choices make them look like good parents. In the home it is another story. There are no witnesses and spending time with their children is not valuable, so they choose to not be bothered.
Also, tactics will be used to make sure that you do most of the work. Name calling, accusations of being lazy, feigning illness or an inability to do the work are common ways that they get out of doing their fair share of the chores.
4. They lie. This is worth repeating.
I realize that everyone knows that narcissist lie, but what might not be immediately obvious is that they lie for no reason. This may be a way of feeling superior. This may just be to undercut your self-confidence or they may just not realize that telling the truth has value. The thing to take away is that they lie, even when the reason for the lie is not obvious.
This might not be directly obvious, but what you might experience is a perception that you are forgetful; that you may be losing your mind or that you are confused. This is a common response, because most of us do not immediately assume that the other person is lying for no reason.
5. They like drama.
I suspect that this is a result of being unable to feel love and joy the way that other people do. They crave emotion and hate and anger seem to be their preferred vehicle. This is not true for all narcissists. There is a type of narcissist that seems to prefer sadness and pity. Either way, they either start fights out of nowhere to fill this need, or fall into a state of despair. This puts the focus on them and they get deep into the emotion.
If you are their “receptacle” it will be your role to be either the target of their anger or the person that comforts them when they are, oh, so, sad. Drama is often used to sidetrack an argument or to avoid doing something for you. You may have disagreed, asked for a favour or needed some comfort.
Other times, the drama comes out of nowhere. Some insignificant oversight becomes blown out of proportion until the original slight is long forgotten.
6. They do not comfort others.
Sadness and anger are OK for the narcissist, but if you want to get support from them you are “needy” “You should leave your troubles at work” or “quit your job”. “Suck it up” “You are never happy”. “There is no way to please you”. All of these phrases can be used to make you feel like you should not require comfort.
In addition to that, if you do need some support, they are unavailable. This may take the form of their day being worse, a huge work deadline that must be attended to, other plans that came before you started to make demands or simply attacking you for not handling your situation better.
If you get attacked or put down when you wanted a shoulder to cry on or for them to lend an ear to a problem, you may be with a narcissist.
7. They do not like to be alone.
This can take the form of demanding that you stay in when you’ve made plans to go out. It may also be that they have several on-line relationships that nourish them and provide unconditional acceptance. You will find that if you have a life that takes you away from them, they are quick to find someone to fill the time that you are away.
This can also be expressed by them calling you repeatedly while you are at work, texting you constantly or simply showing up when you least expect them. They do not want to be alone and if you are in their lives, they want you around as much as possible.
8. They do not take responsibility for things.
This is a combination of convincing you that you must do all of the work, lying to make it seem like they did not know that it was their responsibility or blaming you for any problems. For instance, they may have done something to hurt you in the past, but it is only a problem because “you” can’t get over it.
If they forget something, for instance, it was up to you to remind them. If it is their turn to do the chores it is because you are lazy.
9. They do not acknowledge the accomplishments of others.
It is important to them to “win” at everything. If someone else is successful, in some part of their life, this is swept under the carpet. No one else’s accomplishments have any meaning to them because it detracts from how wonderful they are.
If you’ve ever shared good news from work, tried to get some excitement over an accomplishment or looked for a little acknowledgement about something that you have done and been shut down, you may be dealing with a narcissist.
10. They can be extremely charming and solicitous.
Most narcissists have learned that they can fool people by being nice to them. If someone is kind and compliments you, you are less likely to see them for who they are. This is how they get their foot in the door in relationships. It is also a way for them to create drama because they can make you look unreasonable to people who only see their charming side.
If someone seems to good to be true, they probably are. You may be dealing with a narcissist.
He is gorgeous, swarthy and confident. Jason, the new investigator on the series, “The Good Wife” swept in at the beginning of the season and has become the “bad boy” of the show. He flagrantly lies, has been disbarred for punching a judge and he is using his sex appeal to blind Alicia to his true colours.
But is he a narcissist? The writers dropped that possibility into the plot when Alicia called for a job reference and the man she was speaking to asked if she was thinking of hiring Jason. When she replied that she was, the man emphatically said, “No, no, no, no” and then went on to explain what a narcissist is and what they can do to your life.
So far, the writers have many of the characteristics bang on. He is attractive, confident, flexible with the truth, oblivious to laws and social conventions and for all appearances has been very successful. Or at the very least, he is able to demand top dollar for his services. He is also “new in town” which is characteristic. Once people become aware of a narcissist, the narcissist has no choice but to leave and start over in a new town.
Jason mentioned last episode that he is up all night. This is my personal experience of the narcissists that I have known, but I don’t know if this is an actual “trait”. Let me know if the narcissist in your life sleeps erratically.
