Monday, July 18, 2011

Chapter Twenty-Five Making Lemonade--Breaking Free

I look back on the sixteen years I was with Steve, and I find that I was indeed addicted to him, to our marriage, to always having us. I loved him, but I knew he didn’t love me fully in return. I let him treat me like garbage at times, even after promising myself that I would never let anyone ever treat me like that again. When you’re wrapped in the addiction, dependence and your past, you can make the world’s best excuses for not noticing and continuing. Conforming to a numbing misery was easier for me than change. 

I kept thinking and praying that there was always hope, that one day he would see me for who I was, and that he would accept me. Not until he left me did I find how dependent I was on him. The enemy had me so wrapped up in Steve I couldn’t think of anything else. “You need him. You will never make it on your own. You’re a failure if you don’t get him back.” Those lies suffocated me. I couldn’t come up for air and see the great destiny ahead of me. I was consumed with the only thing I knew, a life with Steve. No matter how bad it was, it was what I was used to. It was all I thought I was worth.

My journey through my marriage, divorce and healing process was comparable to surviving a tsunami. There was a time in my life everything was great. I thought I had it all. But it was built on sand that became quick.

I stood on the shore looking out at the world around me when the great storm of my life struck. Waves of reality licked the sand beneath me, tickling the bottom of my feet. Slowly the water ate away the foundation from where I stood, subtle at first, then began to devour. Sand gave way, and I was sucked into the raging sea.

Tidewater pulled me under. I lost my direction. Which way was up, which way was down? Which way was life, which way was death? My lungs burned for air, my brain screamed with fright. Seeing the sand below me, I plunged toward death, grabbed at the earth and planted my feet firmly upon the foundation. I shot upward with all my strength, all my faith, so that I could break through the persistent, relentless waves above.

Muscles burned with exhaustion, but my instinct for survival was stronger. I will make it. I will survive. A few more feet and I was free! I sucked air into my tired lungs, my brain rejoiced; however, the feeling of freedom was short-lived as I looked around.

I had been pulled out to sea far from the life where I stood just a short while ago. I started swimming back to my life, but I was caught in the current, helplessly surrounded in calm, azure blue.

I surrendered, for the current was too strong. There was nothing to cling to for support. Preparing for death, I closed my eyes and prayed. In the presence of a surreal calm, I opened my eyes to see land ahead. Pure beauty beckoned me. I glimpsed at the old world behind and saw the truth for what it was. The air was contaminated with lies, and pain hung in the air black as ebony.

Ahead, I saw the virgin world that waited for me. A new chance filled with hope ascended upon the horizon. What I did in that world was my choice. I could keep it uncorrupted or I could allow my past and my mistakes to stain it. I had a choice. What was I going to do with it?

I love my new island. I love my life. I love my future. I gave God a chance, and He’s doing an awesome job.
In order to understand how I could stay in an abusive relationship, you have to understand my background. I wanted more than anything to be loved and accepted.

I never experienced a healthy relationship. Violence plagued both of my mother’s marriages. When my mother divorced my father, it was difficult for me because of my dad’s anger and, at times, hatred toward my mother. The physical abuse escalated. One night, he tried to strangle her in front of me.

Several times during my third grade year, my father kidnapped me to get back at my mom for leaving him, thus stunting my emotional and social growth for years. I felt like a pawn or a treasure chest. Who ever possessed the gold was the winner.

I felt guilty for loving my father. I was also angry with him. No child should ever have to feel guilt for loving a parent. Unable to process my feelings or express them, I shut down and psychologically withdrew.

During my parents’ divorce, mom and I stayed with my aunt and two cousins while she worked two shifts. This left me in the care of my older cousin and at the mercy of my male cousin who was my age.

Wanting love and attention, my vulnerability and innocence left me open to my male cousin’s sexual advances. His attention made me feel loved and worthy. Over time, shame for what I allowed to happen kept me from speaking up.

Withdrawing into my protective bubble, I grew angry and hated myself. I wasn’t a good person. Forcing the incident within the deep folds of my mind, I actually forgot about it for twenty-eight years.

In junior high, due to my shyness and unattractive appearance, I was beat up and emotionally tormented.  My friendships were even toxic and conditional.

During my mother’s second marriage, my step-father controlled, abused, and divided her and me for years.

When I met Steve, I thought I found a healthy relationship. He had a great family. Whereas my life was chaotic and stressful, his life seemed wonderful and normal. I wanted to be a part of his world more than anything because I thought it would rescue me from mine. I did everything I knew how to do, including deceit, to find a better life. I learned the hard way that you cannot take someone else’s life and dreams as your own, and you cannot force someone to love you.

The relationship proved to be more harmful than my home life. I went to bed by myself. Steve woke in the middle of the night to surf Internet pornography rather than seek me. I told him he was the love of my life, and he said that I was not. But I put up with it because I grew up poor and always in need, and now I lived in Florida.  I had a house with a pool, a new car, and I could buy anything I wanted. My ex-husband made good money. Without him, none of this was possible. I could sacrifice love, right?

In the beginning of our marriage, I did not fully grasp what I was doing to myself. I was tradin my respect for convenience and comfort. On a larger scale, I did love my husband and wanted our marriage to be real and wanted the fairy tale ending where everyone lives happily ever after. Instead, I became addicted to another unhealthy lifestyle. I traded one prison for another. Yes, he had a great life, and I was part of it and was extremely miserable. My parents were warning me and trying to save me, but what did they know? They had their own issues; therefore, I thought I knew something they didn’t.

It was easy to lie to myself, and after awhile, I believed in the fantasy I created. There are a lot of women out there who put up with harmful relationships for the status and convenience, and they, too, live in a plush prison.

I thought that if I left Steve that I would never be anyone; that I could never survive; that I was destined for failure. I was wrong. By him leaving me, I became someone. I did survive. I did not fail. I finally landed a great job with a great company. I bought a house. I kept my house through the financially difficult times. I found a wonderful life. I found the true love of my life. I discovered who I am and what my purpose is.  I can tell you from experience that if you know and love who you are and know your purpose in life, it’s the most empowering feeling. I discovered I would rather live in a cardboard box if it meant having freedom, love, happiness and knowing my purpose than be imprisoned with material fulfillment.

I never would have accomplished this had God returned me to my husband and my old life. Incredibly painful as it was to start over and find myself again, it was worth every moment I suffered. Through the suffering, I grew and found the strength and courage beyond an army.

The dreams that I had once are now slowly becoming a reality. Maybe I’m not where I should be at this point in life. In fact, I know I was derailed from where God intended for me to be through circumstances and my own discouragement, but the important part is that I am fulfilling them now; I’m back on track. What was meant to harm me made me wiser, stronger and more determined than ever.