Continuing the Journey

It was a huge relief to write of some of the darkest secrets I’ve stored away.  So much so, that I feel compelled to continue.

Throughout my childhood, I continued to struggle to fit in at school.  I finally started to find real friends beginning in sixth grade.  But it wasn’t easy – I didn’t trust and always kept on guard for the betrayal I knew would come.  This is when I started sharing enough of myself so people thought they knew me, but not enough that I was vulnerable.  Deep down, I suspected if they really knew me, they wouldn’t like me. The conscious effort to change myself began my Sophomore year in high school.  The move to a new city was the perfect chance to be someone other than me.

My parents separated when I was in junior high, but that was temporary.  My dad’s job took us to Phoenix my Sophomore year of high school.  My ninth grade year was spent obsessing over the best method to die, because I couldn’t take the misery anymore.  Moving at that time was a blessing.  However, my parents’ fighting didn’t cease.  This was about the time I broke and allowed some of my anger and anxiety out.  As I stood at the top of the stairs, drawn out of my room by the screaming and banging, I watched as hangers were thrown.  Between the physical fighting and the hateful words being shouted, the frustration got to me.  Normally quiet, and observing the interactions unseen, I surprised myself when I screamed at them to “Stop!  Just stop it!”  I don’t remember everything I said, but I do remember I told them to not even bother apologizing because that’s what they always did and nothing changed.  My brother came out of his room and tried to grab me to calm me down.  I shoved him and yelled at him to get away from me.  Then I locked myself in my room.

Sophomore year was the year my friend, Holly, introduced me to poetry.  I embraced that outlet for getting some of my emotions out.  I never wrote journals because I feared someone would find them and there was no way I was letting anyone inside my head.  Poetry was nice because it was like a journal but in code.  I could read the poem and know exactly what it meant, but I felt safe in knowing that others could not.

I never told my parents I wrote poetry, even when one of my poems was selected and published in the district literary magazine my Senior year.  Someone wrote about that when they signed my yearbook.  My mom always read my yearbook and she asked me about it.  I lied and told her I didn’t know what they were talking about and said they probably got my yearbook confused with someone else’s.  If I had told the truth, she would have wanted to read them and if I declined, she’d play the guilt card.

After I graduated high school, I went to college because that’s what I was supposed to do.  My mom drilled it into my head from a young age that I was going to be able to support myself; I would never be stuck in life because I had no other options.  She said she couldn’t leave my dad because she couldn’t support herself and that wasn’t going to happen to me.  Secretly, I wanted to have someone to lean on- I wanted to depend on someone but me, but that wasn’t something I could express.  When I told her I wanted to go into graphic design, her response was it was too competitive and I wouldn’t make good money.  So I didn’t pursue it.  I majored in Psychology (ironically, with a bachelors degree, it’s one of the lowest paying professions) and I think she was okay with that because there were possibilities at the masters and PhD levels.  I didn’t make it that far, though.

I really wanted to be married, which is odd because what I grew up with wasn’t all that great.  I think the fantasy world I lived in when I was younger made me think that I could make it different.  I went on a lot of first dates but very few third or fourth dates.  It was discouraging and the nagging feeling that there was something wrong with me persisted.  I would back away when pushed for physical things.  I couldn’t do that – and the pressure made me angry.  I was 19 when I started dating a “nice” guy.  I didn’t feel pressured for once.  We dated for seven months and he talked of marriage (he was five years older) and I felt like I finally found someone who loved me.  I slept with him.

My mom found out about the relationship and and started yelling at me.  She called me a slut and a whore.  All, while my grandmother, who was visiting from Colorado, was in the next room.  I was embarrassed, humiliated and angry.  I tried to get away from her hateful words, but she blocked the door to my room and shoved me back.  I stumbled and fell into my nightstand.  I got up and charged at her and she goaded me to hit her if it would make me feel better – this is what she did to my dad!  I stopped and laughed and told her she wasn’t worth it.  I started to pack my things, but realized I couldn’t leave just yet.  The car I drove was theirs and I didn’t have enough money saved up to pay for tuition.  For the next year, I saved as much as I could.  I bought a crappy car, but it was mine.  And on my twentieth birthday, I told her I was moving out and already had a deposit on a studio apartment.  She was angry that I was “sneaky” and kept it from her.