So we’ll have to see what develops this week. If Jason turns out to be a narcissist it will go a long way to helping “others” understand why people get involved with them in the first place. We know Alicia has one foot in the door.
A narcissist on “The Good Wife”? We don’t know yet for sure.
Flowers, dinner and romance….nothing quite sets the tone like being pursued. Engagement, passion, abandonment. What? Is anything as lonely, isolating or unravelling, as being dropped like a hot potato? Did he actually get up and call the office right away? Is this really happening? He didn’t even pull on pants.
One of the hallmarks of the narcissistic personality is their ability to charm and romance a person into getting what they want. Another is how quickly that person is dropped once the narcissist gets what they were pursuing all along. This is part of what makes it so confusing. You can think back to all of the nice things that this person has done. You have memories of thoughtful acts, nice gifts, small kind gestures, and yet, you are now alone again and cannot seem to find the person that was so solicitous.
Unlike healthier relationships that are all give and take, that leave you feeling supported and loved, a narcissist does many of the same behaviours and then simply leaves. This may be emotional abandonment or physical abandonment but you are not supported and loved.
You know that you are in a relationship with a narcissist if you are often confused about what the status of your relationship is. If you have no idea what is going on and have the suspicion that you may be losing your mind, or at least having difficulty with your memory. If you are starting to feel off-balance you may feel that way because the narcissist wants you to. Part of the manipulative nature of a narcissist comes from their ability to make you doubt yourself. Most people, are not 100% sure that they are right all of the time and the narcissist knows this and uses it against you.
So, what to do? The first place to start is to try to tease out the difference between the normal ups and downs of any given relationship and the emotional swings of a relationship with a narcissist. They are superficially the same, but the intensity is different. In some cases, the narcissist needs conflict to “feel” anything at all and will cause fights just to experience the emotions that they dreg up. Another difference is how they behave in periods of crisis when you actually need them. For instance, if you come home from work with bad news, how do they react? They despise having to “give” in a relationship and needing to support you is off-putting. Often they will be too busy with something important that they must do, will find an excuse to leave or simply attack you for not handling it better and for being so needy. These are all large red flags. The gold standard of narcissistic behaviour is the compromise. They don’t. If there is a situation when you want something and they want something else and there is no way that you can both have what you want they always win. Finally, nothing is ever their fault. If they forget, you should’ve reminded them. If there are problems at work it is because of the jerks that they have to work with. If something is done wrong the information was insufficient. It is never their fault. Consider these signs. Do any or all of them sound like your relationship? If they do, you can begin to see the relationship for what it is.
Protecting yourself is a step-by-step process. Begin by determining whether or not you are happy right now with your life as it is. This seems like a broad way to look at things, but narcissists affect your entire life. This is way bigger than your relationship. If you are often confused, lonely, angry or questioning your sanity how many friends do you think you’ll have? What is the quality of those relationships? How well will you be performing at work? Will you be able to find the energy to engage in your hobbies, passions or interests? Are you content with your life? If yes, you are done. If no, go to the next step.
Start taking notes; as often and as many as possible. Be honest, NEVER exaggerate. This becomes important when you are reviewing them later. If you make a promise to yourself to record what actually happened and how you actually felt, it is your truth. This is how you remember things. It may not be the “truth” but it is how you experienced it. Part of the power that the narcissist has is that they know that you cannot be completely sure of yourself and they occupy that space like ice freezing in a crack, expanding until a large hole is left where your confidence used to be. Now you have a tool to protect yourself when they start to rewrite history or say things that make you question yourself.
Also, it is common to underestimate how awful something in the past felt. By promising yourself that you will never exaggerate, you can revisit how you actually felt. It will surprise you to see how differently you remember the bad times. The mind has a way of forgetting the bad parts of our lives, to some extent. It will be harder to tell yourself that it is not as bad as you imagine because you wrote down how you actually felt at the time.
Record the good times and the bad. Try to make notes about what preceded the bits that you like or did not like. The purpose of this is to see if there is a pattern. In a healthier relationship, nice time together is followed by a sort of after glow. You had a great day together and now you are content, perhaps at work or doing what you do in a day. In a narcissistic relationship, time spent together is used as a way to meet their needs, whatever they were, and now you are not needed. There is no “after glow” you are now ignored. They may not have even spoken to you before you left the house. You have no idea what you have done to make them so distant. Fights may spring out of no where. Romance is always in pursuit of things. Keep as many notes as possible, because if you try to discuss these concerns with your partner they will deny the patterns, rewrite the sequence of how things happened and make it about you, not them. It is never their fault.
