Leap Into Leadership (LIL) supports and encourages all types of transformation that results in more healthy organizations, relationships and communities. LIL is also committed to removing the organizational and personal barriers that prevent us from being our best everyday.
In Part One of our 2019 series, we will hear from a variety of voices including from a woman who was abused in her marriage. Although a departure from our typical blog posts, we feel it is important to highlight the personal struggles of individuals who, despite their situation, find personal courage and strength to overcome life’s challenges and emerge stronger and more resilient. Not only do we read about one person’s transformation, we understand how the journey extends to helping others who face similar challenges. By sharing our stories, we help others who may not see a way out.
The contributing writer, who prefers to remain anonymous, is an outgoing, friendly, funny and creative person who is full of energy and extremely talented. Her story calls forth the impact of living in an environment that suppresses our ability to do and be our best. When a person feels diminished and disrespected, it impedes their creativity, their energy and their talents. This has implications not only for our families but also for our communities and our organizations. We can each play a part in reaching out to uplift others and create environments where people feel respected, have dignity and feel heard.
Warning: For some people, the interview below can be a difficult one to read. If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, please get help. There are crisis resources that are anonymous at https://www.thehotline.org/. The phone number is 1−800−799−7233.
Mary Oliver, a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning poet, who recently passed away, leaves behind a powerful body of work and an inspiring legacy. Mary Oliver believed that power is found within our individuality, in finding success in being who we are, not what others would have us be. In her writing, Oliver’s “code” reveals how to lead in family, work and in our personal lives. In one of her famous poems she writes:
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Personal transformation magnifies positive change around us. Transformation starts with the individual. When I realized that I only had “one wild and precious life,” I slowly unearthed the dusty pieces of my old self, climbed out of my shell and began the process of change.
I was 40 years old when I realized I was in an abusive marriage. I knew something was very wrong, but I could not articulate it because it had been so long since I felt loved, respected and worthy. With two young children to care for, I knew I needed to get out. I was terrified. I had moved across the country for my husband’s job and was three thousand miles away from my family and friends. I was not working and did not have my own income. After several years of emotional and verbal abuse, I hit “rock bottom” and was willing to risk the great penniless, possibly homeless unknown in order to leave my toxic marriage. What I realized too late is that abusers have a way of slowly chipping away your sense of self over time until you wake up one day and have no idea how you ended up living in hell. I had many fears holding me back. I feared losing my house. I feared not being able to get back on my career path. I feared my feelings of low self-worth from years of being told by my husband that I wasn’t good enough. Despite all of this, I continued to move forward.
I began to understand that the definition of resilience is, a.) The capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress, and, b.) An ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. I was determined to heal my strained body and mind. I was determined to recover and revise my story. After years of studying Joseph Campbell and his concept of the Hero’s Journey, I realized that I could be my own hero in my very own journey. Joseph Campbell said, “Find a place inside where there's joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” My journey is about burning the pain through transformation.
Did you see any red flags in the beginning?
Before I got married, I knew that my husband’s family was abusive. This concerned me. However, we all tend to come to relationships with who we are and what we come from. My own family is big, funny and loving with some of our own normal dysfunction. However, my experience was a very different scenario from my husband’s family and upbringing. I took marriage very seriously. In fact, while I was dating my husband, I went to a top-notch therapist and said, “I’m getting close to an engagement and I want to make sure I am making the right choice.” Unfortunately, looking back, the therapist gave me bad advice. She said, “Well, who are you to judge? You had a difficult childhood.” Reflecting on this, I think it takes at least two years of dating someone to really know them well. There are some great resources and books online that I wish I had read before I got married. The two books are: “Why Does He Do That?” and “Every Day Wisdom” by Bancroft Lundy. Both are excellent. It is often very difficult for women to assess if they are being emotionally abused. Early in our relationship, I knew something was wrong, but it is so difficult to see it when you are in it without the help of outside resources and assistance.
Why didn’t you leave earlier?
