Navigating the Currents

After taking a class for a first-time experience with a water sport this weekend, I’m amused by the similarities between relationships and the water itself. On their own, neither are inherently bad, it’s how we interact with them that determines the outcome. Do we jump in feet first, not even knowing how deep it is? Do we know the currents? Do we jump in anyway, for the thrill, despite knowing the danger?

My last, rather brief, relationship I fell hard, and I fell fast for someone I’d known for many, many years. I certainly took the jump, knowing the danger – the lack of emotional maturity, being in different places in life. The currents of our lives drew us close to one another for a brief moment, but now have drawn us further away again.

I’ve promised myself to be completely honest here – both for anyone interested in the journey post Domestic Violence as well as post Divorce.

We had two wonderful first dates, and then he stopped actively pursuing. We talked daily, and he had a lot going on, but in hindsight his feelings were not as strong as mine were becoming. He was kind, still is kind, and respectful of my boundaries. But when we were together there was a lot of the physical and not as much of the emotional connection. Which was odd, because before our first date there was a natural build-up of emotional intimacy. I let down my physical boundaries too soon, and while he was a considerate and fun lover, I had no idea how much that would super-charge my emotions.
Continue reading “Navigating the Currents”

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Trusting Myself

Ending a relationship is difficult, and I wish I had listened to my gut and doubts sooner. Guy is a wonderful man, but in the end, he just wasn’t right for me. He helped me heal my most broken places and gave me the gift of being genuinely loved for being myself. I learned a lot about what I am and am not looking for, and learned the dangers of sharing too much history too soon. It put our relationship, I think, into a bit of a rebound category; while he cared so sweetly for me when my self-confidence was low, as I came into myself that care began to feel suffocating.

Healing, for me, sometimes means risking the pain of difficult things. When someone coddles me, or walks on eggshells to avoid distressing me, they take away my opportunities to heal and grow as a person.

So.

New plan. To avoid dealing with getting to know someone as I date, I am only going to date someone who I get to know as a friend first.

So.

Life has a sense of humor.

A long-time friend of five or six years asked me out on a date, and once I got over the surprise (and clarified that he did actually intend this as a date) I accepted. He’s someone I have always found attractive and fun, but as he was a few years younger than me and we had always been involved with other people, nothing ever went anywhere but friendship. He knows some of my past, is one of the people who kept an eye on my ex for me, and has been a good friend without knowing all the details.

Saturday is our second date, and already I know there is something special about this sudden chemistry between us. I’m not sure if this is a relationship that is destined for a season or more, but I know I am going to enjoy the experience and allow myself to have a little fun. As one of my best friends said, maybe this will just be an opportunity to deepen an already good friendship.

My gut? Feels good about this one.

Anxiety Ungeneralized

My heart is pounding. Palms are tingling. My eyes only capable of fleeting connections as I fit my hand carefully around a water glass and sip. Condensation mingles with the salt of nervous palms.

The ice clinks, but even the cool liquid doesn’t dampen the heat of excitement, that sweat of anxious embarrassment. I make a confession of nerves, offering up my Mona Lisa smile as I try to still the subtle shaking of my fingers.

Conversation stops and starts, and awkward words begin to fill the emptiness, or perhaps not so awkward, as his startling observation and grin surprise a laugh from me. Understanding and patience are balanced in his gaze, though uncertainty lurks there as well. We test the waters, one word at a time. One glance. One flash of a curious smile.

Risk feels like a knife blade to the throat, my body filling with all the uncertainties of a harrowing past.

Another sip of ice water.

“So, when did this become a possibility? You asking me out?” There, a subject broached in genuine curiosity. The answer will explain how we find ourselves, carefully dancing out our insecurities as the waitress interrupts at just the right moments to relieve tensions. Fill empty glasses. Take orders.

“Ten minutes before I asked.” He replies, then grins. “What seemed, at the time, a crazy idea fueled by sleeplessness. Though I’ve always liked you.” Our exchanged smiles are shy, for all our thirty something years of life each, this dance between friendship and romance is still new for us both. “So… when did this become a possibility? You saying ‘yes’?”

“Well, I wasn’t planning on dating before having a friendship first. So when you asked…” My water glass becomes impossibly interesting, and bears the weight of my sheepish smile. “Just so happens, I’ve always liked you a bit too.”

 

Life After Leaving, Part 3: It’s okay to be happy

What’s wrong with being happy?

A lot of websites, well-meaning people, and marriage ‘fixers’ (especially of the religious variety) will often say that being happy shouldn’t be your end-goal. That marriage is hard, and when you get married you should be in it for the long haul. I don’t entirely disagree, but those comments applied to all marriage relationships (particularly abusive ones) can be extremely problematic.

I should know, that’s one of the reasons I stayed so long, regardless of how miserable I became. It’s also one of the reasons I left and stayed gone, because when I was in… I was ALL in. And when I was out… I was ALL out. One benefit of working so hard at that relationship, I suppose, was I didn’t have any regrets.

In conversations, the same exact words may have different connotations to different people. Sometimes people mistake ‘Happy’ as people wanting to ‘live the high life’. But for me, and I suspect many others in abusive relationships, being happy means I have the freedom to be responsible for myself, own my mistakes without fear, and have what should be ordinary and everyday respect from the people in my life. I suppose what makes me happiest, is feeling fulfilled by my choices, my relationship, and my work.

Being born into a religious family, I think sometimes there is this idea in the Christian faith that anything worth having should be difficult. That to be valued, we must sacrifice. That we shouldn’t care so much about what we have in this world, but what we have in the next. These were all beliefs that led me to stay in an abusive and difficult relationship. If I’m honest with myself, it’s probably a part of the reason I ended up in that relationship to begin with, along with a lack of healthy boundaries.

