I had the opportunity to share a chapter in an incredible book for people who have been through divorce. Dawn Burnette gave me a space to share my story. I wanted to share it here. Always have hope. No matter what.
A Different Plan
“I could be a good wife…”
You ever get the feeling that something is over, but you just don’t want to accept it? That is how I felt when I realized I had no reason to be married anymore. Divorce was something that never crossed my mind during that first 13 years. The concept that one day I might consider single motherhood over the traditional family unit wasn’t something that could happen to me. When it all started to fall apart, I had all of the faith that God could heal my marriage. But He couldn’t do it alone, and I certainly couldn’t do it alone either.
Nearly 15 years of my life dedicated to one man, the one man that was charged to love, honor and cherish me all the days of our lives, was telling me daily that I was the worst wife ever. There were only two things that I wanted to be when I grew up. A mom, and a great wife. I got both of my wishes, but it seemed I was failing at being either. I couldn’t show my girls the loving home they deserved, and my husband told me every night that I didn’t make him happy, and that I needed to do better. I believed him. I just didn’t know how to make him happy.
At that time my husband didn’t work anymore. He had taken off work on short term disability for his back pain. Short term turned into long term and to make a very long story short, here we were, nearly 5 years later with his severe prescription drug addiction and daily emotional abuse as our routine. At least I could see it now. The narcissistic abuse I had been going through since our first date was starting to come to light. It was like watching a bad movie you had seen before but without the rose colored glasses.
As my 30th birthday approached, I wondered what I could do to find a way to make all of this work. I didn’t want the broken home that everyone in my family history had.
We had a planned summer vacation, and one day before our trip he verbally attacked me in our hallway. I was used to being yelled at, but then he did something that stacked the deck against him. He brought our daughter into our argument. He used her as a weapon. He yelled at her and made her an example of what was wrong with me. My sweet little 7 year old princess, playing in her room, not bothering anyone was now crying because she didn’t understand what had just happened. I could take a lot of abuse, even knowingly.
But I would not let him attack my girls.
After our miserable vacation was over, I asked him to leave. “Give me six months without you here. We need a break from the fighting, the stress, and the tension. The girls need a break from it. Take the RV, go to the lake, and take a six month vacation. I will bring the girls to you for visits and I can get some rest. We can come back to this marriage fresh and see if we can try again.”
This was my compromise. My last try. If I didn’t get a break I was done. I couldn’t let him show our girls this example of marriage. The thought of them growing up and getting married, and choosing this life because, “Mom did it this way.” was unacceptable.
My Marriage Analogy
In this moment I had a vision of every relationship resembling a cliff. You stand at the edge of the cliff, you and the person that you want to be with, and you wait. You wait for that moment when it’s time to jump. The relationship only comes with one parachute and in order for you not to die against the jagged rocks below is that you both have to jump at the same time. If you don’t jump at the same time, there is no parachute. If you jump, using all the faith you have that this is the right person when they are not, you may find yourself crashing very hard, very quickly and very lonely at the bottom.
While this sounds dramatic, this is just a necessary part of any relationship and it is how we know who is all in, and who isn’t.
This happened to me. The fall was immediate, the moment I said I do, and I jumped off that cliff. I was committed. The landing didn’t happen for 14 years. What did happen was a slow hanging by a rope I didn’t realize had been strung around my neck. There are moments in life where in order to live, we have to step out. Beyond the limits that have been imposed on us and take back our lives. Hanging off the edge of that cliff, chocking, I had to make a choice, to hang here and give up the rest of who I was, or cut myself free and hit rock bottom.I chose to hit the bottom.
I crashed alone and torn up, with skinned knees and a broken heart. A failure in my mind., a failure to my husband, a failure to my girls, and surely a failure to my Creator.
It was in this moment that I gave myself permission to have an emotional affair. A long distance romance with my best friend from youth. It was a bad decision, but finding out who you are doesn’t come without pitfalls and mistakes. A beautiful October day, right before my 30th birthday, Dick broke it off with me for a real girl. Another crash landing into those rocks below. I had to find a way to love me without the strings and expectations of everyone else. It was a walk through dark woods with no path, just stumbling along the way and hoping that I would come across something familiar.
The Big Decision
I woke up in December the final year and decided I was finished. I didn’t want to live in fear anymore. Fear that he might murder us in our sleep, fear of him hurting the girls. No more playing house, and no more faking it for the girls. I got an apartment and a bank account and came back with my decision already done. I would not be manipulated or talked out of taking back my life and the life of my daughters. I stood firm and just said it, out loud. “I got an apartment. We are moving out. December 30th will be our last night here.” He was visibly shaken, and I know that in his mind he had no idea I could ever be strong enough to leave. “You are teaching the girls how to quit. Do you want them to think it is okay to leave your commitment just because you aren’t happy?”
I laughed out loud. “I am teaching them that this isn’t what a loving marriage looks like. I don’t want them to grow up and think this is okay.”
For me, the steps needed to leave were simple and fell into place faster and easier than anything that had ever happened in my life. Our apartment took my bad credit and deposit and gave me keys the same day I filled out the application. I had money to stay home for 3 months while I figured out how I was going to support my new smaller family. I had no job, no education and only so much savings to get us through, so each step of observing things falling into place made me stronger. They marked space in my life where I felt like I did the right thing by hitting the bottom instead of hanging on. Sometimes hitting rock bottom is the best place to build from.
