No one suspected a thing as I walked down the steps toward the Chuppah that hot Sunday afternoon in August.
The guests sat beneath the Japanese Maple listening to the Windham Hill music I had compiled on cassette for the occasion. I had already sent out my maid of honor and my fiancé awaited me. Inside, as the song I had specifically chosen to walk out to played on, I collapsed into my brother’s arms, crying, my body wracking uncontrollably as I tried to regain control. Beside me, I could hear him repeat, “Stop crying, Joëlle. If you don’t stop crying, I’m going to start crying.”
So I stepped out into the sunshine, clutching onto my baby brother like a raft. No one saw the fear. No one saw the meltdown in my tear-stained cheeks. No one saw the depth of pain that lived beneath the surface. I hadn’t even understood it myself. I had chalked it up to nerves.
I didn’t know my Soul was crying out.
We met at university, shared two common classes, became friends. He was short, funny, smart.
When he unexpectedly followed me down to Florida while I was on Spring Break with my girlfriends – leaving a note in my room that simply said, “Just flew in from New York. Boy are my arms tired” – I had been a little freaked out but flattered by the attention. I had been too “nice” to blow him off because he had driven an entire day to get there. Who was I to tell him to go home? It’s a free country. Besides, no one had EVER shown so much interest in seeing me before.
I remember feeling “THIS IS NOT GOOD” but stuffing it, so seductive was the attention.
He volunteered to drive us all back to school when the week was over, dropped off my girlfriends first and then asked me to dinner. I felt obligated. How could I say no?
I didn’t see it coming when he began to deliver pizzas to my dorm room or when he screeched to halt at a red light, threw his car door open, and ran to the car ahead to bang on their window cursing at the driver who had cut him off (I just slinked below the dashboard) or when he seemed unusually venomous and rage-filled at our apartment mate and unable to let it go. But, no. None of this registered as strange.
Even though my gut told me otherwise.
I continued to go on dates with him, moved in with him, and found myself lost in a tangled web, feeling both trapped by obligation and my desperate need for love. When he fell for another woman who would not return the favor, I took him back.
His courting had a double edge: one side filled with sweetness, poetry and gifts, the other laced with derogatory, demeaning remarks and spiteful anger. His words although familiar and painful to me, didn’t register as such. Somehow they felt like home. His treatment of me was the continuation of a pattern to which I was very much accustomed. He loved me in a way that felt right. Except it hurt. It made me feel small, stupid, insignificant, insecure, crazy, lost and depressed. The longer I stayed with him, the tinier I became – yet I kept going back for another and another serving, each time losing more and more of my Self.
After a particularly difficult Christmas eve when I was expecting he would ask me to marry, he choose instead to torture me in front of our friends who knew he had the ring in his possession. It made for a great joke – except I wasn’t part of it. When, finally he “asked” in bed on Christmas morning (because he never really did, he just slipped the ring on while I feigned sleep then surprise), I should have told him to fuck off. But I didn’t.
I said “I do.”
His abusive behavior became more overt once we were married: withholding sex, belittling and berating me loudly in public, threatening me if communicated with my family… Early on, I suggested therapy, only to be met with “we are two intelligent people, we can figure this out on our own.” I felt trapped, doubting myself, believing he knew better than I.
It was only when I told him I wanted a divorce, seven years in, that he acquiesced to therapy. So I turned my gaze back to the marriage. Shortly thereafter, I miraculously became pregnant with my son.
And I couldn’t leave.
I stayed five more years, growing more and more withdrawn. I hitched my wagon to my son’s tiny star, rediscovered my love of dance and, with it, my own growing light.
I supported our family both financially and emotionally while he lost job after legal job, stayed home, unemployed and depressed, for two whole years. When he quit his following job after 6 months, I finally heard the call and listened: I could not stay any longer.
I could no longer pretend the marriage would work out. I could no longer work my ass off at a job I hated to suffer his criticisms and cutting remarks. I could no longer be sexually dismissed. I could no longer choose to remain a victim. My son needed a healthy, fully-expressed Mother.
And if I stayed, I would die.
That realization hit me, shook me, flooded me with truth and guilt – how could I deny my son his birthright of a family together? Yet I knew my Soul was calling me to walk away, was telling me I was done and there was no looking back.
I had stayed for 16 years, suckling at the addictive teat of mistreatment because it had been the definition of love I had grown up with. I thought emotional torture was love.
I didn’t need to be loved in this “familiar” way any more. Even if I didn’t know what the alternative was, it had to be better than what I had experienced . I just knew it. It would mean I would have to learn to love differently, to be fierce about choosing a new definition of love. A love I had never experienced. A love I had to have faith existed. And although I was terrified, I had to believe. I had to crawl my way out of worthlessness and to choose never to place my worth in a man who was sick. Because sick people hurt others.
This single courageous act was the first step toward health. Sharing it with you, transparently, is yet another. I do so in hope that if you have or are going through something similar (click here if you think you might be) you may be inspired to remember that you are worthy and deserving of Deep, Soulful Love. It is also an invitation to speak up on your own behalf as well as to be a beacon for others so they may see a way out. This is activism. This is Leadership. This is standing for yourself and every woman who has not been able to.
I would love for you to leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Listen, dear one, as I have sounded it out for you:
Joëlle Lydon is a relationship coach, educator, speaker, writer, poet, and founder of JoelleLydon.com an online site that features savvy and soulful advice, articles, videos, private consultations, workshops, and retreats (both live and virtual). She has been featured in Healthy Life Magazine, Times Union Newspaper, Life at Home Magazine, CoachCampus.com, Blog Talk Radio, Healing Springs Journal, CDPHP, Time Warner Cable News, Fox News and more. You can also follow Joëlle on Twitter and Facebook.
Need some help connecting to the voice of your soul? Schedule your Dare To Love Greatly Breakthrough session with me today. Visit https://calendly.com/joellelydon
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