Sarah Doucette, author of the book "Stronger Than That: A Domestic Violence Survivor Uncovers the Truth About Her Abuser" https://amzn.to/3FoX5MI joins Tony to share her "harrowing story of a domestic victim's search for the truth about her marriage. Twenty-one-year-old Sarah Doucette married a charming, gregarious and attentive man. Six years later, she left the marriage, lucky to be alive. Suffering from PTSD and dissociation after years of physical and emotional abuse, Sarah could barely remember the details of her marriage. After her ex-husband's death by suicide, Sarah set out to interview those who knew him, piecing together the destructive patterns in his life and how it affected her even years later. This book is a cautionary tale about trusting one's inner voice in order to leave an abusive relationship. It is a story of domestic abuse survival that can help others survive their trauma while outlining the many kinds of domestic abuse."
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Tony: Okay. Sarah Doucette, welcome to “Waking Up to Narcissism”.
Sarah: Hey Tony. Thanks for having me.
Tony: Take seven, I think? Just for the listeners, we were talking, and I was going over a few things and all of a sudden I felt like we were deep in a very productive conversation.
So, I said, hang on, don't say another word, which is probably very awkward for a host to do to a guest. And then we jumped back on and then things were downloading and dinging and pausing and freezing. So, I think we're ready. Yeah, I think so. Okay. I'd love to, that I was saying is it okay if we're conversational and you were sharing a little bit of you maybe had a couple of interviews that have not been quite conversational.
What's that been like?
Sarah: It's been fine. I, yeah, I just am not great at pontificating about myself for 40 minutes without, you know, the give and take and really, my goal with putting this book out here is to have dialogue and conversation about intimate partner violence and abuse. Yeah, I just think it's super important to have conversations about it, and it's so natural for people to have questions, especially if they maybe have never been in that situation, or they know someone who has, and they're just dying to know.
But it can be really uncomfortable to ask. And so, I've put myself out there to not represent everyone in that community but try to help answer some of those questions.
Tony: And I think it's interesting. Tell me if this is true about you, Sarah. So, in the “Waking Up to Narcissism” podcast, I have a private women's Facebook group for women who are in emotionally abusive or relationships with narcissistic people and emotionally immature people.
Most of the group are, we call them, pathologically kind people. They are people that don't typically put themselves out there, and they find themselves in that relationship with the more dynamic, narcissistic, emotionally abusive person. So, would you consider yourself one of these pathologically kind people who doesn't normally put themselves out there?
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that would describe me to a T you know. And, you know, I'm very empathic. So, I think a lot of people who have that trait tend to find themselves in relationships with narcissists because they just suck all the energy and life out of you. And as an empath, like you just give all the time. And so, it's so easy for them to kind of latch onto.
Tony: Absolutely. And so that's a perfect segue too. Your book is amazing. I didn't, it's a little bit of true crime. It's also a story of survival and people, you didn't know what you didn't know. How about you set this stage and tell us a little bit about your book and your story, and I promise I will jump in and ask questions. I won't leave you hanging.
Sarah: Okay, perfect. Yeah. So, I met my ex-husband my sophomore year of college. So, we were really young, and it was kind of a whirlwind romance as it were. You know, he was very charismatic. He had a big, gregarious personality. Everyone knew. Steven, Steve-O, The Steven, like he had all these different personas that he went by, and I was very quiet and very shy.
You know, I grew up fairly sheltered and then I left small town Maine and went to Florida for college. And um, it was like latching onto him and being pulled into his world. I immediately had this great group of friends. And being shy and introverted, that was hard for me. So it was, it was so fun for that year of us dating. And we got engaged and we got married when I was 20.
Tony: Can I ask you really quick, Sarah and, I do feel like so often people do say, but everything did seem fine. Did you experience the love bombing? Did you feel like this was just the most incredible connection and person I've ever met. Or were there, were there red flags or warning signs, and did you just maybe overlook them?
Sarah: I think there was all of the above. I mean, this was the guy who would, you know, just show up at my dorm room with like a bouquet of a dozen long stem pink roses for no reason. Like he would just show up. You know, he was always doing great, nice things for me and including my friends, which was really important to me.
