“Forgive yourself for not knowing better at the time. Forgive yourself for giving away your power. Forgive yourself for past behaviors. Forgive yourself for the survival patterns and traits you picked up while enduring trauma. Forgive yourself for being who you needed to be.” ~Audrey Kitching
I have always been an extremely glass-half-full kind of person. I always see the best in everyone, and not only the best, but also the unlimited beauty and potential. And my god, it is glorious!!
I met and fell in love with a charming man. I was on a trip to Alaska to visit a lifelong friend, and met Mr. Wonderful at a gathering. He was attentive, charismatic, and made me feel like a queen. I was hooked. We were married four months later, and five months after that I had my second daughter.
I didn’t see the red flags. Looking back, I ask myself how I could have been so naïve, so trusting, so blind. Slowly but surely, though, my world changed.
First, it was little things, like coming out to check on me at night when I was breast pumping milk, to see what “I was up to,” then there was the name calling and shaming if I wanted to dress up and go out with friends to a dinner. I wondered if other wives got called sluts too because they would wear a pretty shirt.
There came a day when it became difficult to see the beauty in myself, and in him. Everything changed that day. And it never was able to return back to how it was before. The person that had vowed to love me, to cherish me, to protect me, and be there for me, cut me to the core with words that will never be undone.
“Nobody else will ever want you,” he sneered, his eyes filled with scorn and disgust. “A mother with kids from two different dads,” he chuckled to himself. “You are a slut, a whore, a sperm depository.”
I curled up on the floor, in the fetal position, feeling as though he had stabbed me with a knife in the gut. I was sobbing, but I don’t remember hearing the sound.
“Why are you saying this?” I gasped.
“I read your journal,” he yelled, referring to an entry about my past lovers, as if that justified his cruelty.
Stress does strange things to a person. I had recently broken out in painful boils on the left side of my torso, and under my arms. They were excruciating. It hurt to lower my arm all the way down.
“You are a fat, lazy, boil-infested bitch.”
I remember at that moment shutting down. Going inward. A part of me disconnected in order to stay alive.
Days turned into weeks. I felt myself dying inside a little more every day. I became withdrawn, and as time went out it took more and more energy to smile and pretend life was normal.
Many friends didn’t understand. I remember them having shocked looks. “But I thought you were happily married?” one said, seemingly unable to comprehend the nightmare that had become my life.
I gave up trying talk about it, to explain. I felt it was my fault. Somehow I had attracted this, and perhaps somehow I could make him happy if I just did the right things and earned enough “Brownie points”—if, for example, I stayed home from social events and remained “on duty” with our baby almost 24/7. Eventually I learned there were never Brownie points. Nothing seemed to make him pleased.
One evening, he became angry with my older daughter, who was born blind in one eye, and called her a Cyclops. I remember wrapping one arm around my sobbing daughter while trying to bounce a baby on my hip. I was so exhausted from sleep deprivation and postpartum depression, it was all I could do to stay standing.
I had never felt so alone; so isolated, so hopeless.
I got the children settled to sleep and I made a choice that night that I was finished.
The next few days were a blur of his hateful and cruel remarks, as he knew I would not take him back; it was truly over. I knew I had to take a stand for myself, and if not me, for my children. They deserved better. I knew I did too, but I could not see it at that time.
It has been five years since we separated. I am resilient, and for that I am grateful.
I am still an optimist, and I still see the beauty in everyone. I take pause now, though, and I evaluate situations more carefully. My trust takes much more time to be earned now than it did eight years ago when I fell in love too fast, without knowing the real person behind the charming facade.
Many people, including my parents, were disappointed in my failed marriage. Many sent prayers that it would be healed. For a long while, I felt like a failure.
I have come to realize there is no shame in ‘failing’ in a marriage, especially if that marriage is toxic and harmful to your soul. I appreciate those thoughts and well-intended prayers, but at the end of the day, an abusive person who is not willing to self-reflect is not likely to change. The best thing to do at that point is to extricate yourself while you have the strength to do so.
Recovering from trauma takes time. It has taken a lot of courage to look at my vulnerabilities and why I attracted such a relationship in the first place. This doesn’t mean I blamed myself. I just recognized that I had a strong need to feel loved and accepted, even if I was in an unhealthy situation, because I never felt loved and accepted as a child.
It’s taken half a lifetime, but I’ve finally leaned that everything I need is inside myself. I am complete on my own.
Still, I have to work almost daily at forgiving, acting with grace, and ensuring that I am not compromising my needs or my right to be treated with dignity and respect in order to make him happy. I am still learning to stand my ground and expect respectful treatment, when it comes to co-parenting.
I will forever be grateful to the supportive network of family, friends, and a counselor who saw me through that incredibly rough time. A broken heart, shattered self-esteem, and deep postpartum depression did not disappear overnight.
With the bravery it takes to self-reflect and learn from what appears to be a very unfortunate circumstance, comes unparalleled growth. The self-forgiveness opens up opportunities for deeper self-love and self-compassion, and a much deeper understanding of my own humanness and how my past shaped me.
But with time, self-love, self-forgiveness, and self-acceptance, I am a stronger and more empowered person today in spite of that experience. I am a phoenix, transformed by the fire. I will continue to see the beauty and unlimited potential in people, and I still choose to see the glass as half full. I do daily forgiveness work for myself and choose to move forward with love and grace, honoring my journey and my experience for what I have learned.