Women Who Rise | Abuse, Mental Illness, Divorce, Suicide

I met with Mary Beth several weeks ago when she drove up here from Texas. It took 3 minutes of conversation for me to instantly wish we were neighbors. I've realized that when you go through a huge catastrophe,  part of you becomes a little crazy. It's just going to happen. And in talking with her I found someone who was so relatable and made me feel like my crazy was actually okay. 

Mary Beth's story is on this blog today because she has been touched by extreme evangelicalism, religion, domestic violence, mental illness, motherhood, divorce, and surviving the suicide of a very important person in her life. If her story doesn't grab your heart then you might want to check your pulse. I hope you're inspired by her strength, and I hope you also find in her a friend you can talk to if you so happen to be in her shoes. And if you can't get enough of her story, you can find so much more on her blog over at Drinkerbelle.

Was there a defining moment in your life that you can look back on and say "this changed the course of my life"?

Two actually. January 24, 2015, the day I realized I was in an abusive relationship (with my husband of almost 10 years at that time). And September 15, 2016, the day my ex-husband, my first love, my children’s father... took his own life. Each of these days redirected my future dramatically, setting me on a path I never imagined I would call “my reality”. So, in a very unusual and catastrophic turn of events, I now understand life as a divorcee and as a widow.

(I will answer the rest of the questions specifically to each event “2015” referring to leaving my marriage and “2016” referring to the suicide)

What were the most helpful things others did for you during your time of crisis/hardship? Were there things people did or said that were NOT helpful?

2015: Validating me. I cannot emphasize enough how vulnerable, fragile, and honestly broken I felt. It was absolutely terrifying to consider leaving my marriage, this sort of relationship, and the family I had worked so hard to build. I was not strong enough to do this alone. I needed an army of support- people who heard me, believed me, and fought for my safety, quality of life, and rediscovery. I was lost and hanging on by a thread to rebuild my sense of self. I could not find my place in the world or provide stability for my kids without “my people”. My circle of support was my lifeline during this time, they held my hand, heard my cries, dried my tears and reminded me of who I truly was.

It was difficult when I heard, felt, or received criticism or doubt of the truthfulness of what had been my hidden reality for nearly a decade. I understood how hard it was to believe that my former pastor and husband had actually been emotionally abusive during our marriage and our 7 years in ministry, but nonetheless, it was true. Judgement and gossip is so careless and unfounded in situations like this.

2016: When my friends flew to my side… and stayed. It allowed me to at least gasp for air when I felt like I was drowning. My circle of support (from the previous year), rose to the challenge again for Round 2. And they haven’t stopped yet. They call, they text, they ask uncomfortable questions like, “What’s your greatest struggle today?” I was very fearful everyone would forget after a few months, and I would be left to navigate this shitstorm alone. Part of being a widow (or a sole parent), is that it is very easy to feel so unbelievably alone.

Telling me, “You will get past this" or "everything will be OK” were so frustrating to hear. There are few things less helpful to hear than blanket cliches when your world has just flipped upside down and you are trying to care for/protect your kids and keep yourself from completely shattering in the meantime. (And P.S. you never get past grief. You absorb it, and you rediscover who you are having experienced it.) When other people share their opinions about how you should grieve, walk your kids through it, move on and start dating, definitely don’t start dating- it’s obviously too soon, stay busy, don’t busy yourself too much, get rest (ha.), don’t stay in bed all day, etc… the contradictory opinions are never-ending. And, unbeknownst to the advice-givers, those of us grieving can spot empathetic-advice vs. never-experienced-what-I’m-actually-giving-you-advice about types from a mile away.

What is your greatest obstacle right now?

Ah. I think my greatest obstacle right now is just balancing the responsibilities my life now carries: my precious children and all that parenting alone entails, building a career while continuing to do and give to my children everything they need from a mom (and a dad), somehow finding time to be quiet and remember who I am in the midst of a very wild life. My To Do list is literally unending. I remember when that started to happen last year and I just said to myself, “Okay, it looks like I will never finish everything that needs to be done. I can choose to let that overwhelm me or just knock out one thing at a time and if I miss a few… oh, well. I am only one person trying to accomplish what two actual people were assigned.” I have missed school parties, forgotten projects, paid late fees, skipped parties, and said “No” to so, so many things in the last year… but I managed to keep three humans alive and moderately at peace, so I guess I came out on top.

What would you say to women facing their own goliath obstacles right now?

You must channel your inner power… even if you never have, even if it’s been years since you last did it. Only you carry the power to make your life what you dream it will be. You may not have chosen your current situation, but you have everything it takes to be happy tucked within you. Let go of the disappointment, the anger, the pain, the crushing unfairness of life as soon as you possibly can… and live. Don’t try to move “past” anything. Move through it. Bypassing the process will only burden your future. And finally, one day, find a way to love others with your experience.

What is your greatest joy right now?

Well, I have a lot of joy right now. My children are the absolute lights of my life. My friends and family fill my soul with happiness. And the fact that I have no negativity, no toxic relationships, and nothing pulling me in different directions gives me a reason to smile every day. A sound mind is a joyful occurrence.

If others could only remember ONE thing about you, what would you want that to be?

That when life didn’t turn out at all how she had planned, she cried, regrouped, plotted a new course, and taught herself how to find everything she ever wanted.

The First 100 Days | Widow Diaries

The first 100 days of a President's tenure are always heavily documented by the media. They analyze his achievements, his failures, his progress, and the impact of every decision he's made. I don't plan to analyze every decision I've made in the past 100 days, but here's the good, the bad, and the ugly.