And then there were red flags that I think if I maybe had had experience with someone with this personality, I would've picked up on, but you don't know what you don't know.
Tony: What were some of those red flags?
Sarah: I put out an example in the book of this incident where we were arguing about something so silly. It was a very common argument for us, and that was, where are we going to eat? And you know, I would go through listing off every restaurant, like within a 30-mile radius, and he would say no to every single one of them. And so finally I just said, okay, well then, we don't need to go get lunch. We'll forget about getting lunch. And he just gets really quiet, and I could just feel the energy coming off of him. And so, I ask him, I'm like, are you mad at me? And he says, I'm not mad at you. You wouldn't want to see me when I'm angry. And that's kind of a big red flag.
But in my like 19-year-old brain, I was just like, oh, he's protecting me from his anger. How sweet of him. And that's where my head went. And so, I just was kind of, oh, okay, let's move on. And so it was little, little things like that. With my hindsight being 2020, I would've been like, oh girl, run. Get out of there.
Tony: Well, and you bring up a couple of really good points too, Sarah. One is, I feel like the pathologically kind person is predestined to give the benefit of the doubt and I mean, I love what you're saying. That exact example of always protecting me or I feel like so often I hear as a therapist the examples of people saying, oh, I'm sure I read that wrong, I'm sure it isn't as big of a deal as I think it is and, you know, versus the, somebody grew up in a home where there, there was no tolerance for that, would they have just not even attracted that person to begin with?
Sarah: Yeah. No, I think it's, it's so complicated because I find myself even in other relationships, and this is something that, you know, I mean, I've been in talk therapy since getting divorced and you know, one of the things that I actively work on is not creating excuses for people.
Like they don't need me to make excuses for them. And yeah, I will do everything in my power to be like, oh, well they're doing this because. And that's not my role.
Tony: I love it. I do. So then, you get married, so a year in college and then you get married and then what was that like?
Sarah: The chapter in my book that talks about right after we got married starts with the simple sentence of “the honeymoon was over as soon as it started.” Things went south immediately, like in the airport on the way to our honeymoon. His true personality started just kind of rearing its ugly head.
And so, our honeymoon was horrible. He had me in tears several times there, and on the way back it didn't get any better. And so, within the first year, and I think this is a super important point to make, and I think a lot of people find, you know, shame in this, but within the first year I left. Things got really bad.
And I left. And we were living in Massachusetts at the time. My family was in Maine, so I just hopped in my car, and I drove home. And he came and got me, and you know, we went out on a drive, we had this whole long, deep conversation about like, how he's sorry, he's going to change, he's going to fix things, but you do these things that make me do that. So, you also need to change, so enter gas lighting.
Tony: Yeah. And Sarah, I so appreciate you giving that example because I've got a whole episode called the Narcissistic Apology, and it's like, okay, fine. You know, you're right, I'm sorry. And then it turns to, but you made me do it and it's your fault and, what are you going to take ownership of?
And at that time did you recognize that as a, you know, let's call it now a narcissistic apology or did you feel like, okay, that's fair, he's taken ownership. I probably need to.
Sarah: Yep. I completely fell into it. I was just like, you know, it takes two to tango. There are two sides to every story kind of mentality.
And so, I was like, you're right. I'll take ownership that I'm not perfect and I'm sure there's things that I do that upset you and have driven you to some of these behaviors. And so also, growing up in a very religious background, divorce was unheard of. And so it was like, you have to do everything possible to save your marriage.
And I was like, okay. He's admitting to things. Some give and take. I admitted to things. I went back. And probably within three or four months of going back, I ended up leaving again. And the same cycle, right back, you know. And I ended up going back again and shortly after that, he got in some trouble at work, and we ended up moving back to Florida, which is where I was when I met him.
And from there it became easier for him to kind of separate me from my support network, which was my family and my friends from up here. And you know, I make mention of this specifically because I think people don't understand that it takes an average of seven attempts at leaving an abusive relationship for it to finally take. And then those two weeks after you leave are probably the most dangerous time of your life.
Tony: Wow. Okay. And thanks for bringing that too. I mean, I do, I call them rule outs. And a lot of times when people say, okay, no, I understand more. And did you ever feel that way? Like, I'm going back in, but I have new knowledge, or I can work with this better.
