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.

Reflections…All Over the Place

Twenty hours. In the car. By myself.

A lot of time for reflection.

Abuse. Infidelity. Therapy. Worse-Than-Regular-Infidelity. In-Patient Therapy. More Therapy. Hurt Kids. Group Therapy. Court Battles. Therapy. The divorce. Therapy. Another Court Battle. Therapy. Peace. Therapy. Reflection. Therapy. Therapy. Therapy.

Sometimes the past 18 months seems like a blur, and then sometimes, it feels like this has been going on forever. The heaviness of my marriage is gone and peaceful living has replaced it. Honestly, it is difficult to adjust to not living in a constant state of stress and worry. There is no waiting for the drama to begin…there are only what I would call normal stresses.

What do I do with myself? I am learning to live without the constant threat of my world falling apart. I can do things that I enjoy and not suffer repercussions for doing them. There is no one to overly question me. There isn’t a backlash for neglecting my responsibilities. There aren’t thousands of texts making sure that I am aware that I cannot have a life outside of him.

I am experiencing only acceptance from my kids. It feels both unnerving and exciting. I do not think that I have EVER felt as accepted and supported as I do right at this moment in time. Have I mentioned how nice it is not to have someone questioning my every move?!?

Is it possible that I am beginning to trust my own judgment? my own mind? my own intelligence?

I will admit that there is still a bit of fear. I’ve never done life on my own before. I never even considered that I would have to. What if I mess up? What if I go broke? What if I cannot support my kids? What if I fail?

Ok, so that last paragraph is a partial truth. Other than financial provision, it certainly feels as if I have been doing life on my own for a long time. Goodness knows that from the very beginning, Code Red never stayed at home. He was always leaving to study (and do other things) in his office at school and later on, he traveled…you know, when I really allow my thoughts to go there, even while we were dating, there were conditions on the time that he spent with me. I am now realizing that he avoided me as much as possible. That realization stings a bit (ok, it hurts. A LOT) and it is difficult to accept. Did he not even really like me? Why on earth did I settle for that? Why didn’t I wait until someone loved me enough to want to see me as often as they could? Was I really just a “prop” for him to maintain the image he wanted? Good grief that hurts.

About 14 years ago, a friend said to me that I was “the only married, single parent” that she had ever met. Those words have rolled around inside my head all of these years. All of the times that I asked for help and was yelled at, all of the times that I really was alone, all of the times that I made the efforts to make sure that the children knew their paternal grandmother, all of the times that I managed all of the activities, and the list goes on and on. No wonder doing it all as an official single parent feels so much easier! I no longer have someone questioning every tiny decision that I make.

Twenty hours in the car alone is a LONG time to spend reflecting…

Enough of the melancholy feelings…there is too much that is awesome right now for me to be dwelling on all of that!

I began my classes last week and I have found my people. Listening to the professors and other students made me realize how deeply I do care about others. I saw that I don’t have to diminish my core beliefs. Every person has value, period. Socio-economic backgrounds be damned. I love people. ALL the people…even when I don’t agree with them. AND THAT IS OK. I’m not ridiculous or too compassionate nor do I have too many feelings.

I am ME. I like ME. I think I am nice…and a little bit weird.

Twenty hours is a lot of hours!

Breathe In, Breathe Out

                                                   “Breathe in: Lord, I receive.                                                                                                           Breathe out: Lord, I give thanks.                                                                                 So there’s that: You don’t get to make up most of your story.                                                                            You get to make peace with it.                                                                                             You don’t get to demand your life, like a given.                                                                                     You get to receive your life like a gift.”                                                -Ann Voskamp

I woke up this morning with this quote on my mind. In the past week, I’ve struggled. A LOT. There is a part of me that wants my old life back…but not really. Although I was unhappy most of the time, I had made peace with it as best that I could.

What began as an innocent discussion the other day ended up causing me to reevaluate my decisions from the past year and a half. You see, there is this young adult man that I love. And this young man wants to believe that his dad is broken and sad about the choices he has made. This young man wants me to know that his dad really does love his children. And I desperately want to provide him with the security of a father’s love. But that is impossible for me to do; it is not my role.

For myself, I have had to reconcile that an addict’s love is not the right kind of love. An addict’s love is filled with conditions, lies, and illusions of caring that deflect from their true actions. Unless an addict comes to grips with his need for help, for the rest of his/her life, they are incapable of making the changes needed to provide true love.

