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What does it mean to have courage?
Courage, by definition, means “the ability to do something that frightens one; strength in the face of pain or grief.”
To me, courage meant finally realizing that I deserved a better life. It meant leaving an impossible situation. It meant temporarily leaving my kids behind in the hope I would get them back in my life. It meant escaping from a life filled with toxicity. For me, courage didn’t come easily, or without sacrifice, and it took many years for me to find it.
In our 20s, we barely know who we are as a person. How could we possibly know what we want? Similarly, I had no clue. When he came along, I was 25. Things moved quickly and we thought we were in love. I didn’t learn until years later that it wasn’t love at all.
We dated for a few months and decided that living together was the next logical step. So, after four short months, we moved into an apartment. We didn’t have much in common besides having attended the same high school. I don’t think either one of us was truly ready for where life was taking us.
After some late-night (and alcohol-fueled) conversations, the topic of starting a family came up. Up to that point, I had no interest in becoming a mom. It wasn’t something I had spent a lot of time thinking about. He expressed his desire to be a father. Thinking that I likely wouldn’t meet anyone else at this stage in my life, and not wanting to be single again, I told him that I thought it was a great idea. Two months later, I was pregnant.
If you’re a parent, you know how quickly those early years go. One minute, it’s long nights of endless feedings and diaper changes, and the next, your kid is school-aged. It feels like all you did was blink, and years have flown by. Before I knew it, we were parents to two little girls.
While those years were flying by, our family got bigger; but our relationship never grew. We were still as much strangers as we were in the beginning. Now, the only thing we had in common was our daughters. As most anyone can guess, that wasn’t enough to hold things together.
The atmosphere in our home was chilly and stressed, at best. There was a lot of animosity between he and I. The last five years of our marriage were filled with false accusations, name-calling, and explosive rage. It was toxic for all four of us. Not only were he and I miserable, but our kids were also unhappy.
I had a hard time dealing with the turmoil at home. My depression and anxiety were worsening by the day. The constant arguments were driving me over the edge. I often struck out with angry words of my own. I’m not proud of my behavior during those really hard years. But, it’s only natural to become defensive.
I started drinking more frequently and heavier than I normally would. I also used food to comfort me. These bad habits made me dislike myself even more. I carried around a lot of guilt for the way I was behaving and what I was exposing my kids to. Although I tried hiding as much as possible from them, they bore witness to things that no kid should ever hear or see.
The whole situation came to a head one day in the spring of 2019. I remember looking at my reflection in the mirror and not recognizing the person staring back at me. I was a shell of a person. I didn’t see myself anywhere in that likeness. The one thought I remember having, one that I will never forget, was this: I will die if I stay in this house.
That was it. That was rock bottom. After years of misery and fighting and crying, I finally hit my lowest point. Getting to that point is what helped me to realize what I needed to do. I knew that I needed to make some serious—and drastic—changes in my life. Not only for myself but also for my daughters. It was time to come up with a plan.
I stayed with my parents for six months. I left behind the life I had known for so long. The day I left was one of the scariest days of my life. I worked hard to save my money. I worked hard to heal myself and my girls. It was the hardest, and most rewarding, work I had ever done.
All of my hard work paid off in the winter of 2019. He and I finally divorced. My girls and I moved into our new house and started our new lives. Finally, there was peace in my life, in my heart, and in my home.
It’s been almost three years, and I am a completely different person. I’m back to myself again and it feels amazing. I’m happy. But, more importantly, my girls are happy.
It was a long, and extremely rocky, road. But finally, we made it.