Christmas. A season of family, giving, love, joy and celebrations. But Christmas as a single mother is, well, just hard.
It’s hard that with a single income you cant afford to give the kinds of gifts you used to give to your kids.
It’s hard sitting on the couch alone as your kids tear into the humble gifts, wishing someone was there with you with their arm around you, enjoying the looks on their faces and reminiscing of past years when they were little.
It’s hard going to all of the Christmas parties and concerts and activities by yourself wishing someone else could share in your pride of the children’s efforts.
It’s hard doing all of the shopping, wrapping, preparing, baking, and planning that goes into making Christmas special.
It’s hard feeling like you are missing out on something even though you wouldn’t go back, even for a minute, to what you had.
It’s hard that your facebook feed is blowing up with all these beautiful and in tact families. Put together, happy and loving families. Of course also knowing that what you see on facebook does not represent the whole picture, how many people did I fool for years with happy family pictures all the while dying inside?
It’s hard that your kids are trying their best to not care that their dad didnt even want to see them for christmas, wouldn’t stop to think about getting them a gift or make them feel special. That they are working hard to make our new way of life seem normal.
Last year was our first Christmas alone. We had hardly any of our belongings, we had no idea of where we would be in the coming year, we had no idea how we would survive.
Yet here we are. God provided us with a place to live, a community of love and support, most of our belongings back with us, a steady job and lots and lots of healing. We might not be as far along in life as I’d hoped we would be by now and it continues to be so very hard, but God has been good.
I am thankful for family not too far away, who love us, share the burden and wrap their arms around me, let me cry and laugh, sometimes at the same time.
Christmas is hard as a single mom, but Jesus has made himself a place in our home and we are thankful, and he sits with me, walks with me, cries with me and rejoices with me.
I look forward to seeing what next Christmas will look like, knowing full well that it will still be hard, but maybe, just maybe, a little less hard than this year.
It was August 21st 2017 and we were eagerly waiting for the total solar eclipse. We had driven 6 hours to visit friends in Nebraska who were in the perfect location to see the whole thing. It was a huge gathering of ranchers and cowboys and well, us. ATV’s and trucks and horses ventured into to hills of the ranch property that spans thousands of acres. Children climbed on the truck beds and there was a noticeable level of excitement in the air.
All of us wearing those ridiculous looking glasses so that we wouldn’t hurt our eyes, laughing at ourselves.
The waiting seemed to go on forever. Finally we noticed a sliver of the sun being hidden, then more and more. Through the glasses we could tell that the eclipse was in process, although with out the glasses all seemed the same.
It wasn’t until the last tiny sliver of the sun was being covered that things began to change around us. It seemed like a sunset at like 11:30am (I don’t remember the exact time). The wind picked up, a shadow seemed to fall across the fields until it reached us and beyond. The dogs and horses got nervous and started making noise, acting restless. The temperature dropped like 15 degrees (if not more) in just minutes. Then it was dark. It was chilling, beautiful and thrilling.
Then after just a few minutes, it was over. I looked at the sun, expecting the eclipse to be completely over based on how light it was. To my amazement, 90% or more of the sun was still covered. Yet it looked like middle of any other day, or at least close.
I remember feeling of awe at our marvelous Creator. The light of Christ is like this sun. All it takes is a tiny sliver, and the darkness flees in it’s presence. Light will always win. Light holds the victory, in it’s presence darkness cannot stand.
Jesus calls us to be His light. We need not fear the darkness because His light in us will shine bright and guide us.
I spent many years in the dark. I had Christ in me, I sought His face, but my world was dark. I lived in fear of this darkness. There are still times that it tries to make me cower.
When I chose to leave the darkness, that is when the sliver of light started to shine. It shone into every corner of heart and soul. I felt His presence and His guidance and His warmth. It revealed my pain, my sin, my pride, my hopelessness. I was not able to face these things while in the darkness, I needed to stand in the light.
Light is powerful, revealing and true. And light wins.
All of us enter relationships with hope and expectations. We long to be loved, encouraged, accepted. We love LOVE. It is exciting, and full of possibilities. God placed that desire in us. He created us to love and long for love. It is a beautiful thing. So what happens when our love story turns out to be a story of pain, loneliness, fear and a complete loss of self? How do we move past the disappointment of what our reality is vs what we believed it would be? Does it mean that we are not deserving of love, incapable of accepting or giving love? Does is condemn us to a life of loneliness and isolation? Unfortunately this is what so many survivors of abuse accept as truth. It is understandable why we come to this conclusion. We poured our entire selves into loving and serving someone who in return used, punished, attacked, humiliated and destroyed us, all the while convincing us that is was our fault. We accepted their lies because years of conditioning changed our ability to perceive truth.
