In 2009, after well over a year, even longer really, of conflicted and frenzied emotional struggling, as my marriage slowly dissolved away under my feet and I helplessly watched my husband morphing into someone I couldn't recognize, I filed for divorce.
There is more to the story of course - the counseling, the blogging and journaling, the desperate pleas to my pastor and various friends and family (which came only after months of silent shame, fear, confusion, and frantic actions meant to salvage it all) but when it came down to that moment, the one moment when I looked around me and thought, "What do I do NOW?", all I could think of was to file for divorce.
The ensueing 3 months proved that things could always get worse. Well, what had I thought they'd be? Better? No, I don't suppose I believed that things would get better, but I didn't think they'd get worse.
Ultimately, I came to another pivotal moment where I was looking around at the carnage saying, "What do I do NOW?"
I think my biggest mistake (oh and I've made so many) was not looking ahead at what the ripple effect of my individual actions would be. Not looking far enough ahead and seeing only the one moment of chaos and crisis.
*see below, Note 1
A second mistake was in that I was so bewildered by the man my husband had become that any of my automatic expectations about his reactions, fed by past experience, were always wrong. I thought he would be honorable, honest, and do the right thing because that was how he'd always been. I thought he'd be thoughtful and devoted to open minded cooperation, giving benefit of doubt. He was no longer that man though, and that was, and remains so, the hardest thing for me accept, understand and remember.
So I left my house, moved into my own apartment; having decided that I could no longer continue to let my kids slink around in that volatile tense frightening confusing environment; thinking that soon we would finalize everything, that soon my kids, age 11 and 13 then, would be out of school and we'd sell the house and share the parenting from two different homes; thinking that physical separation would ease the palpable tension, thinking that I didn't want to pull my kids from their bedrooms, their pets, their routines and small comforts when there was just a couple of weeks left of school anyway, thinking it would be ok.
I was wrong.
That wrongness? That slap in the face wrongness of it all was shattering. I found myself financially broke - more than you might ever imagine and more than I could explain - with no legal representation and no means to gain any, with a bitter angry vindictive man holding my children hostage from me and asking me to jump through hoops of power plays and control with rules that changed randomly. Things did what they'd come to do: they got worse.
I was told that I wasn't worth anything, that I'd abandoned my children, bailed out, jumped ship. I was told I didn't have any rights. I was threatened with legal and police action if I argued about when I could have the kids or when I had to return them. I so desperately wanted to keep my kids out of the mess, out of the middle, away from the conflict. Desperate enough that I was easily manipulated. When threatened with police intervention if I didn't return my kids to my husband and the house I once lived in at a specific time (no, there was not any court order but I was trying to establish a cooperative flexible non-legal precedent that didn't scar the kids) I returned them because the thought of police showing up and frightening my kids went against everything I was trying for.
*See below: Note 2
Broke, broken down, defeated, harrassed and still under my husbands constant demand and orders in spite of not living together, still trying to meet those demands and orders, overwhelmed by loss and grief (I lost my marraige, my husband, my community, my church family, my life as I knew it, my role as a parent, my home...), tortured by missing my children and by seeing their own grief and confusion and wanting to help them understand while not hurting their love and respect for their daddy, I found myself holding onto that proverbial last straw.
I filed for divorce in March 2009. I moved into my own apartment just 3 months later in mid-June. A few weeks after that, in July '09 my husband told me that he was taking the kids out of state to visit his family (in spite of the week off I'd taken to be with them - a week off I couldn't afford with no vacation time to use) and that he didn't care if I had taken time off because I didn't matter - and then he handed me HIS proposal for our divorce.
His proposal included the following: he would allow me alternate weekend visits from Saturday to Sunday. He would allow me a midweek dinner visit. He would take my name off the mortgage (quit claim deed) in return for him assuming all the debt associated with our joint credit cards and home equity loan (we were, and are, in tremendous debt). I was not to receive alimony, any percentage of retirement, mutual funds etc but would not have to pay child support. I could have a one week vacation in the summer provided I give adequate notice of such by April of each year. I wasn't to have custody, just visitation.
And that last straw fell. I shattered completely. I was so full of shame, so humiliated, so alone, so 'without', and so beaten down emotionally that I couldn't see anything other than what he showed me: unworthy, replaceable, bad, incompetent, unreliable. My kids were better off without me, he was perfectly fine parenting them on his own, after all, I'd left them behind anyway right?
What do I do now?
Back in March, several people gave me advice. People are good at giving advice when they can go home to their own homes and their own husbands and their own children and leave you and your broken life behind. One person said something that was perhaps the most understanding comment I'd ever heard. She said, "I know what I would do Mia, but you aren't ME and I would never expect you to do what I do because it isn't in your heart. You are different and so you have to do things your own way." I loved her for saying that.
She'd said that back then, before March, but by July, she was no longer willing to be a part of my life in a way that supported me like I needed. Like nearly everyone else, she didn't want to "take sides". No one wanted to "get involved; create an uncomfortable situation; make it awkward". People wanted," to stay neutral; just keep it open and light; to stay connected for the kids sake". In theory, I get it. It's all very PC and grown up and reasonable. But in reality, by not defending me against a force I was unable to defend myself against, I was left defenseless and finally defeated. As had been shown to me over the past few months, I knew that if I called someone and asked what to do they would have grimaced sympathetically, hugged me, wiped my tears, patted my hand, prayed for me or with me, felt very bad for me, but nothing else because, you know, they didn't want to take sides.
*See below: Note 3
So there I was - alone and defeated and at yet another moment when I didn't know what to do next. The more I wondered what to do, the more I wondered why I should even do anything at all. And the more I tried to find a reason for doing anything, the more I felt like there wasn't one.
With all that in my head, and my heart, I chose to - and these are difficult, ugly, painful words to write, words that I can't yet say out loud - kill myself. A suicide attempt - I felt so worthless that suicide seemed to be a valid action.
And I am here today to talk about it.
I am here because I Am Still The Mom.
*Note 1: I have learned that a crisis will still be a crisis after a nights sleep, and chaos will remain until it's dealt with - no matter the emotions drowning me, no crisis or chaos I faced back then needed an immediate decision - no bleeding, physical danger, or loss of life was at hand. It felt as important maybe, I don't want to devalue the pain and fear, or the intense desire to fix something with just the right action, but I've learned now to sit on things a little more and a little longer, to try and map out the potential results of an action and weigh those all out to see the variations and their potential results.
*Note 2: hindsight - with good solid parenting, when you already have good communication with your kids, it is worth it to allow some legal or police intervention to establish a record. Nonaction based on fear will undermine every effort in the future.
*Note 3: I don't blame any one person or hold them at fault for or responsible for my life as it was at that time: devoid of support, defense, and validation; but the truth is that no one wanted to get involved in a way that backed me up, no one wanted to stand up to my husband and tell him to stop on my behalf, no one wanted to call him out, lift me up, or step outside themselves to speak up for me when I was speechless. And a year later they still don't. One 'friend' told me just today that whenever she sees my husband she wants to hit him, but she smiles instead and just avoids real eye contact if they speak. Another friend, who remains an anchor even now, validated my circumstances back then when she remarked, "When someone abuses you emotionally, they make you think you are crazy - that's what they do, it's how they work. Hold on to what you know." But it's hard to hold on when the only thing you know isn't honored or believed or validated by anyone outside.