the things no one talks about.

Well, the nightmares have returned. Something nobody tells you about trauma – about PTSD – is that it will come back when you least expect it. The nightmares are never about the events, but always about the feelings felt during them. The smallest thing can trigger it. Something you might not even be consciously aware of. And when it comes, it comes suddenly. It strikes painfully, deeply, swiftly. When I left my relationship, I was experiencing trauma nightmares every single night leading up to my last day. Nightmares where I was murdered, where I was raped, where I was chased down and trapped. My body was in survival mode and I had no control over it anymore. The last year of my relationship had been constant stress, constant worry and constant fight or flight. It was a cycle of hope, disappointment, and fear. Coming to UofM quite literally saved my life. It saved my mental health. It saved my future. And it put me on the path to repairing my past.

August was a blur. I moved back to my parents’ house in Michigan. Away from the home I handpicked for a future that – to take from my favorite poem – ‘fell down in mid-flight.’ Away from my sweet little dog, Lemonade. Away from the familiarity and comfort of a military family. Saying goodbye to not only your personal life, but an entire way of life – an entire culture – is something I strive to put into words. There is something so incredibly special about the military culture. About being placed into a new location, a new base, and instantly finding home. Instantly finding companionship among spouses, familiarity among the uniform and a deep understanding that doesn’t exist outside the community. Finding meaningful relationships is something I have deeply struggled with since leaving the comfort of being a military spouse. There isn’t the instant recognition in others on the civilian side. There isn’t the common shared experience of moving across country to a station you hope is halfway decent; all while packing a house by yourself and navigating the glory that is government PCS websites which hail from prehistoric times. There isn’t the routine of heading to the commissary and NEX, taking a deep breath and smelling the sweet, stale, government air, taking a gaze around, and knowing you’re home, even if the location isn’t the same. Military families have traditions when they move. Things that orient them to new places, things that immediately bring comfort. And that was one of mine. I embarrassingly even clung to that tradition when I moved here. I drove over an hour to the nearest Air Force base north of Detroit, had a breakdown in the chip aisle of the commissary and savored each moment driving through the historic officer housing. I knew it would be my last. I knew with each day I was becoming more and more of an outsider to this way of life. And I needed to rip the band aid off.

Leaving our ‘la familia’ fam in Great Lakes was hard. Leaving the Dam Neck fam was hard. Leaving the Stennis fam was even harder. And leaving the navy family was, what I can only describe as, pulling a knife from your heart. Because as a spouse, you are a civilian through and through. You wear no badge. You have no honor. You are not recognized as the hero your spouse is. If you leave one, you leave it all. There is no place in veteran’s groups where “ex-military spouse” is welcomed. No nostalgia, no storytelling, just glaring loneliness of a life you used to live.

Setting my dorm up was the first time in nine years I hadn’t kept my receipts. I hadn’t gone to staples and scanned everything into the PCS website. I hadn’t sifted painstakingly through all my household goods to remove those little blue stamps that you still find years later (even though you swore you took them all off). I brought nothing in from my old life. Nothing was familiar anymore and I had to face that head on. I had to come to terms with the emptiness and the lack of hope associated with that. The gaping hole where sea trial and deployment hope once stood. Knowing he’d be back. Knowing that when you see that ship leave port, it’s going to come back. It has to come back. That safety blanket was gone. There was no ship. There was no Congress to blame for the distance this time. I was the one who left. I chose this loneliness, it did not choose me.

I sat on my twin sized bed, something I hadn’t experienced since childhood, and put on headspace. It was the night before classes began and everything was settled in my space. I closed my eyes to start my meditation and the first thing that came to me was ‘safe.’ I was finally safe. I. Was. Safe. Free from the cycles. Free from the sadness. Free from never knowing when the pain would come again. Free from having to see another woman’s body where it didn’t belong. Free from the lies. Free from the health issues brought on by stress. I never had to experience pain again from the one person who gave it for so many years. I could lay in my bed, back against the wall, and nobody would touch me. I could lock my door, string my chain lock and nobody could come in. I would never have to barricade anything again as long as I lived. That moment was the first time I felt truly safe in such an incredibly long time. That moment, my body let go of survival mode. Over the course of the next two months, I lost over thirty pounds. Weight that my body kept building to try and keep my bones safe. Weight that came off without any effort. Weight that defined my self-worth and failure for so long.

