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The slippery slope: How I lost myself, and managed to climb out: Part 3

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I have been struggling for a few months to push myself to write the final portion of this post, as it is something difficult for me to even speak about with those I love, much less broadcast to the world. But something inside me tells me that it is necessary for the next step in healing, and will hopefully give others the bravery to advocate for themselves and escape an abusive relationship.

In the last post I wrote about our first experience with swinging. In my studies as a nurse, I have come to believe that this incident was driven by the risk-taking behavior that can happen in the grief process; it was a poor attempt to distract myself and escape from the overwhelming feelings of loss after the death of my dear grandfather. Unfortunately, this became a pattern of behavior we adopted as a new norm- an exciting aside to the everyday difficulties and drudgery that was our life at that point. I am embarrassed to admit that I lost count of the number of sexual partners that we had. The rush and the high of hooking up became an addiction for us, and even when I wanted to stop, my husband would use guilt and emotional manipulation to get me to agree to the next one. We lived like this for years, through the birth of my two daughters and all that came with parenthood as well.

Narcissism is a topic that has been given a lot of attention lately. I realize now that I was married to a narcissist who slowly wore away at my self-worth, dignity, and independence, until I was a shadow of my former self and wholly dependent on him. Forgotten was the person that used to be fiercely able, intelligent, and self-directed. Like many spouses trapped in an abusive relationship, I couldn’t envision any other life and was terrified of losing my husband. What would happen to me and the two children that we now had? How would I cope? Would I end up living in a women’s shelter or homeless? I reasoned with myself that I was not physically abused and that my husband loved me, so I learned to push back that still small voice that told me that the things we were doing were wrong. What would happen if our children found out? What would I be teaching them?

The last couple we were with we developed a close relationship with, and spent a lot of time with. We had become careless over time, and with my husband’s vasectomy sometimes foolishly didn’t use protection. When my period was late by a few days, then a week, dread started to settle into the pit of my stomach. When the two lines showed up on a pregnancy test, I was devastated and lost. We told the other couple that we were pregnant, and they were floored as well but supportive. I didn’t know how we would explain this to our families, and I was so fearful of rejection by my husband. When I told him, he wanted me to get an abortion. He ended up telling his mother everything, and she was so angry at me that she refused to speak to me. At Easter a few weeks later, my husband and the girls went to their place for dinner, but I wasn’t allowed to go. I felt so crushed that my husband didn’t stand by me and defend me.

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I had at one point decided to get an abortion and had made an appointment. But my dreams at night would not allow me- I would wake from nightmares of my baby screaming, being pulled forcibly from the womb and other images too gruesome to add. My conscience would not allow me to go through with killing my baby. My husband insisted he would leave if I refused, so I finally lifted myself from his oppression and decided to leave myself. I had nowhere to go and no money, and in desperation went to stay with the couple we had gotten pregnant with, and got a job.

I survived in a fog the next few months, taking every day an hour at a time and saving up enough money to get an apartment for my girls and I. I moved out when I was about four months pregnant, and kept working full time. My best friend became more like a sister during this time, as well as a second mother to my children as she cared for them while I worked.

The grief from my broken marriage and the uncertainty of the future wore at me terribly. One night shortly after moving out on our own, I remember lying in my bed at night and feeling so crushed that all I could think about was filling my bathtub and lowering myself under the water, escaping the pain forever. I was done. Suddenly I felt like I was grabbed by the shoulders and shaken until I came to my senses. It may sound ridiculous to some, but I felt God telling me that I was stronger than I knew, that there was a plan for me and that my children needed me. Gone were any suicidal thoughts and I was filled with hope. I got down on my knees beside the bed and cried my heart out to God, going back to him and promising to live a better and honorable life.

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The shattered pieces of my life came together after that. I started to go to church, to pray and to trust in God again. I sent in an application to a nursing program, even though the deadline had passed- and was accepted! My bills were caught up on and I could see light in the future. I still struggled greatly with my pregnancy, however. Try as I might, I felt no deep sense of connection with my baby, and was worried about this affecting my ability as a mother to it. I wanted what was best for the baby, and I could not help but feel that I was not it. Over the months, speaking with the baby’s father and his wife, I decided to ask them to raise the baby. It was one of the hardest decisions of my life, harder than leaving my ex. They were so excited when I asked them, and told me they had been trying to conceive for 9 years, to no avail. Their support after everything that had happened meant everything to me. So my baby went home from the hospital with them, and I left with empty arms and a broken heart, even though I knew that what we were doing was best. It took a long time to even think about everything that happened without crying. But healing came bit by bit, the children grew and we all thrived in the end.

