Monday, December 30, 2013

Considering Change (9 years ago + a future)

NINE years ago

I couldn't even dream of being loved, but I smiled at people at church as an act of courage.

I cried hopelessly on the floor as my three year old screamed and screamed, just out of reach, unwilling to let me hold her.... Afraid!... of what, I didn't know. What haunted her in the dark? Did my own daughter hate me?

I felt like a monster. I was afraid, too. I begged God to help her because I didn't know how.

My best friend helped me uncover X's lies. I finally knew I couldn't trust his word any longer, even with seemingly honest eyes in answer to direct questions.

My best friend became my comfort in that shock, and then he became my secret. His wife didn't know about the long phone calls, the webcam connection, the lust. My husband didn't deserve to know, I thought. Maybe we would run away together and start a new life? But he chose his wife, instead, and I was no longer welcome in his life.

My husband found out and acted like he hadn't been cheating in a very similar way. It was traumatic. Everybody knew.

So I decided to never have secrets again. I make sure there are always several people who know my deepest secrets.... Sometimes I open them to the whole world. Secrets breed ugly actions, choices I regret.

I hated myself. I finally agreed with X that there was nothing good in me.

God seemed to hate me, too. I couldn't imagine he might not.

I held knives to my wrist and stood there begging God for the courage to get past my fear of pain so the world could be free of my existence. But instead he gave me the song, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and made me feel like someone out there must understand the place I stood.

I started rewriting the story I had been telling myself.

I ended my day-dream of being loved and planned to stop lying to myself. I wouldn't imagine the impossible any longer.

I lived, but I thought it was a terrible thing.

SIX years ago 

We spent the year searching for a house to purchase, since X had a good job. Every Sunday, visiting open houses. Tiring. Whiny kids. So much effort.

I sat on the bottom step of the stairs as my six year old screamed, refusing to wear her shoes to go to a place she wanted to visit.

I lost my temper. I felt like a monster. An hour later, we were still fighting over the shoes. I finally gave up and we stayed home.

I lay on my bed, weak and shaken as my heart raced for no reason. I'd given up on going to doctors. They could never find anything wrong with me.

I jumped in fear every time I heard my husband's car pull into the drive.

I watched my kind neighbor play with his daughter and my kids ... and wished X were so patient. I felt guilty for comparing them and wished I could avoid the neighbor so I wouldn't see the differences.

My college-age neighbor accidentally (or maybe purposely) nearly killed herself with sleeping pills and alcohol. I felt guilty for not trying hard enough to be her friend. Her parents came and took her home, and I still have the thank you gift she gave me, even though I feel like I don't deserve it.

I was trapped in my own pain, still thinking of death, but sometimes I could see it was good to be alive. Sometimes I wished X were dead, instead, and felt terribly guilty about it.

I was beginning to see God might love me after all. It seemed amazing and improbable, but maybe he was making me lovable by some miracle?

I practiced talking to people who seemed lonely at church, because it was what I wished others would do for me. I realized some were actually grateful to me for it. This surprised me.

I no longer struggled with impossible fantasies, but I was still miserable in my reality. Maybe a new house would help me want to live.

THREE years ago

I told X he had one year to change my mind about our relationship because he begged for more time after I asked him for a divorce.

I was finally beginning to recover from such severe chronic fatigue that I could scarcely walk for three months. (A result of years of abuse and fear, followed by overdoing it while remodeling the house, followed by a severe illness.)

My children attempted to protect me from X's anger by trying to explain why he didn't need to be upset, making me worry about his responses to them. I tried to control them so he wouldn't lash out at them, and hurt them myself, instead. I hated myself for it, but I didn't know what else to do.

X hadn't had a job for over a year, and we would enter complete bankruptcy within the year.

My friends at church let me lean on them when I couldn't sit up for the whole Sunday School service, but I refused to miss attendance because it was my only chance to be around non-family who cared about me.

I finally began to realize that there were people who genuinely loved me, mostly because they'd been proving it by accepting me as I was, for years.

I spent the year in pseudo counselling with a church lady and her husband, who didn't have a very good relationship themselves. They had no clue what to do in the face of an abusive relationship. They were overwhelmed, but gave us lists of things to do better because they were certain it would work.

I was judged for wanting to leave and failing to live up to X's "simple" demands. X was given leniency for abusing me because my pain (and being myself) made me less submissive than a robot.

I realized the church wasn't God. God's love didn't look like abuse, I knew, and the only other explanation was that these people were outside God's will somehow.

I finally realized I had always been loved ... that I had been believing lies about God. Fear lifted, because the specter of imminent judgement no longer obscured my view. Love set me free.

Within that year I realized X was still lying to me, still cheating on me, still treating me the same way as always. I no longer believed the word "love" fit his treatment of me. I stopped thinking love looked like a cage.

After the year ended, I took the kids and moved out, and the church kicked me out, too, breaking my chains.

Even though I was afraid, I knew staying was more dreadful.

I learned who my friends were.

Now

I am single, and so grateful. This isn't as terrifying as I once believed it must be. I could live the rest of my life like this, surrounded by friends, and I would not regret it. 

My children laugh with me as I use newly-discovered energy to play with them as I tuck them in at night. Tantrums are rare. They look for me when they have a bad day, instead of running away.

I finally am learning to help my children develop their strength and independence, instead of attempting to control them all the time. Turns out they are capable of choosing and growing when I set them free, and their mistakes are easier to live through than I once thought they would be.  

I realize that God isn't so easily overwhelmed as I used to think he must be. Even when everything is a mess, something good happens, too. 

I am loved and I love. 

I am LOVED! It's true. 

I know God loves me. I know my friends love me. This knowledge flows through me, and it gives me courage. 

My friends made me notice my skills, gifts, abilities, strengths, and now I can see them for myself, just like I see the strengths and beauty in them ... and in so many others who cross my path. 

Hurting people come to me. They show up from nowhere as if following a hidden path, so I give them what I have. Questions. Love. Acceptance. Hope. Time. Safety. Smiles. Hugs. Appreciation. Gratitude. 

I'm so thankful to have something to give, so thankful to be trusted. It feels like a miracle every time. 

I know how to reflect the beauty I see in them, because I know what it is to be unable to see the beauty in the mud-covered mirror too many others hold up to our souls. 

This. Joy. I. Could. NEVER. Have. Imagined!

There is no dream insightful enough to capture what I will do with my life, but I dream anyway. Not to escape. Not in desperation to find something different. But because I finally know I can choose what to do with each day and dreams help me to see the choices that are available. 

I am glad to be alive.