there’s no catchy title for this (abuse)

I still haven’t found an easy way to explain why I left my marriage.

Especially in casual conversation, especially when I’m meeting new people. I still haven’t found my neat one-liner, my simple solution to drop into chit chat. The classic ‘we grew apart,’ ‘we just weren’t happy’ or ‘we wanted different things’ doesn’t quite rub me the right way. 

Of course, I imagine those are some of the lines he’s fed to old friends or family…Probably something along the lines of him pursuing a military career and me nagging him to stay home and start a family. I guess that falls under the ‘we wanted different things’ category. 

Which, in a way, I suppose is a little bit true. We did want different things. And yes, him telling me he didn’t want kids was my last straw. It gave me pause and the permission I needed to step back and analyze our relationship more objectively. I realized I did want different things.

Was the problem his job? Our lack of a family? My job?

Absolutely not.

This decision I made cannot be reduced to me acting as some neglected housewife begging for children and harping after a man chasing promotions. 

No.

I left because I wanted something new. 

I left because I was abused. 

I wanted that to end.


I’d like to say it again, just for clarity’s sake.

I. Was. Abused.

I’ve tried to avoid those words. I didn’t want to risk sounding melodramatic or like a complainer. I wanted to avoid criticism, and I believed that if I didn’t say it out loud no one could tell me it didn’t happen. No one could say “it wasn’t that bad,” or “it could’ve been worse.” 

This is something we all need to work on- validating someone’s experience without criticism, comparison or judgment. 

I need to show the same grace to myself.

So yes, I am aware it could have been worse. Yes, I’m aware someone else has been through something more painful. Been abused more overtly. More openly. More obviously.

No, that does not take away from the significance of my experience. It does not lessen the impact it’s had on my life, my health, my view of the world, my view of myself and my view of relationships.

I’d even go so far as to say that psychological and emotional abuse was more challenging to notice, escape from, and heal from than I ever would have imagined. 

I always grew up believing that if a man ever hit me I’d be gutsy enough to immediately walk away. I’d know that wasn’t how a woman was to be treated, and I’d move the heck on.

What I didn’t grow up knowing? 

That withdrawing affection is abusive. Neglect is abusive. Manipulation by providing and removing that affection again: abusive.

Creating an environment of fear is abusive. Fearing consequences, reactions, loss of love: abusive. Fearing violence- abusive. Fearing rage- abusive. 

Fearing pregnancy. Abusive. 

Refusing to use condoms but making me feel guilty for choosing fertility awareness? What I wanted to do for the health of my body and the health of my faith? Abusive. 

Using coercion and guilt to gain sexual favors is abusive. Stepping over boundaries is abusive. This should have been obvious -no means no!- but, to me, it didn’t seem like much. Until it got worse, and more frequent, and blatantly, unavoidably, obviously, abusive. 

Making me the gatekeeper of that behavior, like it was my responsibility to make sure my spouse respected me, is freaking abusive. Real respect, real love, does not look like that.

Furthermore, sex that hurts- due to carelessness and drunkenness or uninvited aggression- is abusive. 

Lying is abusive.

Cheating is abusive.

Calling someone names, making fun of their size, comparing them to other women- joke, after joke, after joke- abusive.

Also, there is such a thing as spiritual abuse. I didn’t know that! What I’ve since learned is that it is wrong to shame or manipulate your partner into feeling guilty for their faith. I shouldn’t need to hide my journal or close Scripture or put away my rosaries because I’m afraid of being seen praying. More than anything, I should not be made to feel as if I deserve bad treatment because “I love God too much.” 

What made this all the more confusing? Harder to pick up on? More challenging to recognize?

When he told me I was crazy. 

This is gaslighting: when you present reality to your abuser but they tell you you’re wrong, insane, or imagining things. Your experience becomes twisted and fuzzy and damn-near impossible to sort through. You can’t tell who’s right, who’s wrong, who deserves excusing and who just had a bad day. You start to believe the lies until they become part of a new twisted version of truth.

I’m done with that now.

I didn’t make this up. I didn’t imagine this. I am not crazy. 

