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In a conference room at a blogging conference, sitting across from Abby Rockenbaugh, of SpeakingforBloggers.
“I want to tell my story; I want to share and speak to people. “
Abby replying, “Ok, what is your story?”
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“Well, I know it’s long, and I’m not sure where it’s major change is…”
“Well, your life, everyone’s life has a before-and-after-moment. The moment that split your life down the middle. When I put it that way, can you think of a moment?”
I paused… tears welling in my eyes, I looked at her and said: “Yeah, I know the moment.”
I wish I were further in my success story while I tell you this. I wish that the words that are about to spill across this page were full of my career as a writer, and blogger. Things I know I will achieve my dreams with, but I’m still going through the tricky part.
Isn’t it interesting how I seem to always begin the Act’s of my story by confessing my deep wishes?
I do this, so you know my heart. So you understand that I’m a human being and I’m not finished yet. God knows I’m not finished. None of us are, ever really finished. So I wish. I’m ok with that now.
The morning after our house fire was put out; I sat up in bed at my then mother in laws home.
It dawned on me that my kids no longer had toothbrushes or clean underwear.
In the blink of an eye, every possession we had accumulated over the past several years of our lives as parents and a couple was gone.
Even though my husband and I had discussed not asking for money from the community, I opened a Gofundme account that morning anyway. I kept the goal low, always humble and never wanting to ask for help from anyone.
But I knew at this moment, doing it alone was going to be impossible.
We had contacted our insurance company, but they were slow to get going. It took 3-5 days for an agent to take a look and a few more for an inspector and forensic fire investigator to come out.
What we had assumed was our space heater in our kitchen/living room space turned out to be a floor lamp in the corner. The fire began inside the wall, and we didn’t know, but the light had a recall on it.
Generally speaking, we had always unplugged that lamp when we weren’t using it.
My husband at the time was huge on conserving energy and power to keep our bill as low as possible. He would obsess over things getting unplugged when we finished using them.
But not that day. That day, it had been plugged in, and we hadn’t known.
I’ll never forget the smell of decimated belongings in a kitchen that reached 600 degrees.
I cried walking through our house towards the back. What hit me in the solar plexus the most was when I went up to where the boys usually slept.
Our house was an old cape cod, so our upstairs was one great attic converted into a living space. It was the most substantial bedroom in the house and contained two closets so naturally, we let the boys have it. That was, once their clothing and toys overtook the rest of the home.
Everything was black. There was at least a centimeter of soot on everything. The forensic inspector asked me if the kids were home during the fire and I said no. He said, with the windows upstairs, their age and the direction of the smoke it would’ve been rare for them to have gotten out before smoke inhalation took over.
I couldn’t handle the thought.
Every parent has what-if moments while raising their kids. That has been one that stuck with me. What if my kids had been home? I shudder at the idea and thank God that they were at my mother’s.
Over the coming weeks, we would receive so much advice. Some good, some indifferent, everyone well-intentioned.
One piece that I remember the most: “A house fire will either strengthen or break your marriage.”
Which, to this day, I believe to be the truest.
When you plan a wedding, when you have children or when you purchase a home, etc. All these things in a couple’s relationship take decision making and communication. They require mutual respect for what each person brings to the table. Couples build these decisions with compromise and both parties listening to the other.
All things my marriage at the time was void of.
Like a wedge, that fire started splitting us apart. It felt as though God was taking a hammer and driving the wedge further and further in until finally, I broke.
Many believe that God doesn’t break up marriages, and I think they’re right.
But I can tell you, without a doubt, God was tired of watching me be in pain and miserable and not fulfilling the purpose he gave me.
One day, weeks after the fire I was sitting adjacent to my then-husband on a couch. Being careful not to look at my phone too often for fear he would get angry about me “always being on it.” Not feeding into his passive aggressive body language, I quietly ignored while attempting to maintain focus on the TV.
Our youngest was in the other room, watching Power Rangers. Perhaps he thought I didn’t notice but I knew he was also purposely ignoring our child too. It was usually his next ploy to get me to engage in whatever argument he wanted to have.
Instead, I tended to our son and quietly thanked God under my breath that our oldest was away at a summer camp on the other side of the state. “At least he gets one week without living in this turmoil this summer.”
I decided to take my son back over to where we were staying.
We were at families house at this time, while we were sleeping in our family camper on our property. Awaiting direction for our homes rebuild.
Still quietly and submissively acknowledging my then-husband, I took my 4-year-old over to our camper and laid down on the couch pull out with him.
I checked my heart rate: 101.
Of course. I could hear my heart inside my ears. Panicking. I was always panicking when he was like this, never sure how bad it would get. I resolved to try to fall asleep hoping he would leave me alone when he came in.
How crazy was that?
That I needed to sleep to avoid my husband? Because I was scared? Always scared? Maybe I am mad? I looked around the camper and realized there was much to be done in the way of organizing and cleaning. But I couldn’t get my head out of the clouds long enough to get it done, and I wasn’t about to do it now mid panic attack.
I could barely catch my breath.
It was then that I texted an acquaintance. Someone who I had only known for a short time. We had shared the same personal trainer, and I remembered that she had talked about being in a Domestic Violent marriage before.
“Hey…” I typed, “I feel crazy.”
I hit send. Then realized, I probably sounded insane if that was the only explanation I was going to offer.
“I’m sorry to bother you. I remember you mentioning at training once that you experienced a violent domestic relationship. And I’m starting to feel like I’m losing my mind. I don’t know what to do. Everything makes him angry, and I feel like an idiot.”