I am pretty emotional after rehashing all this, so will leave it at that for now. There are many future posts waiting to elaborate on subsequent things,let it suffice to say that I was greatly blessed in the years that followed. As for you, dear reader, if you are in a situation where you are hurting right now, please know that it is not hopeless. There is better for you in the future, and you are worth more than allowing yourself to be hurt or used. Steel yourself, make a decision, and stick with it. It may be difficult at first, but you will be so glad that you did. Be blessed and at peace today.

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Finding the Christmas Spirit

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For many years, Christmas meant to me rushing around, trying to figure out what everyone would want to be given to make them happy. It was about spending all day cooking, tramping out in the yard to set up lights in the bitter cold, and feeling guilty about not doing enough.

I have realized I was trying to compensate for growing up poor, and never being able to tell stories on return from Christmas break about gifts spilling out from under the tree. My dad came from a family of 12, and also from a generation where gift giving wasn’t a big thing. They would get Christmas oranges for a gift, so for him it wasn’t something he really considered; and financially it was probably impossible anyways.

As I child I focused on what I didn’t have rather than what I did, and I think this is an all too common sentiment in our materialistic culture. I didn’t see how my single dad would summon whatever little cooking skills he had, and spend hours trying to make us that perfect turkey. I didn’t see how he got up every morning at 6 am to bang on the woodstove so that the house would be cozy when we got up; rather I would be irritated with the noise. I didn’t see how he would spend money on gas to take us to as many family gatherings as he could over the holidays. I didn’t see him bringing us to midnight mass, and teaching us the gift of faith as we lit our candles and wondered at the mystery of God.

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But now I see. I have learned that our circumstances do not define us, and that growing up in poverty did not make me less worthy. The last few years especially, I have been practicing gratefulness rather than longing. Simplicity has replaced striving, and Christmas has become a time when my family does our favorite things, and not what popular culture tells us we should. Our Christmas tree is decorated with a mayhem of ornaments that were made by me and my children, and out front window is graced by a ridiculous lit up Bumble (see the pic, he is a character from a holiday cartoon from my childhood).

This year we celebrated our Christmas on the 24th. As a nurse, I work many holidays, and my family is gracious about working around that. So yesterday we slept in, and got together to exchange only a few simple gifts, then eat our favorite appetizers and watch the glorious die hard- Oh Bruce Willis, I don’t mind that you had to take your shirt off ;-).

Probably the best part is a game we play called love your neighbor, a tradition from my husband’s childhood. The day before, I had raided the dollar store and bought a variety of little items from useful to downright silly. These are wrapped and then used to play this game similar to a Chinese gifts exchange, and the uproarious fun we had yesterday has left me with abs that are still sore from laughing so much. A great reason to be sore.

As we stood in our Christmas eve service yesterday, I reflected on how much my perspective on life has changed, especially over the last decade. I have grown strong in my faith, learning gratefulness and surrender to the guidance of one stronger than myself. I have learned to have a childlike faith and wonder at the beauty of nature, and to be more compassionate to those around me. I have learned how to give of myself at work and at home without burning myself out. And most of all, I have learned that I have worth and I don’t need to hide, that I can show my true self and not be concerned about rejection.

Blessings to you on this beautiful Christmas Day, my friends. It is my wish for you that you have peace and contentment in your hearts today and every day, wherever you are in your life. I thank you for reading my words, and allowing me to share my heart with you. This writing journey I have begun has given me so much joy, and I pray that this year, you will have the courage to delve into something that you have always wanted to do. Have a merry, bright, and inspiring day, and I hope you return soon to visit my page.

The slippery slope: How I lost myself, and managed to climb out: Part Two

Everyone, at a certain point, recognizes characteristics in themselves that they dislike. For myself, it is the tendency towards emotional dependency and people pleasing that I have had to learn to temper with reason and logic.