I never was.

How’s that for a one-liner?

from a home to a house

I used to love August. The month I was born. The last month of summer. The first month of sports. Volleyball practice in the golden evening light, football whistles in the background. New pencils purchased, jewel toned sweaters, last lazy trips down the river. The first yellow leaves.

Good things ending, good things to follow.

I guess the same could be said of last year’s August, the first August I hated, where one season of my life ended and another began. Good from this point of view. Not so good then.

It was last summer when I cautiously Googled “how to get a divorce” for the first time and immediately cleared my browser.

Last August, a year ago to the day, I hired a lawyer. I asked, still unsure, “If I change my mind, can I back out?” A loophole to make myself feel better about a decision I’d already made. Signed and scanned the paperwork as soon as I hung up. 

Then those plans that existed in cyber space began to grow more concrete. I found myself going out for finger prints, for notaries, calling nursing boards. Trying to endure small talk about why I was moving to Tennessee. Making it sound exciting- Nashville, totally great, right? Hiding the files when I got home.

And then he noticed the cards that I canceled. Moved to the guest room. Argued harder, then gave up altogether. We lived together in the tomb of our marriage for weeks, ignoring the bizarre reality of what we had become.

He left to visit his family.

I stayed behind to pack.


Have you ever had to sort through your life like that? Picked your home apart until it was nothing but a house? 

With the eye of practicality: Well, I don’t think I’ll need a set of pots at my parent’s house. I guess he can keep those. 

Or the eye of sentimentality: I think I’ll take the platters. They’re from my favorite aunts.

I took the china too. I’m not sure what that’ll look like, to take the set out again, but I know that it’s beautiful. I’d like to think I’m still a little bit lovely too, even with a bit of weird history. Me and the plates will just have to be a strange package deal.

Anyway. He got the regular plates. I took the mugs. The bakeware. Left him the grill things. 

Very straightforward.

Less straightforward- taking the pictures down.

You have to look them all in the face. Like seeing yourself from another life- a laugh from a date, a hug from his mother, a night out with his sister- and telling them all goodbye.

Family pictures that included him. The pictures of our friends, the pictures of our wedding, pictures of his nieces.

The prints I bought for our brand-new home. The frames I got for our bedroom.

One by one you look them in the eye, tell them you can’t be staying, they can’t stay either, and pull them off the wall.

Now all is lost in a crowd of U-haul boxes. Picked over and sorted, piece by piece, and tucked between towels, tossed in his closet, or put in the pile for trash. Calligraphy peeps through the mess, mocking:

Love begins at home.” 

God walks among the pots and pans.”

You are my sunshine.”

He used to sing me that song.

Another took its place more recently, “Pictures;” I recommend a listen if you’re in the right mood. A little sadder, a little more fitting. I cried the first time I listened, grateful that someone else put into words this particular aspect of heartbreak. Such a concrete finality comes with matching the surroundings to this broken reality.

I chugged along steadily that week, filing through memories with every new box, sorting my heart into high school and college and prom and marriage and sex and romance and tears and laughter… As if it could all be taped up, put away, and marked this-side-up with a Sharpie.

I wish it was so simple. Instead, I am haunted.

He used to make me omelettes on this pan.

I bought him that mug for Christmas.

That was the night of my best friend’s wedding.

This was the cross from above our bed.

These were the towels I picked for our bathroom. 

The painting of our shared last name. 

The print from his mother.

All gone. 

All the parts of my house sorted into separate boxes. 

All the parts of my heart broken into separate pieces.

I’m still trying to put it back together.

hashtags, parenthesis & patriots

After last year’s AFC championship game I rewatched this video about 1020930392 times. (Also this one because so many lols #soundon).

If you’re not feeling like clicking, basically the gist is this: the Patriots have a crappy start to their season. Everyone asks, as usual, “is this the end of the dynasty?!” Pats turn it around, as usual, and make it to the AFC championship game. And win, in overtime, 37 to 31. A nail biter, literally. 

