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Recovering from the Last Four Years of Abuse

By Marilyn Sewell

Photo credit: Sara Olsen

At last, it’s over! I mean the last four years of suffering from an abusive relationship—with our former president. Why am I not alive with energy, ready to get back to my writing? Wanting to Zoom with friends? Pushing ever harder with my climate activism? I find that I’m simply exhausted, needing to recover.

The ethical and relational norms in our society have been breached, not just a few times, but almost every day for four years. Truth? Doesn’t exist. Decency? Don’t count on it. Integrity? So old fashioned. And so, for the duration of this time, I have felt upended, discombobulated—actually, crazy.

One day, years ago, when I was a single mom raising two tween boys, I got a call at work from the older one, saying that when he and his brother got home from school, they noticed that the kitchen window was broken.

“A big break?” I asked. “Big enough for someone to get in?”

“Yes,” he answered.

“Go to the library right now. Right now,” I said.

I called the police and raced home, just a few blocks from where I worked. The squad car was already there when I arrived. Nothing of value was gone except my good camera, which had hung on the hall tree. But I’ll never forget the sense of violation I felt when I saw the muddy footprints planted on the blue carpet in the living room.

For these last four years, that same shock of violation has messed with my psyche over and over again. At every new offense, each more egregious than the last, I have been newly incredulous: Did he really do that? I’ve felt bushwhacked emotionally, old fears laid bare. So, no, I’m not yet over the crazed mob’s invasion of the Capitol, the culmination of four years of incursions on human decency and decorum by the former president, four years of selfishness and neglect from one who should be our protector, our defender. I’m not.

Sometimes frustrated voters are misled (remember Brexit?), but it’s heartbreaking to see scores of Republicans in Congress aiding and abetting a president who lied blatantly about all manner of things, who abused women with impunity, who made fun of disabled persons, who supported the Proud Boys and QAnon as “good persons.” Is anything holy? Is winning an election really a good trade for selling your soul?

I have been affected not only emotionally, but physically: the irritated gut, the lost weight, the dry eyes, the sore throat, and hoarse voice. Stress, my doctors said, stress. Then came the slowly encroaching horror of the pandemic. Hundreds died, then thousands, then hundreds of thousands. Is all this death really happening? My Buddhist friend told me I’m too angry, that I should be a “non-anxious presence.” I told her she’s not in touch with reality. We’re both right.

January 20 brought me palpable relief, as Joe Biden was inaugurated as the forty-sixth President of the United States in a joyous and inspirational ceremony that promised very different values guiding our nation’s future. But my healing will take more time. Age has given me the privilege of working when and where I choose. For now, I have retreated to my fireplace and my easy chair. I’m on vacation from angst and despair. Doing a puzzle. Laughing at silly jokes a friend persists in sending. The frown that puckered my brow is gone. I’m beginning to smile again.

Just now, I’m waiting my turn for the vaccine. It’ll be a while, and that’s frustrating, but I can wait. As an elder, I do fear the virus, but I trust that our new president will do everything possible to protect us. Something like normality will come.

Maybe I’ll be able to get back to the book I was writing—there has been too much static in my brain of late to tap into my creativity. Each evening for many long months, I have written in my journal. I record the date at the top of the page and the hour. This lets me know, oh, yes, another day has passed, and I know what it is. Then I mainly just reiterate what I’ve done during the day—remembering what I had for lunch is another way of being present. And lastly, I record the number of cases and the number of deaths in our nation and in our state, both an acknowledgment and an act of mourning.

Today is Sunday. Yet another Sunday. This morning, I heard Rinpoche Yangsi, the founder of Maitripa, a Buddhist college here in Portland, talk about what it means to be a bodhisattva. I’ve got a ways to go. I think, for now, I’ll give thanks. For the constancy of the river outside my window and the nests of blue herons across the way. For the man in the bright yellow jacket I see walking his dog. For the sunshine breaking through the clouds.


About the Author 

Marilyn Sewell is the editor of Claiming the Spirit WithinCries of the SpiritResurrecting GraceBreaking Free. and recently, In Time’s Shadow: Stories About Impermanence. She is minister emerita at the First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter at @marilynsewell.