there’s no catchy title for this (abuse)

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

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

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

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

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

Absolutely not.

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

No.

I left because I wanted something new. 

I left because I was abused. 

I wanted that to end.


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

I. Was. Abused.

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

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

I need to show the same grace to myself.

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

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

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

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

What I didn’t grow up knowing? 

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

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

Fearing pregnancy. Abusive. 

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

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

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

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

Lying is abusive.

Cheating is abusive.

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

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

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

When he told me I was crazy. 

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

I’m done with that now.

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

I never was.

How’s that for a one-liner?

from a home to a house

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

Good things ending, good things to follow.

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

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

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

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

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

He left to visit his family.

I stayed behind to pack.


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

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

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

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

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

Very straightforward.

Less straightforward- taking the pictures down.

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

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

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

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

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

Love begins at home.” 

God walks among the pots and pans.”

You are my sunshine.”

He used to sing me that song.

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

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

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

He used to make me omelettes on this pan.

I bought him that mug for Christmas.

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

This was the cross from above our bed.

These were the towels I picked for our bathroom. 

The painting of our shared last name. 

The print from his mother.

All gone. 

All the parts of my house sorted into separate boxes. 

All the parts of my heart broken into separate pieces.

I’m still trying to put it back together.

hashtags, parenthesis & patriots

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

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

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

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

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

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

EVERYTHING, PEOPLE!

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

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

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

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

It was time for me to pull it together too. 

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

Either way. Here we are.

This team and this game had proven a point: 

Great things can still come after great failure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fitting. Looks like I’m #STILLHERE too.

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

I will be respected.

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

I am going to win my own fucking Super Bowl.

Get at me.

#LFG

promises

“Will He lead you out? Yes, eventually. But first, there might be a time that He is simply with you there.”

A reflection printed in my Blessed is She journal three years ago, meant to be an encouragement for those of us in a season of waiting as we counted down to Christmas.

How little I knew then about how prophetic those words would be. At that point, all I knew was the conflict heavy in my own home; that month’s journal was page after page of notes on neglect, silence, anger, and anxiety. So much anxiety. My body was in panic mode and my heart was in turmoil. I was waiting. Waiting for something to give, something to change, some hope to enter into the drama of my marriage.

My response to that day’s prompt:

“When the desires of my heart don’t line up with reality or the desires of my husband’s heart or even the timing of Your heart- it’s okay to be sad. You hear my prayers- someday there will be a fulfillment of the prayer for a joyful, holy family and a holy husband who knows You. In the meantime You will wait with me here…When my heart feels separate from my husband, my world, You are there. You see me and You know me… Even in suffering and sadness, You are gentle and patient, waiting for me to see You and love You and let You love me. You are with me.”

Christmas morning came that year without my miracle. Without magic. Not the slightest glimmer of hope or sign God saw my waiting and matched it with grace. I was miserable.

“I feel misunderstood and lonely and hurt and very sad that this is my life. After all this, I’m exhausted and suffering. Why? Why do I feel so alone?”

Instead of rejoicing, I was begging. 

“A savior is born. Save me.”

Another year goes by. Another journal fills up.

I am more confused. 

“I need to step away from the part of my heart that wonders, ‘should I have married him or not?’ I need to let that go and fully embrace this and where I am…I need to trust You- I did when You brought me here, now I have to trust where You lead me.”

I used to think I was bad for questioning the solidity of my marriage. I used to think it was holy and good to trudge along alone, trusting, trusting, trusting. 

I heard the passage from Luke, “Blessed is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill His promise to her” and knew it was for me. I had been promised a life of joy and abundance. I had been promised satisfaction. I had been promised life, and life to the full. God would fix it so I could have it, and He would do it here.

Obviously, He had other plans.

My husband didn’t start going to church. He didn’t start paying better attention to me. We didn’t have a home full of joy. We didn’t start building a family.

However. 

I had asked Him to lead me, and He was faithful to those prayers. He led me – straight out of my marriage.

But what of my promises? I was convinced! Convicted! Trusting! I believed! 

Instead of getting what I’d dreamed of, I was alone, wondering what does God actually promise me?

His faithfulness.

Had He been faithful? Had I been comforted? Had I been strengthened? Was I bold enough to change my life? Yes.

His love.

Had He shown me that love? Had I been blessed by His presence? Wisdom? The love of some seriously solid friends and a wildly generous family? Yes.

His abundance.

Had I flourished? Found new confidence? Found healing and hope and permission to be myself in a bigger, more beautiful way? Yes.

God Himself walked through the valley of death. Someday there will be life without suffering, but why should my journey on earth look any different than His? In the meantime, there is daily mercy. Daily grace.

I do believe that someday I’ll have what my heart longs for. I’ll have a love where I’m known and thriving and a way to share my heart as a mother. Whatever that looks like, however those desires are answered, I know I am already seen. Already loved. Already full.

A new prayer for today:

Lord, I trust in Your promises. 

I believe You promised life, and I still believe, even here, even when Your answer broke my heart. Thank You for seeing me. Thank You for saving me. 

Today, I hear again “Blessed is she who believed” and respond the way Your mother did:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”

You are a keeper of promises. 

My soul rejoices, and I believe.


And blessed is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill his promise to her.

And Mary said:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him.

He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly.

The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Luke 1:45-55