Although I do still have faith in God and consider myself a Christian, I think some of the church culture nowadays romanticizes service and puts on expectations where our worth and standing is dependant on how much we sacrifice.

This is what I meant, when I said “I want to be happy”.

Before I left, I knew something was missing, a big black hole in our relationship that I struggled to fill. Everything I put into it seemed to be absorbed with nothing to show for the trouble. I didn’t know exactly what I meant when I thought, “I just want to be happy” and I never really felt I could verbalize that thought without people misunderstanding. So when I was finally ready to leave, I told my mom I “didn’t care if I was happy, I just want to be able to sleep.” For me, happiness seemed like a selfish goal, while sleep seemed like a practical and acceptable one.

Now I’ve learned that life can be fulfilling and full of joyous moments as well as difficult ones. If you’re never happy, struggle to find contentment, I think that is a sign of something needing some consideration. Just like physical pain helps us key into problematic physical issues in our body that may need to be addressed, a life absent of pleasure probably means we could use an emotional check-up. For me, that meant rooting my abuser out of my life, and doing the necessary work on myself to heal from that experience. My beliefs and expectations and views on boundaries needed some heavy consideration before I truly found contentment and ‘happiness’ again. It took me about 9 months before I smiled again, after leaving my ex. A genuine smile, not a strained one.

In my abusive relationship, the bar for being ‘happy’ was pretty low. Especially towards the end, to get a ‘happy’ moment was more along the lines of a sense of relief of not getting yelled at or feeling frightened or dealing with a suicidal spouse.

I can clean up just after myself, without being put-down and called lazy.

I can look at my bank account (regardless of positive or negative balance), and know what is going to be in there without any surprises.

I don’t have anyone angry at me, because they bought something expensive and now we don’t have money to pay the electric bill.

No one threatens to kill themselves or slit their wrists if I disagree with them.

My happiness-metric

Being happy doesn’t mean I am always comfortable,  but it does have a lot to do with my feeling content. Happiness for me, is safety in my relationships. The freedom to be my authentic self. To recognize I can’t make everyone happy, and to let go of that expectation. I can be considerate, without making myself responsible for other people’s reactions and feelings. Honesty isn’t always easy, when it leads to difficult discussions, but having the freedom to be honest is part of what makes me happy now.

How do you see happiness? Do you agree or disagree with anything I’ve shared? Would love to hear from some of you. 🙂

Life After Leaving, Part 2: Not quite the End

Leaving wasn’t the end…

…it simply moved my new end-goal to finalizing my divorce. However, it still was a new beginning and an opportunity to learn who I could be on my own. Although our relationship was far past the point of reconciliation, my ex changed his tune immediately to try and get me back. If your ex didn’t respect your voice before, once they find out you mean what you say it will just be a lot of pointless wheel-spinning, manipulation, etc.. I think if we are honest with ourselves, we know when this applies to our relationship. The trick is if we can admit it.

I wrote my ex a letter of explanation detailing everything, after the protection order was finalized. We exchanged a few e-mails on an approved e-mail that was an exception to the Protection Order. Although things had fallen apart terribly, I didn’t want any ill for my ex. I just wanted to get away from him. So I worked very hard to write my letter in a factual, kind and steadfast manner. If any of you have seen the graphic on the ‘Cycle of Abuse’, you will understand what I mean when I say his response followed the quintessential honeymoon mentality. He was so sorry. He was getting help. He was willing to do counseling. Apart. Together. A separation instead of a divorce.

These arguments may have swayed me before, but, while he admitted everything I wrote in that letter was true, he never agreed that his actions and choices constituted abuse. That made it easier to stick to my guns… as did the fact that he point blank refused any of these options in the months leading up to my departure.

Repercussions

The ‘honeymoon’ period of his rationality lasted only so long as it took my ex to realize that I was absolutely serious.

My ex was angrier about the protection order than he was about the divorce, and ultimately I had to share the response to my e-mail of him agreeing to doing all the things I had put in my protection order with my lawyer and his lawyer. My ex was very retaliatory throughout the entire process.

I stuck to my guns, and in the end, it mattered more to me to be fair and stick to my request of a 50/50 split than to cater to my ex’s threats and demands. Luckily, I was in a position with family support to make that possible. Usually, people start from a place where they will negotiate from. I just stuck unwaveringly to what I wanted and knew to be fair. I didn’t want alimony, and I didn’t want any ties to my ex after the divorce was finalized. It dragged things out longer, but it was important to me to 1) stay classy, 2) hold my ex accountable, and 3) stand up for myself and what was fair.

Two years after leaving, I am still struggling to get out of my financial hole. Recovery has been tough, I still owe thousands of dollars I borrowed for my attorney. I missed a few bills before our divorce that have chased me down, up to and including getting my wages unexpectedly garnished. (Oops.)

My ex is still out there, bearing a grudge, and likely skirting sanity as much as he was when I was with him. So safety is still a factor. I’ve learned a few practical things:

  • If you’re registered to vote, it’s likely your home address is publicly accessible. (Some states have ways around this in Domestic Violence situations – but it’s more footwork.)
  • There are websites with generic information about you, and some websites (if you log in) that have your full address. Mindful of my personal safety, I’ve gone to each one and opted out, some required copies of my license to remove the information (I redacted some info). Note: Google yourself to find out where your name comes up.
  • Lesson learned, when I move again, I am getting a P.O. Box.
  • Make sure to have two copies of a protection order. That way you can give one to the police in case of an encounter, and still have your original.

Even with all of that? It’s worth it. Home is safe again. Home is a peaceful place again.

I’m happy.