Hiding the Mess

 

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The funny thing about having kids with a man you have grown to dislike is you start making all kinds of excuses for him. You plaster on the smile, you take on one more errand, one more responsibility, eat another dinner alone because he can’t be bothered to adjust his work schedule – and you stuff the resentment down deep so no one will ever know just how appalled, crushed and scared you are. And you hope you’re faking it well enough so no one can see the nasty, messy inside of your badly crafted marriage.

I feel sad for myself when I think back to those years. Who ever deserves to be treated like I was? True, I was not physically beaten; I did not sport bruises that had to be covered up with makeup or long sleeves. And that fact alone lulled me into inertia for many years. Also, my ex couldn’t have been more pleasant to the people on the outside of our marriage – something I since learned is common among abusers. He was the guy who made the rounds at parties, trying to meet all the new people and chat them up. He instantly snapped on his “well, hello there!” facade for my parents, even though he just got done berating me privately for something not 5 minutes earlier. He was a highly intelligent man who loved to talk, and parties and dinners out with friends were the perfect opportunity for him to tell people how much he knew about even the most obscure of topics. He liked to wow with his intelligence and I have to admit, he wowed me too, in the early days. His brains were what I was most attracted to when we first met. I could ask him anything about any topic, and he knew the answer or at least knew enough about it to have a conversation. I was definitely NOT his intellectual equal but I liked that the man I was with was smarter than me. I felt protected by that intelligence somehow.  And if there is any one thing I miss about him, it’s how smart he was. If only that intelligence could have helped him be a nicer person.

When the kids – we had two together – were small, his explosive anger changed its aim from me to them.  He could not be bothered with the minutiae that came with babies. He never changed a diaper, never got up in the night to quiet them, never took them to doctor appointments.  He could not stand to hear them cry in the car or in a restaurant and would become agitated and angry to the point that he would want to either turn the car around or pull up the stakes at whatever dining establishment we had chosen and make a hasty exit. He took to going out alone in those years, leaving me with the children on weekend evenings or afternoons while he engaged in his favorite hobby – seeing movies alone. When I would ask him to please stay home, he would say “it’s Friday night – I’m not going to stare at the four walls.” So I stopped pushing for any family time and learned that being alone with the kids was much better than a ranting husband hanging around. I came to enjoy the peace and quiet of just the three of us.

My long-held dream of being a stay-at-home-mom was to remain only a dream, thanks to his getting fired from two jobs during our marriage. And also due to his obsession with money that had him convinced we were always one paycheck away from living under the highway overpass. Since I had the steady government job, I got three months off for each child, then back to work I went, a sleep-deprived and deeply depressed mom who had the sole responsibility of dropping off and picking up the children from my mother-in-law’s house. This added 30 minutes onto an already 40 minute commute.

Looking back on those years, I truly wonder how I did it. What kept me going? I must have been numb … and so focused on taking care of my kids, I did what I had to do. He always told me what a great job I had, how we needed my job for the health benefits and how quitting was simply not an option.

So, like a pack mule who adjusts itself to bear the heavy load,  I took on the weight of keeping a house and a family going. I plodded forward with my blinders securely fastened on … until, inevitably enough, things started to crack.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Healing After the Wreck

 

peace of mind header copyIt’s been a while since I sat down to this blog.

I started listening to a book on tape last week that inspired me to pick up the virtual pen today. The book is by Elizabeth Gilbert, who about 10 years ago, wrote something that really resonated with me and millions of others around the world – a book called Eat, Pray, Love. The audio book I’m now listening to is read by the author herself, so it’s been very cool to hear her say her own words. It somehow makes them more believable and adds a sense of depth and emotion to the whole experience.

Anyway, in Gilbert’s book Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear, she talks about how we are all creative souls and we all have barriers and fears that get in the way of our creativity. She talks about the many rejections she got before ever getting published and how she never gave up on her craft – her writing –  because deep down, she truly loved it. That got me thinking about what I have long believed is one of my gifts – writing. And how I have completely abandoned it because it seems like work and doesn’t bring me much joy. After listening to Elizabeth talk about how she approaches fear, criticism and self-doubt, I am truly inspired. Indeed, I gave up and walked away from the one outlet that can probably save my sanity – and that for me is writing. She mentioned a quote that really hit me – it’s by the writer Joan Didion – “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.”  Wow – so true!! And it made me wish that I had allowed myself to chronicle the most difficult time in my life – the years leading up to, during and following my divorce. I wish I had kept a journal, mainly because I have a horrible memory. I forget so easily  – I forget that I used to cry myself to sleep after railing at God about why I had to suffer so much with the man I chose. I forget I used to feel the tormenting drum beat in my head that urged me to take a stand and change my situation. I try and bury the bad and replace it with some kind of better memory, even if it’s completely a bogus interpretation. It’s a coping mechanism, I guess.  I can still talk myself into believing that things were actually not that bad in my marriage when in fact, they were pretty horrible for a long time. Anyway, thank God for friends to remind me of how it was. And the therapist I was seeing at the time!

