It’s amazing how crippling making decisions in life can be. It’s even more amazing how often we make decisions based on what others will think, say, or do in regards to our choices.
There are so many things that we say to ourselves, “Oh, I will never do that.” I believe that thinking in exclusionary terms like this leads to thinking things like, “I will never be like her. I can’t believe she did that. Why would she ever do something like that? I could never act like her.”
We spend so much of our lives watching others, and often don’t spend enough time self reflecting and trying to make ourselves grow.
I am totally guilty of this mistake. In my early twenties I often told myself “I will never get a divorce. I will be married to my one person for life.” And then those thoughts would lead to thinking lesser of women who did get a divorce, or chose not to stay with their partner forever.
Life is not black and white. There are beautiful shades of grey everywhere.
There are different platforms we form our recipes for life. Some of the platforms are based off religion, past experiences, future goals, morals, or even fear. These platforms can be changed, broken, and rebuilt. My original recipes for life were based on very evangelical religious beliefs. I believed my self worth stemmed from whether or not I followed the Bible in the most literal way. This thought process of course led to so many complications in the narrative of my story.
This is my story of love, marriage, a toxic relationship, and my choice to take back my life. This is my story of divorce and why I won’t stand behind the stigma and shame that comes with it.
In college I watched so many of my closest girlfriends find “the perfect christian guy!” The qualifications for such a person usually looked like: goes to church, probably played guitar for worship at one point in his life, listens to CCM (contemporary christian music), and his favorite disciple is doubting Thomas because he’s cool and relatable… Oh! And said ‘perfect Christian guy’ probably volunteered at a Christian campground some point in his life.
These faulty qualifications left me unsettled and ultimately feeling like I would never be able to find ‘that perfect guy’. My constant looking for what didn't exist, led me to dating a young man who on the surface met this criteria. I fell in love with his love to minister to teenagers, his deep love for his family, and his love for music. I thought these ‘qualifications’ were enough, and that ultimately this was the right person to marry.
I believe that many women have found themselves dating someone who on the surface is perfect and matches the ‘poster child’ for a perfect husband... But there is so much more to a marriage, a relationship, and love than just meeting certain pre-specified qualifications.
I can not blame the failure of my marriage on that man. I did not know myself the way one needs to before committing myself to another person. Before meeting him I had not developed a healthy sense of self worth. I was a push over, a people pleaser, and did not understand healthy boundaries. I wish I would have started therapy at a much younger age, and figured out who I was and what I wanted before ever entering a relationship with someone I might potentially marry. However, that’s not how this story plays out.
I made accomodations for what I would tolerate so that I could make the relationship work.
I spent the next five years of my life losing so many parts of myself. To lose yourself is so incredibly tragic. The values I once held: no tolerance for promiscuity within a relationship, addictions, and a lack of respect...I lost these values. I made accomodations for what I would tolerate so that I could make the relationship work.
Time went on in my relationship, and I continued to tell myself that the ‘sacrifices’ of what I once held true were of lesser value than the death grip I held onto saving our relationship. I devoted all my extra energy and time into church outreach programs, in hopes that my life would feel more whole. I read every christian marriage relationship book I could get my hands on. I became a leader for a bible study organization that reaches a world wide community.
More importantly, I also got behind the revolving door of guilt and shame
A year into therapy, I came to a breaking point with all of the built up guilt and shame I had acquired. Honestly, therapy is the most difficult and yet rewarding discipline you can give yourself. During this time, my therapist immediately recommended reading, “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown. Her book is written to help readers overcome guilt and shame and in turn use their new found worthiness to enhance the world around them.
“I found that shame corrodes the part of us that believes we can change and do better.” - Brene Brown
I read her book and began implementing thoughts of self worth into my journaling. I inhaled her words. That book is filled with notes, scribbles, tears, and personal thoughts. I grew at work, I grew at home, and I started to heal mentally and emotionally. I could finally objectively look at my life and see things I needed to desperately change.
I looked at my current marriage and realized it had been laced with infidelity, secrets, addictions, and selfishness. We tried couples counseling a few times. We tried putting in specific rules to help our issues. We tried implementing plans for fun things to do together. We tried reading books together and working together on our problems. These decisions were recurrent. We would try, and then fail. I was ashamed of the failures. I felt so much guilt that I told no one but my therapist and my best friend of my relationship problems.
The fear of the stigma of divorce was crippling.
I was at a breaking point, I could either completely lose myself to this relationship forever, or I could wrestle with the ways to find myself again… Whatever the cost. Even if it meant getting a divorce.
The fear of the stigma of divorce was crippling. There were so many days I felt I couldn’t face getting out of bed. To leave him would mean to lose the last five years of my life, our circle of friends, his family, my home, and what I then thought my value as a woman.
