“‘This is an April Fools’ Joke…right Mommy?!’ Sadly, it was not. On Aprils Fools Day, 2019 our family fell apart. My kids were just getting tucked into bed for the night when I told them to get up quietly because I had a big surprise for them. They were confused as I was usually adamant about bedtime. I ushered them to our one and only family vehicle that I had already snuck the dogs into. Groggily, they climbed up into the big truck as they kept asking what was going on.
Once I knew we were safely down the road, I told them we were going to visit Grandma and Grandpa (my in-laws). Yay! Surprise! My 3- and 6-year-olds were excited and went to sleep in the backseat. My almost 9-year-old knew better. She still refers to it as ‘The Night We Ran Away.’ She’s right. That is what we did. She and I cried in the front together while her siblings slept. I hadn’t packed a single thing. Not a change of clothes. Not a toothbrush. No dog food. Nothing. I couldn’t risk waking the man who was passed out drunk in the bedroom with any commotion. The man I no longer recognized as my husband.
The Early Days
Let’s rewind for a bit. When Matt and I met in 2000, we were two people looking for that forever love. We blindly believed love was all we needed. Within 2 months, we were engaged. Within 3 months, we were living together. In October 2001 we had a gorgeous wedding in Mission Bay in San Diego, CA. Our life together was full of ups and downs like any other couple. We loved passionately, and we fought just as passionately. We excused our screaming and verbally abusive behavior because to us it meant our love was spirited. We forgave each other easily and always came back to communicate and compromise. Our love withstood losing our first daughter when 5 months pregnant in 2002 followed by years of infertility. We were meant to be together forever, and that’s all there was to it. So, we set no boundaries for ourselves or each other and made excuses for the bad times because the good times outweighed them. Until they didn’t.
Fast forward to 2014. We finally had two beautiful little girls. Things were going pretty well with our relationship. There were definitely struggles over the years, but we kept getting past them together. Then Matt got notice that his career was falling apart. At this time, we were only a year away from paying off our business loans which would have freed Matt up to be home with the family. Now he had to start from scratch at 37 years old. It was a huge blow to his ego and sent him on a downward spiral. His depression took over, and his addictions got stronger.
In April 2015, as Matt was getting ready to start a new job at a third of the pay we were used to, I found out I was pregnant again. We had just made the ‘logical’ decision to have no more babies not knowing our only boy was already meant to be. As excited as we were to have another little one, this added a lot of pressure to a man who already felt he couldn’t provide for his family. Everything became too much for him. He turned to drinking more than ever. We started fighting more than ever. I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t emotionally present with the family. Why he was choosing alcohol over us. My heart was breaking on a regular basis as I tried to keep our family together.
Within a week of meeting Matt, he told me the only thing he cared about in this world was becoming a father. He didn’t care what he did for a living as long as he got to be a dad. So why would he let losing his career take him away from us? I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I started sinking into my own depression.
I had all these babies to care for and felt like I was getting absolutely no help from the man who wanted them more than anything. The more he disconnected, the more he drank, the more verbally abusive he got, the more depressed I became. The more depressed I became, the harder it was for me to show up as a Mom. I screamed at the kids way too often. I was so full of shame and guilt. How could I let him treat me so badly? How could I treat the kids so badly? I only let our loved ones see the good times. There were still good times. Just not as often.
A First Attempt At Healing
We tried hard to save our marriage. We went to counseling. We sold our 3-story condo and downsized to a 2-bedroom apartment to save on costs. Matt worked hard to get his Commercial Driver’s License to open up more career opportunities for him. His first CDL job had the worst and most unpredictable hours. We never saw him and the lack of sleep took a horrible toll on him both physically and mentally. We decided to leave San Diego in 2017 and had a house built in Las Vegas. We moved into a gorgeous new family community. We thought we would finally have the life we wanted. The kids and I started hiking regularly and fell in love with the outdoors. Matt’s job brought him to the worst areas in the city. We were having two totally different experiences of Las Vegas, and he was sinking further into depression and addictions.
Still not ready to give up, we took the biggest leap of faith we could. In May 2018, we said goodbye to society to travel full-time. Matt quit his job, we rented out our new home, we sold as much as we possibly could, donated whatever else was not essential, traded in both our vehicles for a Ram 2500 truck, and bought a 40-foot fifth wheel to live in. Our first stop was Yellowstone National Park where we lived in the heart of nature.
I remember the drive-in from West Yellowstone. The feeling of awe when we saw our first bison. And how my eyes welled with tears of gratitude when we stopped at Gibbon Falls. I thought, ‘We get to live here?! This is our home!’ Seasonal jobs allowed us to spend the next four months living in the most majestic place this country has to offer, in my opinion. And our family started to become happier again! There were still fights of course. However, being that unplugged and present with each other helped our connection to grow again. At least for that 4 months.
A Difficult Transition
Once it was time to move on, the pressure of finding a new job triggered Matt’s depression again. We ended up in Indiana in the winter where Matt worked 45 minutes away from the campground and the kids and I were stuck at home most of the time. Once again overworked, Matt began another downward spiral of mood swings and anger. We went from living in nature, hiking almost daily, and loving our environment to feeling trapped, lonely, and bored. The kids longed for friends again. I started to see our patterns of depression and anger in our children’s behavior, and that scared me like nothing else. We knew we had to get back to nature!