Sarah: Yeah. You know, people judge a lot. You know, I hear from people all the time, oh, if my husband ever did that to me, I'd be out the door like that and it's so easy to say that and it's so easy to say, oh, if my husband ever laid a hand on me, I've heard people say all the time, that I'd hit them right back or stuff like that. And I'm like, it's so easy to say that when you're hard of heart, that if something like that happened, your husband wouldn't kill you. But if you don't know that for sure, it's not as easy to just say okay bye. One of the things that I talk about a lot, I spent a few years as a financial advisor because there's something called coercive debt that happens in domestic violence relationships. This was not a term I had any clue about while I was here.
Tony: I’ve never heard of this? Tell me about it.
Sarah: So coercive debt is when your husband, or your partner, intimate partner, they either strip you of your job, and then they spend money in your name, they convince you to take out credit cards. When we got married, my credit was much better than my ex-husband’s, so we used my credit to finance a vehicle. And then during our marriage, unbeknownst to me, he actually had used my social and my identity basically to finance tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of stuff and then never made a payment.
And so, he hid the bills for me. I never saw any of this stuff until we got divorced and because all our property was in his name, he demanded that I give him my car back, so I had to go buy a new car. And when I went to buy a car, my perfect credit was in the four hundreds, and I only got financed with a 16% interest rate. And at the time, I was living in that car, so losing my car was a big deal.
Tony: Oh man, Sarah. Did you see signs of that? It’s interesting when you, I didn't know there was a name for that, but so often I do, I hear those stories in my office of people that, the husband or the wife, whoever the more emotionally immature person was, has just made a lot of decisions.
And in their mind, I think they justify it, saying that they'll eventually pay these things off, or it won't matter down the road, so they don't feel like they need to share those with their spouse. I mean, did you see signs of that along the way? When he would bring home big purchases, would he gaslight you about how he made those?
Sarah: Yeah. There's an example in the book, we got married in January of 2006, and in February of 2006, we had left Florida and moved to Maine, and he'd become a general manager of the company he worked for. And one day he comes home with this gorgeous Dell laptop, super expensive, top of the line. And I was like, where did you get this? And he tells me that they give them to all new managers, and all new GMs at the company get them. Lo and behold, no. He used my social, he went on the Dell website and financed this $3,000 laptop back in 2006. And then when we got divorced in 2012, You know that $3,000 laptop was now over $6,000 in interest charges and late fees and penalties because he just never paid on it.
And you know, we always lived in apartments. They give you one mailbox key and he had that on his keyring. So, he would get the mail and just dump the bills in the dumpster before he'd come home. So, I literally had, I had no idea. It was the shock of my life when I went to try to finance a car.
Tony: I bet. I bet. And so, you talk about you having made a couple of attempts to leave and then he would get you back in and I think I had maybe taken you on a different path when you were talking about it can take seven times, so how long were those? Was there more time between attempts to leave or was it getting shorter? Or what are some of those things that you remember?
Sarah: So, the first two times were pretty quick. It was within the first year, and I tried to leave twice after that. When we moved back to Florida, we kind of went through a honeymoon period, like we had moved, we were back in Florida. He was around his family again. So, there was a little bit of a buffer. It was never perfect, but it was better. And then I had some support from his aunt who lived nearby. But it wasn't until we were married six years total. So it was five years later before I officially tried to leave again, and ended up successfully leaving that time.
Tony: What was the key to that?
Sarah: So, he came home one night with this crazy idea that like, what if we got divorced, didn't tell anyone, and then threw a party and were “like surprise we're divorced”, and I was just completely taken back by this. I thought this was the craziest thing I'd ever heard in my life.
But I was also like, okay, he wants a divorce too. So, now's my opportunity. So, he was like, let's think about it for a couple of days and then let's talk about it again. Do we want to get divorced, or do we want to stay together? And so, I waited a couple of days, and this was like a couple of days after Christmas. And so, I was like, have you thought about it?
