The call comes on an ordinary Tuesday morning. I’m in my office. I hear his familiar ringtone and answer cheerfully “hi Sweetie, how was your appointment?”.
His voice has *that tone*.
Suddenly I’m frozen with fear. My heart is pounding. I can’t move. I can’t breathe. My hand squeezes the phone held to my ear. This can’t be happening again. Not now. Not again. Things have been so good for the last few months. So peaceful. Please…not again. He’s just left his doctor’s office, and there’s been a change in his blood chemistry. I know what’s coming next. It’s happened before – at least half a dozen times. I’m terrified. I know it’s coming. I try to steel myself before the blows begin, really believing I’ll be able to do it this time.
“These numbers mean I could get cancer again…stress causes inflammation…clearly the elevated numbers are from stress…since you are the biggest part of my life, you are the cause of the stress…rethink our relationship…disrespectful…unkind…loving you is like death by a thousand needles…not capable…damaged…what cancer taught me…won’t be in a relationship where my woman doesn’t support me…talk more on this tonight at home…”
He goes on for about 25 minutes. I’m crushed. I know this dance with him. I know better than to try to make this a conversation. This is his monologue.
And so it was, that over the course of about three years, a smart, successful, funny, beautiful, lively, strong and capable woman became a fearful, quiet, codependent, unhealthy, isolated, anxious, fragile shell of her former self.
Several months later I finally got the nerve to stand up to him and say “I will not tolerate you calling me those names anymore”. That’s when he severed our relationship.
So, I could get all up in my head and dissect why this happened, what was wrong with me, what was wrong with him, why it went on for so long, blah blah blah…..
Screw that. Screw being all up in my head.
This is about my heart.
My first steps out of the darkness were tentative. It was a little like a baby bird being thrown out of the nest. I had forgotten how to fly. I had forgotten how to think for myself. I had forgotten how to make decisions. I was lost. I felt…helpless. I was a junkie – shaking and sobbing and pleading for another fix. He was my drug of choice.
How the hell did I let this happen to me?
I felt like a failure. A loser. I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t pretty enough, smart enough, or strong enough. I wasn’t emotionally intelligent. I was broken. I was crazy. I was absolutely everything he said I was.
I believed him.
ohmygod – I believed him. WTF?
I had completely lost touch with my inner voice over the last few years. That little voice inside of me that had said “this isn’t right” or “that’s not true” or “this isn’t good for you” slowly over time had changed to “it won’t always be like this” or “is that true?” or “he’s hurting, you can be strong”. Eventually, I couldn’t hear my voice at all anymore.The only voice inside my head was his.
One of the hardest things for me to admit to myself was that I had no idea who I was anymore. I knew who I was with him – I was an extension of him, an accessory. Parts of me fit perfectly, and the parts that didn’t were simply amputated. What I liked and what I wanted were not things I considered. I was a junkie – and I would do anything to keep the steady flow of my drug of choice (him).
Getting sober happened a tiny bit at a time and with a lot of support. The women in my life circled around me, held me up until I could stand on my own and encouraged me every day – reminding me that I was smart, beautiful, compassionate, kind, and most definitely not damaged or broken. They encouraged me to listen for my inner voice in the stillness. What did I think? What did I like? What did I want? I had no idea. I could only hear his voice listing everything that was wrong with me.
Good, honest, trustworthy men friends encouraged me to listen for my inner voice. They helped me find the answers to what I can now see are ridiculous questions. “If your wife comes home from work and changes into yoga pants and a tee shirt, do you think that means she’s given up on working her part of the relationship?” or “If your wife schedules a hair appointment for a weeknight, do you think that means she doesn’t want to spend time with you?” It took a few months of bursts of laughter from these good men for me to see that the messages I had come to accept as true were not in any way true. I was finding some courage to look deeper.
Even with this loving circle of friends around me, it was up to me to do the work of getting and staying sober. They supported me while I did the lonely nights, the fear, the insecurity, the self-loathing, the weight gain, the crying, the indecision, the bargaining and the grief. I had to do it to find my way out of the madness. I had to do it to rediscover my voice. I had to decide what Being Rena means.
Being Rena means happiness, compassion, creativity, love, working hard but not too hard, playing hard but not too hard, adopting too many dogs, learning not to follow all the rules, silliness, using the word “fuck” like a comma when I’m riled up, hospice care-giving, writing, painting, coloring inside the lines (literally), coloring outside the lines (figuratively), cooking, sometimes compulsively cleaning, loving fashion, loving makeup, chronically being on a diet, laughing until coffee comes out my nose, seeing the beauty in all things (sometimes to my own detriment), gratitude, patience, impatience, being a work in progress, strength, determination, forgiveness, peace, clarity, aging gracefully, being my own best friend, and so much more.
Being Rena rocks.
I’ll never lose that again.