For the past eighteen years, April 1st was more than the traditional April Fool’s Day. It was also my wedding anniversary. My SoonToBe and I decided to elope on that day. When we told my family, they thought it was an April Fool’s Day joke. Especially when they saw the marriage license and the presiding judge’s name was the Honorable James Puffenburger.
But it wasn’t a prank. It was real. As real as marriage can be.
For sixteen of those years, we lived in the same household. We had happy times. We built traditions together. We had a house and pets and eventually a son together. I stood by SoonToBe as he tried to face job losses, a bipolar diagnosis, alcohol addiction, and a dependence on prescription pills for a variety of reasons. I believed that if I made his life easier, he would be able to conquer his demons, and he would find his way to becoming a true partner, rather than an emotional and financial dependent. I endorsed the promise checks he wrote me–he’d quit drinking, he’d find a job, he’d help me take care of a home.
But his checks always bounced.
Through it all, I did what I could. The thing I did the most was praying. I prayed that SoonToBe would quit drinking. I prayed that he would rely on counseling to help him handle his psychological problems. I prayed that he would find a job. I prayed and pleaded and begged. My prayers went unanswered.
Then one day, I sent God a different kind of prayer. Two years ago, I was at the end of my rope. I wanted SoonToBe gone. I couldn’t share a home and watch his self-destructive behavior any longer. I couldn’t let Tommy think that this was an acceptable way to live. I told SoonToBe how I felt and he mockingly told me that I couldn’t kick him out of the house because his name was on our lease too. There was no way I could make him go. I was stuck.
Hopelessness is a terrible place to live.
So I said a new prayer. I told God that if I am supposed to stay, help me to find a way to stay. But if I’m supposed to leave, find me a way. Find me a path. Point me in the right direction. Be my compass, God.
The very next day, I repeat, THE VERY NEXT DAY, I received a text from a friend that she and her husband had purchased a new house and wanted to rent their current home. She wanted to know if I would be interested.
For sixteen years I had prayed for something and it didn’t happen.
For one day I prayed for God’s direction, and He pointed the way.
My reaction? I was scared to death. Terrified. Because now I had a path. A divine course of action was revealed to me. Even though God answered my prayer, and I knew I had to do my part, I wasn’t sure if I could go through with it. As awful as it was living in a toxic relationship, I knew leaving SoonToBe would devastate him. He would have nowhere to go and no financial resources to rely on.
On the flip side, living with him was devastating me. I was emotionally bankrupt. As hard as it was going to be to hurt SoonToBe, I couldn’t believe that anything was going to improve. He had violated my trust and taken advantage of me for so long. He was never going to do what he needed to do to be a better father, a better husband, a better man. The hard truth that I realized was that as long as I was there to be the living example of co-dependence, he would never change. Nothing would change.
So I did the hard thing. I delivered the devastating news. I endured the backlash. I held firm to my plan to move forward for myself and for my son. I moved from the house that was toxic and dark and plagued with stress. I moved to a home that was filled with light and hope and solace. I am a better mother, a better friend, a better sister, a better me.
In fact, since that day, I am discovering who I am. For sixteen years, I compromised who I was in an effort to help SoonToBe. However, I am really trying to not criticize myself for that time. If things had happened differently, if I had cut bait earlier, I might not have Tommy now. I fiercely hold on to that truth when The Judge tries to let regret and shame in. Regret and Shame have no place in my home. They’re like vampires; they can’t come in unless they’re invited. I’m doing my damnedest to block that invitation.
This was the last April 1st that I will be married to SoonToBe. Divorce proceedings are under way. He and I are finally in a place that we are able to co-parent civilly. He’s made a few steps towards recovery that make me hopeful for him, for his own sake and for Tommy’s. But that’s where it ends. There is no chance for reconciliation, which is a relief for me.
One of the strongest things I ever did was to admit defeat on my marriage. As soon as I waved the white flag, I began empowering myself, rather than enabling him. It still hurts, but not as acutely. I still cry at times, but not for a marriage that died. I cry for the marriage that could have been. To comfort myself, I rely on the words that Glennon Doyle Melton used when she and her husband divorced. “Our marriage isn’t over. It is complete.”
Yesterday, on April 1st, I noticed a sign of completion. I had my offertory envelope for church next to me as I wrote out my donation check. My church sends preprinted envelopes with the parishioners’ names and addresses on them. My envelopes have always had both my name and SoonToBe’s name included. I always scratch off his name. Yesterday, when I went to scratch off his name, it wasn’t there. It was just me. My church envelope finally represented my new life. It’s just me. It’s just me living on an answered prayer.