I decided to enter into counseling after my life became unmanageable. I had a mental and emotional breakdown of sorts. When I came to the counselors office for the first time I was carrying some pretty heavy baggage. Each week during my session she would teach me new tools to help me unpack my bag. We dug through the big bag of pain, confusion, and unhealthy thinking that got me in to the mess I was in and she helped me make sense of it all. It was difficult work, but it only took two sessions and I was committed. I was bound and determined to heal.
I was still married and living with my husband. I was still attending the baptist church where we met. I was still working at the substance abuse prevention center. There were many things that remained the same in my life, but inside I was changing. My thoughts were changing. My beliefs were changing. My actions were changing. With each week that went by that I was doing the work of healing – seeing my counselor, journaling, reading, praying, acknowledging the painful events and feelings from my past and healing them and letting them go – my bag was getting lighter and I was being transformed.
My counselor encouraged me to begin working on some self-care rituals each week – to being to focus on my own needs instead of the needs of others. I had neglected myself for so long. She wanted me to see how it felt to take care of myself mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I needed to find ways to take care of myself in all of these essential areas. Obviously I was seeing her to take care of myself mentally. I was also reading a lot of great books on recovery, codependency, and inner-child healing. I began to watch Joel Osteen on television and read some of his books to help take care of my spiritual needs. I enjoyed his positive, uplifting messages. I began to declare prosperity and victory over my life. My journaling also became a spiritual ritual for me, because I am able to discern things through the Spirit when I write. I discovered the amazing rituals of yoga and meditation. They helped calm my nerves and served as mental, spiritual, and emotional care-taking tools. I had found several wonderful ways (that I thoroughly enjoyed) to take care of myself, but I did it all in secret. I was so afraid that if my husband found out that I was indulging in any of these “sinful acts” he would get angry and make me stop. So I did everything in secret. When he would go to bed, or leave for work in the morning, or before he got home from work in the evening, if I was alone I was fully participating in a self-care ritual.
Inevitably I had to have a conversation with my counselor about the fact that I was doing all of the self-care rituals in secret ( I couldn’t get anything by her). She was glad to hear I was making progress in the self-care department but she was also concerned about the fact that I felt like I had to hide all of it from my husband. I was still so afraid of rejection, afraid of being myself. But I finally got to the place where I was strong enough to see if I could be myself in the relationship and still be accepted by him. I needed to be brave for once, prove to myself that I could do it, and I was also very curious to what would happen. If he could accept me then we would have some work to do as a couple but we could probably salvage the marriage. If he could not accept me for who I really was then I realized I would need to leave the marriage. So little by little I began doing my self-care rituals while he was at home. It was very difficult for me and it usually resulted in a disagreement and then him yelling at me, chastising or belittling me, and I could always count on him shaming me. The self-care rituals were just the beginning of the changes my husband would see in me.
I decided I did not want to attend the church that we had been going to. I did not agree with the doctrine and I always felt worse about myself and about life after a sermon. I needed to find a new church home. I was so scared when I told my husband all of this. He was angry and confused. He told me he was glad I was baptized as a teenager or I would be going to hell. I guess he knew I was serious and that things were changing in our marriage when I did not go to church with him the next Sunday. After he thought about it he decided he would go to another church with me and so the next three Sundays we went to three different baptist churches – his choice. Then we went to a non-denominational Christian church that was exactly like the baptist church we had originally come from. None of these churches were going to work for me and I let him know. Then he let me know that he was not willing to attend any other churches in town so we were just going to have to go back to our original church home. The next weekend I went to a Methodist church and he slept in.
I loved the Methodist church. The minister was a kind, intelligent, open-minded woman. The congregation warmly welcomed me with open arms. The music and the message were encouraging and uplifting. It was a wonderful (and different) experience for me. The next day someone from the church brought a coffee mug filled with goodies and information about the church to my house. I knew then that this church was something I wanted to be a part of. And my husband was livid. How dare I be happy about a choice that he did not make for me! How dare I do something with out him! How dare I attend a church being led by a woman! He did not approve of my choices, but he was still there. He had not abandoned me yet.
So if I hadn’t stretched my luck with not getting abandoned my participating in my self-care rituals out in the open and beginning to attend a church of my choosing, my counselor and I thought I could take it a step further and see what would happen if I stopped care-taking my husband. If I was going to be able to salvage this marriage I was going to need for it to be healthy, which means that each partner in the marriage is responsible for his/her own feelings, wants, and needs – and there are healthy boundaries in place. It was difficult at first, but when he got in a bad mood or was angry and yelling about something I just let him be and went about my business. I did not fumble all over myself trying to fix things and make him better. When he pouted at home because he did not get his way at work I listened and then just let him be. When he got angry because his dinner wasn’t on the table after work or his laundry wasn’t washed, dried, folded, and put away I just let him be. It was difficult and scary, but I knew I had to be brave and start setting some boundaries. I needed to stop emotionally care-taking him and allow him to be responsible for his own feelings. He must have begun to realize that my counseling was changing me. I was not the same woman he married. He was under the impression that the counselor was “talking some sense in to me”. Well she was, but it was not the same “sense” he was hoping for. He was angry with all of these changes in me. He hated my self-care rituals, he hated that I wasn’t going to his church anymore, he really hated it that I stopped taking care of him, he hated it that I was developing an identity apart from him – and that I was becoming happy. And so he had to put an end to all of that. He told me I had to stop going to counseling. I told him I had to stop being his wife. After I realized (after countless attempts at showing him who I really was and each one being met with contempt and shame) he would not ever be able to accept me for who I really was, it took me about six weeks to muster up the courage to tell him I was leaving. And I knew why I was doing it this time, and it was for healthy reasons. I finally figured out that I didn’t have to stay in a relationship where I could not be loved and accepted for who I really am. That is true self-love and it is not a sin. Now in all honesty, it was not fair of me to not show him who I really was before we got married, but I was now and he did not like the “real” me.
Two years after I started counseling I ended my marriage. I moved out of the house during the divorce proceedings and stayed with my mom and step-dad. I continued to attend the Methodist church and got involved in several of the ministries there. I became good friends with the minister and she became an encouraging supporter during my divorce. I developed a healthy prayer life there and a much closer relationship with God. I got a promotion at work- the Board of Directors made me the director of the agency (which came with a substantial pay increase). I was able to move back in to the house after the divorce settlement. I was getting mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually healthier. I continued to see my counselor each week for a full year as a single lady. She taught me so many important things throughout our three years together. Some of the most important and impactful things that transformed my life were:
- Love is not earned. True love is freely given. I am loved because I exist.
- God is my Source and dwells within me. I don’t have to look outside of myself for love, acceptance, or approval. I am worthy whether others approve of me or not.
- I cannot be abandoned. I am forever connected to God and all other beings through Him.
- Self-care is not selfish and self-love is not a sin.
- Healthy boundaries are vital to self-care. I am responsible for me and nobody else.
- Live in the present moment. Regret and depression mean you are spending too much time in the past. Worry, anxiety, and fear mean you are spending too much time in the future (that is where I lived). There is only peace and connection to God in the present moment, for that is where He dwells.
I continued to grow and become healthier with each week that passed. I liked my single life and was very comfortable with living alone. My path had led me to a beautiful place of health, strength, and stability. The light was finally streaming in. This was the place that I had longed to be for such a long time. But God wasn’t through with me yet. My journey was going to take yet another interesting turn.