i'm home from a day at the beach, sitting with the Queer Sangha at East Bay Meditation Center, and fighting off depression and anxiety.
i've had a life long struggle with depression only i didn't know it till i was deciding to get a divorce, since that was the first time i'd ever paid for therapy.
i just knew that sometimes my emotions would overwhelm me, whether they were worries or fears or sad feelings. i knew that i'd enter black periods where nothing would seem pleasant and life would not seem worth living. it used to be very rare, often many years apart, when i'd enter these sad times; until i got married.
that stunned my system so much that i could no longer deny that something was wrong. i had no idea what it was: at first i thought it was just my locale. i hated lubbock with a passion.
it was so flat and so ugly. so boring. and i was fresh out of college and dorm life in nashville which i loved. for the first time i was having to pay my own way in the world, exist with no support from my mom and dad, and live far from home. inside i was a wreck. i was miserable every day.
i had no way of analyzing my experience. i had no lense but self blame and the fundamentalist guilt of failure and the protestant "try harder" ethic of my upbringing.
i had no feminist analytical tools. women's studies wasn't offered at my fundie school. so i had no way of knowing that getting paid a non-living minimum wage for doing extremely demanding child development work by day and getting slapped around and raped by my husband at night was simply part of patriarchal culture.
i had never read the feminine mystique. but if i had, i would have found that betty friedan's socialist analysis of the indoctrination of women and the forcing of them into the slave wage class was mirroring my experience.
i just knew i was homesick, starved for genuine affection, and becoming more and more of a "liar" to explain away why picture frames and windows and bottles and dishes kept breaking at my house and why i was so glum. (my husband threw stuff at me every week and when i'd duck, it would often break a window.)
i thought i was just missing my dear college friends, and the fun pranks we pulled, and the camaraderie i felt from dorm life. i thought i was just longing for my mother's cooking, longing to hear my father's laughter, see their kind eyes, feel their hugs. i thought i was just missing my brother and sisters and all the noise of our big family.
i had no clue i'd fallen into a huge depression which was entirely normal for someone who was getting battered and was far from home, stuck in a dead end job.
i made a vow to myself that i'd get back home to tennessee one day soon. but my husband didn't want to go so despite promising me i could go home once he got out of law school, he sabotaged all my efforts to return. i once called my parents to try to ask them if i could come back, but they told me that if i failed at marriage, there was no place for me in their home. and my husband threatened to tell them about my abortion of his baby just before we were married the one time i got enough courage to drive to the airport and try to leave by myself. i knew if my parents found out about the abortion, i'd be disowned, ex-communicated. so where in the world would i go?
i didn't know to get help.
plus, i was suddenly pregnant. i didn't want to be pregnant, but i knew nothing about birth control and felt guilty for asking. only occasionally had i been able to talk my husband into using a condom.
now i look back on my young mother self and know that i suffered horribly from post partum depression. and that my longer and more frequent periods of depression and paralyzing fear were battered women's syndrome and traumatic stress disorder.
i had no reference point for mental health. no awareness that anyone, save lunatics, sought out and received therapy. there was no oprah; there were no PSAs about domestic violence in that small texas town.
i remember my mother and father lecturing us about the evils of modern psychiatry and how they were pointing people away from the bible and god as our only source of wisdom and healing.
how fucked up is that?
but that's what fundamentalism teaches you: that to go outside of the "one true source" is anathema.
so i just plugged away at being a good wife and mom. i just kept it up as best i could. and somehow my love for my newborn son kept me going, then my first daughter and another daughter. i knew i had to keep on going for them, if not for myself. they were the only bright spot in my life. well, that and the women's bible studies.
now that i look back on it, it seems absurd that we never dealt with domestic or sexual violence in any of those classes. i went to four each week. i got promoted to leadership at my church and in my neighborhood for being such a good christian. no one knew i was dying inside.
my husband, whom i'd put through law school, was advancing in his career, we'd purchased a home, and we dressed well. i volunteered in my neighborhood, at my children's schools and at church. i bought matching outfits for myself and my children and had our pictures taken. we looked like the perfect family.
each day i listened to james dobson on the radio and tried harder to put his ideals into practice. his explanation for why women had to stay home and do the housework was that, well, someone had to do it and it sure couldn't be the man. that made sense to me.
