Trigger Survivor

School began last week with a 2-day introductory class. We didn’t get credit for that class…we were required to attend to prepare us for what was to come.

Y’all. I was NOT prepared for what was heading my way. And I certainly didn’t anticipate my physical reaction to it. You know that feeling that begins as a burning in your stomach that moves up as a heavy thickness inside your chest, and then fills your eyes with tears? That. Is exactly what happened. My brain was telling me that I was sitting in the middle of 300 people, and if I cried, someone was definitely going to see me. Heaven knows I didn’t want anyone to see the reaction I was having. Surely I had more self-control than this?! It used to be that I could hide every single emotion. What has happened to me? (And if I am genuinely honest…why am I not better than this?)

It got worse. The instructor asked us to turn to the person sitting next to us and do partner work. Seriously, y’ all…I thought that I was going to have a full-blown panic attack.

But I didn’t. I stayed and ended up owning it.

I looked at this young, maybe 22-year-old girl, and said, “I want you to know that this topic is triggering me, and I am having a difficult time.” You know what? That pressure inside my chest, that burning in my stomach, and those tears in my eyes all went away. The panic disappeared, and I saw compassion and kindness radiating from this sweet girl who could have been one of my children. I was then able to share a piece of my story and how it related to the discussion topic.

I have now had 4 days of classes. There have been triggers, and panic has threatened to consume me more than that once. I have now shared a fraction of my story 4 times. To me, it feels as if I am lying. All of these parts cannot possibly belong to one person, can they?! And that one person surely can’t be me?

After all, who on earth has facets of their story that can incorporate domestic abuse with infidelity with teenage children with LGBTQ with alcohol abuse with a church with a DACA recipient?!?!

I have yet to tell my complete story. Feeling as if I am an exaggerator is the most challenging part of this. It feels ridiculous and shameful that all of these things can combine in one person’s life. Should I not tell all of it so that it isn’t so outrageous sounding?

No, I believe that I should tell it. It is my truth. It is what has made me the woman I am today. I will not hide and allow shame to consume me.

In class this past week, I gathered enough courage to use the term survivor. Survivor: a person who continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship, or setbacks. That’s the word. That is the term I want to claim for myself. That is how I identify who I am and where I have been.

Going There…

So I’m going to go there…a place where I never once thought that I would go with this blog. Honestly, I am a bit concerned. My hope is to be a voice that helps people get unstuck from the dark places where shame and guilt thrive.

I hope that you are ready.

The news these days has me internally reeling. It seems as if every single week, there is a new development about someone (primarily men) in power abusing their influence to get sexual wants taken care of. This is a perverse fact of life that many Christians bury their heads in the sand about. We (and I include my “before” self in this group of Christians) don’t want to believe that these things occur.

  • Pastors don’t want to believe that the men they trust pervert the word of God and make exceptions for themselves (heck, sometimes it’s even the pastors).
  • Wives cannot grasp the magnitude of the betrayals within their marriages.
  • Friends don’t want to acknowledge that they don’t really know one other.
  • Wives don’t want to sacrifice lifestyles.
  • Pastors get caught up in the ridiculousness of what’s happening outside of their congregation instead of being available and helping those that long for their care.
  • Men in these powerful roles convince themselves that what they do is not really that bad.

We have to open our mouths, even though it is scary as hell!!!

I’ve mentioned before that my church family asked me to minimize my story. I’ve heard of pastors saying, “_____ wouldn’t do that. I know him.” From first-hand experience, I thought that I knew my ex-husband as well (after all, I met him when I was 13 years old), BUT I WAS WRONG.

However, there were some who knew about my ex-husband’s struggles. Back in the 80s, therapy wasn’t as accepted as it is now. It wasn’t even considered. The man that did awful things, whom I married, is also a victim of ignorance. My ex-husband went to church and was a “good” guy.

But his voice wasn’t heard. And, I believe, his unheard cries led him into a life of addiction and fear. His internal turmoil persisted until he became a person who did horrible, horrible things.

One might argue that he has a weakness of character. He probably does; I am not going to speak to that. Today, at this moment, I want to focus on what was missed, not the choices he made.

CHURCH, I AM TALKING TO YOU. We have to do better. We have to talk about the hard stuff. We have to listen well. We have to believe the women who step forward and share what’s going on behind their doors. Some of this stuff is impossible to make up. We have to become a safe place for those that acknowledge the wars within themselves and try to help them. We cannot minimize the words people share with us.

