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?

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.

to his family

I love you all. 

I’ve been thinking about what happens if any of you are curious enough to wander this way, and it scares me. Makes me sad, really. I’m sorry if this hurts you.

I’m sorry if this is too honest for you or too much or if you asked him why I left and he just told you I was crazy. You can keep believing that if it’s easier. The truth is, though, that I’m not, and you know that I’m not. I’m smarter than that. 

It took me a long time to come to terms with the openness and publicness of these words, and I waited to post primarily because I was afraid of what you’d all think. Think of me, think of him, think of all of it. I wonder what you saw through your own eyes and if you can’t understand what I’ve done. To be honest, there were days in the past when leaving would cross my mind, but I stayed because I loved you. I didn’t want to leave your network and safety and all the ways I’d come to respect your family. I hate to think of losing yours.

So today, from the most sincere depths of my heart, I’d also like to thank you all. 

Thank you for always being so warm. Thank you for welcoming me in when I was quiet and shy and probably not all that interesting as a soft-spoken teen. Thank you for making me grow to feel comfortable and for always making me laugh. Thank you for sharing your children with me. I miss them. Thank you for letting me keep my beliefs and opinions and respecting them.

Thank you for teaching me how to sit for hours at dinner and the beauty of conversation. Thank you for the depth and color of life found in wine and taking the time for happy hour on a weekday. Life should be lived well, every day of the week. 

Thank you for all the time and money poured into visiting us or flying me to visit with you. Thank you for investing in me and supporting a relationship where you saw love. 

Thank you for nights out at bars, nights in for games, lazy days at the pool and trips to the ocean. 

Thank you for loving me. Thank you for telling me I was smart and telling him I was smart. Thank you for trying to teach him how to be kind to me.

I’m sorry that this happened. I’m sorry if this confuses the kids. I’m sorry that I’m here sharing my story and bringing you to places you probably didn’t want to go. Don’t read it if you can’t. I know your love and loyalty is for him. Just know that I still think of you all often, and there is a hole in my heart where your absence is felt.

Someday I hope you can see that I needed to stop protecting him and start protecting someone else. I needed to help the girl who feels alone and can’t tell if what’s happening to her is worth tolerating, if it’s all nothing, or if those small confusing moments of disconnect and disrespect add up to something a little more serious. I need to try to protect her. My sisters. My friends. The me I used to be. I need to try to let other people know they aren’t alone, even when they’re left in a house by themselves wondering why they aren’t worth the love they thought they deserved. 

I’m sorry, and I’ll always be sorry. I hope you all are well.

Love, 

Me

summer love lost

“I don’t think I miss him anymore.”

The words are out of my mouth in therapy the day before my flight takes off, but then I’m here, in the state we grew up in. I swallow my words; it’s all back. This is a joke, right? I mean, I still thought about him every day, but it was fading to more of the odd passing thing. Not this nagging headache.

Damn. He is everywhere. He’s here in the way the roads twist through the quiet woods, the way the headlights reflect off the leaves, brights turned up the whole way home because no one else is on the road. I see him in the stars, the way they splash across the sky in a dance of quiet faithfulness, and I’m back to nights breathing fresh air after hours lost kissing. 

I feel him in the breeze; chilly sweater-weather in the cool northern summer night. One of those nights he took me to the top of the hill by his house, hopping fences and lending me his sweatshirt so we could watch the hours pass by with the crickets. There was a shooting star that night- I was convinced it was a sign. 

I think of the night after prom, swimming in the pool with friends, mixing drinks, crawling into bed at dawn in his old football t-shirt. I think of rides in the truck with my feet on the dash, walks through the woods in the thick humidity. I think of the initials we carved in the bench near the swamp; I think of the sunset we went back for after we were married. It was still just as beautiful. 

There was the sweet innocence of hand-holding, shy first kisses and kayaking. He let me tie my boat to his, and I didn’t mind sitting behind him and watching the way his arms moved. There was Rita’s and Friendly’s and all the silly places you go on dates when you’re young. Summers were always full of each other- me home for a few months, him home for a week or two. It was like stolen time. I soaked him in until I wished I could just melt right into his skin and he stuck to me like the bonfire smoke in my hair. 

