“I Thought I Would Feel Better” (or, as Barb would say, “I Thot I would Feel Bettah”)
As you all can imagine, Barbara and I have spent oodles of time discussing . . . well, just about everything. It has been like my sister and I have picked up from where we left off (only we just *really* met). I do not know if it is having similar pasts . . . or having shared so much of our lives through emails and blog posts . . . or simply the pure unity of the Holy Spirit, but Barb and I are natural kindred spirits. I do not know how many times one of us has said, “That should be a blog post” after a discussion (oft amid the chaos of all my little ones sweetly crowding around both of us!). One of these topics has permeated my thoughts since Barb arrived. And I have seen this topic played out in my life and in many of the lives of my sisters and brothers only recently . . .
When I first left my ex, I expected to discover invigorating freedom. In fact, I think I half believed everything would be easy (I am not sure why I thought that since I did not have a job, nor money . . . nor a place to live, and so on). But, for whatever reason, I was under the impression that, by leaving him, life would suddenly have joy. To be sure, the black cloud that had hung over my heart was gone. And I no longer wanted to die. And the children and I laughed (like, deep, tension-releasing belly laughs) for the first time in ages. But, I soon began to see that life was starting to surge into a roller-coaster-type-of-crazy, and I was just as helpless to stop it as I would be to stop a train from going downhill.
There were times where I did feel intense freedom — almost too much to handle. But I alternated between adrenaline and utter despair. I truly was, for the first time in my life, somewhat imbalanced. My children might not have known this. It was something that came out in my prayer life . . . or at night as I cried muffled cries into my pillow. My body, mind and soul could not adjust to this new life. This is part of why Barb and I believe that the idea of smooth sailing immediately after a person has left his or her abuser is a myth.
Another reason for this misunderstanding is that post-separation abuse is rampant. Most of us did not know what to even call it. Stalking, phone calls, texts, emails, harassment . . . and then the “pecking” we would receive from all the people our ex contacted. Plus, children who needed us. Add to that basic survival (“How will I live?!”) or poverty. Perhaps little support from those we surely thought would support us. How could we possibly revel in our new-found freedom in the midst of such emotional and practical chaos? No . . . it is something we think will happen and hope will happen but the road to healing is much longer than that.
Another reason for the inability to embrace our freedom is that, while we were in the abusive situation, we were oppressed. We routinely suppressed our emotions. Perhaps we were told by the ‘c’hurch that showing emotion was sinful. Perhaps our spouses became angry at us when we cried. Or maybe, we had to “grey rock” our abuser(s). In any case, being able to experience the full spectrum of emotions was a “no-no” and, after leaving, those emotions often well up from somewhere very guttural . . . and begin to spill out everywhere. It is quite messy. And not at becoming a person who has “found freedom”. No . . . no. It is not a pretty picture. Not at all. All of a sudden, we experience deep grief . . . fear, shame . . . HAPPINESS . . . fear, grief. Something like that.
This may go on for 3 months, 6 months or longer. It is not at all uncommon for these emotions to continue to surface for several years, in fact. The good news is that if we allow ourselves to experience these emotions, sort through them, look them in the eye to find out where they are coming from . . . we can heal. And then, the hope is that, after we have dealt with much of the woundedness (because we will surely always have new things to deal with), we begin to experience the peace (not a perfect or easy life . . . peace as in a calm faith during the affliction) we never thought we would. And the sense of freedom sets in and things become stable and even-keeled — maybe — for the first time in our lives. Now and then, God brings something up out of my “vault” that is somewhat monstrous . . . something I had not dealt with. And I grieve and I talk and I write and I cry and then . . . healing begins to set in. I do not know how long this will last but, I am a pretty intense gal and I intend to deal with all that comes up. I know it will take time. And that needs to be OK with all of us.
A friend once wisely told me, “You can either walk through the valley of the shadow of death . . . or you can run like hell.” I intend to run.