Shanda’s Story

Blue Skies

Blue skies, rainbows, tender mercies, and silver linings. Whatever you call them, they can help you get through dark and difficult times. Blue skies and tender mercies are my preferred terms. The idea of searching for the happy little moments in life, and expressing gratitude for those moments, while we are also enduring the hardest of trials is something simple yet can have an extraordinary impact on how we come through a difficult journey. Looking forward to blue skies, journaling them, and remembering has helped me get through some of the most challenging and painful times in my life.

Divorce

I vividly remember my parents gathering us kids in their bedroom and sitting on the bed with my whole family when I was around seven or eight years old. My parents told us that my grandparents were getting a divorce. Our entire extended family was very close, my cousins were my best friends, and I was devastated. I cried for ages it seemed. I mourned the thought that things were now going to be different. I didn’t want things to be different.

I come from a long line of divorcees. My maternal and paternal grandparents, my parents, aunts and uncles, and some of my six younger siblings have all been divorced. I was determined that I was never going to get divorced. I didn’t ever want to put my future children through that kind of pain. Divorce is painful for everyone involved.

Love at Home

From the time I can remember, my greatest wish and fondest hope was to become a wife and mother. But I knew I wanted my marriage to be different than the relationships I had observed before I got married. I wanted to laugh and play and hold hands and have a best friend who loved our family as much as I did. I wanted a home with mutual respect, shared common goals and teamwork. A home where love permeated the walls.

Red Flags

I was married for fourteen years to my first husband and we had four amazing children. There were red flags from the very beginning of our relationship, but I was so in love. And naïve. I didn’t even know the signs of an abusive relationship. I didn’t recognize the red flags for what they were. I had never closely observed  a healthy relationship. All I knew was that I had made my choice and I was determined to stick with it. I didn’t want to feel like a failure and my religious beliefs discouraged divorce. I am a faithful Christian and felt that getting a divorce would bring me and my family shame. I didn’t want to be different than my friends and the other families I was surrounded by at church. I wanted my family to be together forever. I didn’t want my kids to feel different.

 

Abuse 

For years I endured an unhealthy marriage relationship. Abuse on many levels was normal in our home. For most of my marriage, I didn’t live near family. I didn’t feel like I had many close friends I could confide in. It seemed that everyone else’s marriage was happy. I was told by my husband that if I talked to anyone besides him about the difficulties in our marriage, that I would be betraying our marriage trust. I wanted to be a good wife. I tried so hard to be a good wife. I told myself that one day things would get better and that my reward for enduring would come. I battled with postpartum depression but didn’t know it. I literally didn’t talk to a soul. Not a doctor, therapist, friend, or sister. No one.

We fought a lot, but then he would tell me he was sorry and buy me nice gifts. He gave me four amazing children and made my dreams of becoming a mom come true. I was, and am, so grateful to be a mom and have a home to take care of. When he was mean to me, I would tell myself that he wasn’t being mean, he was just being really honest, and honesty is a virtue. I believed that I was somehow at fault for the way he treated me.

Shame

When I thought about the fights we had I felt shame, even if I didn’t do anything to provoke them. My self-worth was at level zero. I felt that not only did my husband not love me, he didn’t even like me. I was told if I didn’t gain weight I could have extra “allowance” –money to spend on things other than household items and groceries. I’ve since learned that this type of abuse is called financial abuse. I regularly listened to my own husband call me a prude, fat cow, disgusting pig, lazy, a slut and a whore. I cried a lot. I believed all the things he said I was. Sometimes I still do. I went to the emergency room late one night at seven months pregnant because he pushed me, and I fell backward over our coffee table and we thought I may have broken my arm. We lied to the nurse about what happened. When another nurse pulled my husband aside to sign paperwork, I told my nurse I wasn’t afraid to go home. I was so ashamed that I had a marriage where we fought and let things get physical.

