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.