When I think now about why I gave up everything I had worked so hard to attain in life in favor of pursuing a relationship with a man, I think there are several more reasons. I didn’t have a great connection with my father or anyone else at that point, and yearned for connection with someone. I had also been heavily bullied in school and thought of myself as ugly and not someone that could be wanted by a man, so I latched onto this one strongly. There is also the fact that I am stubborn and didn’t want to be proven wrong.

Whatever the reason, I replaced my studying and time in the library with a full-time job and another full-time job making my boyfriend happy. He was prone to deep periods of depression, and I tried to keep his life as stress free as possible to keep this at bay. I often felt responsible for his depression, as he tended to passive aggressively blame me for how he felt. He worked for the most part, but changed jobs many times as he would grow restless and need to move on. Unfortunately this restlessness was a sign of things to come in other areas.

When we had been dating for a year (and engaged for almost as long), we decided to get married. My family had not been very supportive of our relationship, and we decided to elope. We got married in a little park with a JP and two witnesses on a cold grey morning in June. My younger self, who had so many dreams of a fairy tale wedding, would not have approved. When my family found out later, they were very upset and this drove another wedge to widen the rift with them.

By this time, we had bought a house on a little acreage in the country. It seemed like a great deal and had a lot of character, but the longer we lived there the more I felt isolated. The house was huge and empty, and my heart was feeling the same. There was also a lot of maintenance to do around the yard, and thankfully my grandfather would drive out to help us learn how to do it.

It was on one of these visits that I suffered the greatest loss of my life up to that point. It was spring, and the snow had melted leaving huge pools of water standing in our field. Our dugout that supplied our water needs was very low, so grandpa had come out to help my husband dig ditches to help the water drain into it. I stayed in the house and spent time with my grandmother while they attended to this, and had heard sirens but didn’t realize what was happening. Then a police cruiser pulled up to the house and he informed us that my grandfather had been taken to the hospital in the ambulance and my husband had gone with him.

The policeman gave us a ride to the hospital and my husband was in the waiting room. He told us that grandpa had suddenly lost consciousness and he had to end up starting CPR after calling 911. Grandpa had not woken up, and he could not get his pulse and breathing back. They were still trying to do the same in the trauma room, we were told.

About 20 minutes later the kind old doctor came out to speak to us, wearing a look that I now know well, and sometimes have to wear myself as a nurse. I was in denial up to that point, thinking that grandpa would come back. He had always been so energetic, so full of life and laughs and tall tales. But they had not been able to get his heart beating, we were told. They were sorry for our loss. Did we want to see him?

I felt like I was in a dream as we walked towards the room, emotionally numb and unbelieving. He lay on the stretcher, skin grey and an empty shell of who he had been. What finally made it real for me was when I saw that He was still wearing his muddy rubber boots. My heart broke in two that day.

My husband had a haunted look in his eyes for weeks after that. He would wake up at night crying and panicking because he was dreaming about what had happened. The guilt that he felt was profound; he kept saying that he should not have let grandpa exert himself, and he should have recognized sooner that there was a problem. We both had never dealt with grief before, and its stages violently rocked us.

At one point we were so tired of hurting that we decided to have a party and have some friends over. It would be nice just to take our minds off of the situation and let loose. The night started out well, and more and more people kept arriving and before we knew it we had a full on house party in swing. This had never happened before, and in a way I enjoyed having so many people around and everyone having a good time.

And this is where the story twists. I mentioned in my last post about how my husband had a huge sexual appetite, and I will mention now that he had expressed struggling with feeling bored with monogamy. At first I would get really angry when I heard this, but over time it didn’t affect me so much; I suppose I was groomed into accepting my husband’s fantasies of being with other women.

At some point the night of that party, my husband pulled me into the bedroom and started kissing me and telling me that he wanted to try something exciting. Apparently he had been sharing drinks with another couple who had talked about being in an open relationship, and they were interested in us. I don’t know if it was the months of unhappiness or the few drinks that talked me into it, but I decided to go along with the idea. So we and the other couple snuck away to the basement.

