I have avoided a deeper discussion of what it was like when my marriage began its unraveling because the truth is it was a very dark and ugly time for me.
"Jack" and I met when I was 19 years old at SUNY Plattsburgh. I was smoking a cigar, illegally entering the bar, Filion's, using a fake Jersey license. I was encouraged by friends to talk to him. So I walked up to him and pretended that we had met previously. He had no clue who I was (of course. We had never met.) It was an entertaining conversation. In those days, I was brazen and wild. I wanted to test my boundaries, sometimes in unproductive ways. Luckily, I was still getting 4.0s in most of my coursework, and surprisingly I was working three jobs successfully to pay my bills. I was independent and I wanted to take a bite out of the world, just to have a taste of what it had to offer. But I was also so very naive and impressionable.
I had just gotten out of a short term relationship (about 4 months) and I was not looking for another one. At the time, meeting him was probably one of the best things that happened to me because I was getting out of control. I needed someone to tame me a little. .
"Jack" did more than that "taming". Over the course of ten years together, I gave everything I had to him, sacrificing myself in the process. At the end, I was barely recognizable to myself, and the downward spiral began before we started having children. Little by little, I abandoned hobbies, friends, and interests, hoping to adapt and accommodate him. It never seemed to be good enough. I never felt good enough.
In June, when he told me "I love you but I'm not in love with you," I knew I had to make it through the month at school, teaching, before I could emotionally deal with his words. He wrote me a very long letter, I believe it was about 12 pages, which listed every reason why he didn't want to be with me anymore. It listed every wrong I had ever committed that he had remembered. I was shocked. He told me I made him miserable. That he was not living the life he wanted and it was my fault. I hated myself. I wanted to erase myself from existence after reading that letter. I believed him that this was my fault.... (This was the same man who had written a very different letter only months earlier in January, which described how much he loved me and how very in tune with me he was....)
At that point, my first course of action was to talk to someone. I committed myself to therapy, even though I felt like it made me "weak" that I needed to go to therapy and have someone help me deal with my problems. I think I went to therapy twice a week that first month. I asked Jack to also go to therapy, but he refused.
Jack was being very emotionally cold to me, and he would stay up after I went to bed, often sleeping on the couch, or coming to bed later than I so that we weren't intimate in any way. I decided to start sleeping in the spare bedroom.
The daily coldness and distance was a 24 hours-a-day punch in the stomach. I walked around with a constant ache in my heart. I did everything that I could think of to sway his opinion back toward me. I cooked, cleaned, spoke kindly, offered him anything he needed. I invited his friends over for dinner, went anywhere he wanted, allowed him to start smoking cigarettes again (he had stopped smoking in college after we met). I wanted him to be happy so much that I would have done anything to give him that. I even recall an evening on my hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor because he said it never looked clean.
It was around this time that I finally went to see my grandfather and tell him about what was going on. I could barely utter a word as I sat next to him on his couch, cradling a cup of coffee in my hands. How could I tell this man, whom I admired, adored, and respected, that my marriage was failing. I felt like a failure in telling him. My grandfather indeed was surprised. He asked me to tell him more. Once I told him that Jack has said "I love you, but I'm not in love with you" and described some other actions, my grandfather said, "He's having an affair. I would know."
That was crushing to me. My therapist had also questioned me multiple times regarding a possible affair, but I refused to believe it was possible. Now there was another emotional wrench thrown into the mix. If my grandfather said it, it was true.
When Jack said he needed time and space, I willingly left the house to temporarily live with my mom. He seemed unfazed. I stalked the house the entire time I was living with my mom.... driving by to see if he was there, and if so, was anyone else's car parked in the driveway. There is more to this story that I'm not willing to lay out for the public, but at a certain point the validity of the affair was proven.
Jack told me soon after that he had gone to a lawyer to see about a divorce. (Ironically, the lawyer told him he had no grounds for a divorce). I finally sought some legal counsel myself and moved back into the house at the advice of a lawyer. This was like living in my own personal hell. Jack came and went as he pleased and I was "the reason" for the breakdown of my family and my failed marriage. He denied an affair, instead saying she was a friend to him. "A true friend" I didn't want to believe he was having an affair. I wanted it to be as simple as I needed to be more considerate of him and his feelings. I needed to be a better wife. So I focused on that. I could fix that.
I felt guilty. It was all my fault. He said it, and I believed it. I ruined my marriage. I destroyed my family. It was a wrenching burden to carry. I asked Jack if he still loved me. I asked him if there was anything about me to love. He told me, "Well, you're smart." I don't know why, but I felt a need to ask him every once in a while some kind of question regarding his feelings toward me and every time he treated me like I was a stranger. Why I continued in that behavior makes sense because I loved him and was seeking his approval, but it was a quicksand. It took me a while to get out of it and every movement in it just further deepened my wound.
The emotional upheaval was exhausting. I slept, breathed, and ate with a superficial smile pasted to my face. I walked around in a daze, not knowing who I was anymore or what was going to happen. My daughters' needs kept me going. But even they couldn't keep brief thoughts of dying and how I might just end it all at bay. I lost weight, going from a size 12 to a size 8. I ate because I was sitting at the table with my little girls and I had to because that's what a mom does. So I walked through the days like an automaton. I went through the motions. I pretended in public.