The guy I was dating thought it would be good to live on my own before we got married.  I was disappointed, but it made sense.  What happened was that living on my own, I started to see things about him that I wasn’t okay with.  He drank too much with his friends.  He couldn’t pay his bills (I bailed him out several times) and he had lots of dreams, but not a lot of action towards pursing them.  After two and half years, he casually told me he couldn’t see himself being married.  Ouch. What made it worse is that I found out that several months before, he had talked to my best friend to see if she would talk to me about getting help because I wasn’t good in bed.  She shared this bit of news after I broke up with him.  This hurt a lot because I already felt inferior, like I was messed up, and that made it worse.

And here’s where I met my ex-husband.

We started dating and I thought I finally found someone that could take care of me.  He managed a restaurant, after all.  Things moved pretty fast and I was determined to prove that I didn’t need help; that I wasn’t a disappointment.  Well, my parents found out about that relationship and I was still a slut and a whore.  I was equally determined to prove them wrong.  When he proposed to me a few months later, I accepted.

There were some red flags that I chose to ignore.  I felt I had to – if that relationship ended, my parents (mom) would be right and I couldn’t let that happen.  So, when he went into a jealous rage when a guy from school gave me a ride home, I told myself it was because he loved me.  When he drank too much at a food show and drove home drunk, I told myself it was a one-off thing and he wouldn’t do it again.  When my friends warned me he was bad for me, I convinced myself they were jealous and ended those friendships.  When my mom told me a week before my wedding that it wasn’t too late to back out, I considered it, but ultimately chose to move forward because marriage would make me alright.

I spent the next 18 years living a private lie.  I didn’t marry someone who would protect me and care for me, I married someone selfish with as many insecurities as I had.  He was looking for someone to care for him because he didn’t want to be alone.  My peace-keeper role in my immediate family carried over to my marriage and I lost more of myself as I tried to be the perfect wife.  But I wasn’t.  As the newness wore off, I realized I didn’t like him as a person.  I didn’t want to be intimate with him and the more he pressured me, guilted me, or became downright mean, the more I disliked his touch.  Toward the end of the marriage, he had taken to grabbing my crotch when he was in the mood and I wanted to throw up because it reminded me of things I didn’t want to remember.   I couldn’t tell anyone about the way my life really was.  In 2009, I turned to writing again as I had in high school.  This outlet allowed me some escape from my miserable life.  He didn’t like to read and didn’t get my story ideas, so I learned to keep all of it to myself.  I never told my parents about my writing blog, either.

I was cleaning out my closet last week (literally, not metaphorically) and came across cards I had saved over the years from my ex.  They were all about wanting sex, thanking me for all I do for him or looking forward to spending money, whether it be on a “thing” or travel”.  Nothing about me personally that would make me special.  Seeing him now with his girlfriend moved in because “he doesn’t want to be alone” (his words to the therapist) I see that to him, I was dispensable.  I endured for 18 years, but I see now that I was only someone to support him financially and keep him from being alone.  That hurts and makes me angry.  I’m working through these emotions so I can reach the point of forgiveness – for both my ex and for me.

There’s more to my story, but I need to rest before I tackle that.

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In the Beginning

A while back, I started to write about the disaster of my marriage.  I stopped.  I didn’t know why.  Now, I think I do:  the end didn’t start there, it was just an easier (more socially acceptable) place to start.

I don’t like to remember my childhood because there weren’t too many “good” moments, and for some reason, the truly painful ones are the memories that stick with me.  My parents divorced when I was three, after that, my mom, brother and I moved in with aunt and uncle in Colorado.  My mom met the man who became my dad and they were married after knowing each other a few months.  (He was a friend of my uncle’s).

My biological dad didn’t have much to do with my brother or me.  When I was five, he was going to have us stay with him and his new family for a weekend and I was scared (crying hysterically) because I’d never been away from my mom.  They stopped the car and let me out, and my brother went for the weekend.  As months and years went by, I regretted my “being a baby” and said I would go if he asked again, but he never did.  I made a comment to my mom once that I missed dad.  I was young, maybe 6 or 7. She snapped back, “You can’t miss him; you don’t even know him.”  The harshness of her tone caught me off-guard and I learned to keep that stuff inside.

My mom and my new dad fought a lot.  In my house “go to hell” was like a term of endearment.  I never liked loud noises.  My aunt told me that when I was little, I would cover my ears and cry every time an ambulance siren went by.  So, imagine the anxiety I felt when doors were slammed so hard, door jams came loose, heavy wooden tables were thrown, or I saw my dad pin my mom against the wall with his hand around her throat.  I was terrified.

