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.

Life after Leaving, Part 1: Retrospective

While I prepare to file a renewal for a protection order (mine is about to expire) there has been a lot to contemplate and ponder. Mostly the soul-searching of, ‘Do I really think he could still come after me?’ (Yes) and ‘Am I overreacting by requesting a renewal?’ (No).

Now that I’ve wrestled with those two questions, I started to reflect on the past two years. No matter how many blogs I read, nothing really prepared me for what life would be like. I know not everyone’s experience is the same, but this is what it was like for me, leaving an abusive relationship of 10+ years. This will be my first ‘series’ of posts – I anticipate, and I hope to get out roughly one a week.

Mine isn’t the only experience – I welcome comments and am happy to share blog posts if folks write (or have written) their own experiences summing up their experiences after leaving an abusive relationship. Questions welcome. Gritty, funny, practical. 🙂

Life after leaving… really started before I left.

I hesitated to speak up for so long, because a part of me knew that once I did, everyone’s feelings about my husband would change.  Even outside of our relationship, he was not the easiest person to get along with, although very few suspected what was really going on. About three years or so before I left, he threatened my life, and I resolved at that time that if things didn’t get better I may have to make a choice I didn’t like.

The last six months of my marriage I struggled with extreme anxiety and depression. I had decided years prior, that I had to be responsible for my own happiness, and I tried for a long time to make that happen within the context of our marriage. So when my health began to go downhill, I began tracking my panic attacks and anxiety, trying to figure out what my triggers were, so I could deal with or remove them, or seek help from a counselor.

All instances led directly to my husband. It took me a few more months, and two or three extreme incidents to finally start reaching out to people I trusted. When my mother asked me, “Honey, do you want to leave?” there was only a moment of silence before I agreed. “Yes.” And broke down. But having made the decision, I felt a temporary lightness and hope. I can be free.

If you haven’t decided to leave your situation yet, my post ‘How Do I Leave?‘ summarizes most of what I felt was helpful, or you can go to the ‘Leaving your Abuser’ tab on my home page and look at the blog posts there.

My original plan was to wait a month, get things together slowly, sneak things out here and there. It was simplified by the fact we had no children. But that night when I first went home, I realized I couldn’t maintain the facade for long. Apparently everyone on my very small team was relieved when I reduced that time frame to a week.

I had help, however. Having allies in this case makes an impossible seeming situation surmountable. 

Confessional

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. It has been two months and two days since my last post…

It’s easy to forget sometimes, that this blog is just for me and no apologies are required or expected for my periodic absences. Those of us who write here float in and out as the moods (or muse) takes us, and that is okay. It’s the writing version of being a snowbird – one of those retired kinds of people who heads south to Arizona in the winter, and returns to the frigid north in the Summer.

Apologizing, however, is something on an ongoing struggle for me, particularly when I’m feeling on edge. I’m not sure if this is a product of my gender, as I am a woman, or something I picked up from childhood. Walking on eggshells for ten years certainly didn’t help. Regardless, lately I’ve been considering that phrase “I’m Sorry” , usually right after the words drop from my lips. My reasons for sharing it vary, but if I shake them together and sift them out, it seems like I am often apologizing for… well… being me.

Last year I worked harder to be authentic, and while I think I achieved some of that – I think the next little step in this journey is to be unapologetically authentic. Not that I need to go out of my way to cause others annoyance, or lose my empathy, but instead to own who I am without that momentary hesitation.

This goes so much deeper than the words. Perhaps it touches on something I heard in Brene Brown’s ‘The Power of Vulnerability’. “Guilt,” to paraphrase her, “is when we make a mistake. But Shame? Shame is when we feel we are a mistake.”

Ever since hearing her lecture series on audible a few months ago, I’ve noticed more when touches of shame rise in me. And when they do, inevitably, I find myself apologizing for situations beyond my rational control, or apologizing for me. Apologizing for being such a mistake.

The truth though? I’m not a mistake. I am a person who has made plenty of them, will continue to make them, certainly. But those errors don’t define me.

I’ve never graduated with my Bachelor’s. I’m not a failed college student. I’m a successful professional who’s moved up in my work despite my lack of degree.

