I’m watching a series on Max right now about Julia Child. It’s her story of her co-authoring Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and it’s her story of how she developed the first cooking show on television, but mostly, it’s our story about how the roles of women, enforced by a certain type of man, began to be questioned, and eventually overthrown by really strong women, like Julia, who refused to “fit the bill” of the small and quiet woman.
I want to be like Julia in my way and in my corner of the world. I want to talk about the things that feel impossible for us. There’s a vast amount of injustices women incur daily–so many we often have to dismiss them to stay in a happy mood. I try to be someone who shares vulnerably, but I must admit I’ve also been afraid of the consequences of sharing what I’ve been through, as there have been some quite domineering men in my life enforcing the idea they have power over me.
So, I’m speaking up after a long silence I’ve held for my safety, and for the protection of my kids, ego, and the reputation of those involved. I’ve reached a chapter of my journey–the second act if you will, where my self-trust seems to be overpowering anyone else’s influence. Watching other strong women say their truth gives me the courage to tell more of my story, and knowing I’m not alone has delivered me of the restraints I've allowed myself to be silenced with.
Almost eight years ago, I came out to a large readership audience on a personal blog.
At the time, I was married to a minister, and our role was serving over five hundred families in a conservative, small-town, Evangelical mega-church situation. I’d suffered the anti-gay brainwashing at an early age from my chosen religious pill and hadn’t come to the awareness of my sexuality until my mid-thirties. After a few years of secretly wondering if I was gay, I got up the nerve to tell my husband, whose first response was excitement over a possible three-way. Later, when I was sitting with my therapist discussing how I was going to create this reality shift of an announcement, I told her I thought it best to take the blame for our divorce. She advised me against that, but I was afraid to tell the truth.
I never shared in that blog post the infidelity I’d been subjected to that began early in our marriage and created a huge cloud of unworthiness over my existence. I also didn’t share about the abusive behaviors that kept me staying all those years and how scared I was to leave.
Sometimes I look back on the memories of walking in on him, the awful, informative phone calls, and that deep pit of knowing I ignored, and feel angry I didn’t leave sooner. However, I now also understand he was emotionally controlling me with his moods to enforce his opinions and to isolate me from any sense of community, even with my parents. So, I had no one else to turn to, no one to go to for help, and three small children in tow. After many years of silence, during which I was not even allowed to tell our marriage counselors of the affairs, I finally found one solid friend I felt I could trust. She was a fellow mom at church, and we served together for many years helping other women. She was a breast cancer survivor and a truly genuine person. After about five years of spending all our time together, I got up the nerve to talk about the cheating.
My friend was very supportive, and we launched into a new layer of extreme honesty with each other. In the next couple of years, the building of trust and opening of my heart to her allowed me to hear myself say that I might want to be married to a woman if anything should happen to my husband. At that point, divorce didn’t feel like an option for me, but I was beginning to open to the possibility of something different. I began therapy with my own counselor, one who was not steeped in the Christian mindset of repressed sexuality and truth. This is where things really began to move for me.
It took me a further two years to get up the courage to realize I was gay, to say it out loud, and to begin taking steps to live that life. Once I’d told my husband, the next person I felt safest to tell was my best friend. I sat her down in my favorite chair and gave it to her as gently as I could. I was aware that the shock wave from being the minister's wife to a lesbian was cavernous. Her response, though, felt weird even for this reality shift. For two solid weeks, she asked me if I was sure I was gay, to which I replied every time, “Yes, very sure!” I was confused about how to convince her and frankly hurt that I needed to. I didn’t get it. Then the call came that she needed to confess something as well: she let me know she’d been secretly in love with my husband for the last two years, and that she was currently on her way out of her marriage to be with my husband.
Well, now it was my time for shock. I couldn’t understand why she thought he wouldn’t cheat on her too. Betrayed again, I tried to remain calm with them. My husband had threatened me for years against leaving and told me if I asked for a divorce or tried to work outside the home, I’d suffer the consequences and there would be no shared parenting or child support. He’d also encouraged me to question my willpower and intuition as often as possible, so I felt truly helpless without his wisdom, friendship, and protection. I saw this news as an opportunity, despite my utter and complete fury at the two of them. I wanted to leave, and they wanted to be together.
So that’s what we did, silently, and secretly behind closed doors. I said I was gay, everyone looked towards me, and they snuck off backstage to do their own affairs.
The judgment and shunning I got for being gay from our community was drastic and complete. Within a year of sharing my post, I decided I loved myself too much to stay there and got myself to one of the gayest cities in America for more support. My ex agreed to the terms of the divorce, and I was finally free. Once the divorce became public, friends I grew up with who’d seen my husband in bars with other women over the years began to reach out and let me know I’d made the right choice.
But the thing is, abusive people learn their behaviors usually pretty young in life, and once they taste the joy of their power over another, they’re not super likely to let it go–even if they pretend to or are distracted for a moment.
Even if you move clear across the country and let them have their desserts. So my freedom lasted all of five minutes until my ex found ways to threaten me from afar. There was no child support, as promised. There was no co-parenting, as promised, but there was plenty of “you owe me” and “why won’t you put yourself at risk for me anymore”.
Years have passed now, with almost no communication, cooperation, or compassion from him. The kids are grown now, and recently, the boys have decided to bridge their hurt and loss by living with him and repairing things or learning how to have a healthier relationship. As hard as that has been for me, they’ve simultaneously appeased him enough to stop the attacks on me and have learned firsthand why I left.
I was lucky to have raised my children, as a lot of women who leave abusive relationships, or even straight marriages for gay ones, often lose custody of their kids in the process.
It’s a matter of logistics as those same women are usually isolated socially, coming from a similar situation where they were not allowed to work outside the home, or maintain close friends, and consequently have no experience or connections to land a decent-paying job to support their children.
And this is why I’m finally sharing more of my story.
The thing is, my work has been to forgive and heal. Forgive myself, him, the situation, the karma, and in doing so gain the wisdom and light to heal myself and others. I’m well aware that I’m not alone, and that my abuse was easier than many others. This is what propels me to continue my inner work so I can be a beacon and a sign of hope to those in need. It’s why this work of finding inner truth, peace, worthiness, resilience, bravery, and wholeness is so important to me, and why I can’t seem to do anything else with my time and energy.
I wanted you to know I’m not speaking of healing trauma and trust issues out of theory I learned in a class on counseling anxious people.
My experiences have taught me. They’ve been a gift, even the challenging ones–especially the challenging ones. Those are the ones that taught me how strong I am and how capable we all are of healing.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, or one where you’re being made to feel small and powerless, please reach out in whatever way feels safest to get help. And know that sometimes we can only tell parts of the truth while being loyal to ourselves and working our way into safer waters. Eventually, there will come a day when you’ve grown so big and strong in your own light, that no darkness will threaten to put you out, and you can tell as much of your truth as you want.