School wasn’t any better.  I was extremely shy and an easy target for bullies.  No matter how much I tried to be invisible, they would find me.  There’s the stupid saying that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”  That is a total lie – a physical beating would’ve been a relief.  I have always liked cats, and one day, I wore a button with a lion on it and it said something about pride.  Tracy pulled at the button and said “what pride” and they started laughing.  One day, I tried to stand up for myself when they told me to move, they wanted to sit where I was sitting at the lunch table.  I said “no”.  They picked me up and moved me to the floor.  It was humiliating.  Even worse, were the times people would be nice to me and act like my friends, only to take advantage of me (get me to do homework for them, steal my necklaces during hopscotch games, etc.).

But this wasn’t the half of it.  The worst betrayal came from my own family.  I’m told that when I was little, I adored my older brother.  I would follow him everywhere and looked up to him.  When I was six my brother started touching me, and having me touch him.  I probably knew it was wrong, but I trusted him.  I don’t remember a lot of the details, I blocked all that out, but I remember it was ongoing- until my parents found out.  My mom told me she was ashamed of me and disappointed in me.  She told me my aunt and uncle were thinking of adopting a child, but after this, they didn’t know if they wanted kids. (I was horrified that she told them, and that I was so terrible they wouldn’t want kids.)

Every time my parents left the house, they told us to “behave” and that would make me feel disgusted all over again.  I spent a lot of time alone in my room.  I created imaginary worlds that were much better to live in.  A lot of scenarios that played out like a Disney movie- where someone would find me beautiful and rescue me.

When I was nine, I was befriended by a girl who was a year older.  I was happy to actually have a friend.  I’m not sure how long we spent time together, but I remember the day that stopped.  I was at her house and we were having a contest to see who could blow the biggest bubble (Hubba Bubba banana bubble gum).  I’m not sure if I won, but my bubble was so big that when it popped, it covered my face, my glasses and got stuck in my hair.  Diane took my glasses and and went to the bathroom to clean them.  Her dad picked at the gum in my hair and told me it was going to be okay.  He was overly soothing – I wasn’t that upset.  He sat me on his lap with my back to him and wrapped his arm around my waist.  I tried to get up but he held me tighter and put his hand where he shouldn’t, quite firmly.  I tried to get out of his grasp and I couldn’t.  Then Diane walked in.  She paused and didn’t say anything.  Her dad let me go and I grabbed my glasses and ran out of the house and never went back.

I told the neighborhood girls what happened and warned them not to go to Diane’s house.  They laughed at me and told me I was lying and that I only wished it had happened.  I didn’t tell my parents because they were so disgusted with me before, I knew it would be worse if they knew it happened again.  I was sure there was something wrong with me because now it happened twice, with two different people.  And no one could ever know.

My brother didn’t touch me for six years, that I know of.  (Years earlier, I started wearing 2-piece pajamas instead of nightshirts because sometimes I would wake up uncovered with my nightshirt up and I didn’t want to be exposed.  I still wear 2-piece pajamas to this day!)  That lasted until I was 12.  My uncle was in town and invited us to swim at his hotel.  My parents and uncle were in the hot tub and my brother and I were in the pool.  I don’t remember what led up to it, but he said, “what would you do if I did this” and he grabbed my crotch.  I screamed “no!” and backed away.  The adults all looked over and my mom asked what was going on.  I panicked and said “don’t dunk me!”  I didn’t want to disappoint them again.  At that point, I wondered if maybe I wasn’t a restless sleeper, but maybe he was looking at me.  That thought unnerved me, and I told myself I was being paranoid.

Needless to say, my brother and I aren’t close.  Sometimes my mom will try to guilt me by saying things like, “I wish you guys were close and we were a real family,” or “I don’t think I’ll do holiday gatherings anymore since no one talks to each other.”

Seriously?  It’s like no one remembers what happened.  Sometimes it makes me feel crazy like I imagined it all.  When he had his first daughter, my parents were all excited to have a grand-daughter among all the grandsons.  I was freaking out.  Was I the only one that thought having a young girl in his house was a bad idea?  Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, I have forced myself to make small talk and pretend like life is just great.  I have tried to give her that.  In reading the book the therapist gave me, I see my family role as “peace-maker”.  But this was at a cost to me.  This role led to more misplaced trust and bad choices, which I will write about later.

Jesus said to him, no one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God –Luke 9:62