“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
I began seeing my therapist shortly after my separation to help me process my emotions associated with being assaulted by husband. I felt ashamed, bewildered, guilty, and confused. I questioned whether I should stay with my husband or whether I should leave. I stood on the edge of a dark, wide chasm wondering if I should jump, and I was terribly frightened of what lay on the other side. My fear surprised me. I considered myself fairly independent. I had lived alone for six years before getting married. I had bought and sold two houses by the time I was 28. I mowed my own lawn, shuffled snow, and often traveled alone on business. But to untether myself from my marriage and drift alone as a single mom was scary.
My therapist suggested I look within myself and write down my fears of staying with my husband and my fears of leaving my husband. I went home and wrote down my fears in my red spiral notebook I use for journaling.
The following week I reviewed my fears with her. Both lists seemed equally daunting. “Being alone” seemed as scary as “being miserable." Here is the list for staying with my husband straight from my journal:
1) Being miserable for the next 10 years
2) Being unhappy
3) Not having the best environment for E
4) E being unhappy
5) Continuously arguing
6) The possibility of being physically hurt again
7) Wasting precious time
Now here is the list of fears for leaving my husband:
1) Being alone
2) Losing my best friend
3) Money being tight. Not having enough money.
4) E not having a dad
5) Emotional impact on E
6) The stress of divorce
7) Losing money [to lawyers]
8) Throwing [my marriage] away
9) Losing our friends
10) Failure again
One thing about time. Time gives us the gift of perspective, insight, and experience. Reading these two lists eighteen months into my journey is enlightening and somewhat amusing. My journey has given me the perspective to observe these two lists objectively. Let’s take a closer look at both lists of fears and determine what is real and what may not be so real.
Fears of staying with my husband:
1) Being miserable for the next 10 years. Real. My ex and I had been through marriage counseling twice. Nothing changed. Unless some spectacular miracle occurred, or if he didn’t kill me first, we would continue to be miserable for the foreseeable future.
2) Being unhappy. Same as above. Real. I was unhappy being in a relationship with a man who did not respect me or care for me. I could handle that he did not love me. I just wanted him to let me go. He would not. I was trapped.
3) Not having the best environment for E. Real. Arguing constantly is not a healthy environment for our son. For 18 years, my parents argued, yelled, screamed, and slammed doors in front of my brother and I. While the experience made me self-reliant, it also laid the foundation on which my low self-esteem was built and likely a factor in my own failed relationships.
4) E being unhappy. Similar to above. I may never know the impact of witnessing the arguing and the abuse has had on my son. He has never spoken of that night or of our arguing. But I can without a doubt interpolate what the impact staying with my husband would be. Studies show that boys who witness domestic violence are more likely to be abusers themselves. I am so grateful to have broken the cycle.
5) Continuously arguing. A very real possibility. Without extensive marriage counseling we would have continued to argue increasing the possibility of further abuse.
6) The possibility of being physically abused again. Another very real possibility. Abuse escalates. A push turns into a violent shove, which turns into a punch and a kick.
7) Wasting precious time. I believe this fear is an echo of the first one, Fear of “being miserable for the next 10 years.” Staying in a miserable marriage or relationship is not worth your life. Emotional and physical abusers are parasites sucking the life and soul from you. And life is too short to waste it on a parasite. Use your energy on you and on those who treat you with love and respect.
Now let’s look at the fears I listed for leaving my husband:
1) Being alone. I suppose after being married even only 5 years, the thought of being alone can seem intimidating. However, after eighteen months of actually being alone, I am not frightened at all. Being alone is actually quite nice. Being alone is peaceful and above all empowering. I believe that many women including myself have allowed society dictate what is acceptable and what we need to be fulfilled or successful. But guess what? We do not need a man at all to be fulfilled. Let me repeat. Women do NOT need a man to be fulfilled. Yes, being in a relationship and having a caring companion is nice. But we are not “less than” because we do not have a man by our side. We are ourselves and possess the freedom to fulfill our life and to succeed as we wish. I wish it had not taken me so long to figure this out.
2) Losing my best friend. Yes. This fear was and still is real. There was a part of my husband I considered separate from the selfish, narcissistic part of him. And that part of him was intelligent and friendly. One of my fondest memories is of us making dinner together. He chopped vegetables while I sautéed them, adding random spices and throwing everything together over noodles or rice. We’d sit down to eat and discuss our work and often politics, religion or family. We had a connection on some level. Today looking back I do question the validity of that relationship while simultaneously mourning the end. It may not make much sense, but losing what I thought was my best friend has been hard, but not insurmountable. We move on.