I am a divorcee in her mid-30s. My relationship status doesn’t define me. I am learning better how to communicate in all my relationships – friendships, familial, romantic – and have healthier boundaries. Healthy relationships are a part of a good support system.

I “live” with my parents. I am not mooching off their generosity, I am working hard to be financially stable. My parents and I are room-mates, sharing responsibilities and each pulling our fair weight.

Working through and confronting my fears of self is a little arduous at times. But now that I can pinpoint when that needs to happen (often when I am apologizing for existing and being myself) I am able to remind myself that I don’t exist just to accommodate others and bolster them at the expense of myself..

Life in the Fast Lane

Sometimes everything in my life blurs just beyond my immediate view, like staring out the passenger window during a road trip. Moving so quickly, distinct features fade into hazy generalities. Flash of orange. Rising and falling gray. Fuzzy depths of ambiguous green.

I can guess what those things are… a road sign. A concrete barrier. Trees. But all the details fade with the rush of travelling at 60 mph. Right now my world feels a little like that, emotionally, and I have to consciously ‘pull over’ to stop and examine what is going on.

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The road goes ever on and on…

Revelations are curious things, and sometimes the most profound of realizations to some are ones that are so obvious to others. But I suppose, the path to understanding ourselves is more about the journey to the destination than the destination itself.

A recent run-in with my ex, who decided it best to get arrested rather than obey my protection order, left me opening mail from the Domestic Violence Advocate and the Prosecutor’s office. In it, was a request for a Victim’s Impact Statement.

Although the request sent me to my Google Docs and I wrote several pages on several different days, none granted me the words I wished to use. I wanted to achieve a few things:

  1. I wanted to be cognizant that anything I write will go into the public record.
  2. I do not want to be weak, but I want him to understand I will utilize my protection order to the full legal extent I am allowed.

Though I still don’t have anything down I feel comfortable sharing, I discovered some things about myself through this process.

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Rest Stop

Sometimes I forget it is not possible to be in control of everything, all the time. Or that, even if I am in control, my choices do not always lead to the best results. Or, even if my choices don’t lead to ‘the best’ results, who determines what is best and worst? Me. And sometimes those determinations are a little arbitrary, or based on other peoples’ expectations.

The last few weeks have brought with them an overflow of information, a few realizations, an incident with the ex, the Flu, a heart to heart with myself, time with friends, preparation for a long-planned minor surgery, and some heavy considerations regarding my priorities, relationships… pretty much the whole nine yards and then some.

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Relational Crossroads

Somewhere in the last year, I met someone who genuinely valued me. Who supported me. Who seemed to enjoy my oddities and find a simple pleasure in my presence. Someone who shared my interests, and who could handle defeat of various kinds with grace and kindness and an odd sort of self-confidence that was dashingly attractive.

Tonight, I realized our relationship was lopsided. That I look at a deepening relationship with as much fear as he does eagerness.

Someone in a group made a comment about his wife, and I felt the brush of Guy’s fingers, and felt as much as saw the warm glance he turned my way.

There is one problem, however.

I am not ready.

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Procrastination and priorities

To the tune of Anticipation, by Carly Simon… “Procrastination, procrastination…. Is makin’ me late… Is keepin’ me waitin’.”

Something I wrote a while ago keeps coming back to me, and it has to do  with this feeling of fragility. Intangibility. Perhaps it is kin to that feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Kin to the feeling of balancing many spinning plates on the ends of long sticks. Everything is going well, really, but sometimes I still feel the anxiety of being one unlucky tip away from shattered glass at my feet.

(Upon writing that sentence, the snarky part of my mind suggested that maybe it was time I started using heavy plastic instead of glass. Then that led me to rabbit trail down the practical considerations of whether or not plastic (however dense) might spin comparative to ceramic. All up to the point where I reminded myself, this was only intended as a visual example. I share this, because it shows how abstractedly distracted my thoughts have become, lately. Maybe you’ll get a chuckle; I know I did – sometimes all I can do is just laugh at myself and move along.)

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[Reblog] What’s in Your Coping Toolkit: Putting It All Together

Reblog Tuesdays!

Anxiety has had a major impact on me this week, and I have found this series very helpful and worthwhile. I’ve not had a chance to put everything into practice, but I’m working on learning ways to Be Kind to myself. I’m also working on making self-care choices that are just ‘a little’ better each time.

