Decisions

Continued from Soulful Expedition

“By your decisions, you paint a portrait of Who You Are” –Neale Donald Walsch

The entire year of 2005 felt disjointed… I vacillated between believing that I was making a good decision and wanting everything to go back to the way it was – well, not really… I wanted it to be the way I wanted it to be. I didn’t want what I had but I did want all of the things that we had dreamt about. I didn’t make those dreams by myself. Hubby was right there, using his own paintbrush to create the portrait of our lives together. I thought we had been painting on the same canvas, using the same colors, and sharing a muse.

Existing in the same environment was unbelievably difficult. It fostered an obscure sense of hope during those moments that were like a transparency overlay of ‘normal’ on the reality we were living. I knew when Hubby didn’t come home at night and I couldn’t help but wonder where he was or who he was with. Even though I didn’t want that mania in my life, I didn’t want to be without it – another conundrum that fought to root in my mind. I just couldn’t get myself to a place where I didn’t care.  In many ways, it was like a slow, excruciating, painful death… seemingly absent of an endpoint.

Frank graduated from college in May that year and I made arrangements to take the girls. I had booked the hotel room six months in advance and shared the location with family so I was surrounded by love as Hubby and I shared the first major life event since decision day, partitioned from one another. We had agreed that we would attempt to ‘co-parent’ effectively right from the beginning but this was our first ‘major’ test. We would have to take pictures that Frank could look at for the remainder of his life – a celebration for him – somewhat tortuous for us as we understood the completeness, the totality of the end of our marriage. And yet, we struggled to believe it.

We would occasionally discuss a reconciliation but I had learned how to establish boundaries of steel. Actually, my boundaries by then were made of vertical steel columns and horizontal I-beams… the kind you find in skyscrapers that keep them vertical regardless of violent summer storms. Those limitations included an exit strategy for Abee from our business and some kind of treatment initiative, a long-term – evidence based – plan to eliminate the potential for infidelity to ever again exist in our marriage. I was unwilling to budge from those two ‘deal breakers’. They were my ‘hard limits’ and they represented the dead end of every bridging conversation we attempted to have. He also had deal breakers.

Nevertheless, we continued to show up – separately – at swim meets, school, and scouting events but didn’t sit together. I wasn’t there yet. There were times when I could feel his eyes seeking mine but I refused to give in and glance back. I was insanely stubborn and unyielding, refusing to be flexible. This is the result of betrayal. It was the only way I knew to ‘fight back’ and the love I had for our children was bigger than the disdain I had for him. I put their interests first to the extent that it wasn’t complete and total disrespect of myself. I had finally learned to put self-respect first.

After being deceived by Hubby and Abee, our therapist fired them as clients but I still went. I was learning a lot about myself although I admit I was still a bit lost. I was directionless. I knew I wanted to share everything I was learning – about life, life lessons, love, God, spiritual growth, I knew there was a message there but I had no credentials other than my life and I was in the middle of some big stuff. I credited my therapist for being the map reader for me … helping me to lay it out and observe the roads, to help me decide on the destination and to plan the route there. I wanted to do that too… I decided that summer that I would become a therapist and was almost immediately dismayed at the expanse of the journey. Five years. I would be fifty. Shit. I felt defeated and bested. I was in the middle of a divorce; how could I make that happen?

Right after Frank graduated from college, I started. I was scared to death of Behavioral Statistics and even more so when this tiny, petite, old (really, she was 70 something) woman walked into the room wearing a full suit with a high collared blouse, buttoned to the top. It was 80 degrees outside and for some reason, there was no air-conditioning. She spoke in a low monotone voice and cleared her throat every 5th word. The chick behind me started texting a mile a minute (I could hear every button push) and I knew I was in trouble. Within a week, I understood that if I raised my hand, asked questions, and demonstrated (well-deserved) respect for my elders… It would all be ok. More than half the class had dropped but I survived. I got a B.  I was encouraged and so I registered for a full semester of Psychology classes, French, and Women’s Studies beginning in September. I had only a few months left before I became a full-time student.

I used that time to educate myself in a different way. I was more fortunate than many, many women like me… I owned half of a company that had some value. I was still married to a man who generated a healthy income and continued to pay the bills so I didn’t ‘have to’ work – not right then at least. I had to believe in divine direction because at any other time before, the circumstances were different, the resources less abundant, and so now… I had options. The timing of the reality provided the capacity for me – with much diligence – to investigate and navigate what would be in my (and the children’s) best interest. I was a hawk. My eyes and ears were everywhere from business evaluation to support allowances. I became an expert traversing Google; discovering resources and precedent for situations like mine and I waited.

