Monday, March 3, 2014

Being Divorced

I decided on the topic for this blog at the encouragement of a friend of mine.  We were discussing my relationship with my ex husband and my children from my first marriage.  I have five children, as you all know.  My oldest three, Tyler, Colton, and Paige, are products of my first marriage, although a lot of people do not know that.  My current husband came into our lives when Paige was almost two years old, so he has been around most of their lives.  Mike and I have two children together, Michael and Victoria.  When someone refers to them as Tyler, Colton and Paige's "half" siblings, it takes me a moment to register that thought.  To me, they are brothers and sisters and there is no "half" involved.  They have lived together all their lives and Mike has been a good father to all of my children for almost 14 years now.

My ex husband, David, and I, have a good relationship now.  Colton recently had his "senior night" at his final home basketball game. David and I walked out on the court with Colton as his parents.  During the game, Michael and I sat with David, his wife, and her mother to watch the game.  While watching the game, it occurred to me that this may seem like a weird arrangement.  I was talking to David's wife like old friends, discussing work stressors and the grandson.  We were passing the grandson, Ayden, among us at his whim, and he enjoyed every minute of it. 

David and I have not always had that relationship.  We were together for a little less than ten years.  I was 15 when we met.  We were just kids, both of us the products of major dysfunction and looking for ways to anger our parents.  David was a drug addict.  I had never been around drugs, ever.  I didn't know what pot looked like.  I had no idea what was out there.  I remember going to parties as teenagers and people calling David off to the side to "talk" to him.  Everyone knew I was against drugs and wouldn't stand to be with an addict, so they had well-choreographed routine to keep me from knowing what was going on during these "talks" outside my presence.  Drugs were not the only dysfunction in our relationship. 

I came from a family with a little bit of money.  We were not wealthy by any means, but my father had served 25 years in the USAF and had retired and subsequently died with a service related injury.  I benefited financially from this arrangement, and had my own money to spend on whatever I needed and wanted.  I had my own phone line, my own car, and money to do what I wanted.  In the days before cell phones, having your own phone line in your room was a big deal.  I also had built my own large bedroom in our basement and had the perfect set up for a teenager craving independence.  I remember coming home from school and immediately calling David.  Not because I wanted to, however, but because he had threatened me that if I didn't, he would commit suicide.  If I was so much as five minutes late with the phone call, I knew I would have to settle in for an entire night of emotional blackmail, accusations of "cheating" on him, and hours of begging him not to kill himself.  I was 15, and I absolutely believed he would kill himself if I didn't act the way I was "supposed" to.  At a young age, I made the decision that I would rather be unhappy with him alive than unhappy with the weight of his suicide on my shoulders.  Looking back, I realize I was in this crazy cycle of abuse and did not know I could step out of it at any point.  My mother remembers hearing me cry into my phone from my bedroom until the wee hours of the morning, begging David to forgive me for whatever imagined infraction I had committed, like talking to a male friend, or having homework that was more important than talking to him on the phone.  As an introduction to committed relationships, that really sucked.

Time went on and David and I graduated high school and moved into an apartment together.  I went on to college.  I forfeited a full-ride scholarship for my vocal skills because being in a relationship with David would not allow me to put adequate time into being in the award-winning college vocal program. I thought I was in love, and that was more important than college.  I ended up pregnant with Tyler and gave birth at 19, then dropped out of college because I didn't think I could handle a baby and school.  Looking back, I give myself a mental "face-palm" at that decision, since I got a bachelor's and master's degree having three young children at home.  David could not hold a job.  The record for the time we were together, was six months of employment.  He would quit, get fired, stop showing up, whatever, with every job he had.  We had no solid income and I lost my dad's money because I quit going to school.  We had our own house, and my mother did foot the very small house payment, and utilities. 

The abuse was not only emotional, but eventually worked into physical abuse.  Both of us were very quick to lash out physically at one another.  If he hit me, I hit back harder.  I got pregnant with Colton when Tyler was 8 months old.  I remember the despair I felt when I watched that home pregnancy test turn positive.  I felt as though my life was ending, as I was then officially stuck in this position. We finally got married when Colton was a year old.  A year later, along came Paige.  At this point, I was working at a local book distributor and making a little bit of money.  David was home with the children and I rationalized that he was a stay at home father and that was ok.  At three years old, Tyler taught my mother how to roll a joint.  I was still in denial of what was going on.  I heard that David was taking the kids to the drug house around the corner, but I ignored it.  At some point, I decided it was best for the kids if they stayed with my mother while I worked.  I still was not ready to give up on my marriage. I got married thinking it was the one thing that would "save" David.  I was wrong.

