An inspirational story from Nevada

I read a story the other day that inspired me to think about how I might continue to help other survivors of domestic violence. This has been on my mind lately, as I’m developing a speech that I hope to share with women’s groups where I live, and have been debating sharing my memoir with a literary agent  — or possibly seeing if I could shape one of the chapters into an essay for separate publication.

While all of that is fine, I really want to do more. The story I read is about a survivor in Nevada who opened a secondhand store with things that domestic violence survivors need. But it’s not only that: she plans to offer training programs in retail management, so women can learn essential job skills that they might not have.

Her main audience is women who don’t speak English and have limited education, and therefore it’s very challenging for them to leave domestic violence situations.

I would like to point out, though, that a woman’s education level has little to do with making the decision to leave an abusive husband. Someone might think that a more educated women would leave faster — that she would recognize what happened immediately.

Most people consider me to be intelligent, and I’m certainly educated. When I married my ex-husband, I had a bachelor’s degree from a very highly respected university. I had grown up in middle-class, and at one point upper-middle-class, neighborhoods. I’d never experienced violence of any kind growing up.

And yet it took me nearly 7 years to leave. Through the therapy process, I’ve come to understand that the timing has nothing to do with one’s education or intelligence or anything like that.

Here’s a quote from the article: “Nevada’s rate of women killed by men ranked No. 1 in the nation, according to a report issued in 2012 by the Violence Policy Center. The report used homicide data from 2010.”

When I give my speech, whenever that may be, this will be my message: The question people always ask is, “Why didn’t she just leave, especially after the first time? Why did she wait so long?”

Many factors go into that answer, including not being sure what’s really going on, loving him and wanting to see if he might change, and so forth.

But my main response is always this: “She had to make the best judgment she could about whether her husband was going to kill her if she left him.”

It took me 7 years to get to that point. And the fact that I’m still here, 22 years after I left him that day, proves that my timing was perfect.

Look in the mirror

Flower
Photo by me

As I mentioned in my last post, I knew that the past six months had taken a toll on me. My problems with my husband and his depression reached their peak — or their valley, I suppose — and then he turned a corner toward healing. So I did, too, on that front. Things are still on the upturn there.

I’ve been in a horrible job, which thankfully I’ll be out of in 3-1/2 weeks and into something much, much better — while I continue to work on my own business and my fiction writing.

It wasn’t until today, however, that I saw in stark terms what these past six months have done to me.

I realized I’d been looking unwell. I’ve gained about five pounds, which for me is actually a good thing as I tend to be a tad underweight. But my hair, my skin, my eyes … everything has looked dull and lifeless. I’ve done my best to conceal it, but the stress of this job, in particular, has worn through the outer veneer.

Today, I took a unique exercise class at my gym, where we sort of danced with silk scarves. It was actually a heavy-duty upper-body workout, way more than I was expecting but just what I needed.

When I looked at myself in the mirror at the gym, I almost couldn’t believe I was looking at me. My shoulders appeared to be up around my ears. I couldn’t stand up straight. My hair almost looked matted to my head. My skin was pale and sort of gray. My movements were so stiff, I didn’t recognize the way my body moved at all.

It scared me.

And it also taught me something important.

I will never, ever allow myself to be in a situation where I am under so much work stress. Never again. Nor will I ever allow myself to be taken down by another person’s emotional problems. Never again.

I’ve been reading a book called “One Word That Will Change Your Life.” It’s not the same word for everyone — you choose the word you want to focus on for a solid year.

I chose my word today. It’s my first name.

I must continue to tune into myself, so I don’t find myself in such a mess again because I haven’t been listening carefully to my own inner voice. I must continue to focus — or now, refocus — on my physical health. That starts right this second, as I go to bed a half hour earlier than I usually do.

I want to look in the mirror and see the beautiful person I know I am, on the inside and on the outside. And it’s up to me to make sure she’s always there.

 

One less thing to feel stressed about

Yesterday was a good day. Today is a good day, too, although it started out extremely badly.

Yesterday, I interviewed for my old job that I left 3-1/2 years ago — only, it’s not exactly like my old job. It’s better. There’s a new director, who according to everyone in the office has made things absolutely great. I would be reporting to a different supervisor, who also has an excellent reputation. I would be working alongside one of my best friends.

But what made yesterday so special was the reception I received from all the people there who know me and with whom I used to work. Hugs upon hugs, wonderfully genuine greetings of affection.

It felt so nice to feel appreciated and liked by so many people, every one of whom said, “Please, come back. We miss you, and things are so much better here now.”

