On Hope

In this blog, I have focused primarily on my struggle. Recovering from domestic violence has been a struggle unlike any other that I have ever encountered. It is a daily struggle to combat the memories, to fight against his voice that remains in my head, to tell myself that I am good enough, worthy enough, strong enough, lovable enough, that I am “enough” of anything.
I haven’t spoken much about where I am today because there are many days where I feel that I am not far enough along on this journey to offer any hope or consolation about what this journey has to offer, but in the past week, I had an experience that put things into perspective, and I have realized that I am enough.
I may not be enough for him, but I am enough for myself.
Last week, I went to Seattle for a writer’s conference. Last year, at this time, I went to the same conference in Boston. When I look back at this past year, I can’t necessarily pinpoint how I felt at a certain time. I can’t say “I felt this way in February,” but this major event gave me the opportunity to compare. And I can say, in all honesty, that last year at the conference, I felt much, much worse than I felt this year.
When I saw my roommates this year—who I hadn’t seen since last year—they both commented on how much better I look, how much happier I seem, how much stronger I seem. And I am. I am all of those things.
I am happy. And strong. And better.
Last year, at this time, I felt hopeless. Like most people, I have struggled with sadness in my lifetime, but I had never felt hopeless before that point. Hopelessness is terrible. If I hadn’t had my son who I needed to be strong for, I don’t know if I would have survived that feeling. I kept waking up in the mornings for him, but I would have preferred to stay in bed, to never wake up again.
I remember my counselor asking me what were the things that I enjoyed doing? I paused. “I enjoy writing,” I said.
She rolled her eyes. “Writing is your work,” she said. “What are the things you like to do for fun?” I couldn’t answer that question. I didn’t know how to answer that question. There was nothing in my life that I thought was enjoyable.
But, in the past week, I had so much fun. I went to Seattle. (I find travel enjoyable.) I presented as part of a panel on publishing nonfiction. (I find my career enjoyable.) I spent time with my friends. (I find my friends enjoyable.) I went shopping. (I find shopping enjoyable.) I went to good restaurants. (I find dining out enjoyable.) I went to Pike Place Market. (I find sightseeing enjoyable.) I returned home and spent time with my parents and my son. (I find my family enjoyable.) I went for a walk on campus with my parents. (I find walking enjoyable.) I cuddled up on the couch with my son. (I find cuddling with my son enjoyable.)
My life is enjoyable.
When I look back at this time last year, things were so different. At this conference, I inevitably run into friends of my ex-husband. Last year, at this time, I was still covering for him, still hiding what had happened when I ran into his friends. This year, again, I saw some friends of his. It was awkward. I don’t know where those friends stand on this issue, and I have realized that I have no desire to be friends with people who are willing to prop up an abuser. If you are still friends with my abuser, then I don’t want to be friends with you. It is that simple. Still, even though it was awkward, I could handle it. I have lots of friends. I don’t need any more. I don’t need to grieve the loss of people who make excuses for abusive men because my life is full of people who don’t. My life is full of amazing, loving people who are willing to take a stand, and I feel blessed every day with those people. 
In the past year, I have reached out to my friends when I have felt hopeless. I have reconnected with people who I had lost touch with, and I have sought out new friendships. I have not dated. I have chosen to place myself first, and that choice has freed me from my hopelessness.
When I look at the life my ex-husband is living, it feels almost ungenerous to compare our situations. He is living a solitary, lonely existence. He, too, wants to be a writer, but like most abusive men, he struggles with a compulsion for violent pornography. I hesitate to use the word addiction because the jury is still out on whether pornography can be an addiction, but if looking at violent porn for twelve hours at a time constitutes an addiction, then the word addiction might be more appropriate.  I don’t know; I just know that he has been unable to write for a long time because he can’t spend time on the computer without getting distracted. I feel compassion for him about this. I genuinely feel that it is out of his control. When we were married, I didn’t feel compassion about this subject. I felt betrayed and angry, but moving into a state of compassion has freed me from that bitterness, and bitterness feels, well….yucky. I no longer feel yucky in that way.

 I also know that, for a long time, I held myself back from my own writing because I was concerned about hurting him. I didn’t want to have success because that would affect his self-esteem, and he was my priority. He once said that his number one resentment was “other people’s success,” and I felt that acutely. I chose not to be a success because I didn’t want to be another source of his resentment. But now, I can be a success. I can write anything I want to write. I can publish anywhere I want to publish. I can be anything I want to be. And I find that enjoyable.

9 thoughts on “On Hope

  1. Anonymous

    I am friends with Kelly Sundberg. I find this relationship enjoyable, and I find reading her writing enjoyable. I am thankful that she got out of her abusive marriage so that I can continue to have her as a friend.

    -Rebecca Schwab

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  2. I've just found your blog, and I want to say how much I applaud and admire your bravery and resilience in not only moving forward with your life, but working towards the life you choose. My own situation was not as traumatic as yours, but I also left a marriage (rooted in an unplanned pregnancy) in which my partner became increasingly negative, resentful, and resistant to my personal growth and changing ambitions. 10 years after it ended, my life is almost unrecognizable: I've earned an MA, am currently at work on my PhD dissertation, my three kids are happy to live in a home where people respect one another, and have even found a supportive, loving partner. Hang in there – you have already done so much, and I feel certain you will achieve everything you want and deserve.

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  3. I came across your work “It will look like a sunset” on Guernicamag, I cannot begin to understand the trauma and pain that you went through, even though you have written about it with such clarity.

    I hope that the beauty in your writing that came out of the pain you suffered will be a source of encouragement for many women all around the world.I spent a few minutes going through your blog and I witnessed so much strength and beauty in your writing, qualities that have eluded so many people. May you continue to heal and have many more happy and delightful moments to replace all of those memories that haunt you.

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  4. I was introduced to your writing in my Women and Writing class, we read 'It Will Look Like a Sunset' and were assigned to write some points of reflection. In my points of reflection I began to write that I did not like the way that time was marked '6 months after I left…' I found myself writing the sentence “it's as if leaving Caleb was the most important thing that she's ever done…”. Then it dawned on me that leaving was the most important thing that you have done. Stay strong and I now understand your choice.

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  5. Traci L. Knipp

    I also was introduced to your story in the Women in Writing class, I would like to commend you on your strength to endure such a hard past and be able to share your story with so many that go through the same types of abuse and keep it hid so well that people don't believe that it happen. I personally have watched my Mother and Daughter go through a lot of the same things and can gladly say they are both out of the relationships that caused so much pain. I'm so happy that you and your son are able to move on with your life and hope you have an outstanding future full of true love and support.

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