We need to rewire our brains now to recognize manipulations, lies, control. The only way to gain freedom for your soul is to step out of the prison.
For so many years I told myself that every marriage is difficult, every marriage is like mine. It requires completely dying to yourself in order to make it work. I even convinced myself that I was better at marriage than most because I was in complete submission to my husband, and isn’t that what God calls us women to be? My husband would even make comments along those lines, how we were better at this than everyone else because we spent so much time together (control and isolation tactics here…) and we had so much sex (control and addiction here…) and we didn’t fight all that much (fear, brainwashing, control here…). We were in this neat little bubble where he had the ultimate say and power. He loved his bubble. I tried to convince myself that I loved our bubble as well.
It wasn’t until I had left the bubble, sought therapy and started studying these things, that I found a profound yet unfamiliar truth.
Yes every marriage has difficulties, because we are human and have sinful natures. BUT not every marriage is destructive.
Difficulties arise mostly from external circumstances such as job loss, grief, child rearing, health issues, relocation, aging parents and so forth. Difficulties come from a lack of knowledge or ability to handle difficult situations the right way. They can usually be solved or overcome with patience, understanding and guidance. Yes everyone experiences difficulties. Doing life with someone means you will face difficulties and even disappointment. You might have to mourn the change in a relationship when you have children, loose children, loose a parent or so forth. People change as they get older, sometimes we are disappointed in the way someone changes. Your carefree, wild wife might turn into more of a safety conscience, anxious mother when you have your first child. Your calm, up for anything husband might turn into a work driven, impatient father when faced with the new responsibilities of providing for a family. These changes can be difficult and disappointing, and sadly it is often reason enough to end the relationship. But difficulties can be overcome. They can be pushed through and worked out. It takes time and effort and humility but it is doable.
Destructive marriages are different in that they usually START out that way. Destructive behaviors are character traits and are patterns. Destructive behaviors tear away the value, dignity and worth of the other person. It is not externally driven, it is internal. Name calling, blaming, gaslighting, screaming, cussing, hitting, shaming, belittling and controlling the partner is signs of a destructive relationship, not a difficult one.
I felt like the wind was knocked out of me when I heard this for the first time. YES, YES, YES! When I look back to the beginning of our relationship there were destructive patterns already in place. He was careful, calculated in how much he let me see while dating. But the control was starting, the conditioning was happening. Comments on what I should wear, weight loss suggestions and pushes, little value for my opinions, snide comments about my family or friends, trying to get me to see his point of view about all things. All in the name of love of course. The character traits of someone with personality disorders are difficult to pin down because of their keen ability to portray themselves as whoever you need them to be, but if you pay attention and know what to look for they show themselves.
The most telling sign of an abusive person is an entitled attitude and a complete refusal to take responsibility for their behaviors and actions. They fool many people with false humility and talking in way that makes it sound like they take responsibility, when in fact they are denying, minimizing, blaming or equalizing their bad behavior. Saying things like….
I know that I can be harsh, BUT you just frustrate me so much with your lack of understanding. We BOTH do this…., You always complain about….BUT what about the fact that I took the kids for an hour last week so you could get some YOU time? I never said…..you always assume the worst about me. You are way to sensitive, can’t you take a joke? You know I didn’t mean that, I was drunk, I can’t help what I say when I’ve had too much to drink! No one is perfect, you expect me to be someone I’m not!
An entitled attitude shows itself in small comments that make them out to be the best and most knowledgeable about everything. It is ridiculously obvious once you know to look for it. The judgement and criticism of everyone and everything around them, all to build themselves up. As their property we ought to recognize their ultimate authority on all matters. Any disagreement on our part, they will take as disrespect. There is no room for individual thought, feelings or emotions. Our lives must revolve around them otherwise we are being ungodly, unloving, disrespectful and selfish. This is entitlement.
Knowledge is power. Know the difference. If you are in a difficult marriage, there is hope, there is work to be done, there is still love. If you are in a destructive marriage or relationship, get out. It does not get better over time, it does not go away when external circumstances change. It will destroy you, your heart and soul. Let Jesus restore what is broken. Value yourself enough to give yourself a chance.
My whole life I was careful to “follow the recipe “. I went to church, obeyed my parents (mostly), was generous, kind, didn’t break the law, prayed, got baptized, read my bible and memorized scripture. I chose my friends wisely, I kept myself pure for my husband, I didnt swear or drink or smoke. I married a man I met at Bible school ( I mean what better place to secure a godly man right?)I followed the “Good Christian” recipe. Wow, go me!!