Next, Matt secured a job at Grand Canyon National Park. We arrived there on February 1, 2019, and were shocked to be welcomed by a blizzard! Who knew Arizona had snow?! We didn’t. It was not the nature we were imagining. Instead of hiking, we got sleds and made the best of it. However, we were not prepared for winter living in the RV. Our pipes froze, and we had no water for days. It was hard on Matt starting his new full-time job and figuring out how to keep our living situation working.
Once settled, we started doing better again. Grand Canyon is a gorgeous place, and we had the excitement of living in nature with wildlife once more. We played in the snow and adventured around the park. As it got warmer out, we started hiking again. which was our favorite family activity. Things seemed to be on the mend. Until that fateful night on April Fools’ Day.
The Worst April Fools’ Day
It was a gorgeous day. The kids were playing outside enjoying the sunshine. I was excited because I had secured my first massage client in the village and was eager to get back to work myself. As a full-time mom, working here and there was my break! All in all the day was going great. When I heard our truck pull up, I opened the door to greet Matt. Immediately my heart sank and my stomach went into knots. He had slowed down his drinking over the previous months tremendously. Yet he was coming towards the RV steps with a six-pack in his hand and was already guzzling one of the bottles down. He was on a mission to get drunk and there was no stopping him from doing so.
To this day I don’t know what triggered him. All I knew was there was no way this was going to end well. I took a walk by myself to get my bearings on what I should do. I made two phone calls during that walk. One to my massage client to cancel. There was no way I was leaving the kids alone with him in this state. The second was to his mother to warn her that I would be leaving her son when I could figure out how to support the kids on my own.
I was only gone about 20 minutes, and yet he was already drunk. I did my best to keep the kids preoccupied. When he heard I wasn’t going to work, he became angry. Told me I was useless. Less than nothing. I knew this was really how he felt about himself and his struggles to provide. Didn’t make the words hurt less though. He left for a bit. When he returned, he had cigarettes and rum. He hadn’t smoked or drank hard alcohol in 13 years! He stood in front of our home, where our kids could see him, drinking and smoking. He was trying to goad me into a reaction. I refused.
For the rest of the evening, he followed me around our tiny home whispering unspeakable things in my ear. With each word spoken the knot in my stomach became tighter. I tried to pretend it wasn’t happening. I put a movie on for the kids and made them dinner as he just kept at it. I prayed the kids didn’t have a clue as to what he was saying or doing. Yet I know they could ‘feel’ what was happening on a deeper level. When he finally went into the bedroom and I was sure he was asleep, I texted my MIL to let her know I was on my way. I couldn’t wait to leave him after all. I drove 9 hours straight through the night to get back to San Diego. When Matt woke up, we were gone.
Our Healing Journey
I had no clue what I was going to do. How was I going to support us? What I did know was that I was going to heal. I was going to dig deep and figure out why I had patterns of abuse. Because I was going to be damned if I didn’t do everything I could to break those patterns so as to not pass them down to my kids. My kids did not deserve this! I hired life coaches and I took every self-love course I could. I read self-help books and started meditating every day. It wasn’t easy. Healing can be very painful. I did inner child work and saw how these patterns of abuse were passed down to me unintentionally. I started ‘dating’ my kids. They needed the one-on-one quality time more than anything so they could build trust and confidence again. So they knew they mattered. My healing journey also led me to become a certified Master NLP Breakthrough Coach so I can help others families break their patterns as well.
After a couple of weeks of being alone, Matt moved back to San Diego and put the RV on a friend’s property to be close to us. He struggled a lot with my healing journey. Thought I was being selfish by focusing on myself. He didn’t get it…yet. I know his heart and I know he wanted to be a better man, husband, and father. He just didn’t know how. He tried some of the things I was doing to heal but they didn’t work for him.
By the end of 2019, his mother became sick so he moved in to help take care of her. It was not a reconciliation for us. He was there for her. I believe taking care of her switched something inside of him. He started finding his own way of healing. It was very different from my way but it worked for him. We slowly started coming back together. We started communicating again. Really communicating. Effectively communicating. We stopped blaming each other and took responsibility for our own parts in our separation. I did have a part in it too. I was very controlling. I shamed him frequently without realizing it. I had to learn to let him be his own man.
Then Covid happened. The world shut down, and we became more and more present with each other and our kids. By May of 2020, his mom was in recovery from her illness, we had life coaches helping us repair our relationship, and we decided to take off in the RV again. To do it right this time. Off to Yellowstone we went once again! This time with the tools to handle the tough times. And yes, there have been more tough times. We are not perfect. No family is. What we are is an imperfect family willing to keep healing together. We set healthy boundaries now. We truly listen to each other and make no assumptions about what the other is thinking. The one thing we never lost during all those hard years was our love for each other. We just now know that love is not enough.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kimberly Taylor Mullin of Welches, Oregon. You can follow her journey on Instagram, her Facebook groups here and here, and her website. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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