Healing Amid the Chaos

I think it’s pretty fair to say I am healing. I am not going to go as far as saying I have healed. But I have gone about the very tough business of forgiving myself. It took a looooong time and the glacial process was not helped by my very righteous teenage daughter, who refuses to accept the man I’m dating, tells me she hates him, always will and she will never come to my house if I ever wind up with him. Yeah, not really that helpful to my healing process. But that’s another story for another time.

As the one who initiated the divorce, I was the easy target – the bad guy, the home-wrecker, the selfish one, the bad mother, the cheater, the liar, the one who brought shame to my parents, the pariah, the mean woman, the loser, the unloveable one. And these are the things I called myself – not one person ever said that stuff to me. I was judge, jury and jailer of my own psyche. I hated myself. I hated all the havoc I had wreaked. I hated setting something in motion that forced so many people to react and jostle themselves awkwardly around to accommodate an explosion I alone had set off.

I told a friend earlier today that those years felt like I had been in a horrible, tangled mess of a car wreck, me the driver and my kids the passengers. I felt us all hurtling towards the unknown at top speed, waiting for the impact and then upon feeling it, just holding my breath and hoping the airbags would deploy and we would all be able to walk away without too much damage.

Yes, we all suffered some scarring. No one walks away totally unscathed from a divorce (or a car wreck!). But did I do my best every damn day? You bet I did. Did I wake up in spite of a few hours sleep and get my kids to school, get myself to work and keep my newly acquired, much smaller house in order. You are goddam right I did! And I gave as much love to my kids as my bruised heart could hold. And I let them know I was there for them unfailingly.

So where are we now? Well, today we are living out our new normal and if I do say so, I think we are kicking ass. : ) I no longer cry myself to sleep. Sure, my life is stressful, messy, complicated and overwhelming at times. But guess what – it’s MINE and it’s true to me.  My daughter is thriving, as she makes her way through her high school years with hard work, determination, fearlessness, straight As and – lest we forget – plenty of moxie.

My son is also doing well, albeit going though his high school experience with a totally different approach  personalities are night-and-day different. But it’s okay – he’s doing his thing. He has a girlfriend, he has close friends and though he doesn’t talk much, he seems happy.

So the journey continues. And I will try and stay in better touch because quite honestly, this writing thing is pretty cathartic!

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Marriage on the chessboard

As months turned into years, and the years flipped over each other like the turning of calendar pages, my marriage changed. It never got better but it did change. Time has a way of making sure of leaving its mark. I began to push for children about three years on, once I felt our power struggles and turf wars had subsided enough to withstand the sex necessary to try and get pregnant. It sounds so insane as I write this but I really did have trouble having sex with my husband for the first couple of years because of the verbal abuse and all of our fighting. As if I needed more to be depressed about, I felt so sad back then that one of the main reasons for getting married might never happen because of how screwed up we were.

But eventually, we got to some semblance of a “normal” relationship and I got him to agree to try to get pregnant. This was no small feat. Since he was an analytical lawyer, everything from a new clock on the wall to trying to have a baby had to be tried in his court and ruled upon. This often took a lot of time as things frequently got hung up in the hypercritical and controlling bureaucracy of his mind.

As with everything in our marriage, I took on all of the details of how to go about this pregnancy process; all he had to do was show up. Miraculously, I got pregnant within a few months and that changed everything for me in the way I looked at my marriage. I suddenly felt committed in a new way. We were becoming a family. I needed him because my baby needed a father and I prayed and hoped he would soften, change and become the man I desperately wanted him to be.

When our daughter was born, I was so elated and felt so fulfilled. She was healthy and strong.  But it’s weird the things you remember about major events. I remember being in the operating room, where I had just undergone a harrowing forceps-aided delivery of our little girl. She was laying on my chest, all bundled up like an Indian papoose, and my husband said to me “Are you happy now? This is what you wanted.” His words stung me; I wasn’t expecting such comments after everything I had just been through. It felt as if he was chiding me, almost mocking me; like having this baby was evidence to him that I had gotten my way this time. As if in our complicated chess game of a marriage, I had bested him on this one move.