And he said, no. And I said, well, I have, and I think we should get a divorce. And he literally just grabbed a soda from the fridge, and he was like, okay. And he just went to the bedroom. So, I was like, yes, I'm doing this. Like he's not fighting me. So, at the time I was like, listen, I'm just going to move myself into the spare bedroom. You can have the master. I'll move into the spare room. There's a little twin sized bed, it'll be fine. So, less than a week later was our six-year wedding anniversary, and I was home in bed. He came home super late, and he was drunk, and he spent hours just yelling at me and just like verbally assaulting me.
And then finally he came in and physically assaulted me. And at that time, I was just like, I was scared for my life. I mean, he had, you know, basically slammed me up against the wall, cracked my head up against the wall, and I was just like, I must get out of here. It's me or him at this point.
And so, I waited until he had passed out from, you know, all the drinking and I don't know what else he might have been on. And I just grabbed what I could, and I took off in my car and never went back.
Tony: Did he pursue you after that?
Sarah: He would text me just vile things and just be really rude. And I relay some of those text conversations in the book. But I went into hiding after that. I worked for a company that had armed security at the doors. So he couldn't get into me at work. When I eventually got money and found an apartment, he never knew where I lived.
I'd ended up, after the divorce was final, changing my phone number. So, I never saw him again. Yeah, after, everything was kind of final and he never even showed up for the divorce proceedings. He didn’t sign the papers. I ended up having to file a motion for default.
Tony: So Sarah, during the six years, did you guys try counseling or what was that experience like? Did you try to get help?
Sarah: Um, no. I had talked about it, but in my experience with this particular narcissistic personality, there was “nothing wrong” with him, of course, right? So, there was no counseling for him? So, it just, it never worked. I talked about like, well maybe let's go talk to our pastor. Because we were members of his family church and he was, no, he was not interested in that. No.
Tony: And like you say, “nothing's wrong” with him. And I appreciate, and I hope that, I should have maybe even prefaced that by saying that if someone, you know is going, it's typically, it's the husband saying, okay, fine. That way the counselor can say that you are crazy. A lot of times they end up going to multiple therapists or that sort of thing because they need to find the one that backs up there. But your situation, I think, is far more out of the norm because why would they if they're “fine” and you can go figure your stuff out if you need to.
What was your family support like? What was your family saying throughout this process?
Sarah: Oh, so my parents never liked him. And here's the thing about that. I get it. I know why they didn't like him. You know, they got bad vibes from him, but they were very far away. You know, they were in Maine, and I was in Florida, so they couldn't see all the everyday stuff going on, and it wasn't super easy for them to be involved. And then one of the things that happens in relationships like this is my ex-husband was very manipulative and he would find ways to kind of turn me against people and people against me.
So, towards the end, my mom and I had a very surface level relationship. We weren't talking as much; we weren't super close. A lot of it is because my mom has a very strong personality. Very sure of herself. And so, she would have very strong opinions about my ex-husband. I was not in a place where I was ready to hear any of that.
And so, I couldn't receive what she was saying to me. I mostly just resented it. I was like, why can't you just support me in this relationship? But I get it, as I'm a new parent myself. So, I get it. Like, you see your kids suffering. You see them in a situation you don't want, and you just want to rip them out of it.
But in this type of situation, when you're not ready to hear it, you're not ready to hear it. I wasn't ready. I wasn't ready to go. I was still fighting the good fight.
Tony: Well, and Sarah, I feel like wanting to say, I don't know you well, I love your vibe and your energy, and we haven't even gotten to the part of the book that is just so wild. It takes almost like a true crime turn. So I don't want anything to feel like I'm saying, here's what you should have done because , you did everything that you could do but that concept with your mom, I think is so fascinating because, here, I just was wanting to tell you that, hey, you're okay, but I really am going to say things about your mom and I know that she was doing the best that she could do.
So, I want to preface it by saying that too. But I feel like it feels natural for a parent to then want to say, I don't like him, and I think you should get away from him and that sort of thing. But I love that you're bringing this up because, as a parent, my kids are adults and, even some of the relationships they've been in, my wife and I had to have had to be very intentional of, I need to put that almost aside.
