dear father ryan

“Ask her how she’s doing sexually.”

A strange question for a priest to pass along to a friend to pass along to me (follow that?). She told me about it months ago, and we laughed. Strange, though, that the question still echoes in the back of my mind. How am I doing sexually? As a woman previously active, now alone? As a woman redefining womanhood? As a person redefining my relationship with my body? My heart? My mind?

I thought I was fine. I missed sex, sure, who doesn’t? But as my youthful I-better-not-die-while-I’m-a-virgin phase was over, I didn’t feel it’s absence quite as keenly as I thought I would.

Something changed last week. 

As usual, I was working on my annulment paperwork, the familiar cluster of moths waking up in my chest, fluttering away in a panic. I’m annoyed; I appreciate that anxiety shows up to send it’s own weird little message- Something is amiss! Protect yourself! This time, though, I can’t figure out what the heck today’s offending object might be. The writing was emotional, but not impossible. Maybe it’s not psychological this time, maybe just a hormone imbalance? Nutritional deficit? Too much coffee? Not enough sleep? Nothing stood out, so the herd of flapping wings took up happy residence in my throat and I carried on.

Enter Scene: Therapy

We circle through the chit-chat and Thanksgiving plans until we come around to the strange, unname-able, unblame-able anxiety. We work through EMDR and, voilà, like magic, the knots unravel. It seems my poor little mind was more upset than I realized by the disturbing process of filing through my poor little marriage. The offense this time? Sex.

In general, I thought we had been having fine sex. Good, even. We had chemistry, I thought he was hot, it usually worked out fine. I was, in general, satisfied, and felt pretty smug about being the sexually-enlightened and active wife he so longed for while we were dating. 

It only took a month or two before things started taking a weird turn. Irregularly, unpredictably, he’d be completely uninterested. I’d try to make the moves until it felt like begging, until it was too embarrassing and I walked away. Some nights I’d be wrapped up in hardly anything but a Christmas bow, and he would look at me and groan, with a smirk and a half-laugh, he was too tired, did he have to? Of course, on other days, he’d be in the mood, but my body would not (recall, he adamantly did not want children, and I adamantly did not want birth control). Those days, he would either get a fix his way or leave me feeling deservedly alone (Useless wife! -Another joke that stopped feeling like a joke). Occasionally, on stranger nights still, I’d wake up the next day with bruises or sore throats or other evidence of a night too-rough. 

We unravel the stories again, me ever-baffled at the inconsistency of it all. He wanted me so badly when we were dating! Could hardly be moved when we were married! Had such lazy, inattentive sex he couldn’t even tell when I orgasmed. Refused to talk about it at all. Wouldn’t when I wanted, wanted when I couldn’t, left me feeling used, at worst, unseen, at best, and all more often than I preferred. 

But there were nights that seemed good, we felt close, it felt real! Until he would hold me after, joking that I was gross.

How dare I feel wanted or seen for more than the moment required for him to get off.

I needed love. He needed control.

Hearing that for the first time – He Needed Control – hits in the sore spot that makes the most sense, and now I find myself grieving for the sex life I thought I had. I thought I knew what good sex was, but now I’m coming to terms with the reality that just because it felt good doesn’t mean it was good. 

Where I thought it was safe to be vulnerable, I was disposable. Where I thought I was seen, I was hardly noticed. Where I thought I was loved, intimately, completely, passionately – I was nothing but an urge met. I was competing in a battle I’d never win- to fantasy, perfection, endless flexibility and excitement. 

I grieve the small pockets of our relationship that I mistook for love. Those smallest of moments, when not riddled with dysfunction, were something I thought, occasionally, we got right. We’d had fun, it’d felt good, I felt noticed, enjoyed noticing in return. Now even those moments are gone. They never were.

So, Father, I am not doing well sexually. I am realizing that I was living in my own fantasy of sorts, and now I’m facing the possibility that I’ve never really known great sex, and maybe I never will. It’s a bit of a let-down.

Mostly, Father, I’m worried I’ll never actually be seen. That’s all I want, really, in the end.

Sometimes I’d like to run to the next man – that’ll be the time it comes together just right.

A faulty urge, on my part.

