I chose them, by choosing me.
I wish that I could say that the red flags hadn’t been there since the beginning but that would be a lie. If I’m being honest, I can pinpoint the very moment I first saw them, and they were almost immediate.
So you’re probably asking yourself how I held on for nine years after I knew — and sadly I did know. I won’t make this a lesson on statistics nor have I done any research to support what I have lived or know but I will tell you that it’s a cycle. A vicious, vicious cycle. If you grow up witnessing abuse, cheating and chaos; when you are abused, cheated on and drowning in chaos, you feel no fear. This is familiar. This is “normal.” This is what I deserve. This is love, or at least my understanding of the word.
I am a daughter and a mother. I am the follower and the leader. I have spent a lifetime following footsteps, impressions in the sand that have deepened with each generation that walked the same mile. I am not proud of my past, but I am not ashamed. I may have continued along the path of insanity until the day…
Honestly, it was a normal day. It was light years away from our worst fight but it had one. small. difference. You see, foolishly, I had spent nine years thinking that I had hidden the emotional scars from my children. On this day, I came to realize that the scars weren’t hidden at all. In fact, not only was the history of my pain visible, I would come to learn that just as I had been living in sadness and anxiety, so had they. No one talked about it. I had cried thousands of tears behind closed doors but always pulled myself together before facing the world. I could have never realized that I was training them to hide their hurt. To wash away their tears. To pretend that it was okay, or worse, to believe it was okay.
On this day, like so many days, we weren’t getting along. Tension filled the air and the plans for the evening started to fall apart. He called me names that used to make me cry, but over the years I had become numb. Far too numb to let this break me. Instead I asked how he could talk to me that way and I will never forget the response. He said, “Because that’s the way I talk to you!”
I have replayed those words, in that order, in my mind, more times than I could count. It cut me deep, and I didn’t just cry, I crumbled. He left to the bar and I curled up in my bed next to my son who was fast asleep. I wanted to belt out audible cries, but my two older daughters both had company and I knew that I had to hold it together for them. Little did I know, it was too late. They had heard everything, and so did their friends. Ten minutes after he left, my 13-year-old came and laid on my chest. She asked if I was okay and I tried to lie to her. I told her that I was just frustrated.
She couldn’t stand it any longer. She broke down and asked if it was her fault. She cried a cry so deep that it shook me to the core! I scooped her up like a baby and explained that it had nothing to do with her, but the damage had been done. I tried to tell her that the only thing that could cheer me up was her happiness.
That bought me some time but not much. I gave myself until morning to make a decision, and here is where it gets complicated. Here is where a lifetime without healthy boundaries begins to interfere with common sense. He is a great man who has said and done terrible things. He is a loving husband who has stomped my self esteem into the dirt. He has paid me the kindest compliments and then washed them away with horrid insults. He is all that I want and everything that I crave but he is my weakness. He is my addiction and I am his. I was lost. I spent hours wishing that god would come down himself and tell me what the answer was but after hours of prayer and thought I was empty handed.
The morning would come and go. My deadline was behind me and despite the fact that I knew in my heart what had to be done, I couldn’t commit. You don’t leave the man you love. Not when you believe loves you back. I walked around in a fog that day. I could feel their little eyes staring right into my soul. Just waiting to see how we as women address being put down and verbally abused. In the midst of all of the madness was a moment of clarity. I pictured my daughters, the loves of my life, being called a bitch. Being told they weren’t enough after a day of giving the world all that they had to give. I pictured them crying alone in their bedroom, too ashamed to face the world. Asking themselves if they truly are worthless. I saw them walking behind me. Following in my footsteps and it gave me the strength to change direction.
We turned off life’s GPS. While it would be so much easier to follow step by step directions, that was no longer our future.
I had always tried to hide sadness from them, but I was forced to be open when I told them why our family was separating. I wanted it to be crystal clear — love doesn’t have to and shouldn’t hurt. Not like this. We cried on my couch together, but they left with a clear cut message: No matter how much we love someone, if they don’t treat us with kindness, we leave. I made them promise that the cycle would break that day.
I had spent years brainwashing myself into thinking that I would ruin their lives by leaving, not wanting to face the reality that the greater damage would come by staying. Maybe I told myself leaving would hurt them too much because it was easier than admitting that it was I who was afraid of the pain. When I was finally strong enough (or broken enough) to be honest with myself, the answer was clear.
To truly choose their happiness as my priority, I had to first choose my own happiness. I chose them, by choosing me.