I’ve been in ministry vocationally for over fifteen years, writing, speaking, on staff at a church. I’ve spent my adulthood pouring into other people and trying to lead them closer to God in one form or another.
A few years ago, however, my ministry took a turn. When I divorced after a turbulent nineteen-year marriage, I had to step back and regroup. And I fell backwards into a pretty focused niche of reaching out to hurting women – specifically those in difficult marriages, those who are separated and divorced, and single moms – and trying to create resources for them that would bring them support and hope.
This past Spring, I was remarried. To the sweetest man. To a man who loves me and cherishes me and encourages me. To a man I adore and respect and finally found my partner in.
But life – okay, people – threw some curveballs at us. We have spent the first five months of our marriage under attack; there is no other way to put it. It’s been absolutely horrible, I’m sad to say.
But I pushed through. Because that’s what I do. Head to the ground, taking in all of the cruel words, letting the shards tear up my heart, continuing to help others, not taking time to process or heal, moving forward, smiling all the while.
Fast forward to this fall when I found myself at People of the Second Chance’s Rescue Lab in San Diego for two days of honing my people-helping skills. What came out of it surprised me. I went with the intention of getting recharged so I could head back out into the battlefield and keep writing and speaking and moderating small groups and creating virtual courses and mentoring, and pouring, and pouring, and pouring.
But here’s what happened. I’m in the middle of leading two three-month virtual courses for women in hard marriages and for women who are separated or divorced, and I started asking some of the questions that Mike Foster suggested we ask the people we work with; things like, how are you sleeping?, how are you eating?, what is your plan for self-care?, and – my favorite – how is that working for you? I asked these over and over, about a dozen times in one week.
And when all my one-on-one’s were finished, I looked at those questions. I mean, really looked at them. And then I decided to ask myself all of them, though, I’ll be honest, I was scared to. I was afraid of what my own answers might be, of what those answers might be trying to tell me.
I hadn’t slept well in weeks, maybe a couple months.
I hadn’t really been hungry in a while; and I had an upset stomach at some point on most days.
I was just okay on the self-care meter. I was doing all the things I typically do when I hit a rough stretch of life, but I had to admit that none of those things were working for me this time around.
But then I got to the final question: how is my life working for me?
I started typing. And typing. No filter. No worries what someone would say if they read it. And ten minutes later, I stopped, reread what I wrote, sighed, and slumped my shoulders as I realized what I’d said.
Because, as it turns out, my life was not working for me.
And in that moment, I knew I was at an emotional crossroads. I’d been here before. Lots of times actually. I realized I could absolutely keep doing what I was doing: change no behaviors, change no circumstances, keep stuffing it all deep down, keep pushing through and on. I knew I could do it because that’s how I spent my twenties and thirties. I was good at that, at pretending, at smiling through pain and clenched teeth and clenched fists.
And you have to know… I was so tempted to keep pushing it all down. I had been pretty desperate for a happily ever after – not just for me, but for my husband, for our kids, and for our families and friends who had walked us both through horrible divorces.
And I desperately wanted to serve up a happily-ever-after on a gold platter to all of the sweet women I minister to in hard marriages and who are divorcing…I wanted them to have someone to look to who made it to the other side. I was this-close to just pressing on, as is.
But then I realized that I had worked so very hard to become free. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean free from my difficult marriage in the form of divorce; I mean free as in I had finally truly started telling my truth – wounds and pain and poor choices and all – and becoming the woman I was meant to be. And I realized I didn’t want to go back. I couldn’t go back. So, I chose freedom again.
I told my husband what was really going on. I told him how I had been trying to fix all of our problems and how I couldn’t get past all of the cruel words and how I wasn’t sleeping or eating and how I was tired of being sad and angry all the time and how I just couldn’t keep doing this anymore. And then we met with our counselor. And then we decided together that it couldn’t hurt for me to go back on an anti-depressant (something I hadn’t done since my separation years earlier).
And so here I am. I’m in the brain-fog of the beginning of an anti-depressant. I know it’s not a magic bullet, not a happy pill. I know none of my problems will disappear because I swallow a little something every morning.
But I also know that I couldn’t keep going on as is. And I knew that sometimes we need to try something different. And I knew that it wasn’t so much the actual medication that would help me come back to life and reboot and start breathing full deep breaths again. That it was in the telling someone. And then telling another someone. And then admitting I couldn’t fix my stuff on my own. And then asking for help. And then choosing more sleep and better food and medication and counseling and more time with friends and more honesty with my husband and more authenticity with those I’m trying to help.
So I married a really, really good man, with expectations of a different kind of newlywed life, and the wheels came off a bit, and now we’re recalibrating. And it’s been hard. So hard. But freedom is worth it, every single time.
Elisabeth Klein is grateful wife to Richard, and mom and stepmom to five. She loves spending time with her husband, her kids, her friends, reading and writing. She is the author of Unraveling: Hanging onto Faith through the End of a Christian Marriage, among many other titles, that can all be found at Amazon.com. She moderates private Facebook groups and e-courses for women in difficult marriages and those walking through divorce. You can find her here: www.elisabethklein.com.
Publication date: January 20, 2016