The last time I published a post on this blog, I was a naive 23-year-old. Fresh out of college, I was working as a first-year reporter for a small newspaper. I was newly engaged to a man I had been dating for five years. We had just moved into our first non-rental home. I was excited for our future, and was sure a wedding was just around the corner and the sound of our children’s feet would soon fill those hallways. We would live happily ever after.
At least, that’s what I kept telling myself — too afraid to listen to the voice inside my head.
Today, I reflect on the sense of security I felt at that time and realize it was fake. Truthfully, I was living through a daily shit-storm, in love with someone who didn’t love me back, and certainly didn’t respect me. When I met him at 17, I was confident. But after years of constant criticism and insults, my self-confidence had been whittled down. I walked on eggshells. I didn’t make decisions. I didn’t have opinions. I didn’t have an identity other than being his wife. I viewed myself through his distorted lens and lived for his approval.
The best thing he ever did for me was leave me for another woman nine months into our marriage. We had been together nine years. Our divorce was finalized in October.
His choice launched me into the deepest depression of my life. For the first time ever, there were days in which I understood why some people commit suicide — although I never reached a point when I considered such an act. During the weeks I lived alone in our big house — the one that was supposed to be our future family’s home — the sounds of laughter and his music were replaced by my relentless sobs as I collapsed in the garage off a stool, in my hand a cigarette I’d sworn not to smoke, occasional outbursts in the form of a picture frame thrown across a room and my heels clicking on the hardwood floor as I primped in preparation of his random returns. I was dead set on winning him back, and I did a few times that month. But, you shouldn’t have to beg someone to love you.
Now that it’s over, people have asked me how I let that happen to me — someone who acts so strongly during the week. I manage a staff of five. I serve in a public role that’s sometimes difficult, but I go toe-to-toe with public figures on a daily basis. How does one so steadfastly grip to another being, despite the fact that they treat you so badly? He ignored me. He insulted me. He screamed at me. He lied to me. He threatened me. All of this while he secretly whispered loving words to another woman. Unbelievably, I blamed myself.
The short answer is this: it doesn’t happen overnight. That’s how emotional abuse and manipulation works. He wasn’t like that in the beginning — at least not to me. Sure, he raised his voice to other people and cut other people out of his life, but he complimented me. He earned my trust and utmost loyalty. Over time, it began to change. Per his wishes, I cut out my friends and family. I moved to another city. I changed the way I dressed and how I wore my make-up and how I spoke. I was convinced I was stupid and helpless and chubby. I learned to bite my tongue, afraid of what would happen to me once the others were gone. Would he attempt to convince me to drop out of college? Make fun of my job, calling it “disrespectful gossip?” Throw my clothes into the yard, ordering me out of “his” house? Pick up a table and dump it on the ground, screaming so loud his veins would pop out of neck while I cowered in the corner? Drive my car way too fast in a drunken rage, as I begged for him to pull over, fearing for my life? Smash my cell phone? Push me against a wall? Pour a beer on my head in a crazed fury? All these things eventually happened. Sometimes he would offer a half-ass apology. “I’m sorry I acted like that but you push my buttons.” I hid it for years.
But not anymore. I own everything that has happened to me. I’m rebuilding my life. And, I’m claiming back myself.
I’m resurrecting the blog. Instead of hidethechocolate, which narrated my attempts to lose weight, I’m calling it “Off the Record.” These are the columns I want to write, but aren’t appropriate for publication.
Am I going to “get in trouble” for writing about these topics? Probably. But I’m not scared anymore. Now that I’m removed from the situation, I see others living my past life. And if my words can help them, I’m going to write them. I’ve learned so much during the past six months and I want to share it. And not just about divorce, but life in general.
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.” – Annie Lamott