Maybe, I am the person who gets to be a weird combination of angry and compassionate enough to begin forcing conversations. Maybe, I get to be bold and tell the horrors of my life so that others can find hope. Maybe, I also get to be a hope for those stuck in the trenches of a secret battle, sending them the message that I am fighting to find a safe place for them to seek refuge and turn away from behaviors that harm others.

Or maybe, I am just naively hoping that I can make a difference. I don’t know. I do know that there are many, many casualties from my previous life…my kids, my kids’ friends, young people in the community, our families, me.

I do not want to be a person sitting in the shadows thinking that I am being honorable for not talking about my “stuff.” My kids are at risk. My ex-husband is out there living his life, denying that what he has done (and is possibly continuing to do) has hurt many people. There are women out there that are longing to know that they are not alone. Some of those women can’t make up their minds…are they imagining things or is the life they are living as awful as it feels? There are men out there who need more. More encouragement, more accountability, more safe places, less judgment, and definitely less anger.

This is a brutal war. Some of us want to “suck it up” and brush everything that isn’t nice under a rug…we want to pretend that all people are wonderful and that evil actions are rare. Others of us want to “shout from the rooftops” that the images many people portray aren’t as they seem…we long for accountability and integrity.

I don’t think of myself as a trouble-maker. I see myself as a relatively boring, go-about-my-business-and-ignore-everyone-else’s-opinion woman. But because my life recently revealed a disgusting, hidden soul, I feel an obligation to stand up and begin talking about the hard stuff.

Fellow Christian friends, please listen, hear, and ponder my words.

PRIDE Month and Me

So it’s PRIDE month and in places all over, people within the LGBTQ+ community are fighting to be seen. I want to begin with I see you. I hear you. You are valuable.

You might wonder what on earth Pride Month has to do with me.

This month I have been filled with internal contradictions. I love all of the people. I always have. It is simply who I am and how I live. Funny side story…many years ago, I was told that I loved too deeply and was too compassionate. So the fact that PRIDE month has me struggling disturbs me.

Unfortunately, I have realized that PRIDE month has triggered me back into BIG feelings that hurt my heart. For those of you who do not know, triggers are things that cause a person to flashback to their original trauma (think PTSD). For me, sometimes a word, image or a sound will trigger a physical or emotional response within me that causes significant grief. Immediately, my stomach sinks, a knot forms in my throat, my heart begins to race, and tears begin to pool in my eyes.

You see, last year, I found out that my husband had been having homosexual affairs for the majority of our marriage (23 out of 25 years). The moment I found out, my mind immediately began to process that information something like this: “Ok, so you’re gay or bisexual. You must’ve struggled with that before you married me, but because we are from the Deep South Bible Belt, you married me anyway. I am familiar with that thought pattern. Way back then people actually believed that being married and trying hard enough could possibly “fix” you. Now, many years later, it is much safer emotionally. You are free to go and live your truth. Nice, clean, and ‘Grace and Frankie’-like.(Yes, my brain really does think randomly like that.)

Only that is not my story. My story isn’t nice. My story is bad no matter how you identify.

PRIDE month brings it right in front of me.

But that isn’t the fault of the LGBTQ+ community.

The fact is Code Red had many boundary crossing affairs within our community. Those affairs caused irreparable damage to our children and friends. If I allow my brain to ponder the magnitude of my story, it is more than I can wrap my brain around.

LGBTQ+ or not, I greatly value fidelity.

The reality is my ex-husband is gay.

Seeing the storylines of men and women coming into their reality while betraying their families is excruciating for me. My story wasn’t a long-term love story that my ex-husband had outside of my marriage. My story was a blatant disregard and disrespect of the commitment of marriage. Although I am free of the cruelty of the man I married, when I see open sexuality, it reignites the grief and pain I felt early on.

The triggers have surprised me; they have hit hard and have been a shock to my system. As much as I hate how they have made me feel, I now know that there is another layer of my heart wound that needs attention. I pray that I won’t always be triggered. However, my wounds are deep and it might be a while before my total self is completely mended.

One day I will be whole again. 🙂

Parenting Through Trauma

When my home got turned upside down, my thoughts regarding my kids went something like this, “Please God, let me walk this out well for my children. Please don’t let me fail them now. Please, please, please help me model how to lean on You.”

And then BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! Literally every single week for months, there was a new discovery or a new event that caused significant trauma and grief. I honestly did not know how I was going to make it through all that occurred from last February until August. The blows were constantly coming. And they weren’t just directed at me. They were hitting my kids as well.

My children were exposed to more information than they should have ever even known existed.

In those moments of crisis, rather than try to cover up and do damage control, I decided that we were going to hit it head on and talk about it. I believe STRONGLY that when overwhelmed imaginations are left to come up with their own ideas, things get out of control really fast. And partial truths do nothing but breed distrust.