We finally split. We saw a marriage mediator and she put the situation in words I could understand..."emotional blackmail."  She used the term "abusive relationship" and I was shocked.  I wasn't constantly in fear for my life, no black eyes, no running screaming from the house.  I didn't understand how I got there and if this was really happening.  David and I agreed to meet to discuss things, in a public place.  The mediator stressed to me that I needed to drive myself to and from the meeting.  I was naïve and allowed David to pick me up for the meeting.  Instead of driving me to the fast food place, for our public meeting, he drove north on a winding, dangerous country road.  We were in his father's pickup and he was taking corners at 80 mph.  He said that if he couldn't have me, nobody could.  I begged him to stop.  I told him I loved him and we would work things out.  He eventually drove me back to work.  I kissed him then ran inside.  I told my supervisor what had happened and she just shook her head and said, "you guys are going to end up killing each other." I called my mother and she took me to see a counselor that day. The counselor didn't have time to see me for an appointment, but Mom explained the situation and he sat me down long enough to convince me to get a restraining order and stay out of that situation.  I finally did what I knew I had to do.

From there, things were pretty tough with David.  We had a messy separation and messy, drawn-out divorce.  During that time, I met Mike and fell in love.  There was no abuse there.  I could talk to whomever I wanted, he had a job, the possibilities were endless for me.  I quit my job, filed for divorce and enrolled in school during the same week in May 2000.  David ended up moving out of state and we had no contact for a couple of years.  Tyler was old enough to remember his dad and I had a rough time with him.  Thankfully, David's parents were still involved with the kids.  David eventually started coming around occasionally.  He was only given supervised visitation with the kids, and my mother supervised.  As years went on, David began to grow up.  He eventually moved back to my hometown with his parents.  I trusted his parents, so I allowed them to supervise the visitation with the kids.  He was still irresponsible and childish, but he was beginning to form a good relationship with the kids. 

Our discussions became more civil and eventually, we were able to talk.  He apologized for the hell that was our relationship, or at least part of it.  He never has fully taken responsibility for everything he did, but, I probably haven't either.  Tyler was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of nine.  After that came numerous hospitalizations and David and I began to talk more and more about Tyler and doing what was best for our children.  They were developing a good relationship with him.  David finally met his current wife.  She was much younger than he was and came from a rough home life.  I was not fond of the idea at first, as she was so young, but eventually, I saw how she treated my children.  She loved them.  I also saw that she was good for David.  He was growing up.  He didn't hit her or abuse her.  He was in and out of prison a couple of times for an old charge he had, but for the most part, he was getting his life turned around.  David's wife's sister used to stay at our house on occasion, to be with the kids.  We talked about what was going on with her and David's wife and I became something akin to friends. 

As time progressed, we were able to do more things together for our children.  Mike and David's wife were very understanding and always supported whatever was best for the children.  Paige had to have major surgery once and David, his wife, Mike and I all rode together to take Paige for surgery.  We took turns going into the recovery room. I knew at that point that things would be ok.

We have still have our disagreements at times and I will in no way insist that our relationship is all roses.  There is still a lot of hurt there.  I have PTSD from some of the things that happened with David and that is nothing to take lightly.  However, I saw the way he began to change, and become a father to his children.  I vowed never to keep the kids from him as long as they were safe, and I never have.  There have been times when Michael and Victoria wanted to go with the older kids when they visited their dad, and they have.  David and his wife have been very kind to Michael and Victoria. 

I wish I could tell you at what point, exactly, David and I were able to make peace with one another.  I wish I could give you some magical formula for coming together as parents for your children. Unfortunately, those things do not exist. I also wish I could tell you that I never have the urge to punch him in the throat.  Unfortunately, that urge still bubbles to the surface on occasion.  The only thing that has seemed to work for us is the unselfish, complete, unconditional love and acceptance of our children and supportive spouses who feel the same way.  My children deserved to have loving parents who wanted the best for them.  They now have four parents who work together to make sure they are loved and taken care of.  If I could bottle this up and sell it to divorced parents, I would.  I think that my children sometimes have no idea how lucky they are to have this in their lives. 

I know that there will always be tough times, but I  pray that we can continue working toward doing the best thing for our children.  I hope that my story helps other parents struggling with divorce and the products of divorce.  I will say that I know without a doubt, beside my children, the best thing to ever happen in my relationship with David came from being divorced.