“To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself- means to fight the hardest battle any human being can fight - and never stop fighting.” E.E. Cummings
I knew I could not lose myself. I was able to come to terms with the facts that I would rather have everyone think poorly of me, lose my inner circle of friends, lose my religious ideals, than to lose who I am. After months of therapy, wrestling, and fighting with the terms of the situation... I knew I could not lose myself.
The reason that I do tell this story is to remind women who have lost their voice: Do not be afraid of what others think of you, but be afraid of losing yourself.
There are some parts of the story that I cannot tell. There are some parts that are too private, too deep, and unfair. The reason that I do tell this story is to remind women who have lost their voice: Do not be afraid of what others think of you, but be afraid of losing yourself. Do not let religion, people, the world… force you into a place where you believe your worth is wrapped up in your marriage.
During the final days of our marriage, I went to see the movie Fences with my girlfriend Nneka. I can tell you, there are some monologues from plays/films that stay with you forever. They inspire you in way that are indescribable. In the film, Viola Davis plays ‘Rose’ a loyal, devoted, and yet broken wife. She is married to Troy. Troy is engulfed in the dreams he had for his life, and during the most intense breaking point of their marriage, these words are her final cry to Troy about the ways she has lost herself:
I’ve been standing with you! I been right here with you, Troy. I got a life too. I gave 18 years of my life to stand in the same spot with you. Don’t you think I ever wanted other things? Don’t you think I had dreams and hopes? What about my life? What about me. Don’t you think it ever crossed my mind to want to know other men? That I wanted to lay up somewhere and forget my responsibilities? That I wanted someone to make me laugh so I could feel good? You not the only one who’s got wants and needs. But I held on to you, Troy. I took all my feelings, my wants and needs, my dreams…and I buried them inside you. I planted a seed and watched and prayed over it. I planted myself inside you and waited to bloom. And it didn’t take me no 18 years to find out the soil was hard and rocky and it wasn’t never gonna bloom. But I held on to you, Troy. I held on tighter. You was my husband. I owed you everything I had. Every part of me I could find to give you. And upstairs in that room…with the darkness falling in on me…I gave everything I had to try and erase the doubt that you wasn’t the finest man in the world. And wherever you was going…I wanted to be there with you. Cause you was my husband. Cause that’s the only way I was gonna survive as your wife. You always talking about what you give…and what you don’t have to give. But you take too. You take…and don’t even know nobody’s giving.
In that dark theatre in New York, I felt Rose. Her words were everything. I understood tending to a garden, with a rocky soil, that would never bloom, and in the end have completely lost myself. My self worth was not in my marriage. My self worth was not in being a wife. My self worth was me.
This is hard for so many of us as women, as caregivers, mothers, lovers, and helpers to believe. We love to give, to be hospitable, and to love on others. We want to please others in our life. The downside of this is we often let others stand tall on our warm hearts. The risk of staying in a toxic relationship is we can harden, crumble, and fall into a place we no longer recognize ourselves.
Divorce is scary, hard, confusing, and often times ugly. However, we are not defined by our actions, and we are not defined by the way people perceive us.
“Authenticity isn’t always the safe option.”- Brene Brown.
I want to give a voice to women who struggle with divorce. It’s sometimes like wearing the scarlet letter. It’s this weird voice in the back of your head that says, “You’ll never hold a long term relationship. You’re a failure. No one will ever marry you after you’ve been divorced. Who wants sloppy seconds? Good luck with any potential mother in law, she’ll never trust you.” The horrifying guilt and shaming thoughts are so ugly, hard, heavy, and overwhelming.
Give truth to your thoughts. Cover the lies with words that are true.
I am worthy of love.
I am not a bad mother.
I will be a great wife.
My value is not found in the relationships I have been in, my value is found within me and me alone.
“Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”- Brene Brown
You are enough. Look at the platform you stand on, and question if it is really the one you belong on or deserve? Do not be afraid of change. Be afraid of losing yourself and your self worth.
If you’re not on the side of battling with divorce…
How can you as a woman change the way you see a woman who has been or is going through a divorce?
How can we treat other women in a way that they know they are worthy of love, life, and beauty?
That’s what we are here for: To share these stories and remind women we aren’t done yet. The narrative has just begun.
Thank you to the strong women who stood by my side over and over again.
The friends who I called crying to at the most erratic times of the night and day.
The friends who helped me move out.
The friends who helped me move into my apartment.
To the friends who never stopped being my friends.
My mother who just gave me coffee when there were no words.
My sister who would get angry or happy alongside me.
To everyone who watched me fall down over and over again, and chose to still love me and support me, thank you.
Thank you to the women around me who encouraged me to write this, stayed with me, and inspired me.
Written by: Jenifer Veloso
Picture by: Thomas Beagle