When you are slowly put into a position of not having your own money, living far away from your support network and being frequently called “loser,” “fat,” and “bitch” by your husband, you eventually believe it. I am an educated woman with a past successful career. You would never know I was married to an abuser. He is a successful person. We live in a nice house in a beautiful neighborhood where my children fish and bike ride in the summer. Many women feel pressured by friends and family and societal expectations to stay in a bad marriage for the “sake of their kids.” I have done a lot of research on this topic and this is simply the worst thing you can do. My current therapist said, “The best situation for a child is a loving, healthy and happy home with both parents. The 2nd best is a loving, healthy and happy home with divorced parents and the third is two parents living together in a miserable home.” Many women are simply not ready to leave until they are ready emotionally, financially, etc…I was not ready to file for divorce until I had hit my rock bottom of abuse. Then, I held tightly to the quote, “leap and the net will appear.”
What gave you certainty and/or doubt?
I knew my kids deserved better than this. I knew I deserved better than this. I am still scared. Every day, I am filled with anxiety about my future as my divorce comes to a close. However, I know that my future has to be better than it has been the last few years.
What got you through really dark times?
Remembering who I was and who I really am. When my husband was in a rage, I would put on my headphones and listen to music that makes me happy. Or, I would read some beautiful poetry in my room after I got my children down to sleep. Another way I got through really difficult times was to talk with close friends. I would also read about strong women who went through really challenging situations and they inspired me.
How did you personally build resilience?
I don’t judge what I need to get me through this time. I have needed some anti anxiety medication and medication to sleep while I am compelled, due to insane custody laws, to live with my abuser until the divorce is finalized. Every day is unpredictable and frightening. I do not know how resilient I can be just yet. But, I do feel happy and positive again. I do see the light at the end of the tunnel. I know that I will co-parent with this person and that will be a challenge. My recovery will involve therapy, doing things that bring me joy, keeping my protective preservation in place i.e. my Noonlight safety app, keeping my neighbor up-to-date on possible unsafe nights or weekends when he is home. Unfortunately, a woman in my online, private support group was tragically murdered recently, two years after divorcing her abuser. I will always need to be vigilante for my safety.
If you were to give yourself advice 2, 3, or 5 years ago, what would it be?
I would have left a long time ago. I feel lucky that this man only took ten years away from me. I know women who had their abusers swallow up their entire lives, metaphorically. Women need to know the signs of abuse, they need to know where to get help and they need to know when and how to leave. Many women stay in abusive relationships because they think they need a plan or X amount of money or a certain kind of job. I thought I did, too. This is terrible advice. There is never enough money or the “right” time. In my own research, it seems the longer a person stays with an abuser, the less likely they’ll have the strength to leave because of the exhaustion and stress that takes hold of the body and mind.
If you were to give women advice today, what would you tell them?
You do not have to get married. You do not have to have children. However, if you do want to get married, date the person for a minimum of two years. Make sure you see how your partner behaves and acts in stressful situations. If he has anger issues, that’s a major red flag. Notice the little things, too, such as how he treats wait staff, his family and your friends. Also, remember that it is never too late to call off a wedding. It does not matter if the invitations are sent or deposits are made. If you see signs of mistreatment, leave. No amount of money spent or embarrassment is worth a possible lifetime of abuse.
What did your transformation involve?
I have gone from being an extremely drained, burnt out person who never did anything or went anywhere as a result of my husband’s control and abuse to someone with hope and new found energy. My bad joke used to be that I needed a blood transfusion because I looked so ill and was so tired. I am now someone who is smiling again. I find myself dancing while doing the laundry. I am revamping my career and life. I even bought myself a pretty $5 coffee mug as part of my transformation. I like it. It is something new. I am now seeing friends and finally wearing nice clothes and putting on makeup and fixing up my hair because I am not so depressed. I am exercising again. I am laughing again. It is not magic. It did not happen overnight. But, I am slowly moving toward my goals and making plans for my “one wild and precious life.”