With each passing day, I garnered strength. I used my support network, built new alliances, and got informed. I kept my finger on the pulse of the finances in our business and stood up for my rights as co-owner. I will comment again on how difficult it was to walk away from that part of me. The internal struggle to push through it and go to work even if it meant I had to be around Hubby and Abee versus letting go and observing it in action was at times, maddening. On the few occasions that I did drop in for one reason or another, it was like breaking through a barrier betrayal and disillusionment, like what football players do as they enter a stadium for a game rematch each week. I finally had to decide that constant exposure to such painful energy was simply unhealthy for me, keeping me tethered to the shadows of my soul. It was my first true experience of ‘letting go’ that I consciously practiced and it was laborious; a daily endeavor.

My goal was to stay focused on love. I knew that was the most important decision I could make for myself and for my future. I was tempted, so tempted to give in to my anger, my contempt, the humiliation, and sorrow… and occasionally I did, in the form of vile language directed at Hubby or the disparaging conversations I would have with friends or in my thoughts; my ugly thoughts. I am only human though and I knew that love was more dominate in my spirit and so I learned to forgive myself and to keep going.

Silver Linings

“We must assume every event has significance and contains a message that pertains to our questions…this especially applies to what we used to call bad things…the challenge is to find the silver lining in every event, no matter how negative.”  – James Redfield

It’s challenging to write about this time in my life because literally, every day felt difficult if I moved outside the protective walls of my home where my children provided the padding with their smiles, hugs, and loving presence.

To emotionally survive, it was necessary for me to adopt a way of thinking that provided encouragement and hope. I used the basic tenets of my belief structure which are embodied by the quote I use in this post – that ‘in each negative experience, there is value’.  I found strength in the notion that my role in this experience was to search for the lesson and grow.

Our therapy took on a different structure as we began weekly individual sessions and I started to look at myself more closely. I wanted to understand my role in the craziness that was my current life. After the first affair, I could accept that I had room to grow as a wife and a partner and I worked hard to ‘shore up’ those behaviors that contributed to more harmony in our lives. I believed that we had grown as a couple and had become stronger partners, better parents, and good business partners. Our remaining challenges focused on the differences in our sexual needs and I had surrendered myself to the extent that mine were unrecognizable.

This second affair suggested that our problems were less about my ability to be a good partner and more about the individual psychological deficiencies that kept us engaging in dysfunctional behaviors; Hubby having affairs and me staying in such a relationship.

Today, I teach people that behavior is only dysfunctional to the extent that it interferes with your life and/or your relationships. If it works in your life – great. If it doesn’t – fix it.

Something about me had to change. I discovered that my self-esteem had suffered considerably throughout the course of my marriage. Indeed, it hadn’t ever been tremendously strong but the erosion over time in this relationship had diluted what little there was. In therapy, I was able to identify body ‘issues’ that were triggers for me and understand how emphasized they became with the sexual discourse that reigned in my marriage. She helped me define sexual boundaries that were healthy for me – based on my interests and pleasure. Most importantly, she helped me know how to communicate them and stay grounded there.

I judged myself very harshly. The more aware I became; the more devastated I was about the behavior I had allowed myself to tolerate. I was a smart woman, a product of the Women’s Liberation Movement, independent and reasonable. How in the world had I evolved into a woman who had allowed herself to be so blatantly disrespected?

My therapist introduced the term Gaslighting.  It is an effort of one person to ‘overwrite’ or reformat the thoughts of another person with their own. It originated with the 1938 play Gas Light where a woman developed a belief that she was crazy when her husband manipulated information about reality. It has been used psychologically since to describe the manipulation of someone’s sense of reality. Gaslighting is common in cases of infidelity, the continuous denial of the cheater can eventually undermine the affected partner’s sense of reality – leading one to question what, often most, of what they believe to be real.

Learning about Gaslighting was a turning point for me. I was incredibly grateful that I wasn’t crazy!! I allowed myself to reflect on a proliferation of memories and see them more clearly. I slowly relearned how to trust my senses and how to validate myself. The flip side of this was understanding just how deeply my trust in Hubby had been dismantled. I found it difficult to believe anything he said to me, which didn’t help in the process of restoring some semblance of a relationship. I started to see myself differently.

I continued to read every self-help book that called to me. I was hungry to learn about myself and to understand why I chose this relationship – this difficult – seemingly impossible liaison with a man who was also, in his own way – broken. I wanted to comprehend what it was that brought us together and discern what potential there was for us. I grew to believe that we were together ‘for a reason’ – that we had chosen one another for the lesson that existed in our union. What was it??

The Conversations with God series by Neale Donald Walsch continued to provide inspiration for me and I found my spiritual instinct more pronounced, more substantial. I found that as I stepped away from what I perceived as a ‘religious’ view of God – some man on a throne – and thought of God in a universal sentience, the creating energy of all things, existing everywhere at all times, the purest vibration of love – I was experiencing God in a very new, consistent, and comfortable way. I found peace in the idea that I was constantly shrouded with a universal energy that consisted purely of love. I would imagine myself in a God bubble, healing my heart by its grace.

