I remember when we were baptizing our first child. He held her with such awe, and looked at her as if she was the reason the world was created. As if everything in his life had been building and waiting for her to be born. I knew I never wanted to forget that moment. I did everything I could to soak it in, to capture it in my mind and live that moment as completely as I could. My heart wept for joy at the words he was saying, “she is like this little piece of clay that God has given us to mold into a person.” He wasn’t exactly a spiritual person. He didn’t pray openly, or speak about God. He went to church with me only because he knew I wanted him to, but it always seemed to end up a down payment on something else for him to do later. There were red flags everywhere, now that I look back, but I ignored them because there were also moments like these. Beautiful, precious, hopeful even moments that I thought showed me into the softer side of him that he was just afraid to let out. Those little sweet windows he’d allow me to gaze into every so often that made you feel like you were let in on this special secret world where the man of my dreams lived. Where everything was perfect. Where we were happy. Where HE was happy. Like the magic of finding that white dusty footprint in your living room next to the plate of half eaten cookies and chewed up carrots in the yard. Where your belief was so strong in what you wanted to know to be true, that you’d actually believe you heard sleigh bells, and that hope would keep the illusion of Santa safe until next Christmas. He led me to that secret window just often enough to keep the illusion safe. To keep the belief alive that we would be ok. That we were ok. That the rest was worth it.
And then I woke up.
It wasn’t this drastic moment of clarity. I wish I could tell you there was this triumphant “Ah-ha” moment where it all clicked. I took much longer than that. I struggled drastically with guilt. I gave way too many last chances and said “I can’t do this anymore” way too many times to him, and to myself. I’d twist the reality of the situation around to where it was me at fault. And sometimes I’d even lash out so that it was actually my fault for the argument. The sad part? The incredibly terrifying part? No one knew any of it. There was this violent sea twisting and crashing beneath the surface that I was drowning in. Yet, from above, we looked like the perfect couple. The family to be. High school sweethearts who laughed and had big gatherings of friends in our beautiful house. Our three kids were amazing. Polite, social, active kids who excelled in school and life. and I was a shell. A smiling mom who made gifts for all of the teachers, bus drivers, and classmates at christmas. Who sent food in for parties. The one who all my friends came to for advice, and actually gave good advice that helped people. But no one knew I was broken. No one knew I was dying inside. I’d spent our entire relationship convincing everyone how amazing he was, how happy we were. And the further along it got, the longer it went on, the more scared I’d get of telling people. The bigger the fear became that no one would believe me. The fear of disappointing my family and even more so, his family who I loved so dearly, would overwhelm me. The public shame of it, and the ugly aftermath that was sure to come from him lashing out. He knew my fears of disappointing people. My need for people to like me, and think I was a good person. He knew how deeply that affected me, and I knew he wasn’t afraid to use that against me. He did while we were together, why in the world wouldn’t he unload after we weren’t.
And he did.
And he still does.
I’ve learned so much about myself in this process. I’ve learned (and continue to struggle relearning this) that you can’t control how other people act, but you can ALWAYS control how you do. Your reaction is where your power is. Your recovery is yours. It can’t be derailed by them unless you allow it.
Even though I left physically almost 5 years ago, I didn’t completely emotionally and mentally leave until last year. That moment was a huge victory for me. And I could see in his eyes that he knew his rein on me was over.
However, it allowed him to shift his target from me to our children. He knew my mind and heart were closed to him. That I wasn’t going to be his victim anymore. But he also knew those three beautiful babies would always be my heart, and he has mercilessly used that to continue his wrath. H