A pastor friend once told me that preparation is better than protection. It was already too late to protect my babies. It was time to have difficult conversations and to show them that we were going to be there for one another throughout this entire ordeal.

And that is exactly what we have done and continue to do.

There have been no lies and no evasive comments. If I cannot tell them something, I simply say that I cannot tell them what they want to know.

So what does parenting look like during this time? It looks like giving them room to express their emotions. (It took a little while, but everyone finally grasped that expressing emotions did not mean punching holes in walls or destroying our home.) It looks like allowing them to say bad words. It looks like giving them space to process what was happening. It looks like developing an artistic gift. It looks like hanging out in a bedroom until feeling ready to talk. It looks like working a lot. It looks like playing board games. It looks like hanging out on the sofa together. It looks like increasing the animal population inside of our house. It looks like a beautiful, lovable mess.

I don’t always like every aspect it but I have chosen not to interfere with it. I continue to stand beside them as a constant reminder that I am here. I want them to know that I am their mom and that they are safe with me. They can totally lose their sh** and it will all be okay.

I certainly don’t always walk it out graciously. I have hidden in the garage and cried. I have gone to an “anger management” place and taken a baseball bat to a room full of breakables (only to fall apart sobbing, causing the owner to come in and hold me until I was calm again…that was really awkward). I have disappeared and lain in bed for hours at a time. I have fed them boxed mac and cheese, ramen, and a whole lot of fast food. I have said and continue to say way too many bad words.

But we keep going. and going. and going. It might not be pretty, but it is forward…even on our lowest of days.

Parenting through trauma is not about doing it perfectly. It is about being present and letting them see that you know that what they are walking through is really hard and really painful. And that it is OK to have all of these feelings.

And to my beautiful children, no matter what, I love you and I am not going anywhere.

Trust Yourself

Trust yourself. Trust your body.

The body doesn’t lie.

I have attempted to write this next post what seems like a million times! The words always seem as if they are too many, too explicit, or simply too much for others to handle. So I am going to try and come at this topic from a different direction…we’ll see how it all pours out. This is actually where the rebuilding of Amy began.

Our body is a wonderful, remarkable creation that many of us completely ignore. We have feelings or what I call “knowings” that run deep in our souls; however, many times we are either too busy to connect with them or we don’t even realize that we need to connect with them. We simply accept them and move on. And that works well…for a time.

As the practice of mindfulness has become an active topic of discussion, more and more people are beginning to realize the need to acknowledge what feelings are flowing through our bodies and where they tend to linger. When we take the time to acknowledge them, we can then determine if we need to take action or if we need to simply allow the feelings to move out of our system. As we give ourselves permission to do this, those “knowings” aren’t able to find a place to get stuck and grow into something as unpleasant as unresolved anger or pain or possibly even physical disability.

In my case, my body has pinged seemingly without reason various times throughout my marriage. Because I could never determine the reason for those pings, I chose to ignore them…but my body did not. They were kept inside and caused me great anxiety and significant grief. I hate that I had no idea why those feelings were there. The first time I remember feeling them was way back in 1998. There was such a deep feeling of grief that I finally decided that it must be postpartum depression, although I didn’t have any trouble bonding with my babies and the symptoms didn’t match up. It hit only at times when things seemed to get quiet and still, like at naptime or while sitting in church. I considered it depression but it didn’t really feel like depression; it felt like deep, deep grief.

With the knowledge that I have now, I know that there was a reason for that grief. Throughout the years, time and time again, my physical body told me something was wrong; but because I couldn’t explain it, I chose not to trust my instinct. In my core, underneath my conscious self, my body knew that something was wrong…my head just had no idea. It is so incredibly amazing how the body knows things!!

As much as I cannot stand to admit this, as time went on, the inner conflict of the truth vs. what I promoted as the truth caused me to feel as if a panic attack was always near the surface. I often felt as if I was only one step away from crazy. I guess you could say that I was in denial or that I believed the old saying, “fake it ’til you make it.” I thought that my perspective was wrong and if I just tried hard enough, I would begin to see the good in my marriage.

Proverbs 3:5-8 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”

After being in survival mode this past year, I saw this passage of Scripture become real life. I didn’t have time or energy to “lean on my own understanding” (or other people’s understanding for that matter). What I learned is that when it was time to make a decision, I needed to look toward God to lead me away from the ugliness that was in my home. My intellectual self seemed to completely disappear. My walk became very simple. I looked up, I acknowledged the instincts of my heart, and I began to trust God with every.single.step. There was no time for doubt or debating with Him.

