Contrary to what some people might think, escaping from an abusive relationship does not result in an euphoric state with a celebration of freedom. It results in self-condemnation, fear, self-doubt, fear, depression, fear, anxiety, fear, guilt and more fear. As awful as that relationship was, it was a knowable state and is a loss even if it is the loss of the idea of what a marriage or partnership should have been.
When I found the courage to separate from my husband I continued to wear my wedding ring. For a long, long time. I was still married, right? Somehow he was going to realize that I meant business and finally get that professional help that I insisted he get years ago if we were to continue together. I had hope that he would want to change because he loved his family so much. Denial.
Then I would cry every time I heard the song “Stupid Boy” by Keith Urban because it so completely described my situation where I was required to be something that I am not and discouraged from being ME. Music became a great method of finding and dealing with the many different emotions that were hiding. Pain and acknowledgement.
A big part of abuse is the hiding. We learn to hide our real selves away to keep them safe. We hide until we find that seed of strength that grows into determination that branches into action and eventually resolution and soars toward the sky.
So I grieve the loss of my marriage.
I grieve for what should have been: a healthy, loving marriage.
I grieve what what will never be: a safe home for me and our children that includes HIM.
I grieve over the loss of my identity: I am no longer someone’s wife.
I grieve over the loss of what should have been: a relationship where I could be myself without criticism and condemnation.
I grieve over the idea of having no one loving by my side as I navigate through life’s difficulties.
I spent a long, long time in denial. I then spent a long time very, very angry. Oh, was I angry. I then spent a lot of time depressed, shut off from the world. I then spent time looking for answers for myself. I began to wake up. I began to care about myself beyond eating, sleeping and caring for my kids. I started school, finally. I called lawyers and found one. I visited the county courthouse library and researched divorce.
I went through the phases of grief. The Kubler-Ross model has five stages:
There is another model that has seven phases:
- Shock and denial
- Pain and guilt
- Anger and bargaining
- Depression, reflection, loneliness
- Upward turn
- Reconstruction and working through
- Acceptance and hope
I like the second model as it includes “pain and guilt,” a time of turning, creating a new life, dealing with issues, and finding hope for the future. Yep, I really like the second model of grieving and believe it more accurately describes the phases I went through, and am still going through.
I have several friends who have been through hell due to loss. Some have lost both parents and a sibling, some a spouse through divorce then a child, or a child and a grandchild, or a marriage and then a grandchild. All of these people have one thing in common: they are grieving. This process cannot be rushed, ignored, swept under the rug, pushed to completion, or skipped. Grief must take its course.
The tendency is for friends and family to create some kind of criteria for acceptable grieving. They think you should be getting back to your old self after 6 months or a year and definitely not more than two years. Any longer and there is something seriously wrong with you. I have been separated for years and just the past few months am ready to move on. It took me a long, long time to work through the stages of grief. And you know what? I still have days when it hits me all over again, usually after some kind of contact or not knowing how I am going to buy food that week or shoes for the youngest or . . . lots of things can trigger the fear, denial, anger, pain, reflection, then hope. It feels like the grief process in fast motion, like a grief flashback.
Allowing myself to grieve was the kindest thing I could have done. I had the added issue of grieving over the loss of my health due to Lyme disease, a horrible loss. I had left my church. That is a loss.
Grieving happens whether we let it or not. The difference is that when we acknowledge grief, we allow ourselves our feelings, the bad days, the awful days: the days when we don’t answer the phone, the weeks when we don’t go out. Then there are the lost relationships. Most people won’t hang around for a grieving friend. So when we are grieving we discover who our real friends are. And if you have family like mine, you mostly get a lot of criticism for “choices.” Just add a little more grieving to the pile.
There is no pretty way to grieve. It just happens. If we try to pretend like we aren’t grieving it possesses us and takes over our bodies and lives. It will not be ignored.
There is an end to grieving, at least an end to the worst parts of grieving. Loss stays with us forever. But there is living. Living is what I am doing now after years of grieving. Although I am thankful for where I am now, I still have a long way to go, much of my life to figure out. I occasionally have really bad days where it seems like I am feeling much of the powerlessness and fear that I felt when HE was still here. But I get through those days, get a good night’s sleep and wake up the next morning in a better mood with hope renewed.
And I step outside the door to face this new day . . .