Please read Part 1: The Inner Darkness for the first part of my story.
I can share this today because –
I am a beautiful and loved child of God, created in the very image of an incomprehensible Love that knows no bounds.
I have been this child since the day I was born, and so have you.
All my mistakes were not made prior to my becoming this child, they were made because I was unable to recognize who I already was.
But now that I know, I wake every day to a banquet of Abundant Life that is prepared in my honor, and I take my seat without shame, as a full heir in the ultimate Truth:
I am wholly accepted and wildly loved.
It is in the living of this Truth, my pain is redeemed.
I believe this in my very bones, and there is nothing – nothing – that can change this truth. The work is complete.
However, that does not mean this is easy.
So far I’ve told a sympathetic story. I’ve received many kind and supportive messages. There is a very human part of me that says, ‘Let’s just leave it at that’. Let’s build a community discussing the issues around divorce, LGBT rights, alcoholism, abuse, and the transformative power of forgiveness. That’s plenty. If I stopped now I could build my story around how I was harmed, and how I overcame that harm. I could be the hero.
But that’s not the whole story, and I’m not meant to be the hero.
I believe I’m to tell you about my weakest moments, my most shameful secrets. I believe I’m to do this because I know I am healed, forgiven, and complete. Wholly accepted and wildly loved, but I know you are out there feeling broken and lost, hurt and hopeless. I’m writing for you. I want you to know, when you are ready, there is a path to peace. And when you finally find your way home, my pain is redeemed…and then you will lead the next one home, and your pain will be redeemed. It is a beautiful, but counter-intuitive, law of the natural and incredible world we live in.
So, this is how I fell apart –
After seven years in a toxic and abusive relationship, I developed some close friendships at work including one with a guy in another location. We lived several states apart, so it was a phone friendship – just a friendship. He was smart and witty, and he made me feel smart and witty. After working together for a couple years I was asked to go to his office to work on a project for a few days. There was chemistry between us, but it didn’t matter. We were both married and lived far apart. A few months later we were both invited to an awards dinner in New York City at Tavern on the Green to celebrate the completion of the project. The evening felt like a movie, a time apart from time. We spent the entire evening together and I learned that his marriage was falling apart….just like mine, I thought. That night we kissed, but that was all. We were married and lived far apart.
If you have lived an emotionally healthy life, you may bristle at what seems a causally corrupt decision. However, if you’ve been in a toxic relationship, then you know – the positive attention, the compliments, the kiss – they were like water in a very dry desert. I could no more turn from them then forego that water. I felt hope. I felt human. It was the first time in years, perhaps ever, I could imagine having a loving mature relationship. He thought I was beautiful, smart, and funny. He gave me the courage to change my life.
I woke up. I knew I would leave my marriage. I had a small glimpse of what it might be like to be cherished and I couldn’t un-see or un-feel. I could no longer accept my life. I would later learn that many abusive relationships end with the abused having an affair. Any positive attention is just like that water in a desert – irresistible. It is the exact thing the abuser fears, and their very actions bring it to be. I didn’t have a physical affair at that point, but my heart left my marriage the moment it felt hope. I can hardly describe how freeing it felt to just imagine a different life, a happy life. My marriage had been hard for so long, but it now became unbearable. I didn’t know how I would leave, but I no longer had a choice.
Then, a giant neon sign saying ‘GO’ landed in my life. My company announced they were selling our division. They offered me a very large sum of money and a moving package. They would relocate me to the very location where my friend lived and worked. I accepted immediately, went home, and announced I was leaving. He cried and yelled. He threatened me. I felt nothing. He was either going to kill me, or I was going to leave. I would not stay. I had talked to the kids’ mom and she agreed to keep them and try to help them understand what was happening. I didn’t want to hurt them. I even negotiated to commute over the summer Monday thru Friday to the new offices, while I sold our home. This allowed the kids to stay with their dad over the summer, at least that was my intent.
In reality the kids were never there because he was drunk every weekend. I would fly in on Friday and spend the weekend hiding in my step-daughter’s bedroom with a dresser pushed in front of my door. There was a large window in the room and I would lay there for hours, waiting to see him standing outside. I would picture him shooting me through that window over and over until, finally, I would fall asleep from exhaustion. I couldn’t afford to live somewhere else, and I was too ashamed to ask for help. I just kept telling myself – just make it to October when the divorce would be final and I’d never see him again.
Meanwhile, over that same summer my friendship turned into an affair. I couldn’t believe that someone so nice and ‘normal’ could love me, but he did. If I lived through the summer, we would leave our bad marriages and make a new life together. For the first time in my life I felt loved and seen. Any guilt was overshadowed by this intoxicating feeling that I had value. I was worthy of real love. After years of a living hell, it was like entering a different world.
Mid-summer that world imploded. I was pregnant. I knew three things for certain: I was required to be in the same room with my future ex-husband in October to finalize the divorce; by October I could not hide that I was pregnant; and he would kill me, along with anyone near me, when he found out. I knew these three things without doubt. I’d spent the summer listening to his drunken accusations and threats, expecting gunshots every night. I also knew that no one would believe me. I’d worked so hard to hide how insane my life was, everyone would think I was exaggerating. They would try to talk me into doing something that would end up getting them killed. I felt trapped – either let him kill me, the baby, and everyone near me, or get an abortion. I had never thought I would have an abortion. I’d dreamed of being a mom all my life. It was the one thing I would never do. It was unthinkable…until it wasn’t.
I prayed for God to take care of the baby. I found a clinic, and I had an abortion. I told no one. I took all of the shame and buried it deep inside my heart. Quietly it would grow to confirm every lie I’d ever believed about myself.