My friend Tom (a girl can dream, right?) sums it up pretty nicely to my other friend Chris (still dreaming): 

“I’m too old. You’re too slow. We’ve got no skill players. We’ve got no defense. We’ve got nothing.” 

A casual nod to the haters from a team on the way to their eleventh Super Bowl. 

What, you ask, does this have to do with me? 

EVERYTHING, PEOPLE!

It was this game where I felt my turn-around coming. A little spark of life peeped out that night from around the corner. 

Honestly, the weeks before that game bad been particularly challenging. Between the first-holiday-season-post-divorce and post-holiday-season-blues, everything had piled together and I was in a serious funkkkkk. 

Right up until that fateful evening when I made the first crucial connections between my weird little life and my weird little football obsession. 

Bear with me, I swear there are parallels here and I’m not totally insane. Because, truly, my team had been in a funk too! And somehow, with The Patriot Way and a sprinkle of Brady magic, they had pulled it together. So much so that they were going to the Super Bowl.

It was time for me to pull it together too. 

Yes, maybe this emotional investment is something that happens when girls get involved in the world of sports. It’s also possible I’m just a nut. Whatever. I’m a human with a heart and sometimes these things happen.

Either way. Here we are.

This team and this game had proven a point: 

Great things can still come after great failure.

And yes, it’s possible that to some of you last year’s Super Bowl was one of the more boring in history.

It’s also possible I’m biased because A) I got to go (thanks Dad!) and B) we won, but still! The game was a defensive masterpiece; a demonstration of slow-moving, steady, sturdy, hard-worked winning. 

Maybe not thrilling, but maybe that’s not the point. 

In real life/football life we don’t always get to take the most exciting or problem-free journey, but sometimes, in the end, it doesn’t matter. We still get to celebrate. And that day, when that confetti came down, it was a celebration like none other. A celebration of resilience. Bounce-back. Community. Overcoming odds. Becoming stronger, more brilliant, more successful humans despite setbacks and criticisms and NOISE.

So HELL YA I took this season personally. Again, for emphasis: HELL to the YA. There I was, watching a team win that had overcome their odds, finally ready to overcome my own.  Ready to climb out of a headspace where I was forgettable, unwanted and uninteresting. Not smart. Not strong. Not desirable.

Again, parallels abound, and I’d like to remind any of you who’ve forgotten that the Patriots hashtag for last year’s season was #STILLHERE.

Fitting. Looks like I’m #STILLHERE too.

I will not be told I am unworthy. I will not be told I am forgettable. 

I will be respected.

I will be bigger. I will be stronger. I will overcome this mess and be the better for it.

I am going to win my own fucking Super Bowl.

Get at me.

#LFG

eating your feelings

I have stretch marks now, and not the good kind. Not the kind you get from making or feeding children, but the kind you get from eating stale crackers from the back corner of your pantry because nothing else is left to binge. 

This is uncomfortable; today’s conversation has less to do with what happened to me, and more to do with what I did to myself- the part I played in treating myself more worse than I deserved. 

A little melodramatic, maybe, when you consider the subject matter to be pretzel thins or Chips Ahoy, but it goes deeper than that. It might’ve started out somewhere small- ah, the innocence of the pretzel- until things progressed uncontrollably, an unruly monster, towards old tortillas or heels of bread or the last of the chips you don’t even like, on and on until you start to wonder if chia seeds are okay on their own or if dry noodles are any good.

It starts out with a casual glance into the fridge. Or maybe it started before that, at dinner with friends, when you realized the fun would end and you’d be alone again but and you needed something comforting to come home to. Then you’re standing there at the end of the day, in your oversized t-shirt and bare feet, lights off but for the fridge, waiting for something to look good enough to eat. And then you start. When those first good things are gone, the second tier start to go. After that, the rest disappears, slow and steady, until you’re ill. Nausea and bloating take over, followed closely by shame, self-loathing, disgust. And then it’s time for bed. Diet starts tomorrow, right?

