I was born in Santa Ana, California. I am the second of four children and the only girl. My family moved to Tucson, Arizona at the end of 4th grade and this is where my most formative years took place. I was always super outgoing, super busy and super involved. I was a cheerleader for 5 years, cheering every sport. I was involved in all levels of student government, including being our Junior Class President in high school. I was go, go, go all the time! I was also in the habit of choosing boyfriends who claimed to love me but who were controlling or otherwise unkind. It was a pattern repeated over and over again.
Terrifying memories demanded my full attention
When I left home to attend college in Idaho, it was the first time I didn’t have any extra activities to distract me. Once I allowed my mind to be “quiet” for a bit, it didn’t take long before memories of sexual abuse at the hands of a close family member began to flash into my mind. Eight years of abuse. The memories came out of nowhere and they were confusing, random and terrifying. Terrifying because I knew they were real and that I could no longer out run them. They were demanding my full attention. I sought help through ecclesiastical leaders and the school’s counseling department. I didn’t want anyone to know, especially not my roommates or family. I was going through it all alone, afraid to reach out, afraid of what others would think.
As an adult, I kept giving up my power
Following a few months of working with a therapist and a steady flow of antidepressants, I moved home for the summer and finally confided in my parents. We discussed it one time. Only once. They were supportive but it was clear that this news had caused them tremendous pain. I bore the burden and the guilt of being the bearer of bad news.
A move to a new state and town seemed promising to help me move forward and I considered myself “cured” from my past simply because I wanted to be. The very next day I met the hottest guy in the apartment complex! He was so good looking and all the girls were after him. And he was paying attention to ME! In our 14 months of dating there were sooo many red flags. He had a tempter and we were completely incompatible in 9 out of 10 important areas. Still, when he proposed, I said, “Yes” because I didn’t believe anyone else would want me. Sadly, he didn’t believe anyone else would want me either. It was a belief he continually reminded me of during our marriage. I was so sad and upset that I had yet again allowed myself to be in another abusive situation. I could somewhat forgive myself for what had happened to me as a child and maybe even in adolescence but I was an adult now and was still giving up my power. What was wrong with me? Was I so unlovable that I deserved to be abused?
I spent each day trying to shield myself from the continual message that I was not good enough. No matter what I did, it was wrong in his eyes. I could not win. As time went by, I knew I had to leave but I felt so alone, trapped and fearful. It was all made worse because everyone believed we were the “perfect couple”. Outside of our doors, he was charming, he was athletic and did I mention he was so good looking? He was everything an abuser is not typically known to be.
My power came back to me incrementally. I attended massage school in a different city causing me to live with his sister during the week. I realized how happy I was being away from him. I ate less, I drove slower, I felt calmer. I also felt guilty. I shouldn’t be so content being away from my own husband. This was not the way I had envisioned my life and yet here I was.
Being divorced was the last thing I wanted to be. I even considered staying in that situation rather than face the humiliation, the judgement, and the gossip that I was sure would happen. I finally decided that the only thing worse than being miserable for 3 ½ years was being miserable for 3 ½ years…and one day. The problem with going through difficult times is that you have to actually go THROUGH them. There are no shortcuts. You have to feel the pain, the grief, the uncertainty and the fear. I had to allow myself to mourn the man I wanted him to be and the future that would never be mine…at least not with him. I knew without a doubt I had given my marriage all I could. There was nothing left. This was crucial to my resolve in putting one foot in front of the other and not looking back, not second guessing.
It’s hard to believe it has been almost 20 years since that pivotal decision. I scarcely recognize that frightened girl from my past but I celebrate her brave decision every single year. January 19th is “Independence Day”, the day I moved out, followed by March 8th, my “Divorce-a-versary”. I pause and honor the younger me who found the strength deep inside to begin to love herself.
I am intensely grateful that I found a wonderful man to marry. He is the polar opposite of my ex and in many ways he healed my open wounds with his unwavering and unconditional love. He encourages and inspires me to be the very best version of me. Most importantly, he accepts me exactly as I am.
I am acutely aware that my experience is in no way unique. It is sadly far too common. I wish I knew the magical answer that could eradicate all forms of abuse. All I know is that I can try my hardest to do my part. I am responsible for raising a strong, independent daughter. A daughter who never doubts her worth, a daughter who knows how to recognize abuse when she sees it and one who will stand strong in difficult times. I am also responsible for raising a boy to become a man who holds girls and women in the highest esteem. He has been taught from the youngest age to have respect and to be a defender of anyone in need.
Every one of us will go through trials. That is a given. I believe it is in our nature to strive for the best life possible. I hope that no matter what difficulties come your way, each of you will harness the power within to become the hero in your lives!
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