When I was 21, I made a spilt second decision that would change my life forever.
I jumped off a cliff into a lake and completely shattered my right foot, heel and ankle. The reconstructive surgeon was one of the top in Texas and said it was the worst he’d ever seen.
The number one question I get asked about that day is how drunk I was! Unfortunately, I was 100% sober.
But the second most asked question is, “how deep was the water?”. My answer hasn’t changed in ten years: “Not deep enough.”
Being a stepmom in a high conflict relationship with birth mom is exactly like that – the water is never deep enough.
My High-Conflict Custody Battle: How Deep was the Water?
I met my stepdaughter almost four years ago, when she was three. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that my husband and I developed a VERY high conflict relationship with her mother.
I’m not talking about a few tiffs or simple disagreements here and there. I’m talking about a true high conflict relationship culminating in an extremely contentious custody battle filled with drug abuse and sexual misconduct accusations, parental alienation, psychological evaluators, and both families spending $50,000+ trying to prove the other parent unfit and strip them of all rights. It was awful. It was… deafening, and all-consuming for eighteen long months.
My Safety Net
The day I went cliff jumping, the water was supposed to be my safety net. It was supposed to gently slow my plummeting body to where hitting the bottom of the lake wasn’t an option.
It’s impossible to say how much more water was needed. A foot? Ten feet? I’ll never know. But had there been enough, there would have been no pain, just excitement and exhilaration.
I have a lot of safety nets in my life as a stepmom to help shield me from the pain. I have my husband, wine, my mom, wine, my best friend who is also a stepmom, wine, my amazing two year old daughter. And wine. They all play a role in protecting me from the pain at the bottom of our high conflict lake.
But inevitably, I still hit the bottom every time. There’s just never enough water to catch me.
I listen to everyone’s advice – “just ignore it” or “don’t give her power over your happiness.” Of course that all sounds great but easier said than done, am I right?
I struggle letting go of all the things she had done to our family. All the hurt she has inflicted and how unfair it is that another woman has so much control over my life.
Escaping the Deep Water
I vividly remember the day I jumped off that cliff. Despite the crushing blow to my foot, the first thing I remember worrying about was how I was going to get out of the water. My friends and I had hiked twenty minutes to that cliff and it was near the end of the day. There weren’t many boats left on the lake. How would an emergency crew even get to me?
So guess what I did? I swam. Yep. I rolled over on my back and mustered every bit of my strength and swam my way to where the EMTs could reach me, pulling my mangled leg with me.
Today, I can’t do as much as I could before my accident. I can’t run anymore or wear heels (which is the real tragedy here!) but I can walk and I’m alive!
And today, our high conflict relationship is in a lull. We’ve closed our court battle, and my stepdaughter’s mom has become more cordial but I know the next shallow lake could be right around the corner.
It might come in a public setting like the big blow up that almost broke me. Or it might be a more private battle like the first few threats. But either way, even if I hit the bottom again, I KNOW I can swim out of it. Because I have before.
I’d love to write a blog one day titled “when we were high-conflict and where we are now,” but unfortunately, that may never be in the cards for me. We might continue to teeter on the edge or we might be shoved back into the deep end again.
And that sucks, let’s not get that twisted. But I can swim mama, and so can you!
P.S. In the midst of your own custody battle? You might want to consider including these items in your custody agreement.