In this spirit, I could get up each morning and look at my husband. I was able to go to work and engage with my sister. I could imagine a time when my extended family might again go on picnics and gather again for Thanksgiving. Our healing was slow, the growth sometimes painful. It was exceptionally challenging for me to begin to trust Hubby. First, I had to trust that he and Abee had terminated their personal entanglements. We rearranged the work schedules, which presented a myriad of complexities and frankly, wasn’t as successful but I was unwilling to have them interacting so closely together any longer. I became a private detective; keenly observing every little detail and deciding about its authenticity in context to my reality. I developed an ability to honor my instincts. I noticed every little detail and was constantly on guard. My therapist taught me how NOT to file stuff away in disbelief but to present information and check for its accuracy. I learned the danger of assumptions and developed a process by which I could fact check and dispel accusations.

Hubby was learning too. Not long after this all blew up; he took some time off and intently addressed his emotional composition. He immersed himself in personal growth also, delivering him to a point where he committed himself to me and to our family in many of the ways I had been yearning for, for years. Maybe this was it – maybe we had been brought together so that we – both – could grow. Perhaps we were catalysts for one another. I knew that the loving energy of God worked in mysterious ways and we were learning how to love despite the tremendous pain. I believed that was part of what Jesus taught us to do… love and grow through pain. We were doing just that.

The transformation for both of us was far from complete but we had risen from the ashes of this debacle deeply scarred but hopeful for our future. I was far from trusting. In fact, the absence of trust contributed negatively in our rebuilding efforts and for every five or six steps forward we moved, there was two or three back. However, I believed in our advancing momentum.

Turning the Century

“…hidden in your deepest feelings is your highest truth” – Neale Donald Walsch

The year before and the year after Y2K were full of activity. The kids were growing and active, our business grew at lightning speed, we built a new house, moved, and consequently there was always a ‘project’. Hubby and I worked well together when a project was in the works. We both turned 40 – he got a big party and I got a new house.

We became pretty fanatical about Y2K. Yes, we were the ones who collected canned goods and buckets of flour. It was all very organized, dated, and sorted of course. Hubby made sure we had barrels of gasoline and tools that didn’t require electricity. We found a generator and I learned how to can food. It was all consuming for about eighteen months prior as we planned and prepared. Our business was even prepped for disaster. We were the ‘just in case’ people – the ones who felt it was better to be safe than sorry. I had done a tremendous amount of research on the internet back when you could believe what you read there – cough, cough. There was intelligent information from reliable sources that imparted a ‘possibility’ of global disaster so we …. were prepared.

On New Year’s Eve, I recall being a little nervous but overall excited for the memorable event and we allowed the girls to stay up ‘til midnight. We took wooden spoons, pots, and pans outside to ‘howl it up’ as a way to remember a century change. When the lights stayed on and our banks opened it was a true celebration. We were relieved and very well stocked. We didn’t have to buy green beans for three years~!

Business was good. A couple of years back we had made some professional decisions that moved us toward success rather quickly. It was an exciting time and while I wasn’t as worried about how much hamburger to buy each week, our money was predominately going back into the business as fast as we could make it. The one exception was our new house.  The old one needed new windows and a new roof. It needed new flooring and a kitchen redo. A new house made much more sense. We were the third house in a new development where we could modify the lot and building as long as we had the money to support the changes. We nickel and dimed our builder by the week with a total of twenty-two change orders. I know by the end he had to be happy we finally finished the build and couldn’t bug him more.

It was more than either of us had ever dreamed of owning. It had room – plus – for all of us and anyone else who wanted to stay. We took all of the ‘cash’ we had saved as part of our ‘disaster plan’ and finished the basement right away, giving us an additional 1500 square feet of living space. It was a true ‘family’ house. I remember standing outside on the deck one fall evening looking through the windows to the inside where my family sat on a couch facing a fireplace that was floor to ceiling stone – two stories high. I watched in fascination because it was surreal. It felt as if it was someone else’s house – beautiful, warm, and full of family. There was a moment when I felt completely disconnected from it as if I was watching from another plane, from some outside realm. And then I was back – that was my family, my home, people I loved and I was deeply grateful.

In our MOMS Club book group, we read all three books in the Conversations with God series and I found it fascinating. It was another ‘ah ha’ moment on so many levels for me. Yes, it was written by some guy who claimed God was talking to him, but that was Moses many years ago too! I don’t know what it true or make believe but I know what resonated deeply with my soul. In Book One, God says “all human emotions are motivated at their deepest level by one of two emotions – fear or love.” I knew that to be true for me then and today – as a psychology professional – I see it demonstrated over and over again. Looking back, I believe that all my behaviors were motivated by either fear or love. Fear of being left, feeling pain, being lonely, being unlovable… feelings of love for my children, my husband, my family. I can’t think of anything I did that didn’t fall into one of those categories and sadly, fear was more prevalent than love.