Small steps still get me where I’m going. 🙂 I hope you find something in here that helps you with whatever you are going through.

eat. spin. talk. repeat.

pieces-of-the-puzzle-592813_640.jpg

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

For the last seven weeks, we have talked about all the tools we need/want  in our toolkit. This is obviously not an exhaustive list of ALL the coping skills out there, but it’s a start. Now that you’ve got the tools, what on earth to do with them!?!

I’ve mentioned the importance of having access to these skills in times of stress. That is going to look differently for each skill. So let’s breakdown each skill we’ve talked about and how to do that:

Mindful Breathing:  practice, practice, practice. Take time each day to spend time mindfully breathing. The only way to get good at this skill is to take time to do it.

Relaxation: Come up with a list of relaxing things to do at different places you might…

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Where do I want to be?

 

 

A journey begins with just one step, and over the course of the past eighteen months or so, this blog has cataloged a hundred and one posts that document bits of my story, the path I’ve traveled, and my goals.

Today, Friday, I need to remind myself how much ground I have covered. A promotion at work, debt nearly under control, a new relationship, a better grasp of the tools needed to handle my anxiety. My New Year’s Resolution was to be more authentic in my everyday life, and while it hasn’t always made things easier in the immediate moment, I think long-term I’ve been at least making progress with that goal.

Yet I still have things I want to achieve, and these seem to be a bit more of a struggle. Continue reading

The Power of No

Why is it one of the first words children learn, is also one of the hardest for some of us to verbalize as adults? One of the common themes in my counseling sessions has become understanding the coping mechanisms I learned as a child when I struggled to deal with my emotions.

My parents made many good decisions regarding my upbringing, teaching me a healthy skepticism for information and facts, teaching me how to question and challenge and understand the world around me. Yet the strange irony, is that same freedom was not expected, allowed, or ever welcomed when it came to their own authority.

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Codependents Always Hope Things Will go Their Way

When I first got out of my abusive relationship, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out and understand my Ex. I found things like the ‘Cycle of Abuse’, and Narcissism, and those things helped me understand myself and my own reactions.

Now I’ve been researching more about myself, and learning that I have my own tendencies that make me vulnerable to Narcissistic partners. This is an excellent article worth considering, and I think it is important that we grow from researching everything about our abuser, and begin focusing on ourselves and how we can become stronger, more whole people.

Free From Codependency With Dr. Nicholas Jenner

Of the two extremes, codependents (unlike narcissists) are generally seen as the warm and fussy ones. Self sacrificing and eager to please, they are an absolute delight to be around if you are the kind of person who likes to freely take and accept all they have to give and there are many who do.  Codependents get involved with a certain type because like a jigsaw puzzle they fit together nicely. One constantly gives, one constantly takes. A perfect dysfunctional meeting and matching of ideals. Of course this situation is normally doomed to failure and when the house comes crashing down, the codependent suffers more than most. The reason being they have invested heavily in the relationship and stand to lose much more in their view. This is usually because they have lost themselves in the relationship and identified themselves through their partner. The idea of splitting such intensity (not…

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Numb. Because life isn’t Complicated Enough.

Most people, when they see rolling hills and wide grassy expanses feel a sense of joy and relief in the beauty of the world. In reality, I can entirely relate to this and even crave the peace and quiet and regenerative qualities of the great outdoors.

Yet, with anxiety, the emotional counterpoint of those rolling green hills takes a darker turn. Beneath that beauty, lies a minefield, and if I’m to function, I have to find a way to cross it.

Fun! (Not.)

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Forging my own relational path

Learning to love….? again.

Love is a funny word, when you come to think of it. So many meanings and applications. I know how to love: with my family, with my intimate girlfriends who have kept me sane and supported, with my friends children or my pets. All of those things come easily to me.

When I think of love, I’ve often interpreted it in the past as action. If we love someone, we look for and strive to meet their needs so that they feel valued. A relationship is formed when that person offers the same to us. As a piece of the relational puzzle, it is a really important one. But I’ve come to learn that actions cannot exist in a void, and love itself is too multi-faceted for any strict, single definition. But, to get back to my original train of thought… Continue reading