sitting hunched in defeat...
The image on the TV screen
grabbed me with a jolt.
I knew her...
this woman who was a stranger to me;
the light gone from her downcast eyes,
her skin stretched tight over her shattered spirit,
her fingers clenched,
holding her core of pain in an iron grip -
afraid to let go,
afraid to look back,
afraid to look ahead;
a shell of the woman she had been -
unaware that all she could be
was waiting for her inside.
Have you ever felt totally beaten by the circumstances of your life? Have you felt as I did, that there was no way out, nowhere to go, and no one to help? Have you felt completely alone, shadowed by the cloud of blackness that hovered over your life? If so, you know the paper-thin public veneer and brittle smile you don to try to cover the aching wound within you. You know how it feels to go through the motions of living in such pain that you feel numbed by it. You hold that core of pain within you as tightly as you can. You can't let go because you're afraid that if you do you might come completely undone and the tears might never stop.
I share my story and what I learned from it with the hope that my experience and what I learned through some of the darkest moments of my life may help make a difference in your life or the life of someone you know. I pray that as you read, my words will resonate within you and help you discover the inner strength and power that is within you so that you can begin to move forward and make positive changes in your life. You deserve to live in peace and to be happy. We all do.
Looking back, I can still remember the pain that sawed its serrated edge through me... and stayed to thrust its searing point into me again and again... when I realized that my husband was cheating on me. He denied it over and over, but I knew. I knew when the trust between us had been violated, no matter how many times he told me that I was imagining things. I could feel the change in him and between us. I knew.
He finally admitted his affair. Being the classic co-dependent, I decided I would fix it. Hadn't my marriage vows included the words, "for better or worse"? This had to be classified as "worse." I would just love him more, be a better wife, and make things better. My plan backfired. I imagined that my solitary efforts could mend the torn fabric of our marriage. Wrong. The harder I tried, the more I became a target for his guilt. What began as infidelity ignited into verbal and emotional abuse by the man whom I had believed cherished me and whom I had even proclaimed would never cheat on me. Wrong on that count, too. Soon, I could do nothing right. My very existence was wrong and cause for attack.
The shock of realizing that I had become the enemy sent me reeling. Just months before I had the first inklings of his betrayal, I had declared to friends, "I am so blessed. I have a loving husband, beautiful children, wonderful friends - I have the perfect life." In fact, I even had the audacity to map out my perfect life to the time when our children would graduate, and it would be the two of us again. I had planned our "perfect life" right out to retirement. All I had to was go along for the ride. What a fool I was.
Within a matter of weeks, my life started to unravel. The perfect life that I had seen stretched out before me began to fray. Once it started to come undone, the unraveling and ripping increased in momentum and took on a life of its own. I was powerless to mend anything. The harder I tried, the more quickly things seemed to tear apart. On occasion, it still amazes me how quickly my so-called perfect life fell apart and lay in tattered shreds around me. How perfect had it really been? Had we ever been the perfect couple that others saw? Had this man ever truly loved me? Had it all been a lie?
I'm not sure of the exact moment when I realized that I had to stop trying to fix things and that I had to get out. Maybe it was when I realized that no matter how careful I was about trying to communicate with him, my words would be twisted back on me, and my genuine attempts to work things through would become the grounds for yet another attack. Maybe it was when I would wake with a jolt in the middle of the night to find his face almost pressed against mine, staring me awake, willing me out of my only escape so that he could draw me into another confrontation. Perhaps it was when I realized that I was living in fear in my own house.
Maybe it was the desperate drive when I left the house to escape his incessant emotional battering, and I drove blinded by useless tears, wanting to crash and find release through death. Through the blackness of those moments, an image emerged of my beloved children. I realized that leaving this life might end my pain, but I would leave my children behind in the hands of a man I had once trusted with my life, and who now seemed more monster than man. I could not leave them with him. I believed he would destroy them, as he was trying to destroy me.
Probably, it was all of these events and realizations... and more. I knew I had to get out. What I didn't know was when.
From the moment I realized that I had to get out for the sake of my kids, an amazing thing happened. A slender strand of strength emerged and wavered within me. No matter how beaten down and hopeless I felt, I had to get out for my kids. Each step I took to stand on my own two feet and begin the process of getting away gave me a little more strength. My first step seems inconsequential, but it was huge. I confided in a friend. She couldn't fix anything, but I broke the silence and lessened the power of his grip on me. Instead of feeling completely alone, I knew someone was there for me, and that I had someone to talk to. In deciding to tell someone, I gained a little bit of personal power, a little more strength.