I believed that by following the Christian recipe, God would bless me with a good life. I would marry a man who would love God and love me. I would have children who loved God and I would serve God in a ministry that He would guide me to. I had great dreams of a family full of love, laughter and joy.
And yet my life looks more like this misshapen and ugly cookie than the picture on the recipe card promised. Here I am divorced, alone, dealing with emotionally damaged children, and my own mental and emotional brokenness. Not pretty.
(This is where I would love to say that I made those cookies ugly on purpose but alas, it would be a lie). For some reason no matter how hard I try, how exact I follow the recipe, my cookies never turn out beautiful. Now cakes, that is a different matter! I am great at cakes and pies (just had to throw that in there to make myself feel better, ha!)
For over a decade I tried to make the cookies of my life look beautiful, I tried to improve myself to be more pleasing to my guard but also to God, for surely He must not be pleased with me if my life looks like this. There must be something terribly wrong with me to have deserved the constant, heart wrenching, onslaught of abuse. Something about me that did not deserve to hold my baby girl before she slipped into heaven, or be loved by the man to whom I gave my whole life. I would think of all the times I messed up in my teenage years, the time I let someone gossip, without speaking up in defense of the other person, or the time I let a boy I hardly know kiss me, or the times I was unkind to someone…could those things be why I was being punished now? Maybe I didnt follow the recipe well enough.
Time and distance from a situation tend to bring clarity. I understand now that there are no guarantees in life. There is no “perfect” way to live life in order to avoid suffering. And indeed suffering while pursuing righteousness, brings deep joy and peace. So suffering in and of itself is not bad, even though the enemy loves to trap us into thinking it is a punishment, in reality, it is one of Gods greatest ways to reveal himself to us. And there is no greater gift than that!
My life did not end up ugly or a mess because of my imperfections. Life in this world is broken, it is not as it was designed to be. People are broken. Some seek healing and find it, others seek to bury their pain and lash out at others who are in their way. Some seek Christ, others do not.
I chose Christ. I chose to dive into healing, being vulnerable and honest and well, ugly. So I can look at my poor excuse for a cookie and be thankful. It might be ugly but it tastes delicious. My suffering changed me, it left me looking misshapen and scarred but God is pleased with me because I chose Him above all else. He looks at my crumbs and smiles because he is using those crumbs to feed others and to bring Him glory.
So I will be proud of my ugly cookies. I survived, it might not have been pretty, but I did survive. And that is beautiful.
I love to dance. I didn’t really even know this about myself. I am not very good at it, I am not very confident, read: I totally just step on toes and laugh my way through it. But I love the beat of the music and letting myself enjoy the movements.
Over the years I have attended easily over 20 weddings, almost all of which had dancing at the reception. But I did not get to enjoy even one of those moments. My prison guard did not want to dance, like ever. Not only did he not want to dance he did not want me to dance and embarrass him. I was one of those people on the sidelines looking with silent longing at all of those people on the dance floor, letting loose and enjoying the moment. Let’s be honest, most people are not very good dancers. They look dorky and silly in their movements, but they also look free and joy filled. They were not concerned about how others saw them, or how they might hurt their backs with some of those funky moves :). They just wanted to let the music tell them how to move, feel their bodies relax and enjoy the freedom to just be, well…themselves.
This weekend, for the first time in my life, I danced at a wedding. I absolutely stepped on some toes and stumbled my way through things, but I also laughed so hard I cried and felt freedom in my soul.
To most people watching, I am sure I looked silly, uncoordinated and ridiculous ( to be fair, so did most people on the dance floor, haha). None of those people would have guessed though that this one act was a victory for me. I was not held back by my prison guard. I made my own decisions and faced my own fears. I took a stand for what I wanted, and guess what? I had fun!
I’ll admit that being asked to dance by a couple of kind hearted men made my heart feel good, (even if they were asking out of pity for me, who knows…), that they didn’t seem to mind my total lack of know how just added to the sweetness of those moments. For once I was not on the sidelines, wishing. I got to be included, welcomed even.
I made myself step out into that uncomfortable space and enjoy the fact that I was free.
Was it an unexpected bonus to be swung around and dipped and twirled by a handsome young man, whom I will in all likely hood never see again? Yes. Did it simultaneously make me sad that I didn’t have a life partner to dance with? Yes. So many emotions all wrapped into one evening, but I enjoyed it all.
I made myself a promise this weekend, If there is dancing happening, I will be right there, on the dance floor, looking like an idiot, because I can. And no one will take that freedom from me again.