These habits didn’t just spring up out of nowhere. I’d learned to treat food and my body poorly since childhood- sneaking treats was a fun adventure, comfort food was the norm, snacks to unwind were the go-to. Fairly normal habits to get into and not always bad. Food is a part of our culture and certainly an important part of an abundant, joyful life. However, less normal when I felt I couldn’t stop- more goldfish, more cookies, more chips. Matched by more work-outs, more diets, more rules. I always felt a little out of control in either direction and quickly learned how to feel bad about myself based on the food diary or the weight or the jean size. Easily done through middle and high school, easily reinforced into adulthood. 

College started out alright. I felt thin and pretty and healthy. I ate what I wanted but wasn’t too crazy, had salads and pizza and did just fine. I certainly had a distorted relationship with food and body image, but I coasted along for a while until it started taking a turn in the wrong direction. 

Trying to pinpoint the moment of decline is tricky, but I know I started gaining the most weight studying abroad. I’m not sure if it was the stress of being away from home, my involvement in an emotionally tumultuous relationship, or simply a shift in metabolism. Probably a bit of all of it mixed with Nutella and beer. When I came home, though, I couldn’t lose that weight again no matter what I tried. 

That semester the relationship I had with food and my boyfriend started growing stranger at the same time. There was a lot of arguing about why we weren’t having sex, the hot-and-cold games were picking up steam, and the withholding of attention increased. My jeans were tighter and my boyfriend was colder, and that was all I knew about that. I discovered I had the capacity to eat chocolate til my stomach hurt, and sometimes that felt good.

It worsened more rapidly once we were married. I suddenly lived in a military town where I knew no one and was alone for weeks at a time. There’s nothing more comforting than comfort food when you have no friends! And when you know your husband had time to call you but didn’t, you learn that chocolate chips never ignored you. Pizza never pretended you didn’t exist. Cupcakes never left you lonely.

And when he started leaving the house more often than work required, ice cream bars were still there. Coconut milk ones, though, because you’re trying to be healthy. Until you eat all five.

When he didn’t feel like going on a date with you, there was always the movies. Full of darkness and giant popcorns and candy and soda and no one to see you eat all of it. No one could tell when you dropped popcorn down your shirt or left grease stains on your pants; no one to see you and reject you for the forgettable cow that you were.

When he didn’t want to have sex with you, there was wine. Wine made you feel softer and prettier and took the sting off.

Last summer was the worst of all. It was easier to consume whole bags of chips, whole bottles of wine, tubs of ice cream then face a broken heart. Food was always there. Food was a reliable friend. Food made me feel good when my husband couldn’t. Or when he didn’t want to. Or when he didn’t give a shit anymore at all. And when I decided to leave there were still M&Ms. Still peanut butter. The grocery store was always there, ready to let me take home whatever company I wanted to keep. It wanted me back when no one else did.

When it stopped making me feel good, it started making me miserable, but that became okay. I was disgusting enough to be ignored, I might as well feel the part. I really was worth rejecting, wasn’t I? Crumbs and stains and bloat, out of clothes that fit, out of reasons to look in the mirror. Why would he want to look at me? I’m forgettable. I’m disgusting. I’m alone. Act like it.

At a certain point, it just got easier to feel sick than sad. It was easier to eat a whole box of cereal til everything hurt but my heart. It was easier to upset myself over brownies than him.

Congrats to me, I never purged. I thought about it plenty. I wanted to, still do some days when it gets bad again. I imagine it’d feel like a reset button on the damage I’d done to myself, a reversal over the control I just lost. Never did, though, because “purging is a sin.” 

What a strange little world I’ve cooked up in my brain. 

In the end, as much as it might seem like self-care and post-divorce care are separate topics, for me, they’re very much the same. I was in a relationship where I was treated as less-than, both by a man I loved and by myself. 

I’m ready to thrive in my own skin. I’m ready to start chipping away at a culture that allows us to treat ourselves, and allows others to treat us, with less than we deserve. 

It’s a tangled mess, I know, but thanks for being here while I try. I hope you know you’re beautiful. We all are.

an anniversary

Our wedding anniversary was this week. Of all the memories I have of our wedding, the ride to the church is what’s been following me around lately. I was with my dad crammed into the front seat of his car, drowning in tulle. We rode through the Dunkin’ drive through and ordered iced lattes like it was a normal day. I wonder if we knew what I was getting myself into.

