I have wrestled with this post for two years. I have alluded to it, danced around it, drafted it, and deleted it. It’s not my only story, but it is an important one of my stories. And it’s true, and it is worth telling. Sadly, so many people can relate to it. Please share it with those people. Here is the story of how I became a single mother of three. How I fell apart, and the beginning of my coming back together.
I knew he was gone long before he left.
We had been married for 9 years, some of them happier than others. We had three small children. I stayed home and took care of the kids, he worked full-time to support us. We had just purchased a wonderful home. On the outside things looked wonderful. Things should have been wonderful.
But it wasn’t. Our marriage wasn’t fine. An accumulation of hurts and broken trust plagued me. I was lonely and I was worried. I was struggling to keep things smooth on the surface, while the truth festered below. I coached myself. “Keep making it look fine. Do not tell anyone. Be supportive. Nag less. Try harder. Manage it. Be a better wife. Be better.”
Still, I could sense it in my bones. It had been a long time coming; in the words we did and did not share. In the space between us. I couldn’t put my finger on it.
“What is it? Who is it? What is going on? We can deal with anything if you tell me.” That’s what I said. That’s what I thought.
He said everything was fine. He said to trust him. He said not to worry.
He never did tell me. But I would find out soon enough.
On a family vacation in the fall of 2013 I picked up his phone. It said “I love you.” It wasn’t a message sent to or from me. It confirmed what my heart already knew. Our marriage was no longer just between the two of us. I recognized the name of his co-worker. And I called her. And the outward unraveling began.
Then he walked in. Denial, from beginning to end. Grabbing the phone, deleting, backtracking. The smashing of a life, in the instant of a text message. No longer suspended in the gravity of the lie, little pieces started floating away around me.
The kids were sitting on the stairs, outside of the bedroom door. They were 3, 5 and 7. I am so sorry they were there. So deeply sorry. I regret that they remember the anger, the tears, and the fear. They didn’t know what was happening. Their life as they knew it was coming undone.
“Get out,” I said to him.
My hands and voice were shaking, but things were suddenly clear. Months of thinking, worrying, processing and avoiding the truth had prepared me for this moment. I had already known this would be the last time, the last straw. The final piece of the puzzle snapped into place and I could see it all before me. I knew what I knew. And there was relief in the knowing. Painful, agonizing, and devastating. But still clear.
And I said it again, “You have to get out.”
And he did, a small bag on his back. He left. He left because I told him to. He left because he wanted to. He left because he had already left in a thousand other ways. He left because I decided, no more.
No more lies.
No more disrespect.
No more fear of what lurked on the iPad.
No more living with a pit in my stomach.
No more pretending.
No more stifling my own voice.
No more sitting in the pew on Sundays, listening to him preach.
I could take no more.
But I wasn’t done with our marriage. At least I didn’t think so. I was done with the kind of marriage that we had. Things had to change. Maybe, if everything fell apart, it could be put back together in a healthier, happier, more honest way. I hoped.
The next day my husband and I met with church leadership in a dark and stuffy hotel room, minutes from our home. I was hysterical, and I was so afraid. I knew I was standing on the ledge of sharing something that I could not take back. Something that I had protected fiercely for years. Something that would have serious implications for me, and my children.
The other pastors in the room were kind and calm. Slowly and painfully a partial version of the truth was uncovered. I wouldn’t know the full truth until months later. I gasped for air, for direction, for anything that could ground me. Eventually there was nothing left to say.
But I wanted to know what was going to happen next. Someone please tell me what is next. What do I do now? One of the other pastors, and a friend of ours, said to me, “He may have to lose his job, to save his family, Dana.” Yes, I thought. Maybe.
If only it would have been that simple.
The next day I sat with my mom at my kitchen table when I got the phone call. The church made a decision. They too, said “no more.” My husband was fired immediately. We lost our income that day, our health insurance at the end of the month. Their decision honored me. I knew they did the right thing, but a really hard thing. They were very sorry. They would help me and the kids.
Just 48 hours, and everything had fallen apart.
In the season that followed I barely stayed above water. I waded through the motions. I kept going only with the incredible love of my family and friends. My days were filled with discussions and counseling, trying to make sense of the senseless. My nights were filled with tears; mine and my children’s. It was a dark time.
As weeks became months, my lessons became clear:
- I cannot convince someone else to change.
- I cannot change anyone except myself.
- It is incredibly humbling to need and ask for help.
- There are no boundaries to the fierce and devoted love of a mother for her children.
- The safety net of a caring and committed community cannot be underestimated.
It also became clear that my marriage was not going to be saved. I wasn’t going to get an amazing redemption story. I was going to get a divorce.
The tasks in front of me were monumental. There were the practical struggles; moving, going back to work, single parenting, new schools. And then there were the matters of the heart; grief, fear, anxiety, shame, loneliness and anger.
I kept going because of my kids. They needed me, and I needed them. I would do what I had to do, if only for them.
Slowly, we made progress. Small, insignificant steps at first. The kindness of friends, the unwavering love of grandparents sustained us. One obstacle and one risky decision after another, but still we kept on. Eventually I realized I wasn’t just doing it for the kids, but for me too. For all of us.
It has been almost four years now. And there are things that are still hard, but we are okay. Actually we are way better than okay. We have a new life. A full, joyous, wild, adventurous and imperfect life. A healthier life. And we will continue on.
This is my story. The story of a woman who said no more. Thanks for joining me.