In the Last 3am, I described an event that determined my conscious decision to exit a toxic marriage. Unfortunately, the reality is there is no clean break from a toxic relationship. It is a roller coaster ride! I know, I left multiple times in my head (every day), walked away once (2015 when I filed for divorce), got sucked back in again (the empath in me got bamboozled) until finally making up my mind to never go back (2017). If you have a support group, tap in and have them help you. Whether it’s listening or helping you be accountable, allow yourself to be supported. Begin to learn and re-learn you. While going through hell, I did just that. I began to unpack. Unpack the things I learned to be, ideals that I didn’t agree with anymore and identify things within me that I needed to change. Through persistence, boundary and expectation setting, I was able to break the cycle and get out.
I finally broke the cycle of emotional suppression, faced reality, and communicated my decision to leave. He wasn’t in agreement. He reached out to my parents and extended family for help. We even tried joint counseling sessions, where boundaries were developed (i.e. no physical or verbal assault, give space for communication, each person is financially independent, no drugs/alcohol etc.) Nothing changed so neither did my stance on divorce. What did change, was the level of toxicity in the home. It became worse. Psychology today shares the definition of gaslighting in an article, 11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting. Plain and simple, it is a manipulation tactic used to gain “power”. For my own emotional and mental protection (i.e. boundary setting) I didn’t argue or push certain issues and this caused him to pick fights or create false realities to gain attention. Sometimes the kids and I would be ready to leave the house and my car keys would end up missing. I’d ask him where they were, he’d claim I was crazy so I’d begin searching the house for them and then 30 minutes later, they’d magically appear. Other times the car wouldn’t start. Now the car was older so some problems were expected, but it became his go-to diversion. I’d ask if he knew what was wrong with it and then he would jump into “savior mode” and magically fix it. I quickly learned his trick of unhooking the starter cables and that manipulation no longer worked. My wallet and money would come up missing, purchases were made and his rationale was my money was his money. The list went on and got more ridiculous. Until writing this series I didn’t realize what kept me in the relationship even when I already knew divorce was the only right and true option; I was afraid.
Fear is one debilitating force and unless you are brave enough to call it what it is, in the mind, it will moonlight as rational thought. I was afraid of doing it “all” by myself. My definition of “all” was being a good/responsible parent, growing my career, having a life for myself to explore. There are examples of strong women, women I look up to in my family, who are single parents and as any mother would, they pour themselves into raising their children but it is at the expense of walking away from their dreams. That wasn’t my destiny, so I convinced myself (and he did too) that I needed him. Needed him to be around at least for “parenting light” duties (i.e. school/daycare pick-up/drop-offs). He knew my fear and used it against me.
I was just wrapping up my maternity leave for our son and preparing to go back to work. I was the money maker. His track record for keeping a job was not great aka he wasn’t working again. I approached him with a plan, until finding a new job he could stay at home with our son. I’d leave the car with him so he could pick our daughter up from school and I would go back to commuting on public transportation. I thought my plan was solid but that feeling proved to be short-lived because he only agreed to stay home with our son if I paid him. Instead of freely participating in the parenting of our son, he thought he should be paid for his services.
And here came fear! Never mind that my husband just tried to hustle me into watching our son for cash, my immediate thought was I have no childcare plan for my son and I’m starting work soon. My mind raced thinking about all the things that had been said to me that I had internalized. ” You work in the city, we live in the East Bay, your parents live in the city and aren’t close enough to help. You need me, what if Kamaiyah was in an accident while you’re working and you can’t get to her right away?” The list and pity party I threw for myself lasted for a few days and then the maternal, survival instinct kicked into overdrive. I had to find a way and I did. That experience was such a strengthening lesson. I did not need him and he couldn’t convince me otherwise.
In any healthy relationship, the idea that both partners will be accountable and active participants in their children’s lives should be expected and communicated. My reality didn’t match my expectation. I was convincing myself that an already toxic marriage would magically produce a thriving, mutual parenting relationship. This unrealistic way of thinking kept me in the relationship longer than I should have been. This was a hard life lesson for me and it took me the length of the marriage to understand that I can’t expect others to do as I would do and that ideals aren’t aligned just because there is an “establishment of a relationship”. My expectation level and my reality were not aligned but I had the power to change it. I changed it and officially filed for divorce.
The physical act of filing, though the court system is not set up to seamlessly help people facing domestic violence (another post for another day), set a new course in motion which was such a freeing experience. I felt a sense of strategic purpose and in control of my path. Yet, I was approached with unexpected negativity and my morals were questioned by those closest to me. I was raised in a Christian home, my parents lead a church and I identify as a Christian. Well, divorce is taboo for most black Christians and unless your face is bloody and blue many black churches teach married couples that divorce is wrong. For the longest time, my immediate family couldn’t understand why I wanted a divorce and tried to use their own experiences to sway my decision. Saying things like “You can’t have the love of Christ if your heart is closed to your husband. No man will ever love your kids the way their dad will. So and so got divorced and her family was never the same. There weren’t any physical signs of abuse, so how bad could it be?” The Black churches and families have a history of being misogynistic and oppressive to its most important and fundamental members, women. Toxic is toxic and whether it’s your family or religious circle you must call out toxic behavior and speak, every single time. It is human to want your feelings and decisions to be met with praise and appreciation. At the same time, no one person should have to know all you face to support you and your decision-making skills. Once you’re on a path of light and truth don’t let anyone (friend, family, ex) place you back in the situation you freed yourself from. If they value you they will participate in your healing process. Thankfully, my family decided that supporting me and being part of my healing process was more important than anything else.
PSA: If you are facing domestic violence of any kind: physical, emotional, verbal, financial, and/or stalking, please speak up. Often the nonviolent abuse can send you into silence, don’t let it. Call 911 and/or the National Hotline for Abuse: 1-800-799-7233