In recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. My blog will feature several guest contributors sharing their domestic violence experiences and how they healed. Today, author, speaker and "Creative Self-Care Lifestylist" Jennifer Bridgeforth talks about her experience and shares a poignant "letter to her marriage" written after an abusive episode.
During this time when we acknowledge Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I always want to share my honest story of the confusion, courage, strength and healing that I developed during the time I endured my season of violence and recovery. Waking up the day after my ex-husband first put his hands on me was like waking up as a different person. I had changed. I was introduced to a split personality of myself that needed different things than the me I always knew. It was a situation I never fathomed I’d be in, and one that stretched my honesty and strength to its spiritual limits. I was healing myself and this new stranger that had also emerged from within me. I needed answers. She needed healing. We needed help. Resolution was required, and I was responsible for gathering the tools to discover it. My assignment was extraordinary, yet necessary.
At the beginning of my journey, I wrote a letter to myself that gave me the space to recognize my new reality. I needed to honestly plot my current location in order to effectively redirect my path. About 90 days after I courageously removed him from our home and my life, risking retaliation and possibly death, I wrote this letter to myself:
April 15, 2007 1:09 AM
My letter to our marriage.
As I sit here in the bed sobbing through my 10th piece of tissue in the last 45 minutes, I have come to the true reality of my situation. I have to let my husband go. I’ve never cried this much in my life, but I have to let my husband go. I cannot just say it; I now have to do it. I have hoped that many difficult things in my life would just work out or fix themselves. This is not one of those things. The unrealistic hope that he will come back as a new and different person without the baggage of drug addiction, adultery, physical and verbal abuse is not going to happen, so I have to let it go. The subconscious belief that a man who looks like my husband but never spat on me, tried to throw me off a balcony, belittled me, disrespected me in public, hit on my friends with me present, and everything else that the drugs assisted him in doing will come to our front door with flowers, reparations, responsibility, and the real apology that I am long overdue is unrealistic. I have to let him go. As I drove myself home from the lonely act of taking myself to dinner tonight, it seems as though it was the first time I truly realized I was going home to a lonely house that not only my partner would not be in, but never would be.
As I walked through the mildly messy kitchen, I realized that from this point forward, I was not keeping it tidy for the person that may come home someday, but for the person that comes home everyday. Since that person doesn’t give a damn about this mess, I will leave it for me, because there is no one else to fix it. Just me. I walk upstairs to take the sheets out of the dryer to put back on the bed before I go to sleep. As odd as it may sound, the reality that I am tidying up the bed and spraying it with my homemade lavender oil and Downy spritz is just going to benefit me. These mundane duties are no longer a ‘just in case the fantasy side of my husband shows up’. Even if I never wanted to acknowledge it until now. He’s gone. I’m not. I have to let go. As simple as making a bed can be, the reality that I have taken over this and all the responsibilities that he left me with becomes so heavy it manifests itself physically. I literally slump to the floor in the most significant cry I have had since he left. The table of life I set for two is only being manned by one. I need to come to the table. I need to let him go. I curl up in a ball as my spiritual eyes finally open to the reality of the situation. He chose drugs over his family and our new marriage. I am angry and confused, but I need to move forward.
I can’t look at the lawyer’s number, I have to call it. When he doesn’t return the call, I have to call back. When he still does not call, I have to go through the pain of finding the courage to find another lawyer. I have to respect that I don’t miss him, I miss my hopes for him. I also miss the ideal of us.
I am finally mourning our future. We won’t have a daughter named Madison. We won’t hold hands at my stepson DJ’s high school graduation and cry tears of joy together. We won’t have a son named Jackson. You won’t look at me when I’m pregnant with our children and tell me how beautiful I look. I won’t roll my eyes at that statement on the outside and giggle joyfully on the inside. We won’t be the couple that gives my parents their first grandchild, even though they have been waiting for at least 25 years. You won’t hand me the keys to our first home. You won’t put up the Christmas tree, or string any other holiday lights.
You won’t hold my hand and be there for family tragedies. You won’t protect or support me through the challenges and opportunities of life. You can’t fix what will break, and you won’t fix what you have broken. You can’t heal my heart or answer my questions. There will be no closure, just drawn conclusions, and that will have to do. My future has to be rewritten, and I am afraid to begin. I began the day you left, because I had to, but I had no outline. I need one now.
I struggled at work during the height of your drug use because I feared for my life and our future. That made being an overachiever at work virtually impossible. I was put on probation for trying to keep it all together, and you got a 6 month leave of absence with full pay for tearing it apart. No wonder drug rehab is the protective veil of choice for everything from substance abuse to bigotry. This is not fair, but it is real. I need a new answer when I leave the house and people ask me where you are or how you’re doing. It is no longer my job to respond with an answer that shelters you or us, because that is usually a lie. It’s also ironic, because you didn’t protect me. Not even from you. My order of protection against you lasts longer than the marriage did.
I am a survivor of domestic abuse. That is a statistic I never thought would apply to me. You hit me more than once. I have to stop denying this and forgive myself for doing the best I knew how to do at the time. I have to accept I was afraid. I have to accept I still am. I don’t have all the answers, but I need new ones every day. That helps me grow, because I cannot get that from you. I don’t like that I can sometimes hate you, but I hate that I love you. My spiritual funeral for you has gone on for months now, because part of me is waiting for a different you to rise from the dead. I need to let the ‘we’ in you rest in peace. I never imagined I would mourn someone I loved that is living. Maybe it would be easier if you had succumbed to this disease, but instead you survive, hide from me, and hide from your responsibility. This is not fair, but it is real.
I can stop looking in the mailbox for a check that wouldn’t even remotely cover everything you owe. Currency can’t erase cruelty, and when it comes to our marriage, paperwork won’t cure pathology.
Tonight, I will cry for us. At some tomorrow in the near future, I will begin to grow for me, because you have given me no other choice. From that today forward, neither will I.
It is eleven years later. I have given myself permission to grow where I am planted. I thrive in spite of my circumstances and challenges, because it is a layered life worth living. This experience is a component of my development, and not a complete story of who I am. I am a bestselling author, an entrepreneur, a motivational speaker, a cancer survivor, and a woman who still adores love. I have no expectations that his behavior is the standard of men. I also have not turned my back on marriage or extraordinary love as a verb. I am now more aware that it resides in those who recognize it in me and have a desire to cultivate and complement it for a future more than disproving it to justify a tumultuous past.
Whatever challenge you are facing in your life. Allow it to be a comma and not a period. It is part of your story, but not the end of your life statement. Keep writing your story through experiences, because if you can read this, there are still more blank pages to fill.
Jennifer Bridgeforth is an author, speaker, strategist, and owner of JBE/The Phoenix Group. For speaking, book signing, or other information, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 847.665.WINS(9467). She can also be followed on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @askjenniferb.