I Won’t Back Down

Well, I won’t back down
No, I won’t back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down

No, I’ll stand my ground
Won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground

And I won’t back down
(I won’t back down)
Hey, baby, there ain’t no easy way out
(I won’t back down)
Hey, I will stand my ground
And I won’t back down

Well I know what’s right
I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
But I’ll stand my ground

And I won’t back down

-Tom Petty

 

I write my blog for a few reasons…to help me process how I am feeling, to help me learn my own lessons for my personal growth, and to share my stories in case it helps other people. Sometimes I simply have something to say – something important that I need to share others. Today, I write for all these reasons.

As I sit to write this part of my journey – I want those reading this to know that it is never my intent to hurt anyone else. I am about to write about a painful chapter of my life that I have never shared in detail on my blog before – and I am doing this to help me process some painful memories, and to try to help others who may learn from my experiences.

Over the last few weeks, I have been carrying some emotional heaviness. I have been helping a friend going through a challenging time. In addition, the #metoo hashtag has gone viral over the last few weeks. It is no surprise to me that I am being triggered by my own past as I hear so many stories. On one hand, I have glossed over the heaviness – thinking that nothing “terrible” has happened to me compared to others. But – that nagging heaviness hasn’t gone away and has been really affecting my moods. Last night as I had a great heart to heart with my friend Susan– I finally named it – I was feeling pissed. And as usual for me, underneath that anger was some residual pain from my past.

You see, I was a victim of emotional abuse for many years over the course of my 13-year marriage. I have never written that sentence before. But there it is. I don’t like to use the word victim, and I still have a tough time seeing myself as a victim – but in denying I was a victim is denying a very important chapter in my story. And I believe in the truth and in living an authentic life, so I need to speak my truth.

So yes – something terrible did happen to me – many, many times.

I remember the first warning sign when I was dating John who would later become my husband. We were about 22 years old and on a trip to Newport, RI for their Jazz Fest. I remember the car ride with his sister and her husband – and John got upset with me about something and lashed out at me in front of everyone in the car. I am not sure exactly what he said – but I think it had something to do with my being “spoiled” or “entitled” – this was to become a major theme over our marriage. Because I didn’t want to cause a scene, I stayed quiet until we arrived and I remember storming off to be myself. I remember he eventually found me, accused me of being dramatic and ruining everyone’s time. There was no apology – or even acknowledgement of my feelings at all. I remember pushing my feelings aside for the sake of “peace” – which was the start of a vicious pattern over many more years.

When we were first married, my husband took 100% control over our finances. To his credit, he did manage to save a lot while I had pretty typical spending habits for a 25-year-old. I do believe that it was highly unlikely we would have been able to save money and buy a house had it not been for John’s thriftiness. However, the path to that dream was a painful one. I was expected to place every single receipt into the “in” box where I was then questioned about the contents of those receipts on a weekly basis. Now – to some of you that may not sound unreasonable. We were trying to save for a house – and we did need to live within our means. And I had proven I was irresponsible when I neglected to share that I brought $4,000 of credit card debt with me into our marriage.

But you see – no matter what I tried, I could not convince John to set up a “budget” or in other words an “allowance”. I remember suggesting that he “allow” me to take out $40 cash each week that I could use for groceries, lunch, gifts, clothes…whatever. The point was that I wanted to make my own decisions. I was tired of him knowing what I bought for his birthday and how much I spent before I even had the chance to give it to him. I wanted to be able to go to lunch with a friend without having to justify it to him. I wanted buy a snack and not have to explain why I ate what I did and spent whatever dollars to do so. He thought my suggestion was crazy and unreasonable – it was impossible to come up with any kind of system or compromise. He was in control and that was that. As time went on, I would forget or lose receipts…I would become numb to the weekly arguments, bury my feelings and endure the monthly bank reconciliation. I would eventually get into “crafting” and making/selling jewelry so I could have cash on hand – glad to have a creative outlet that could also help me endure the situation.

What I didn’t realize was that the financial control was merely a stepping stone to the emotional control John would eventually take. He started in on my weight pretty early in our marriage. We were almost the same height – and when we were dating he almost broke up with me because he didn’t like that he didn’t feel bigger than me. So what did I do? I minimized myself as much as possible. I dieted before we got married – and got down to the smallest size I have EVER been and thought all would be ok. All was not ok. What ensued was nothing short of emotional abuse. He tried to control everything I ate on a daily basis. We would go out to dinner, and somehow I would be convinced to order an appetizer instead of an entrée. We would go on car trips, and if I wanted to stop for lunch I was told something was wrong with me because I couldn’t miss a meal. We would go to a ball game – where the only food options were hot dogs/burgers – you know the usual ball park food – and I would be ridiculed for not finding something healthy to eat.