Observe their behaviour with this question in mind: What do they want right now? This is a powerful question because it helps you see them for the manipulators that they are. If wine and a good dinner have ended in romance in the past, decide to not engage this time. What happens? If they are trying to start a fight, notice how they are purposely pushing your buttons. Why can that suggestion give them so much power to make you feel defensive? Isn’t that an old issue that was never resolved? Why are they bringing that up now? What do they want right now? What do they want right now? What do they want right now? Repeat it when you are in good and bad situations.
Make peace with the fact that there are good aspects to the relationship. Yes, you would not be with this person if all you saw was the bad. Know that there are people in the world that you can share good times with that do not also destroy your life and your self-confidence. When a narcissist is charming, they are very charming. It is normal to be attracted to someone that treats you so well. It is normal to want to be loved. It is normal to find many things that you like about this person. That is OK.
Understand that part of the pathology of narcissism is that they do not love the way that others do. They do not have the emotional attachment to you that you do for them. They may: want you around, like what you can do for them, enjoy having sex with you; but they do not have the same bonds as you do. This gives them all of the power. You need them more than they need you.
So, there you have it. You have identified that you are in a pathologic relationship. You realize that you do not like how it is affecting your life. You have noted the patterns and the manipulations. You have learned how to maintain your sanity. You understand that this is who they are and despite promises they will not change. You know that they do not love you as you love them. Now, you have to decide. Should I stay or should I go?
Martha Beck coaching in ways that are meant to help you get out of places in your life where you are stuck.
Whether you are dating a narcissist, want to leave one, think you might have one in your life, want to know how to spot one or protect yourself from one, I have probably written a blog or a book about it. Here is a summary of the most informative posts that I have on this site.
One of the questions that I often get on my blog is, “How do you fully recover from a narcissist?” As I am currently in the process, I’ll let you know what I have tried and what has brought relief, but I am not claiming that I am all of the way out of the darkness.
What I can say is that there is more joy now in my life than there ever was while I was living with a narcissist. The act of removing myself from the environment and then separating myself as completely as possible from the drama made room for all kinds of joy and satisfaction to flood in. On an average day I am content, happy and I feel like the world is full of opportunity and promise. That is a good thing.
I have been helped along the way by meditating and journaling. I hesitate to write that because that is where most people stop as though doing those two things results in immediate healing of all symptoms and a reversion to the innocence you once had. This was not my experience.
What these two practices did, in summary, was made me aware of my thoughts and feelings. As these two elements surface, it gave me an opportunity to look at them, see if they were serving me and decide whether or not I wanted to hold onto them. A few examples will help illustrate what I am trying to say.
One thought I had was, “I should’ve acted differently.” (substitute in anything here: faster, more forcefully, more honestly, more decisively, more intuitively, more in defense of myself). Really? This thought does not hold up to examination for two reasons. First, I was doing my best with the information that I had at the time. Second, thoughts like this keep you caught in a pattern of wishing things were different. The past will never be different. Find a way to accept that you acted the way you did and just embrace it. Forgive yourself if you need to. The point is, when you are stuck thinking that things should have been different, you are stuck. Try: “It happened. I am no longer there.”
This sounds like word games, but it stops the inevitable next thoughts that begin to rewrite how things should be now if you had acted differently then. “I wasted so much time.” “If I had acted differently they would have loved me back.” “I should’ve seen my situation earlier and more clearly” blah, blah, blah…. you didn’t. I didn’t. Lets move on.
Another thing I became aware of was all of the emotions that I was still harboring: resentment, hate, love, anger, jealousy, regret, and so on, and so on. These emotions need to be honoured, not analyzed. You feel whatever you feel. Regardless of how bad these things are, they are only emotions. Let yourself experience them as much as you can and they lose their power over you. Allowing myself to feel all of the emotions that surface has allowed me to release decades of old pain. I have remembered how scared I was as a five year old getting my tonsils out in the hospital; how devastated I was when my dog died when I was a teenager and other equally traumatic things that occurred.
The process goes like this. You are present in the moment and you notice the slightest flicker of an emotion. Focus all of your attention on that flicker. If you are like me, you have learned to immediately push these slight emotional whispers aside and pretend they are not there. Try to break this habit. Notice the flicker. Sit with the thought that brought it on for a moment and let the emotion expand. When you fully experience the connection to the memory that holds the pain, you are likely to have an emotional response: laughter, tears, rage… Once you have allowed the emotion to be expressed it is no longer as painful.
I can now remember the anguish of my dog dying without the extremely painful hurt it caused. I had been holding down this pain for over thirty years. Think of how much energy and focus that took!
