Sunday, October 7, 2012

Where I've Been - The Back Story

The last year and a half has been a time of great change in my life - the type of changes that not only upset your physical circumstances but which can also shake your spiritual foundations. There are many aspects of the life changes that God has brought me through which I do not fully understand, but I am hoping that the process of writing out my thoughts and feelings will be therapeutic for me, and I pray that perhaps my experiences will be of some encouragement to others who may find themselves in a similar situation.

If you have read my updated "About" page you will have noticed that I have recently divorced. I have not spoken openly about this until now; in fact, only a handful of people know what has happened from my perspective. Part of me needs to set the record straight, and the rest of me simply needs to move on, this being a means to that end.

I was married to my ex-husband for just shy of 21 years. By all outward appearances we had an ideal relationship and our family was one which our friends and neighbors envied. However, behind closed doors I lived in a fear that's difficult to name -
fear of making him angry, fear of not being good enough or not doing enough, fear that he would leave me if I said or did the wrong thing, fear that I would not be able to make it, financially or emotionally, if I were alone, and fear of being considered a failure if I didn't make my marriage work. Over the years I became a shell of the person I used to be, to the point that I didn't even know that person anymore.

I tried to lose the pain I felt inside in many ways, mostly in caring for my children. I made them the center of my life, staying in the marriage so that they would have a loving home and (what I thought to be) a good example of stability. I tried to pretend everything was as it should be by making my home an idyllic place, as if by mastering the lost arts of homemaking I could also capture the peace I felt portrayed in images of bygone times - and in the blogs of so many of the wonderful ladies whom I follow.

I strove to do everything right -  to be the Proverbs 31 woman, but neither my husband nor my children ever "rose up and called me blessed;" in fact, it seems that the more I did for them, the more they expected of me.
My ex-husband did not help me around the house at all, other than preparing dinner for himself and the kids a few nights a week while I was at work (and in the last couple of years of our marriage, he didn't even do that). He didn't take care of the yard or the cars, either - those things were also my responsibility. It was his opinion that since he worked a blue-collar job requiring manual labor, he shouldn't have to do any of that sort of thing at home. He felt that since I work indoors, protected from the weather in a job that is not physically strenuous, I should do those things at home. Help with the housework was out of the question, as he just didn't do that sort of thing, not even dishes. In fact, he wouldn't even make our kids do the chores I left for them in the evenings.

Sometimes I would forget things I was supposed to do, either phone calls I needed to make or things I was supposed to go pick up - little extra things outside of my normal responsibilities - and I would always be accused of only doing things that were important to me and of never remembering anything he asked of me. I came to the point where I lost all confidence in my abilities, feeling worthless at every turn.

For many years I hoped to further my education with an advanced degree, but he always told me that the longer I went to school, the "stupider" I got, until I finally gave up on the prospect. Besides, with all my obligations at home there was simply no way I had time to take even a class here and there. As a result, I lost ground at work as I was sinking at home. Bear in mind, now, that my desire had always been to be a stay-at-home mom; it was at his insistence that I worked outside the home. My salary was always greater than half of our earnings.

In fact, at one point in our marriage, I had a well-paying job with good prospects for advancement: I was the Laboratory Director at a profitable environmental services lab, but the job was stressful at times and demanding on my time. He refused to pick our children up at daycare on days when I needed to stay late, often forcing me to come home, pick up the kids, prepare dinner, get the kids bathed and to bed, so that then I could go back into the office to complete whatever work needed to be done. The breaking point came when he told me that I needed to choose between my job and my family because my job was simply taking too much away from him and the children. So, in order to save my family, I had to give up a job that I loved. I still had to work, mind you, but I had to find a job that wouldn't interfere as much with my responsibilities at home. Yet he never lifted a finger to help lighten my load.

EVERYTHING was my responsibility - the care of our children, including all doctor and dentist visits and days off when they were sick, our budget and paying all the bills and finding ways to pay for the extras he wanted, the maintenance of our house and cars, housework and laundry and shopping, even down to our physical intimacy. Because at some point when our children were very small I had told him I was "too tired" once or twice, all physically intimate contact had to be initiated by me, and if I didn't initiate it often enough, he would become cold and irritable and distant in all our other contact. This went on for years, and it was emotionally exhausting.

