Every year people make resolutions about wanting something different to happen, but rarely do those dreams become reality. Why is that?
In the dead of winter in 1998 in the high mountains of Tahoe, California, my fiancé had just dumped me in the worst possible way. As we sat across from the dining room table he looked me right in the eyes, and without a hint or resentment or guilt, he told me “I never loved you. I think I just felt sorry for you.” We had been engaged and living together for the past year and we had our ups and downs, but I never expected this. I was shocked, stunned, hurt, and horribly embarrassed. How could I not see this coming? As I cried he looked at me with dead eyes and said, “I need you to move out.” I was working two jobs and barely had money to survive let alone move out on my own. He added “now.” I just sat there crying as he walked off.
What had just happened? I thought he loved me? We were engaged after all and our relationship seemed fine. Where did this come from so suddenly? I blamed myself and I fell into a deep depression – I hated me. I told my ex I had no money to move and he’d have to help me with a first and last for rent, he declined. He told me I could live in his cold basement until I could figure it out, and that I needed to borrow money from someone and get out soon. I went out and hustled until I was working 7 days a week to earn extra cash. In the mean-time he made my life hell by either completely ignoring me at the house or being hostile toward me. He would come home late and be gone all weekend without a word. I lived for 2 months of this abuse before I could scrape enough money to move out.
Over that two months I had time to grieve the relationship and piece together that he had been cheating on me and this was his way of ending it. Looking back I see how I did not deserve that kind of ending, but at the time I felt I deserved it for being such a bad person. I was surprised to find that I was much happier living alone in my studio apartment. I spent more time at the gym, hiking, and reading. I also had free time to contemplate my life; where I am, where I had been, where I was going. One day I made a list of all the relationships I had ever been in and I was horrified at what I saw. I had been in one abusive relationship after another since I was 15. Could this really be? It had been 19 years since my first boyfriend, and I could not come up with a single one that had not abused me in one way or another. With that realization, I sank into a deep depression. I lost all interest in everything I enjoyed. I was miserable at work. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I felt like the scum of the earth that must somehow deserve this kind of horrible life.
I was laying in my bed one Sunday morning and I thought “I wish I would just die” and I meant it. I was tired of the abusive relationships, tired of not getting anywhere in life, and tired of being 34 with no degree, no good job, and nothing to show for my years on this planet. I laid in bed the entire day feeling sorry for myself. In this fog of depression I had a thought. “Why do I keep dating abusive men?” It got me to thinking that I must have some sort of glitch that attracts me to these abusers. But why? On that day I committed to figuring out why I had spent 19 years being abused.
I went to the library and got self-help books. I read the old classics like Psycho-Cybernetics and Your Erroneous Zone . This was the start of changing my life. I couldn’t seem to shake the depression so I decided to find a therapist. I quickly learned on my income I could not afford therapy I had remembered seeing a free group for survivors of domestic violence. I found the number and made the call. I was in group therapy that next week. Even though I had admitted to myself that I was in abusive relationships, I could not get myself to admit I was a victim of domestic violence. I mean, a few guys hit me, but mostly guys verbally abused me and thats not the same right? As I listened to the women tell their stories, I realized that they were also verbally abused like me. After 6 weeks in the class I finally figured out that verbal abuse is the same as physical; it destroys your self-esteem, your self-worth, and makes you feel worthless. I connected with the therapist who led the class and I started seeing her for free at the County Mental Health office. I made a commitment to go to therapy to help with my depression and figure out why I was attracted to abusive men.
For the first time in my life I talked about my childhood abuse to another human being. I talked about my rape at 3 years old by a neighbor, my abusive, drunken lesbian parents, my molestation at 10 by my 42 year old neighbor, and being drugged and raped by two men in Vegas for hours. I completely fell apart. I felt worse. I felt sorry for myself. Why me? Why is God punishing me? What did I do to deserve this screwed up life? I felt suicidal.
As horrible as I felt, I committed to stick with individual therapy and group therapy. I also committed to take suicide off the table and deal with my feelings. It sucked, but I did it. I realized I fantasized about suicide just because I didn’t want to feel. I spent my entire life avoiding, denying, and minimizing my feelings. I spent years drinking, drugging, partying, and doing anything I could to not feel. I stopped all the drugs and drink at 22, but I kept avoiding with abusive dramatic relationships , overeating, under eating, and over exercising I’d do any activity that keep me out of the feelings. Therapy was very uncomfortable. It was about feeling your feelings, no matter what they are. I felt so vulnerable and raw during that first year, but I stuck with it. I decided and then committed to getting well.
Fast forward to today, another 19 years later and have come so far in my life. I am so grateful about the decision I made to get better and then committing to that decision. I have a fairly happy life, a healthy relationship, and a very stable and fulfilled life now. I still go to therapy on occasion, I still read self-help books, I still work on making my life better all the time. Growth never stops. There is no “happily ever after” once I get skinny, get implants, get rich, or have a perfect relationship. A happy life is about progression and moving forward, not one perfect moment in time. My happiness comes from having an idea about what would make my life even more fulfilled, making a decision to move toward that, then making a plan and committing to change.
As I look at the calendar for 2017 I see lots of room for more commitments – things I am willing to make time for. I can’t just wish to get fit this year, I have to commit the time to go to the gym, hike, and do yoga and then make a schedule and put it on the calendar. From there it becomes habit by doing, as well as being my own coach and reminding myself I made a commitment to change. I’m grateful that I found the key to my success – I make a decision and then commit to change, no matter how uncomfortable or difficult. Like Nike says, “Just do it,” no matter how painful. Here’s to another 19 years of commitment to growth!