I wish I could go back to my past self when I opened my acceptance and tell her to take it and never look back. The opportunities I’ve had in the last year alone are worth any pain I’ve felt. I will be forever grateful to the lifestyle the University of Michigan has afforded me. They have given me so much more than an education. So much more than experience. They gave me safety. Over time the nightmares subsided. Over time, I was eventually able to sleep through the night here and there. I still have issues with this, but I know over time, it will get better. I know that even though my triggers are still there, even though I still have difficulty sitting with my own thoughts, these nightmares are nothing but a haunting of my past life, trying to have a place in my new one. The thing with PTSD is you can’t let it win. It doesn’t get to define you. It doesn’t get a seat at the table. It doesn’t get to make the decisions. You do. And the only way to defeat it, is to get up everyday and face whatever comes your way. Because it might not be today, but eventually happiness will come. Eventually relationships will build. Eventually you will wake up with an entire life you chose, with people who not only love you – but respect you, and the memories of the past will be just that, the past.

the discard.

May 24th 2020

I’m sorry I couldn’t save you. I’m sorry I finally ran out of hope for us. I’m sorry I quit on us. I know you had hope for becoming a better person, as long as I still kept that candle burning for you. I’m so, so sorry I quit on us. This week was the first time in eleven years you didn’t hear me say “happy birthday.” This time you didn’t roll over and wake up to my familiar smile, my touch, my kiss, my smell. This time, snook, you woke up to someone new. Her body where mine should be. Her dark hair on my pillow – because you always did like the brunettes – anything that didn’t remind you of me. This week, you woke up to her on our anniversary. It would have been nine years, Ty. Nine whole years. You woke up to a loss in your heart. You woke up missing me, even if just for a moment. She woke up without knowing what was on your heart and mind. The same place I shared for all those years.

It’s a poetic justice in a way. Even after all this time, all the pain, all the wounds that scab over and then burst open right before they fully heal, even after I’ve felt loving and wonderful moments with others, I still miss you. I still believe deep down you could be better. It’s not every day. Hell, it’s not every month. But every so often that pain seeps in like an unwanted friend. Every so often, I wonder what could have happened if your broken heart could heal. If you could finally learn to love yourself and if you could have had a glimpse into the way I saw you, before we broke. Before we harbored hatred. Before the affairs. Before the violations and abuse. Before the codependency and manipulation.

Still coming to terms with my own healing process and learning to undo the codependent bond between us, it hurts that you didn’t sit with the pain after I left. It still hurts that you owed it to yourself to do the shadow work, to look inward and heal your wounds – your self-sabotage. While I can say all day long that I wish you the best, it doesn’t change the fact that I feel tied to your self-destructive ways. It doesn’t change how I have to continuously tell myself your choices are your own now. That when you break her heart, when she finds out what’s underneath that beautiful smile, a part of me will feel her pain inexplicably and mourn for her. I know this is in no part my responsibility, but because of your manipulative ways, how you have played the victim for so long, I’m afraid a part of me will always be attached in that regard. After all, I was your fixer. I covered up your acts and put on a brave face in front of others. I protected your reputation. I protected your true self from how the world viewed you. At the end of the day, I enabled you to do what you did. And unfortunately, I own that. It’s my choice how I respond to you now. It’s my choice. And until that bond is broken completely through my healing work, I know I am choosing to acknowledge the codependent link. That link that says, “if only I did this, if only I loved harder, if only I could lose the weight, if only, if only, if only.” But it never is enough with you, babe. It’s not about what I did or didn’t do. It’s not about how I looked or how my body felt. It’s all about how you felt inside. The inner parts of you screaming from your own past hurt. Your darkest parts coming out and hurting who you loved the most and probably still do, me.

