44. Finding Support and Finding Myself

44. Finding Support and Finding Myself

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

Finding Support and Finding Myself

The first step to getting anywhere is deciding you’re no longer willing to stay where you are.

~Author Unknown

“Ouch!” Pain shot through my little toe after I tripped on my husband’s suitcase. Hobbling across the dark bedroom, I wished again that my husband, who worked a thousand miles away, were home more than one weekend a month. I would be able to join him once our house sold. Unfortunately, months turned into more than a year with no serious bites on our spacious country home.

I slid between the sheets beside my husband. His breath caught in mid-snore before he rolled over to snuggle. I felt secure in his muscular arms. His sleepy voice croaked, “You okay, Sally?”

Staring into the blackness, my body stiffened. I hissed, “No. And who is Sally?”

The silence went on too long before he groaned. My world tilted. Struggling for air, I grasped the betrayal of the man to whom I had pledged my life.

This was the start of six painful months of accusations and discussions that fed my rage, insecurity, and desire for revenge. I could not forgive the betrayal and reconciliation was not possible. My sixteen-year marriage was over.

My husband had been the center of my world and my introverted personality had kept me from developing close friends. Once divorced, I longed for close family or women friends to scheme with. I was sure revenge against my ex and Sally would give me peace.

Then one day I suffered the consequences of my obsession. “Panic attack?” I said to the young man in the white lab coat. “I’ve never had one. I was Christmas shopping, got short of breath and dizzy. I saw sparks of light and it sounded like a train running through my head, then everything went black.”

He nodded and flipped through the chart. “Your blood pressure is high and triglycerides and cholesterol are at dangerous levels. You say you take no prescriptions?”

“I don’t like pills.”

The doctor’s lips tightened. “You told the nurse you have a lot of stress—don’t sleep through the night. Do you take anything over the counter for anxiety?”

I shook my head, aware that he was watching my hands twisting one corner of the top sheet around my fingers. Sympathy seeped into his voice. “Do you have someone to talk to?”

“You mean a psychiatrist?” My chin lifted. “I went through a divorce over a year ago and still struggle a little, but I’ll be fine. Really.”

“Even so, make an appointment with your regular doctor. I’ll give you a prescription to help you sleep. Only a few days’ worth.”

He left for a few minutes and returned with the prescription and a brochure. “This is about a local divorce support group with a good reputation.”

“Oh, no. I can take care of myself.” I shivered at the thought of talking to a group of strangers.

He smiled. “We all need someone to talk to once in a while.” Pointing at the brochure, he said, “You know, I think divorce is one of the worst things a person can go through. My sister said that the support group at that church was the best thing she ever did. You might think about it.”

“I will,” I responded automatically. Yeah, right. A church. God deserted me years ago.

My mother and father didn’t go to church but their marriage survived more than fifty years. What was their secret? It was too late to ask them, and I wasn’t comfortable discussing it with my grown daughter from a previous marriage or my three older siblings.

The church on the brochure had four thousand members. I figured I could blend into the background and avoid an inquisition about my nonbelief in God. Instead of the divorce group, I chose a Sunday morning class for single people that sounded beneficial. I sat next to Brenda, a widow, and during the six-week class she taught me what being a real friend meant. With a non-judgmental manner, she encouraged me to attend an upcoming Christian weekend retreat for the widowed and divorced at Camp Beckwith on Weeks Bay.

For a while at the retreat I kept my car keys in my pocket, prepared for a quick escape. Finally, I realized that all thirty people attending were just like me, trying to find answers to the unfairness of life. In a large group, we listened to team members talk about different topics like anger and trust in God. After listening, each of us found an isolated spot to write answers to a list of questions in our journals. Later we discussed our thoughts in our small group.

Since Friday night, I had written little and shared nothing with the group. Saturday evening, after a team member presented her story on how she dealt with her guilt and shame, I went to an isolated bench overlooking the bay. My shoulders and head ached as I related to the similarity between the presenter’s life and mine. Answers about my guilt and shame flowed onto my journal pages. I sobbed as I accepted my part in the death of my marriage. Self-centeredness, inability to communicate and passive-aggressive behavior topped the list of my own faults.

Back in the group, hands trembling, I read my list. Judy, the leader, said, “Did you divide your guilt into realistic and unrealistic, what’s based in reality and what isn’t? What you could and couldn’t control?”

“I ran out of time before we had to be here, but I’m guilty for blaming my ex for everything.”

“Yeah, but you can’t control what another person does,” one man said.

I stared at the floor. “I’m so confused. Now I have to forgive him and me.”

The woman next to me said, “I wrote that forgiving frees me, my thoughts and actions.” She patted my shoulder. “Honey, how many minutes, hours, and days have you wasted thinking about ‘what ifs’ and ‘should haves’? Do you enjoy giving up your time to think about your ex?”

I gasped. “Of course not. Am I crazy, or what?”

Chuckling, Judy shook her head. “You didn’t get to the final scripture verses and questions?”

When I shook my head, she had me read aloud 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 and Colossians 3:12-17 and answer the final questions: Since God forgave your sins, how are you to handle forgiveness of others who sin? What should you do if you are not strong enough to forgive? Do you know God’s love for you is unconditional?

The last question made me cry. I realized that I was worthy of love and that I could forgive. I felt a heavy weight lift and I felt the wall around my heart starting to crumble. I was filled with hope and excitement. I knew that I faced a new future and each new day would offer new chances to grow.

~M.M. Jarrell

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