On the cusp of your deliverance from the sad, painful, sometimes debilitating life you led as an abused partner, you will find one disturbing paradox: you mourn.
I am on the verge of a complete life change, which is in itself thrilling and exhilarating. At the same time, I feel the way I did shortly after my divorce was final. The dizzying excitement of freedom and possibility also comes with a reminder that life didn’t turn out as you had dreamed of. The joy at finally not being under the constant control of your abuser is tempered with the realization that you have lost a significant amount of your life, and possibly health, to a situation you never thought you could find yourself in. While freedom and a wide open future are something to be heartily celebrated, we who have escaped abuse have moments where we just can’t shake the sadness, thinking of what might have been.
Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.
What Could Have Been Or Never Might Have Been
Yes, I might have realized my professional dreams at 26 instead of 46. I may have ended up with a man who not only adored me but valued me as a person and a partner. It’s possible that I could have fulfilled my dream of living abroad for a couple of years, rather than just taking potentially wonderful trips with the wrong person. However, I have come to realize in this process of mourning what’s lost but celebrating what is yet to come, that we are each in the place we are meant to be.
Had I not experienced what I did, I would not be in a position to help people escape and deal with their circumstances, as I am now. I may not have been as emotionally mature or fiercely driven to make my life the best it can be. I know that my faith in God and my fellow man wouldn’t be nearly what it is if I hadn’t experienced abuse, liberation and deliverance because I was forced to cling to something higher than myself, as well as relying on the understanding and support of my friends to get me through. Somehow, amid all of this pain and recovery, I had to believe that there would be something better for me and for my daughters on the other side.
Boy, was I right.
Graham Greene wrote, “You cannot conceive, nor can I, of the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.” I think that’s what we Christians call the Great Mystery. Unanswered prayers, the Divine Plan, whatever you want to call it… I have never been one to believe that we are just tumbling through history, hapless victims of timing and circumstance. But in my darkest hours, I know that I cried out wondering what it was all supposed to mean and why I should have to be in so much pain after trying hard to live my life in an honorable way. I have come to realize that the “appalling strangeness” of God’s mercy turned out to be one giant lesson that it just took me a while to get. For those of you who may not believe the same as I, that’s okay. But perhaps it’s worth considering that you have been through this fire in order to prevent another person from burning.
Recovery Is an Extraordinary Journey
I was reminded of this extraordinary evolution last night while cleaning out yet another pile of memorabilia and photos. I trashed a whole bunch of it, giggled at ripping my ex out of some of the photos and tried to focus on the good parts of what was memorialized in those drawers. I also found a number of things belonging to him, which he clearly didn’t miss, so those went the way of the dumpster, too. Somewhere between the maps of London, the ticket receipt to Madrid and the postcards from Paris and Rome, I stopped. What could’ve been beautiful, exciting trips were really no more than a road show. In fact, it was usually worse when we traveled because I would get tired and stop pandering to his every whim and demand. This meant that there were many opportunities for him to pick at me or snipe about something.
As my mind wandered down those thoughts of mourning how things could’ve been different, I stopped and remembered one particular instance in Rome, 1996. I stood before Michelangelo’s Pieta, the sculpture of the Blessed Virgin cradling the lifeless body of Jesus after He had been brought down off the cross. Dumbfounded, I stared and cried. This was something I had read about in art books for many years and was a detailed re-creation of what my religion believes to be the ultimate sacrifice. So deeply moved in that moment, I didn’t care that tears were streaming down my face, but my ex-husband was clearly embarrassed and thus made me embarrassed by his looks of disdain. He was clearly irritated with me and had no earthly clue what was so important about this sculpture. Even then, while drinking in the delicious experience of such a prized piece of art, the joy was tempered with sadness and the underlying knowledge that this marriage was a painful pretense.
Here I am, almost 17 years later, on the verge of the life I have yearned for. The contributions I know I can make (and already am), as well as the opportunities to experience things some people simply can’t conceive of, are materializing. Even though many years were sacrificed in the name of “preserving” or trying to save the marriage, the cost to me and ultimately to my daughters was incredibly high. The simplest pleasures, like laughing with my daughters at the dinner table, are heightened and far more appreciated than I believe they would have been in another circumstance.
Yet, sometimes, the mourning lingers. I believe that’s okay because it reminds us where we‘ve been and helps us appreciate where we‘re going. We are taught to believe in the fairy tale. For those of us who end up in the nightmare, it’s hard to let go of the last glimmers of hope that the fairy tale can actually come true for us. Personally, I think we believe the wrong story. We need more buy-in for the “I made my own life the best it could possibly be” tale.
As you walk this road of liberation and deliverance from abuse, know that it’s perfectly fine to have those moments of mourning. You lost something and it was huge. Grief is normal and you can visit Mourning Town when you need to.
Just don’t ever pack up your stuff and move back there again.
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