I redid my resumé and started to apply for jobs in other communities. There were no certainties, but I was beginning to take steps forward... on my own. I was in a temporary position, and my job would end in a few short months, but for the time being, I was earning a pay cheque. I began to put money in a separate account. As it grew, so did I. It was my "getting away" money. Knowing it was there and watching it grow strengthened me.
I knew we had to leave, but I still didn't know when. I watched the bright lights dim within my children. As the anger and violence escalated in our home, they withdrew into themselves more and more. I watched my children learn to walk as if on cut glass. We all did. Who knew what would trigger a fit of rage from their father? Would it be baking cookies for the kids? Would it be cleaning the house? Would it be asking him to come for supper? Would it be the fact that I was still breathing? The children stopped playing; they sat quietly and watched TV with the volume turned down so they wouldn't disturb their father. I listened to their teachers tell me how withdrawn they had become at school. I knew I had to get them out of that poisonous atmosphere. It was destroying them as it was me. Still, I struggled with the actual doing... until one weekend in early spring when the decision was taken out of my hands and made for me.
After experiencing a night of escalating rage and erratic behavior by my husband, I had kept my scheduled appointment with the counselor I had been seeing. When I finished relating the chaotic events of the previous evening, the counselor observed that I had not stopped shaking since I had come into her office. She asked me when enough was enough. When was I going to leave? All I could think was how could I take my children away from their father? She commented that he wasn't being a father at that point. She reminded me about the escalating violence and that I needed to leave while I still could. She asked me if I had a safe place to go with the children. Before I knew it, she had me calling my parents to see if we could stay there for a while, and she was talking to the kids to prepare them for what we had to do.
We couldn't leave while he was at home. He had sworn that he would never let me leave. However, he was away for the afternoon, so we had time to return home to pack the necessities and get out. Thank goodness my parents met us at the house to help. The only word that comes close to describing how I felt that afternoon is stunned. As I moved through the house to gather essentials for our escape, I would stop, completely overwhelmed. My mother, bless her heart, would redirect me to what I had to do. It was mid-afternoon in early May, but even the weather mourned our leaving. The black clouds rolled in, and rain poured for all the tears I could not shed. The wheels of leaving that I had set in motion took over for me that day until I could take the wheel. And I did... step by tiny step; hour by hour; day by day.
From the moment we got out, my children began to get better. They began to play again, to dare to make noise, to be kids. Their lives were still in upheaval, but they knew they were loved and safe. They didn't have to witness any more drama or violent rages. They didn't have to "be good" to try to prevent setting off any further violence. They could be children again. Their teachers witnessed the same positive changes I observed from the time we left.
Three weeks after we took refuge at my parents' home, my husband moved out of our house and we were able to move back into our own home. I was in survival mode - still shell-shocked but focused on my kids. I went on for them. Each day, I tried to provide the routine they had known and the security they needed. I loved and nurtured them with every fibre of my being. I got up in the morning for them; I went through the motions of each day for them; at night, I went to bed thinking of them. I kept working; I focused entirely on my job and my children. There were still more questions in my life than answers. My job ended in a few short weeks. At that time, I would have to face unemployment with two young children to provide for. I kept scouring the papers and sending out applications. I kept saving as much as possible. More than anything, I kept praying - praying for the strength to be the mother my children needed, praying for a job that would offer us a new start somewhere else. I didn't know how it would all work out; I just knew it had to.
In the meantime, we were safe in the home that had been such a nightmare. With my husband gone from the house, it became our sanctuary. It was hard to go out in the community, even to go to the park, to get the mail, or to shop for groceries. To go out meant facing people. We lived in a small community, and everyone knew. I forced myself to go out and do the things we had always done - for my children. As I sensed hesitancy in my children about going out into the community, I gave them the reassurance they needed. After all, they had done nothing wrong; I told them to hold their heads high and to stand proud. I was able to find the courage to go out and do for them what I couldn't do for myself. We went out; we played; we went on. Each day, I tried to ease the hurt my children were experiencing. I desperately hoped that I could love them better; that I could provide the band-aid that would heal their hurts. Another lesson was to be learned from that - another lesson that would take time for me to finally get.
All of my applications resulted in three interviews, and one offer, which was all I needed. That offer was an answer to my prayers... and my lifeline. Within two months of my initial flight for safety, I was packing to move to another community to begin a new job. One door had closed; another one opened for us. Did this open door give me hope for the future and reason to dream? Not yet. I still couldn't look to the future. All I could handle was one moment at a time, one hour, one day. I could not look further or imagine anything beyond surviving the present moment. Even after we settled into our new place, my children started in a new school, and I began my new job, I continued in survival mode. My kids and my work were my life.
