In her new book, "Hiding from Reality: My Story of Love, Loss and Finding the Courage Within," reality television star Taylor Armstrong comes to terms with her life following the death of her husband. Here's an excerpt.
I was lying under a black blanket in the back of my Escalade.
My heart raced as my assistant, Julie, backed out of the garage and tore through my Bel Air neighborhood, trying to outrun the paparazzi who had been camped out at my house for the two weeks since August 15, 2011, when we’d found the body of my husband, Russell Armstrong, following his suicide.
How did I get here? I thought.
My husband, and the father of our child, was dead. I had been able to sneak out of my house only three times since the discovery, and then, only to plan and attend his cremation and funeral service at Forest Lawn Cemetery in the Hollywood Hills. Since then I had tried to return to Forest Lawn to intern his ashes, but the media crush had been too intense for me to do so, and his internment had been postponed indefinitely.
I needed to put Russell in his final resting place so I could start to feel some closure after what had been an excruciatingly difficult year, most of which I had spent trying to hide the reality of my life from the cameras taping my reality television show The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. And now I found myself literally hiding from the paparazzi, who couldn’t seem to get enough of the tragedy that had consumed my life.
I’d spent those past two weeks inside my house; I was surrounded by attorneys and advisers, grieving family members and friends, trying to process my loss and make it manageable for my five-year-old daughter, Kennedy, while also trying to manage the financial and legal fallout of Russell’s death.
With Kennedy now staying at my mother’s house in Orange County, I had decided that Julie and I should go to Palm Desert for a few days of fresh air without the fear of being photographed.
I felt such relief as we got far enough away from the city that I could climb out from under the blanket, scramble into the front seat, and ride comfortably as a passenger, like a normal person.
And then, several hours later, as we pulled up to our hotel, I realized that it would take much more than laying Russell to rest to give me anything like closure. I had spent a weekend at this same hotel earlier in the summer with Russell and Kennedy, and the memories came rushing back. That trip had been in the days leading up to my fortieth birthday, when Russell hit me so hard he gave me an orbital fracture beneath my right eye that required reparative surgery; before I told him he needed to move out; before we began the process of divorcing and trying to figure out how we could still be a family for Kennedy and Russell’s two sons, even if we weren’t married; before he hung himself.
I had hoped that getting away from the demands of my life in the city for a few days would help me to shake the sick, lost feeling that I’d had inside since Russell died. I knew that part of it was shock at the sudden and violent nature of his death just when I had thought everything in our lives was starting to improve, and that part of it was the sadness of losing someone
I had loved so much. But I was also beginning to understand just how complicated my grieving process was going to be. There was so much to come to terms with.
I was alone. For the first time since Valentine’s Day 2005, Russell wasn’t in control anymore, and I was left making decisions that meant survival for my daughter, Kennedy, and me. The terrible truth was that I felt lost without the control that Russell had imposed on me for the nearly six years we were married. Disturbingly, I had found something comforting about having someone tell me who to talk to, how to behave, what to wear, and what to do. Now there was no one controlling the outcomes, or anything else in my life, and I found that making my own decisions was a burden I wasn’t prepared for. In some ways I missed the abuse. I missed the pain. Not because I liked feeling any of that, but because it was the life I had become accustomed to, and now it was part of everything familiar that was gone. Then, in the depths of my despair, I discovered a strength I wasn’t aware I had. As I cleaned up the mess left by a man I had come to realize I never really knew, beneath all of the rubble, I found myself. I found the courage to step forward and let my voice be heard. And for the first time in my life, I actually started to like myself. I started to live, love, and breathe the air without the stifling oppression that had dominated my life with Russell.
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But it wasn’t easy. And I realized that I felt this way even though I had so much going for me—the best psychiatrist money could buy, who had made himself available to me around the clock throughout my separation and since Russell’s death; the support of the 1736 Family Crisis Center, a battered women’s shelter at which I had volunteered for almost as long as I’d been with Russell; the love of so many family members and friends; the support of the millions of fans of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills; the incredible opportunity that the show’s popularity gave me to communicate with others in my time of greatest need. I thought of the 4.8 million American women who are abused each year, and how many of them do not have anything close to the resources I had available to me. If recovery was this hard for me—a college-educated woman who lived in Beverly Hills and was fortunate enough to have means, and friends, and access to support—it must be excruciatingly difficult for others. I thought of how many of these women, like me, had witnessed domestic violence in their home growing up and went on to perpetuate the cycle as adults. I wanted to help them by telling my story and by shining the spotlight I had been given on the issues we all faced.
I wanted to explain that I understood why 80 percent of battered women never file a police report or seek medical treatment, because I was one of those women until my husband injured me so badly that I finally felt justified in telling him to get out. I wanted to show them that although I had eventually found the courage to tell my husband he had to leave, the psychological fallout of his years of abuse continued to haunt me.
Maybe I could help other women to leave sooner. And when they did get out, maybe I could make their healing process easier for them by letting them know that it was okay if they, like me, had complicated feelings toward their abusers that included love, and guilt, and pity, and that no one who hadn’t experienced abuse could understand. Maybe this book would help them by making them feel less alone, as well as by helping others to understand how complicated the issues really are. And then I thought of all of the girls and young women—like my daughter, Kennedy—who had witnessed some form of abuse growing up, but who were young enough that they still had a chance to heal themselves before reaching the age when they might make the kind of bad choices that would leave them vulnerable and lead them to experience their own abuse. Maybe I could reach them in time to break the cycle of abuse. Maybe I could speak to women with insecurity and self-esteem issues, like I had been plagued with throughout my life, and help them to make better choices than I had.
I had found my mission; to tell my story, and by doing so to explain who Russell really was—even with all of the bad, he was still my daughter’s father, and my husband, whom I loved very much. I wanted people to know his good qualities, too, and to understand all that he struggled against in his own tragically short life, which he had ended when he was only forty-seven. And I wanted to explain what our marriage was really like, and hopefully to create something positive out of all of the pain and loss I had experienced. I was going to use this book to answer the question of how I got here, so that hopefully other women would not have to learn the same painful lessons for themselves, and so I could end the cycle of violence—for myself, my daughter, and other women—and let the healing begin.
From the book "Hiding From Reality: My Story of Love, Loss and Finding the Courage Within" by Taylor Armstrong, published by Simong & Schuster. Copyright © 2012 by Taylor Armstrong. Reprinted with permission.
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