On This Day…

Twenty-five years ago tonight, I thought I had met the love of my life.  We dated, I moved 1000 miles away from everything I’d ever known to join his ‘Brady Bunch’ family, and we married exactly 13 months later.  Twenty-five years ago tonight.

I was twenty-one years old; he turned twenty-four that very night.  What did we know about love?  What did we know about forever?

It’s funny how wise you become later in life.  I wonder, though, do you become wise simply with age, or from the sum total of your experiences?

I was thinking all day, if I knew then what I know now, would I have made a different choice?  Thankfully I believe fully that nothing happens by accident.  No matter how negative things seem to end up, the purpose for their existence far exceeds our understanding.  Praise Jesus!

Without this day, twenty-five years ago, I would not have my three incredible children who give me purpose each day.

Without this day, I would never have learned my worth, because I never would have questioned my value.

Without this day, I would never have found myself, because I never would have realized I was lost.

Without this day, I would never have picked myself up, because I never would have recognized I was under someone’s heel.

Without this day, I would never have been free to find real happiness, because I never knew how truly unhappy we were.

Thank God for this day.

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You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby!

I have this gift – it can be viewed as a blessing or much, much less, depending on your perspective.  I never forget anything.  Even the tiniest of things with no significance to some, I remember.  Yesterday was a date of some great importance.  Two years ago yesterday, my supposed ‘normal’ life was altered forever.  My 22 year marriage stopped existing as my spouse informed me it no longer did.  I wasn’t asked for my input, there was no discussion, there wasn’t even an argument – just the announcement of the end.

As I reflect on these 2 years, my initial thoughts are that it seems so very long ago.  While the words still sting like a fresh wound, I hardly remember what I felt in those first moments.  I remember exactly where I was, and what I was doing – but other than my tears, I have no idea what was in my head as the longest relationship of my life was ended in 5 words.  It’s funny how I can remember September 11 like it was yesterday – where I stood, paralyzed by fear, glued to the television as the images came across, the gasps and the tears as the first Tower fell, the longing for my family to be whole and home immediately so I knew they were safe, the complete numbness as the second Tower fell, the inability to turn away from the news coverage for days afterwards.  But this inner destruction, this attack on my person, my family…happened right in front of my face…and yet the feelings and emotions were lodged so deeply inside that it seemed that they might never see the light of day.  Instinctual mode broke free and took hold, and my motions became robotic – protect my children, show no weakness, do not become broken.  Going through the motions, really…not feeling a thing.

Time is the enemy of numbness.  Just like going to the dentist, eventually the Novocain wears off, and the residual pain breaks through.  This is when the real work begins…learning to feel those feelings, meet them head on, one at a time, acknowledge their value and purpose, realize that you can survive the process and come out on the other side, stronger and wiser.  But it is just that…work…and it’s hard and painstaking, and you have to want to get through it and see what you’re made of.  For me, that meant a lot of soul-searching and a phenomenal therapist who never once judged me, told me what I felt was wrong or inappropriate, and helped to guide me through everything I was experiencing.

The biggest piece, though, was that I was ready to get healthy and whole – for me.  You can’t experience any kind of traumatic event and then walk it out for someone else.  Sure, you can try that – but the results come back hollow and meaningless – because you’re trying to walk your journey to please another, and that never, ever works.  You can’t live your life to please someone else, and you certainly can’t sift through your junk to suit their needs.

The entire 2 years haven’t been rosebuds and raindrops.  Divorce, I have found, is a very despicable word.  I never realized just how ugly people who once loved each other can become when pushed to their breaking points.  Battles over possessions, property and payments cannot be made kind.  And when children are involved, one parent has to be annihilated to make the other one more appealing – there is no simpler way to put it.  The number of times I have sat in that Family Court in the last 2 years has embarrassingly made me an expert on something I take no pride in knowing about.  And I can say this in all truthfulness – God stands outside that Courthouse, as the feeling of evil upon entering envelopes you like a heavy wool blanket each time and you know you need to be washed clean when you leave.  Love was never intended to be this way…ever.

As I’ve moved forward in my process of healing, I’ve decided that I have a small responsibility in his healing too.  Not in his process, his choices, or his actions – but solely in how I choose to treat the man I once loved.  If I continue to treat him with disdain in my heart, and yet intend to show Jesus to strangers, aren’t I being a hypocrite?  How can I show any less than the love of Jesus to him?  This is certainly not to say when he is hurtful I am just to accept it openly.  That person is gone – the one that allowed herself to be quashed for years, silenced by emotional abuse that I was embarrassed to reveal.  But I do not have to allow myself to be baited by his hurtfulness.  I am stronger now, and I am secure in who I am.  I won’t be confused about that ever again.

