The end of my rope...
Today is the anniversary of one of the best decisions I ever made for my future. I was in an abusive marriage from age 16 to age 43. On this day, 19 years ago, I left for good and never went back.
I remember feeling fear, anxiety, stress, and uncertainty about what the future held. I was beaten down emotionally and I didn’t fully comprehend the toxic shame I carried out of that relationship—nor the long haul ahead of me in understanding it, shedding it, and healing from it.
I also had no idea that just one year later I would be newly engaged to the most wonderful human being (John) I had ever known. He seemed almost too good to be true after my many years of abuse and neglect. But 18 years later, he is as genuine and good to me as he was in the beginning.
We are getting older and we fuss at each other now and then. But I am eternally thankful the mole hills never become mountains. Even passionate disagreement doesn’t escalate into disdain. Skirmishes never turn into wars.
There is always mutual respect. We both are quick to apologize. And forgive. We don’t like hurting each other. (And even the best humans occasionally hurt others, including partners.)
Here’s what I want you to know: Had I not reached the end of my rope, chosen to let go—and free fall initially—I wouldn’t be where I am today.
I honestly don’t regret the 27 years that came before. I gained more than I lost from all those painful experiences. And I have a much greater capacity to appreciate what I have in John because of what I experienced prior to him. He will never be taken for granted.
I share this to encourage someone else who may be reading and struggling with the same choice. If you’re in free fall and making a hard choice today, know that the free fall doesn’t last forever. And your darkest day may turn into the dawn of a life you never imagined. But if you always choose the pain you know over fear of the unknown pain, you’ll never know what you may have forfeited. Be brave. And let loved ones help you stay brave.
I don’t know what it will take for anyone else, but it took 4 years of counseling for me to finally believe that God did not expect me to stay and be abused forever. (Yes, I believed the opposite.)
Contempt is the red flag you should never ignore in any relationship. When someone demonstrates they feel contempt for you, they do not love or respect you. And when you tolerate and enable contempt, it will become permanent.
I was committed. I wasn’t looking for a door out. I was trying and trying and trying … not giving up … until I couldn’t take another step and realized something inside me had died. Me.
On this day, I always reflect back on who I was and where I was in 2002. And much more importantly, how far I’ve come. Sometimes the hardest and most painful choice is the wisest choice. The right choice. And sometimes letting go takes even more strength and courage than staying in an unhealthy dynamic. Because letting go doesn’t mean you don’t still love someone.
If there is resistance to your growth, you are being controlled. Manipulation and control can be both overt and covert. But a healthy relationship doesn’t include manipulation, control or contempt. And, whether overt or covert, you are participating in a destructive pattern if you accept or enable it to continue. Don’t be complicit. And don’t be unaware of the future consequences you may face after you have modeled an acceptance of condescension, belittling and disdain in front of your impressionable children. You’re setting yourself up for more of the same. We teach others how to treat us by what we allow and—even worse—by what we enable.
I wish I had known what I know now decades earlier. I didn’t. And so I can’t judge my former self by my 62 year old self. All those experiences contribute to today’s wisdom. So don’t waste time (like I often have) beating yourself up for your past mistakes. Just keep moving forward.
*I had no idea I was going to write this much when I began this post. But that’s not uncommon for me. I am certain that someone out there needs to read this today. Whoever you are, I’m pulling for you!!! You are stronger than you know. We all are.