During my recent trip to the Altitude Design Summit (as posted about here) one theme continued to resonate with me, and that was the theme of ‘telling your story.’ Much like anyone, I have a past…joys, sorrows, and everything in between, But my story is one that I’ve intentionally held back because much like a single weed suddenly takes over the entire yard, a lot of my past has deep and dark roots that I’ve felt I could easily be overcome by. I know I’ve shared briefly about my past history with depression and how blogging has been the place I’ve created to propagate beauty and joy in my life. But there is a lot more.
So why share my “story” now? Well. I guess it is in part because (even though the prospect is scary), for myself I need to. While I truly believe that for my own health it was necessary for me to keep certain things in the dark over the past few years, I know that I am strong enough now and am at a place in my life where sharing where I’ve come from will likely do me a lot of good. Of course I could do all this quietly in a journal and tuck it away where nobody would ever see it, but I guess I also have the hope that maybe my experiences will help one of you, or someone dear to you. Authenticity whether lovely or challenging is something that I so admire, and there has always been that niggling thought in my head that I’ve been inauthentic by not sharing sooner…but the time feels right now, so here we go.
Before I launch off into what I’m sure will feel like a nerve-wracking naked prance around my blog for all to see, I want to say that these experiences are my own. I’m not a medical professional or therapist and don’t pretend to have all the answers. My only hope is that if you or anyone you know has ever had moments (or long stretches) of despair, or share any of the same experiences as me, that you will know that you are not alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There is a light of hope always worth reaching for. I didn’t always believe that, but I know now that it is there if you just keep looking for it (more on that in another post perhaps).
So where to start. I won’t give you my whole life story…heaven knows my fingers would probably fall off from typing by the time I was through. But I’ll start with a time before this blog began, with a part, THE part that is the hardest to talk about…My daughter and I are survivors of domestic violence. Even typing those words feels almost unreal to me. Like I need to check and make sure that I’m not mistaken. I think the most challenging part about sharing this part of my past is the social stigma associated with domestic violence. I don’t want to be seen as every negative thing that those two words conjure up. But I can’t shake them…only put them behind me and move forward.
Truthfully I don’t know how a marriage filled with fear became my reality. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure it out, read a zillion books on the subject, attended support groups, but the only thing that I know for certain is that it didn’t happen all at once. I think of it like termites slowly devouring a house unseen. By the time you realize you have a problem, it is probably too late. That’s what the relationship with my ex-husband was like…slow and insidious.
The majority of the abuse I personally experienced was the emotional/verbal kind (the kind that left me feeling worthless and without a speck of control over any part of my life) and then there was also the always present understanding that my failure to cooperate or make my husband happy would result in punishment towards our daughter. So I stayed quiet, and shut down until finally after months and then years I became barely a shell of a human with a painted on smile (the great pretender). Gradually I resorting to terribly unhealthy ways of distracting myself from my life and coping with the pain (much like a caged bird will often pluck out its own feathers), first with an eating disorder then with self-injury. I even tried to end my life. The numbing weight of depression was inescapable, and each day felt like an endless roller coaster ride that I could not step off of—filled with his apologies and empty promises for change, my desperate hope that he really would, a lull that would disarm me, and then the inevitable plummet back to reality.
I think that after a while you get so good at pretending and camouflaging the ugly in your life that you forget what it’s like not to make excuses for everything. Then before you know it you find that you’ve painted yourself into a corner, with not much more left than the overriding feeling that you cannot escape—that and utter numbness.
So how did I get out? How did that reality become a far distant past? The day I actually left will be seared into my memory for life. I had spent a solid year and a half in a nearly comatose state of depression and denial (again masking it all with smiles and excuses). My husband had been spending more and more time out at bars getting trashed and would fly into increasingly violet rages (both alcohol-fueled and sober). On that day, I said something that he didn’t like and he began screaming at me, then threw a few things at me where I sat on our bed not daring to move. Our daughter was in the living room and I willed her to stay away with every bit of my being, but the next thing I knew she was running around the corner with the television remote clutched in her hand. She immediately threw it at him (something she had never done before) and in a flash he turned on her and chased her down the hallway. I will never forget the sound of her screaming, or the sight of him tearing her out from under the couch where she had tried to hide…his hands pummeling her over and over again. Somehow I got her from his grip and he stormed out of the house angrier than I’d ever seen him. As I held my daughter in my arms something that had died over all those months (I think it was a belief in myself) came to life again and I knew that if I did not find the courage and strength to leave at that very moment, that my daughter’s life and mine would be taken from us.
What followed is truly a blur. I know I managed to call my step-dad for help. Thankfully he drove over and helped me to stuff our essential belongings and our dog in the car, and we drove to his place to stay until I could make sense of what to do next. A few weeks later we moved in with my grandparents, who gave us a safe haven and the sort of support and love that I had forgotten was possible (I am grateful beyond measure for this). Then we began the process of rebuilding our lives.
I want to say that finding joy and security in our life was as easy as flipping on a switch, but it has been more like rebuilding a shattered mirror, piece by broken piece. The guilt I felt was probably one of the most painful parts. In the months and years that followed there were more court dates than I can count, restraining orders and restraining order violations, supervised visitation, a custody battle (can you believe he tried to get full custody) which mercifully concluded with the system awarding me full custody (something that I have been told is practically miraculous considering that this took place in CA), and a lot of time to work on healing for both my daughter and myself. It has been a long process, some of the days have been very dark but I have learned to trust that the light will always follow the darkest moments. Several months after leaving, I stumbled across blogging, and while there was nobody reading in the beginning, my blog became a place for me to find and create joy and peace again. A little haven from the storm that had surrounded me for so long, and a lifeline through the fog of depression that I have worked to overcome ever since.
I am incredibly happy and feel ridiculously fortunate to be able to say that today our past no longer feels like the captain steering our life’s course. My daughter and I are truly doing well. And while depression is something that still waits in shadowed places, I feel excited more and more each day to embrace the joy that life has to offer us, and not hold onto the hurtful things of the past any longer. I learned that hope and beauty are stronger than fear…and they are always worth reaching for.
Thank you for reading my story. I know it was a lot and I brushed over some serious topics. I am more than happy to answer any questions you have in the comment section below. Thank you for being here and for brightening my day with your visit. xo Ez
P.S. Did you know that this week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week! If you know someone who struggles or has struggled with an ED or with depression / mental illness, maybe today is the perfect day to give them a friendly nudge and let them know how important they are to you (it doesn’t have to be embarrassing…just a little “hello, you are loved”). You never know just how much it could mean!