Her response felt like grace.
“Oh Lacy, I am so glad you messaged me. You are not crazy. You need to read the book Why Does He Do That, by Lundy Bancroft. It will help you so much. But know, I’m always here to talk, and you are not crazy.”
Her words felt like a breath of fresh air. For once in this journey so far, there was a friend who understood precisely what I was going through. Understood enough to recognize my plea for help instead of asking me “What did you do to make him mad?”
Then I hear footsteps outside the camper.
I quickly stashed my phone beneath the pillow underneath my sons head. The door swung up hard and here came the words.
The words he used like daggers to cut into me, over and over again.
“You know what?!” He would begin, slowing raising his voice.
“You, you just don’t get it…you don’t do anything!” he would start.
Slamming things, flailing his arms. Me, jumping at every other word that came out like thunder. Jolting and trying not to look frightened but I was. Glancing at my child after he stormed out of the camper for the first time, thankful he was still asleep.
I laid there. Tears welling in my eyes. Staring at the ceiling.
What happened to me? What happened to the headstrong girl I once was? What happened to the girl who’s heart was on fire for people? What happened to the girl who cared more about being kind and less about what mess she made? Where was she? Had he stamped her out of me? Who am I now?
And then I heard God whisper: You’re not who he says you are.
Even though that moment I imagine only lasted 10 seconds, it felt like 30 minutes.
All this time, I had spent chasing a dream. Spinning my wheels to have the societal standard. And you know what? I’m not normal, and I shouldn’t want average. But I did. I wanted the Kodak picture of a family so severely, I had allowed mistreatment and disrespect to go on in my household for far too long.
Do you know what I am? I do now:
I am a strong, fearful but faithful woman. I am a mother, who cares so deeply for her children that she was willing to sacrifice her happiness for what she thought was best for them: A household that had a father and mother. But what kind of home were we living in? One that severely lacked love, that’s for damn sure.
I deserve better than this.
My kids deserve better than this.
This is bullshit, and I am done.
I grabbed my keys and my cell phone. I knew that if I was going to leave this time, there was no need to announce it. I didn’t need him to try to change my mind; I made up my mind.
I was leaving.
I walked my keys and phone to my car. I set them on the driver’s seat and hoped he wouldn’t try to take them while I went back for my 4-year-old.
I guess he wasn’t in the mood to be any crazier than he was already acting because I picked up my 4-year-old and I walked to my car without a remark from him. I opened the back seat, I set him in the car seat. I got in my front seat and started my car.
As I was putting it in reverse I heard him yell “If you leave this time, don’t come back!”
And I thought “I won’t.”
I stumbled into my mother’s garage, crying.
“I’m sorry,” I said through tears.
“For what?!” She said.
“For putting you through this again.”
She was always my haven. If I screwed up my life, she would help me pick up the pieces. Mothers do that you know?
I told her everything. I told her all the stuff I’d been hiding about his behavior. What had been going on in our home. I had wanted my family to forgive him so severely that I hid all the stuff that was going on.
And why? Because I knew the type of person he really was.
I downloaded that book, and read the entire thing until 4 am.
When my four year old woke up in the morning, I tried to act like everything was ok. But I was struggling.
The coming months would be turbulent.
All the threats to get me to stay would come out. I refused to believe any of them. The hate texts from his family. I didn’t read them.
The call from Pastor Anthony.
The suicide charade. The territorial pulling of my possessions.
The insurance money.
I would leave it all.
This time, all I kept really saying was “Just give me money to replace the boy’s belongings and my car.”
Eventually, after all the other stunts he did.
I got a quarter of the money from our property settlement and relinquished any right I had on the rest. He signed over my car.
Oh, and I filed for Divorce.
Looking back on that house fire, and that moment in my camper I know that was the definitive moment of my life.
Why? Because afterward, I finally gave myself permission to be happy.
Instead of continually trying to do the things society said I should do to find happiness. Like go back to college, or get in a relationship, or save money, etc., etc. I just let myself be.
I took some time to figure out what dream of my many was right for me.
I made new friends, let go of old friends who wanted to stay friends with my ex and decided to focus on raising my children as best I possibly could.
Funny thing is things got better so fast.
I can’t confidently say me and my ex-husband are friends. But we aren’t enemies anymore, at least it doesn’t feel that way. We attend the same sporting events and assemblies, and we make it work without fighting. A phenomenon that is such a relief.
I also met the greatest guy, just as soon as I was ready to give up on love altogether.
I started pursuing writing. Something that has always been my talent but I had lost my voice. I found it and started using it.
And then I found out, via my son’s diagnosis, that I have ADHD. And finally, my life made so much more sense.
Did you know that Women with ADHD are 37% more likely to be victimized by an intimate partner in their lifetime than their neurotypical counterparts?
Did you know that women even with less severe ADHD but show symptoms are still 19% more likely to experience Intimate partner violence?
We are hardwired to struggle with self-worth, making adult decisions and then to add icing on the cake we try hard to make even the dysfunction work, convinced that it’s us.
Yes, ADHD gave me an answer.
One that I realized was so important to share.
Because there’s a girl out there, still going through this. She feels lost and alone. She thinks she’s crazy, and like she is doomed to be miserable the rest of her life, and I’m here to tell her: She’s worth so much more.
You aren’t who he says you are.
And you’re not who you think you are.
You are a circumstance overcomer.
Just like me.
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