Here are my thoughts on this part of my story: I have spent more than a 2 decades being angry at God and wrestling with Him about my situation. When all of it finally blew up, my heart had already come to a place of acceptance. I knew that God had me in His hands. I knew that my responsibility in life was to trust Him to lead me in walking away.

I began to trust that my heart’s instinct would line up with God’s Word. I didn’t have the energy to go searching for answers…I had to trust that the Scriptures I had studied over the years would carry me through. Without consciously being aware of my actions, I kept expecting God to show up when I needed Him and He did. And since trouble seems to keep following me, He continues to show up and provide.

Have I walked all of this out with beauty and grace? Ummm, no. I have totally lost my sh** on more than one occasion. And the “f” word has become my favorite thing to say. (Truthfully, I find it the most accurate way to express my frustrations…go ahead and shake your head at me. This just is what it is.)

When your instincts and Scripture begin to line up, you know without a doubt that it is God showing you what to do.

Thank goodness!

And then there was the infidelity…

Ugh-I don’t want to even go here. But writing and hearing about the experiences of others has been like a healing balm for me. So very many people experience this. It is nothing new to the world; and yet, when it personally affects you, your perspective completely changes. Sometimes I wonder if there really is a couple that has been completely faithful to one another through the test of time. Yes, I am a bit cynical. I’m working on it.

Infidelity wrecked the world that I wanted…but it also set me free.

Only once in the 25 years of our marriage (I’m not going to count this past year) did I worry about Code Red being unfaithful. My word, he was an impressive liar and manipulator. Twenty-two (23, if you add in this past year) years of being unfaithful and I never once had a clue. I trusted him completely in that area.

I’ll go back to the emotional abuse and explain a little how that happened. You see, Code Red used covert methods that were extremely controlling and manipulative. There were words shared in confidence and intellectual discussions that made me feel smart and important. Gradually, those words pulled me into a bubble created with fraudulent trust. Those conversations encouraged a feeling of false intimacy. And then there were the thousands of text messages…including anything from silly photos to suggestive innuendos. I trusted him in this area because of the illusions of intimacy that he created. This trickery camouflaged what was really happening and caused me to toss my gut instinct and doubts out the window.

Infidelity occurs. A spouse finds out. A heart aches and a deep feeling of insecurity and rejection fills that spouse’s soul. The automatic response seems to be to try and figure out why this happened and how can you recover and save the marriage.

All of this was a bit different for me. While my heart did ache, the sense of rejection was complicated. It was mixed with sorrow that Code Red couldn’t live with his truth. It must have made him miserable and as a result of that, controlling. I hate that he allowed his actions to get so out of control that he damaged his family. I loathe that his decisions became more and more reckless and honestly, just plain stupid.

And yet, even with all of that, I did not want to divorce. My thoughts were a bit wonky: “Get out. I need time to figure all of this out. I want to save the marriage. Let’s go to counseling…you go to yours, I’ll go to mine. I sure as hell don’t want to go with you. Scratch that. I hate you. I think I want a divorce. I don’t want anything to do with you. Get away from me. No, wait. Yes, maybe I do at least want friendship. But can I even trust you as a friend?…” I was pretty much a crazy person. The only consistent rational thought was that I wanted and needed space.

I know that I didn’t make a lot of sense last year…my mind felt like a ping pong ball, bouncing around and voicing my truths to see how they all added up. I rambled a lot.

In the last year, I learned to trust myself and to be ok making mistakes. And even if this appears to be a bit arrogant, I don’t think that I made very many serious mistakes…I personally feel as though I found my feet and any mistakes that I did make simply turned into stepping stones that led to my freedom.

As discovery after discovery occurred, and the shock and horror of realizing what was hidden under the surface of my marriage, I believe that his promiscuity came as a relief. It catapulted me into doing something that I would have NEVER had the courage to do. It gave me permission to leave. For years I had wanted out of my marriage. Unfortunately, due to my strong (but misplaced) convictions, I do not believe that I would have ever left if the infidelity had not become known.

The best gift I received was the teaching, coaxing, and encouragement I received from my therapist to trust myself and God to lead me step by step through this whole mess. After all, this unfortunate path is mine alone to walk. I have many people beside me, but none can actually walk this out for me.

And now, thirteen months since the discovery, I feel liberated and unburdened. I had no idea what an incredible feeling it would be to live in truth!

**It’s my Spring Break! There will be no more posts this week!

What is emotional abuse anyway?

Disclaimer: This post is weighed down with emotion. Read it only if you want to truly see what abuse looks like. 