How did that become this?

And when does this end? He is still here, burned into every memory of this state, the air and the sky and the trees. Why? And worse than that, why is he in all my favorite songs, my best memories, moments where I grew up? Moments with my family? Why is he in all the movies I love, songs I know by heart, foods I eat, games I play? Why is he everywhere? Every damn thing is his.

I’m not sure what to do here and I wish I knew when it would end. I want to be free. I want to be done. But then I think of the way he kissed me that first night and those summer stars and something about how kind he used to be leaves me lost. I still have trouble knitting these pieces of him into the fabric of what we became. It hardly fits, like a gold thread of magic through a forgotten gray quilt. 

I guess I could thank him for that, for the little bit of magic we stole in our summers. Something about that young romance seems hopelessly lovely… What an unwelcome trick time plays. It’s as if we finally learned the ending: Cinderella doesn’t keep her prince, and the enchanted forest is nothing but a tangle of poison ivy. Probably full of ticks, too, knowing that part of town.

I’d like to think that Cinderella will be perfectly happy anyway, maybe involved with someone a little more consistently lovely. A nice cobbler’s boy or baker or something. Maybe no one, and that could be okay for her too. I guess we’ll see.

a year of celibacy

Not exactly the most exciting anniversary in the world, but interesting, yes? In the absence of being naked with anyone but my GYN, I’ve been on a very educational journey.

For starters, I’ve learned some lessons in self-worth. The binge-eating misery of divorce (college/grad school/night shift) has re-shaped my body. While I am on my way towards healing my relationship with food, I am also finding that the size of my jeans should not correlate with how confident I allow myself to feel. I don’t need to lose weight to be happy, and whatever that number says, or doesn’t say, I deserve to take care of myself. If that means I don’t even know what I weigh, then that’s great too. 

Either way, I deserve to feel beautiful. And I deserve to buy some damn bras that actually fit.

Speaking of undergarments, the next time I let anyone else take off this fancy-ass bra things are going to go a little differently.

Next time, I will not allow myself to feel manipulated into doing anything I’m not comfortable doing. This is good bedroom behavior, but, not surprising, also applicable to daily life. I am not to be taken advantage of.

Some other tidbits I’m going to keep in the back pocket of my high-rise jeans:

Crying after sex means that things are no bueno. RED FLAG.

Sex should not be selfish. At my most open, most vulnerable, and most intimate, I should not be left feeling used.

I am worth the work. I am worth the time. I am worth the effort. Sex is good and it should feel like it!

Also good: being a woman. Women are homes. Soft places to land and safe places to hide, built on strong, durable, brave, unbreakable bones.

We don’t just exist to be attractive, and our femininity is not defined by our desirability. I am still a woman if no one sees me, wants me, or validates me. 

Of course, on the other hand, women are inherently beautiful. Beauty is good and our bodies are good. We are worth celebrating and uplifting and appreciating. This does not allow for casual use and degradation. Also to be avoided: gossip and comparison. Two very reliable thieves of joy.

Anyway, here I am, a year untouched, living in a body I’m finally growing to love. I’m grateful for this year of alone-ness in my skin, and I’m grateful for this Creator of mine Who was kind enough to take as much time on me as He did sunsets and oceans and wine. Maybe more.

How magnificent. 

were you there

There’s a song that gets pulled out at church around Good Friday every year that used to give me chills. It’s lyrics lead the congregation through Jesus’ Passion in an uncomplicated but profound way, personally asking each of us if we’ve walked the journey with our Christ: Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree? Laid Him in the tomb?

I heard it again last Sunday and it’s lyrics felt more personal than years before. I found myself in the same sort of sadness, but also somewhere new. It felt almost indignant. Don’t ask me where I was, Lord. Where were You? Were You there? Were you there on the nights I cried alone? Were You there for the panic attacks? For the abandonment? For the anger? For the confusion?