It almost feels counterintuitive to be able to say, I'm going to support my daughter through this relationship so that when, and if, she finally has enough that she knows she can come and say, I need help. Versus the, I don't know if you've had moments where you felt like, I can't go. I need to show them that I can do this. Did you have any of those moments?
Sarah: Oh, absolutely. I talk about that quite actually in depth in the book as well. About, obviously hindsight is 2020, and so at the time, yeah, I felt like I was being so strong, like doing this myself. Yeah. I was like, I've got this. Now that being said, I do have a cousin who's also like my absolute best friend in this world.
She has a PhD in social work, and she was right there with me. She was the person that could tolerate my ex-husband. So, she was really kind of the only family that I had contact with. Like we would go on vacation and go visit her, and I mean, talking to her now, like they hated every minute of having him in their home.
But just what you said, she needed to make sure that she was a safe place for me to come and talk to him, and that I felt like she had an unbiased opinion. So, I would talk to his family about my problems with him. And I would just, I just remember, and I tell this story in the book as well.
I'm like, why is he so mean? And I'm just pleading with his mother and his father. Like, why, what have I done to deserve him being so mean to me? And his mother turns and looks at me and says, “It's the woman's lot in life to suffer.” And that was her advice.
Tony: I know I don't know them as well and I told Sarah and I talked before and I said, are you okay if I end up doing humor? And I know this isn't a humorous thing and I appreciate it. And you said, absolutely. Because I want to say, if I say, bless their heart, I can say anything I want about them. So, bless their hearts, I don't know her. Right. But I feel like that concept of. Hey, look. If you now suddenly say he's bad, then a parent will often say, well, then apparently you must think that I'm bad too. And so, then I just need to gaslight you with that. And what an example that is. Right? Well, a woman's lot in life, I mean, I feel like says the person who unfortunately probably was not in the healthiest relationship themselves. So, if they can convince others that, well, this is the way life is, then it justifies that was how their life has been.
Sarah: Yeah. It was just, just like a moment, I was like, what in that, what are we saying right now?
And so, you know, at that point I just kind of stopped talking to them about it too. And it was just so insane. And I think I was really nice to her. She and I were very close. I think that she was afraid that she would lose that relationship. I think a little bit of her advice was self-serving.
Tony: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. And that's why I say bless her heart. I mean, people are trying their best and I know that is what can be so hard. I love that you had, did you say it was your cousin that was the social worker? Yeah. Okay. And so, I'm grateful that you had that example and, when you found out, when she said afterward that we didn't like him the whole time, did that feel validating or did you have that moment of, why didn't you tell me? What was that like for you?
Sarah: No, I never, but it's just not my personality. I just never like begrudging to anyone about it. It was very much more validating to me. And then finally we got to like talk very candidly about all this stuff going on. So, it was more of a relief. And like, writing this book and, okay, so we'll kind of jump over it a little bit, I guess to the true crime aspect of this. Yeah. I'll give you the quick 30 second synopsis of where the true crime element comes into this.
For the listeners, if you haven't read the book yet, basically, part of what spurred me on to write this book is I received a phone call from my former mother-in-law. It was about two and a half years after our divorce, and she called me. Late at night, so I missed the call. And something in like, my spirit just told me something's not right.
Like she shouldn't be calling me. And so, I called her back and I said, what's up with Steven? I didn't even say hi. I just, I knew, I was like, what? What's going on? What's up with Steven? And she said that his body had been found in the woods and it was either homicide or suicide. I just, I just didn't even know where to go from there.
I just remember sitting down, it was in my bedroom. I just sat down on my bed, and I was like, well, when did this happen? And the second shock of my life, she's like, about 30 minutes ago.
Tony: Wow. Oh, Sarah.
Sarah: I've been divorced from your son for two and a half years. Why are you calling me 30 minutes later?
Like finding out that he's deceased it was just so surreal for me. I didn't even know how to process it. Uh, so after that, I tried to be there for his family, they wanted me to come down to the funeral. I was like, I can't do that. I can't go to a place where everyone's going to be honoring the memory of someone that I just physically couldn't stand. So, I respectfully declined. But they would call me like, when they left the funeral home. They called me, when they left the morgue after identifying his body and they called me, and it was just so weird to be a part of.