I was called the most insane names you can think of – but the most common one was “Fatso.” And it happened ALL THE TIME. Every single day. Whether he was drunk or sober, he called me horrendous names. I honestly don’t remember ever enjoying a relaxing meal without being questioned why I was eating/drinking “that” and making some comment about my weight.

As a person who values the truth – I developed some terrible patterns to lie about what I ate, how long I worked out, and how much I spent on things, all attempts to regain control of my choices and of my life.

John and I tried to have children. I suffer from endometriosis and had to have several surgeries to remove some painful, large cysts. I went through many tests to determine my fertility – and therefore I was to blame for our situation. John refused to be tested. Instead, he blamed my condition – and at his worst moments, called me “barren” and “childless.” These are the most painful memories of my marriage.

Over our years together, I started to become more and more successful in my sales career, while John started to struggle in his career. He was incredibly smart and talented, and had the unfortunate luck to work for an HR outsourcing company whose major clients were Circuit City and other major companies that eventually went out of business. While I excelled, he suffered – and he saw this as in inverse relationship – meaning the better I did, the worse he felt. I could not share any of my successes without hurting him – so once again, I minimized myself – tried to make myself smaller – not just physically – and buried my feelings. My most painful experience related to this was the night I won “Salesperson of the Year” at our annual awards banquet. I dreaded the evening with every fiber in my being. I specifically asked to NOT be seated with our CEO and the executive team because deep down I knew what was going to happen. My worst dreams were realized when John proceeded to get drunk and mutter LOUDLY during the entire ceremony. “When is this going to be over?” “Look at you – you are so special (laced with sarcasm).” “This sucks – when can we leave”. Everyone at the table heard him. I was humiliated and so consumed with shame. Within seconds of the end of the ceremony, I grabbed him and we headed for the exit – somehow I thought I could escape and pretend that night never happened. It was truly terrible – one of the worst nights of my life. I had never felt so exposed and ashamed by having my work and personal lives collide like this.

I grew to avoid that collision of my personal life with other aspects of my life as much as possible. I alienated myself – more accurately, I allowed John to alienate me from my family and friends. I became so unhappy that I started to wish time away – I would be relieved to fall asleep so I could wake up the next day – having endured another day.

And despite ALL of these things that happened, I stayed. This morning, I watched a Ted Talk by Leslie Morgan Steiner called “Why domestic violence victims don’t leave.” She said she didn’t think of herself as being abused during her tumultuous marriage. You can see her TED Talk here.

She said, “I thought of myself as a very strong woman who was in love with a deeply flawed man.” EXACTLY – I got goosebumps hearing that. I used to say John was misunderstood – that he was like a porcupine, prickly on the outside and squishy on the inside. That people didn’t see the “real” John. Well – I didn’t see the real John. John wasn’t one person on the outside, and another on the inside.  Instead – just like everyone else including me – he is a whole person made up of many layers, many facets, strengths and flaws. I wasn’t healthy enough to see the truth through my denial.

Today my life is dramatically different – in a positive way. I sought help and have worked very hard on my emotional health. I am a truly happy person with so much love in my life. My marriage ended over six years ago, and four and a half years ago I met Jerry who loves me for exactly who I am – with all my strengths, all my weaknesses. I am 100% myself, 100% of the time now – no minimizing. I have the family I have always wanted with his children, Kaitlyn, Chelsea and Eric, all of whom I love with my whole heart. My relationships with my family and friends are the best they have ever been, and I no longer sacrifice any of them for the sake of my partner – because to do that would be to sacrifice myself.

I can still be tough on myself when I get triggered like I have been these last few weeks. When I spoke to my friend Susan last night – I said I am still “pissed” at both John, but also at me for “allowing” myself to be treated badly for so many years. That is why I sat down to write this morning – that is why I am seeing myself now as a “victim” – a word I have never used before to describe myself.

If John or his family are reading this – please try to understand that my intent is not to cause any of you pain, but I understand if it does. This is MY story. These things happened to ME.