I’ll only ever be seen by One, I know that theoretically, but I can’t help but want it ever so badly from a man. It annoys me, how much it distracts me.

Maybe you can pray me through that bit, if you’re up to it.

Thanks,

Me

thinking and thanking and dating

If you looked into the windows of our first Thanksgiving you’d see us laughing. 

About the turkey I let rot on the counter for a week. About what No-Shave-November had done to his face. About the fish at the restaurant with eyeballs.

Sweet, at first glance. 

Look closer.

You’d see me panicking in the bathroom thinking I’d tracked my cycle wrong and we were going to be pregnant.

You’d see me praying at mass that I wouldn’t be, that it’d all be okay, that he’d be okay, that he’d still love me.

You’d see me leaving for Kroger, telling my parents I needed Midol, buying First Response. Hiding in the bathroom by the check-out, heart pounding in my ears watching the timer tick down.

A negative test washing the anxiety off.

Back to laughing.


I’m sorting through my life again, turning stories into essays for the never-ending ever-involved annulment questionnaire. 

I put down paragraphs on the tangled mess of my marriage; it’s winding the strand of anxiety back around my heart.

Why was I so stupid

Why couldn’t I see

Why did I stay

I was young

So dumb

In love

Maybe love is just as blind as they say. Maybe it shouldn’t have been.

I read a book on annulment the other day, and as I type along I wonder why the author said I’d get through this process and see how I’d contributed to the divorce. 

I certainly contributed the lawyer, so I guess there’s that. 

I look again, but still, no, it wasn’t my flaws that fueled our demise. My error wasn’t in the end, but in the beginning. I’ll take responsibility for that- I knew what marriage was. I knew what marriage should be. I didn’t know enough about what it would be with him, and maybe I should have.

The rest is on him.

Leaving was the bravest thing I’d ever done, and that is the only part of this story I will take ownership of. Aside from picking poorly- I did not deserve the hell he put me through. I did not deserve the callous cold, the manipulation, the fear, the anxiety, the neglect, the rage. Those were not my mistakes. 

I continue narrating my story, the list of questions stretching on like a bad dream.

I wonder why the process wasn’t this thorough before our wedding day.

I wonder how to explain the bits that need explaining without scandalizing the readers.

I wonder what to call it when you’ve been fighting with your husband because he’d lied about the strippers and later when you’d asked him what to do about the day you’d had sex – should you drink at the wedding in case you’d be pregnant in two weeks – his response was a laughing, “Better drink up!” 

What do you call it when you’re so mad you make him a bed on the couch but he’s drunk and wakes you up from sleeping to have awkward clumsy uncomfortable sex you weren’t interested in and you were angry and it didn’t feel good but you don’t tell him to stop because good wives don’t deny their husbands?

What do I call that?

I’m writing it up for a committee to review and I’m not quite sure what else to say.

This whole thing sucks.


Except, a little bit, it doesn’t.

Begrudgingly, after my fuss about the Church’s encouragement to avoid dating, I find it’s possible the advice might be valid. I feel a bit like a harrumphing teenager, skulking off, too moody to admit she was wrong. 

Eventually, though, I stop worrying about finding new men and start worrying about finding myself.

I suppose if I spent last year heart-broken this is a good a time as any for re-building. 

Makes enough sense, so I reinvest in the things I used to love. Ever-so-gently my heart starts putting itself back together.

Instead of men, I’m dating words. I’m writing. I’m reading. I’m soaking up stories. Book after book, I’m eating them up, finishing the ones that’ve been half-done for years. I’m choosing a life of expansion over life with a man who thought he was good enough, who scoffed at self-improvement. 

I date music. I realize this year alone I’ve been to more concerts than I’d gone to in years. I play classical at dinner, pop in the car, country in the shower; I soak in new albums and genres and pianos breath over me like a balm.

I plan to date the world. He didn’t want to travel. Didn’t like it, didn’t want it, angrily planted in America, uninterested in cultures or places or people or putting his feelings aside to invest time in his wife. To that I say – I’m going to Ireland this winter. To Italy this summer. To France next fall. I will see the world, I will see it’s people, and I will learn. I will explore. I will adventure. I will be a student of all this earth has to offer.

