I Need A Sign

you are worthy of love signage on brown wooden post taken
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When my husband of three years came home one day and announced that he was in love with another woman and “didn’t think he was wired to be married,” I was devastated to say the least…

In that single moment my world, confidence and everything I knew to be normal was shattered.

He’d had brushes with infidelity as early as six weeks after our wedding, and one other time (that I know of) a year or two later with a coworker, but we’d gone to counseling and managed to stay together.  We had major communication issues and our marriage was far from perfect, but I was ‘committed to my vows.’

So, I begged him to go back to marriage counseling and he agreed.  The counselor thought he might be depressed, prescribed some medication and told us it would be at least six weeks before we knew if it would ‘help’ or not.

In the meantime, we continued counseling, and I waited for him to decide if he wanted to be married to me…

Those six weeks were the hardest and scariest of my life; I couldn’t eat or sleep and felt like a zombie going through the motions at work.  It was all I could do to not burst into tears at the drop of a hat (which I did, many times).  Every song on the radio, happy or sad just pierced me to the core.

I was just…raw.

I was aware on a visceral level that I would be alright no matter the outcome, but I needed something more ‘hands-on’ to get me through the really desperate moments; something to help me pull myself back together while at work.

I decided to write myself a letter, from the perspective of someone who truly had my best interest at heart: my guardian angel.

I told myself that I would be just fine.  I was strong and didn’t need him to be happy, that this was the hardest part and I would absolutely get through it.  I reminded myself how lucky I was to have such an incredible support system, that there was a lesson to be learned from all of it and I would be stronger/wiser/happier for it in the end, etc…

I emailed it to myself at work and after reading it a couple of dozen times over the next few days, I started to feel better.  It gave me comfort and little by little, I started to believe the words.

Right about that time the band Train released the song “Calling All Angels.” Its opening lyrics are:

“I need a sign to let me know you’re here, all of these lines are being crossed over the atmosphere. I need to know that things are going to look up…”

It seemed to echo exactly what I was going through, like the singer was talking to his guardian angel too; I heard it almost every day during my morning drive to work and I took it as my own personal sign that everything would be okay.

It gave me hope.

By the time he decided that he indeed wanted a divorce, I wasn’t afraid anymore.  I was peaceful, accepting and well on my way down the path of healing.

I was ready.

I think seeing me so at peace with it threw him for a loop, because he changed his mind—but I had already filed the papers.  I was done.

It shocks me now that I gave him so much control over my happiness.  Our divorce was the best thing that could have happened to me.  His infidelity truly was the least of our problems and yet, I don’t think I would have initiated any kind of separation.  I’m grateful that he fell in love with someone else and wanted to end our marriage.

Not only did it reconnect me to my inner voice, it was the catalyst for my learning to love and value myself—and you just can’t put a price on that.

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The Gift of Abandonment

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“Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what.  If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.” ~ Catherine M. Wallace

One of my earliest memories is my mother locking herself, my sister and me in the bathroom of our tiny apartment.  She was talking soothingly and sweetly to us as our father, on the other side of the door, was drunk and in a rage.  He was slamming cabinets and throwing things around, looking for more alcohol.

And I worshipped him.

My mother was raised in an upper class family, a world of  debutante balls and cotillions. One night, her date ditched her at a party where she didn’t know anyone—a tall handsome man found her crying in the corner and offered to take her home.  He was a Vietnam War Vet, a Marine who had earned two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star for Bravery.

And she fell in love with him.  Hard.

But he was not from the same circles as my mother’s family and therefore deemed not good enough by her parents.  (As my grandmother used to say about him, “Even a dog has a pedigree.”)

They never liked him and often made him feel less-than.  To their great dismay, she got pregnant and married him.  She had disgraced the family’s good name.  They never let her forget it either.

So it was with great shame that after five years, she divorced my father and went crawling submissively back to her family.  (I wonder if she would have left him earlier if she’d had their support?)

The three of us moved in with our grandmother (my grandfather had a heart attack and died four months before I was born, which was something else my mother was blamed for).

My father pretty much dropped out of the picture; I was devastated.  Everything took its toll and my mother became a shell of the woman she once was, always lost in thought and just going through the motions when it came to parenting my sister and me.

Consequently, I grew insecure and lost self-esteem which made me an easy target for “him.”

The first time he molested me was on a camping trip.  Our mothers were best friends; I was five, he was 16 or 17.  The grown-ups were impressed that he was “so helpful and attentive” with me and the other kids.  He’d ride me around on his shoulders, give me piggy-back rides…and then come into my tent to fondle me when our parents weren’t paying attention.

He’d say, “Don’t tell anyone about this or your mommy will get very mad and give you a spanking.”  My five-year-old self couldn’t risk my mother being mad at me—she already barely interacted with me as it was.

So I kept quiet.  He was later entrusted to babysit my sister and me at night, when our mothers would go out together.

Now he had full access to us with no adults around for hours at a time.

I remember at night he’d come into the bedroom after we fell asleep.  I never made eye contact with him when he did things to me—I’d just look over at my sleeping three-year-old sister, hoping so hard that she’d wake up because maybe he’d stop, but then at the same time wishing she wouldn’t, because I wanted him to leave her alone.

Still other times, he’d cajole his younger brothers into doing things to me.

I’d like to believe that my mother wasn’t aware of the sexual abuse, because I just can’t fathom not taking action if it were happening to my precious daughter.  But my sister and I both recall a doctor’s appointment, where at least one of us was examined vaginally and our mother was crying while the doctor spoke to her.

I guess I’ll never know because my mother, presumably unable to cope with an overwhelming sense of inadequacy, committed suicide a week after my eighth birthday. The immediate blessing that resulted from her death was that the abuse stopped, because we never saw that family again.

If there was any advice I could give to parents who rely on other people to babysit their children for whatever reason, it would be this:  As often as you can, stop what you’re doing and look your child in the eyes when they speak to you; it dignifies them.  Encourage them to do the same—lack of eye contact can be a sign of insecurity.

Reassure them that they can tell you anything and you won’t get mad, no matter what.  

And above all, don’s assume that your kids know you love them—tell them.  Hug them. Every single day.  A child that feels confident and secure in their parents’ love is less likely to become a victim of abuse…or keep silent about it.