On the way home from the hospital, another bad memory sticks with me even today. He exploded at me for trying to turn down the radio, as the baby slept in the back seat. And I again did what my few years of marriage had taught me to do – I swallowed the anger and let the abuse roll off of me. Because if I let it go, it couldn’t stay with me and it was almost like it never happened. No one would ever know how bad things were between us, I vowed to myself. Because if no one knew, then it really wasn’t that bad. And if I never uttered words to another human being about the abuse, it was much easier to forget. Or so I thought.

But as you can see, I never forgot.

A foundation in the sand

I guess it’s a blessing that dreams are often better than reality because people would probably never take half the chances they do in life. It’s the dreams that beckon us down uncertain paths and give us courage to take risks. As strange as this sounds, getting a divorce from my husband was something I dreamed about probably as long as I had dreamed as a single girl about getting married.

Because, you see, I was in love with the idea of marriage. I so wanted to have a good husband. I so wanted to be a good wife. I so wanted us to have a happy life together, filled with the chaos of kids and the security of a solid, loving relationship. I truly wanted to believe that we would work things out. That things would not be nearly as bad as I thought. That everything would all work out because, in truth, life had shown me up to that point that it usually does work out just fine!  I always made sure it did.  Sure, I knew he wasn’t the perfect guy for me. He wasn’t my soulmate. But I was willing to give it my all, love him and be the best partner I could be. I wanted this to work. I didn’t go in thinking “well, let’s try this for a while”.

What I never planned on was the verbal abuse, the horrible insults hurled at me. The hair-trigger temper that exploded out of nowhere. How I was treated like the enemy. How I was called “stupid” so many times, I lost count. No one in my life had ever treated me so badly. No one.  The first year of our marriage was one of the lowest points in my life. I had left my job in another town to move to his and get married so I not only was unemployed, but I had no friends! A., meanwhile, refused to let go of his bachelor lifestyle and would stay out after work and hang with his buddies, leaving jobless me to spend almost entire days completely alone. So much for the honeymoon period! Any complaints I made about his activities were met with explosive rage at me for trying to “control” him. As I quickly learned, A. was not a man who would be told what to do. EVER. He wanted the power position in the relationship and would not be pushed around by some woman, even if I was his wife. But unfortunately for him and for us, I came from a household where the woman (my mom) was strong. I was a fighter. And I pushed back.

What resulted was very often an armageddon so loud that our neighbors started avoiding us. Fights were constant. Not just small little disagreements about where a new picture frame should hang. But seismic wars that we both fought with the passion of defending our families.

And so the foundation had been laid. But instead of being built on rock, it was built on sand. It was an awful way to start a marriage.

The sirens

It’s been a year and almost three months since I entered back into the single world, after a nearly 18-year run as an unhappily married woman who entered the state of matrimony for all the wrong reasons. I was in my early 30s when I walked down the aisle to the deafening sound of my biological clock ticking and I looked ahead to see a man waiting for me who I knew was all wrong. I knew it in my gut. I knew it that day and I knew it well before that – even during the seemingly happy months of preparations, and the time when you are supposed to be flush with new love and possibilities. The bridal showers, the wedding planning, finding my dress, planning the honeymoon – through all that, there was a nagging in my gut. Like a siren going off in the distance, you can never quite ignore that unsettling feeling it gives you. But if you try hard enough, with enough distractions, you can block it out.

And that’s what I did. I ignored my gut feeling and I ignored all the warning signs. My desire to be married and have children was the music I blared so I couldn’t hear the warning sirens anymore.  I talked myself into thinking the music would make it all better and things weren’t really as bad as the sirens warned. Guess what? They weren’t that bad – they were actually worse.

Ah, the signs. There were so many signs. But what good are they when you are blind? Or when you refuse to read them? First there was the fighting. Fights that got so bad that once while we were dating, I left him sitting at a restaurant table all by himself, as I stalked off from his verbal abuse and went home without him. These fights and abuse would continue and worsen into our marriage and I eventually got to the point – pretty early on – where I would cry myself to sleep, actually wishing him dead. I have never wished anyone close to me dead. But that is how miserable I was.

I’m not asking for sympathy. I went into the marriage knowing full well it was not going to be great but that it was, sadly, better than nothing.  As I had done so many times before in my adult life, I sold myself short.  My self worth was pretty low and I didn’t have enough self-esteem to think I could do better. “Better grab it now or you will wind up a childless, old woman,” my inner voices said.

And so I suffered at the hands of an arrogant, selfish, thoughtless and insensitive man. There were too many tears to count. Too many ugly fights, slammed doors, nasty insults, sneering comments and lack of respect. Until I slowly started on a path to a better life. There were many false steps, lots of lost courage, indecision and grief. But this is my story of finding my way back and getting closer to my true self and the happiness that I – like everyone in this life – deserves.