Most importantly, I spend time dating God. Where my husband made me choose between love of God and him, where he yelled when I chose God and put a hole in our bedroom wall, where he told me I was selfish for choosing my faith, I was uncompromising and hateful and made him feel unloved because I wanted a life with children in it- 

Now I pray. And I pray and pray and pray. I go to holy hours without sneaking out of the house. I go to church events and confession and mass. I play Lauren Daigle and Audrey Assad and hymns and podcasts and there is no shame. I read about saints and philosophers and Scripture and faith. I rest. 

There is no more fear. 

I am free.

I am me. 

I am thankful. 

trauma drama

 I weighed myself again last week and the numbers whispered back

You’re out of control. 

You’re unrecognizable. 

This is why he didn’t want you. 

Anxiety settles in like a cat on my chest. A little tail curls around the back of my neck, little claws pad into the fabric of my shirt. It circles round, its weight heavy, heavier, heaviest; I awake with a startled gasp for air.

It comes in waves for moments, minutes, hours. Out of no where, for no reason, or reasons I can’t understand.

There’s a fog, a hazy blurriness around the edges, the feeling that at any moment your throat might finally close in, the unstoppability of the tail curling tighter and tighter and tight—-

I blink a bit and try to watch from the outside. I squint into the fog as an observer, no longer the active participant.

From this vantage, I separate myself to watch the mental tantrum that trauma is throwing and feel the angry-toddler energy from afar. 

I recall that today’s mental clutter might be inspired by years-past conditioning. I recall that last week may have been especially challenging, considering I’ve had to narrate my dysfunctional story at two separate meetings, with two groups of people, for two separate reasons.

The first, an initial appointment for the annulment process. The next, an interview for my ex’s work.

Thinking about, preparing for, and participating in these story-telling pow-wows has taken me over. 

Do they think I’m crazy? Do they believe me? Will they be kind?

The breath comes shorter. 

It’s no longer a cat. It’s the slightest threat of his hand on my neck, he’s above me, the sex, the choking the gagging the hands on the back of my head, forcing it down my throat til it hurts I’m at the mercy of his larger-than-mine hands his hands over my face til my vision blurs its all just a joke. 

It’s drowning.

I show up at church, trying to explain what went wrong, very practically explaining dates and engagements and STDs and the reasons I shouldn’t have married this man in the first place.

I show up at coffee shops, trying to somehow explain that, sure, he might be good at his job, but no, I found him to be deceitful and manipulative and unreliable and rageful and really, no, no one else saw much of that behavior, it was reserved mostly for me, so maybe its unverifiable and it didn’t really happen.

Of course, everyone’s been kind, everyone has listened, no one has told me I was wrong. I still can’t turn off the nervous energy or the dreams or the circuit in my head running in loops warning me that everything is out of control.

I try to chase it away with sweat and yoga and reading and walking and writing and breathing and medicating.

It’s a little bit tiring.

I’m looking forward to the days these things don’t sneak up on me in such a visceral, physical way. 


In the meantime, I continue to observe.  

To be honest, it looks like quite the mess. There’s a party of diagnoses carrying on in my head and, I’m sure, a handful of fancy labels we could hand out like favors.

All I know for sure is that today I’m choking on anxiety and popping Reeses by the handful, trying to smother everything else.

Thankfully, the internet is a wide, wide world, and with gratitude towards to some handy YouTube videos and qualified mental health professionals I’m starting to hone in on why the heck I feel like I’m losing my shit.

There is a particular fancy label, C-PTSD, or Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, that has felt particularly helpful as of late. This particular cluster of ‘stress responses’ has not yet been verified by the DSM (diagnosis bible for psychology), but nevertheless has provided me a framework with which to format my experience a bit more clearly.

There’s a version of PTSD we recognize nowadays thanks in part to education and in part to war-themed movies/Grey’s Anatomy. Collectively we’re able to recognize flashbacks and violent outbursts and are happy to non-judgmentally support those who are struggling.

We also recognize that PTSD develops in times of threatened safety, where the brain sees danger and reacts chemically to prepare the body for defense. Vigilant ‘fight or flight’ mode activated.

After time, with repeated exposure, this vigilance has the capacity to convert to hyper-vigilance. The mind hears the same warning bells day in and out until it loses the ability to distinguish between real or perceived threat. Every bell is an alert to action, and certain bells engrain deeply enough to become triggering alerts to action out of proper context.

