I had a lovely life: beautiful children, a husband who provided for us, I didn’t need to work or bother myself with making the furnace work. I had to be happy, right? How dare I not be happy! I was such an ingrate! Yes, that was what I was. And I felt so guilty for being ungrateful. How dare I not appreciate all that I had, all that was given to me? How dare I be unhappy?
But something was really wrong in paradise. I wasn’t happy. It took me a long time to identify the causes, the reasons, for this unhappiness. Just like the woman imprisoned in the yellow wallpaper in Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s story of the same name, I crept around and around, sneaking and hiding my unhappiness. I had to hide myself away because I was ungrateful, wrongly unhappy. I had no right to be unhappy.
One day I walked out of marriage counseling (something we did off and on for 10 years) after being publicly told by my husband that I just needed to submit and everything would be fine. I saw the shocked face of our counselor, Pastor D—, and walked out. I ran to my ugly minivan, the one picked out by my husband, not the one I wanted, and I cried. Somehow I knew that was the end. I went home and wrote a long treatise on what was wrong with my marriage from my perspective. Then I wrote what I wanted and needed. I called our pastor and set up a meeting; I wanted someone else there to provide a buffer as I spoke my mind for the first time unfettered and unafraid. What a shock I was in for during that meeting. Our female pastor heard my words and after a few minutes shut me down. She felt she needed to protect my husband from my awful words. She stopped me after seeing my point which was an ultimatum that he get professional help or we were done. I declared in my written ultimatum that if he didn’t see someone else (besides these well-meaning pastors) and identify what was motivating him to be a controlling, abusive husband I was done with our marriage.
I got shut down. I shared a couple of my points and then it became apparent that my husband needed to be protected from my harmful truth. He was too vulnerable to hear the whole thing, or so our pastor thought. Oh, the irony of that moment. And the truth of the whole matter.
Why was I giving an ultimatum? I was taking my kids to Texas to visit my family, something my husband didn’t approve of at all. He didn’t approve of vacations and he didn’t approve of seeing my family (though he “allowed” us to attend my oldest son’s wedding — yes, he had to think about it before saying “we should go to that”). But I was doing both of those things without his approval. Yeehaw!
I packed my five children 17, 15, 13, 9 and 5 into MY Toyota Sienna, the one I picked out and purchased on my own (we were separated at the time — the first of two long separations). I was happy with my Toyota Sienna (amid the disapproving looks of church friends and family) and the idea of a road trip (I love road trips) with my children (I love being with my children). I invited my husband to fly to Texas to spend a weekend with us but he declined. I knew he would because he would be required to buy that airline ticket with his own money, and that went against his beliefs. So off we went. I had the trip planned out, hotel reservations made, everyone packed up, and we were off. It was the most amazing trip traveling back roads much of the way, seeing parts of the country I had never seen before. The kids and I had the time of our lives. We had a few hours on the way to Texas when I almost turned back around and went home, but the kids adjusted their attitudes and we drove on towards our destination. We watched race horses in Kentucky, explored caves in Arkansas, hiked in West Virginia and sneaked onto a wind farm in Maryland (those wind turbines are LOUD).
Did I mention that I was trying to recover from Lyme disease and co-infections, and had a lot of fatigue? I did. We went anyway. When we stopped at Seneca Rocks we walked to the top with the kids pushing and pulling me along. They were so kind. They waited with me when I needed to rest every few feet. They pulled me along, literally, at times so I could make progress up that mountain. And they pushed me with their love and joy at being out exploring our beautiful country. Oh, they are mostly normal children, apart from the bipolar disorder, ADHD and Aspergers Syndrome, and sure could fight, but they are awesome, smart, curious kids who love new experiences. They have been the wind in my sails a lot of the time as I faced loss of health and ability.
We made it to Texas and were able to spend time with my oldest son and then my mom and stepdad. It had been over two years since we had seen them, and it had been years before that, so it was amazing to spend time in my favorite state with my family.
What was going on on the old homestead? Had my husband taken to heart what I said and heard my heart-cry for change? Oh, there was a lot going on at home. My husband, who doesn’t believe in the unbelievers who perpetrate quackery on the general public when they try to provide therapy or diagnose mental disorders, was scheming like never before. He had no intention of seeing a professional (heck, he walked out minutes before he was supposed to have an angiogram months before — it was too expensive). No, he decided that I just needed the house prettier. He didn’t hire someone to install new floors in our bedrooms. He needed an audience for his plan to work properly. He gathered the entire church around him and talked them into doing a “While You Were Out” remodel on our house. Now, I admit that it was amazing to walk into the house when we returned to find it looking so very pretty, freshly painted walls, new floors, and even my newly decorated bedroom. I had to gush about how sweet it was that our “friends” did this for “me.” Right? Of course I did. I couldn’t be an ingrate, right?
I was amazed at all of the work and effort put into this project. Then I was really angry. I had told my husband that he needed professional help. I told him that if he didn’t seek help with his control/abuse issues we were done and our marriage was over. I wasn’t surprised that he didn’t heed my warning or take me seriously. He had been saved by our pastor from the embarrassment of acquiescing to his wife, of needing to submit to my request for once. It wasn’t proper. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t done that way. And I was put in the position of appearing at church the next day, everyone expecting me to gush about how wonderful my husband was to do such a loving thing for me (that was what everyone said to me when I walked in the door). Of course, I stood up and thanked everyone for such a wonderful act of kindness and love. I did not, however, gush about what a wonderful husband I had. He knew what he had done. I knew what he had done. And it was over.
Within two months we separated once again, the final separation. That summer marked the end of our marriage. I learned that I was unhappy. I had lived in a controlling abusive marriage for over 20 years and I wasn’t putting up with another day of that insanity. I left our church as well because there was no support for me in that place. I was daring to leave a marriage, a sacred institution that represented Jesus’ relationship with his bride, the church. I was a Jesus hater, don’t you know.
I dared to declare that I was unhappy. Hell, I declared that I was a victim of abuse. And you know what? I WAS unhappy. I was miserable. I was dying inside. I needed to break free or I was going to die. I was already very sick with Lyme disease and co-infections that weren’t going away. The physical damage from that disease was bad enough. But I was sick at heart as well, and needed to be free from what was destroying my very will to live.
I had to discover my voice and find my will, to live free, to live without abuse and control, to be my own person. I discovered that I am a person first, then a mom (or a wife). I found that I had dreams that I had hidden away for most of my life that needed to be explored. I was unhappy, and only I could figure out how to change that.
My story is long and complicated; it is especially complicated by mental illness and denial. But I am on this journey that I chose, that I committed to years ago. I have slowly been making decisions that are best for me (and ultimately my children). Amazingly, I have found people from my past that are now my cheerleaders. I have been helped by these loving women who are always there when I don’t think I can take another step forward.
What advice do I have for women? Women, you have every right to declare that you are unhappy. If you don’t like how things are going, say something. Speak up. Scream and yell, if you need to. Oh my gosh! Do we live in the 19th century? Are women still subject to the wills of men or are we our own people? If you don’t like your life, do something to change it. If I can do it, chronically ill and almost without hope, then you can certainly do it!
Just because we are women doesn’t mean that we don’t have the right to be unhappy. Just don’t stay unhappy.