The Most Courageous Thing I Ever Had To Do
At 40 years old I just could not take it at home anymore. I was tired of being afraid, tired of the anxiety, tired of being careful, tired of trying to say the right thing, tired of not being good enough, tired of being beaten down, and quite frankly, just plain tired. My soul was exhausted. I was trapped in a verbally abusive marriage and I knew I had to get out. I knew in my heart there had to be more in life; I wanted to feel loved and, more importantly, safe. I did not want to be scared anymore and I knew it was only going to get worse. I mean, statistically, it was inevitable.
I learned that being courageous literally is a one-step-at-a-time job and, as I practiced the skills and tools I had learned while I was training to become a Life Coach, I got emotionally stronger and my confidence was building, little by little. I felt better about myself, I stood up for myself and I spoke up. I did not get sidetracked by my husband’s attempts to tell me I was imagining things, being oversensitive, or whatever his verbal assault was in the moment. That confidence felt amazing. I had not felt that way in so long.
Once I had built up the courage, gotten additional support, and much-needed skills, I had to face the gut-wrenching, seemingly impossible decision to save myself and escape my 16-year abusive marriage.
In 2008, I finally had the courage to tell him I wanted a divorce. Heartbreakingly, it turned out that this decision also meant leaving my two teenagers, my home and my dog. The kids were old enough that the courts (in California) let them decide where they wanted to live. There were few rules living with their dad and as a teenager, that felt like freedom. (Having been a teenager once, I understood this concept.)
After waiting a long three months for him to leave, which he refused to do, I rented a two-bedroom apartment hoping my kids would change their minds. Sadly, they didn’t. On moving day, I packed everything I could fit in my car, my oldest son’s truck, and a horse trailer, knowing full well that I would never see another item from my home.
Little did I know that there would be an even more devastating consequence of my leaving. My youngest son, who was 14 years old at the time, refused to speak to me or see me for four long years. I was devastated—no, I was destroyed. I did not see that coming at all. My daughter visited and stayed in contact but it wasn’t easy for her. Let’s just say she wasn’t encouraged by her dad to maintain her relationship with me. But she and I figured out how to make it work.
And then there was the child support I had to pay since the kids didn’t live with me. To make ends meet I had a full-time job, a part-time job, and sold Mary Kay. I worked seven days a week for two straight years. There were days I thought I should have just stayed; it would have been easier. I sometimes felt like I was being punished for making this choice. After all, he had told me I’d pay for it. In my heart, I knew I couldn’t have stayed, but sometimes it felt like it would have been easier.
This was hard, I cried—often, and a lot. There was so much I couldn’t control. But I leaned hard on two principles: trust and surrender. I trusted that everything was going to be okay and that I would be provided for, and surrendered.
I trusted that my children would be okay; they had decided they wanted to stay in the only home they knew. I want to be clear—I did not leave my children. More than anything, I wanted to have them safe with me and to protect them as much as I possibly could. I was given no feasible, healthy alternatives. I was advised that fighting this out in court, with assessments, therapists, evaluators and lawyers would be costly and would likely further compromise my relationship with my children. I didn’t want to cause any more damage than I felt I already had. I would wait for them to decide for themselves and love them through it, even if it meant waiting.
When my youngest son was 18 years old, he reached out to me. I had been waiting for this moment. My relationships now with my children are solid, healthy, and loving. Spending time with them is one of the most joyful things in my life.
I am now in a loving relationship with a man who loves, respects, and cherishes me. My life is even better than I had ever imagined and I am so grateful that I was able to find the courage and confidence to leave. We all deserve to feel safe and loved.
Debbie Ternes is a seasoned Confidence Coach, a Master Certified Fearless Living Coach, inspiring Speaker, and Mentor with over 16 years of experience. She is also the co-founder of Authentic Friendships, a community for women.
Debbie’s clients build their confidence, realize new possibilities, and have powerful transformations that impact their relationships, careers, and lives.
She believes that there is nothing better than women holding each other up through the rough times, sharing with an open heart, and joyfully celebrating successes.