This is a long long post, but it’s probably the most transparent I’ve been on this blog. Grab a beer or read the next blog.
I started this blog because it was a place for me to get thoughts out of my head into a place where I can process them, hopefully with other people. A lot was happening and changing in my life and I am still very much sifting my way through the rubble of the life I used to know. I am slowly but surely coming into awareness of me and I feel like much of the past is healing, or that I’m at least making progress toward that end.
I have written about random pieces of that process, but I have avoided, in different ways (sarcasm, cynicism, ambiguity, etc.), much of what I’ve been trying to work on, what I am working on, and what I yet continue to avoid. I am often worried that since many people who know me read this, I should not say what is really on my mind. I can’t continue to live my life (or blog) based on others’ opinions of me. So, here’s more of a peek into my world:
I realized that my marriage was coming to an end in February of 2003. On Valentine’s Day morning (around 6:30am), my husband walked into our house with no explanation of why he hadn’t come home the night before. He was annoyed by my questions about his whereabouts. He showered, got dressed and left again to run his errands for the day. I knew it needed to end. This had been going on for far too long: the lies, the unexplained absences, the missing money. I kept quiet about it for so many reasons, the biggest of them—his church.
My husband was also my pastor. We had a small, independent, non-denominational church. He started the church 2 years before we married, and once we were married I was ordained as the assistant pastor. This church was his baby. He worked full-time as a truck driver, so for the 1st 2 years of our marriage he was out of town a lot. Much of the responsibility of the church fell on my shoulders. I loved much of what I did. But there came a point when I would lie in bed at night and fantasize about what it would be like to have my life back—what it would be like to not have this church.
We would kick the idea around between the two of us at different points of frustration. Church is a co-dependent’s amusement park. There’s always someone to fulfill your need to be needed. We would get overwhelmed at different times, but most of the time I just wanted it to all go away. Besides, I had other problems, my husband’s integrity.
It bothered me that his integrity affected his work at church, but that was secondary to me. First and foremost, he made a vow to me. A vow I knew he was breaking, on so many levels.
I had become, in many respects, quite indispensable in the church. Many congregants remained members, despite their frustrations with him, because of me. This is not self-aggrandizement. That’s not my style. I make this comment purely based on the responses I would get when I would ask people why they continued to come to our church if they had so many problems with him.
I buried my problems in theirs. I threw myself into planning retreats, seminars, bible studies and small groups to address the needs of these people. Inevitably, from time to time, my own misery would leak through my façade, but for the most part, I sacrificed myself and my wellness for everyone else(else’s).
I knew that if I were to leave my marriage a few things would be true:
1. I’d need support.
2. I’d need therapy.
3. The congregation would leave.
4. I’d have to be willing to tell myself the truth, the whole truth about my life up to the very present moment.
It was a difficult journey, but with the help of a handful of great friends, a great therapist and some really hard emotional work and millions and millions of tears I got strong enough to leave. I went back after a week or two.
After more planning, growing, healing and realizing that things weren’t going to change, no matter how much he told me they would, I left for good. I’ve been gone 18 months. I’m hoping the divorce will be final soon.
Between February 2003 and today I’ve had to face some funky stuff about myself and my past. I knew that the day I walked into the therapist’s office was the day I would have to tell myself the truth about being sexually abused as a child, about how that played out in my teen years and my early adult years, about those things in my childhood that factored into that abuse and about how all of these wonderful things led me to deciding to marry when and who I did. I’m an all or nothing kinda gal, so I knew I wasn’t paying for therapy to shuck and jive. It was showtime.
Showtime was painful. It made me angry, really angry, with a lot of people in my life. I have moved past a lot of that anger. I’m over being angry at him. I’m over being angry at my parents. I’m over being angry at my abusers. I’m working on my relationship with my parents. I am willing to be amicable about this divorce and the abusers are where they belong, in the past. But there’s one area that is still painfully raw and incensed—the church and anyone associated with it.
I feel like when I decided to leave I had mixed levels of support. That was to be expected. What I didn’t expect was the degree to which I was still expected to be involved with taking care of the parishioners while my little world was falling apart.
I’ve been criticized harshly by some people I considered to be dear friends for failing them when I decided to leave my marriage. My understanding of their frustration is that they didn’t seem to understand why leaving him meant that I effectively ended my relationship with them as well.
I’ve gone back and forth about feeling guilty about this, but ultimately here’s where I am. I gave them 9 years of my life while I was slowly dying inside. I poured all I had into them, because I didn’t give myself permission to address my own needs. Convinced that that would have been selfish, I bled and almost died. Leaving my marriage and the church was the most loving thing I’d done for myself in my adult life. I feel like I’ve cut myself free of something that was, directly or indirectly, sucking the life blood from me.
Now, that has meant that I’ve missed weddings, baby showers, housewarmings and the like because I just do not want to be reminded of the past. I don’t want to try to find a new context for these friendships, since I have moved beyond the person they knew me as. I don’t want to explain myself. I really don’t want to answer the, “So, where are you going to church now” question; or worse explain why I’m not and why that’s not likely in the near future.
I have maintained a friend or two who stay connected with this group, but I am not there yet. I don’t know if I ever will be.
I can look back over the last 3 years and see so many places I’ve healed and grown. I have hope that my feelings about church (in general) and this church and these people in people will soon find their place in my rearview mirror. But I am so not there yet.
I may have to just send flowers and a card to a dear friend who lost her brother Friday. Before I started writing this, I thought that was selfish of me. If it’s all I can do, it’s all I can do. I’ve done what others thought I should do for too much of my life. I’m sorry I can’t be there. But, if I can’t be there and be present, I shouldn’t be there. I’m done lying to myself.