So what does all of this mean?  Because I am healthier, I can lead my children in a much better way.  They don’t have to be confused or afraid of what is happening in their own home.  We all are prospering – a word I wouldn’t have dreamed to use even a year ago.  Each of the kids has a path they are on, and they are making their way.  And their Mama?  For the first time in a long, long time…she’s happy and making plans to enjoy the days in front of her.  I am done looking back…my ‘new’ is ahead and it’s waiting for me to discover it.  I can’t wait!

Sweet Victory…?

“Victory begins when you are willing to run by faith, trusting that He will lead the way.”

When a marriage ends in divorce, there are no winners.  No matter how amicable things are, someone, somewhere ends up being hurt by something that is either said, done or unintentionally willed against the other party.  It is not possible for two people to spend any length of intimate time together, share things that a man and wife do, and walk away from that time unscathed.  Bring children into the mix, and the wake of devastation increases exponentially, causing normally rational adults to act in ways they would otherwise not act, all ‘for the sake of the children.’  The shame of it all is everyone suffers damage – everyone.

After preparing half the night for what promised to be an epic battle at court this week, I felt ill at ease.  I thought these feelings were my typical issues with self-doubt creeping back in; I had prepared well, and had sufficient documentation to present a balanced argument for the points I planned to present.  As I finished with my outline for each of the three planned motions, I could no longer contain the overwhelming dread I had been feeling.  I called the one person I knew who could balance my rocking canoe and help me calm the waters before I set off to court.  As usual, she listened to my concerns for what might happen, my lacking abilities, and all my doubts.  And in perfect step she surrounded me with Gospel Truth – and reminded me that this battle was already decided, I was merely walking it out that morning to completion; she reminded me that God had wonderfully gifted me with the ability to speak eloquently and remain on task and that He would be with me that morning, as He always was; and most importantly, she told me God loved my children more than I did, and that He would not allow harm to come to them…those were the words I held on to as we hung up and I got dressed.

What I found at court when I arrived was as I had expected – he had support in his sister and brother at his side.  I did not come unarmed, as three great friends joined me as well.  The process began as it typically does – Family Relations – where he usually disagrees to all I present, and then we are sent to an awaiting Judge in a courtroom.  Two cases were heard before ours, and as I half-heartedly listened to those cases, I found it difficult to quiet my spirit.  The atmosphere there is so negative, even hostile at times, to breathe in the air seems almost toxic.  I closed my eyes trying to focus myself, trying to replay my plan again in my head – anything to disconnect me from where I was yet again…and then it was time.

We both approached our respective tables, took our oaths, stated our names and sat down.  I began my initial motion, and immediately the Judge questioned my direction.  I was thrown, seeing instantly that I’d made a tactical error – that what I’d considered an ‘order’ from the previous Judge was in fact listed in my notes as a recommendation, and thus not subject to a contempt order.  I felt childlike and stupid in that moment, and my mind raced as I tried to recover – I could feel ‘their eyes’ burning the back of my head, taunting me.  The Judge ruled against my next point, and while not critical, again I received it as a blow.

We moved on to the most important of the three issues at hand, and I tried to regain my stride.  I spoke off-script, and while most points were mentioned, I was far less succinct as I am capable of being.  He was offered a chance to rebut, and his words were void of truth and hurtful.  I hurriedly made my notes, sure to catch key phrases to use in my retort.  Almost directly on cue, he began to cry – again – and I found myself not anguished over his emotions but disgusted by his display yet again.  I quickly brought us back to task, and felt I finished strong.

As the Judge began his summation, his initial words led me to feel he was not going to rule in my favor.  I remember shaking my head and immediately thinking what would the next move be, as this would be completely unacceptable.  But as the Judge continued, he did in fact, rule in my favor.  A few more formalities, and I was up and out of the room.  And once again, as soon as I made it out the doors, I was sobbing – the stress of holding it together had completely overwhelmed me – and my friend grabbed me into her arms, apparently in an effort to shield me from them as they exited.