In this book, God says “Emotion is the power which attracts. That which you fear strongly, you will experience.”  Again – that rang true for me. I had to look closely at all the things that I was feeling and then look again closely at my experiences – did they match? Which came first? The chicken (fear) or the egg (experience)? What if my fears WERE creating my experiences?  What if God was allowing these things to happen so that I could process my fears? So that I could come to NOT fear them?  He goes on to say “there is NO coincidence in the universe” – gosh – that matches what The Celestine Prophecy says….  What if these ARE God’s messages? What if I am supposed to be learning from EVERY. THING.

I was thrust into a state of exploratory discovery. I journaled. I spoke with friends. I continued to read. I would go to the bookstore and stand in the self-help, spirituality, or New Age sections and allow the book to ‘call me’. I would pick it up – open it randomly – and read.  If it ‘spoke’ to me – if something on that page resonated deeply, then I would buy the book and highlight it… page by page.

I recall hearing Deepak Chopra speaking to women on morning television show The View answering the question “How do you envision God”? His response: “To envision God is to limit God and therefore I do not”. That one statement provided an epiphany for me. I recalled years of sitting in church, looking through bibles and hymnals, seeing religious paintings of God – the man. I was – in that moment – allowing my mind to create a different vision – or rather, erase all the prior visions that I had of the entity I called God. I imagined God as everything – everything I couldn’t see – everything I did see – all the energy that existed in the universe. It opened the door for me to consider religion in a way that made much more sense in my mind. In one statement, God took on a whole new meaning for me and again, I wanted to experience more.

I believed that we had turned a corner with the introduction of the twenty-first century. We were more connected than ever before, enjoying our new home, our family, our success. Life was good – for a while.

Spiritual Seeds

“Loving and energizing others is the best possible thing we can do for ourselves.”      ― James Redfield

There were some genuinely good times in the next couple of years. I loved being a mother and watching my children grow. Francis started swimming for the high school and I would drag all three girls to each meet let them run around as I watched the few minutes (seconds really) each hour that he would be in the water. I remember being at a swim meet where people were cheering for some kid named Frank and I asked which boy that was. They looked back at me with a strange face, “um, yours?” I felt dumb. My little Francis had grown into a Frank. Today, when any of us talk about him, the time frame is clearly referenced by our use of Frank or Francis. In the context of this writing – they are one in the same. He grew tall (standing at 6’8” today) and would intimidate all the other swimmers on the block. As a freshman, he would come in last every. single. time. By his senior year, he would place first in every event. It was an amazing transition and I was a proud mama.

They all grew too fast as any parent knows and I attempted to enjoy every minute. Some of my fondest memories come from this time period as I experienced their perfect inquisitiveness and joyful exploration of the world. Each one of them occupied a special part of my heart and there were times I thought it would explode with love. There were times too – being perfectly honest – that I thought I would go crazy with the noise and occasional chaos that four children can generate in one household.

Hubby and I were on cruise control. In an effort to meet people and make local friends, I used my entrepreneurial energy to begin a chapter of MOMS Club in the area. It’s a national organization but there wasn’t anything like it regionally. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who needed friends; over 75 women showed up to that first meeting (with their kids) – it was mayhem!! It turned out to be a wonderful venue for many of the things that were important to me. We organized play groups, mom’s night out, a book club, and outings for our kiddos. Some of the best friends I’ve had were people I met through my affiliation there. As the girls started school, I became active in the PTA and coupled with continued church responsibilities, I was a busy gal. I was unmindful of the demands pulling my attention away from Hubby. He was better at gently prodding me back into awareness most of the time but I was still challenged at how to balance my life in a way that satisfied both of our needs.

It seemed to me that whenever something took my attention away from him as a direct focus, he would become very needy sexually. It was as if that was the only way he could communicate with me and I was unaware. All I experienced was another requirement, another ‘thing’ on my list that had to be completed before I could end my day. I never felt there was a consideration for me or of me, sexually speaking – not in the context of pleasure – but of desire or need. It didn’t matter what I wanted in this regard. I developed the understanding that if I wanted to do what satisfied my needs ‘outside’ of home (i.e., Mom’s Club, friendships, etc.), then I first had to satisfy HIS needs in the bedroom. It became a negotiation for me. If I came home after a book club meeting or a girls’ night out I knew he would be waiting and wanting – expecting. It was easier for me to simply accommodate him; he got what he wanted and I got what I wanted. Cruise Control.

