Keeping a promise to my husband nearly destroyed my life

The groundwork for my divorce was laid before I ever got married.

I turned 19 a month before I met the man I would marry ten months later. Back then, I used to love to go to clubs to dance and have a couple of drinks with my friends (the drinking age was 19 where I lived). But my boyfriend did not drink. He also didn't dance. So I gave them both up.

They seemed like little things to forfeit at the time. Yet this was when I started laying the groundwork for my divorce.

Here are a few signs that I was slowly eroding my life (that I wish I'd noticed earlier):

1. Losing my low-key swear words

I was raised in a family that would drop a well-placed expletive when we were frustrated or excited. I was accustomed to the broad use of multi-purpose curse words. But my boyfriend did not curse. So, I gave up that way of expressing myself. At the time, it seemed like just a little thing.

2. Keeping vows before making vows

A couple of months before our wedding, I suddenly had a deep knowing that I shouldn't marry this man. (And this was not pre-wedding jitters.) But, you know what? I talked myself out of that deep knowing. In my 19-year-old brain, I rationalized that I had to marry him no matter what my inner wisdom said because I'd given him my word that I would. Keeping my word was the most important thing.

I believed that ignoring my innate knowing was just a little thing to sacrifice to keep my word.

3. Spiral of self-denial

After we were married, I continued to make a long string of small changes that denied who I was. I justified each of these as another little thing (the compromises of partnership). All of these little changes added up to a large hole. And in that cavernous space, I could hear the echo growing ever louder of my inner voice telling me: this marriage wasn't for me.

The marriage was slowly but steadily chipping away at me. But I had given my word, so I just kept going. After all, we were well off, rarely argued, and I was able to pursue my education. I would eventually graduate with my Ph.D., land a plum job, and teach a class at a major university as an adjunct professor. Life was looking pretty "fine," wasn't it?

4. Cue panic attacks in 5,4,3,2,1

Then, after five years of living this way, out of the blue, I started having panic attacks. Amazingly, at the time, I didn't understand the fear underlying my panic. Now, of course, I can look back and see the real me sounding the alarm, scared that she was going to die.

But I didn't even let the panic attacks stop me. No, sir! I had given my word, "Until death do us part," so I continued to stuff my rising fear, along with every other emotion I had, and began pasting a smile on my face every day. This was my new strategy. Fake it 'til you make it.

5. My body was breaking down 

Despite the ridiculous forced smile on my face and my outward efforts to hold my life together, my body started to fall apart inside, repressed emotions took their toll, and catastrophe started to assault my world over and over. In just four years, I developed TMJ so severe I was unable to open my mouth more than a few millimeters for months and months. I was in so much pain that I could barely speak, chew, or open my eyes. I spent months on a liquid diet and ground my way through at least two "non-destructible" bite guards while I slept.

6. False smiles were the only way to convince everyone that I was fine

After I started to recover, I was in a car accident that compressed my spine and made it difficult for me to sit for more than a few minutes at a time. I had meetings at work where I was lying on the floor with my feet up in a chair. It looked weird, but I could be productive. I was that determined to make everything work and convince the world that my life was "fine".

Next, our beloved dog died of bladder cancer. Then, I had a miscarriage. But I was left alone in my tremendous grief because, to my husband, everything was fine. He didn't want kids anyway. The following year, just ten days before Christmas, my sister died unexpectedly. She was only 32, and I was inconsolable. But again, I was alone in my grief.

The false smile on my face became harder and harder to maintain. But I kept trying, trying so hard.

7. 'Grin and bear it' becomes like a prayer

The following year, another horrible car accident broke my sternum. Recovery was difficult because it was clear that I was an "inconvenience" to my husband. And then, a year after my sister's death, my grandmother died.

Grin and bear it. Grin and bear it. ... Grin and bear it. And I did until the day I woke up, and the world itself was no longer "fine".

It took a national tragedy to shake me out of my haze

September 11, 2001 — the day when the hole ripped in our country was even larger than the hole I felt inside myself. Nothing was fine. For the first time in my adult life, I could not put a smile on my face.

While my personal life pain couldn't be compared to the suffering of so many on that day and in the years afterward, something about that moment made me realize I could no longer pretend like nothing was wrong.

I didn't want to be with this man. I never did. My husband was the person who told me what was happening that dreadful day, and I realized I didn't want to talk about it with him. I wanted to try to make sense of what was happening with my family and friends, those I loved and felt loved by, and he wasn't one of them.

Recovering was hard, but I did it 

Life had been aligning crisis after crisis to try to get my attention. There were many excruciating years. But those circumstances built the structure for my decision and provided opportunities to wake up and reclaim myself.

Things were not fine. Our marriage was not working for me. Having a pasted-on smile was not how I wanted to live anymore. I wanted more for myself and for my life. I wanted to live in a way that was fulfilling to me. I realized that I needed to divorce my husband and also the caricature of myself that I had become. I needed to find "me" again. I needed to find the framework of myself that I had abandoned almost from the moment he and I met.

When I woke up from my haze, I saw that keeping my word was not the most vital thing. Yes, I'd said "forever," but I didn't promise to surrender my happiness, identity, or joy.

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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.