The past few weeks have been a muddle of confusing emotions.
I put in my notice at work, at my job that was more than just a job. Throughout the end of my first marriage, my work was frequently the only thing in my life I felt proud of. Having somewhere to go everyday, where I could smile freely, and feel useful-- it was an escape.
But I’d been questioning my path for awhile. The job, while I was good at it, wasn’t really the best fit for me. I’d been pushed into the industry by my ex’s family; they had laughed at the 17-year-old who wanted to be a journalist.
My Dude and I decided to move on our plans to make a big leap; we’re moving to Mexico early next year. I’m incredibly excited, for the most part. But I can’t help being nervous to leave behind my career. It was my closest thing to an identity for many years.
I’ve been on edge, anxious, and constantly questioning my decisions. It’s my nature, but it’s also an unhappy relic of that first marriage. I still always carry the thought in the back of my mind: this all a charade. My happiness and excitement are just delusions; it wouldn’t take much to collapse the house of cards that is my life.
Then, last Monday night, this happened:
My ex’s number has been blocked for the past 6 months or so, and I haven’t responded to his messages in much longer than that. I just got a new phone, though, and I couldn’t bring myself to type his number in, to add it to the block list.
I figured he wouldn’t text anyway, since it had been so long.
I was mistaken.
I tried to pretend it didn’t affect me for the first few minutes. I laughed a little, at how pathetic my ex was. I didn’t want it to affect me, not after all this time.
But then my heart kept racing. My fingers and toes went numb. I felt sick.
My ex has sent mean messages, insulting messages, death wishes, but never anything quite as explicit as what he sent me last Monday. I couldn't dismiss it; I was afraid. Even more so, I was angry. I hated myself for reacting that way; it felt like giving him what he wanted.
I’ve been walking around with all my nerves exposed since then. My chest tightens unexpectedly, and I feel like crying. I do double takes at the cars I pass on the freeway. I snap at my friends and family, people who only want to help me. I retreat into myself.
People understand my fear, but not my anger.
I googled “Why do men kill women?” Because it seemed like every other story on the news was the same. Ex-husbands, ex-boyfriends. Jilted lovers. It all makes me angry.
Why are we not allowed to move on with our lives?
It happens so often. People ask abused women, “Why don’t you just leave?”
Well, we do leave. All the time. And sometimes it gets us killed anyway.
I am sharing this because I want people to listen to victims. Listen to them when they tell you they’re afraid, that they couldn’t just leave. This shit is real. I am one of the lucky ones.
For me, the past three years have gone about as good as a victim of abuse can expect them to.
The first couple months after I left him, I couch surfed. He would show up unexpectedly. But I had people who cared, and a place to go. It could have been much, much worse.
I was able to get a divorce without going through a long, drawn-out battle. We didn’t have pets, or children, or own a home. I did it all on my own; I didn’t even have to see him.
My boss was understanding, and let me talk when I needed to, without prying. My mentor offered up her own story of breaking away from a bad marriage. I had support everywhere I turned.
My office also had, and still has, armed security officers.
If I hadn’t been so lucky, so privileged, I might be another statistic. Because men do kill women. I realized, just last night, that I wasn’t afraid for my own safety-- not really. My ex-husband is a big fan of psychological warfare. I knew that the odds of him finding me, after all this time, were low.
I was afraid to lose what I’d worked so hard to do: build a new life, safe from fear. My relief, my memories of escape, had dulled. That text brought them screaming back.
Because of the support I’ve had, my life is now better than I ever thought it could be. I’m surrounded by friends and family who I know love me without condition, even (and especially) when I feel unloveable. I live in a comfortable home with my furry companions, and my days and nights are peaceful.
I no longer spend my energy managing someone else’s emotions. I no longer have to watch every word that I say.
With those two hateful sentences, my ex reminded me of all those years of being afraid. I remembered what it was like to be scared to speak, to jump at loud noises, to dread going home.
It wasn’t fair that he could do that. I was trying to do what everyone wants victims to do: move on. Have a better life. Heal.
My ex’s text reminded me that I am one of the lucky ones. For many, there’s no chance for healing. It’s not fair, but it’s true.
I don’t have a bow to put on this, because honestly I’m still really, really angry. I want to keep my life. I’ve worked hard for it. I’ve worked hard to drop my defensiveness, to let myself appreciate what I have instead of constantly expecting it to be yanked away. I’ve worked hard to believe that I can be loved.
This past week, I did learn something. At first, I tried to fight my fear. I tried to reason with it. It didn’t work, and I could barely function. For a long time I didn’t allow myself to feel anything, because it would hurt too much.
But I don't feel numb anymore, I feel angry.
My anger and my fear are not my enemy. The more I tried to fight them, the more anxious I became. I had to give my emotions space. It was painful, but necessary.
I’m still angry. But I’m also still healing, despite his attempts to set me back. I am learning about myself, and I am letting myself feel. That is a victory.