The physical and emotional toll these court days take on me I find difficult to express.  That was yesterday, and mentally I was garbage for the rest of the day.  But when you are a single mom, you do not have the luxury to mentally check out, for any length of time.  I try as much as possible to shield my children from what transpires during these days – because football, chess club, dinner, Click the Mouse, soccer, going to a friend’s house, going to the park, getting to their job, selling fundraising tickets, PPT meetings…all of these things happen whether court goes well or not.

So today, as I lay in the bed for most of the day, reflecting on what happened yesterday and where we go from here, I realized there was no winner in court.  We all lose…we all lose.  Until such a time when we can communicate together and parent these children without the law having to intervene.  Until we can BOTH have parenting time with these children and not disparage the other parent.  Until these children are not hurt by our supposed ‘grown-up’ actions…both of ours.  Until ALL the people in these children’s lives get on the same page about what is in the best interest for them, and work to that end.

What I know is this:  I cannot control him or his actions.  But I am responsible for me and my actions.  And that means I can still continue to be the example – to my children, and to him and his family.  It cost me nothing to be who I already am, so that is no sacrifice.  To sacrifice, I need to take an additional step.  I have the benefit of Jesus Christ, and because of that, I am required to do more.  So I will be seeking God’s face on how He wants me to do more, to take additional steps to make this work.  Because doing what I’ve already done isn’t getting it – it’s merely wearing me out – and that will accomplish nothing in the end.

What A Difference A Year Makes…

‘Knowing when to walk away is wisdom.

Being able to is courage.

Walking away with your head held high is dignity.”

April 14…a date marked in history.

Last year on April 14, I stood alone before a Judicial Magistrate as she told me I was about to break the contract I had made some 22 years before, an action I did not take lightly by any means.  She asked if my estranged spouse was present, and as I explained he had been, but he had left angry, she paused to question what had upset him, then struck her own comments from the record.  She trudged through the formalities I’m certain she had cited many, many times before – about alimony, name changes, child support, living arrangements, custody and the like.  I listened intently with my brain; my heart had left the building quite some time before.  As she finished, she thanked me for taking the children – a comment I thought odd at the time, but would all too soon realize the wisdom of, and wished me well.  I walked out the double doors, the sun shining on my face, grabbed my phone, and posted my first Facebook post as a single woman, “I AM FREE!”  I walked down the street to my car with a pep in my step I’d never experienced before…a huge weight had been lifted off me, and it seemed like it was visible to all those around me.

The first few months were awkward but manageable.  He wasn’t going to make it easy, by any stretch, but we’d left things flexible enough to work through them.  The summer came and he took the kids half the week, and I had them the rest of the week, as agreed verbally.  I was working a job, working on myself, personally, to figure out who I was without him and who I wanted to really be and trying to redefine myself as a parent in the wake of the damage left behind by his hurtfulness.  This went along fine through summer, and I was rebuilding the me I’d lost as some point along the way.

Then school started back up for the kids.  And something inside of him broke for good.  There really is no other way to describe the events that took place – or the person he became – from that point forward.  He started following us, threatening me with evil and angry texts and phone calls, texting the children in inappropriate ways, breaking into our home, staking out our home – he basically was a predator.  My personality morphed instantly into one of paranoia and intense fear for our safety – quickly transitioning from the locked car to the locked house, my cell phone constantly at the ready to call for help.  I was forced to seek out police support, and eventually obtained a restraining order to protect all 4 of us – against the man I had built my life with; the father of my children – he was now no longer to come into contact with us directly and only had minimal contact with his children.

The most important constant during all of this has been my resolve to work on ME through anything that comes forward.  I have come last for so very long, when I started the process, I hardly recognized myself.  I was a mere shell of myself – beaten down so badly – emotionally and intellectually…the only way I could build was upward.  Looking back over the last year, it’s painful to see where I was, and yet so glorious to see where I’m headed!

I am so incredibly happy right now – happy…I may have never been happy in my entire life, and after all this time I’m learning what happy is all about.  I am learning what the purpose of feeling my emotions is all about – and how truly beneficial that simple act is.  I have learned that coping strategies that worked as a child no longer work effectively as an adult, and that I need new strategies – I’ve gained them, had the courage to use them, and realize their worth.  I am excited when I see someone who hasn’t seen me in a while – the change in me is VISIBLE.  I am whole – not fixed…because I wasn’t broken.  And I certainly still have work to do…as we all do.  But with the dead-weight of that broken, defective relationship off my back, I am free to work on my junk, my issues, my life – it’s so incredibly freeing…I just want to shout it out!