Someone introduced me to a new book, a novel that presented an existential tenet that reminded me of the teachings of SAGE two decades prior. There was something there that I empirically understood as truth somewhere in my soul. It was The Celestine Prophecy, a novel by James Redfield. It’s a story – a work of fiction based on Eastern & New Age philosophies that highlight ideas about coincidence, energy, and love in ways that make complete sense in my mind and fill gaps of my traditional religious teaching. Its spiritual ideology spoke to me in such a way that I became aware of a profound hunger for a richer understanding of the nontraditional.

I was reminded of a conversation that I had with my one of my brothers’ years back… an esoteric discussion of ‘what if’. What if our conventional understanding of biblical teachings is too literal? What if customary beliefs about God are actually too restrictive and confining? What if science and faith can truly coexist without contradiction? I became curious and began questioning everything I had been taught. I partitioned off other parts of my heart where things didn’t make sense and focused my mental energy on thinking about my faith and how it manifested in my worldview.

I began to look at and understand coincidences – those things that seem happenstance but may indeed offer clues or knowledge about our lives, our future. I recognized a series of experiences that I had interpreted as serendipity or randomness but when I looked closer, I could see purpose, and even perhaps – glances into my future. Of course, those were in retrospect but it was impressive when considered across a broad spectrum. It spoke to the -then new- science which is immensely intriguing to me. In fact, I once decided I could teach myself quantum physics, at least enough so that I could hold an intelligent conversation. After all – isn’t that part of the beauty of the internet??  I researched a good place to start and began to read. After the introduction, the only words I could comprehend were … of, than, why, and how.  My academic inquiry into particle theory lasted all of five minutes. Regardless, I was piqued and captivated with these alternative spiritual avenues and continued to pursue my curiosities.

I began to look at my life in new ways – seeking to honor and accept all the challenges I faced. I embraced the people in my world, including Hubby. I tried to merge my religious teachings with the broader spiritual information that I was being introduced to. I conceded that he was in my life for a reason and that I needed to make the best of it. I vowed again, to be my best self, a better wife and mother, a more conscientious friend, sibling, and daughter.

The Status Quo

“One day everything will be well, that is our hope. Everything’s fine today, that is our illusion” ― Voltaire

Francis started seventh grade and we enrolled Sara in a preschool program close to home. The teachers were warm and loving and she treasured going there two mornings a week. It was my first experience with the traditional ‘suburban mom’ protocol. Someone organized a coffee morning for the moms, allowing us to become more familiar with one another. As may be typical of this kind of gathering, a few of us generated an immediate connection. One woman in particular – I will call her Dee – was super friendly; we seemed to have a lot in common.

Dee and I quickly established a rapport as we recognized how many common interests we shared. We would stand outside of the school in the mornings chatting away as long as the kiddos we still had in the car either napped or played nicely. We each had three children although our oldest and youngest were very different ages. We loved to cook. We loved to sew. As weeks went by we drew closer and the friendship deepened. I was still talking with Michele almost daily but Dee filled another gap in my life, offering local comradery. We developed the habit of spending those two mornings a week together, either running errands or sitting with our coffee and planning our family dinners. Her husband travelled most weeks for work and since my marriage was either hot or cold, we seemed to fill a companionship need for one another.

One evening in the late fall as it was just beginning to turn really cold, Dee’s heater went on the blink. I was talking with her by phone as I prepared to leave for a cake decorating class I was taking weekly and suggested that she come to our house for the evening. Hubby had heard me talk about Dee and the children incessantly and as our home was large, there was plenty of space in the basement rec room for Dee and her kids to bunker down for an evening. I let him know she may be coming before I got home and left for class.

Later that night as I pulled into the driveway, I saw her car and was really glad to know that my friend had taken me up on the offer. At least she would be warm until the furnace was repaired the following day. I hurried into the house and found them – Hubby and Dee – drinking a beer and having a grand time laughing, stating that they were sharing stories of one thing or another – getting introduced. I joined them. We were up fairly late but it was the best kind of ‘sleep over’ and I was just a little sorry to know that she would be going home in the morning. As it turned out, she had to stay one more night before the heat was completely repaired. It was time that cemented our bond. Our friendship grew.

We began spending time together as families. Her husband was generally home on the weekends and so at least bi-monthly we would take turns hosting one another (and family) for dinner and movies or cards. Generally, the kids got the movies and we intended on cards but rarely completed a game. We laughed, told stories, and talked about children. The men shared common interests as well, even if most of them centered around cigars and beer. We spent a lot of time together. It wasn’t long before Dee would call our house if she needed help with something midweek while Tom was out of town. Hubby would run over and fix whatever needed addressing; sometimes we would do it together. Tom was always grateful. The ‘helpfulness’ was reciprocated. If I got sick, Dee would show up with a complete meal – kid friendly – and include a six-pack of Hubby’s favorite beer. One winter evening the four of us had attended a comedy show in town but had driven separately I think. I specifically recall that on the way home, we discovered them on the side of the road with a blown out tire. Hubby stayed with Tom to address the problem and I took Dee and her babysitter – home. Being friends with them was easy and comfortable.