I would like to say that I didn’t enjoy that experience. But the rush, the naughtiness of the situation was exhilerating, and after feeling like I wasn’t enough for my husband for so long, it felt good to be adored in such a new way. After the party my husband and I spent a long time in the bedroom together on our own as well, and it felt in a way like we had discovered a whole new world. I ignored that little voice deep inside that tried to tell me that it was wrong, that I was rurning my back in my core beliefs, and that it would end in destruction.

That was our first experience with swinging. It did not stop there though. Pretty soon, it had become our lifestyle, and I became hopelessly addicted to the rush of it.

More to come…

Painting adventures: Anyone can Paint!

I started painting about 10 years ago, with the assistance of the beloved Bob Ross and the encouragement of my husband. I always admired the art of those around me and wished I had those talents, but my husband saw more in me than I did. He surprised me one Christmas with oil painting supplies and an instructional dvd by Mr. Ross.

My first few attempts fell pretty flat but pretty soon, with the practiced hand of Bob guiding me, I was surprising myself by what I could pull off. I paid for most of a mission trip to Kenya by selling paintings, and for a few years even led a painting group at our church. I decided to give that up about a year ago, as I wanted to focus on just the enjoyment of painting and not on how good they turn out. It has become a great outlet for my stress. My mind can just turn off when I don’t worry about the result, and just let things flow.

Here are some of my works. I hope you enjoy them and if so, please let me know. The way people can connect through a certain piece of artwork has delighted me. Be blessed today, and never be afraid to try something new.

The slippery slope: How I lost myself, and managed to climb out: Part One

I have long grappled with whether I should tell the story of how I fell down the slippery slope, getting into an emotionally abusive relationship and allowing myself to get groomed into doing things I never would have imagined allowing. But I have realized that even though it may be painful, my story may help someone getting trapped in a similar situation and give them hope. It might give them the bravery to get out.

So here goes: after high school I moved to the city and started to go to college. I had done very well in my studies and had gotten scholarships to cover my first year of pre-veterinary medicine, and was excelling in my classes. Things were good on the school front, but I suffered even more from the loneliness that had seemed to stalk me all my life. Being away from family and anything familiar was difficult, as being an introvert made it hard for me to make new friends, although I longed for a few close ones. A boyfriend would have been a dream come true, but I had little hopes of that, as I had never received any attention from boys in high school, and my luck in that area seemed to be holding true in college. My one solace was the deep relationship that I had developed in leaning on God and my faith in this time.

One day in the second semester, a classmate that I occasionally studied with invited me to her birthday party at a country bar. I jumped at the chance to spend some time out even though it was not my usual kind of activity. When I got there, she introduced me to her other friends, and one young man in particular caught my attention. He was sitting at a table hanging his head down, looking as sad and lonely as I felt. I felt both sorry and drawn to him, and asked him to dance in an effort to cheer him up. We spent that night in each others’ arms on the dance floor. It was the kind of evening I had always dreamed of, as he told me how beautiful I was and how he wanted to spend more time with me, how I had lifted him out of a dark place and given him some joy.

We began to date that night, and we fell in love fast. I had never experienced this kind of attention and affection before, and we moved very quickly in our relationship. Within two weeks we were sexually active, and I found myself doing things in the bedroom to please my boyfriend’s demands that ashame me now.

My focus was so strongly placed on my new man that my grades started to drop, as I spent more time with him than studying. I never returned for my second year of college, throwing away all of my hard work in the pursuit of something more pleasurable. I stopped going to church, stopped praying, stopped thinking about God- to do so would mean I would have to answer for the rampant sexual relationship we had. Family and friends were concerned and warned me that we were moving to fast, that I needed to think about my future, and that they didn’t have a good feeling about my boyfriend. Of course I rebuffed them, and “followed my heart”. We moved in together several months after we began dating, and were engaged at 3 months. Madness, when I think about it now. I realize now how naïve I was, and that I had allowed myself to be manipulated into a position of submission to my boyfriend.

