by Cheryl Denise Bannerman
My brothers had just busted my bedroom’s glass closet doors and put three holes in the hallway walls. Their drug-induced fight started in my bedroom, continued down the hallway, and out the front door to the street in front of our house…until the police arrived. I wondered how my parents endured all these years. Oh yeah, through me. The Savior. Making up for my brother’s disappointing lives, I had to be perfect in everything. I was the perfect Honor Roll student, excelling at everything from track and field to writing award-winning poetry, to hitting the high notes during ‘family performances’.
I had retreated to my bedroom with my hands shaking and nose running from crying, when my dad knocked on the door and said Sunday breakfast was ready. I tried to sit at the table like nothing was wrong, but the tears continued to roll down my face. My parents simply ate and smiled as if nothing was wrong and told me that everything was fine. It was the first of many such instances.
It was how I learned how ‘not to feel’ in times of chaos and tragedies, and convince myself that everything was fine.
I guess that’s why I let the abuse go on for so long. I was thirty-five when we met. He was charming, handsome, ambitious, and not intimidated by a successful woman. He knew exactly what he wanted and took it. After a rather long list of timid ex’s who never spoke up for themselves, and having to make decisions all the time in my professional and personal life, I was ready for someone else to take control.
Unfortunately, I was unaware of the game that was being played. The game of manipulation and deceit. Nothing was what it seemed. Two children turned into five children and an ex-wife, job stability turned into employment, and an occasional drink turned into full-blown drug and alcohol addictions. By the time I knew what was happening, I was hooked. His normal became my normal. The girl I used to know called Cheryl was gone. Unable to retain friends or leave the house, my resilience was gone. The option of leaving was demolished by the constant verbal berating about my face, weight, medical conditions, and more. He convinced me I would be useless to anyone else, and that I was the reason why the other women in his life were necessary. Bruises were now covered by long-sleeve shirts in the dead of summer. And if I got the silent treatment, so did my kid.
I was practicing what I was taught as a child: Always smile, appear as if nothing is wrong, because proper, well-mannered ladies do not cause a scene.
It was only when one of the many affairs made its way to our marital bed that I finally got the courage to leave — and eventually initiate divorce. No longer responsible for being the ‘man of the house’ paying all of the household bills and the bills of a forty-year-old man…I was free.
The shackles were off, but I could not move forward. I was stuck in a deep well of depression and couldn’t seem to climb out of it. After reaching dangerous levels of pain and sickness, I reached out to a professional.
Come to find out there was a name for what I had gone through. She was throwing terms at me like narcissistic sociopath, ‘gas lighting’, and Stockholm’s Syndrome. I had no idea what she was talking about. “Not me!” I told her. “I’m a CEO and published author! I’m smart!”
But the truth was apparent as I began to realize that the woman I had become during that ten-year period was not me. Upon further evaluation, I realized that my entire life had been spent making everybody else’s life comfortable and assuring everyone I was fine. I was right back at that kitchen table eating breakfast with my mom and dad all over again. When I first learned to ‘hold in the tears’ and ‘not make a scene’.
What I have learned in the past year of ‘talk therapy’ is this:
- It’s NOT always about changing YOU, it may be about changing your inner circle, removing toxic people, and setting boundaries.
- It’s okay to show emotion and be YOU!
- It’s okay to say NO.
- It’s okay to put YOURSELF first.
- It’s okay to do YOU and not care what anyone else thinks.
If you can relate to any of this story, I would ask you to examine: 1) your core beliefs about expressing emotion, 2) how women are supposed to behave, and 3) where you learned those core beliefs.
Next, ask yourself how they have been infused into your life’s experiences and relationships. Are you saying yes to things you don’t want to say yes to? Are you repressing your feelings for the sake of keeping the peace? Are there toxic relationships in your life worth removing?
At forty-seven, divorced and starting over in a new state, I can say that this is the most ‘at peace’ I have been in my ENTIRE LIFE. I am happy, I am healing, and I am whole.
I live for ME, and no one else, and I AM worth it.
I am inviting you to do the same.