I now look at life differently. My children are more precious to me than ever. I love to hear them laugh and to daily tell them I love them and kiss them good night. The colors seem more vivid. The breeze on my skin is fresh and invigorating. I find myself smiling for no good or apparent reason. It is as though I have peeled off my old life, and a brand new one is emerging. At 43, can life really begin again? If so, I pray that I am living proof of it.
My emotions are all so intense — whether joy or sadness, peace or turmoil. Everything I am feeling seems to have been impassioned by some unseen force. What is going on? What has happened to me? Is this a natural phenomenon that all people experience when they have gone through a tragic divorce, or a short-term phase in life which leads only back to mediocrity? God forbid. Is it because my depression and fear had held me in bondage for so long that now I am finally experiencing the true range of emotions which were trapped beneath the surface? That is exactly how it feels. And, I fear the possibility of going back into that dreadful prison. Even feeling the pain in its fullness far surpasses the numbness which came from locking it inside, running from it, believing I could somehow override it.
So, this is what life is like. What angels long to peer into. I’ll take it.
It was a month before my divorce was finalized when I wrote that journal entry, and my abusive husband had been out of our home for over a year. It was altogether strange and liberating when the haze of confusion to which I was accustomed gave way to reveal that I hadn’t been imagining things. It wasn’t my fault and I wasn’t crazy. Nor was I overly sensitive, demanding or selfish or stupid or unforgiving.
I have no idea how long it took for the emotions I had locked away to begin to rise to the surface. Having the freedom to feel and express emotions at all seemed foreign. The grief was overwhelming, yet it felt so good to really feel anything, to cast aside the robotic, perfectionist persona I had adopted for my survival. I was free to reclaim my person-hood, free to be real and imperfect and transparent. My kids and I dared to imagine and create the life we wanted but could never have.
We finally had room to breathe. We could sleep in on Saturday mornings and eat pancakes and watch cartoons without someone marching downstairs and barking orders at us. On Friday nights the five of us could eat pizza and popcorn and watch Disney movies and laugh out loud at our favorite parts and be ourselves without being criticized. What wonderful, simple pleasures.
It wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine. All of the kids struggled with the divorce for their own reasons. The idea of not having a dad at the house (even an abusive one) was an adjustment, and the fact that he was gone was an admission that our family was broken, when we had all hoped and prayed that it was fix-able.
Weeknights could be exhausting, as I worked full-time capped with an hour commute each way. So, by the time I got home in the evenings and put dinner on the table, helped with homework, made sure kids were bathed and we had some family time, I was plum-tuckered-out. Fortunately, I had a few dear friends and the kids’ grandparents nearby who graciously helped the kids get to church, basketball practice or swim meets when I was unavailable. What a blessing those people were in all of our lives.
Although I had no idea what our future held and struggled to make ends meet, all the same, I found myself smiling or singing just because and fell asleep most nights thanking God for the solitude and peace. We were happier, and that was all that mattered.
There was constant reinforcement that we were on the right track. For our first “just us” Christmas, I was financially challenged but had enough to get a tree, fill the kids’ stockings, and buy them a few simple presents. The ceremonies were brief but calm and pleasant. That afternoon, as I was in the living room picking up what remained of the Christmas wrappings, I heard my 9-year-old son upstairs in the loft telling the others, “Wasn’t this just the best Christmas ever!?” It touched my heart to know they felt the difference. No drama, no yelling, no tears. After so many years of hell, I just wanted them to be content and, in that moment, they were.
I wish I could say that life was peaceful and our abuser respected our boundaries, but he didn’t. He continued to try to churn up chaos with his lies and manipulations and crazy-making – until I remarried three years after the divorce was final. I fell in love with a man with his own wounds to mend, and the connection between us was almost immediate. Although Doug lived and worked 350 miles away, after “dating” me long distance for two months he transferred to be near me – this broken woman with four similarly broken children. We married eight months to the day after we met, and together all of us have worked through our marriage and made a new family where we could find healing and acceptance and redemption. And it was Doug who made it a point to put our abuser in his place once and for all.
It was so worth it – to make the sacrifices that had to be made and pay whatever price that had to be paid to discover that life and freedom and joy (and even love) were waiting for us – on the other side.
“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
Cindy Burrell is a survivor of a 20-year marriage to a verbal and emotional abuser. She is the author of four books, including “Why is He So Mean to Me?” and “God Is My Witness: Making a Case for Biblical Divorce” and the owner of a web-based ministry to women in abusive relationships. You can visit her website at http://www.hurtbylove.com.