Were You there when I was coerced? When no didn’t mean no? When I was ignored? When I was the target of undeserved hatred? Were You there when I was made to feel less than wanted, less than beautiful, less than a woman? When the desires of my heart, the ones I begged You for, went unanswered, year after year?

Were You there when I had to hide my marriage from others, from myself? When I didn’t know how to explain the strange undercurrent of dread, dissatisfaction, loneliness? When I begged You to bring my husband back to me? Bring Your peace into our home?

When I trusted deeply and implicitly that everything would be okay-  were You listening or laughing? When I felt You tell me everything would turn out alright- is this heartbreak what You had in mind? When I prayed for him to know You and see me, did You know that would never come to be?

I think back to that pivotal morning I met with the priest. That day when we walked through the tortured turns of my marriage I was looking for advice, looking for someone to tell me again it would all be okay. Instead of something encouraging I could tuck into my pocket and casually take back home, he reassured me that, yes, it would all be alright, but no, things could not go on as they had. He said You wanted better for me, and I would need to be brave enough to step out into the world and away from my husband. It was the first time I was faced with someone confirming out loud a truth I had been hiding in my heart. I needed to leave.

Something settled over me when I finally faced that truth- a bittersweet mix of acceptance, relief, and dread. I knew what I needed, but, my gosh, the road ahead was going to be long. It was going to be brutal. Excruciating.

In the chapel afterwards all I felt was the Garden. The Garden Jesus wrestled His Heart in, begging God for the cup to pass. He saw what was ahead of Him and knew it would be Good, but oh, how terrible. The pain of a broken body and broken heart, rejection and suffering. It all lay ahead of Him, yet He still saw that the only way to the Glory of Resurrection was through Hell.

I was in my own small corner of that Garden that day. I was already exhausted and couldn’t fathom how I would be able to pull my heart into even more pieces than it had already been broken. A sense of real grief and no, I’m really not looking forward to this, let’s fast forward, let’s just not. It was easier to suffer in the silence and predictability of my life then rip it all apart completely.

When I walked out of the chapel, eyes swollen from tears, I found myself in the lush sweetness of a rose garden. A little slice of paradise. A little bit of beauty bordering my Gethsemane.

So maybe You were there. Maybe You meant it when You said it would all be okay. Maybe You were present and waiting to set me free the whole time. From abuse, from death, from sin, from fear.

It took me an awfully long time to get there, though, and I’m not sure why I found myself leaving a life I had prayed so hard to start. Why did we go this way? Why did we take this road? I wish I knew.

I’m trying to trust Your presence and grace. You’re writing a story for glory, a crown of roses from a crown of thorns. I’m trying to trust again with that same unwavering faith that You are real and You will heal. You will make paths straight and there will be life renewed. Life abundant.

I’d like to think that You are holding vigil while I hide in the darkness, in this small tomb of unknowing, and while I am waiting here You are sowing a garden. When these stones roll away there will be morning, and I will be met with new life.

Alleluia, Alleluia.

when you love the one you left

I still miss you. 

I’ve been having dreams where we’re together and I can’t quite remember why we were ever apart. We’re happy again until I wake up and I’m left feeling like I’ve been visited by your ghost and that old maybe-I’ll-let-the-shit-slide feeling starts to haunt me; the old feeling I used to use when I crammed everything else down. I did it because I liked you and it felt like too much to tackle anyway.

And because your eyes crinkled when you laughed. 

The ghost starts unraveling my day with memories of our sweeter life. And then I miss you more.

I miss rubbing your back while we fell asleep. I miss sitting in bed eating trail mix and laughing. I miss hearing you sing in the shower. I miss your wedding ring, slow dancing, your arms around me. 

Sometimes you made me feel wanted. Needed. Special. Loved.

I think about that night near the end of it all when I sat on the side of the guest bed. I had started making you sleep in there. You didn’t understand at first and it was a stab in my heart every time I had to remind you and remind myself that I was leaving you. We shouldn’t be in the same bed anymore. Please go stay in the other bed. Over and over I told you. 

