First off, HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!
Today I wanted to give a shout out to my good friend Mandy. Today I celebrate her. Motherhood is tough work, and sometimes we end up with tough situations that we never thought would happen to us, or we lose a child, or we end up raising our children alone. It’s how we respond to those challenges that make us mighty and strong. My friend Mandy is such a light to those around her, and today I honor her for continuing to raise and teach her children the good things in life, and for her courage in continuing on her journey as a single mom.
Here is her story:
I feel this story –“my story”- is overwhelming in many ways. It’s overwhelming in both heartache and pain, but also in comfort, love, peace, strength and hope. I believe so many details of our day-to-day lives intertwine to make up our character and create this “painting” or “picture”. To leave out even the tiniest bit of my story is hard, for a detail-oriented person like me. But this is not a novel; it just a small window of time in my life so far. So I’ve tried, to write my story while sharing my faith, hope, and even heartache.
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My goal in sharing my story is to connect with people, by being humble and tactful about my perspective. I want to share my support for any and all women who find themselves in a difficult situation. I want to share my love and empathy with those who feel hopeless, broken or defeated: living in a dark place. I have been there. I know what it’s like. It is hard, exhausting and seemingly impossible at times to keep going. But I’m ready to share that I am now in a much better place and want to reach out for others to join me in a new and healing light. It is doable. Since the last 14 months have been the most life altering and challenging to date, I’ll begin my story there.
January 1st 2014, I lay in bed staring at the ceiling for a few minutes, and thought about the year ahead. I wanted this to be a fantastic year, great and life changing. So many things would be happening for our little family, including a much-anticipated finish from grad school. The hope of a new job and the possibility of moving to a new location were also shining hopes. Although I enjoyed our city and our grad school adventure, I looked forward to finally being out of the “student” lifestyle. It was the only lifestyle we had known in our married life. I wanted this to be a great year of personal growth for me as well, so I made two goals that day. I wanted to write a “family motto” to live by, and I wanted to write a children’s book, something I had dreamed of doing for years but didn’t feel I had the courage to start. I had no idea that both of those goals would be realized, in abstract and unimaginable ways. I never dreamed that 2014 would be the hardest year of my life, and quite possibly the most shaping and growing time as well. Just two days later, my world changed forever.
January 3, 2014: My heart sank and I was instantly sick to my stomach. It seemed as if time and everything around me had frozen. Thoughts flooded my mind, but the most pressing of these was “what do I do now?” I knew this devastating discovery was the explanation I had been waiting for, and dreading for several months now, even years. Ever since he told me his back was in pain daily; ever since he made that appointment with the pain doctor; ever since he had filled that first prescription.
But there was the ugly truth, staring me in the face. An almost empty pill bottle, filled only yesterday, with the label ripped off. I knew that was a “red flag”. Google only confirmed my fears: opiate narcotic pain pills. It was obvious by the number of missing pills that he was dangerously abusing his own prescription. I sat down at my kitchen table for a moment with my head in my hands. Suddenly his volatile behavior patterns over the last year and a half all became very clear. How could I have missed this serious and horrifying piece to a puzzle I wanted so desperately to be a nightmare? I had blamed his erratic behavior on stress. Stress from school, stress of being a husband and father to a young family, not being in close proximity to immediate family, stress of chronic back pain. But now my justifications seemed to mock my reasoning with the physical proof sitting on my kitchen table. I called my parents. Surely they could tell me it wasn’t as bad as I was making it out to be in my mind. I explained the situation, and gave them the back story leading up to the morning’s discovery.
Just one day earlier, we took our little ones swimming at the community rec center, and enjoyed the last half day of holiday break before starting a new routine for the New Year. Grad school had been our busy and hectic “normal” for almost 3 years now, and we had learned to cherish family time and activities whenever we got the chance. But after our swimming date things turned very strange, and yet surprising familiar to how it had been in months past. In rushing around getting ready to go to a birthday party for a family friend, I asked him if he wouldn’t mind going to get the gift at the store. I had already decided what we would buy, priced it and even gave detailed instructions as to where in the store to find the toy. It was a 15 minute excursion, tops….and I thought it would give them something to do instead of wait on me. But unfortunately I didn’t get a response to the request I would have ever expected. Somehow my unpreparedness of the birthday party gift was the gateway to everything I had ever done that bothered him, including my time management, my not mopping the floor every day or getting the dishes done. After several more comments from him that attacked my character, he reluctantly went to the store. Finally, after being gone for over an hour, he returned home. Still in disbelief about his behavior and belittling me, I went to the party. He did not. In trying to act normal and enjoy our friends, I pushed the upsetting nature of the afternoon’s events to the back of my mind. I hadn’t meant to upset him. Why was he so upset with me?