Cue Marine triggered to flash-back by ceiling fans posing as helicopters.

Worth noting- this ‘fight or flight’ response can be triggered by any threat to safety, and the same chemical reaction takes place in the face of war, car accidents, house fires, etc., etc.

Incidents are different, body responds the same.

Makes sense, right?

What was news to me was that the ‘fight or flight’ response can happen in cases of psychological danger (aka abuse) too.

It’s a little harder to pin down, as it’s a little harder to recognize psychological or emotional abuse. The process wears down the mind differently- there isn’t always one particular moment of danger. More typically, there are many, many moments over an extended period of time.

Also interesting- while the brain does not distinguish between different flavors of physical danger, it also does not differentiate between physical or psychological danger, especially when the situation is perceived to be inescapable. The body remains vigilant until the brain learns new modes of operating in a dangerous world.

With all that said, apparently there is also such a thing as an emotional flashback.

This is where the mind provides inappropriate responses to situations that have triggered the need for self-protection in the past.

Cue panic attack when your Bumble match doesn’t text you back. Sounds stupid, feels like real abandonment when you used to have a husband who didn’t text you back for hours, sometimes days.

Then after the anxiety-soaked meetings I had this week, I’m starting to identify more of those triggers in my own life. I’ve come to this conclusion: I don’t like submitting my story for critique in ways outside of my control. Writing here? Under my control. Feedback at a minimum, at least to my face. At church? In public? At work? No thank you. 

I don’t like opening myself up to a place where someone can tell me I’m crazy. Yes, I certainly am attempting to move beyond requiring validation, but, yes, I lived in a world for many years where my experience was not considered to be truth. It takes a long time to move past that.

A sprinkling of other strange triggers I’ve been not-so-pleasantly discovering on this journey with anxiety:

My weight. I see the scale and my brain recites a mantra. I’m unlovable. I’m undesirable. I’m too much, too big. Worth cheating on. Worth leaving, ignoring, treating unkindly. I earned it, it’s my fault. I’m not worth looking at, I’ll stay away.

Online Dating. LOL all you want, but many ignored messages later my fixated brain and speeding heart tell me I’m alone. I’m abandoned, uninterested, unwanted. Intimacy is the ultimate danger and people, especially men, are not trustworthy. 

Gym Paraphernalia. This feels silly, but I swear every time I hear a shaker bottle I’m back at home with him. I’m sure I’ll be alone for hours, isolated, starving for attention, neglected emotionally, not worth investing time in, not as worthy of care as a set of abs.

Vague Criticism. Unhealthy, yes, to respond to normal snippy family dynamics with shame. I made the coffee wrong? Panic. They’ll be leaving soon. They’ll be emotionally distant. They’ll be cold. Hide.

Other reliably anxiety-inducing triggers: Lying. Misogyny. Unreliability. Jeans that don’t fit. Movies where couples are fighting. Blah, blah, blah. An interesting rainbow of bizarre crap my brain has done.

I’m looking forward to untangling the rest of this mess, because this is freakin exhausting. 

In the meantime, I whisper to my anxious cat, pet it and hold it and tell it it’s safe, again and again, over and over; he pads away to rest.

a prayer for frostbite

What do we do when the Church feels cold?

When it starts to feel like no, after no, after no?

No sex outside marriage. No birth control. No same-sex relationships. No IVF. No surrogacy. 

Even in the smaller things- no meat on Fridays, no food before mass. No getting high, drinking too much, eating too much, shopping too much.

In some circles, the more ridiculous things- no bikinis, no shorts, no working mothers.

It can all start to feel a little heartless.

I won’t pretend to understand the struggle of those in the world sorting through heavier things, but recently I’ve been faced with my own small ‘no’ and I’m a bit at odds.

See, according to my Church, I’m supposed to avoid new romantic relationships until my annulment has been finalized. 

For those unaware, an annulment is basically the Church’s way of confirming that a marriage was, at the time of the vows, not sacramental- not a free, total, faithful, fruitful, holy union at it’s inception.