Then that night you were in that bed and I was just out of the shower, sitting on the edge in a little nightgown and crying. 

What a strange crossroads. How easily I could have just put it all away and invited you back to our room. How much I wanted to. I wanted you back where I remembered you, back where you wanted me and we could love each other. Instead, I was there crying, and you were telling me I was doing this. 

I guess in a way you were right. I was doing this. I was the one that was leaving. I was the one walking away. And I guess I didn’t have to.

I wish I didn’t have to. Too long, though, I had forgiven and forgotten and pushed and shifted and smashed things under the rug. It would have been easier to let it go again, and again, and again, and fall back into the pattern of life where it was good and I was holding my breath for the moment it wouldn’t be good anymore. 

Instead I’m waking from dreams of you to April mornings in this new life of mine, and I drift back to those springs that built our old life.

It was the last spring of high school when we started dating. It was a season of milkshakes after school, hikes in melting snow, runs in the park when the sun set late. It was kayaking and kissing, talking and star-gazing, Malibu in Coke and long rides in your truck. You were quiet back then. You were the strong, football-playing guy who secretly just wanted to hold my hand. You were sweet and you listened and your sturdiness made me feel soft. 

We got engaged on a late May night four years later. You were driving me home from college when we stopped in a park where you bent down with the ring I’d picked out a month before. The crickets chirped their congratulations and we got lost on the way back home. 

Our wedding was the spring after that. It was beautiful. Somehow, still one of the most satisfying, full, lovely days of my life. There was joy and flowers, all the people I loved in one place, and so much dancing I ruined my dress. It was heaven. Our whole hopeful lives were ahead of us, and when we smashed cake into each other’s faces I didn’t mind a bit. I loved the way we could make each other laugh. And then our honeymoon was the loveliest, laziest, stickiest week in the jungle I will never forget. It was you and me, alone on the planet, soaking each other in with the sun. There were rocking chairs and seafood, walks and sunburns and as much sex as we could manage. We belonged to each other.

We bought our first house last March. You made a joke about being stuck with me when we signed for the 30-year mortgage. Not so funny now, I suppose. We had plans for that house, though, ideas for the deck and the porch. You built a workshop in the garage and I was beside myself with the joy of a functional washer-dryer. 

Your family came to visit that spring and the week we spent with them might have been our last good time. You were easy to be around with your family there. It was safe for me. I felt at home with them. We swam and played cards and enjoyed the breezy California bloom. There was a lemon tree the kids loved and wine for the rest of us.

It’s hard to come to terms with these two versions of our marriage- the one where you were sweet and strong, and the one where you were angry and absent. The times where I was seen and the times I was invisible. 

I used to walk into the future holding on to these Springs of the Past- the easy, bright days full of hope- until that night on the guest bed, when I sat and cried over the place I’d finally put you in. I knew I needed to let the bad come out from where I’d hidden it and let it be as real as the good. I knew I needed to choose a future where I didn’t have to hide secrets or live hurt. That night I had to hold our marriage in my hands and cry, because I knew that when I chose to walk away from the darkness, I would leave behind a little light too. 

It’d be easier to pretend it never existed so I could just hate you. Instead, I’m here, in this first spring in this new life of mine, and I’m realizing I really only said goodbye to the man that I left. I need to say goodbye to the man that I loved.

So, goodbye to you. 

Goodbye to the boy who walked with me in the woods and carved our names in the tree.

Goodbye to the writer of my love letters, to my prom date, to my football-watching, dog-walking friend.

Goodbye to your arms and the songs you sang me. Goodbye to your lips. Goodbye to my rocking chairs and your cigars and country-music summer nights. Goodbye bonfires and dancing. Goodbye car rides and long talks and sharing families.

Goodbye to the part of my heart I gave you. Goodbye to my hopes for our future. Goodbye to our imaginary children playing in their imaginary yard and the way I thought you’d look when you held our babies. Goodbye to Christmas mornings and Sunday coffee and Game Night. 

Goodbye to your laugh. Goodbye to your smile. Goodbye to those moments where you made me feel safe.

Goodbye, friend. I love you.