My Fault

I had done things too that I wasn’t proud of. Wasn’t some of the violence my fault because I provoked it? If I would just do what he wanted, how he wanted, he wouldn’t have the need to get upset. I stayed quiet. I always backed down, apologized first, and tried to never voice my opinions because I didn’t want a fight. All I wanted was to be happy and have a happy family. I told  myself it was fine. I never ever talked about my problems to anyone. No one knew how hard it was to live in our home. I tried to act happy so that maybe I would become happy.

I remember having the very distinct thought one time as a young mom and wife that I wasn’t living up to my potential and that I could become so much more. I couldn’t begin to reach my potential, so I shut down those thoughts because it was just too painful. That thought has stayed with me but at the time I not only shut the thought down, but also my life- I existed.

Someone Else’s Story Helped Me

Many years later I was having a conversation with a good friend. She shared with me an experience her friend was having. Her friend was married and pregnant with her third child and had just found out that her husband’s girlfriend was also pregnant and due around the same time she was. She said that her cheating husband was addicted to pornography. He tried to hide his addiction from her. She shared that she felt that many of their marital problems stemmed from his hidden addiction. Something in me clicked that day. I went home and pulled up the search history on our family computer. What I found was porn. Lots and lots of porn.

Pornography

I approached my husband with what I found, but he denied ever looking at porn. I was shattered. He denied so fervently what I knew, what I was holding right in front of him, that I thought I must be going crazy. I’ve since learned that this type of abuse is called gaslighting. He even blamed our oldest child who was eight at the time. In our marriage we talked regularly about pornography and my aversion to it. The idea of my husband viewing porn made me feel so bad about myself, like I couldn’t measure up, was sexually unskilled, and more worthless than I already felt. He promised me over and over on many occasions that he didn’t look at porn. He would tell me everyone else was viewing porn, other guys and my friend’s husbands were all looking at it but lying to their wives about it, but said he never did. He was so convincing how could I not believe him?

After that experience, I finally talked to someone! And I was given the poor advice that some men just have a stronger sex drive and need intimacy more frequently than other men. I was advised that I should try being intimate more often with my husband and maybe that would help solve our issues. I was still a very naive 35-year-old, so I tried. And for a while, things were better. Even though I felt even more awful about myself than before, I was relieved because the fighting and meanness had lessened some. But all I could think about while we were intimate was how disappointed he must be with me because I didn’t look like the girls he watched or know how to perform the way they did. I felt awful.

Cheating

A few years went by and brought more of the same, less of the same, romantic trips, and another child. I was fine. Things were fine. I wanted to be happy and was determined to be so. Then, when our fourth child was nine months old, he didn’t come home one night. It was the middle of the night, and I didn’t know where my husband was.

I didn’t know if the cheating started then or if it had been ongoing. I was still trying to do everything I could to keep my family together. Even after I found receipts for expensive flowers and nice dinners, women’s clothing in our bed that didn’t belong to me, toiletries in our shower that weren’t mine, and airline tickets with her name, I still didn’t know if divorce was the right decision for me. The good times were good enough, and I wanted our little family to last. Divorce had been so devastating to me in the past, and I wanted to save my children from that pain.

That summer, my husband and his girlfriend went on a tropical getaway together while I was home taking care of our four young kids. I was devastated and wasn’t sure how I was going to survive their trip and keep my family from suffering. When they returned, he asked if she could live with us in our extra casita so we could help her get out of her current job situation and learn a vocation. I gave the ultimatum that it was her or me and he answered that he wanted both. Only then did I know that divorce was the answer for me.

My Divorce

My divorce journey was tough. I had no family nearby and none of my close friends had been divorced. I was scared and didn’t know where to turn. I got through it with a lot of trial and error. I had the support of so many good friends and my family members did what they could from a distance. I needed help and that forced me to start sharing my experiences. I didn’t have a smooth divorce process, but I tried my best to conduct myself with grace and spare my children the details of my pain.

So many angel friends, family members, even strangers, helped me through my divorce process. I kept a gratitude journal filled with all of the wonderful ways, big and small, in which I was blessed. Recording these tender mercies, rainbows, silver linings and blue skies truly helped me navigate my divorce procedure and helped me keep a hopeful perspective.

