Damage takes on all shapes and sizes, forms and colors. From the impact of a high speed collision on the highway between two vehicles, twisting metal upon metal with the air filled with burnt rubber and cries for help, to a young teens first broken heart, slowly tearing in two, silently at first, then louder and louder until it seems as if the whole world is an audience to this ever private pain. The one thing in common is the wake of collateral left behind…rubble to be retrieved, pieces to be replaced, parts to be mended.
An interesting fact about the recipient of damage is that only that individual knows their own unique pain – no matter how similar their scars might appear to the next. ‘Until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes…’ the old adage is so ill-equipped to compensate the level of heaviness we feel as the weight of the world is loaded upon our shoulders, shifted haphazardly across our human frames, until it comes suddenly crashing down, bringing us to our knees, shaking once again our very foundations. It is in these moments we challenge why we are chosen to bear such burdens, why we are given this volume of pain, and still we have the option to question the very core of what we believe as our purpose on this planet.
I am no stranger to the pathway of damage. Until recently I thought my pathway a more singular pronged voyage…one of childhood trauma at the hand of my father. I believed I had long since come to terms with that journey, not cured from all the wakes and swirls, but by shear will and determination, choosing victorious forgiveness over hatred, and paddling onward. But my dance with damages is much more complex than I had ever realized. Those childhood traumas were merely Act 1 in a great tragedy that would continue to play out for the next 20 years.
The next interesting fact about someone who suffers damages is that their self, their internal being, is shattered into hundreds of tiny parts…and rebuilding is not only optional, it is THE most painstaking task you will ever undertake as an individual. When pieces of your self break apart, you lose your way…your roadmap. There is no IKEA instruction guide for rebuilding your self…your self-worth, your self-respect, your will…it’s as if someone has hit the ‘reset’ button, and just as you begin to get your footing up under you, the ‘reset’ is hit once again…over and over and over again. And you keep trying to stand back up, day after day, hour after exhausting hour, but you can never quite get your balance…and nobody seems to notice you falling down, down, down. And finally, all at once, you decide it’s so much simpler to just stay down…and not expect too much, of yourself or the rest of the world.
In my attempt to convince myself that I could simply walk away from my childhood trauma, I married a sailor – a outwardly good man who said he’d take care of me and love me and we’d be happy forever. And we moved 1000 miles away from everything I ever knew. It sounded fantastic in theory. But I was lying on the ground…and now I’m not certain if he didn’t notice, or if that was part of the plan all along.
So this man who said he loved me helped me get my footing once again, and for a little while I was able to stand up straight. After all, I was fairly intelligent, strong enough to withstand my childhood and not let it swallow me whole, and young. I worked a full-time job for several years, we saved to start our family, his family accepted me seemingly as one of theirs…all systems appeared to be a go. But that bag of shattered pieces I was lugging around…it developed a large hole. This good man I married…he wasn’t perfect…but he kept saying he loved me, and I was grateful. Grateful? Serious red flag. But I was busy with this bag of pieces…I didn’t have time to collect flags too.
Then so slowly it was almost invisible, his family – the one who welcomed me with open arms – began to turn. I thought maybe I was imagining it…a snide comment here, a whisper there…but when an outright demand that he divorce me because I couldn’t deliver babies was made, it became obvious to even the most oblivious of onlookers. The first punch had been thrown, and I was down: bleeding, wounded and alone – because here, family starts with a ‘D’, not an ‘f.’ And another red flag…
Time went by, and our little ‘family’ recovered, until the next predicted blow. The gauntlet had been thrown down, and the only choice was to accept the challenge – play the game the best way I knew how to manage – or accept defeat…which really never was an option.