In ‘guilty until proven otherwise’ fashion, we are meant to assume the marriage was sacramental until Step One: The divorce is legally finalized and Step Two: An official Church tribunal reviews the case (comprised of documents, testimonies, questionnaires, and supporting accounts from outside observers).

In the in-between state of a marriage dissolved by law and not by faith, involved parties are advised to “remain faithful to the wedding vows” until an annulment is, or is not, granted. 

This process, tacked on top of my already never-ending divorce, promises to be another lengthy, involved, and emotional one. 

In reality, holding off on dating is probably for the best, as I’m not really interested in exploring vulnerability with men. And to be completely honest, I’m enjoying this space for myself.

Even still, it feels rather harsh to encourage me to “stay faithful to my vows” when the male half of this situation was not faithful to any vows on any level. Not in dating, not in marriage, and absolutely not now. 

So what am I staying faithful to? Lies? Deception? Cover ups? A sham of a marriage and a liar of a husband? And why am I the punished party? If anyone needs a little churching here, I think it might be him. 

So I’m annoyed. 

And I’m tired. 

I’d like to feel free to move and make decisions of my own volition, not as a slave to an abusive husband, the inefficiency of the Californian legal system or the intricacy of an annulment process. I’m tired of being manipulated and under control and out of control, financially and emotionally and spiritually and physically.

On top of that, I feel like I’m grieving again. I’m just starting to realize that- surprise!- I’m really, really, single. A mental spiral triggered by the settlement submitted last week for final legal processing.

I’m relieved, but a little more broken than I thought I’d be. 

I feel abandoned. 

I keep thinking, over and over,

but what if he’d loved me?


There’s a voice that follows, whispering is this it

Is it?

Am I going to be alone? Forever?

I suppose I was alone before. Loneliness in a marriage was certainly painful in its own special way, leaving me by myself at church, with family, in prayer, in thought.

One of those last summer nights found me alone in my home, again, calling him over and over at three am, wondering where he was, again. I tossed and turned, coming to terms with a truth I’d been avoiding: I’d rather be alone forever than live like this. 

So what if this really is forever?

I don’t want to hear that God has a plan or it’s all going to be okay. 

This might be the plan. 

Is it ok?


I try to look beyond the rules.

I put it all away, and I try to look to Jesus.

I try to sit in mass, sit in adoration, sit in prayer.

I try to get beyond the sterility of rule-following to the heart of it.

I sit, and sit, and sit, and stare into the face of God until as much as I wrestle, I can’t help but rest.

There’s something undeniable; it’s tangible, concrete peace. It’s grace.

There is a real encounter with a real God, and real love, so maybe- maybe- singleness is not synonymous with loneliness. 

Maybe these rules aren’t the iron-cold bars of a cage, but the warm walls of a home within which I encounter love in the most healthy, human way possible. 

Maybe here, in this home, there is a life of abundance waiting around the corner.

Or maybe that life is right here, waiting for me to live it.

a season of shavasana

I’ve been making time for yoga lately. Not with the skill or intensity of a Lulu-clad millennial- I’m mostly in my room with my dog- but it’s felt good all the same. 

I used to practice casually in my little North Carolina town, attending beginner classes with retirees and other inflexible townspeople. It was around that time my marriage was at a low point, and I was grateful for mornings alone to unwind. It was just for myself, without people-pleasing or clock-ins or competition. My body moved the way it wanted and needed, without pressure or judgment or the eyes of a husband who loathed me.

All was well – I could even touch my toes! – until my foot broke, I had to stop working, and me and my paisley mat moved to California.

Unfortunately, years of picked-last-in-gym syndrome kicked in and I avoided yoga like the plague, unhappy in my skin and ability and intimidated by the way everyone in Southern California somehow grew up doing yoga (how?). I couldn’t compare or keep up, so I let it go.

It’s October now, another season of letting go. The heat fades, the colors change, the air cools, life stills. 

What am I shedding this season with the leaves? What am I letting settle to the earth with the reds and yellows and oranges? What is the sun warming again with its sweet autumnal light?

I turn into myself, stretch out tight hips, and unwind again in the evening golden glow.

I am in a new season, too. In my room, lengthening and strengthening, I’m given permission to reclaim what’d been forgotten as I greet downward dogs and fish and frogs like old friends.