I tried not to jump to conclusions, but seeds of doubt, fear and insecurity had been planted in my mind early on in our marriage. Unfortunately, this was not the first of Satan’s hooks he had swallowed that had lured him into dangerous waters, robbing him of his agency. Pornography addiction had played a role in his life on and off for several years, even before we were married. I often tried to make logical explanations in my mind of the flood of hurt and betrayal I felt following a “confession” of one of his “slip ups”. Am I not enough? Am I too flawed? I must be too fat, or ugly or short or weird or something?! Surely there must be a reason why the man I married would turn to this kind of thing. I knew I had weaknesses and I was learning many things about myself as I took on new roles, like “wife” and “mother”. Could my human weaknesses be the reason he didn’t seem happy or satisfied with his life? Of course none of these excuses were true reasons for the choices he made, but my mind felt it needed to place an explanation for “why” it kept happening. This devastating cycle played out several times over the course of our marriage. In our ten years together I wrongfully came to believe that I must be the cause for his unhappiness. I would later learn that this was an entirely dangerous and damaging belief to accept.
I had seen the “red flags” and warning signs in his behavior. It was textbook. I knew he was genetically prone to struggle with addiction (almost everyone in his family had some kind of addiction). Why hadn’t I realized his abuse of the pain pills before now?! How easy it is to rationalize the behavior of others, particularly of those we love the most. I realized I had been in denial for some time now. But the shell of denial had finally cracked. I had to make some serious decisions, and safety was my number one priority. I never dreamed this would be part of our lives.
Best friends and high school sweethearts, that’s how our story began. Mutual friends had been responsible for introducing us. I remember well the first night we met. We had been studying for the ACT test with a close friend. I never felt more comfortable and at ease around someone of the opposite gender. We went to different high schools, but in the same town. We were very busy with our senior year. I was the student body president at my school and he was the senior class president at his. I was focused on all of my extra-curricular activities and holding a job at the local ice cream shop. He would stop in to get a scoop of ice cream every once in a while and talk to the small group of girls that worked there. I always thought he was nice, but didn’t think anything more than that. However, soon things changed. I tagged along on a date my best friend had planned to take him on for his birthday. I didn’t know it at the time but he was upset, as he had been crushing on this friend of mine. But that night was a game changer for me. I felt a connection with him, I literally remember looking in his eyes and in my mind I heard my soul say “there you are”! I didn’t tell him, of course, until much later about that experience. That was the beginning of me wanting to spend all of my time with him. He quickly became my best friend. We spent every night talking over instant messaging on the computer (before the days of text messaging and social media). We often went on hot chocolate runs, went for a drive and spent hours talking about anything and everything. After about a month of being best friends, it grew to a bit more. The week of Thanksgiving break, on my parent’s driveway, in the middle of a blowing snowstorm, he kissed me. I didn’t feel cold from the snow at all.
The months passed and we grew closer and closer. High school graduation, summer trips, starting college and receiving his mission call were all huge memories made that year. We were so in love, and we did everything together. But it was very important for both of us that he serve a mission for our church. He was called to serve as a missionary for the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Portugal. When the time came for him to leave, we made a very hard but necessary decision that we would stay “best friends” only, and that I would date other people while he was gone. It was not easy, but it was the best thing to do. He honorably served the people of Portugal but soon fell very ill. He was sent home to the United States and reassigned to Spokane Washington. After only 5 months in Washington it was discovered that he had a heart condition, most likely caused by a virus he contracted while in Portugal. He was sent home to receive intense medical care. And unlike any other couple I know, we were permitted to date while he was still set apart as a missionary. He had specific instruction from his Stake President (acting mission president) to date, but only date me. So we did date, and it only took a matter of days before we both knew we were going to get married someday. We waited for what felt like the longest six months of our lives, waiting to see if his health would permit him to go back to the mission field. Or would he be given an honorable release from his responsibilities so we could begin our lives together? It was an emotional roller coaster ride.
Six months to the day he returned home, he was released as a missionary. His heart was just not strong enough to go back to the field. We often joked it was because he needed me to make his heart beat strongest. That very day, we got engaged and six weeks later we were married for time and eternity in the Saint George LDS temple. It was the greatest day of our lives. We were happy and giddy in love. In the weeks leading up to our wedding, his heart had in fact gained great strength, and although he was not 100% better by any means, his improvement had astounded his doctors. We began our married life much different from anyone else we knew. Not only had he been diagnosed with heart failure, but the previous year I had experienced some very significant health issues as well. Between the pair of us, we were in a unique situation for our age group! We learned a lot about service and love that first year of marriage. It was a challenge in many ways, as we both were very sick at some points, but we were so happy to be together. We felt that together, we could overcome all the worry and stress this life brings.
