“I barely recognize the mom in this photo. She is so broken. I can see it in her eyes. I can see it on her face.
She’s exhausted. She’s lost. She’s unsure. She’s confused. She’s on eggshells. And she’s really, really scared. To be a good mother while my heart was breaking is the hardest role I’ve ever had to play.
Now, let’s get into my story.
This photo of me and my babies was taken by a girlfriend a few weeks after I’d met with a lawyer for the first time, about separating from my husband, and I could barely breathe. In fact, for weeks on end, I could barely breathe. My head was spinning with fears, thoughts, and ‘worst case scenarios’ day and night. I hadn’t slept properly in nearly 4 years. I was drowning.
I knew in the deepest part of me, I couldn’t stay any longer. I was deteriorating mentally and physically. I was losing myself. And I was becoming a shell of the person I once was. This wasn’t the man I’d married and chosen to spend my life with, and I couldn’t raise my babies like this. I knew it had to end.
A switch in me flipped that day – everything was different now. I was different. And yet, this still wasn’t supposed to happen. Every fear, I had it.
Now what? How do I move forward? What are my next steps? Will I be able to keep a roof over our head on my own? Will anyone understand how our ‘picture perfect’ life landed us here? What if the alternative to this is worse? Are my babies going to be okay? Am I going to be okay? Is he going to be okay? If I’m not there to take care of them, are they going to be safe? Is he going to be safe? Will I ever be able to have another conversation without it ending in a breakdown? When will I be able to eat again?
But for the first time in our relationship, I actually followed my gut. I followed my intuition. I’d known, for many years, that we couldn’t keep going the way we were going, but I stayed with him out of fear. And then, in 2016 the last straw was piled on my back and I’d had it. I couldn’t do it anymore. I was facing toxic situations and strained interactions daily. I was dealing with his vices and the anxiety of what might happen next if I didn’t leave, so I did the hard thing.
Afterwards, I was navigating a whole new set of fears. I’d entered the world of single motherhood with a 3-year-old and a 16-month-old and had to figure out how to co-parent with my ex-husband.
My ex-husband and I had a very co-dependent relationship after our separation and found ourselves in this hamster wheel of not knowing how to be without each other but also knowing we couldn’t be together under the circumstances. He had to get better. I had to do things differently. We loved each other but were being pulled apart. I should have trusted that pull then…but I wasn’t ready.
All the while, in this devastating emotional turmoil of being apart but still desperately trying to be together, we got pregnant again and I went through an abortion. I never thought I’d be in a situation where abortion was an option that had to be on the table. But the writing was on the wall and all of a sudden, I was acutely aware of our situation. We were barely managing our two very young children, while separated but still intertwined, and we absolutely could not bring another innocent human being into the world under the circumstances.
That was hard. The decision itself to not keep that baby was easy for me, because I knew what I had to do. But the process was still absolutely terrifying. And then I shut down.
I shut down from him for a time. I couldn’t be with him or around him. I couldn’t even speak to him without it ending in tears. And then a few months went by and I found myself falling back into him again. I don’t know if people realize how often this happens during a separation, but it happens. The codependency that we had ran deep and we honestly didn’t know how to not be together.
So, for anyone reading this that feels like they’re lost or going a little bit crazy in their current situation…there are three things that I want you to know and take to heart:
1. You’re not alone.
2. You’re not crazy.
3. When someone shows you who they are, believe them.
Number 3 is a doozy and something that, as a woman and a mother, I find myself making excuses for people all the time. I had to learn this the hard way, and I still have to remind myself of this regularly. A person’s true colors come out when they’re faced with adversity, and we see it. But we don’t want to see that version of them, because seeing it – REALLY seeing it – means you’ve acknowledged it. And if you acknowledge it and don’t do something about it, then it means you’re allowing it. I’ve stopped doing that, by the way. I no longer make excuses for people; actions speak louder than words, as the saying goes, and that line of thinking has saved me time and time again. When someone shows you who they are, believe them.