My focus was on making my new relationship work. I convinced myself if we were married, the pain would somehow lessen. I was in love and I needed it be real. It had to be real. October came and my divorce was finalized. Now my new love would leave his marriage and we would start our life. He was always making small steps, a little progress. He would show me the townhouse where he would live, he traveled home to tell his parents, he saw a lawyer…but before I knew it two years had passed. Given a different set of circumstances, I might have waited forever.
During this same time my disconcerting dual lives continued. My family saw me finish my degree with honors, excel at my job, and finally – finally – start making better choices, but I knew. I knew that even though things looked good, I was worse than I’d ever been. Being married to an abuser is embarrassing, but it was something that happened to me. Now my failures were my own. Shame is a ruthless liar who convinced me I would be disowned by much of my family if the truth came out. Even if they did not disown me, I knew I would see my shame in their eyes. Confirmation from the ones I loved that all I feared about myself was true. I would not survive. All of my hope rested in this relationship working out without anyone knowing how it started. My value was tied to his love and I trusted him completely. I had finally found a safe harbor.
I remember the evening very clearly. I took the test and stared at the results for what felt like hours. I had been so careful. After that first summer, I had no intention of accidentally getting pregnant again, but the test was clear. I was pregnant. At first I was terrified and reeling from shame, then I started feeling like perhaps this was meant to be. A catalyst. We would finally start our life together. I knew how much he loved his children and how important family was to him. We had talked many times about one day having children of our own. I was ashamed that people would learn of our affair, and I was embarrassed by the thought of explaining it all to my family. This was not how I wanted things to begin, but I was willing to weather it together with him. I called and said I had to see him that night. I didn’t explain why, but he picked up on the urgency and said he would be there soon. I paced the floor while I waited and I dreamed of our future… our new life about to begin. By the time he knocked I was full of hope.
He must have guessed.
I opened the door and hardly recognized him. His eyes were red and he was pale. I was so confused. He looked devastated. I thought maybe something else had happened… As he walked in the door he asked softly, “Are you pregnant?” I said yes. There was a long silence, and then softly I heard a response I would have not guessed given all the time that ever has or ever will pass. He softly said, “You will ruin my children’s life… you will ruin my life… you can’t have this baby.”
I died inside.
I couldn’t breathe.
Every beautiful thing I believed to be true about us, was a lie.
Every horrible thing I believed to be true about me, was true.
I had no value.
I had no. value.
I had no. value. to anyone.
We talked for a couple hours, but he never wavered. I explained what I had done that first summer, and why. I explained that I couldn’t do it again. He just never wavered. At some point I said ok. I can’t explain why, I still don’t understand why. All I can tell you is that I felt lifeless, numb, and I believed that no one would ever want me, not as a wife… not as a mother. I had no value.
The next few months were the darkest of my life. I left him. I left a promising career with one of the biggest corporations in the world. I left the majority of my friends. I started a new job. I moved to a new house. And, I thought a lot about ending my life… and yet, no one knew. I learned there is no abuser so damningly effective as shame. It will destroy you and isolate you in ways no person every could.
Dual lives: To my family and friends, those same months looked as if I had finished my degree and found a new and better job. I moved into a beautiful new home. At the very moment I fell completely apart, I had never looked more successful.
I was tired. I was so tired of living these incongruent lives.
I had to understand why. I had to figure out how my life could be such an external success, yet internally such an utter failure. I found a loving and talented counselor. She became my confessor, the holder of all my secrets. She was my first safe place to tell my whole story. She was the first to hear everything. She began peeling back all the various layers of my life, and gently showing me how even good people fall when they lack skills and information. Even good people fail when they carry false beliefs. She gently replaced some of my shame with grace and gave me permission to consider forgiving myself…someday.
I also started going to church on a regular basis. I had grown up with a distorted view of God and religion that was based on fear, judgement, and condemnation, but I had always felt a connection to God, even in my darkest moments. I found a church that taught of the limitless mercy and grace freely available to everyone..even me. I started to hear God whispering to my heart words I still couldn’t quite allow myself to believe, yet they comforted. Our church would invite people in to share their stories, and despite all their mis-steps they had found a peace I longed for. They spoke of redemption and mercy, and they created space for me to hope. I started to wonder if maybe God’s grace was big enough to cover even my life. I started to think I could be invited to the banquet. As a server, I didn’t have a seat. But still, I felt like I was allowed in the room. It was a start.
It would take many more years before I found the peace I longed for. It would come in bits and pieces. I would think that I had arrived, and then God would show me a new depth of love and belonging. It has been a journey of such incredible beauty that I would not trade a minute of my life if it meant I would miss even a small part of this Great Love. That is where we will go from here…
Healing is a very long road, and it happens quietly, with people you trust. I had another great counselor for more than two years that walked with me to today. I did not talk publicly until I had healed. Secrets lose their power in the light, but it has to be a safe place to share. If you don’t have a safe person, message me. I will listen and I will help you find help.
If you are reading this and you have secrets and shame that you have carried for far too long, please know that you are exactly to whom I am writing. You are who God has placed on my heart each and every day for more than a year now. You are the reason I am here. This is for you, it has always been for you.
And I want to tell you something – and I want you to read this over and over until you feel it in your marrow –
You are a beautiful and loved child of God, created in the very image of an incomprehensible Love that knows no bounds.
You have been this child since the day your were born.
All your mistakes were not made prior to you becoming this child, they were made because you were unable to recognize who you already are.
But now that you know, you will wake every day to a banquet of Abundant Life that is prepared in your honor, and you can take your seat without shame, as a full heir in the ultimate Truth:
You are wholly accepted and wildly loved.
It is in the living of this Truth, your pain is redeemed and you will be set free.