Thursday, February 20, 2020

I'm No Longer Surviving, I'm Thriving

Just a year ago, I would sit there, disconnected from reality, checking my pulse because I thought I was dying. I couldn’t breathe and I would start to panic. When people say anxiety feels like a weight on their chest, they aren’t lying.  All I wanted was to be sitting in a corner, alone in silence. I didn’t want anyone to touch me, or ask me any questions. Just hearing conversations and my kids trying to hug me was too much stimulation. Every day, I kept praying that I would survive the day. Once I got to bedtime, I would think “Okay, I made it this far, now I just need to fall asleep.” This was how I survived each day for almost three years. My anxiety made me physically feel like I was dying, but emotionally made me feel like I was unlovable and broken. I couldn’t understand how people wanted to be around me, there was nothing good I could offer people. My marriage was failing again, my finances were in shambles, and I couldn’t offer support to others because I was wallowing in my own nightmare. I couldn’t even recognize the reflection in the mirror, I was a shell of who I once was. “I am fat from two pregnancies and eating my feelings, I am ugly because I’m fat and I don’t do my hair or makeup anymore.” These were the things I would say to myself when I saw my reflection. “How could anyone be attracted to this, and on top of it I have resting bitch face because honestly, what is there to smile about anymore?”

I believe God puts people in our lives for a reason, sometimes it’s to save our lives not just here on earth but to help save our eternal lives. Thank God for giving me my chosen family, for giving me a best friend who believes in me even when I can’t believe in myself, she reminds me of my worth and tells me every day that she loves me. She helps ground me when I’m overthinking and worrying. She brings me back to focus on God when I set my eyes upon the rest of the world. She brought me into my women’s group and that has been life changing. Having these women pray for me and over me, it saved me. I doubted so much of the next steps I would be taking in my life. They stood by me, and supported me, and offered me things when I had nothing. I discovered more friends at a woman camp and these ladies knocked my socks off. It was then that I had my breakthrough, and helped give me confidence to leave my husband.

I was in an abusive relationship for almost 17 years. He never laid a hand on me but he destroyed so much. When we were together I couldn’t have a relationship with God, he acted like he was a church going God loving man, but honestly he wasn’t. He saw God as being either punishing or like God should just make things happen for him, especially financially. I wanted a relationship that was God-centered but he wanted it to be centered around him. He was controlling, manipulative, degrading, and worst of all sexually abusive. Yes, your spouse can sexually abuse you. He knew my past and being sexually abused as a child and he exploited it because he shouldn’t have to be punished for what someone else did to me. He wanted me to do things I wasn’t comfortable with. When I would say, "No," he would imply that he could look elsewhere for that need. He said these things as a way to control me. It got to the point where I purposely made myself look a hot mess because I didn’t want him to be attracted to me. I didn’t want him to touch me or say inappropriate things to me anymore.
When I realized how I was feeling, and how his presence made my body so tense, I knew I had to get out of this marriage.

Unfortunately, we seem to live in a society where it’s acceptable to be emotionally, spiritually, financially, and sexually abused by your spouse as long as they don’t physically abuse you. My mom even said to me one day, “but he doesn’t hit you, right?” Like everything else was acceptable to endure. I know she wasn’t the only one to think this way. Honestly, I felt so ashamed to even tell my story, because how dare I leave him and say he was abusive when I have no bruises. I used to pray that he would beat me, that I would anger him enough for him to put me in the hospital, because then and only then would they believe me. When he didn’t touch me, I started to fantasize about how life would be better if he disappeared. I wouldn’t have to share my kids with him anymore, he would just be gone. That’s not healthy either. I will never forget the day where I took my control back. All of this shame and worry it just kept piling on me. I had already been seeing a therapist and taking survivor classes, but I wanted more so I started listening to podcasts.

One day, while I was at work, my boss went to lunch and I turned on podcast about how a narcissist sexually abuses their victims. Everything that she described, I had experienced with my husband. I’m not a crier but man did the tears flow that day. I could barely finish my work the rest of the afternoon. I picked up my daughter from the sitter, I went home, changed into the ugliest pajamas I had and sat there in silence as my kids played. When he came home from work, I told him I had a headache and needed to lay down. I went to my room, covered myself up and sobbed. I felt so dirty, and so used, by MY HUSBAND! Have you ever watched a TV show where there is a victim of sexual assault, and they just want to shower and clean themselves and disappear? I felt those scenes that day. I slept for a couple hours, I forced myself to sleep so he would leave me alone. I dreamed of a life without him and it was so sweet.

The next day, I woke up and got ready for work, and knew that was the last day I would put up with his bullshit. A switch in me flipped and I took back my control. I began planning my escape. I had no money to support myself or my kids, I was working two part-time jobs, had no insurance, and couldn’t afford my house on my own. By a sheer miracle, my amazing friend was unfortunately going through a divorce herself, and she offered to let the kids and I move in with her. Her kindness surpasses anything I’ve ever experienced and I still can’t believe how much living with her has healed me. Her generosity of a roof over our heads is something I could never repay her for.
Although I was still in transition from the divorce and moving, I felt like I had to keep the peace and make sacrifices so he would sign the papers right away. I walked away from my home, furniture, and child support for a life of freedom. I didn’t want any ties to him. Denying child support was a way for me to take back my control and power. It felt good to look at him and tell him I didn’t need him to survive.

The day of our hearing, I walked out of the court, with my head held high and a big smile on my face. It was liberating. I could finally move forward. I had already picked up my pieces of brokenness and started putting myself back together. Then, I put on my sassy pants and told a friend I’ve had since the 8th grade that I’ve been interested in him since high school. I was terrified of his rejection but I was also terrified of never telling him how I felt. Luckily for me, the feelings were mutual, and he has been so amazing. I never knew this is what a healthy relationship would be like. My friends would always talk about how amazing their husbands were and how they were their best friends and I would be so confused, like are you sure? But I get it now. I pinch myself sometimes because I didn’t know it could be like this. I never felt joy before until now. All of my struggles, worries, fears, tension, pain, and suffering have been worth it.

I went from a place of wishing I would have been beat to death to THRIVING. I have my power back, my ex doesn’t have it anymore. I did the work, I let God move, and He has rewarded me. If God told me years ago “look, you will be happy and find joy, but you are going to have to go through hell and back and probably repeat it, but I promise you it will be worth it.” I would choose that path again if this is where I was heading. I never thought my face would hurt from smiling so much, or that people would tell me what a difference they noticed in me, or that I radiated joy. Me?! The girl with resting bitch face radiates joy! How the heck did that happen? God, my friends, family, my therapist, my support systems, my hard freaking work. The work was hard and painful, and I felt like giving up time and time again, but it was worth every second of trial I faced. Imagine a life where you enjoy coming home, you have fun, you are loved and you know it, and you are happy. It can happen and it is worth it, I promise.