I journal to get through the pain and the sleepless nights. I journal to catalog the real effects of the trauma bond that still so blatantly exist in this post. I journal to catalog the healing process and how far I’ve come in the past year. The fact that I can still harbor blame in my heart and take responsibility for giving up on someone who gave up on themselves, is a testament to the strength of a trauma bond. How it seeps into every aspect of your life and rears its ugly head just when you think you’ve gotten away. How the doubt can come flooding back and you can question what part of you wasn’t worthy or valuable enough to make someone choose you. How someone can just discard you and all of their feelings after a decade of love. How someone can seemingly forget you existed, forget the place you held in their life, and choose to replace you with someone else. With someone who doesn’t remind them of the hurt they feel inside. With someone who isn’t attached to the memories of the past. With someone who is lighter baggage to have to carry. I remind myself this is hallmark narcissism. I remind myself that he discarded me and chose a new victim to feed off – that I should be thankful he is not in my life anymore – but there’s still humanity under a tough exterior. There’s still a wife who tried to hold a marriage together. Who tried to be true to her vows. Who was left wanting. Who was discarded by the one person she would have given everything for.

erasing eleven years.

Today is the first time in eleven years I won’t say “Happy Birthday.” The first time I won’t be buying way too many Reese’s cups to fill up his gift bag with – knowing full well he won’t eat them all. Each year I tried to make his birthday special. In the military, there are certain days when nothing can fill the gaping hole where family and friends should be. Those are the days we try extra hard as spouses to make them feel special.

I show my love. I show it through actions, through words, through gifts. And his birthday was the perfect occasion for letting that shine through. One year it was a surprise party with all of his friends at a restaurant. Another was him waking up to a roomful of photos and memories attached to balloons for each year we were celebrating. One of the last ones was a trip to Universal and to see his family. Each year I reflected on what could say ‘I love you – I’m so thankful you are here.’

Something that I’m reflecting on this year, with my 30th birthday coming up shortly, is how did he say those things to me? People with narcissistic tendencies love the attention, they love the showering of gifts, the bending over backwards – the fuss (yes, even the covert ones). There was never a birthday in our ten-plus years together where he planned something for me. The only birthday that I remember was where we went to a few of my favorite stores, went to an estate sale I had been dying to go to and grabbed my favorite fast food. I remember clearly thinking, “I get to do all of my favorite things, and he won’t complain today. I get to be with him and not feel guilty about making him tag along today.” I have racked my brain repeatedly and cannot find one instance of getting a gift from him on my birthday. Not. Once. I honest to God, right hand on the bible, used to beg him to plan something for me. His reply was always, “I’m not as creative as you are.” I’d come back with “there’s Pinterest for ideas – I mean anything you do, I’ll love.” Of course in this process I was devaluing myself and my worth. I just wanted to be surprised. Every year I asked, and every year I was let down. I would rationalize this with telling myself I just needed to lower my expectations, that that’s what happens when you expect too much. Now I know that I was never expecting too much. I was only asking to be on the receiving end of the effort I sent his way. Now, I know that this too, was another manipulation tactic. Made to wear down my self-worth. Made to wear down that inner voice that says you deserve better. Made to create an environment where I constantly begged for his attention. He was the gate keeper of love. Starving me, then feeding me. This cycle showed up in so many ways throughout our marriage. So many red flags I ignored because I knew him. I knew who he really, truly was under that outer bumbling, clumsy facade. I reminded myself that he was just that flighty. That maybe I was the one putting too much pressure on him to be a good partner – to remember my birthday and cherish me on that day. That maybe I was the selfish one, the nag, the ball and chain.

