“May 24, 2019, my life changed forever. 6 weeks pregnant with our surprise third baby, my husband of 7 years packed his bags and left me alone with our two boys ages 4 and 2. Our relationship was often stormy and this wasn’t the first time we had an explosive argument. But something about this fight was different than the rest. The exhaustion in both of our demeanors gave me an indication of the bitter reality of that day. Our marriage was over.
I was overcome with anger. How could a man leave his pregnant wife and two kids? What is more important than that? How can someone simply disappear on his family? So many questions that to this day remain unanswered. So. Much. Anger.
The next few months were a whirlwind. I was adapting to single parenting, working fulltime, maintaining a house and finances, taking care of our four dogs and growing a tiny human. My estranged husband’s communication was sporadic and intermittent, but one thing remained the consistent. There was no saving ‘us.’ I was devastated. I needed help. Desperately. I was on an autopiloted path of emotional self-destruction. I had become so habitual with saving those around me that I had no clue how to save myself. My two boys and my unborn child were counting on my survival for their own survival. I swallowed my pride and made the call seeking emotional therapy from a local therapist.
Walking through the doors at the therapist’s office was almost debilitating. I turned around and went back to my car. ‘NO WAY. I’m not doing this. I’m normal, I don’t need counseling. This crap never worked when I was forced to go as a kid, why do I think it’s going to work now?’ I had so much apprehension, mostly fueled from the stigma society has created around mental health and wellness. I had been on Prozac since I was 15 years old to battle chronic depression and anxiety coupled with an autoimmune disease that caused frequent embarrassment. But still I wasn’t one of THOSE people who needed psychiatric counseling. Get outta here, I was fine. I opened my phone to aimlessly scroll through Facebook (my method of mental retreat and shutdown) and saw my background. My two boys stared up at me. They needed me. The innocence in their eyes ripped me back into reality. Embarrassed and ashamed of my ego, I walked back through those doors and sat down in the waiting room.
My first counseling session was a critical turning point. The reality of the mountain I was facing began to sink in. Kate sat in her chair and simply listened for my entire hour. That hour flew by. My face was red and my eyes were swollen from the sobbing as I told her the good, the bad and the ugly of the last seven years of my life. And it was ugly. Due to ongoing legal proceedings and respect for the father of my children, I refuse to publicly discuss many events but know this; when we were good, we were great. When we were bad, we were absolutely volatile. Unfortunately, we seemed to see the latter most often.
As my hour came to an end, I sat and waited for Kate to give me that miracle fix. She took a deep breath, obviously treading carefully with what she was about to say. While providing justification for my feelings, she dropped the inevitable bombshell. ‘Where do you think this feeling is coming from?’
‘Everything that we went through. What he put me through,’ I replied.
‘Deeper, Amber. Not just the superficial feeling and recent events, but deeper.’
It hit me. There was no miracle. There was no quick fix. There were no words Kate could give me that day that would allow me to walk out of the office with the clean slate I was looking for. This was going to be hard. Not just hard but grueling. I was facing the impossible. I had to get curious and open old wounds in order to even begin my trek through healing. I wasn’t strong enough for this. When things got tough in life, I responded with my catch phrase: ‘I’m done. I’m just done with it.’ If I wanted this fixed, ‘I’m done’ wasn’t going to cut it this time.
Each week I visited with Kate. Sometimes I spent all week exploding with emotion while waiting for my release in Kate’s office. Other times, I spent all week dreading my appointment. Just one more task for me to complete on an already dried up reserve in the shell of a body I was living in. My work was suffering. My parenting was suffering. My personal relationships were suffering. I had to go. I needed answers. ‘How did I get here? What led me to allow the last seven years to play out as they have?’ And even more simply, ‘WHY?’
I would walk into Kate’s office a struggling 32-year-old single mother and transform into my adolescent self during our conversations. I was six years old, when my parents divorced. I remember sitting with my uncle while my parents fought in the other room. ‘Why are they yelling?’ I didn’t understand at the time, but it left a deep impression on my young mind. Fast forward to 2019. I saw my four-year-old son trying to occupy himself in the living room as his father and I went room to room recreating the scene from 26 years ago.
Kate helped me sort out my questions. Never steering my direction but providing guidance when I needed it as I walked myself through my childhood. I had two parents who loved me deeply. I was fed, I was clothed, I had clean sheets on my two beds. Not so bad, right? I don’t deserve to call myself broken when other kids have it much worse. Where did my emotional scars come from? My parents’ divorce left my father emotionally devastated. In an effort to heal himself, my father oftentimes spoke of his feelings and the sadness in his demeanor was overwhelming for my level of maturity. I felt I needed to provide the emotional support for him. I needed to try and absorb his sadness to help fix him. It was my duty as the oldest child to provide for him and for my younger brother during our scheduled visitation.
Things were rough in the beginning. When visiting my father, we stayed in the basement at his mother’s house. Due to the nature of my parent’s divorce, there were many hard feelings from my father’s family. There was no effort on their part to hide these feelings and accompanying comments towards my mother, no matter how much my dad tried to stifle them. Visitation with my dad was spent secretly listening to things no young child should ever hear about one of their parents, whether the accusations were true or not. My brother and I learned words we had never heard before. We witnessed a new level of hatred that we had never experienced before. My mother was not welcome, and we were a part of our mother. My brother and I were not welcome in the place that we called our other home. I had to fix it. I had to make it better. I knew right from wrong but standing up for what was right seemed next to impossible. Instead, I had to make Dad happy again so this would stop. But how? By that time, I was only seven. I didn’t have the capacity or resources for this task. I adapted. I hid my feelings and made the feelings of those around me my priority. Emotional survival.