After that, memories of the dancing or the church haven’t bothered me like I thought they would. Instead, it’s the night after. I didn’t have much planned, just was hoping for a sweet moment in some girly cupcake-fluff lingerie. We had danced so much that we were both too sweaty for that, so instead of a sexy moment we just slipped into normal life like we were meant to be there. He helped me unzip my dress and birdseed fell all over the carpet. I got into the shower, where he found me, and it felt like coming home. 

And then Costa Rica. So hot, so sticky in our quiet jungle cabin. So deep in the jungle there was hardly anything to distract us from each other, but also too removed from the world for air conditioning. Required a lot more showering. Something about that stands out to me most of all- beyond the awkward first-time-sex energy… It was such a normal thing, but became something kind of lovely. He let me wash his hair. It wasn’t much, but felt vulnerable and intimate, something like a secret. And honestly, you don’t let just anyone wash your hair. You could create chemistry with just about anyone if you tried hard enough, but something about closing your eyes and letting someone shampoo you is meant for people you really trust. I was happy to do it. It felt very wifely, like a simple I love you that was brand new to our brand new way of life. 

We were happy that week. There were frogs and flowers, sloths and iguanas, fresh fruit from the garden. Walks to town for fish, piña coladas, sunburns, and the strange dark color of the sand. I remember laughing and talking and ending every night on the deck. Him in the hammock, me in the rocking chair. There was hope. Maybe relief, too, that I had his attention all to myself, and he was being so devoted after months of the opposite. We got lost in each other a bit, and it felt like it could stay that way forever. I knew marriage would be work, but I thought we’d always find each other and find a way through. We had before.

Someone asked me the other day when the rest of it started – the neglect, the bizarre manipulation. I think it only took a month. It’d all been happening, really, but something about living with someone highlights their worst in a more obvious light. Obviously. So there we were, him talking to me like I was stupid, me with those first alarm bells tinkling in the back of my mind- he’s just stressed, he’s just tired, it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine. 


After my wedding, grief had me flipping through the Rolodex of the other weddings we’d been to. Usually they were good times, except for one we’d been to in October, right at the start of a bad stretch. I felt his mood shifting while the leaves were turning, like the weather was changing for us too.

It started with the bachelor party, where he’d either he’d been to a few full-nude strip clubs and lied about it, or he was so damn drunk he honestly couldn’t remember a thing. I couldn’t tell which version of the story annoyed me more. Then there was the reception; he made a joke about getting me drunk just in case I was pregnant from the weekend before. Wanted to fix that problem, ha freakin’ ha. Then he asked – Are you done? Meaning: was I done being an annoyed/annoying crazy wife because, really, none of my feelings were worth talking about for real. Best to ignore it all and be done. That night he woke me up for sex that hurt more than it should. He was drunk and careless and I thought I couldn’t say no. It felt too weird to talk about after.

Then there was last year’s anniversary. We’d had a barbecue for the holiday weekend with some friends, and everyone was happily buzzed and ready for summer. At the end of the night it was just the two of us and we started fooling around on the patio, as one does when buzzed in the summer. It was sweet until he couldn’t quite keep it going enough for sex and the night ended with me guiltily helping him towards a one-sided finish line. Started out feeling a little loved, ended up feeling a little used. 

I cried that night, wanting God to make it end- the guilt, the coercion, the fear of what would happen to me if I starting telling my husband no. No, I don’t like how that makes me feel. No, this doesn’t seem like you want to have sex because you love me, this feels more like you just want something from me and more than anything, I’m scared because I really don’t think you care what I think. 

There’ve been many more tears since then at his expense, but that was one of the last when things were good. Good-ish. Maybe normal is a better word? Back when things were status quo. Before I’d decided I’d had enough. 

I miss Costa Rica. I miss the simplicity, the easy sex and showers and undivided attention. I miss loving and feeling loved. It’s a small moment of time untouched, like a little pocket in the jungle still wild. I wish it could’ve lasted.