Yet, even in those gray days of trying to make it through each day without falling apart, I would experience glimmers of a totally new feeling. Through the darkness that cloaked my life, I began to feel delicious bubbles of freedom well up in me when I left work and knew that my kids and I could do anything we wanted. We could go home and be safe. We were free.
As time went on, I began to live life for me. I started to find fulfillment in my work... for me. At first, all I could do was to try to cope with my new responsibilities. As time went on, I realized that I was beginning to take pride in mastering the new demands of my position. I began to incorporate my own initiatives and to put my own "stamp" on my work. I started to feel good about the work that I was doing.
When I first left my husband, people would reassure me that life would get better and I would feel better. I would ask, "When?" Their response was always, "It takes time." I didn't want to hear that. I had hurt, and life had been so hard, for so long. It was going to take MORE time?? As I look back now, that is exactly what it took - time... and tiny steps forward. There wasn't one moment or one day that I can point to and say, "THAT was when I began to feel better." It was a process. What is important to share with you is that it did happen. I began to feel better and to experience positive emotions... just as many wiser people had promised.
I started to laugh and even to feel joy. How good it felt to laugh again! I started to believe that I was strong enough to make it on my own. Just as I began to take pride in my work, I began to take pride in caring for and supporting my kids. As I began to feel and believe, I realized that the darkest days of my life had been a blessing in disguise. I knew from the core of my being that I was growing and becoming stronger because of what I had faced. I was beginning to feel the freedom and confidence to be the person I wanted to be. I thanked God for the lesson I was learning. I had been so self-righteous as I had proclaimed my perfect life. How ignorant I had been! I had been ready to stagnate in my "perfect little nest" for the rest of my life. That wasn't living, and it certainly wasn't the reason for my life.
As I realized this, I began to question my life's purpose, and although I didn't find answers immediately, the important realization was that I was on a journey and that I had to grow and move forward toward the person I was meant to become. I didn't "get" that realization on my own. Instead, life dumped me out of my perfect little life onto my head so I was forced to challenge myself - to stretch and move toward reaching my potential.
There were many more lessons to come, but this realization was an incredible turning point in my life. I am here on this earth to learn and to grow. Things went terribly wrong in my life, but there was learning in that for me. I began to realize that when life put stumbling blocks in my way, I had to look for what I needed to learn. There is a reason why things happen as they do. There is a lesson to be learned, and when I get that lesson, I can move onward to encounter yet more lessons. As I learn, I grow as a person. I thank God for the learning experience that resulted because of my husband's infidelity. I am a much better person because of it.
In so many ways, I was broken by the break-up of my marriage and the verbal and emotional abuse I experienced. I was ready to give up and find the release I thought death would offer, but I went on for the sake of my kids. Even though I didn't go on for myself in the beginning, I was the winner in the end. Instead of stagnating in a predetermined life story, I learned that life is my journey toward becoming all that I can be. I realized that I want to continue to stretch and challenge myself - to continue to grow and evolve. I realized that life offers me unlimited opportunities and potential. If I can realize this, you can too. Broken spirits mend and heal. It takes time, and I am still healing, still encountering and struggling with baggage from my past. However, what I do know is the struggle is worth it because each time that I can let go of past hurts, I move forward and continue the healing that must occur before I can be truly whole.
Know that you have immeasurable strength within you - strength you may not even know that you have - but it is there... ready for you to take one step toward making a change in your life. One tiny step is followed by another tiny step, but two steps forward, no matter how small, are still two steps forward, and they result in two strands of emerging strength and power. By themselves, each step forward doesn't seem all that significant, but together, they begin to build a core of personal power within you. One step will take you to the next step. You don't need to do it all at once. Begin with one small step. When you begin to feel the first inklings of your own power, you are on your way.
Nothing can destroy the power within you to create change for YOU. You deserve a life of happiness and joy. You deserve a life free from fear and abuse. You ARE worthy. Let no person take away your worth and your joy in being. Begin now to take ownership for your life's journey. It is your birthright.
Who am I now?
I am a woman who can
face the mirror and
look deep into my own eyes.
I am a woman who can
see the beauty within me
and smile at the love in my eyes.
I am a woman who can
hold her head high
and walk forward with pride.
I am a woman who knows
that I can be everything
I want to be.
I am a woman who can.