I am learning to sink further into my body. I am slowly celebrating small victories, making peace with small failures and, through it all, enjoying my muscles and breath and sweat and strength.

More than anything, I find I’m enjoying this new space for aloneness. I sweep out the rooms of my mind, say goodbye to unruly, unwanted visitors, and close the door. There is quiet, there are candles, and at the center of it all, I lay a mat out to take care of myself, for myself, with myself. An outward sign that yes, I take up space in this world, and yes, I will foster that space. 

At the end of it all, I’m in shavasana, the corpse pose. On the outside, I’m looking like the meeting place of life and death. On the inside, I am anchoring. Settling into myself, my skin, my life, my mind, and letting go. Making room for the season I am in and new seasons to come. Sinking deeply into a rhythm.

As much as fall brings death to life, maybe this season, this shavasana of nature, is simply about making space. New space, new room, to breathe. To sink, once again, into a rhythm.


In this new light and space, I am most happily embracing this fresh sense of stillness. A significant stride, considering the unrest of last October.

Last year I was living at home, paying for lawyers, starting a new job, learning about life in a new state. This year, much is the same, but, even still, much is changed. Yes, I’m at home, paying for lawyers, not divorced, but, today, my heart is rested. The constant weight of his presence is fading. He isn’t driving me forward, moving me urgently towards the need to heal, pushing me towards conquering, fighting, processing, growing. 

I continue on my own road, this October, still conquering, processing, growing- but no longer at his expense. It is, this time around, for me, and me alone. This season, this version of me, is a little less tethered to that man, the one who held my heart and mind from a distance.

Now I move through my day, clear headed, both purposeful and purposeless, in a rhythm set by me. He doesn’t hover over my shoulder, doesn’t remind me I am alone, doesn’t tell me I am unlovable, doesn’t say anything at all. He isn’t anywhere to be found. 

Of course, occasionally, when I’m least expecting it, he does come back. October is for ghosts, after all.

Most recently, he was in a song floating over the trees, a tune from the family across the street. Those words had always brought me back to him, back to dancing at bars and at weddings, leaning into each other closer and singing louder, feeling breathlessly this is our life, feeling seen and seeing and wrapped up in home. 

My heart hurt, for a moment, and I wonder if these moments plan on revisiting me for forever. I wonder if I’ll go longer than hours or days- maybe years- until a song or a laugh or a smell returns my heart to his. And then again, for a moment, all the sorrow and all the ache will be back like a strike of lightening, a piercing flash, before returning to nothing. Just another rain storm, just another fall. 

I wonder if someday, at the end of these earthly days, I’ll see him again in another flash of light. Another strike without the pain and the anger and sadness and brokenness. 

I wonder if a part of my heart, a part of my soul, will be his for always. And I wonder if, maybe, someday, those littlest parts will be together again, in the briefest exhale, ah, I know you, and there will be a moment of love, the way we meant it to be. Now, as through a mirror, then, as face to face.

Or, perhaps, more autumns will pass by, and it’ll all be nothing but a lightening strike, an unseen scorch of earth in an overgrown forest, buried and buried again under the falling leaves. 

not cool things to say to your buddies

In the spirit of ‘open and honest’ communication, a la The Bachelor, I’d like to get into a couple things I struggle with when talking about The Situation (Divorce, Trauma, Abuse, Etc.).

Some of these things genuinely annoy the hell out of me, and some of these things I realize are well-intentioned and possibly just poorly timed.

Let’s start with the Genuinely Annoying:

That’s not abuse that’s abandonment. Do I really need to spell this one out? Abandonment is abuse. Moving on.

I hope you and your husband work things out. I just spent an hour explaining that my relationship was emotionally abusive and that’s what you came up with? Obviously that’s not an option, so thanks but no thanks for your well wishes. It’s creepy and weird and you obviously A) don’t believe me or B) weren’t listening.

Did you pray about it? I know I’ve covered this before. Yes, I prayed. Yes, it’s confusing. Trust me, it confuses my understanding of God just as much as it confuses yours. However, the timing of this question can be completely inappropriate. I’d love to get into the faith-based philosophy of it all, but can we bring it up in such a way that doesn’t makes it seem like I could have prayed my way out of abuse?