And in private, I cried. I cried all the time, behind closed doors. My mom knew. My sister knew. No one else saw the tears. I cried, went to therapy, and I wrote. I wrote a lot. A few friends knew what was happening, but most people did not. The truth was I really didn't have many friends anymore. My friends were his friends. And in the course of the events, I felt like they were not people I could go to.
In September, I moved out. I did not want to. Jack was gone to Florida, visiting family, for ten days, and in that time I realized I needed space from him. He was suffocating me with his cruelty. He may as well held a pillow over my face.
Leaving Jack and my home was the most difficult action I've ever taken. I didn't want to move out, but he would not leave our home, even though I asked him repeatedly to. He told me, "I've invested a lot of time and money in this house. I'm not going to walk away from it." To which I replied, "We've invested a lot of time and energy in this relationship, but you have no problem walking away from it."
At the time I was still in therapy. I had started doing some running again and a coworker asked me to play volleyball in a league on Thursday nights and I agreed. (I had abandoned all athletic events when Jack and I got together because they didn't align with his needs. Anyone who knows me understands exactly how much of a sacrifice that was. Much of my personality had been defined by my athleticism..)
School started back again and it was my escape. I knew what to expect there and emotionally it was a time out.
But the nights were the hardest. Especially the nights without the kids. I shared custody with him because I believe if a man wants to have his children in his life he should be allowed that. I know not everyone shares my sentiments, but I had a tumultuous childhood and much of it was due my dysfunctional relationship with my father and step-dad. While Jack became a husband that was unrecognizable to me, he was still a great dad and I wouldn't take that way from him.
I fell asleep every night crying. I woke in the morning, opened my eyes, and once the recognition of my life hit me, I wanted to die again. Every movement from brushing my teeth to starting the car, felt like work. I felt like I was underwater. How can I live this way?
Then, in the course of my sadness, another emotion crept in, anger. It came in waves. I loved, hated, wanted to murder, wanted to be held by my husband. I bought a voice recorder (the kind used by reporters) and began to talk into it whenever I got angry, which was often, because I could not write fast enough to get my emotions out. There were days I screamed into that recorder. There were days that I drove away from his house, leaving my daughters there, and I uttered every curse word I had ever heard. Then I yelled them. I was sure he could hear me through the car and through his house. My heart was black.
(Another area that I haven't much mentioned is the financial strait I was in. I received no support for him, had gone from two incomes to one, and had to pay my own bills. It was another stressor that caused a great deal of anxiety.)
Finally, on the way to therapy, on a brilliant, sunny afternoon, it happened. I stopped thinking I want to die, and I had my first vision of how I could kill myself. I was driving along on this absolutely gorgeous fall day and I explained logically in my mind how if I increased my speed and ran into a thick enough tree or a telephone pole, then there would be a likely chance I would die. And if not, then maybe he would be struck by his love for me seeing me in the hospital, and come back to me. I imagined other ways I could die, but they all seemed so messy. I was (am) not a violent person.
The peace I felt imagining I would no longer exist made perfect sense at the time. As I write this I have difficulty believing that was ever me, but it was. Then, as my mind was mulling the consequences of my death, at the same time I was waiting to hit a straight-away where I could pick up my speed and hopefully see a sizable tree, I thought about my Ella, face pressed to the glass when I left her at her father's. I imagined how her tiny fingers closed around my thumb. I thought of Madeline's bouncy blonde curls, the way she made a fake smile for the camera whenever we did photos. Would I leave these children with the man I loved and his girlfriend. I burst into tears. Why? Why me? Please, God, take away this pain. I thought. By the time I got to therapy, I'm sure my eyes were swollen from the tears. I felt nothing but pity for myself. I was in a "Why me?" stage.
But that moment was heart stopping. My world changed. At therapy that day I told my therapist about what had happened. That was when she recommended I try using some kind of anti-depressant. I was very against this, but I couldn't allow these thoughts anymore. I had to dig out of this darkness. I succumbed to modern medicine.
My thoughts changed that day too. Yes, soon after I started taking Zoloft and I'm sure either that, or the idea of how that would change me (mind over matter) began to take hold. I KNEW my thoughts had to change if I was going to pull through this. I knew my actions also had to change. I also knew I couldn't do this alone. I was going to have to reach out, make friends, make changes, start doing somethings I love (what did I love? I wasn't even sure...). I decided that my marriage was over (not that this was the last time I thought that. I went on to beg him a couple more times to try again, before I finally gave up).
And what happened after that is a story for another day.
But to end today, here are some wishes I have for you.
May you have peace of mind.
May you realize that hope is only a thought that YOU can make happen and it comes when YOU make the decision to seek happiness.
And one more thing.
That person who has caused you pain, they were important in your life. I like to say, "Some people open doors in our lives that they are not meant to walk through with us."
This is your door. This is your time. Walk through.
My grandfather and myself on my wedding day....
It was a happy day. Nothing can or ever will change that.