The Right Step
The biggest sign, that I received confirming that I made the right decision, the girls didn’t care. They weren’t upset at all, and they were actually excited. That pushed me on and drove me to take this second chance to become what me who I truly was. To build a strong and stable life for them that was full of respect and hard work. Looking back, that can only be a true miracle that they made the path so easy. I had heard horror stories of kids clinging to the dad, sobbing, and questioning why. None of that happened for me.
I am not saying that it was smooth sailing after this. Separation and then divorce is hard. I made so many mistakes that first year on our own. I was still searching for who I was. I was disowned by my most of my family, My husband tried to tell everyone that I was a cheater and a liar, that I kept his girls from him, even though none of those things were true. It hurts to have everyone look at you as the liar and the cheater. We can’t be defined by those decisions, we have to see how God created us and gain strength from knowing if we let him, he will guide our steps.
Several bad men decisions later, I decided I needed to work on me. I couldn’t fill the void of my previous failed marriage instantly. I needed to center my heart on God and what was important to him and focus on my daughters.
I learned that first year that I like John Mayer and I LOVE the Dave Matthews Band. I am not a fan of metal music, and I love art and poetry. I was a gamer and an artist. I learned that to truly be loved by someone else, I needed to love me for me. Learn who I was created to be and then love that person. That was the biggest challenge I had to get over. I learned that I had strong leadership skills me that with or without a man I can provide for my kids and demonstrate true leadership.
When I had given up on the prospect of ever being a wife again, and no longer wanted to indulge in the responsibility of being in a relationship – I stumbled upon Joseph. My upgrade husband, when I had first met him months before that, he was this nerdy, twitchy guy working with me at Starbucks. He was living with his parents and working towards his Software engineering degree, the most unqualified man ever for someone to want to date or marry. He was the perfect friend though!
A New Relationship
We would hang out at my house after the kids went to bed, and watch cartoons and just be. It was the weirdest thing because I felt totally at ease with him. Sitting on my sofa in my tiny apartment, he used what had to be the best pick up line, EVER.“Friends totally snuggle.” Laughing I said, “I totally didn’t know that! Are you telling me we can sit here commitment free and snuggle and I don’t owe you anything? Done!”
We become better friends and the occasional texts turned into daily texts, and then daily visits. His toothbrush, clothes and other items slowly migrated to my apartment. But he still wasn’t “living” there. Eight months into our relationship one night, Joseph and I stayed up way too late. We didn’t want to end our evening. We had clearly become attached. We watched comedy videos until midnight. He had school and I had to be up at 3am for work the next day but admitting bedtime meant he had to go home and neither of us wanted that. He looked at me, illuminated by my computer monitor and said, “I don’t want to go.” My reply, “Then don’t.” He stayed, another piece of the puzzle of trusting each other slowly with more and more of our hearts and our commitment. He never left after that. More stuff made its way to what became our apartment, and at the end of that first year, we were looking forward to more.
One day after an afternoon lunch, as he was headed out to class he turned to me and said, “I can see myself spending the rest of my life with you. But I don’t know about marriage.”
I never thought about marrying Joseph, because I knew it wasn’t something he ever wanted to do. Despite my younger girl dream to be a wife, I knew in his mind it wasn’t a possibility. I knew that I loved him and the love and grace he showed me was real. For me, it didn’t matter. As time kept going we had many late night talks. One included Joseph asking me what I wanted to do. What was my big dream? At that moment, I wanted to teach photography, as a professor in a university. There was a pause, as if he was considering what to say next.
“Professor Tompkins. I like that.” He said. “Wait, say that again?” My shock was thankfully covered by the evening darkness. This man who had just a few months ago said he didn’t know about this marriage thing just replaced my last name with his!
The next months proved his devotion and commitment. His parents weren’t too keen on me in the beginning but he didn’t care. Honestly, I didn’t exactly look like the prized catch for their son. Divorced single mom of three doesn’t scream ideal. But he was all in for me and the girls. And I was determined to prove I was the best catch any man could get lucky enough to have. I finally believed in myself.
One thing I have learned is that sometimes you do have to prove yourself. If you believe in yourself, when the moment comes that you have to show what you are made of, what you are worth, if you believe that you are worth it, you will be. I have proved myself worthy of Joseph. And I truly believe he is my gift. If God gave me nothing else in this life, just to be his wife and watch my girls grow would be enough for me.
When you face divorce and the consequences that follow, it isn’t easy. Some people will judge you, you may find yourself without the friends and family you thought would stand by you. The one thing that got me through each step forward, and each step back was that God had a plan for my life. If I closed my eyes, and let him lead me, the path would be carved out for me. I just had to let him lead the way. Sure, you will trip and fall. But he will help you stand up again, dust off your clothes, bandage those knees and keep going.
My journey has taken me through so many different directions. From growing up in poverty, to being a well off wife, to being a divorced single mom, I wouldn’t change a thing. Each moment helped mold me into the woman that I am today and I am grateful for the adversity because it brought me here, to share with you the hope that divorce doesn’t mean your life is over. It means you have a chance at a new beginning.