“Jessica, are you staying because you think it’s your only option?”
I was silent. It was the truth, but it had never been spoken out loud before. Though my mother doesn’t agree with me on many things, she understands me better than most.
I swallowed hard. Took a deep breath.
Saying it made it real, but it didn’t make it any less terrifying. I couldn’t leave. As much as I desperately wanted to, leaving simply wasn’t an option for me.
For starters, I didn’t have a dime to my name. He had made sure of that. I was a stay-at-home mom; a full-time job there’s no money to be found in. I had no formal education, and I had a six-year gap on my resume, so even if I started looking for a job, who would hire me? And even if I did get hired, would I even make enough to support myself and my two children? I had no means of transportation, so even if I got hired, how would I get to work every day? It was completely and utterly hopeless.
More importantly, I didn’t think I could handle the shame of it all. If I wasn’t the loyal wife I had always found pride in being, who would I be? I would be the woman who left. The woman who gave up. A quitter, a failure, a liar.
I made a vow. I remember it clearly. I thought I knew what it meant.
“For better, or for worse.”
But what if worse meant forgetting what trust feels like? What if it meant struggling to remember what it feels like to love him? What if it meant struggling to remember what it feels like to love yourself?
“For richer, for poorer.”
But what if poorer meant being over $150,000 in debt, finding an eviction notice taped to your front door, and sending your kids to school with stale soda crackers because you have no money for groceries? What if poorer meant stopping to pick up every quarter, nickel, and dime you find on the street, counting them and hiding them away, only to find them missing before you have a chance to use them to pay for your kids to go to the dentist?
“In sickness, and in health.”
But what if sickness meant a gambling addiction you couldn’t ever have been expected to be prepared for? What if that sickness becomes too much for your brain and body to handle and you suddenly find yourself dealing with your own stress-induced sickness?
“Till death do us part.”
But what if death suddenly feels like a better option than to be trapped by those vows?
Yes. That’s where I found myself. Believing that my only options were to stay, or to drive around the city until my children fell asleep in the back, then drive home, pull into the garage, and let the car run until I drifted off to sleep with them.
I need to take a moment to explain that I started this blog because I enjoy writing and making people laugh, but I didn’t ever plan to get this personal. The plan was to keep this part hidden. But that’s the problem. Too many of us keep this part hidden, and then believe we are alone, there’s no escape, and that we deserve to be stuck here.
The truth is that we are not alone, we are not weak, and we are not powerless. To stand up and walk away takes courage, trust me, I understand this fully. But why are we protecting those who not only refuse to protect us, but use us to protect themselves? We should be protecting each other instead.
One month ago, I met a woman late one night at work. As I was walking passed her table, she grabbed my arm, looked into my eyes, and asked me for help. She shared her story with me and I tried to share mine with her, hoping that though she fully believed she was trapped with no way out, I could convince her that she wasn’t. It breaks my heart to share that I was unable to convince her, but I went to sleep that night knowing that I did something, and woke up the next morning knowing I could do more.
I knew I had to share my story.
While it terrifies me to speak about such dark and painful parts of my life so publicly, I understand that in finding courage to share, I could be passing courage on to someone else who desperately needs it. Calling your mom and telling her you need help isn’t weak, it’s brave. Packing your bags and saying, “Enough.” isn’t selfish, it’s brave. Walking into the police station and pressing charges isn’t betrayal, it’s brave.
I hope that as you read this, you discover courage you didn’t realize you had and do something brave, with the understanding that it could completely change your life for the better.
“Jessica, you’re not trapped. You have options. Do you want me to come and get you and the kids?”
After I finished that conversation with my mother that night, I went to the washroom upstairs so that my kids wouldn’t hear me crying as they drew pictures together at the dining room table. After a few minutes of sobbing into a towel, a heard a faint knock on the door.
“Mom, I wrote you something.”
I looked down and saw a tiny note being slipped under the door. I picked it up and read it. “I HOP U V BT”.
“Mom, it says ‘I hope you feel better’.”
I burst out laughing. Of course I’d feel better. I had no other option. In that moment, I suddenly understood that though my title as “loyal wife” would undoubtedly be stripped away and potentially replaced with “quitter”, “failure”, and/or “liar”, the only title that mattered was “mother”. If I couldn’t leave for myself, I had to do it for them.
A week later we were gone.
I never would have believed that within a few weeks I would start handing out resumes, then soon after, start working as a server, ten years after swearing I’d never serve again. I’d never believe that within a couple of months I would register my kids and myself for school in a town I swore I’d never reside in again. I’d call you a liar if you told me that in six months I’d have saved up enough money to use as a down payment on a house someday, for a brand new laptop for myself, a family trip to Cuba, as well as a trip to the dentist. I would have thrown up if you were to tell me that eight months down the road I’d be dialling the number of a divorce lawyer, and with a shaky voice saying, “I’m not sure where to start…”
And yet here I am.
I am busy and exhausted. I am lonely at times, terrified at times, and I am stressed most of the time.
But I am also growing and thriving. I am excited at times, content at times, and thanks to the courage my son handed me that night, I am feeling better most of the time.
Thanks for sticking around. There’ll be more to come…