These experiences have helped to make me who I am today, and I am a truth-teller. I won’t back down from the truth.

If my story helps even one other person speak up – it is more than worth it. Because here is a hard truth. One in every three women has suffered from domestic abuse. I am one of them – and many of you didn’t know this about me. And I am 100% certain that you know others that are being abused today. You may be one of them. If you are – please hear me loud and clear – the shame of domestic abuse cannot live in the light.

In her TED Talk, by Leslie Morgan Steiner talks about shedding light on domestic abuse – and after watching it today, I felt compelled to shed my own light – to “shed my silence” on this issue.

#metoo

 

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Get up, Stand Up

Today I helped make history…or as Kaitlyn said, “her-story”. From what I have read by Politicususa, today’s Women’s March was the largest protest in US history. However, I didn’t march today in protest of who sits in the White House. For me, today was not about politics, nor was it about one man. It was (and remains to be) so much bigger than that! It transcends politics and the temporary power that one person has. Today’s march was about renewing my belief in humanity, my love for my country, and my commitment to embody my values. I marched to “be the change I wish to see in the world” as Gandhi taught us to do.

I marched today to demonstrate what I believe in:

  1. TRUTH: I believe in speaking the truth. The truth can be a big pill to swallow. Many people will avoid the truth because once they admit the truth, they may have to take some kind of action – or God forbid – CHANGE. I know this because I spent a lot of my adult life avoiding some hard truths of my own. As a result of facing my truth, I have had to make some painful decisions and have experienced a whole lot of turmoil as a result. Now that I am on the other side of that pain, I know in my heart and in my bones that I am a better person for taking the risk to speak my truth.  When I reflect on our recent presidential election (which I have done A LOT), I feel that one of the takeaways is the truth has been exposed. I have been pretty comfortable in my white privilege and could have easily stayed there “on the fence”  as John Pavlovitz so eloquently wrote about recently. Not anymore. I am willing to speak the truth that racism is rampant in our country. That white privilege is a luxury that too many people cling to and avoid having to change. That too many wealthy people hold the power and WAY too many people have none. That women are not treated equally in the workplace. That people with disabilities need more help. That LBGTQ right’s need to be protected. That there were more people at the Women’s March than at the Inauguration. Some of you may think this is political, and that is your right to think whatever you want. But for me, the truth is a fundamental, personal value. Now that I can speak these truths, I am ready to DO something – I am ready to “be the change.” I am ready to take action to do what I can to make my life, my country, and my planet, a better place.
  2. EQUALITY: I believe that all men and women are created equal. I believe in equal pay for women. I believe that love is love and that everyone should be able to get married regardless of their sexual orientation. I believe that black lives matter. Of course I believe that all lives matter, but I am not afraid to say that black lives matter to call attention to the hard truth that racism is rampant (see #1). I will not be afraid to embody this value of equality – even when it may be uncomfortable. I want my actions to reflect my values. That is why I marched today.
  3. CHOICE: To me, believing in choice goes well beyond a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body. I believe that choice is a fundamental right each one of us has at ALL times. Each one of us has the power to make a choice every moment of every day. Making a choice is the opposite of being a victim of circumstance. I can’t control my feelings, and I can’t control what happens to me…yet still I have 100% control over my choice of my actions in response. By the way, doing nothing is still a choice. And the only person responsible for my choices is ME. Other people may have an opinion about my choices, but guess what – the older I get, the less I care.
  4. EMPATHY: I believe that empathy is the answer to the division in our country today. I believe that I can change the world one small act of kindness at a time. I believe that empathy makes it possible for me to have very difficult but necessary conversations about very difficult topics.
  5. HOPE: I believe that hope comes from my core belief that we are all connected in some way. I have hope that our country remains to be the best country in the world, and that it is built to last no matter who holds office. I believe that fear is the enemy of hope. I have hope in humanity – and today renewed that hope.
  6. LOVE: I believe that love trumps hate. I believe that love is the most powerful, renewable energy that not only replenishes itself, but can grow exponentially. I believe if our choices come from love and not from fear, that the world would be a much better place. I believe that the enemy of love is not only hate – but more importantly – indifference, like the wise Elie Wiesel taught us.

These are the reasons I marched today. These are the reasons I will not stay on the fence. These are the reasons I will speak up and take action. I welcome difficult yet constructive conversations.