Breathing. We all do it, without any thought. Because to not breathe, well that means you die. But when you are dealing with Complex PTSD breathing can be hard to do. I know that sounds ridiculous. I feel ridiculous even saying it.
Here’s the deal. Trauma produces PTSD but unlike PTSD that is caused by one event in your life (say you witness a death of another person or you are involved in a horrible car accident), complex PTSD is caused by a long lasting trauma (yep, like living in an abusive marriage for 15 years). Maybe I’ll share more detail on what CPTSD is in another post. But for now here is the basic definition:
Complex post-traumatic stress disorder
Psychological Disorder Complex post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychological disorder that can develop in response to prolonged, repeated experience of interpersonal trauma in a context in which the individual has little or no chance of escape. C-PTSD relates to the trauma model of mental disorders and is associated with chronic sexual, psychological and physical abuse and neglect, chronic intimate partner violence, victims of kidnapping and hostage situations, indentured servants, victims of slavery and human trafficking, sweatshop workers, prisoners of war, concentration camp survivors, residential school survivors, defectors of cults or cult-like organizations, and narcissistic child abuse. Situations involving captivity/entrapment can lead to C-PTSD-like symptoms, which can include prolonged feelings of terror, worthlessness, helplessness, and deformation of one’s identity and sense of self. C-PTSD has also been referred to as DESNOS or Disorders of Extreme Stress Not Otherwise Specified. Common symptoms include: Hyper vigilance about people and safety, deep fear of trust, terminal aloneness, emotional flashbacks, emotion regulation, loss of faith, seeking a rescuer, helplessness and toxic shame, muscle armoring, dissociation, persistent sadness and suicidal thoughts.
Pretty heavy stuff.
Most of the time I am fully capable of breathing. It comes quite naturally 🙂 But then there are times like tonight. When I can’t breathe. And I’m not talking about a small moment of can’t catch my breath or feel like the wind was knocked out of me. No. Like a full 20 minutes of hyperventilating, chocking, unable to draw a deep breath. It is scary and it came out of nowhere.
These panic or anxiety attacks don’t happen to me very often but when they do it’s legit. Here I was, had a pretty relaxed evening, my youngest was even super sweet and chill and put himself to bed like he was 16 🙂 I was watching Tv and snuggling with my pup. And then there it was. One character on the show. was going through trauma therapy and was having flash backs, and something the character said and the response she got from the tv therapist, triggered me. It was the weirdest thing. It wasn’t a slow progression into crying and panicking. It was sudden and intense. I wailed, I sobbed, I could not take a breath. I was shaking and my hands were gripping for anything around me that felt sturdy. I did not feel safe. As I’m writing this, I don’t feel safe. My heart was beating at an accelerated rate and I didn’t know what to do. I was worried that I was going to pass out.
All I could get out were the word, Oh God Oh God Oh God. And then God sent my sweet friend through the door. She immediately knew what was going on, sat on the floor and held my hands and breathed with me, she guided me back to reality. She prayed over me and let me take my time to move through the storm. There was no judgement, question or criticism, she was just there. Sometimes that is all it takes. Someone to BE there, even at 11pm.
As she was praying I got this image in my head of God’s Angel, Michael, standing in my living room, his sword drawn, taking a stance to protect me against the darkness. He was brilliantly shining and so big he filled the room. Because this battle I’m fighting is not against flesh and blood, it is against the spiritual darkness that is trying to devour me.
I think, no I know, that Satan preferred it when I was cowering in my room, hiding from my prison guard, becoming numb to the pain. He is not happy with me for fighting my way to freedom. He is not happy that I am speaking out into the darkness. He is trying to keep me down, every chance he gets. Sick kids, check. Missing Thanksgiving because, well, sick kids, check. Helping a fellow trauma and abuse victim, creating triggers, check. criticisms from all sides, check. A continually harassing prison guard, check. Back pain, check. Nightmares, check. The list goes on, you get the idea.
But as I sang tonight, “my chains are gone, I’ve been set free. My God, my savior has ransomed me, and like a flood his mercy reigns, unending love, amazing grace” I hear His truth. The only truth. I am loved, chosen, cherished, strong, brave and free. I’ll be honest my heart is still not quite back to normal now at almost 1am. The tears are still close to the surface, but I know this; I am free. These moments of panic will probably still come over me from time to time and that sucks, but I will overcome this in time. I need to remember to give myself grace on this journey. I don’t like going through all of the feelings and emotions, I don’t like the healing process, but what I do want is to be healed, fully. So I will continue to do the work to get there. One day at a time.