So enters another interesting fact about those who suffer damage: we can be a shadow of our former selves and not realize the difference. About this point I believed life was wonderful. We had 3 beautiful children – gifts from God, despite the numerous challenges they faced. I saw this as my personal mission – to educate myself; access the best education they were entitled to; accept nothing ‘less-than’; give up ‘myself’ in pursuit of their needs. But herein laid the problem…I was already gone…’given up’ years before – to men because I wasn’t worth purity or love or wholeness; to food because when you’re overweight, you are all but invisible to the world…the exact feat I was trying to accomplish…invisible people cannot be hurt…they are indestructible; to the needs of others, because I wasn’t worthy of fulfillment – my sole purpose was to complete everyone else…all the while I was an empty shell.
It’s amazing how long you can roam the earth completely and totally void. Oh, I had my faith…but rather than being my foundation, I now think Jesus was my stopper…avoiding the last few drops of my soul from seeping out. In the worst of my moments, I would cry out – for I still had the wherewithal to know where redemption lay…and then another crushing wave would wash over me – cutting the chain on that stopper shorter, and shorter, and shorter…until only a few links remained…and then came the rust…
Two years ago my stopper was yanked up for the final time, eroded and eaten away by the vile ugliness of this world, and I was literally drowning in a sea of doubt, inadequacy, relentless sorrow, gnashing of teeth, anger…emotions I had kept UNDER that plug for my entire life…erupting like fire from a cannon. The man I thought was there for me – the one who said he’d never leave me…he fell apart…literally right in front of my face, all the while blaming me for his demise. “Our marriage is a farce,” he said…his words still singe my ears even today. 22 years of heartbreak and holes, rebuilding and rebuttals, mirages and muck boiled down to that one stark statement he finally mustered the courage to say.
At first I was bewildered, disillusioned to all my life had become, been about, ever was. Stepping out from the shadow, I saw this opportunity for what it truly was – a chance at true happiness. No, I had never ever broken my vows to him, but I was certainly just going through the motions of a relationship I now considered a prison. I had been so very lost in the ideal of what ‘we’ were supposed to be – and he certainly had no qualms about sharing his disdain at my inability to metamorphosize to his expectation of who I should have been by now. I was not the woman he expected or deserved – according to him. I failed him in so many ways, and he never fell short to remind me, constantly, each time scarring my spirit more and more, with words that still haunt me when I close my eyes.
Another sign of damages: We give away pieces of ourselves all the time; many times in large irretrievable chunks. The utter irony of the situation was that while what my father had done to me so many years before left lasting effects still rippling today, what that man had done, with full faculties about him, all the while claiming his superiority over my father, was so much worse. He used those weaknesses to his advantage – those areas of insecurities, those damages – and made them his target. He knew just where to strike to inflict the most damage – the most lasting pain – the most crippling blow. It was as if he were shooting fish in a barrel…I gave him all the ammunition he would ever need…and he ate it up, bite after savory bite, until he was satiated with the tools he could use to effectively dismantle the tattered remnants of my shell.
His methods were ingenious, considering I had not really considered him my intellectual equal. This, perhaps, was the beginning of my downfall. My Achilles ’ heel, as it is, is that I loathe being viewed as stupid, less than the net worth of my intellectual match. I have a God-given brain with much potential, and when I am not viewed in that worthy potential, I feel insignificant and small, devalued immediately, always self-loathing. He knew this weakness – as does anyone who is significantly close to me – and he used this area to keep me small and beat down. Not physically; no, let me be abundantly clear…he never laid a physical hand on me. That would have been beneath both he and I. I would not have tolerated that injustice for one single moment – not after my childhood…not for myself…not for my children. Had that threshold been crossed, I would have instantly found the courage to stand, gather my children and leave that situation without question. No, this life we led, this clandestine nomenclature was so much further left of center, it made this fiction so much more palatable, day after agonizing day, year after debilitating year.
But what he didn’t know was that his statement, his attempt to mortally wound me, was my saving grace. That day, though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was given the key to my very soul back. And that day I started a journey – back from somewhere I never believed I would have been found – a place of darkness and despair, loneliness in a crowded room, constant humor to hide my pain, a place where I didn’t even recognize myself any longer. Standing here, 2 years out, I don’t even know who that person was – I just know had she not gotten out, somehow, some way…she would have died there most certainly.