Everyone’s story is different. Everyone makes the choices they truly feel are best at the time they are making them. The way I did things isn’t going to be the best way for someone else. My children are older now, two of them adults. I’ve shared my story with them. They love their dad and he loves them. My experiences are my own. Even after so many years have gone by, these things are still hard to talk about. It brings me to tears every time.

I Believe in Marriage

I believe in family. I believe in marriage. I believe that if two people are willing to work together to make a relationship better, they can. I believe that sometimes outside help from professionals is needed. I believe that thinking about other people ahead of ourselves can make us even happier. But not every marriage has two people willing to work together. And in cases of abuse in any form or infidelity without true remorse, I do believe making a graceful exit is necessary. I’m here to support women through a difficult process no matter their reason for choosing divorce.

Best Friend

I was determined to never marry again after my divorce. Thankfully, heaven stepped in and I’ve been happily married to my best friend for over five years. I have a best friend! I still can’t believe it sometimes. He likes me and he loves me. I prayed for kindness, but he is that and a million things more. He supports me in everything. He keeps me safe, my head and my heart. We laugh together, but it’s not the kind of laughter where someone’s feelings end up hurt. It’s the kind that makes you feel more loved and in love, and more grateful for the kind of love that brings joy to your heart. There’s a lightness. The kind of light that’s opposite of heavy but also the kind of light that’s bright. He’s full of light and he shares it. He lifts, cheers, brightens, compliments, listens, motivates, and inspires me. And I do the same for him. He’s like the teammate I never knew I always wanted. I didn’t really play sports growing up, so I had no idea how amazing it is to be part of a supportive team. There is no keeping score when there’s support and love. I’ve decided that our sport is pickleball and it doesn’t matter if we never win because we support each other no matter what. A supportive team is always a winning team.

Recovery

I’m still healing in some ways. I’m a recovering victim of abuse, addiction, infidelity, and trauma. I have suffered from PTSD and sometimes battle anxiety and depression. I’m a recovering perfectionist, self-doubter, worrier, and body shamer. Recovery takes work.

Blended Family

Blending families is hard. Really hard. I want people to know that divorce is not an escape to an easier life. There are times I mourn the family I lost. Holidays can be difficult when kids share time with another parent. And those things will always be hard. Time doesn’t really change that. I saw a quote recently on social media that rings true to me, “In case no one has told you before: It’s okay to feel grateful for being the person you are today while also feeling a whole lot of grief over how you got there. You don’t have to feel grateful for all of it.” @irismcalpin. But at the same time, I wouldn’t change what I’ve learned, who I’ve become, and where I am now. I am stronger. I am more capable, resilient, and independent than I ever thought possible. I’m a better mom, wife, teacher, leader, advocate and friend than I ever was. I have become a better version of myself because I chose to let my experiences shape me for the better. I chose to become a better version of myself because of my experiences, not in spite of them. The potential that I always knew was there is only now being uncovered. My children now have a positive and loving relationship modeled for them on a daily basis, and I don’t believe there is a better gift I could give them.

Share Light and Lift

I am terrified of heights. Worms give me the heebie-jeebies like nothing else. And the sound of Styrofoam crunching makes me shudder. However, not many things have been more terrifying than deciding to share a small part of my divorce story on a public forum. I heard a quote this week that said, “We gain strength by serving others.” That resonates with me. It’s in the lifting of others that we develop our own toughness. I believe in this community. I believe that we can support one another in our hard times. I believe that only good can come from changing the narrative that divorce is shameful. I believe in transparency. I know from experience that sharing our own dark places allows light to seep in. Some stories are ugly and sometimes they cause discomfort to those who hear them. That’s okay. I believe that talking, sharing, and having open dialogue is healing. My greatest desire is to help lift others in any way I can, and I believe that by sharing my story, I can lift others where they are. At least that is my hope.

Share Your Story

We want to hear from you. If you have a divorce story that you believe can help others and would like to share, please email us at community@thegracefulexit.com or visit our website. Shared experience is a powerful support for someone going through a difficult situation and sharing your story can also be healing for you.