Also notable in this time period is our change in Church affiliation. Our pastor was deepening his fundamentalist perspectives and many of them fervently contrasted with some of our individual core beliefs. Although we definitely enjoyed the community and the musical elements of the worship services, the sermons (and expectations) were developing further than our spirits were comfortable with. We instinctively knew it was time for a change. Fortunately for us, a new Lutheran church was being started in our area and we were introduced to the founding Pastor by way of a family friend who had been part of his old congregation. He was seeking charter members and with our ‘spiritual pioneering’ expertise, we were easily recruited. Once again, we were insanely involved in the operations of a young faith community.

This time around, the tradition of the Lutheran service / doctrine was more pronounced. In actuality, we were challenged to introduce any contemporary components mostly due to the aging demographic of the people who were showing up on Sunday. We held services in a school cafeteria but everything else reeked of old customs. It was comfortable for me although it dampened my spiritual growth temporarily as it wasn’t tested –  openly at least. We were both participating in several areas as neither one of us felt as if we could say no to God.

For the most part, our lives were full. We had a new house, a new church, a new baby on the way and we had just branched out on our own professionally. For the first time ever, we were not affiliated with any other ‘entity’ or group. Hubby became a ‘sole practitioner’ and I was his associate. My role was administrative and extra support when the occasional need occurred for my area of expertise. Most of the time I worked from home at night – after everyone was in bed. I didn’t earn an income from working as we already paid the full Monty of self-employment tax. Had I taken an income from our business, we would have paid double. (P.S. – Don’t ever do this!! Each person should be contributing to Social Security so that you have a genuine earning history.)

Our financial situation was pretty rough during these days. Starting a business takes a fair amount of capital and financial risk and we worked in a commission only based business. We struggled to make ends meet and got really creative with when to pay Peter and put off Paul or vice versa. I made a pound of hamburger stretch for two meals and repurposed everything WAY before it was cool to do so. One of my favorite things to do was go ‘yard sale’-ing. In fact, I looked at it as an adventure! At least, that’s what I told the girls. On Friday mornings I would put them in the car (with a properly packed diaper bag) and grab my map that had been routed and planned based on how much gas money I had that week.  I bought clothes, toys, household items, and Christmas presents at yard sales and auctions whenever possible. Actually, I had a reputation for doing so too. People eventually would ask me to be on the lookout for an item on their own wish list. Essentially, I learned how to make a little go a long way. It was my contribution to our goals of building the business as most of the money we made, went right back into it.

Unfortunately, under all of the positive, there ran a constant current of sexual discourse that had been present since the beginning. It never went away, just ebbed and flowed from day to day or month to month. Sometimes it was okay, others it was unbearable; it was never just good.

*some names have been changed in the interest of privacy

All About Trust

“Being a family means you are a part of something very wonderful. It means you will love and be loved for the rest of your life.” ~Lisa Weedn

I woke each morning to the sound of children. It was either an infant cry or a toddler’s chatter, or a young boy’s question. Francis would leave for school each morning with an energy that I coveted while I began a day of caring for baby girls only sixteen months apart. The joy they brought into my life cannot be exaggerated. Sara loved her baby sister and was gentle and caring, as if infant Erin was a thin piece of glass. She attempted to share everything she loved with this new sibling and would express frustration from time to time as baby just sat and smiled. Sara wanted to play.

Francis was the most amazing big brother and completely cherished by his little sisters. Sara would sit at the window and wait for him to appear on the sidewalk as he returned from school. I was also anxiously awaiting his return but for a completely different reason – I needed the help. By four in the afternoon I was in serious need of a break. As unfair as it may have been, Francis was my relief. Day after day, he accepted the responsibility of helping to care for his sisters, and ultimately, his mom. I always said he would grow up to be the most amazing father ever or a monk – having emptied all of his paternalistic caring resources before the age of twelve.

Our life was tremendously full. Each hour of the day was filled to the brim either working, raising children, little league, household responsibilities, or another of the seemingly million things that make a family function. I felt overwhelmed with a lack of time and emotional resources on a fairly regular basis. Hubby was a good provider and we had enough. Although he was a loving father, he had little patience for the chaos that existed in our evenings. Rarely was I able to get a break. My emotional tolerance was generally low by that time of night. Most of the time, by evenings end, my energy reserves were depleted completely; not Hubby’s.

