I started writing this with the intention of submitting it to a magazine for publication. I toned things down a bit but still I was afraid to go public and put my name on this for fear of retaliation and also I admit a bit of shame still lingers. Here in the semi-anonymous blogger world I feel safe sharing this, finally.
I knew it was all wrong when I was 20. We broke up briefly and I took him back after begging and pleading from him and his mom. That was my first opportunity to walk away for good and I didn’t. I let loneliness, the fear of being alone and a sense of unworthiness control my life. Then again when I was 28 I had another opportunity and realization that I was making a mistake. We had been living together officially for 4 years and he decided we should buy a house. As we packed up the rental house, as we looked at potential houses to buy, as we signed the papers I kept thinking, “I shouldn’t be doing this, get up and walk away. This is a crossroads.” But again I signed those papers, packed up our home and moved onto the next phase of my life with a man that didn’t really love me and certainly didn’t respect me.
I had a sense of unworthiness my whole life. I always felt like everyone else was better than me, deserved to be treated better, was more important than me. Some might say its the Catholic upbringing, some might point to the lack of a Father when I was growing up, others say it was the strict Mother. But I know that its shame, fear and silence that kept me where I was. I was my own worst enemy.
I was ashamed of the way I was living. With a man that didn’t treat me very nicely most of the time. I was ashamed that I had let my life get away from me and I was too ashamed to reach out for help. Ashamed that the smart girl wasn’t so smart after all. Instead I pretended that everything was ok. I kept everyone at a distance. Silence.
I was afraid of being alone. I felt in some way protected from the world because I had this relationship that I could hide behind. I didn’t have to participate in social gatherings, he could be my excuse. I didn’t have to put myself out there and get my heart broken, I was after all in a committed relationship. We were in love, it was a relationship full of passion I convinced myself. Passion was why he kept me so close I thought.
Then things got terribly worse and I was afraid to leave. I stayed. Again, Shame, Silence and Fear. I became a shell of the woman I was born to be. I barely participated in life. I had no hobbies, interests, social life. I scurried around trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, why was I making him so unhappy, what could I do differently to make things better. Then I just scurried around trying to prevent the next ‘problem’, constantly thinking ahead and trying to control a world I had no control over. The incredible amount of stress I endured was not lost on me. I worried I would become seriously ill, have a nervous breakdown or end up maimed or dead because I couldn’t do anything right. I found it amazing the amount of sleep deprived stress one person could endure. Today I wonder how I survived it all.
I somehow managed to excel at work. There I was a different person. I felt smart, confident, respected, funny, outgoing. I decided to return to school and get my Bachelors. For once I didn’t listen to my partner who was telling me I’d never finish and manage to hang on to my job at the same time. I plowed ahead and thanks to the frenzy over two digit years I found myself in the Information Technology department doing my dream job in a matter of months of returning to school. I had a knack for the stuff and plenty of time to devote to learning this new job since I had no personal life.
The experts say that when a woman is with an abusive partner she stays sometimes until there are no feelings left for the man. It makes it easier to dump this person and move on. Its a heck of a way to live a life. Maybe that’s what happened to me or maybe I just started to think I was worth something. In one instant I realized I couldn’t stay any longer. I told him I was done and I know he believed me for the first time. I didn’t execute immediately but I look back at that exchange of words that was tame compared to others we exchanged and I see that as the moment ‘I decided’. I became filled with resolve, strength and a belief that I deserved better.
It wasn’t easy to leave a man that I had been with for 24 years of my life. More than half of my life. I didn’t have many memories that he wasn’t a part of – good or bad. He was my shield against the world. Against the social phobias that I’d had my whole life and that were only exacerbated by living with a man that didn’t respect me. I started to devote my time to fixing me instead of fixing him. I gobbled up self-help books on relationships, building confidence and moving on. I forced myself into counseling for the second time in my life. When the first counselor didn’t feel right I found someone that did. I forced myself out of the house and started the first steps toward building a life.
Now I’ve moved on. I’ve become a joiner. I join anything that comes along and catches my interest. I try new things every month. I’m learning things in my forties that most people learn in their twenties. For the first time in my life I’ve made myself the center of my universe. I feel the freedom of acting on impulses and doing things that make me happy.
But this doesn’t mean that my past doesn’t influence my present. I spend a lot of time analyzing everything. The food that I’m eating. The people I spend my time with. The new activities I participate in. The men I date. My future and what I want out of life. I want to make sure that everything I do is for the right reasons.
Is it something I want to do or something I’m doing because someone else wants to do it? Sometimes this is ok but most of the time I should be doing things I choose to do. I find this hard. I sometimes catch myself lying to myself. Sure I want to do this. Stop it!
I analyze friendships. Am I giving too much and not receiving in return? Does this person make me feel good? Do they build me up rather than tear me down? If you don’t have time for me or want to do the things I want to do at least half of the time then I guess we aren’t compatible. I seek balance.
I spend a lot of time thinking about who I am and who I want to be. I want to be a good person, leaving more for society than I take. I find ways to give back. I become a Big Sister, I foster animals for the local Women’s shelter, I look for opportunities to build up other women who are stuck. I’m honest about my past. No more shame.
I’m most careful about the men I date. More than one man has told me me that I have set the bar pretty low. They can easily exceed my past relationship. They think that I’m easy to please. I try to stop talking about my past but its a part of who I am. I fail at explaining that I’m not that woman anymore, there are new standards. These men don’t realize that my past makes me judge their every move and word. They are under a microscope and being examined by a woman who has read every self-help book on relationships. I consider Is this someone I feel emotionally safe with? Do I feel cared for? Do I LIKE this person? Am I trying to ‘fix’ this person? Am I respected? Am I what this person is looking for too?
Someone said to me recently that they fear breakups. My instant reply was I used to fear breakups. Now I fear staying with someone who treats me poorly, I fear staying with someone because its comfortable, I fear spending any more of my time on this earth with someone who doesn’t deserve me. Most of all I fear settling for less than I deserve and want. I want to find someone I can be fearless with.
So is it a mistake to stay with someone who isn’t right? Absolutely. Do I regret this? Sometimes. Mostly I look forward and enjoy my life now. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without all of these experiences, good and bad. Maybe I regret that so much time passed but regrets like that will only make a person bitter and unhappy. I like who I am now and who I’m becoming so I choose to be happy.