Tony: When you say that they were calling you, were you taking those phone calls or was that too much? Were you talking to different family members? Tell me about that whole experience.
Sarah: So, I would take the phone calls, you know, his mother and I, like I said, were super, super close when I was married to her son, and I knew she was hurting and for some reason I was the person she wanted to reach out to. And so, I just felt like, not that I owed it to her, but that, if she needed me to be a part of this portion of her journey, I would do it and hold my tongue. And I also wanted to know what was going on in his life. Because he loved nothing in this world more than himself. And it was hard for me to come to terms with the fact that he may have ended his life by suicide. And I was trying to understand. I would totally get if he upset someone enough to have them murder him. But I couldn't wrap my head around suicide for him. And so, it did come out that he ended his life by suicide. His parents never really gave me a straight answer as far as what happened.
His mother just kept saying that he died of a broken heart. And, not indicating to me, but there was a girl that he was pursuing at the time that I guess they had broken up with and I didn't know why. So, it was really interesting in doing the investigation and writing this book, because I had the story from his family that he died of a broken heart.
Someone wrote an article about him, and they listed all these crimes. And I was shocked when I saw that. And then they called him a force for good. They said, I don't care what he did in his crimes, he was a force for good in this world. And that really upset me.
Tony: Okay. Tell me why. Take me on your train of thought.
Sarah: So, I knew this person very well and I was really good friends with his fiancé. Years ago, when my ex-husband and I were in Massachusetts, they got engaged and they literally pulled me aside and said, we would really love to have you as a bridesmaid in our wedding, but we can't do it because we can't have your husband there. He's too much of a jerk and he's embarrassing. So, for him to then come back years later, and write an article that he called “How to Deal with the Suicide of a Mentor”, I just felt was so dishonest. And he had mentioned me specifically in there, like coming to my house for dinner and all of this stuff and how much he loved my ex-husband and up to this point, I really kept quiet. You know, people kept saying all these nice things about him and I just kept quiet. They say, don’t speak ill of the dead. I was just like, well, he's gone. What good is it going to do? And when I read that article, it's hard to explain or maybe to understand, but I felt like my life got stolen from me.
Tony: Okay. Like what?
Sarah: He had invalidated my entire life experience by saying that this guy who had basically ruined my life. To this day, I'm still in treatment for PTSD and then he was like, eh, it doesn't matter all the bad stuff he did, he was still a force for good in the world.
Tony: And a “mentor” and yeah.
Sarah: And I kind of found my voice at that moment, and he had posted this article on LinkedIn, all these comments of sympathy to him. And, I felt like it was attention seeking. And so, I just posted a message back and I just said, I don't know why you wrote this article. Please don't use my life to get whatever it is you're looking for. Whether that's attention, sympathy, I don't really know, but you and I both know the truth about Steven.
Tony: Okay. So, was there any feedback to that?
Sarah: Within five minutes, the article was gone. And then he sent me a private message telling me that I'm not the first person to have read the article and told him that my ex-husband was a terrible person. And he apologized that he should have taken the article down a long time ago. And then I asked him, I was like, well, how did you find out about these crimes?
And apparently, he just, I didn't know you could do this at the time. He just called the police departments and got the police reports. And so, he shared all of that with me, so these were police reports for charges of felony, grand larceny, and swindling of over $250,000.
Tony: And, and Sarah, was that the time when you were with him?
Sarah: It was not. So, I like to consider myself if we reflect back to the coercive debt conversation. I was his trial ground for that. And so, he ended up doing the same thing to a business partner. And so, he got arrested for that and while he was out on bond is when he chose to end his life by suicide.
Tony: So, needless to say, had you not gotten out of that relationship, where would that have gone as far as the debt and the ruining your credit, your name, your financial future? I mean, I can't imagine there would've been an end to that.
Sarah: And. You know, I also just feel like a lot of times with people like this, they get backed into that corner, which is what happened to him. Like the mask was gone. He couldn't hide himself anymore. Like the police came, they got him, he spent a few weeks in jail until his parents could get him out on bond.
It was over for him, the charade. And, he had an arsenal of guns. He was an avid collector of guns. And he loved to pull them out. And clean them and play with them and whatever. And I just think about myself or the girl that he was with at the time. If she had been with him, would he have taken either one of us out with him?