I remember the exact moment I knew it was time to walk away. He had thrown down his challenge, and returned to his summer camp, complete in the knowledge that I would obviously come to my senses and adjust myself, submit to his demands and get on with our lives as he had envisioned it should be. Once the initial shock wore off, I remember going to the movies with some friends from church – again, I do not believe in accidents, and this was yet another example of God at work – to see ‘Unstoppable’ by Kirk Cameron…just a really awesome movie. I was entranced by the message, when a particular passage spoke directly to my heart, as I felt God was telling me what I needed to do next with my marriage, with my life, with myself…basically the reference was to Adam and Eve, and how God had created Eve as a gift to Adam, with the sole purpose for him to ‘cherish her above all others’ and ‘protect her with all his being’…these statements struck me in the core of my being, and I was openly weeping in the theater. No one – ever – had cherished me, let alone him. And as for his promise so many years before to protect me, as I stood at the precipice of this shamble of a relationship, the choice was crystal clear.
No longer was I to devalue myself to give him glory. No longer was I to become less to make him more. My God told me, in His word, that I deserved to be cherished, and if that meant walking alone until glory, so be it. My children needed to see me as the strong woman I knew I could be. They needed me to stop the verbal barrage of abuse that existed constantly in our home. I was not honoring anyone, let alone God, by continuing in this marriage. So I finished what he didn’t have the courage to do – I filed for divorce.
Freedom from bondage, I don’t care what kind we’re talking about, is so liberating. You can be bound with your mannerisms. You can be bound by your thoughts and actions. You can be bound by the company you keep. You can be bound by your line of work. And you most certainly can be bound by a marriage, mired down by the controlling actions of one spouse. After the dust settled, I went to him and actually thanked him for making that first step – for speaking up – even if his intentions were ill-guided. I would have stayed with him forever. I am a believer in marriage. I do not, however, believe anymore in blindly loving someone because they tell you to. And as strong as I am in Christ, I know without Him, some people’s damage cannot be repaired if they are not looking to be helped.
I saddle a lot of my own damage, and am working diligently to repair those scars – learning new coping mechanism to replace the ones that might have worked when I was a child, but currently are not as effective. I use humor a lot – as a defense and a strategy. I am learning to replace anxiety about situations I cannot control with strategies on how to manage those behaviors, but most importantly I have learned why I manifested those behaviors to begin with, and with that knowledge, I have learned to give myself a break. I am above all others my own harshest critic, and have realized if I can give myself a break now and then, this life is going to be a lot easier. I am learning to relax…something I don’t think I ever really knew how to do. And seemingly the simplest, but certainly the hardest…I am learning that I do not have to carry others baggage…and the knowledge and freedom that comes with that comprehension is so incredibly amazing!
I am not whole and healed – but I am truly on my way. And now that I see the value in the work that I am doing for myself, I will not stop until I have completed this most important work…for the betterment of me. Because we share these 3 incredible children, forever, we are bound in a ‘forever’ relationship of sorts. But I have chosen to not participate in his anguish, his bitterness, his self-absorption. While it is exhausting at times to be ‘the grown-up’ for the sake of my children, I will forever fill that role as they need me to. And when and if he is ever ready to successfully participate in a co-parenting role, I will enter into that with him, eyes wide open. But at this juncture, and with God ever by my side, I will continue to do the work I need to do, model the behaviors I need to for my children, and help them grow into productive adults who hopefully can have wonderful relationships of their own.
The more people I talk to, the more I realize that no one gets through childhood unscathed. I truly thought because of all I experienced as a child, I would do so much better for my children. I believe we all desire that for our kids. But in the end, we are all fallible. We struggle to do a little bit better job than our parents did with us. If we’re lucky, I mean really lucky…our kids won’t end up as damaged as we were. We can only do the best job we know how…and pray.