On January 8, 2014 I secretly packed a suitcase while he slept. I threw things in that I thought would get me and the kids by for at least a few days, until we could know more about what choices he would make, and what it would mean for us. I had been in constant prayer all morning, pleading with the Lord to give me direction about this situation I found myself in. Just 5 days earlier my world was rocked to the core with the life changing, and even dangerous, discovery of pain pills I had found in his backpack. Nothing in his behavior had changed since then. He wasn’t sorry. He didn’t seem to even acknowledge what had happened. I got a very clear and distinct impression: “you need to leave”. I was worried. I felt so much like Nephi in the Book of Mormon. I had never left my husband. This was not part of our plan! How could the Lord think this was a good idea?! But thankfully, because I was confident in what the voice of the Lord sounds like, and my understanding of personally revelation, I knew I didn’t have time to let fear take hold of my heart. I just needed to act. And I did.
If you were to ask him, he would tell you that he had a full life changing turn around the day I took the kids and left for 3 days. It forced him to seek help, and change his pattern of living. He counseled with the Bishop and found a religious support group, with a very supportive missionary as the group leader. He was truly sorry for his actions, and begged my forgiveness. I was sincerely working on learning to trust again. I was willing to give him a second chance, stand by him and help him through this challenging time. But I had one condition: he must be 100% transparent and honest in every aspect of his life. I assured him that so long as he was honest with me and sought help through the proper channels, I would hold his hand and stand next to him. I knew it was going to be a long road, and I was prepared. After all, we had all eternity to figure it out. Or so I thought.
But on March 7, 2014, nearly 2 months exactly since the day I packed that suitcase, the wheels fell off on all the progress we had made. Our lives had improved and had steadily gotten better by the day. That night after he returned home from school, we ate dinner together and we discussed the upcoming weekend plans. I knew he planned to work on homework; he was in “crunch time” now. Only 3 more months of school and WE would be graduated. This was certainly a degree earned by every member of our family! I planned to attend a brunch with a new neighbor I was getting to know through the local Christian mother’s group. A fairly normal weekend was staring us in the face, but something went wrong. He came back inside, after having stepped out to talk to someone who came by and suddenly his behavior was different. I asked him if he could watch our son for an hour while I attended the brunch, I would take the baby with me. He exploded at me. Suddenly, I felt like I was right back to January 2nd. I was horrified at his behavior. Suddenly, he was blaming me for everything and anything that was amiss in his life. He denied anything that would have triggered his outburst, but I knew in my gut something was very wrong.
I never went to the brunch that Saturday morning. My survival mode had kicked into high gear. I no longer felt safe, in any way, around my best friend. To say I was devastated would be an understatement. So much more would change, even in the next several days.
The children and I came to live with my parents while he finished grad school. He called my dad and suggested we come to live with them. I didn’t argue. From March to June my life as I had once known it unraveled faster than I could wrap my mind around. I came to my parent’s home, expecting that we would work everything out after the pressures of school were lifted from his shoulders. I wanted him to be successful and graduate. I envisioned that we could continue to work on our relationship and that he could make a full turn-around from his addictions. He was right, in that I needed to have some support from my family. But I didn’t imagine how he had given up our own little family.
One night while checking the iPad, I discovered that his iPhone messages were linked to the device. What I then found out destroyed my heart, causing more hurt and anguish than I had ever experienced. I read the messages that popped up on the screen, as he sought, asked-out and planned to meet up with another woman. He flirted and sent pictures of himself to her. I could see that he had taken off his wedding ring. I then found out, that only one day after I had hugged and kissed him goodbye, tears running down my face, telling him how sad I was this was happening in our lives; he ran to this other woman. I had to remind myself to breathe, although I didn’t want to have to anymore. My heart was shattered to a million pieces.
Besides the personal contact with this woman, I discovered that he was deeper into the “dangerous waters” of pornography addiction than he had ever been. Satan had cast the line yet again, and he was trying to break free from the grasp of His hook. I know, because he told me. My heart ached, for the both of us. I knew about the shame and self-hate that accompanied this behavior. I knew he was in a bad way, and I was sincerely sad for him. But, the messages with this new woman kept coming, and with every new message I read, the hurt and betrayal only grew. I wanted to tell him I knew about the conversations with her. But, I couldn’t.
June 10, 2014 marked the 90th day of my residency at my parent’s home. This was significant because that meant I could finally file for divorce. After much prayer, fasting, meeting with an attorney and advice from my counselor and family, I planned to file for divorce. I had to walk a careful line, as the legal side of things could become very complicated and dicey if he decided to file first. We lived in different States. When he was served the divorce papers, he didn’t protest. He was glad for it.