Everyone makes mistakes. Thanks, cool. Next time I get manipulated into staying in a shitty relationship I’ll thank you for the wisdom.

As least XYZ didn’t happen to you that happened to me. Seriously? This is Communication and Validation 101. If you’ve invited me to talk to you, please just listen without comparing my experience to yours. We don’t need to be sitting around competing for Who’s Trauma Sucked Most awards, we need to be listening to each other. I’d love to hear to your story, if you can try to respect mine.


Those are the biggies. Moving on to the more well-intentioned comments that have the potential to land wrong.

I’ll preface this discussion by saying I understand that divorce is uncomfortable and sometimes there’s no right response, and I absolutely appreciate each person who’s offered support in the way they know how. However, I would like to clear a few things up, so maybe we can grow a little in future.

Phrases to Avoid for Healthy Communication with Your Friend Who Is Struggling:

What happened? Okay. This is an interesting one, because it’s kind and a good conversation skill to be able to ask open-ended questions. I do appreciate it. However, I don’t necessarily appreciate the timing when I say things like, “He just wasn’t good to me” or “He was abusive” or “It just wasn’t healthy” and I get “What happened?” in return. I just told you. Here are some additional bullet points, because inherently I’m a nerdy note-taker that prefers structure:

  • Asking this question at the wrong time puts me in a place where I feel like I need to provide proof that yes, in fact, my understanding of abuse lives up to your expectation, and, yes, my pain is valid.
  • I do not appreciate the skepticism or how small it makes me feel to simplify my experience into some version of, “He hurt my feelings.” If we were to talk about physical or sexual abuse I wouldn’t have to provide a laundry list of facts. It’s just in this vague, mysterious world of emotion that I have to somehow paint a picture to strangers that no, I’m not crazy, and no, I did not make this up.
  • I also do not appreciate the sigh of relief when I mention cheating or STDs. The tangible presence of medical fact gives people something logical to latch on to, something clearly clearly clearly WRONG so, sure, that makes my story easier to process for everyone else. Sometimes I feel like I have to bring it up just for that reason. However, I promise, without a doubt, this is no where near what cut the deepest. The emotional and psychological games were a thousand times worse, and I wish that was enough to swallow on its own.

At least you’re young. Again, yes, true. What am I supposed to say to this, though? Cool, my ovaries haven’t shriveled into hopeless little raisins. And there’s a potential I’ll be able to date someone someday without needing Botox. Awesome, right? Also awesome, I get to jump headlong into the miserable world of dating that I THOUGHT I GOT TO AVOID. Shit, I see enough people in my life struggling to meet decent guys as it is and, on top of that, I thought I already had it figured out! I certainly am not enjoying having my life un-figured out, even though, yes, I am only a baby bird at the age of 27. For the record, this whole shit-show has been infinitely more painful than I thought it would be, and I don’t think age makes that more or less legitimate.


Yes, I’m feeling a little sassy, so I’m sorry. To be fair, I will present some helpful alternatives to having a healthy conversation with your next heartbroken friend.

Do you want to talk about it? This gives me the freedom to say, politely, no thank you, or yes, please. It doesn’t leave me needing to present facts to prove a point, I’m not immediately positioned on the defensive, and I get the sense that you are kindly ready to listen. I am grateful for that and, truly, genuine conversation is healing.

Yes, you were abused. Validation is always appreciated, and the first time someone did this it meant the world to me. She looked me in the eyes, put her hand on my knee, and said the words out loud that I’d been playing with and hiding away. She allowed me to begin processing what had actually happened, in real life, and acknowledged that no, it was not just in my head.

What did that experience look like for you? An appropriate follow up question to the previous comment. This lets me know you appreciate that there are many faces and dimensions of abuse, you believe me, and you are a safe place for me to expand. 

How are you doing? Even if it’s been a long time, this one is always awesome. It’s been 14 months since I left my marriage, and I’m still sad sometimes. It’s normal to still be sad. It’s also normal to be happy, or excited, or nothing at all. Whatever it is, consistent follow-up is always cool.

