Choices. My life had come down to very distinct and inescapable choices. Everyday there were a million chattels hanging in the balance, and I resolved them almost mechanically. Just on my way to the coffee maker, on any given morning, my brain was processing schedules, clothes, business, kid’s lunches, dinner arrangements, and more. I took for granted how easy those choices had been for me, how miniscule they were in the expanse of my existence. Especially in that moment of impending clarity, where the choice I had to make would not only affect me, but my children as well.
I had always found the expression, happy wife, happy life, to be funny, a joke for the girls. But standing there, my small rolling suitcase at my feet, and baggage far too extensive for any carry on, strapped invisibly to my back, I found some truth in it. Except, maybe instead of happy wife, it read happy family, children. Maybe if my husband had understood that his abuse toward me would radiate outward and touch everything around me, he would have thought twice.
But probably not.
More than ten years of marriage. Oh, how we change. Just the thought of it made my stomach weak. Ten years of memories, most unhappy. Most striking at my very conscious each and every day. When you sit there taking ten years of emotional abuse, something happens to you. Something happens deep down to the very core of your soul. I am no longer the same carefree girl I once was. I’m not even the girl that made excuses for his behavior and sharp words anymore. I just took it. I literally reached a point of numbing where I knew it was futile to think things would change.
I expected his abuse, and though never physical, it had worn me down to the shell I had become. The woman who lacked that charisma and caring for anything except her children’s safety. The bags had grown under my eyes, my shirt was slightly wrinkled, and my passion for life began to revolve around things, and not the actual act of living anymore. I stayed out of the present, the present was dangerous. The present left doors open for him to place the blame of life on my head. To belittle me, berate me, and shrink me down to the smallest possible particle of a human being that he could. How did I not fall through the cracks?
Standing there at the front doors of the retreat, I felt just as unsure in my footing as I had when my kid’s school had introduced it to me. It was called, Face to Face, How to Have A Loving Conversation. At first, I thought it was some sort of couple’s retreat. If the idea of spending days cooped up with my husband trying to get him to magically shed his narcissism wasn’t scary then nothing was. But it wasn’t for us. It was for me. Just me. What a foreign concept. A two night, intensive self-discovery retreat. Okay, maybe that was scarier than being there with my husband. Nobody ever wanted to let the demons out, but mine had already jimmied the top off and were flooding all around me, tainting everything I loved.
When the doors opened, I got a whiff of something natural, peaceful even. Maybe patchouli, maybe just the lovely white haired woman with the kind smile staring at me. She reached her hand out, no words spoken. It was like she already knew who I was and what I needed to accomplish. And while, under normal circumstances, that would have given me an uneasy feeling, this was different. Without thought, I reached out and took her warm, weathered reach. Looking back, it was like the final part of the bridge had been forged. Now all I had to do was walk across it. Sometimes, though, movement forward could be the most painful part.
There I was, in the beautiful surroundings of the retreat with other struggling people, finding solace in myself for the first time. Calling it a retreat though, is misleading. I retreated for sure, but there was no luxurious calming of my soul. Instead, a storm began to brew inside me, one that had laid dormant for far too long. I spent sixty hours there. Sixty. I couldn’t remember the last time I did anything for sixty hours.
Decisions. Choices. There I was again, back to more choices. But in the silence and tranquility of the retreat, I found my decisiveness again. There was a tingle of motivation in my chest. A spark of self-pride that was beginning to churn deep within me. To remember that there are safe places in the world, that I had the right to always be in that safe place, was life affirming. It was like all the lightbulbs that had gone dim years before, began lighting up one at a time in rapid succession.
The emotional abuse had to stop, and it had to stop right then and there. No more. The line had been drawn. Marriage was supposed to be patient, loving, gentle but that had left ours before it even had a chance to blossom. Beyond being better than that, deserving better than that, I was at a breaking point mentally, emotionally, and physically. I was sick but my disease was invisible, untreatable by anyone other than myself. The clarity of separation was unquestionable, and I wondered how for all those years I couldn’t reach that conclusion.
What’s funny about it is, people think that when you reach that clarity, everything falls into place. The pain is gone. In reality, that’s when the fear, anxiety, and apprehension really begin to set in. I was being forced to face the reality of being a single mom, alone, responsible for their tiny fingers and toes all by myself. To begin to feel comfortable in the title of divorced single parent. I won’t lie, it was utterly terrifying. How would I support us? Did I have enough money to be financially responsible without his help?
Could I feel secure in my ability to take care of them one hundred percent on my own? My faith in the man had diminished to nothing. It wouldn’t have been surprising if he had run off, moved countries, disappeared into the deep recesses of the jungles, just to skirt his responsibilities. I had to believe that those were real possibilities. And I had to be certain I could raise those children on my own. They deserved more than scraping by and tired eyes.
I sat there with those thoughts for many hours, playing and replaying the decade of hate and fear that I had lived in. My mind shifted and moved, planning, re-planning, calming, shifting again, and creating a new life from scratch. And when it was all said and done, I knew I could do it, I was strong, determined, and if I didn’t, my children would never see me happy and striving. I couldn’t allow that to be their vision of the future. Part of being a healthy adult is knowing healthy relationships, healthy boundaries and up to that moment, I had not shown them that.
So, I knew I could do it. I knew it was possible, but there was another nagging thought poking me in the gut. A more selfish one, but I was allowed to be a little selfish from time to time. I hated to even think about it, but the ugliness of divorce and dating after a failed marriage was a real thing, or was about to be in my life. I was heading into my late forties. A single, divorced, middle aged woman in Los Angeles had about the same chance of hitting the lottery as she did finding a good man, a partner in life.
LA wasn’t known for their wide-array of good men. It was hard enough to find the one I had my children with, and look how that turned out. Was I kidding myself? Did I really think that was an option? But…did it really matter? The one I had wasn’t working and never would. I would die trying to fix it. Alone was better than a lifetime with him, I knew that. I just had to remember that I was more than the man at my side.