Most excitedly and terrifying, I am dating!  Yes…I am dating…and it’s crazy and complicated and ridiculous.  But one thing is certain – and a year ago, I never would have said this out loud – I am worth it!  I am worth a great guy and happiness and the old-fashioned love I am looking for.  And if that takes another forever to find, I’m worth waiting for!  And that statement alone – that took me a lifetime to realize…but this year, this past 365 days were not wasted on me.  And neither will the next 365.  I can hardly wait to see where I’ll be!

Broken…Not Together

Anger pierced the corridor like a sabre.  Glancing blows leave mortal wounds too deep to triage in the moment.  “Dumont!”  The name echoes through the chamber and I pop up, diligently and deliberately, cautious not look left or right – obedience is the only option.  “He won’t participate,” I say, numb, “even if you tell him he can.  He won’t.”  She looks at me as if to say “Are you even alive in there?”  I am – but barely.  I do what needs to be done in this room, no more, no less.  I have been here so many times before – all I can be is numb.  Anything else hurts too much.

We speak, very briefly.  Show her this document, answer that question.  Now wait and he’ll come in, but don’t go far.  I know the dance – believe me – I know.  I stand in the corridor, alone, stoic, jumbled with my huge binder – I have been here before…too many times to recount.  That binder is comfort and pain:  comfort in its organization and sanity; pain in its constant reminder of the next step and the last.

Just like that, we’re done.  He doesn’t agree to anything, as usual.  Courtroom B-1.  Roll call, and then waiting.  He whisks by and I don’t look up; I stare at the ground, subservient again.  I sit far and apart from him; his brother has appeared from somewhere…he needs someone with him at all times; not for moral support, but to keep him in check.  Roll call bellowed out, and then we wait.  We are moved to B-3 suddenly.  They complain – “Who is the Judge in that court?”  He feels bias against several Judges…or is it they are biased against him?  I can’t keep up.  I jump up and exit, not even listening to the argument.

In B-3, I take my seat.  The Judge reviews the file, and asks me a few questions.  I answer, politely, precisely.  Motion for Contempt – back Child Support.  He hasn’t paid anything in 1 year.  His argument – he didn’t agree to anything.  He doesn’t owe anything.  Now, he states he didn’t sign the Divorce Decree; after 1 year he finally admits he walked out of the hearing.  We all already knew that.  He becomes belligerent.  The Marshall moves to his table.  He can’t stop speaking.  The Judge instructs him to be quiet – the issues of today’s scope are narrow – he never really understands this point.  He goes on and on – the Marshall draws closer and closer.  His brother tries to calm him, to no avail.  I am given a last opportunity to add anything I need.  I readdress that he has never paid anything.  That he lives on proportionally more than the 4 of us do.  And that he had put in an appearance previously, that no one scammed him into getting divorced that day last April.

The Judge proceeds to deliver his sentence, and again he interrupts.  The Judge is now intolerant, and tells him to quiet himself for the last time.  He begins to sob uncontrollably.  The whole exchange is horrible – to witness – this man, this father, this once husband, falling so far from who he once was…

When the Judge is finished, I rush from the court, as I am now virtually holding back tears.  I am basically running down the hall, looking for refuge from them as they will be behind me any moment and I don’t want them to know I have broken – that my heart has broken once again for this situation that once was a marriage, a life, a family.  I make it to the Court Services office, to the far back table, and collapse in tears…face in my hands, sobbing.  How is it that, 2 years apart, I am still so impacted by what this man does and does not do?

I am reminded, however, that one person cannot carry a relationship alone.  And, more importantly, God needs to be the center of any relationship for it to really work.  You can be the best person, the best Christian, but you alone cannot fill in the gaps for your spouse.  You will constantly fail without Jesus.  We are all broken human people.  And that’s ok – God made us that way.  The purpose for that, once again, was so that we would lean on Him, in our personal lives, in our parenting, in our relationships – we need Jesus to complete us.  He is the only one who can.

I love this new song by Casting Crowns…Broken Together.  It talks about how if we each come together, admitting our brokenness, and approach Jesus, we can be made whole – TOGETHER.  Unfortunately that couldn’t happen in my marriage.  But my next relationship certainly will have a lasting foundation I can count on.  Because I am broken – and so will my next someone be.  And together with Jesus, we’ll be awesome!

I’m Fine…I’m Running as Fast as I Can

“It’s only when we admit our un-fine moments that people can actually get to us to help us.”