Be there. In general, (not always! Writer, here) actions are able to convey more than words. Baked goods and wine go far. Sitting together with coffee, watching Bachelor in Paradise, going for hikes, whatever- its all therapeutic in its own way. And the presence of a good friend gives people space to breathe and talk organically, without diving into all too much all too quickly. Even better, things like that help life move on, new routines take hold, and fosters a sense of grounding normalcy. All super healthy and refreshing.

Avoid fishing. If you want to reach out, genuinely offer concern, or have words of wisdom, it’s all well-received. If you’re just fishing for the drama, that’s kind of a bummer, and I can usually tell the difference. Stay genuine, stay authentic. It’s more healing, especially  to someone coming out of a relationship plagued by disingenuous behavior.

Some other easy comments generally always welcomed:

You’re not crazy.

You didn’t make this up.

I see you.

You are enough.

I’m sorry that happened.

Thank you for sharing your story. 

And from me, to the rest of you, thank you for listening. 

loving again

We used to love football. Dogs. Pizza. 

We loved long nights out with friends. Silly things like Minions and Star Wars. We loved Mumford & Sons. Country music. We loved campfires and sweater-weather and the way the leaves changed in the fall. 

We loved each other.

We shared a home. Hearts. Lives.

What do I do with those details now? 

The small, sweet casualties of a love gone wrong? 

Do I put them into storage with the rest of the boxes and pretend they never existed? 

Will they always be tainted?

Do I still have a claim to any of it? Am I allowed to love what I left? 

Am I brave enough?


I spent a year wandering and wondering, meeting moments like holidays and anniversaries and seasons that highlighted the new-ness of alone-ness. 

Somehow in all the sadness I realized it wouldn’t be fair, not to me, not to the things I’ve loved, to let it all pass me by in a haze. Christmas was still Christmas. Music was still music. I might as well enjoy the hell out of it, and perhaps all the more deeply if I’ve made peace with the journey. 

Really, there was no need to put away parts of my heart to protect the pieces that broke.

So I went to the concerts we both would’ve loved. I watched every game we could’ve seen side-by-side. I sang all our songs, then again on repeat. I ate our foods, drank our wine, and went to our beaches. 

I loved it all the same, and, this time, for myself.

Of course, it’s one thing to say that I’ll keep loving music or sports or food. It’s another thing entirely to take ownership of the most complicated of relationships: the one I have with my body. 

He used to love it. I used to love it. We used to enjoy each other, very thoroughly.

However, sometimes this relationship took a more disrespectful-dysfunctional-disordered turn. 

Sometimes at my hand, obsessing with diets and thinness and comparison to other women. 

Sometimes by his, with boundary-crossing, coercion, neglect, unfaithfulness, or, again, comparison to other women.

A mess, really.


Last week I traveled to the place I was most afraid to go— California, the home I last shared with my ex. A place our marriage was lost and I was found; a place I thought would be heart-wrenching and anxiety-ridden. Despite this, my return was healing in a way I hadn’t expected. Instead of pouring salt into the wounds of last summer, this coast gave me the chance to undo another knot in the net I’d been tangled in.

It was nothing profound, no lightening-bolt from heaven or words from above. Just a day at the spa with a sister, and something as simple as a massage.

Honestly, it seemed strange at first, but there I was, resting on the table, only ever having learned to poke and prod and despise my body for softness or stretch marks or rest days. There he was, stretching my shoulders wound-up from work and undoing more damage than he realized. 

In the end I could not have been more grateful for that particular massage with that particular man. The whole experience was so incredibly respectful, it left me wondering— when was the last time anyone was this kind to my body? When was the last time I was this kind to my body?

I left that day and found myself enjoying the longer walks home, simply for the sake of enjoying the breeze. I kayaked and swam. I embraced the sun and my heartbeat and the movement of a body not being punished by exercise. I moved because I enjoyed it, and I moved because I deserved it.

At the end of the trip, I stepped one last time into the Pacific with nothing on but the water; waves crashing, the sand dark, the sky ink, the only light from the stars. 

I was there, both found and lost again in the middle of it all. Surrounded by primal, incomprehensible, beautiful majesty, and somehow just simply a part of it. 

And now I’m here, home again, and I’m taking it back. 

Everything I loved, and everything I am, will be mine again.

Both for you and for me, and for the girl who found herself again in the sea.