T H E  G O O D

  • Rob had a financial plan for me that I was unaware of. He planned for the possibility that he could die and leave me alone. Not many 28 year olds are wise enough to think in this way, and I will be grateful for his deep love for me for the rest of my life. 
  • Completed Redman 70.3 triathlon 3 weeks after Rob's accident. I still look back and wonder how on earth?!
  • I took 2nd place overall female in a sprint triathlon in October.
  • Earned a 5K PR on Thanksgiving,
  • We vacationed to Colorado and it was perfect and refreshing for me and Josiah.
  • I've done so well with bookings this fall that I bought my very first brand new camera. I've always only ever had used and refurbished cameras in the past, so this was exciting.

T H E  B A D

  • I still need help with so many basic things. To do lists feel like mountains I can't climb solo. I feel like I should be able to do these things by now, but then I'm gently reminded that it's only been 3 months. It feels like 10 years.
  • I get a deep, sick feeling in my gut whenever I see couples happily together and having fun. I don't have the capacity to be happy for them right now, which sounds like such a jerk thing to say. It won't always be this way.
  • Every night going to bed feels like the most earth shattering loneliness you can possibly imagine. I long so deeply to feel his strong, comforting, reassuring arms wrapped around me.

T H E  U G L Y

  • Coming home from small group and Josiah is having the ultimate meltdown. I sense that it's different and ask him if he doesn't wanna go home because Daddy isn't there. He let out a wail and started sobbing. And he asked if we could go visit Daddy's grave because he misses him so bad. We wept together until it was his bedtime. Thankfully these moments are few and they don't last long. But man, to see him hurting is worse than anything. I am carried by the knowledge that kids are resilient and that the way our grief feels today, is not going to feel this way forever.

Lastly I'll leave you with a dream I recently had. I ask God often for dreams of Rob, and they never happen. I've had one dream, and I hold onto it like a great treasure, but the rest of the time has been silent. This dream had such an impact on my grieving heart, and it's worth sharing.

I was getting ready for my wedding, and I kept thinking about how exciting it was that my life was finally moving forward. I couldn't remember who was photographing my wedding and I called all of my friends asking who I'd hired. Finally, my friend Kristina said she was the one and she was on her way. The ceremony was outdoors, but it was beginning to get dark. My wedding party was waiting in this backstage area and I was given a bouquet of colorful balloons. They were brightly lit against the approaching night. It was then that I was told I was marrying Rob again. But by this time it was pitch dark, and we didn't have any lights set up outside for the ceremony so I couldn't see him. Then I realized we'd actually come together for people to share testimonies about how our marriage made an impact on the world. Before we got a chance to hear those testimonies I woke up.

I asked God to show me what this meant, and it felt so clear. Though I've doubted why we only got 7 years together, and what was the purpose in any of that, our marriage made an impact that I'm not yet able to see the fruits of. Hence the darkness. But Rob can see clearly and he has the answers - the beautiful and bright balloons. I'm so grateful for these rays of hope that God graciously hands me.

Women Who Rise | Road to Ironman

It's not Wednesday, but I'm featuring a Rise Up story. I don't know if I can handle a break from the routine. No, no, no. That's something Rob would flip out about - I will overcome :)

This is Jaime. I can't say enough about the impact this woman has had on me. She was one of the first people I spoke to after the accident and she immediately jumped into action and started a Go Fund Me page. Jaime's heart is bursting with love and compassion; she is one of those people that lifts up everyone around her. She has been on a journey to Ironman for the past year, but there's so much more to her story. So in her words:

I think that the death of my running partner March 2014 really had an impact on my life. It made me realize that the time to push toward big goals was NOW. I can't hold off on the things I have on my bucket list, because tomorrow is not guaranteed. I started taking my health more seriously and striving for things that I never thought I could do. 

I make time for working out because it makes me healthier, happier and honestly more focused. I do my best thinking and planning during my workouts. The time alone in my head is really important to me. Without workouts, I get really cranky and irritable. I am so much happier afterwards and proud of myself. Plus, I feel like a better role model for my kids.

My greatest obstacle has been making time for full-Ironman training while working, coaching, catering/baking and being a mom. I refuse to take away from my family time too much, and that makes for some early mornings before everyone wakes up. Also, I struggle on the bike greatly. I want to be more comfortable on it but still feel pretty much terrified the whole time I ride. 

If I could say anything to women facing their own goliath obstacles right now it would be "Yes. You. Can."  Seriously, these words echo in my head over and over all the time when I am getting frustrated. A Bootcamp instructor in 2010 used to yell those words as she followed behind us during tough workouts, and it became my mantra over the years.  I feel the conflict between the things I WANT to do, with the things I HAVE to do, and sometimes it's overwhelming and I just want to quit. So I remind myself, yes I can. 

My greatest joy is my relationship with my daughters. We have such a close relationship and they are so supportive of my fitness goals. They make sure I know it's okay to be gone sometimes, and they're proud of me no matter what I do. Cooking and Baking (and swimming!) are my stress relief joys. 

Lastly, I am a Type2 Diabetic, and a hearing impaired athlete (I wear bilateral hearing aides but can't during sports/exercise). I own a small bakery that I run on the side, and I write children's books as well. I am a Middle School Counselor and an LPC. I coach for both Red Coyote and Terra Tri, and I am training for my first Ironman race, Ironman Arizona. I have done over 40 half marathons, 5 marathons, and 3 half IM events since I started exercising for the first time back in 2010. Becoming an endurance athlete has made me better in every part of my life. I feel healthier and happier both physically and emotionally at 42 than ever before in my life. 

**Ironman Arizona is THIS Sunday. You can track Jaime's progress live HERE, her bib # is 1590. Good luck!!