Tony: Yeah. And that's real. And I feel like that's where, when, I think you had mentioned earlier, when people aren't in these types of relationships, it's easy for people to say, I'm sure that wouldn't have really happened, but so says people until it happens, right?
Yeah. Sarah, you mentioned that people reach out to you after they read the book and they're sharing their stories. What's that been like for you? Has it been overwhelming? Has it been validating or what's that like?
Sarah: It's been overwhelming, but what a complete honor it is to have people trust me with their own story. It's such a vulnerable place to be, to say, this happened to me as well. And so, by telling my story, I've kind of given people an opportunity to at least have one person that they can reach out to and know that they won't be judged.
Tony: Yeah. Okay. And I think I was sharing with you that I'm getting a dozen or more emails a day from the “Waking Up to Narcissism” podcast, because people just feel like they're alone or they're crazy. And then they hear a story like yours. And the reach is just profound for people to feel like they aren't the only one. They're not alone. And did you have those moments when you were in that relationship or would you read other people's stories or did you feel like you were kind of going it alone for a long period of time?
Sarah: You know, I never knew of anyone else going through this situation. Okay. So I was very much confused and alone, I mean, I was young, right? Like I was 20 when we got married, 26 when we got divorced. And the words I just kept using wasn’t abusive. It wasn't domestic violence. I didn't know those terms. I was just like, he's just so mean. And it wasn't until I had my own dark moment of, so when I finally left and I got into my apartment, I started having this recurring nightmare and I won't spoil all the good stories, but I do tell the nightmare in the book, and I would wake up every night from this nightmare.
And it was one of those nightmares where you would wake up and still be in the nightmare and then, you know, kind of finally actually wake up, and I got really close to my own, like struggle with suicidal thoughts. And I just didn't know what else to do. I was like, I'm stuck in this. How do I get divorced?
You know, I had gone to an attorney. I didn't have $4,000, like he had stolen all my money. I barely got into my apartment. I was hardly feeding myself. How was I going to spend $4,000? Luckily in Florida, you can just go online and download the divorce papers. And so, I just did it all myself. I don't know how I did it. Looking back, I'm just like, that was crazy. But I filled out my own divorce papers. I walked down, I dropped off the papers, and then I drove the papers to the sheriff's department to have him served. And then I waited the 30 days and when he didn't respond, I printed off the paperwork to file a motion for defaults on the divorce papers. And I took those down to the courthouse and filed those papers. Yeah, so it was just like it was overwhelming. There was so much going on and then I wasn't sleeping because I was having the dream and waking up and a friend of mine had given me this book and I never wanted to open it. Because I mean, I was down in Florida, right? It's the bible belt. Everything was about church and religion. And so, this book was called What the Bible Says about Divorce. And I was like, well, the Bible obviously says you're going to go to hell if you get divorced. Like, that's where my mind was. And I was like, I'm not touching that.
So finally, one night I was at my wits end and I was like, what's it going to hurt? You know, I'm already there. So, I opened the book and the first page that I came to was a verse from Isaiah and they had, you know, paraphrased everything into more modern day English, but it said, “Your builders are working faster than your destroyers.”
And that was the turning point for me. I immediately made a list and instead of pros and cons, it was builders and destroyers. And my destroyer was my ex-husband. And I just started listing out my cousin, my parents, my friends at work, the girl who gave me the book, and the list of builders was way bigger than the list of my destroyers.
And it was at that moment that I was like, we can be faster than him. We can figure this out. And my work, just like the other day, had given me paperwork on their employee assistant program. And so, I called the number to get connected with a mental health provider. And I've been in talk therapy ever since.
Tony: I love it. I mean, what's on your wrist?
Sarah: I got the verse tattooed on my wrist. So, it says your builders are working faster than your destroyers. It's just a constant reminder.
Tony: Yeah. Like that gave me the chills, Sarah. I mean that is beautiful. And because that takes a lot of courage and I love the fact that you even said, okay, I know what this is going to say anyway. And you almost didn't, you almost didn't do it. I mean, I feel like the brain still is so afraid of that unknown, or the uncertainty of the future. Did you run into that?
