As I approached my 56th birth day on April 17, 2017, I was reflecting on my life. I want to share my story of the dark celebration of my 30th birthday. It is important to me to have you have a better understanding of why I feel so much joy, love and peace today.
I’m sitting on the floor of a bedroom in my childhood home, folding clothes and my six year old son is telling me he knows of a place we can go if we can’t stay here. You see, he’s in kindergarten and they had had a field trip to the local women’s shelter for domestic abuse.
I began to cry and reach out to give him a hug and reassure him that we can stay here at Gma and Gmpa’s however long we need to. He goes off to play with his two year old sister and I continue to fold the clean clothes from the basket.
I am scared and wonder how in the world did I get to this place? I know I need to continue to move forward in my life but I have no idea how.
This was NOT the way I saw my life unfolding and I’m also angry and grieving. It will take me many, many years of digging deep to learn how and why I accepted to be treated so poorly and how to truly love myself. I also need to learn to let go, of what I perceived as my life of being married, two children, a home and living happily ever after.
My husband of ten years had been primarily verbally and occasionally physically abusive. I didn’t know or realize that it was abuse. When I was twenty-nine, I was working at a counseling office. I came across a hand out that showed a listing of basic human rights. It was then I realized why I was feeling the way I was. I felt so stifled, controlled, very little self-esteem, anxiety, depression and a feeling of almost splitting my personality into two.
You see, every three to four months over the period of my relationship with him he would tell me I had to lose weight or he would leave me. He would have me weigh myself and write it on the calendar. I would then attempt to lose weight because the thought of being alone was greater than making the sacrifice to lose weight. I so wanted to be loved that I was willing to go through anything. There were many other controlling things he would say and do. At times I would verbally fight back but many times it was easier to just accept and go through the motions. I was very sad inside.
There were times I would wake in the night and start to cry. I would leave the bed and go into the bathroom, crawl up into a ball and cry quietly. I couldn’t risk waking him up. He wouldn’t have yelled or anything, he would have just questioned me a lot as to why I was crying and I wasn’t sure how or what to say.
One might ask, how did I get myself into this situation? When he and I started dating it was at a low point in my life. I didn’t feel attractive, I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life (we were 17 years old), I couldn’t imagine being by myself, and most of all I didn’t have a clue how I was going to move out of my childhood home and support myself. I had so much fear inside that I felt I couldn’t do much of anything. He brought a sense of excitement and he adored me. He gave me gifts of jewelry, flowers and most of all told me how much he was attracted to me and how he dreamed about me. It was all I needed at the time.
As with all abuse, it starts out very subtle. Back in the late 70’s there wasn’t a lot of information about relationship abuse. I just thought, couples have issues, we’re just going through some bumpy times. Besides, love conquers all!
I don’t remember the first time he hit me, or choked me. I do remember telling him to never do it again. But that didn’t stop it. Some people have asked if it only happened when we were drinking. I don’t believe it ever happened when there was alcohol involved.
Oh, and by the way, this wasn’t a daily or even weekly thing. It happened so sparsely that I wasn’t even aware of how much of a web of control I was in. One of the most interesting things, I think, is that no one knew. NO ONE. I didn’t share any of this with my family, friends or co-workers. On some level I was ashamed. How could I get myself into a situation like this?
Also, I didn’t KNOW I was being abused. I wasn’t what society said an abused woman looked like. I never went to the emergency room, I never called the cops, I never had major bruises all over my body (just one here and there). I wasn’t “one of them” in my mind. My psyche wouldn’t allow me to think that way.
It was the winter of 1990 that I started to think about leaving him. I knew that I needed to have a plan because he relied on me for everything. I worked full time, took care of paying bills, the house, the children, and his emotional and physical support. One big thing was holding me back. I stood in front of God and said that I would stay married to this man until death do us part.
Believe it or not, I thought about killing him. I was becoming that desperate. It wasn’t a serious thought, but it was a thought that went through my mind. I also thought about committing suicide, but then I didn’t want to leave my children. I also told myself that I couldn’t get divorced because in my family of five, two had already gotten divorced and I couldn’t be the third. I share these thoughts because that was my mentality at the time. I look at this now and think, how absurd!
So, I started the process. I went to the minister at my church and talked with him. Sharing just enough information. He stated, “I don’t encourage divorce but I also don’t believe in living in hell”. When he said that, I thought, if this isn’t hell I don’t know what is. I also went to the cemetery to “talk” to my paternal grandmother. I needed to get her blessing. The message I got was to take care of myself and that I would still be loved. That was such a reassurance.
Fast forward to the night of my 30th birthday. I was still living in the house with my husband. We were still sleeping in the same bed. We were in the process of selling the house and he knew we were going to get divorced. He was in denial though. Somewhere in his thinking, he really didn’t think it was going to happen.
The night before we had had an argument and he hit me in the shoulder and legs. While holding our daughter, he stated he should just cold cock me. Things calmed down and for the first time in our entire marriage, we slept apart in the same house. I slept on the couch.
The morning of my 30th birthday, he asked me to just forget what happened the night before. I thought to myself, no way, never. I went to work at the counseling office and told my supervisor what had happened. We discussed options to keep me and the children safe. I wasn’t sure what he may or may not do.
That evening, while in the kitchen, the children eating cake and “celebrating” my birthday, he asked me whether I told anyone what had happened the night before. I was honest with him (normally I would have lied, I’d become very proficient at lying) and told him yes. The conversation continued and at one point, what I heard him say was, when dogs or horses misbehave you need to beat them and you are no different. It was then I knew I HAD to get out.
I had the kids get their coats and told them we were going to go visit a friend for a little bit. I was being very careful not to set him off. My son kept asking, where are we going, what are we doing? I just kept trying to keep things light.
I dropped my children off at a friends and went to my parents’ house. My mother was home and I began to tell her what was going on. Neither of my parents knew of what I’d been dealing with. When my Dad arrived and heard what had been happening, he said we could stay there and went to get the suitcases.
We went back to the house to get clothes and such. I was so scared, I wasn’t sure what my husband was capable of and I really didn’t want to find out. Thankfully he was gone with the dog to the park. We went in and started grabbing clothing out of the dressers and anything else I could quickly think we needed short term. We left before he returned.
When I was driving in the alley way on the way to the house, I was thinking that I would rather be alone for the rest of my life than to live this way. I also felt a liberation that I’d never felt before. I was breaking free. I also literally felt the hand of God on the middle of my back, pushing me, reassuring me, letting me know, I can do this and that I am not alone.
We each have a story. We each have our journey. We each have our lessons. What was my lesson in this part of my life? There were so many, but the one that sticks out the most was to learn to be my authentic self. To speak my truth, to love myself unconditionally so I can therefore share this truth and love to others.
I am blessed and so very thankful for this part of my life. I’m thankful my ex-husband played a part in my journey, for without him, I would not be a strong, resilient and joy-filled woman. I have been in the bowels of my hell and I have truly learned to appreciate the peace, joy, and love of this human life!