During this time in our lives, conflicts were generally around the subject of how much vitality and vigor I had failed to reserve for him. It’s true that I was not educated, versed, or practiced in balancing my emotional stamina. I gave everything I had to give to my children and family life from six a.m. to eight p.m. and then, what I needed was sleep. I instinctively knew that I had an obligation, a responsibility to my relationship, to offer myself – not just sexually – but intellectually and emotionally, to my husband. I did the best I could. I would say yes to sex and try to appear motivated. It wasn’t honest. In fact, it was during this time that I trusted Meg Ryan’s famous example in the movie Harry Met Sally and just portrayed my best version of an orgasmic apex. I just didn’t have any more of myself to share. As it would in any relationship, my inability to divide my personal resources more effectively left my husband feeling unloved and unappreciated. I was unable to understand. In my mind, I needed him to be supportive, helpful, and understanding. I didn’t experience any of those things and quite the contrary, I just felt as though one more person was making demands on my day. I did what I had to do in order to have peace at the end of the night.

Stress was taking a toll on our relationship. Hubby dealt with it by drinking and smoking, I just got mad and ugly. Since he was unable (or unwilling) to stop smoking, I became passive aggressive and stopped telling him I loved him. He would say it to me and my reply was mostly “thank you”. It wasn’t one of my best decisions. The distance between us grew until we decided to try marriage counseling.

Faith was still very dominant in our life and so we opted for a Christian therapist. I recall the church, the room, and vaguely, the man. He held a bible on his lap and let us know that God believed in our union. He heard each of our perspectives and offered some bible passages that spoke to the sanctity of marriage. I felt shame. There, in that church office, a Christian environment, without substantial feedback, all I remember feeling is how much at fault I was for withholding love from the man I committed to cherish. I didn’t wait until we got to the car before I turned to Hubby with tears and extreme humility to say how sorry I was. I was sorry for not being a better wife, for withholding words of affection, for not being stronger. I pledged to try harder and to find a way to bring more balance into my life so that I could be there for him. I’m not sure if we ever went back.

Slowly, I began to trust. I trusted that this was my destiny; that all of the events leading to this point were divinely driven and therefore, worthy of my commitment. I looked at my family each evening and saw that I was blessed; that life was full. I was beginning to understand the concept of submission in a way that I had been unable to this point. I was submitting not to Hubby directly, but to life, to God’s will. I was embracing where I was and the people with whom I was sharing life.

In the summer of 1994 Hubby went out west with his brothers to participate in a Scouting event near and dear to their hearts. He arranged to make a couple of side trips to the Colorado mountains and was excited about them. I arranged to make a hearty road trip with my mother and three children through the New England area. We were going to be camping at KOA camps (in cabins) for most of the journey and being as organized and particular as I was – it was mapped out in detail as if I was preparing to perform a surgical procedure on a mass of spider veins. We drove the highway all the way up to Skowhegan, Maine but never again – over the course of two weeks – hit a main freeway. Without going into explicit detail of each day, let’s just say that it was an amazing journey with people I love. It offered my children and me an opportunity to spend marvelous time with my mother. Not only did we see beautiful and amazing parts of our country, but we had the opportunity to have quality time together that has yet to be replicated.

During this time away, I took the opportunity to write to Hubby each night, sharing our day’s journey and the highlights along the way. My intention was to embody the spirit of participation in our experiences similar to the letters I wrote Rocky when he was overseas when Francis was an infant. I also used those letters to express my love and support for our family, for our marriage. It was an excellent time of reflection and it offered me time to seriously evaluate the life I wanted to live; the life I wanted for our family; the dreams we hoped to manifest.

Both Hubby and I had rolls and rolls of photographs to develop (back in the day we actually had to turn in film) and we turned them in for processing together. After picking them up, it was fun for us to sit down and share our travels, to swap stories about our time apart. One by one, we flipped through the photographs and laughed or ohh’ed and ahh’ed over the incredible scenery each of us had seen. One photo in particular caught my attention. It was of him, alone – in a time WAY before selfies were possible or a ‘thing’ – it was a full body photograph of Hubby against a backdrop of mountains. He explained how he had gone back to that trail without his brothers for a couple of days, to fully experience the intensity of nature in that part of the world. He continued to tell me that his time there on the first part of the trip hadn’t been complete and here was this photo, taken by another traveler on the trail. He looked happy.

Something about his picture disturbed me.

 

Loving Contradiction

“What women rightly long for is spiritual and moral initiative from a man, not spiritual and moral domination.”  ~ John Piper

We were members of a Lutheran church not far from our home that was undergoing a major transition, moving toward a more spiritually inclusive, contemporary practice. The pastor had returned from some mission work in Central America where he had experienced a transformative epiphany. He formed a men’s group and invited Hubby to join him. In addition, small home groups were established to encourage the personal development of the Holy Spirit within our congregation. We were traditional Lutherans – I was a traditional Catholic, practicing to become a Lutheran – and we were transforming into contemporary Christians. We were becoming comfortable with waving our arms in the air during melodic praise, vocalizing a random ‘amen’ when something poignant was spoken, and dictating prayers beyond those that had been written for us by saints.