Sarah: Yeah, for sure. I was just going to say it's scary when you don't know what to expect and what's going to happen.
Tony: Yeah. Well then are you getting asked a lot about the, and I know this can sound so cliche, but then advice for people, because people are going to hear this, and I think we're going to get the people, they're going to say, well, my situation isn't as bad as Sarah's. But I think that still doesn't mean that it's, you know, people shouldn't have to be in a relationship where they feel isolated or gaslit.
Like they don't have a voice or they can't be themselves so what do you say? You had also mentioned people are asking you for advice, right? When they're reaching out to you.
Sarah: Yeah, I've had a couple of women reach out to me and say, I'm in a situation right now and I want to get out, but I don't know what to do.
And as I had just mentioned, I'm a big list person. I give two pieces of advice to the people that reach out to me: man, woman, whatever you identify as these two pieces of advice have got me through.
The first one is you need to know where you're going. So, you need a list. You need to map out the steps. So, when you feel like you're losing your way, you know where you're going next. So, for me it was kind of like thinking of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, right? Food, shelter, needed to get out of my car, and needed an apartment. I needed a new bank account. So, making that list of what to do, and then it was like, okay, now I need to file for a divorce. How do I do that? And just give yourself marching orders and keep yourself on track.
The other piece of advice that I always give to people is get angry and stay angry. The anger was the fire that I needed to keep going. For people like myself, it's so easy to just backslide and not be mad anymore and then just be like, oh, okay, well, I guess, but the anger was necessary at the time, and I'm not an angry person. I hardly ever get upset or angry about anything, but I just remember as soon as I start to feel a little bit weak, think back on the stories like, stay pissed off, for lack of a better term. And then there comes a time where you have to let it go. You have to. And it sounds so easy talking about it.
Get angry, stay angry, and then forgive them. It's not easy, but I'm a firm believer in the fact that forgiveness is not for the person you're forgiving. It's for you. And you have to let it go. It's a physical feeling when you remove that burden of anger and unforgiveness from yourself. At least it is for me.
So, use the anger. Fuel the fire. And then, once you're done, it's time to let it go and move on with your life. Those are the best two pieces of advice I feel like I can give anybody.
Tony: I so appreciate that advice. And what I love about that is that we started today by talking about the pathologically kind, empathic, highly sensitive person that I can only imagine how difficult it is to conjure up that anger.
But what I love what you're saying is, emotion is there to protect us. In theory or not even in theory, in reality. Anxiety is there as a warning; anger can be used as a tool. It's your body trying to say, okay, I need to fight for this injustice. So, you laid that out perfectly. I would love for some of my pathologically kind people to be able to use that tool, that emotion, you know, those emotions are there to help them.
And I never heard it put so well, like you said to then when I'm done with my anger and it served its purpose, I can put that away. Because that maybe isn't who you are at your core, but your body needs to pull that emotion. For good, I think in that scenario.
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, like you were saying, our emotions are there for a reason.
They're there to protect us, you know, fear. Fear is important. Anger is important. So is happiness. Sadness is important. I mean, all of it's important and it's just about don't let it control you. You control it and use it.
Tony: Yeah, I love it. I do. So, Sarah, the book is Stronger Than That and I'll have links to that in the show notes. And I really appreciate your vulnerability and I know that this story is going to make its way out to a lot of people. And so, I would love for people to write in if people have questions for you.
I don't know, would you be open to coming back on and maybe doing a Q and A?
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely.
Tony: Okay, so anybody listening, I highly recommend getting the book. It's on Kindle or paperback. And then you can also send questions to me through the website or firstname.lastname@example.org for Sarah. And then Sarah, I'll stay in touch. And then I would love to have you come back on and we can do a Q and A either, in the group for the women's group or we can do one as a bonus episode. But I really, I love your energy and I feel like you are such a survivor and what a story. So, I really appreciate you coming on.
Sarah: Oh, thank you so much. It was really great meeting and talking with you and yeah, I'd love to answer questions. That's what I'm here for.
Tony: Okay, perfect. So, we'll have all the links then in the show notes and I will talk to you again soon. Okay. Thanks so much.