after the flood

She’s alert at the bow, her grip on the ledge breaking splinters, bright eyes squinting through tears and the rain of a storm. Wails lost in the wind, the spray, the haze of salt and mist; she rolls in a wave. 

Again and again, merciless, never-ending, until, exhale, it ends. The waves slow. She tucks low, exhausted, surrenders to the sea, heavy eyes under a heavier sky. 

She rolls to her back, sore from the stillness of sleep. Black has poured over the sky; she floats, an island alone in oceans of darkness. There are stars, diamonds spilled from a jar, there is so, so much of the sky; she can breathe. In, out. In, out. Left, right. Up, down. She rocks with the boat, onward, onward; she sleeps.

A bird flutters to perch, riding the waves of a slow golden glow, sunlight melting over the sky, the sea, her skin – she blinks silent greeting to her new feathered friend. 

They watch the day together, blues and grays roll by. She tilts to the sky, eyelashes eskimo kissing the salted breeze. She never knew what it meant to bask before, but there she was, doing it. Basking.

And then there was land.

The loudest sound yet, she leaps overboard, splashes into the sea. 

She is everything and nothing in the pull of the ocean; she is lost in the power of what was long before her and what moves after. She is salt and water and life, she is death and birth and baptism and eternity. She swims and soaks and delights. 

She wades ashore, guiding the boat by hand. Two-handed now, plodding through the thickest surf, moving steadily towards the final grind of wood against sand. 

She turns, hands on hips, facing what lays before her. Lush and green- every shade of green- the hint of honeydew and the depth of pine, the radiance of emerald, the richest of moss- it is here. It is life.

She walks in. 

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 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. 

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. 

i’m glad you were born

I’ve spent time building this little home for my words to tell a few stories, get through a few thoughts, and form small bridges of connection. This cozy corner of mine is titled Letters to You– I’ve always found letters to be both profoundly personal and still, somehow, a bit mysterious. They can be thoughtful and wandering, casual or serious; a hidden place to put down words, and a proclamation worthy of sharing.

I’ve tried to write straight from my heart to your yours: to friends, family, colleagues, people I’ve yet to meet, those I love and those I loved.

Today, I’m taking this space for myself.


To You,

Hello.

I see you.

I see you last year, on the bottom of your shower, crying so hard the room is spinning. I see you with your world ripped out from under you. I see you confused and scared and lost in a heartbreak you never could have imagined.

You’re tired. Exhausted. I see you packing up a house you once loved. I see you putting away dreams. I see you saying goodbye. I see you walking away. I see you still loving him, fiercely, beyond comprehension, and still choosing a new life. I’m sorry that was so hard. Thank you for being brave.

I see you alone in your kitchen, drowning your heartbreak in wine. I see you hiding. Burying yourself in chocolate, in pretzels, in pasta, in secrets. I see you trying to make everything else hurt worse than your heart. You try, but it doesn’t make you ugly. You aren’t forgettable. You are good.

I’m sorry you feel bad when you need to buy new jeans. He wouldn’t have loved you more if you fit in the smaller ones anyway. It’s okay to let them go. 

I see you in the panic attacks. I see you in the insomnia. I see you in your moodiness, your tears, your anxiety, your loneliness. I see you in your quietness and snippiness and busyness. I see you needing nap after nap after nap. Your body has been through a lot, for a very long time. Be gentle.

I see you in your anger. I’m sorry for what he left behind. I’m sorry for the reminder of the times he hurt your heart and took advantage of you. It’s okay to be mad.

I’m sorry you aren’t who you thought you’d be. I’m sorry you’re no longer a wife and the promise of motherhood is no longer nearby. I’m sorry you are bitter and hurt and jealous of families and babies and couples in love. I hope your heart softens again. 

I’m sorry you trusted a man to see you and know you and respect you and love you and raise you up. I’m sorry you thought he would lead you but he hurt you. I’m sorry you planned for a life and hoped for a dream that didn’t come true. 

I’m sorry you invested so much of yourself in the wrong person. You had a lot to give. You still do.

I’m sorry you felt alone. I’m sorry for the nights without a friend, without the words to ask for help. I’m sorry for the times you didn’t even know you needed it. 

You will see that even here, even now, God is faithful. He is trustworthy. He has made a promise to you, and you will be blessed.

In this next year, and the years to come, know that you deserve respect. You deserve love. You deserve to take up space.

And guess what? There’ll be days you stop wondering if you’re too fat to be loved. 

There’ll be days where you dance so hard you can’t walk, and you weren’t held or kissed or noticed by a man all night long. That will be perfectly, wonderfully, beautifully okay. 

You will learn that you are enough.

You will know that your voice is worthy of being heard. Your face is worthy of being seen.

You have permission to dream new dreams.

You are a complex, beautiful, broken, healing, open, emotional, fun, intelligent, kind, hard-working, dog-loving, size 16-jean wearing mess. You are human. 

I love you. I respect you. I hear you. I see you.

You are good. Better than good. 

The best is yet to come.

Happy Birthday.

Love, 

Me

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?