So much more to come…

The ingredients of love: Lessons taught by my grandmother

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I loved the yellow stool my grandmother kept in her laundry room. It was about as tall as my five-year old self but had steps that folded into it; when they were flipped out then it gave me a way to scramble up and do the important job of assisting my grandmother with baking. My grandmother would wrap a tea towel around me, tucked into my collar to protect me from the inevitable flying flour as my clumsy hands stirred our creations. I loved everything about baking: the way the butter and sugar creamed together into a smooth paste, how the mixture glistened after eggs were beat in, the rich aroma of vanilla. I loved watching as grandma carefully measured some things and added other things “until there’s enough”. She would let me lick the spoon and bowl after our masterpiece went into the oven, after scraping the bowl to leave extra behind for me.

Grandma, or memere as everyone called her, was the closest thing I had to a mother. She would care for us when dad was out in the fields or working for another farmer. even though she had raised 12 children of her own, she never made us feel like we were a burden. Rather, whenever we came over she would welcome us with big hugs and kisses and drop whatever she was doing to spend time with us. My favorite activity to do with her was by far baking. After lunch, I would always ask her to make something with me, and she never once said no to me. It amazed me how she would just tell me what we were baking, and then with no recipe whatsoever we would do so. She was the one who instilled in me the deep love of cooking that continues to this day. She taught me the art of separating egg whites from the yolks using the two halves of the shells, how to roll out perfect pie crust, how to boil raisins to make soft chewy cookies. She taught me that no matter what is in your pantry, with some creativity you can use it to make something special.

But memere had her somber times too. She often told me the story of how her mother had to raise her and her four siblings alone. Her father had been killed in a logging accident- a tree had fallen in the wrong direction and her had been killed instantly when it struck him. Silent tears would roll down her cheeks when she recounted how she had run out to meet the horse drawn wagon to greet her father, only to see his still body laid on top of the load of logs. Her mother washed laundry and cleaned homes in order to survive, and memere had been sent to a convent to go to school. She did not speak much of that time, except how the nuns had been strict and her mischevious self had earned frequent beatings. 

One time I asked memere what had happened to her feet- her toes were all garishly bent inwards and she walked with a bit of a pigeon toed gait. She told me that when she was 12, the neighbour’s child had developed a terrible illness and she had volunteered to walk to town to get the medicine that was needed. But the worn shoes she had were a pitiful match to the icy winter, and after a while she lost feeling in her feet. When she returned her toes were all black, and it was only through the tender nursing of her mother that they had not been lost. It had taken a long time to recover, however, and here toes remained misshapen and often were painful.

Many people in the community would regard memere with awe and admiration for having raised 12 children. Her stories of how she did so were often harrowing- for instance my father, the oldest, had been born at home with no midwife as a winter storm had prevented any travelling. She loved her children deeply, but her years of giving so much of herself had also taken a heavy toll. When I was a teenager we would often have long talks about the realities of life, and she would tell me how caring for babies one after the other had drawn so much life out of her. She would have liked to have less, but the expectaions of French catholocism at that time required the opposite. Sometimes I would see her out in the yard staring at certain lilac tree, one that I later found out had been planted over where a set of twin girls that had been miscarried were laid to rest.

Memere lived through the great depression and was thrifty to a fault. She taught me the benefits of buying second hand clothing and the art of reusing things as much as possible.  In her later years this trait turned into full on hoarding as she could not bear to throw out anything that could possibly be of some use. After my grandpa died of lung cancer when I was in my 20s, she became increasingly withdrawn and started to show signs of dementia. She was a shadow of her former self, yet she refused to leave the farm. One of my greatest regrets is not having spent more time with her during this period. She had taught me the art of loving fiercely, yet I allowed the distractions, the busyness and the selfishness of youth to cause me to neglect the one who had given me so much. The last time I saw memere alive, she kept mistaking me for my aunt, and I was heartbroken that I had not been there for her in her time of need.

After her death, I went to her home and dug up a piece of a peony bush she had loved. I put it in my own flower garden because I wanted something that would remind myself of her. Now when it is blooming in the spring, it is like I can feel the aroma of her presence around me as I get on my knees in the soil and remember all the happy summer days we spent that way.

As a nurse, I have cared for many on their deathbeds. Time and again, I have witnessed how love and connection are all that matter in our fragile lives. I can only hope that after my memere gave so much of her soul to me, that I can do her justice and learn to love the way that she did. She deserves at least that much from me.

Photo by Brenda Timmermans on