If you are like me, you may be harboring emotions that should have been expressed a long time ago and not all of them are related to the narcissist that you had in your life. Releasing these feelings is like opening a gateway that lets emotions flow out and creativity, joy and connection flow into your world.
This is an ongoing exercise that is allowing me to go deeper and deeper into who I am at my core. The true me. The complete me. Which brings me to another truth. In order to survive where I was living, I learned to hide parts of myself. The parts that were taunted, belittled, ridiculed or unwelcome. This is a survival technique that anyone that has lived with a narcissist learns. The first time you put your heart and soul into choosing and arranging fresh flowers in a vase and you are told that they are in the way, a waste of money and a waste of time, is the last time you allow yourself to indulge. Pick your own example. I know there is one.
I have been paying attention to things that I enjoy. Little things like small flowers, good music, colour, art and writing. These are things that I have always enjoyed, but the toxic atmosphere of living with a narcissist blocks your connection to these things. I became so focused on just making it through my days, behaving in ways that wouldn’t rock the boat or provide fodder for an attack and trying to figure out what was going on, I lost all connection to myself and my desires. I lost a sense of who I was.
I have been gradually reclaiming these things but it takes paying attention to today. If your mind is preoccupied with regret, unexpressed emotions, thought patterns that keep you trapped in a past that was confusing and painful, you will not get to the present. It is only in the present that you start to enjoy yourself, to notice the joy in your life and reconnect with the parts of yourself that got shoved aside when you were in survival mode.
II was receiving cheques from the government. They had started to come again after my work at the emergency clinic, but they were about to run out. I had been applying to jobs and despite Bob’s insistence that I work; he was actively interfering with this process.
One company called to set up an interview. The job would have been in sales. Bob told the person that called that I was pregnant but that it would work out really well because I could take the baby with me to the sales calls. He explained to me afterwards that he had told the guy this. I was never interviewed for this position.
One job that I did get interviewed for was with the federal government. Not an ideal job but government jobs have a lot of benefits and security. On Thanksgiving weekend that year I got a call saying that I could start on the Tuesday. There were twelve weeks of training set up and if I could start right away, I could attend the training. If I could not start away I would not be able to start until they ran the training course again and that might be a year or so.
It was 12 weeks until the baby was due, so if all went well, I could work the twelve weeks and then the baby would be born. A woman that I had met through the playgroup said that she would take my youngest daughter for the twelve weeks. I explained that I would only need day care until the baby came. My daughter and her son were the same age and had gotten to know each other pretty well.
So, I took the job. When animals are being used for food, they are brought to slaughter plants. These places are more or less disassembly plants. The animal comes in one door and it is processed until all of the edible parts have been removed and all of the inedible parts have been disposed of.
Unfortunately, one of the known drawbacks to working in slaughter is that you become exposed to all of the bacteria that naturally occur on the animals. All of the caution about cooking your food before you eat it does not apply when you are not actually eating the animals. There is no way to protect yourself from exposure to these bacteria. They are in the air. You can inhale them on a water droplet.
All this to say that near the end of my pregnancy, I got a type of food poisoning from my initial exposure to these bacteria. When the smooth muscles of your digestive tract contract to aid in the removal of these pathogens from your body, it stimulates the contractions of your uterus. Some of the things that pregnant women are told to help bring on birth are based on this understanding. Eating spicy foods, for instance, can cause your digestive tract to become upset and have extra movement. This movement stimulates the uterus as well.
I can’t describe how awful it was not knowing which end to put closest to the toilet and having a contraction, each time my body tried to expel the toxins. I managed to call Bob at work and told him about the situation. He assured me that there was nothing that he could do about it and he was quite upset that I would not be able to pick my daughter up from day care. I guess I was not doing my part. There was no question that I was completely alone in the world.
As a veterinarian, we are in the slaughter plants representing the public and the farmer. We do not work for the company that owns the slaughter plant. Our job is to decide what can and cannot be eaten. So for instance, if an animal has some sort of illness or injury, it is our job to decide if the animal, or part of the animal, is safe to eat.
This is a factory setting with overhead machinery and loud noises. The carcasses go by on tracks that hang from the ceiling. I was on the vet stand, which was a raised part of the floor. It was composed of metal mesh that had ridges on it so that it would not be slippery. I had hearing protection on, a hardhat on and steel-toed rubber boots.
I was the only woman on the floor. These places are rough by their very nature. Most of the men carry large knives that they take pride in keeping very sharp. There is a code of conduct that can be felt in the air. Lots of teasing, lots of insults, lots of profanity.