I left with a job offer.

Which leads me to today, when I had a PTSD meltdown this morning, before going to work, about having to tell my current supervisor that I’m leaving. If you clicked on that link just now about my supervisor, you’ll recall that I am in a workplace that’s filled with cliques and bullying. And she is the ringleader.

So it was no small feat for me to walk into her office today and tell her that I intend to accept this other job offer.

You know what she said?

“Congratulations.”

She seemed surprised and speechless. We talked for a few minutes about what she needed from me in the short term — details about my projects and so forth — and that was it.

Now I’m just waiting for the HR wheels to turn.

And I’m exhausted.

I realized today that the past six months of working in this particular office have really taken a toll on me. In fact, my entire experience of working at this institution, as a whole, has been extremely challenging. I have two reasons for taking my old job in another department: a) because I know the job, it’s easy, and I like the people there, and b) I need a paycheck. Otherwise, I’d dump everything and focus all my energy on developing my own business, with the help of all I’m learning in Marie Forleo’s B-School.

That’s not a choice I have right now, so I’m focusing on the fact that leaving this workplace is giving me one less thing to feel stressed about. As it is, I’m giving almost all my “free” time to creating a new business — a process I’m totally loving, by the way. Without the stress of this particular job, I believe I can do even more, even faster. I don’t want to set a timeline for myself, but my goal is to have a profitable business that I can live on in 12 months.

And I don’t feel stressed about that at all. Only happy. How about that? I actually feel happy.

 

Tumultuous times, hopeful times

I keep wondering when my life will stop feeling so tumultuous.

That’s not always a bad feeling, I might add. For example, diving head first into entrepreneurship and immersing myself in all of the materials from Marie Forleo’s B-School program has been wonderful — even though I do feel like I’m under water some of the time. OK, a lot of the time. But I’m forging ahead with a new business and continuing to learn as I work through the program.

But the other area of my life that’s still very wobbly is my marriage. I’ve written before that my husband of nearly 16 years was recently diagnosed with dysthymia, a form of long-term depression. This diagnosis was a relief, because for years I’ve known something was wrong and couldn’t convince him of it. When he sought treatment a couple of years ago, it was woefully inadequate — but again, he wouldn’t listen to me when I told him he needed to see a psychiatrist, not just his internist.

In January, he finally made the decision on his own to seek help.

Since he started treatment, he has shown some progress in understanding what, in fact, has happened to him: that he has been ill for as many as 20+ years, and it has taken a huge toll on his life and every aspect of it. He doesn’t yet fully grasp this situation, but the enormity is beginning to dawn on him. As a result, he’s talking more to me about what’s going on with him, which is great, and he has an excellent psychologist who’s helping him.

But as a consequence, I am now learning more about what his life has been like with me for the past however many years.

I’ve been shocked by it.

All this time I thought that I was building a marriage, I really have been building nothing. He has not felt anything except sadness or, literally, nothing, for many, many years. No love for me. No engagement in our relationship. Nothing.

And all this time, I took on the burden of our problems, thinking that my past history of domestic violence and PTSD was the reason for our marriage breaking down. That wasn’t true at all. Yes, they played some small role in our relationship, but overall it was minor. Somehow I knew that that was the truth, but I was so conditioned to take the blame, I did it readily.

After I finished my own therapy for PTSD/trauma, I realized that, in fact, I was not the one causing problems. But still, my husband wouldn’t listen to me.

That’s where I’m stuck right now. I’ve learned a lot about what has been happening inside his depressed mind all these years, and I know I’ll learn even more as the weeks go on. What I can’t get past is that he watched me suffer, listened to my pleas, and he still continued to deny that he had any problems or that he could do anything to help. He told me he would say to himself, “There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m fine.” By doing that over a period of 10+ years, he destroyed any trust I have in him.

I know that these tumultuous times will lead to learning on my part. One thing I’ve learned, and have been doing, is that I need to be straight with him. I’ve openly expressed my anger and resentment at being treated so shabbily. He, in turn, is realizing that he needs to work very hard to earn back my trust. One way he’s doing that is by listening, as best he can these days, to my anger and not shutting down, which is what he would have done in the past. So for the first time in years, I actually feel a ray of hope that our marriage can be turned around. I saw a glimpse of him as a partner this past week, someone who could listen and respond to me appropriately.

There’s still a long way to go. His treatment process is so new, that I won’t really know for several more months if it’s going to help with our relationship. But I had no hope before. Now, I do.