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.

what i weigh

When I was born I was just over seven pounds. 

Today I weighed 207.6 pounds. 

When I was ten I was 105. When I was 15: 155. 145 after a breakup. 

Senior prom was 148. I cried, thought I was fat.

Freshman year of college I was 151. Junior year 175. 167 after a diet. Senior year 190. 185 after another diet.

The day I got married: 170. 

The day I ran my first half marathon: 165. 

When I got into grad school: 186.

Seems like I gained a lot of weight. 

Really, seems like it was my fault when he didn’t want to have sex anymore. Like I deserved it when it just stopped happening. Or when it started, but couldn’t finish. Maybe I should have stayed what I weighed when he met me.

On the other hand, maybe he shouldn’t have been calling me a manatee.Yes, they’re cute, I get it. And yes, I’m cute too, fine. But geez! The slowest, laziest, floatiest animal in the ocean? And when I turned around and asked for a new pet name, it switched to hippo? We saw them at the zoo once and they LITERALLY CANNOT GET BY without being supported by water. Because they are SO LARGE. And he thought that was just HILARIOUS. 

All teased, buried, smothered under a laugh and a hug. While the girl on TV/at the park/at the bar/in the movie was a dime/hottie/smokeshow/bangable, etc., etc., etc.

For some reason, before we were married, I was bangable too. I was hot. I was sexy and desirable. Fun. Dark-haired. Tall. Curvy.

And then we were married, I could be naked. I could be decorated like a damn lace Victoria Secret CAKE. I could have MY ACTUAL HAND DOWN HIS ACTUAL PANTS and STILL get turned down. WHY DID I HAVE TO TRY SO HARD TO HOLD HIS ATTENTION?

Maybe it was because I was 170. 175. 186.

All the while, I tried. Maybe this work out will make him want me more. Maybe he’ll think its hot that I can plank like a champ. Run long distance. Cook with quinoa. Or maybe I’m sexy now that I lost three pounds? That I cut my hair and got new jeans and I can rock some freakin’ heels? That my ass still looks great in yoga pants?

The thing about moving cross country, working night shift, and being a grad student is you get stressed. And tired. And heavy. 188. 190. 193. 204. The scale crept up, and our marriage started falling apart. Probably not cause-and-effect, but still a heart-breaking correlation.

Honestly, from the beginning, it’s all been heart-breaking. 

I learned how to stare at my body and pick the parts I hated when I was 10. I learned all boys cared about were butts and boobs, and I realized I was taller and littler softer than the rest of them. 

I learned in middle school I wasn’t worth looking at, with curly hair and glasses, while the other girls wore thongs above their pants. 

When I had to start buying size 12 jeans I learned how to call myself a “fat whore.” I learned not to shop at Hollister because I didn’t want to ask the sales rep for a ladder to the top shelf. I learned there was always bikini-season around the corner, and year after year that dressing room lighting didn’t get more forgiving.

I learned the boys liked you better when you were smaller. They liked volleyball uniforms and low rise jeans. I learned that when other people noticed you, that meant you were good. 

And then I got married. I learned how to hide when I was naked. I learned about how to be rejected at my most vulnerable. I learned that even husbands, who had once been ravenous, could simply turn away, pat you on the head, affectionately name you after fat zoo animals. I learned I wasn’t worth loving, I wasn’t good, I was disgusting.

Now I’m alone. Divorce, turns out, is more stressful than grad school, and leads to much more crying over bowls of pasta, bottles of wine, bags of chips. And now I tell myself I’m not worth looking at until I lose 50 more pounds. Who could ever be interested in me, ever again? 

I’m tired.

I’m tired and I’ve tried it all. Gluten-free. Paleo. Keto. Carb-conscious. Calorie-counts. Weight-Watchers. Nutrisystem. Optavia.

I’m ready to try something new. 

I’m ready to stop weighing myself every morning, letting the numbers set the tone for my day. I’m ready to stop punishing myself for my food, and stop measuring my day based on the success of my diet. All these days are worth more than calories consumed, and I’m wasting my life obsessing over it. I wish I didn’t know what I weighed on the day of my prom or my graduation. I wish I had just enjoyed myself regardless. I want that to end, and I want to enjoy my life for the rest of my life. Mostly, I want to stop letting the scale decide whether or not I think I am worth loving. Whether or not I am good.

So, inspired by various body-positive Instagram pages, I’m going to tell you, one last time, what I weigh. Because the space I take up in this world is more than what I can measure.

Today I weigh:

My heart. I am kind and caring. Sometimes I suck, but mostly I’m trying. Firm believer in growth and faithful prayer.

My mind. I am smart. I work hard. I’d like to think I’m a good nurse, too. 

My love. For humanity, for life, for color. For beauty. For swimming, dancing, laughing, drinking, eating, breathing.

I’m a little (lot) introverted, but I’m also fun. Even cool enough to go to the movies alone.

And I think it’s time I starting working out because it makes me feel good. Because I am strong, I’m mentally tough, and I have endurance. Because I am a damn boss. Because I am a woman, and I deserve to take care of myself. Because I am worth treating kindly, and I am not bad because I love pizza. 

Also, damnit, my ass still looks good in yoga pants. And I don’t need anyone to notice me for that to be true.