When I lost my daughter, everything changed.
There were a lot of prayers that were felt, rather than said. There were a lot of hard days. There was a lot of loneliness on my part that our marriage wasn’t prepared to handle. Some days it didn’t feel real; others, horribly more so. I don’t believe I’ve ever been in so much spiritual pain in my whole life.
And yet, my whole perspective changed. I realized how important it was to live so that we can return to our Father in Heaven again. I realized how essential the Atonement and subsequent Resurrection of the Savior is to our eternal happiness. I realized just how true the gospel of Jesus Christ was, and how painfully empty life would be if I didn’t know of it. And I learned that life, with all of its pain and suffering, is simply…
Beautiful. Exquisite. Indescribable.
In the ensuing months I battled severe depression, in addition to all of the symptoms that come with POTS/dysautonomia and a recovery from major abdominal surgery.
I visited my parents – and a fabulous therapist-slash-life coach – and started making some needed changes in my life. My relationship with my family, my God, and myself improved immensely. Unfortunately, my relationship with my husband did not. In fact, it got really bad.
Despite my every effort to be happy and enrich my marriage, despite begging to go through an addiction recovery program with my husband and even seeking ecclesiastical help, despite countless conversations about why I felt like we needed to go to marital therapy, and his denial in the phrase, “but that’s for people who are going to get a divorce,” I found myself in the middle of an emotionally and physically abusive relationship. One where even little thoughts and ideas of mine didn’t matter, didn’t count. One where even my daughter’s name became a weapon, meant to put me back in my place. One where my basic human needs were not met or prioritized. One where I was more likely to be cowering in a corner, in a closet, under a table than to feel loved or cherished by the person I essentially abandoned my family for just a year earlier. One where reason gave way to physical force.
One where I wilted, day after day, just hoping and trying and following every bit of marriage counsel I could to at least survive daily life. Until I had done everything I could.
Finally, I had the poignant realization that this wasn’t me. And I was NOT happy. Finally, after the worst months of my life – including the months right after my sweet daughter’s passing – I left. I didn’t intend to leave forever at first. I just thought I needed some space to clear my head. But the day soon after that I had to run into the women’s bathroom on campus because I felt threatened in the middle of a crowd by the person who had promised to love and protect me was the day I also ran to the women’s center in the Wilk asking for a safe place to be.
And that was the day that I realized just what kind of relationship I was in, and what direction this relationship was heading.
I went through the process to obtain a do-not-contact order from the BYU police, who advised me that what I really needed was a protective order from the Provo police department, and set up a meeting with a victim advocate. It was scary, and overwhelming, but as I finally had someone listen to every detail of my story, it was so incredibly freeing and validating. It was like someone was taking a blindfold off my eyes for the first time.
For the first time, I was genuinely grateful for Jimmy’s presence in Provo. He was such a source of comfort and safety, whether he realized it or not. Even with his own crazy life to deal with, he was there to talk with me, to actually hear me, and to distract me when I sorely needed it. His wife was AMAZING enough to go with me and an officer to get the rest of my things, and to be my emotional support when I talked with the victim advocate and when I brought my papers to court.
Let’s just say the courts quickly approved my request.
A few weeks later, after some of the calmest nights I had had in what seemed like a lifetime, my dad flew out to Utah. He was there at the protective order hearing, where we agreed to drop the charges in exchange for the signed and notarized divorce papers, and we left that day with all of my material possessions stuffed into a black Charger.
And I’ve been home with my parents ever since.
Weirdly, I have never felt more centered or at peace. I have never felt such an overall level of peace, even though honestly it did take a whole month to finally get to the point where I didn’t have nightmares.
I know that relative to other domestic violence survivors, I got out relatively unscathed. Now I’m just left with a lot of anguished memories, and every once in a while my left arm aches, reminding me of pain long past. I didn’t have any long-lasting physical wounds; for that I am grateful.
And yet, there have been people I once considered friends who go beyond wondering if there was anything to save my marriage. I have had ‘friends’ tell me my husband’s posts on Facebook were sweet, and that should ‘count for something’; telling me they had lost all respect for me. I’ve had ‘friends’ I known for almost my whole life who still blame my divorce on my parents, or on me being immature and indecisive. I’ve had to completely reorder my understanding of friendship and boundaries.
But you know what?
I am safe – safer than I have felt in quite a while. I am happy – happier than I have been in even longer. And come March 30th, I will have gone a record number of days – two full months – without depressive thoughts, or thoughts of self-harm. It’s been two and a half years since I’ve gone this long, and I am so grateful for my Savior, making a way for me to escape what I consider a living hell.
Most people imagine hell to be a place of fire and brimstone, devils and pitchforks. My hell? I’ve already been there. It was a place where I lost myself catering to the whims of others. A place where I couldn’t bring myself to sing, even on my own. A place where joy was quickly stolen by indifference, where love brought pain and anguish, a place where tears and hysteria were the norm, and happiness was all about image and pretense.
I have learned so much in my past experiences that regret would weaken their lessons, so I don’t regret my choices. They were all made with the hope that they were the right decisions to make, and have brought me an increased capacity to feel joy now.
And probably most importantly? I have discovered a precious truth, that I am important. My ideas, my thoughts, my desires are all important. My life and what I achieve through it matters. And I can make a difference, no matter how small, in the life of another person.
I am amazing.
I promise myself that I will never forget that.