I wondered what writing this post might feel like. I wondered if I would ever arrive at this point. Would I ever find my courage? Would the door ever open up for me? Was it possible? Would I ever feel permitted?
I sat in my regularly scheduled Tuesday therapy session and told my therapist, “Are you ready? I feel like I’m living in a soap opera. Are you ready for the next episode of ‘All My Children’?” He held onto his chair and said, “I’m strapped in. Hit me with it.”
“He’s moving out.”
There it is, everyone. He is moving out.
My therapist’s face said it all. His jaw hit the floor. “Yep. He’s moving out. We are separating with the intent to divorce.”
My therapist and I talked about the precipitating event. How did it happen? Actually, we had this really cordial, friendly conversation. It was almost surreal. I was being kind to him, and the opportunity presented itself. Had he lost me? And, there it was. A door. I could tell the truth. It was right there. I just had to cross the threshold.
Suddenly, in that moment all the elements in my marriage that were not reconcilable passed before me. The moment that his self-centeredness turned into rape. The moment he tore the labrum in my hip resulting in surgery and four months of rehabilitation. The moment his anger turned into rage and he brandished a knife. All the moments of his self-loathing that he turned on our daughters and me. The betrayals. I heard the voices of my trusted friends and my therapist: “This is not how a man who loves a woman treats her. This will never be okay. You cannot stay in this. You will become complicit in your own abuse.” I thought of my daughters. I thought of how proud of me they are. I wanted to hold onto that. In an instant, it became clear.
“Yes, you have lost me.”
“I know,” he said.
And that was the beginning of a much needed conversation. I felt such relief. I had been so frightened for so long that the relief I felt in finally speaking the truth overwhelmed me with happiness.
My therapist was gobsmacked. He said, “I am in awe at the power of speaking the truth. Once you start telling the truth it creates something. Things start to happen. You made something happen here. You only just talked about leaving, and here it is.”
Telling the truth is dangerous. I don’t recommend it unless you really want it. You have to want your life. Badly. You have to want wholeness and something better more than you want to be comfortable. It costs you something. It costs you predictability and that weird and twisted sense of safety however illusory it was. Even in dysfunctional environments, there is something safe in knowing who’s got the power and who hits the hardest. We learn to manipulate in situations like these. To escape environments like these, we have to give all that up. We have to start over, and, for some, that is a far worse prospect than staying.
I am a profoundly private person. I never told anyone what he had done to me. Not in full. I may have told one person. My close friend. She knew. She saw me die a little every day until I wasn’t me anymore. I can’t imagine what it might have been like for her to watch that. When I told the truth, however, people came forward and surrounded me with support and love. They also made me accountable for my own life. “You can’t stay in this. Find your strength again. Wake up from your sleep of death. Wake up.”
Hopelessness and despair will kill your soul. I have resisted it most of my life, but I could not fight it off in this marriage. Eventually, I succumbed to it as well. I saw no way out, and that is a lie. There must be a way out. There is a way out because I’m here writing this. My youngest daughter told a friend at school yesterday that her parents were divorcing. Somehow that one admission spread to teachers and parents, and I received emails. A parent, the principal, and a teacher. Everyone was expressing their support and offering to help–with assertiveness: “Let me help you. Ask for anything.” My private self was chafed, but my emotional self was touched and reassured. It proved one point. We are not alone. Help comes from unexpected places. Even school principals.
We simply must tell the truth. Be honest with yourself. Be compassionate with yourself–something I am terrible at. My therapist asked me directly yesterday,”Jules, can you look at yourself and say, ‘Jules, I love you.'” I squirmed. No. Who does that? That’s so touchy-feely. I felt very uncomfortable. I immediately used a defense mechanism. “Well, I see that you are using third person with me instead of first person, and studies show that using third person in self-talk in place of first person is more effective in displacing negativity, thus, helping boost confidence and decreasing anxiety. But, you would know that since you’re a PhD.” He stared at me and put his head in his hands. I then said, “I see what I did there. I fell back on my intellect to avoid feeling uncomfortable. Sorry. I deflected.” He sighed and laughed. At me, I think. I must be a very difficult client at times.
“Alright,” he said, “let’s come at this from a different perspective. You made a ’30 Rock’ reference earlier. I’ll make one. Do you recall when Jack Donaghy was giving himself a pep talk in the bathroom?”
Of course, I do! It was epic!
“I want you to do that. You are to treat yourself like that. Only positive statements. That’s self-compassion. This week, your homework is to be Jack Donaghy.”
Oh, that sneaky bastard! Clever man he is. Challenging me to a “30 Rock” showdown? I will take that challenge! And, you know what? It’s damn hard. How do you become Jack Donaghy and divorce at the same time while struggling to be assertive?
I’m trying to figure that out. Jack Donaghy did divorce Bianca and still manage to be himself (I’ve lost anyone who does not watch “30 Rock”. My apologies)..
So, tell the truth. Do it. See where it takes you. It’s taking me to 30 Rockefeller Plaza, self-compassion, and well beyond.