I have been through so many hard times over these last few years.
Being separated from my husband and being a Christian has meant that I have had to deal with a certain degree of judgement.
People in church would often ask me questions, trying to find an acceptable reason for me to be separated. Their first question would usually be – Did he leave the faith??
The answer to that: NO
Their next question inevitably would be – Did he cheat on you??
The answer to that: NO
I would then explain that in fact I had chosen to leave him because he was emotionally abusive and violent around me.
They would then pause, consider and then ask their final question– Did he ever physically hurt you??
And my answer, with a resigned sigh would be: NO
At which point they wouldn’t know what to say, but would give me an awkward hug and then never talk to me about it again and pretty much avoid conversation with me in general.
I have met with this response too often to count. And I can tell you now that it has been far from helpful. It has resulted in me wanted to dig my head further into the sand than it already is.
Believe me, I am already aware of the sadness of my situation. It is not what I wanted for my life either.
We are often so quick to judge others – often with no thought as to the many reasons why they’ve chosen the route they’ve chosen – let alone the fact that there may well be heart break in that choice if it was made outside of their control.
I did not walk into marriage expecting it to fail. I fully expected that it would work out and that we would be “together until death do us part.”
But those who take the time to listen understand that leaving him was the hardest decision of my life but it was a decision that I had to make as our relationship was unhealthy for both of us. The only way to break the cycle was for me to leave. Even though it broke my heart.
My fear of judgement has left me scared stiff of sharing my story. I am so vulnerable and close to breaking point already that I can scarcely cope with more rejection.
This is what made sharing my story recently such a momentous occasion.
I had shared my story once before and it had gone down like a bombshell.
My intimate disclosure was met with total and utter silence. No one moved. There was no outward acknowledgement of my story. My relationship with those in the room was altered afterward. They tiptoed around the edges of my life, almost as though I was super fragile and might shatter at any moment if they stepped wrongly.
If I had been brave enough to speak up, I would have said:
Don’t you see, it takes great, great strength of character to make the decision that I made?
Yes, I am vulnerable, but believe you me, I am stronger than I look.
I have dealt with so much already, do you think that I would have shared if I couldn’t take it? My sharing was supposed to give you permission to enter my story, to walk with me on this journey through. Instead, you turned and fled in the opposite direction. You left me as alone as ever. In some ways, you left me more alone. In your judgement, you confirmed my worst fears. You saw me through the tight walls of my ex husband’s baggage, as though I had become contaminated by association with him.
These issues that I am currently working through – anxiety, depression, this deep sense of hopelessness and suicidal tendencies are results of the turmoil I have come through because of my destructive relationship with my ex. I am starting to understand that when I first left him I took on these issues and made them part of my story. I began to say – I have anxiety, I have depression, I am suicidal.
But, the truth is, this is HIS baggage, that came onto me as a direct effect of our relationship. But now I am FREE! And I am FREE, I no longer have to carry his baggage, his story. This is no longer my reality. I can choose the next chapter of my story. It doesn’t have to be based on the previous chapters.
I am not defined by anything that has gone before. I am not defined by my family, my job, my past relationships.
I am unique, I am my own person. I am quirky, fun, adventurous, and BRAVE!!
The closer I get to the date whereupon I can change my name back to Christine Kennerley and completely leave behind the Campbellness the more excited I become.
For me, Campbell represents an estranged family that barely speak to each other. An uncle who died a lonely man, a hermit. A dad who walked out on his children with barely a goodbye. Broken marriages. Violence. Hate. Secrets. Bitterness. Despair.
While, in stark contrast:
Kennerley represents a family that is strong. A Grandma on her knees for her grandchildren. A Granddad who was an ambassador for the Christian faith. An Auntie and Uncle on my Dad’s side that ooze love and compassion. These are couples who stay together, couples who pray together. Couples who fight through their issues and have good, strong communication!!!
When I change my name, I am taking on all of this! What a strong heritage.
I got a bit side tracked there …
But the key point of this blog is in what I am about to share.
So based on my prior experiences with sharing, I was definitely not keen to share my story with anyone who didn’t know me very well. I especially did not want to admit that I was separated, for fear of being judged and treated differently.
But, I had started attending a new homegroup and on this particular week, they were going around the circle and asking if we wanted to share a snapshot of our lives up to that point – if we wanted to, and we were given full permission to pass if we didn’t feel like it.
I was very hesitant. So I sat back and listened to others share. And was amazed.
The group was just so honest. Open about being depressed. Sharing from their hearts about exactly where they were at without hiding the bad parts. I felt so encouraged. Especially with how each story was responded to by those listening. After each person shared, a number of people would thank them for sharing. And in doing so, there was true acknowledgement. No attempt was made to solve anything that was brought up. There was no discussion around what people said. The whole point was to listen.
My heart just melted. I felt incredibly safe and therefore I shared.
I didn’t share a huge amount, but I shared enough. I felt so nervous the whole time, especially when I admitted to having been married before. I completed my story by saying that I was starting the process of rebuilding my life.
To my surprise and absolute delight, there was no awkward silence. A few thanked me for sharing and then the next person quietly began to share her story.
Afterward, when I was preparing to leave and return to my flat, the leaders said that they really enjoyed having me there. And actually asked me to keep coming!
I went home, and on the drive home I cried. My heart broke, but for the first time, it was in a good way. I had never experienced love and acceptance like this from people.
Where I was accepted as I was, despite my past experiences and with open arms.
I continued to be broken by their love. I returned home and received a friend request from one of the girls who had been at the group that night and had heard my story.
I sat on my bed and cried and thought “She still wants to be my friend, even after she knows WHO I am?!”
It’s hard to explain the significance of this unless you’ve been through what I’ve been through…
I had gotten so used to rejection. To people not knowing what to say. To people trying to jump in and solve that which is unsolvable. But this group got it – here sharing was exactly that – sharing our hearts with no strings attached. This is where true healing can take place.
I want to share this in the hopes that this speaks to those of you who are supporting a loved one through a similar journey. When they are sharing their story with you, don’t rush to try and make it all better. Just sit, be present, and listen.
That is what we need most of all. Love. Being accepted. Being made to feel like we are more than the baggage that we know carry. And also to know that this baggage is NOT WHO WE ARE!! The baggage exists because of what we have been through. But it is not our baggage – we took it on because we loved the person, and we cared so deeply about them that we shouldered their burdens. But they were abusing us. They were abusing themselves. They were hurting themselves and us at the same time. And now that we are out of that relationship, we can let go. WE can run free. We can let go of that which holds us back. That which chains us to the past and won’t let us move forward.
Run forward into freedom.
Break off those chains.
Find joy in being YOU!!
You are so much more than your past.
We get to write the next chapter!!!!
Those who are supporting people like me who have been trodden on, just LOVE, LOVE LOVE!! Love without measure. Offer your full support. Never turn away.
And for us, those who are vulnerable, but so much stronger than we will ever know – let’s let their love break us!!!
Hope this has been encouraging and a help to you in some way,
I want to leave this final thought with you to ponder, expressed so beautifully in the pic below. I truly believe that we are all broken people, in different ways and to varying degrees.