Fast forward a bunch more months and I was still very caught in the web. He was faltering with his rehabilitation and things were starting to derail…again. I took a step back…again, knowing that our cycle would put us back here soon enough. But it didn’t. That was the end. And boy, was it abrupt.
He started dating someone behind my back, merely weeks after a relapse. A relationship that I only found out about because I inquired about something regarding our wills. Not cool. He’d lied to me consistently over the timeframe of this new relationship and I was completely blindsided. To this day, I have no idea how long it would have taken for him to tell me on his own. I’d like to think he would have eventually, but his track record doesn’t suggest that at all. So who knows.
I was destroyed. I was damaged goods. No one else would ever love me the way he did. He was supposed to get better for us, to be with his family. He’d preached that as being his only goal for as long as I can remember. To get his family back. I’d put my life and my healing and my own goals and dreams on hold for him time and time again and now HE was ending it. I spiraled into some dark places during those weeks, and my kids are the only thing that kept me going. They were my light.
His secret relationship, that came out almost a year ago now, is single handedly the best gift he’s ever given me. He released me. I had been so focused on doing the right thing and putting the pieces back together and making sure that he was okay and the kids were okay and our families were okay that I never stopped to realize I wasn’t okay. I hadn’t been in many many years, but I hadn’t realized to what extent.
I knew that, no matter what, there was no going back this time. It was what I needed to move on. He released me from his grip and all of a sudden, I was free.
Now it was time for me get to work – on myself.
It was time to go inward and figure out who I was and what I wanted. I spent several months journaling and meditating and living my life without allowing every second thought to take me back to him. It was an intense time, and one I could have easily skipped over. Dedicating time and energy to the work required to move forward isn’t easy, especially as a single parent. I could have made a choice to continue being angry and sad and miserable forever, but I was serving no one in that state, especially myself. So I took the time and I did the work.
Now, three years post-separation, and about a year of truly being apart from my ex-husband, the bond that I have with these boys of mine is intense. I am their pillar and their rock, but they’re also mine. They are one of the few things in this world I’m absolutely certain of. They are the reason I do what I do. They are the reason I know that all of the heartbreak and pain and confusion was put in my path because I was meant to have them, and they were meant to have me.
There’s more to this story than I’ve never shared, but I’m not there anymore, and I don’t want to live in that fog any longer. And frankly, there are parts of my story I will never share publicly because it’s not fair to my ex-husband. He’s a really great dad now.
What I am here to do is to show you that on the other side of the decision – on the other side of the fear and the tears and doing the hard thing – is a whole ‘new’ person waiting to live her life. I am not who I was when I got married at 24, and I’m not who I was when I separated from my husband at 30. I’m not even the same person I was 6 months ago. I’m way freaking better.
There are still days when I feel like I need to hibernate in bed and not speak to or look at anyone for a few hours, and if that’s what I need, I honor that. And there are days when I feel like I’m absolutely killing the single mom game, and I give myself the praise I deserve for crushing it. And then there are a lot of in between days – the monotony of the daily grind and school lunches and laundry and pick ups and extra curricular activities – and those are the most profound to me. Because those are the days that we’re just living and being and loving one another. Those are the days that remind me that we survived – we all did. They remind me that the scary chapter has closed and we’ve moved on to the next.
Living in my truth and honoring my story has opened up a whole new trajectory for me. I am open and honest about my healing journey and I wear my heart on my sleeve. Which, in turn, shows other women that it’s okay to do the same. It’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to not be okay. Because your future is so much bigger than your current circumstance, which is a phrase I say to my clients and the women inside my membership site all the time.
Your future life is so much bigger than your current circumstance.
Learning to own your story and stand in your power will open a whole new world. A hugely bright world that needs you, with all your broken pieces, because those broken pieces are only broken to you. Your future life doesn’t see how they were broken, it just sees how you put them back together.
You are here for a reason, whether you know what that reason is, or not. You’re here for a reason.”
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This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kate Vanderlugt of Your Own Two Feet. You can follow her journey on Facebook and Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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