Sis, if you’re feeling alone on a day that is meant to celebrate you, know that I’m here. I understand what it is like to play the carrot and stick game. To beg for love. To hope that this day, this year, this time, he’ll really put in the effort. That his actions will finally align with his empty words. I’m here to sit with you in this loneliness, to tell you that you are worthy of love, that even if you don’t feel it right now – better days are ahead. Days where you’ll be able to be surrounded by family and friends who love you and appreciate you. Days where you may find a partner who can show compassion, and celebrate the day that made you, you. I’m here to remind you (especially during quarantine) that even if there was no one else around to celebrate with you, you never have to beg for love again. You are whole by yourself, sis. Your own company is more fulfilling than someone who chooses to manipulate you, who chooses themselves over you every day of the week, who is, at their core, unable to care for you in a loving way. Because at the end of the day, they don’t even love themselves. Because at the end of the day, it comes down to this simple phrase: We cannot ask someone to pour from an empty cup.

baby ezra.

My sweet boy. You were my beacon of hope in the midst of a broken marriage. You symbolized a fresh start, a real commitment. You symbolized unconditional love.  I already had visions of your nursery being the guest bedroom under the oak tree in the front of the house. There, you could get shade during the hot Florida days and be able to see the birds dance around your window. My sweet boy you were kept in the dark for far too long. You were hidden under my mourning, under my shame. Shame that my body refused to make a safe home for you. Shame that I was not excited when I first heard you were on your way. It did not take long for that despair to turn into love and excitement. To hope for your future, what you would look like, who you would become, what kind of difference you would make in the world just simply by being you. You, my boy, were special. You were mine. You were loved. Even if for only a few short weeks.

August 4th 2018

The blood. So. Much. Blood. I started sobbing. I cleaned up and went into the vault to talk to my manager, Beth. Through the sobbing and shaking, I managed to blurt out, “I think I’m having a miscarriage.” Just the day before, I told her I was expecting, and she was so happy for me. Now, all she could do was stare at me. Could I blame her? I turned around and went to get my things to drive myself to the hospital. She watched as I fumbled through my purse, searching for my phone. She offered to call an ambulance to take me to the hospital, but a civilian ambulance cannot go on a military base, so I drove myself. I was alone in a new city. I had no friends. No family. Nobody. Jacksonville is the largest land mass city in the states. From where I was, it took me almost 45 minutes to drive to NAS Jax. I called my husband when I got in my car and bawled “I think I’m having a miscarriage.” He was half asleep on the other side of the country, trying to rack his brain with understanding what was happening. I felt ashamed to say those words. Driving 90mph down the highway, full sob, my heart sinking in my chest, telling my husband I was a failure. He calmly and passively said, “I’m sorry, baby.”

After getting lost a few times, I finally found the main gate. The guard could see there was something wrong and signaled for help. I said, “I think I’m having a miscarriage” to which he replied with silence and a look of compassion. I pulled over in the guard parking and an ambulance came to retrieve me. The Petty Officer was incredibly empathetic. During the 10-minute ride across base, she regaled me with her intimate stories of miscarriages and the statistics surrounding it. She most importantly reassured me that none of this was my fault.  The other EMT made small talk after he saw I was wearing a Navy Federal polo – how much he loved us, and we were always there for him. Trying to lighten the mood and keep me distracted. I get placed into a room where a female Lieutenant comes in and introduces herself. She explains to me the process I would go through and set expectations of what it would mean depending on my cervix. Once the PA came in and completed my exam, he said the cervix was closed. The first glimmer of hope in the past two terrifying hours.

I was wheeled down to the ultrasound room of this cold war era hospital. The air was frigid. The fluorescent lighting only added to the sterility of the environment. I stepped into my paper gown and laid on the table in this dimly lit room. I looked up and taped to the tile ceiling is a picture of a hammock placed between two palm trees on a gorgeous summer day. Who the fuck were they kidding? As if the environment could not become any less hospitable, they placed a copy print of a vacation destination on the ceiling. Had I known a magazine cutout could make me believe I wasn’t about to get told there is no heartbeat, I would have had it taped to my face. How did I miss that memo? They were living up to their three-star google review that day. The tech actively avoided eye contact the entire procedure. She kept moving the probe and clicking. Moving and clicking. If the invasive probe wasn’t enough to bring me out of vacation mode, the towel she handed me to ‘clean up’ with, was. I walked over to the barracks style bathroom (that had a peep hole the size of a ship’s porthole mind you) and shamefully put my clothes back on. She ended the exam by stating she could not say the results until the doctor looked them over. That could not have meant good news. I was placed into the hallway to wait for a Seaman to wheel me back up to my room.