And my heart hurts. I want to erase the damage that has been done. I want to wash over all of the bad so that maybe my children can find peace, although it would be a false sense of peace.
Unfortunately, that is not my job.
My role is to be their mother. To love them unconditionally as they traverse through the painful realities of their lives. I cannot wash over what they have experienced. I cannot minimize their truths. I can only love and support them throughout this difficult, difficult journey.
In the past, I would have reached in and changed the story a bit, hoping that it would feel better to them. I now know that in doing that, I made the truth something false. But whenever I have softened things for them, I have also softened them for myself and allowed all of us to live in denial. That benefits no one.
As I sit remembering Ann’s words, I choose to make peace with the story our family has been given. I choose to see it as a gift that has made and is continuing to make me into the woman I am today. I pray that my children see the truth, see me accept it, and then see me grow from it.

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.

The Quiet

The quiet has been driving me crazy. Quiet can be good but can also keep me in my head way too much!

After divorce, there is a loneliness that sets in. I’m not sure that it is ever discussed anywhere except for inside divorce groups, which is unfortunate. I was totally unprepared for it.

(Please don’t start feeling sorry for me and calling out of the blue…seasonal loneliness is not necessarily a bad thing.)

I am here to tell you that the loneliness goes deep. You might feel more peace than you remember ever feeling, but sometimes the mind play tricks on you. And you begin to wonder (or at least I do) if it would be better to be married to a horrible person than to be alone.

The answer is a definite no. But those thoughts still come sometime.

And then there is the whole other side of things! You join groups…not even dating apps/groups…in order to meet others and immediately you feel like a piece of meat. “Hi ___. Your smile is really nice.” “___, can we be friends? I really hope that we can be friends.” Or the really creepy ones…”___, I am having positive vibes about you.” And that was on DAY 1 of joining!

NOOOOOOO!!!

Sadly, loneliness can drive you to do something stupid if you aren’t taking care of yourself.

So. In the grand 4 months since my divorce has been final, I have learned to scope out groups before I join them. I have learned to say early on, “if you are looking for something romantic, walk away now. I am not interested.”

I have also learned that I have to keep putting myself in uncomfortable situations in order to become comfortable and confident as a single adult woman.

After being connected to someone for so long, I am having to figure out who I am, what I like, and who I want to be. I am not simply someone’s wife, mother, or caregiver. There is an identity out there just for me; I just have to settle into it. I certainly don’t want to get ahead of the process and find myself trapped into something I really don’t want.

All in all, the quiet is a bit uncomfortable at times, but it is also a blessing during this season of discovery.

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. 🙂

Today is Father’s Day

I have an incredible dad and I have lived a life surrounded by good men who loved their families well.

And yet, I look at my children and my heart is filled with grief. They cannot say that about their dad. Code Red brought unbelievable shame into the lives of my kids and today, I am angry about it. I absolutely hate that his actions directly affected them.

Why, why, why does this have to be their story?

Not too long ago, one of them said that he was telling the story of when his dad slammed him into the wall and his head left a dent…his friends were appalled (and I was horrified). I never even knew that happened!! I had known that when Code Red got angry he was rough with the boys, and I’ve heard their stories of being held against walls. But I had no idea that it had gotten that bad. And I feel ashamed.

As I think about Father’s Day, I am so sad. I am sad that I couldn’t shelter my babies from their father’s actions. I am ashamed that instead of getting them away from him, I minimized it and tried to make it not as bad as it really was. It wasn’t until I began telling my story over and over again that I realized that we lived with abuse. I honestly thought that I was ridiculous and that I exaggerated everything. I am sad that they don’t have a positive and sincere relationship with their dad. One of them won’t even acknowledge him as “dad;” they refer to him by his first name.

Dammit, I am angry.

Today I choose to refocus. I step back and look around. My children have grown up with young grandparents. My children have witnessed good, solid men providing and caring for their families and neighbors. They have seen what it looks like for men to work hard and love well.

Even though their father failed them, the other men in their lives modeled what fatherhood should look like. I pray that they remember the legacy of security, firmness, and loving kindness their Papaw, uncles, and great-uncles have passed on to them from the distance. It won’t ever take away what they have lost, but hopefully, it will give them a bit of security.

With all of our struggles, it would be easy to forget the wonderful experiences that have blessed our lives. Although I am sad and angry, I choose to recognize the good men that have been a part of our lives.