*no disrespect intended here, simply pointing out that this behavior was ‘non-traditional’ for both of us.

Something inside of me was stirring. Occasionally, I experienced a deeply intrinsic ‘knowing’- a sensation that I was encountering a sublimate and perfect truth. It was as if I was looking intently into the eyes of love and acknowledging its abyssal source. Those moments were few and far between but they were intense and they pierced me. I was hungry for more and began searching for ways to satisfy my appetite.

Something was happening in Hubby as well. I can’t speak as to what it actually was but I saw an awakening in him too. I’m not sure what actually woke up but I know he was experiencing challenges. In many ways, it appeared he was having a spiritual revolution, a burgeoning emotional war, but it seemed to be drawing him closer to family, to me. I was not complaining. In my mind, the closer he was to God, the closer he would be to me, to his commitment of marriage, and of our home.

It was, that the Pastor responsible for this metamorphosis evolved a bit too much for the comfort of more traditional congregants and he was encouraged to find another flock to lead. He gathered those of us who had made the deep water dive with him and we formed a new entity; a church attuned to Scripture and spiritual growth more fundamentally than any other religious experience I’d yet had. I loved much about this church. I really enjoyed the fellowship, the music, the intimacy within our community. Hubby and I were both on the new board, leading home groups, and on different worship/leadership committees. We were busy. It felt great to be a part of something new and growing, in many ways, as we were giving birth to our daughter, we were also giving birth to a renewed faith and commitment.

Consequently, my prayers – frankly, all of my spiritual energy was being directed into making my marriage reverent. The Pastor’s wife guided us ladies in the art of submission. “It was God’s will”, she said, “that we submit our desires to our man. That we trust him to provide for us, not only in the material dimension, but also in the emotional. She explained that submission was about TRUST”. I was already suspicious about trusting my man. He had lied to me about smoking, he had let me down about quitting, he was suspect about why things had changed so dramatically… I was not very open to the concept of trusting. In fact, I was downright stubborn about it. In every single prayer I prayed, I sought guidance to find, honor, and embody submissiveness in the way that we were being taught. I struggled and developed impatience, frustration, and ultimately anger that I was being led to trust someone that didn’t feel ‘trust worthy’. I felt as though I was failing.

In the interim, I was reading the bible. Peter, Colossians, Ephesians, Corinthians, Timothy, and Matthew. They all reinforced the idea that if I was Holy, my husband would follow suit. I ‘heard’ that it was my job – in my submissiveness – to honor my husband and my God, regardless. There was an incredible conflict in my heart over this proposition. I was experiencing God in a way that felt comforting and beautiful yet the idea that I was to submit myself completely to my man in all of the things he asked of me was contradicting my heart. Our pastor tried in vain to help me settle this internal dispute but it just wasn’t to be reconciled. Ultimately, the banter in my mind was too much and I resigned myself to how I understood the concept of submission – just do what he asks.

Frankly, I wasn’t very good at it. I have control issues and the concept of total surrender was unable to take root in my psyche at large. Instead, I opted to surrender in the bedroom. His desires became the focus of my attention. If he asked me to wear high heels, I wore high heels. If he wanted to watch porn, we watched porn. If he wanted to talk dirty, I talked dirty. (Well, actually that part I had to practice… I bought Forum magazines to learn the proper vocabulary.)

What became the most problematic for me was the discrepancy in my own mind about what constituted ‘sin’ in terms of sexual behavior. On one hand I recalled the Catholic teaching that Rocky and I had participated in that taught whatever happened between a husband and wife and was consensual, was honoring your love for one another and therefore, honoring God. Then there were the thoughts about respecting women and the line that separated disrespectful behavior. Where was that line? And more thoughts about what was inherently authentic for me – as a woman. I didn’t have a broad repertoire of sexual interests necessarily although I enjoyed physical pleasure to be sure. I was curious about many things but experienced a very blurred line between the limits of my personal desire and the need for me to submit to desires of my husband which encompassed a much larger, comprehensive, and broad set of variables.

I experienced a rather continuous flow of antagonistic chatter in my mind. Internal criticism and chiding coupled with self-talk that pushed for conformity and compliance so that my marriage could be free of conflict. In the end, I consciously moved myself into compliance via the least resistant avenue. I convinced myself that I was working to be a better wife even if it meant that I was not listening to my inner voice. I found myself focusing on meeting the needs of others over my own once again and persuaded my heart that it was in the name of my faith.

Day by day I was actively engaged in promoting the vision of myself, of us, and of our family as blooming Christians, moving closer to God in our tithing, being prayerful, and committed to building the Church. Night by Night I felt a contradiction tugging at my soul.