I am a stubborn human woman.  I know, it’s shocking to hear, but I have learned over the course of my life to be fairly self-reliant.   I don’t ask for help for much of anything, and when I do, I have to be darn near death.  What I have learned, in times when I expected help to be there, was that people will always fail you.  People will hurt you, disappoint you, even crush you if given the opportunity.  So why on earth would I want to place myself in a position where I am actually asking for support, needing another person to raise me up?  To me, it just seems like you’re asking for trouble, and I certainly don’t need more trouble in my life.

And then I began this transformation…this recent self-reflection of who I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m headed.  And I’ve realized over the last few years that some changes need to be made if I want to achieve the happiness I desire, with the people I want in my life and stability, all wrapped with a nice big bow.  So I’ve been trying these changes on for size, one at a time, and seeing how they work for me.  You see, no one gets to be who they are by accident.  I’m not this stubborn, independent woman by accident, but absolutely by situation, dictated by the events in my life that demanded I either adapt or die.  For the most part I like who I am, and strange as it may sound, I wouldn’t change most of the events that happened in my past – they all occurred to mold me into who I am today.  Sure, do I wish I could be who I am without those traumas…well, yeah!  But I understand that God’s purpose behind each and every trial we face is to mold our character, not to harm us, and to make us reach closer to Him.

But I’m also learning that how I coped with these events just a few years ago might have functioned perfectly fine then, but for where I’m headed, they are not quite so functional anymore.  And I want to change – which is the biggest victory of all.  So I’ve been working very hard to acknowledge the areas that might need tweaking, or a small sledgehammer, and have been eager to work on those areas and test them out.  But even with all this work and support from a phenomenal therapist, there are times I feel like that small, scared little girl trapped in the grown-up body, cowering in the corner, alone and afraid, just wanting someone in my corner, saying they are with me and talking me through what’s happening.

That was this past Tuesday.  Court…again.  Sometimes I think I’m so grown and strong, but court…lately it brings me to my knees every time.  The atmosphere, the environment, the reason I’m there – it crushes my spirit faster than anything else I can imagine.  I knew before I went I should bring moral support – but felt embarrassed to ask someone to subject themselves to that ugliness.  After all, it’s my junk…I loathe being there, why would I ask a friend to endure what I can barely stand?  But that morning, I heard God telling me to simply ask – and so in obedience, I did just that…at 8 am.  I sent a group text to my friends – the ones I know I can count on…and in God-like fashion, they responded.  Why it continues to surprise me, I should really be ashamed.  Two separate friends rallied, while those who couldn’t sent their words of encouragement and prayers.  I felt so very loved and protected in those moments – it brings me to tears again just recalling the texts.

At court, ‘they’ were there first, but knowing I had support on the way, I held my head high.  I didn’t feel anxiety as I usually do.  I was receiving texts of support all the while until my first dear friend arrived.  And we just chatted and passed the time – the LONG time – visiting and forgetting where we were, which made me so at ease.  Then my 2nd friend arrived, and it was like a party of privilege, with just us 3 as the only attendees.  We joked and laughed and had a great time – almost completely oblivious to where we were.  God was truly with us, and I was certainly blessed.

As the business at hand finally began, it was unproductive and difficult, as predicted, but I wasn’t afraid or uptight.  I conducted myself in a pleasant manner, as I usually do, and his actions spoke for themselves, as they typically do.  When we were finished with the Judge, I simply walked out as if ‘they’ didn’t matter, and left, emotionally tired but not defeated.  There will be more battles to endure, but I am now confident that if I actually trust to call on my friends, they will rally to that call and be there for me when I need them – I just have to choose to let them.

God never intended for us to live this life alone – John 15:13 states…

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Here God is referencing more than a friendship, but a love relationship between us and Him, and in turn, between us and those around us.  His greatest command to us is to love one another; when it’s the hardest thing to do, when they don’t ask for it, when they hurt you, when they don’t talk to you for years & years, when they laugh in your face, when they try to kill you, when they destroy your reputation – there is no stipulation on loving one another.  Jesus loved prostitutes and murderers – are we under any less of an obligation than He was?

So I’m trying a radical new approach – praying for ‘him.’  There was a time he loved Jesus, when he wasn’t so lost, when he knew the right choices to make.  I decided a long, long time ago not to carry around hate – it’s useless, heavy baggage with no purpose and it only impacts me.   I’m certainly not going to start now.  Lay down my life?  Not quite yet, but I’ll keep up with the prayer and let you know how that works out…

Damages

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 clearhe 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.