**As you read this, don’t feel sorry for me. I  see it now and I am walking away from it with confidence…shaky confidence, but confidence nonetheless.**

Oh goodness. Even as I begin to formulate my thoughts on this topic, my eyes well up and tears threaten to spill over. This continues to be very sensitive and it even causes my breathing to become irregular and rushed. It strikes fear into my core. I continue to wonder if there will be some sort of consequence for voicing my truth.

These thoughts are the very essence of abuse. These feelings remain present at all times. Sometimes they are tiny feelings, like when the abuser is far away; but sometimes they are BIG feelings that cause the recipient of abuse (notice that I didn’t say victim) to “perform” with the hope of escaping the consequence.

5 years ago, I was seeing a therapist because I was suffering from anxiety. As we talked about my life, one day she looked at me and asked if I was being abused. I laughed. And said no. And stopped seeing her. About a year later, one of my kids was seeing a different therapist that eventually requested a family session. After explaining her observations to us, Code Red determined her to be crazy and “we” agreed that we wouldn’t be going back. But I was curious and secretly made another appointment. She asked if I was abused. Seriously? I immediately believed that these counselors must have both gone to the same school…can you believe that all they did is look for abuse?! You already know that I didn’t go back, right?

As I write this now, I wonder how could I have been so deceived? Of course, our home was full of emotional abuse. The children and I lived in fear and perpetual stress.

The cycle of abuse is filled with incessant anxiety and the never-ending presence of fear. The insane part of it is that as the recipient of abuse, you convince yourself that you exaggerate everything and that you must be crazy. Then there is the explosion and you realize that you didn’t exaggerate and you aren’t crazy. And then…it’s all good. There is calm. There is a lot of attention and affection, sometimes even gifts. You convince yourself that “He didn’t really mean to do that” or “If only I had…”

The first time that I knew something wasn’t right, we had been married for about 2 weeks. Code Red got angry about something and threw a chair that hit the sofa right before it got to me. After a few hours, the apologies were abundant. The promises started to come. I forgave him and all was well in our world. Until the next time I did something wrong or asked for an extra hug. (Putting his arms around me was a big deal…when I asked for what I needed, I was told that I was demanding and needy. Over time, I didn’t need anything from him…or from anyone else for that matter. Do you know that even now, I sometimes flinch when someone hugs me? Especially if it is a man. If I see it coming, I can breathe and put on my “happy face” to handle it but oh.my.goodnes. it is so hard.)

A few months after the chair incident, a close friend told me that she and I could go to lunch or dinner; but she would never, ever come back to our house with him there. She said that she didn’t like the way he spoke to me or how he treated her. She said that she couldn’t handle it. I was embarrassed but understood exactly what she was saying.

So I began to keep my close friends away from my marriage. It became too risky for my people to just drop in like normal friends do. I never knew from moment to moment what might set him off. Although I needed friends, I couldn’t handle the fear of his anger, so I kept them as separated as I possibly could. I tried to rush them out the door before he would come home from work. I was extremely anxious about people coming to dinner. I told him that it embarrassed me when he expressed his strong emotions in public. He told me to get over it, that I exaggerated everything, that no one thought anything about his sarcasm or outbursts.

I began to doubt myself. I began to question if maybe I was overly demanding. I wondered if I was insensitive to his needs. I had never in my life been called demanding before. I had always been one of the most responsible, thoughtful people around and I didn’t know how to handle it. I began to withdraw into my mind. I would mentally examine and journal about absolutely everything I did or said. I studied Scripture about being a better wife. I wrestled with God because I couldn’t understand why I was so bad. Why couldn’t I ever do the right thing? And when it was WAY too much, I buried myself into books, hundreds and hundreds of books.

And then. I began to cook and bake. I could disappear into a safe world that appeared to be with people but prevented me from fully engaging with others. I didn’t realize it at the time (actually, I didn’t realize it until this very moment) but cooking became my safety. I was good at it…really, really good at it. It became my identity. It was literally the only safe place where I could hide in plain sight. I became known for it. Code Red began to use my talent to connect with people. And that was a win for me because it made me feel valuable. Worthy of something. I could finally do something that was right. And when I cooked for people, he was affectionate and supportive and encouraging. Finally, a win of some sort.

Until I did something wrong again.

That’s enough for today. I’m exhausted! And I didn’t even talk about the psychological abuse. Honestly, I’m not sure that topic will be discussed here…I cannot seem to grasp or process the magnitude of it yet.

For more information on the topic of abuse, visit this link (although it says violence against women…the cycle can go either way): https://www.whiteribbon.org.au/understand-domestic-violence/what-is-domestic-violence/cycle-of-violence/