As he punished me for perceived slights in the bedroom, he also punished me in other areas as well. One weekend when he was away hunting I had planned to paint the master bedroom and bath. He wanted me to paint the bedroom one weekend and the bathroom the next. As I had finished with the bedroom before lunchtime on that Saturday, I decided to go ahead and get the bath done while I had the time. There were complications with the bath, including difficulty removing some old wallpaper because underneath it the previous owners had put up paneling (I know right - paneling in a bathroom?? Ewwww!) and ceramic fixtures that, once removed, left gaping holes in those paneled walls.

At this point I was out of my element and needed his help to finish. Now remember, I would have had the same problems if I had started working on the bathroom the following weekend, but because I didn't do things exactly as he said, he refused to help me fix the bathroom. A few years later he put up some tile board over the paneling in the bathroom, but he wouldn't finish the trim or replace wall tiles along the floor that had had to be removed to install the tile board. SEVEN YEARS LATER he admitted to me that he had been (and still was at that time) punishing me for being disobedient in beginning to paint the bathroom. At that time I did all the work myself to finish the trim, paint it, replace the wall tiles and caulk around everything.

As time went on things got steadily worse, but at the time I didn't realize how bad things were getting - like cooking a frog by putting him in cool water and slowly heating the pot to boiling. "Normal" changed gradually by slight degrees, until what I perceived as normal would have been absurd in anyone else's eyes. Yet in the back of my mind I was aware that my situation needed to be hidden, that what I had become was shameful. I wasn't even able to have hobbies or interests outside of what my husband wanted to do, as I would always be told that those things took away from me being a good wife and mother.

When you are in the situation I was in, you don't want anyone to know what your life is really like or the depths to which you feel you have fallen, so you put on the happy face, play the role of how you wish things really were, and shut out anyone who could get close enough to see that things are not what they seem. You become isolated, lonely, and hopeless.

The Church teaches us that there is never, ever a reason to leave a marriage except for marital unfaithfulness, as these are the words of Jesus (Matthew 19:3-12), although Paul says that it is okay for a believer to leave an unbelieving spouse in I Corinthians 7:12-16. So, I stayed. I was afraid of what people would think of me - afraid of admitting that I was a failure, afraid that I would destine my children to be more likely to divorce, afraid of being alone, afraid that I would never recapture all I had lost of me.

So I prayed. I prayed daily for my husband, that he would be the man Christ created him to be, that he would be the husband I needed him to be, that my love for him would increase, that God would change him. I prayed for years and years for my husband, but nothing changed, and my helplessness and hopelessness continued to grow. Anytime we had any type of disagreement, somehow it would always turn around into being my fault for something I had said or done (or not done), and I would end up apologizing, even for simply being upset with him because he hadn't done something he had promised me he would do. My husband's drinking increased, and he would no longer listen to me when I tried to talk to him about it or my concern about the history of alcoholism in his immediate family or about how much and how often he had been drinking.

About this same time, in early 2011, a new "son' came into our family, an "adopted" son of sorts, a friend of my children's whose home life was unstable at best and who needed a substitute family he could call his own. He treated me in the same way my husband treated me, yet my husband was resentful that I would "take" that behavior from this young man. I didn't see any difference in how the two treated me, so I was quite confused. This led me to begin to examine my situation, and it began to dawn on me what had become of me. More and more I found myself saying and doing things that I explained with, "I just want peace. I don't want to be yelled at. Whatever it takes, I just want peace." My husband started to complain about the time I was dedicating to this blog, so I gave it up.

Then, I began to see my son acting more and more like his father toward other people, especially toward his girlfriends. And I saw my daughter seeking guys that treated her like my husband treated me. Thinking about it made me sick sometimes, so I would just shove those thoughts into the dark recesses of my mind where I held the thoughts that what I had become was a shameful thing. But during this time my prayers began to change. I no longer prayed for my husband to change. I began to pray for peace, and for happiness, that somehow I would have hope in my life again, that I would have a way out of the despair that had become my existence. I asked God if what my life had become was as good as it gets? I began to pray that He would give me a way out of my circumstances. And with a deep breath and a sigh, I kept my life going.

I no longer trusted my own perceptions of my reality. From years of walking on eggshells around my husband, filtering everything I said to make try to make sure nothing I said could be taken out of context, trying to check any sort of emotion my words might portray that would suggest sarcasm or innuendo, yet still constantly accused of "taking everything out on" him, I didn't know at any time how anything I said would be taken. It causes you to constantly second-guess yourself. I had become overly cautious, timid, weak, and broken.

This is when my God began to act in my life - in ways I could have never imagined or dreamed.

There is joy on this journey, on my way home to my Father's house,
Cindy <><

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