After what felt like an eternity, the PA came back into the room with the results. He stated, “I don’t know how you’ll take this, but we didn’t find a heartbeat.” I was in complete shock. I just looked at him, waiting on every word he said. After I did not respond and stared blankly at him – he replied with, “you’re making it really easy on me to tell you this.” Followed by, “are you sure you were even pregnant to begin with?” The earth shattered around me. Time stopped. I could not process anything after that point, my body refused. That moment of this doctor caring more about his personal comfort than an empathetic experience for a patient left years of trauma in his path. He opened the door to doubt. Doubt that this little miracle may not have been anything but a fabrication. To this day I need to actively tell myself my blood test was positive. The statistics of how it was nearly impossible for this to be a fluke. That the changes my body went through were valid. The experience I had that resulted in extreme PTSD – to the point I had to change offices and could never wear the same outfit again – was valid.

Beth called multiple times that afternoon to check in. It took a few hours, but I got the courage to pick up the phone and call her back. I explained what happened and she replied with, “He’s coming home soon, you can make another.” I know this was an honest attempt to console me, but what isn’t as widely understood, is that one blessing, does not make your loss and grief any less. It just doesn’t. It doesn’t repair the hollowness you feel. It doesn’t replace the room you made for that baby in not just your heart, but your home. It doesn’t erase the visions you created of rocking that baby to sleep in the nursery you imagined. It doesn’t change the fact that every Mother’s Day you will feel loss. Every anniversary of your miscarriage you will feel failure – even with as much logic as you can muster in your head screaming you were not at fault. Let me repeat that again: one blessing does not replace a baby lost.

On my healing journey, I stumbled across a poem on Pinterest one day and quickly attached it to a secret board labeled “hope.” It’s written by Gabrielle Rose and it reads:

“Do I count as a mother

When my body never gave birth

When my child never drew a breath

On this beautiful Earth

Do I count as a mother

When my belly never grew

When I never heard your heartbeat

Or your cries the whole night through

Do I count as a mother

When you don’t even have a name

Never knowing if you were a boy or girl

No one understands this pain

Please let me count as your mother

You are my baby for as long as I live

I have been robbed of so many moments

You were my baby, and too much to give”

Sweet boy, you had value. You had worth. Your name will be said and remembered by me. It’s time to lift the veil of secrecy and introduce you to the world. It’s time to bring the pain of miscarriage into the light, time to tell the stories of babies lost and time to share hidden heart break.

and it comes in waves.

The pain comes in waves. Tonight, it’s a goddamned hurricane and I’m the ocean. It has no limits, no end in sight. The memories come in flashes. The words. The screaming. The sobbing. Their bodies. Their inner most thoughts. The cruel hide and seek games. The treasure hunting for pain. He is always found. I always find him, and he knows. He knows before he even commits the crime. Yet, he still does it anyways. Without regard for another. Without a concept of empathy. He is a monster and I’m his prey. He attacks but never quite kills. He lets go just in time that I can recover these bones. This tattered soul. This broken heart. Still searching. Still hoping. Still loving. Still reliving.

welcome, y’all.

Welcome. Here you will find acceptance, validation and resources. You’ll see the story of my abusive marriage and how I reclaimed my power. You’ll experience my journal entries, flashbacks and full on floor sobs. You will walk with me through the highs of military life, to the deepest depths of loneliness. You will see the transformation of feeling like a victim to someone’s broken parts – to becoming a survivor – living a life of hope and happiness. You’ll see what anger looks like, what heartbreak looks like, what reclaiming hope looks like, what struggles with shame look like, and hopefully together we’ll find out what forgiveness looks like. This is my truth, and I hope it speaks to you.