The day I never thought would really come, did. September 30, 2014, he, I and our attorneys met with the judge to write out the divorce decree. In the months leading up to this date, so many things had happened. Emotional and verbal abuse from him had worn me down to a frazzle. I was exhausted most of the time. Sleepless nights were my new normal. I tried very carefully to hide my feelings and hurt from the children, as they didn’t understand what was happening. They still don’t. All they knew was that daddy had to stay extra time at grad school so he could get a “grown-up job”. His projected graduation had been pushed back because of some failing grades. He somehow convinced the school that it was my fault, “the crazy wife”, that he had failed. Of course he didn’t tell them the real reason he wasn’t functioning at school was drug and pornography abuse. I understood why he wouldn’t risk his career by telling them the truth but it hurt that he continued to blame me for his poor choices and consequences of addiction. The children skyped almost daily with him; it was emotional and difficult for me. We divided our belongings, our memories between us. I sold almost everything. It was too painful to try to live with the grief of the life we had shared, and grieve the life we would never finish out together.
Though the time that has passed since January 2014 has been excruciating difficult, often days and nights begging the Lord to take the pain and hurt away, there were many moments of strength and determination. I read several books, blogs, quotations and scriptures of others who shared their stories of hope and healing. Some of the most influential for me were the personal stories of Stephanie Nielson of nieniedialogues.com, Jacy Boyack of mynameisjacy.com with the Togetherness Project and Brene Brown’s work on “Whole-hearted living” and the power of empathy. Their courage and determination, though very different in circumstance, were incredibly healing and helpful. I felt connected to these people who were willing to be vulnerable enough to share their most raw and personal lives. I would recommend looking up each of these amazing women and learning from their experiences.
Besides reading, the people around me gave me strength of character and boost in spirit. I could be feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders and I would get a message from a dear friend, a card in the mail, an email, a voicemail, or a smile and encouraging word. My family was always there to embrace me, and pick me up. There were on several occasions that I broke down emotionally and physically. I would curl up in my bed, sob and sob about all that was happening in my life. I was often very hostile and angry about seemingly non-related issues too. But I can’t count the number of days when I found myself in that dark place, that my parents and sister were there to help me. They literally held me. They helped me up. They took my hands and looked in my face, reassuring me that everything would be okay. They not only took care of me, but they took care of my kids as well. My family knows how to “circle the wagons” and I needed them more than ever before. My sister even moved home to help out and support us all through this transition time in our lives. I’ll never be able to thank them enough for all they did, and continue to do for me.
My divorce is final. I am single. I have gone back to work, part-time. I have been accepted to a graduate program so I can obtain a Master’s degree. I bought a car. I manage a budget. I continue therapy with my counselor. I’ve had to give up the worry of what others may think about me. I have made new friends. I have strengthened old friendships. I am starting to grasp how important the atonement of Jesus Christ is for me, personally. I am experiencing unconditional love. I am working on forgiveness. My life is happier and yet harder than it’s ever been.
I have learned so very much. I have come to know Jesus Christ in a personal and significant way. I have learned to practice gratitude as a way of life- I try to write in a Gratitude Journal every day. I recognize that I live in a stunningly beautiful, small city. I am surrounded by loving family. I have the most beautiful and wonderful kids I could ever hope for (though they still test my patience daily, sometimes every hour!). I have a burden-bearing, rock-star support network, which has been nothing short of amazing in helping me though the last 14 months. I had always known I was blessed with the people I knew and loved, but it has only been confirmed ten-fold. I only hope to be the same caliber of friend to others as they have all been to me. I have much learning to do from the example of others.
I’ve decided to focus on the power of positive thinking, something I have always believed in strongly. But now, it is even more important to me. When I feel like I am failing, I remember just how wonderful my life really is. I will move forward with faith (I finally learned what our family motto needed to be). For someone like me, who wants to have a perfect plan and anticipate every coming change, I’m exercising more faith and hope than I thought possible! And, the best part: I feel happy and peaceful about life. I don’t know what the future holds for me, none of us do. But I know the Lord has a plan for me. I know I have and will continue to keep my covenants with my Heavenly Father. I know blessings and miracles happen, daily. I know the gospel of Jesus Christ is the foundation for a truly happy life, no matter what our circumstances. I know that prayer works. I know forgiveness will come, and I will continue to work on it. I know that my family loves me, and I love them. I know gratitude changes perspective, and is the recipe for living happily.
I hope for the chance to find love again someday, and I fully anticipate a happy and healthy marriage when that time comes. I look forward to watching my children learn and grow up. I cherish my time with people around me: family, friends, colleagues and even strangers. I try to learn something new every day and find ways to heal and cope with the challenges of my life. Daily I remind myself to “move forward with faith” and have hope, that just as the scriptures say, “Everything will work together for [my] good”- I believe it will, and has already.