It felt like an extreme contrast to standing there feeling a contraction wash over my abdomen knowing that I was going to give birth. The endorphins kicked in right away and it felt incongruous. Here I was in this dark, loud, aggressive place feeling all blissed-out and knowing that my third baby was coming. This was Friday, the last day of my training and the government had done me a favour by moving me to a plant within walking distance of where I lived.
My older two daughters were present for the birth. This is one of the many advantages of having babies at home. We had practised making the “power noises” that can aid in bringing the baby out and they were full participants. Hearing a five year old and a two year old grunting and making deep throaty guttural sounds while you are pushing a baby out is quite comical and really makes it more of a family event.
Now the pressure was on. I had no income, but I had a job. I could go back to the job whenever I “wanted,” so Bob was constantly explaining how much money we were wasting with me not back at work. He saw no value in me staying home with the girls. He knew that we could pay someone a fraction of what I made in order for me to go back to work.
I was not going back while I was still wholly breastfeeding. I completely ignored the baby books on this one. There is a lot of pressure to start feeding cereals and formula to babies. It comes at you from all directions. One of the ways that mothers are persuaded to feed cereal is with the promise of the baby sleeping through the night. Formula is marketed as a way that dad can help out. Even he can sit and hold a bottle to a baby’s mouth!! If someone was going to actually help, wouldn’t it be nicer to have them do some of the more unpleasant jobs like changing diapers or doing laundry?
I decided that the information from our society had been so wrong about birth that it was probably wrong about how to feed a baby as well. When I look around now and see how many children and adults are afflicted with food allergies, I have to wonder how much of this is created by the way we are taught to take care of our babies. So I decided that we were probably designed perfectly. I would breast feed completely, until the baby was able to pick up food and put it into her mouth herself.
This worked quite well for me. Not only did I never sit and spoon goop into a child’s mouth, but I was putting her in complete control of what she ate, what went into her mouth and when it went in. I had been given a baby grinder from some friends so I would mush up whatever we were eating into particles that were not smooth but were too small to choke the baby.
These are the sort of details that you cannot control if you go back to work. I can feel the anger as I write this because this was very important to me and I had to fight with Bob about it. None of my children have any chronic diseases or allergies at all. This may have just been luck, but I did my best to ensure that they received the best care that was available.
By nine months, he had me worn down. They placed me in a slaughter plant that was in another city 60 miles or 100 kilometers from where I lived, driving into a large city. Every time it snowed, the highway would slow to a crawl or a complete stop. It was relentless. We had more single snow falls that winter than I ever remember. One day it took me over three hours to get into work.
I was beside myself. I almost ditched the car on the way to work one morning because I had to leave before the plows were on the highway. I was miserable. My entire life seemed to be fighting traffic to get to a job in a slaughter plant. I started to apply to other jobs within the government that were closer to where I lived.
I got screened into a job that was in a town 18 miles (30 km) from where I lived. I had an interview set up. It was a job interview that required a lot of studying. It was a program that I did not know and the way that the interview was conducted was more like an oral exam. I sat on my breaks at work and studied for this exam. The person organizing the interviews explained that I would receive a document before the exam and I was to read it and to be able to comment on it for the interview.
It was arranged that the document would be faxed to the house. We did not have a fax machine, but Bob’s computer could receive faxes electronically and then they could be printed out or read on the computer screen. The fax never came.
I went into the interview knowing that if they had not sent the fax, it was their oversight and that once I explained that then something would be worked out. Unfortunately, this turned out to be the fourth time that Bob had actively interfered with my career. He had “lost” the fax and was amazed that he had actually received it. He apologized. Everyone can make a mistake right? As I said, individually these all seemed like unfortunate accidents. It was not until hindsight that I realized that they were part of a larger pattern of sabotage.
The universe was still protecting me though. I made a decision one morning while fighting traffic that I would rather be unemployed. I would face Bob and just tell him that there was more to life than driving all day to a job that I didn’t like. I knew that I would be the target of his anger and his need to control me. I knew that it would make things tense at home. I knew that he would be verbally abusive and would let me know how useless I was, but it was my life and I wasn’t going to spend it this way.
I had three children under six at home and I intended to be there. I made the decision to quit. Before I had the opportunity to discuss this with Bob, something strange happened. The slaughter plant that I was hired to work in decided to close permanently. This interesting fact meant that I was “surplussed”. Surplussed is one of my favourite words.
As a government employee there are all kinds of regulations about job loss. If there is a job available, it has to go to someone that is already employed. So, by being surplussed, it meant that if any job became available it was mine. It also meant that I was eligible for a cash-out. How convenient. They would pay me the equivalent of sixty percent of a single year’s income to just walk away from my job. Done.