Eventually Dad found happiness and started life with my step-mother. My brother and I gained a brother and sister. Life was good. We had playmates and I felt I could finally be a kid again. However, the transition to this new life had sacrifices. My dad now lived more than 30 minutes away. We would get done with school, travel 30 minutes north, have a few hours of visitation to squeeze in supper, homework and play and then travel 30 minutes south to make it back home in time for shower and bedtime. I felt a sense of abandonment as Dad started this new life with this new family and my brother and I were simply along for the ride. My dad felt guilty for our new schedule and the guilt carried through to me. I had to hide my feelings. They were clearly not valid, as Dad loved us more than life itself and was merely adapting himself.
Being forced to emotionally mature at a faster rate at home had its difficulty in school. As I entered adolescence, I found myself hiding my emotions and engaging in an almost chameleon-esque lifestyle. I could morph and blend into whatever I had to be to fit in. I never felt like I belonged. I didn’t have a crowd. I simply existed. I began abusing drugs, alcohol and sexuality. I explored self-harm and prescription medication abuse. Again, I knew right from wrong, but confronting the wrong was not an option. I had to hide and adapt.
My personal relationships suffered the most. In order to feel accepted, I would allow myself to be disrespected, manipulated and used. When I finally found someone who treated me well, I allowed myself to become my demons and lashed out. I took a good man and broke him down. We were married and divorced before we even know what was happening to us. As emotionally mature as I thought I was, I had so far to go. I fell into a habit of binge drinking to the point of blacking out every weekend. This is when I met Kevin. He matched me in his love for adventure and chaos. He provided a challenge. He gave me something to try and fix. Challenge accepted. Our seven years together were riddled with hardship. Some brought on by our own poor choices, some completely out of our control. My husband battled PTSD that oftentimes made minimal daily tasks unbearable. Every corner we turned, it seemed we were digging ourselves further out of holes. I had become accustomed to saving and fixing. Whether it was financial, legal or social, I was always able to find a way out. Afterall, saving and fixing was all I knew. This was just a continuance of my childhood. I worked so hard to keep our heads above water during the times my husband struggled to simply survive. May 24, 2019, it all came to a head. As I watched Kevin’s car turn the street corner, I felt helpless. I was used to feeling alone, but I was not prepared to be physically alone. I was supposed to be able to fix anything but there was no fixing this. Only one word could describe the emotion that was overwhelming me: LOST.
With Kate’s help, I was able to work through all of this. To go back to 7-year-old me and ask myself, ‘What did she need?’ Standing there on the porch, what would 32-year-old me say to that little girl? Slowly, I was healing myself. I was gluing the pieces of myself back together that I had lent out fixing others for so long. I relied heavily on my sessions with Kate as well as the companionship I’d discovered from my local Crossfit community. I saw a quote from RX Mindset 2.0 that said, ‘In Crossfit, we do stuff that sucks every day. Our minds become stronger and more resilient. That way, when stuff comes up in life that sucks, we’re ready for it.’ This is a powerfully true statement. I give myself one hour per day to push myself physically and mentally past any boundaries I thought I had. Whenever I wanted to fall back on my catchphrase, ‘I’m done,’ the clock and my classmates wouldn’t let me quit. I owe these people my deepest gratitude for keeping me going when I needed the support the most.
I was now within a couple months of delivering my third child into a world of unknown. Despite the chaos that still surrounded us, I felt more emotionally and physically prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. I had been transparent on social media with my journey thus far and wanted to continue to inspire. I wanted to show other women who were lost, alone and afraid one key concept: YOU ARE WORTHY. This was something told to me during one of my darkest times. And finally, I believed it. I called on my photographer friend to capture the pride I had worked so hard to achieve. Standing there on top of the hill, out of my comfort zone and freezing cold, it all finally made perfect sense. I was afraid and vulnerable, but I was also strong and fierce. I cradled my unborn child. The storms swirled in the sky around us much like the storms this child and I had weathered together in his short existence. For the first time in my life I was experiencing myself in my rawest form. Free from the layers and the masks. Free from my years of acquired guilt. There I stood. Free and ready.
Exactly one week later, I gave birth to my third son. Sweet Jack Urban arrived with the same tenacity I felt during that moment of revelation on top of the hill. He was one month early, and I was far from prepared. Kevin was attentive and helpful while I was in the hospital and very much involved in Jack’s first days of life. I was riding the adrenaline-fueled whirlwind of child birth as I was released from the hospital, naive to the emotions that would swallow me whole once arriving back at home. The next several weeks were spent again on autopilot. Postpartum depression seemed to have taken any joy out of the day to day life with my new little family. Jack wore the clothes handed down from his brothers. With each outfit came a memory. With each memory my grief process seemed to start over. That is when it dawned on me, the path to finding yourself is not always linear. You are going to make wrong turns or have setbacks that force you to relive pieces of your past. Understanding and accepting this is a critical component in the journey of healing. As the adage says, we are constantly a work in progress. Don’t forget to cut yourself some slack along the way.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Amber Cain. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more empowering stories of single moms:
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‘FREEZE. DON’T MOVE,’ I whispered. This was it. He knew I was escaping. The music stopped. ‘Run, run now!’: Woman escapes abusive relationship, re-marries, ‘I am now loving every waking moment on earth’
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