69: Love Is Not Pain

69: Love Is Not Pain

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

Love Is Not Pain

Be careful to leave your sons well instructed rather than rich, for the hopes of the instructed are better than the wealth of the ignorant.

~Epictetus

He pulled out the rifle, pointed the barrel right at my face, and shouted profanities. I only had a few seconds to react. I did the unimaginable. I cried and begged him to forgive me. The only thought that entered my mind was, “What would my son do if he lost his parents in a murder-suicide?”

Those few seconds felt like a lifetime. Though the gun turned out to be not loaded, that day has been deeply ingrained in my mind forever. It was the day I would never look at my husband the same way again, and yet, it would take me nearly seven more years to finally leave him.

That life-altering event occurred one beautiful, sunny day in the summer of 1996. We were a young couple with a beautiful toddler. It was meant to be a day spent with my husband’s family, barbecuing and fishing at the park. The day turned dark quickly because of our miscommunication. He had issues with anger management and my issues as a codependent lover perpetuated our roller coaster of a marriage. He often overreacted and overexpressed himself while I suppressed my true feelings and stayed quiet. When we were doing well as a couple, we were madly in love. When we struggled, it was toxic and life threatening.

I replayed in my head, so many times, how we got to a place of such bitterness and resentment. Perhaps marrying at age sixteen, before completely maturing, played a huge factor in our crumbling marriage. Or, perhaps I had been taught that unconditional love meant enduring any and all pain that comes with it. Whatever the case, I knew that something did not sit right with me and that I had to explore this burning flame flickering inside my gut.

As much as I despised him for treating me with disrespect, I realized that I co-created that situation because I stayed silent for so long. My husband often told me I provoked the abuse. Though I logically knew that wasn’t true, I hadn’t developed a strong enough belief system to disagree with him. In fact, I subscribed to his beliefs and began second-guessing my own. I didn’t want to be rude. I wanted to be the better person. Therefore, I subjected myself to years of suppressed thoughts and unexpressed feelings and made myself sick to my stomach.

One fall evening in 2002, I had my first epiphany. Nearly six years after pointing that rifle at me, my husband went away for a weekend of deer hunting with his friends. I vividly recall that chilly fall afternoon, secretly fantasizing about my life without him. I imagined waking up every day excited to live on my own terms and finally having my own voice without his criticism and dictatorship. By 2003, the flames flickering inside my gut became unbearable. When I asked my older brother what that meant, he told me, “You’re yearning for more.” Though I didn’t know what more was, I just knew that I had to start my journey of self-discovery and had to trust I would figure it out when I did. Unlearning twenty-six years of conditioned behavior is extremely difficult to do. However, it wasn’t impossible.

Having the innate inclination to please others, I immediately thought of my little boy and asked myself, “What kind of role model do I want to be for my son?” My little boy was only ten when my husband and I divorced in 2003. That little angel of mine taught me one of the most profound lessons in my life when he shared with me, “Mom, I’m sad about the divorce, but you taught me that I have to stand up for myself when people put me down.”

I thought that being unconditionally loving and strong as a wife, mother, and daughter meant bending over backwards and being able to endure the worst pain. I finally learned that love does not have to include pain, and that taking the high road means that you show others the kind of respect you expect for yourself, not letting other people treat you badly. I learned that you have permission to use your voice.

I had my voice all along, but I didn’t know I could use it. It took a ten-year marriage of me getting it wrong, and the wisdom from my ten-year-old son to remind me that I have permission to use my voice. Now I carry this new belief with me, that I am good enough, as I dedicate my life and work as a coach, speaker and writer. Today I help other women speak up, stand out, and change their world.

~Berni Xiong

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