plus, each time i tried to discuss equality with my husband, the esteemed sunday school teacher and church of christ minister, he'd just say "equality has no place in a marriage." and he'd quote some bible verse to back it up.
i'd get confused, end up crying, and he'd leave me with the kids to clean and cook by myself. when i got so physically ill (during my second and third difficult pregnancies) that i couldn't keep up the house anymore, i begged him to hire a maid so i could at least spend some quality time with the kids.
i kept driving car pool. i kept teaching bible study. i kept smiling.
when we'd fight, i'd call the christian radio hotline, ask them to pray to heal my marriage, and go to bed in tears only to be woken up to get raped. repeat, ad nauseum.
when i'd try to leave town for a brief bit to collect myself, or go to a friend's house, my husband would warn me that if i ever dared to leave him, he'd take the kids, the house, the furniture, the money, the only bread-winning career, and he'd tell everyone that i was crazy. i'd be left with nothing. by this time, he was winning cases for huge polluting, maiming corporations and was becoming something of a local celebrity in the field of litigation, so i knew i didn't stand a chance against him.
plus i honestly didn't know that what he was doing was wrong. i'd been taught that my body didn't belong to me, that it belonged to god. my father had taught me that the main reason i existed was to please my husband. my mother taught me that men's wishes came first, no matter what.
finally, after 10 years of imposed pregnancies, 2 miscarriages and 1 abortion, i just couldn't handle it anymore. in 1992, after being raped and battered and sodomized and impregnated only to be battered again so badly in the first trimester that i lost the child, i simply couldn't go on.
i called my ob/gyn and told her i felt like killing my husband or killing myself so i "knew it must just be the left over hormones from the miscarriage and could you please prescribe something for me to make me right again."
well, in texas, you don't say something like "i want to kill myself or kill my husband" without getting yourself a nice little trip to the insane asylum. and that's what i got myself.
my ob/gyn told me to get a better haircut and to take better care of my appearance.
the christian therapists and christian psychologist sided with my husband, telling me "it wasn't rape to him; if you don't want to have sex, you should wear a granny gown to bed."
they never once told me about battered women's services. never pointed me to a shelter, never once gave me a political framework in which to view my experience."
as soon as i went to grad school, these same fundamenalists therapists believed my husband when he described the "damaging effect" the feminist professors were having on me. they cautioned me not to take feminism to heart and to keep reading my bible as the foremost authority. they scoffed when i described how he threw my books and study material on the ground in a fit of rage. how he came and took all the children's toys and books away when i was with my study group.
but i kept studying my way out of domestic and sexual violence; i kept reading feminists. and i finally found a feminist therapist who saved my life.
now people who are ignorant of battered womens' issues, often wonder why they don't leave.
i answer: why should they have to? don't women have a right to be free from abuse in their own homes?
what kind of world do we live in where women have to flee their homes just to keep from getting raped and beaten?
that's insane! and if there's one thing i'd finally discovered, it was that patriarchy is an insane way to run the world. but it was the only world i had and patriarchs still make and enforce the laws that are on the books.
i finally got free. it took me many attempts at leaving. it took me many tries. i was never physically safe in my own home until after my divorce. and i haven't been emotionally safe ever. not so long as my ex has the power to hurt me and my children. and he continues to prove that he will do so till he keels over.
he has never been repentant, never made any attempt at restoration. he has only attempted to bribe everyone who knew any part of my story, including my family of origin, my friends, and my children.
so today, after ruminating on the fact that my children are punishing me for finally speaking out by not visiting me this summer, i finally just gave up trying to fix this situation.
i accept the fact that my own children have been turned against me.
i accept the fact that i've done the best i can and they still feel hurt and betrayed by me.
i accept the fact that this makes me sad and aggravates my depression and anxiety.
i accept it all, even that for a time at least, it seems that my husband has won a far greater victory over me than i had ever anticipated. i knew he could steal their bodies, but i didn't anticipate that he would steal their hearts and minds as well.
but i also accept that i feel free.
i feel true to myself and my experience.
it has been paid for with the highest of prices.
i have lost everything that was dear to me.
my children, my mental health, my physical health, my financial wellbeing, my family of origin.
but i have gained everything.
i have gained my very self.
i have peace of mind much of the time.
i'm not lying about anything.
i'm not covering up for someone.
i'm not ashamed of who i am.
i've got myself back.
i've got me.
and for now, that's enough.