As I finished chemo last month, I feel like I can now start to look objectively at my battle with cancer, and when I do, I can clearly see that it wasn't as hard as going through my divorce. Yes, I lost my hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows. Yes, a week ago I was afraid I didn't even have the energy to walk to the end of my own block. Yes, I threw up some of the meals you brought me. Yes, I'm getting a double mastectomy in a couple of weeks. Yes, there are numerous other side-effects too embarrassing to mention. But it's easier because I have so much support that I can rest. Also, the man who fell for me when I looked my best still thinks I look beautiful. I'm enough.
I write this knowing some of you don't have this kind of support. Some of you are quarantined in a dysfunctional home. Some of you are dealing with abuse like never before. My prayer is that good can come out of this, which will require YOU not participating in abuse anymore. Easier said than done, right?
There are people who want to help you, and I encourage you to reach out, but nobody can fix this for you. You've got to make the choice and do the work. So I want to share the tools that helped me.
1.) Nevertheless. When dealing with an emotionally dysfunctional person, they won't respect your opinion or deal with a situation head on. They will try to catch you in the spiderweb they create by jumping from argument to argument until you do what they want. You stand your ground and take your power back by stating, "Nevertheless..." followed by your position. They'll blame you for all their troubles and call you names and maybe even compare you to someone they know you don't like. That's okay. You say "nevertheless" again. And again. And you stand by your decision.
2.) Sidestep. This advice comes from my counselor who also teaches martial arts. One day in his office, I said, "Either I fight back at which point he'll tell everyone that I'm the bully, or he'll kick me when I'm down." I felt like I couldn't win. And really you can't win when you're fighting a bully. So you do what is done in martial arts by stepping out of the way. Maybe they'll fall on their face, maybe they won't. But when you don't engage, you're okay with either outcome.
I didn't know what this looked like or how to apply it until one day when my ex claimed, "I still think you're the one who creates all the drama." The truth was that I hated the drama. I tried to avoid the drama. The drama made me sick. But I didn't say any of that. I said, "I know you do." You know what happened then? Nothing. He didn't have anything to argue against. I gave him permission to think the worst about me because I knew the truth. I sidestepped.
3.) Avoid triangulation. Drama comes from triangulation. There are three roles that can be played in triangulation: Attacker, Victim, and Rescuer. Think about it. You wouldn't be in a relationship with this person if they were always attacking, would you? Then they'd be a clear enemy. Instead, they keep you walking on eggshells because you never know when you're going to get attacked. Or maybe you attack back because anger is energy and it feels better than being the victim. Either way, you're in for a lot of drama.
These roles can be played by two people or more. For example, when there's "another woman" involved, anything negative you say about her could be considered an attack, in which case, she's the victim, and your husband is her rescuer. I was so entrenched in this that at one point, I even considered telling the other woman she deserved better than a cheater. But that would have been me playing her rescuer, when really I was just trying to control her. A friend talked me out of going that route.
4.) You control you. As stated above, I considered trying to control the other woman because I thought I had to in order to be happy. This is the definition of enabling: I try to control you because I think I have to get what I want from you in order to be happy, and you try to control me because you think you have to get what you want from me in order to be happy. The exact opposite is true. In order to take control of your own happiness, you need to take responsibility for all your own choices. If he says, "Don't make me hate you," in order to get you to do something, he is making you responsible for his choices, and you can't own that. You only control you.
5.) You're not his savior. So many woman participate in abuse because they don't realize it's abuse. They think they are married to a man who has a lot of issues, and he needs her to be strong for him. The truth is that trying to rescue him all the time keeps him from growing. That makes it the opposite of love. His true growth will not happen because of you. It will happen in spite of you.
6.) Grow. You're not responsible for his growth. You're responsible for your own. This is so hard because for two people to be in a relationship, they have to be in a relatively similar spot in their health. For example, think about an obese couple where the wife decides to cook healthier foods and start walking every night. The husband is gonna be upset that she's not making him pizza and watching television with him in the evenings because that's what he's used to. This is going to create tension just like it will in a relationship where the wife decides to put up some healthy boundaries. One of three things will happen to ease the tension: She has to regress, he has to grow, or he will leave. Whatever you do, don't regress.
7.) Let go. This doesn't mean you want your husband/abuser to leave. It means you're not going to sacrifice yourself to keep your marriage together. With people who don't understand abuse, they put the weight of keeping the marriage together on the one who is being abused. For me, that looked like him saying, "The only way I see our marriage working is if we move to another town." I could have said, "Okay," and saved my marriage. Instead, I said, "I'm not moving unless that's God's will, and He hasn't told me to move." Afterwards, I felt guilty. But honestly, how long would that have lasted? And is that really the kind of marriage worth saving?
8.) Seek help. Years after my divorce, we continue to have conflict. I try to use these tools, but that doesn't make it easy. One day I was lamenting to some friends that I still had trouble standing up to my ex alone. And this is what a friend said: "Angela, when someone is trying to control you, they are trying to put themselves into God's position in your life. That makes it spiritual warfare. And you never go into a war alone." These words brought me such refreshment. For so long, my ex tried to make me feel weak for needing support. But it's not weakness, it's wisdom.
9.) Know you won't walk this perfectly. I don't like messing up. I don't like being wrong. But oh, the mistakes I made. Oh, the times I fell down. It wasn't pretty. And it made me feel like a failure, but really it was just a part of my growth. I'm telling you this because when a good friend went through a divorce a couple years after I did, I gave her this same advice, and she said it was the best thing I could have said. Offer yourself some grace, my friend. It's not about saving face and looking good anymore. It's about being real, which is often times very messy.
10.) Worship. I'll end with the best advice I ever got. It came at a moment when I'd been wronged. Kicked out of my house with nowhere to go and no money while my husband at the time sat at my table with my kids, eating the enchiladas I'd made for my dinner. I drove away in tears, feeling hated for being me and hopeless to do anything about it. I called an uncle who had gone through something similar. "Worship," he said. "Don't even pray because we are all lifting you up in prayer, but rather, take your eyes off your circumstances and look to God. Praise Him for what He's going to do in your life." It went against every emotion churning within me, but I was desperate to try anything, so I went to a Christian bookstore, put on headphones, and listened to worship music. It soothed my soul. It gave me hope. It got me here.
There is hope. You're not alone. Many have gone through this before you, and many will go through it after you. My goal in writing this is that you will be one to find freedom then lead the way for others to follow. You can because you are enough.