3) Money being tight. Real. Financial worries are going to occur in any separation or divorce. A household of two incomes is split half with, unfortunately, two mortgages or rent, two electricity bills, two water bills, etc. I am extremely grateful to be blessed with a decent paying job. Yet, I was still worried how my financial situation would change. And yes, money is tight. But I will tell you that it is so friggin worth it. I am grateful to be able to pay my mortgage and my utility bills and have my son by my side. I do not need forty pairs of shoes or the latest Coach purse. I only need my son, his health and his safety.
4) E not having a dad. Not Real. As my therapist was quick to point out, my son still has his dad. It’s up to his dad to have a relationship with his son. I have no control over their relationship, and I cannot force it.
5) Emotional impact on E. Not Real. Eighteen months later my son is just fine. Staying in an abusive relationship or even just a bad relationship would have a negative emotional impact on my son. As it stands now, he is in a loving, peaceful, and positive environment.
6) The stress of divorce. Real. Well, divorce IS stressful. The past eighteen months have not been fun. But at the same time my life is much more calm and peaceful without the arguing and fighting. I will take the stress of divorce over the stress of an abusive relationship any day. And the stress of divorce is short-term. I know I will move through it and beyond. And there is freedom on the other side.
7) Wasting money by giving it to lawyers. Real. Yep, I have given thousands of dollars to lawyers. Has it been worth it? I don’t know. Could I have performed many of the tasks myself? Possibly. I had hoped my ex and I would work out the details of our separation and child support on our own, but he insisted on getting an attorney. I was left with little choice but to use an attorney as well. The point is attorneys are expensive. You are screwed no matter what. Sure, I could have spent that money on a vacation, my son’s college fund, or a new car. But it’s done. I cannot second guess myself.
8) Throwing my marriage away. What does that mean anyway? Yes, I made a commitment to my husband and my family as we exchanged wedding vows that August day on the beach. I had every intention of honoring that commitment. I loved my husband and wanted our son to know his dad, so I took a blind leap of faith and married him. I don’t necessarily regret it. My son knows his dad regardless of our living arrangements now. It is my husband who threw our marriage away the night he slammed my head into the floor.
9) Losing our friends. Real. Yes, I lost some “friends.” But throughout our lives, friends will come and go. Our true friends will stay no matter our circumstances or changes we go through. I’m still friends with many of the women I was friends with during my marriage, and I continue to make new friends. Whether going off to college, moving to a new town, getting married, or getting divorce, shifts and adjustments always occur in friendships. But these new phases of life also create opportunities to form new friendships as well as showing us who our real friends are.
10) Failure again. At 42, I am divorced (or will be soon) for the second time in my life. Two divorces weren’t exactly the outcome I planned. After my parents’ turbulent marriage and divorce, I was determined to do better. My believe was if I graduated college with a good degree and snagged a stable job, I would not have any financial worries, and therefore, everything else in life would simply fall into place. Right? Wrong! I soon found out, a stable career and enough money do not equate to a perfect relationship. I still required healing from my lonely and unstable childhood. So, in some way, I am grateful for my two failed marriages. I would never have the opportunity to heal had I not traveled this journey.
The fear of leaving my husband was the result of not knowing the future. How was I going to make it? Where do I begin? Do I get a lawyer? Where will I live? How will it affect my son? I was overwhelmed with all the questions running around in my head. But as I took each step forward, my questions were answered dispelling each of my fears. The key is to take that first step forward.
The fears we face in life are often the fear of the unknown. Fear of the future. Fear of change. Fear of making a long, difficult journey. Fear of failure. Fear of pain. We fear making that phone call, because we fear rejection. We fear going back to college, because we are scared of failing. We fear applying for our dream job, because we fear being let-down. We fear leaving an unhealthy relationship, because we fear change and starting over. We will encounter many fears and obstacles along our journey.
Our fears will seem intimidating and insurmountable at first. However, when we arm ourselves with knowledge and take one step at a time, these fears will fade away. Similar to the monsters we thought were under our bed, our grown-up fears turn out to be illusions as well. Just remember it’s normal to feel fear when we are pushing the envelope, making a significant life change, and chartering new territory. That fear is your heart’s intuition whispering in your ear, “It’s going to be worth it.”