This story mentions suicide attempts.
The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.
Today is my 21st wedding anniversary. Twenty-one years. I've now spent half my life with him and half my life without him. This feels pivotal to me. Amongst the messages today of "21 years! What an accomplishment!" and "You guys are amazing, what a love story" I'm wondering why we are so hung up on a number?
Imagine if a more acceptable response was "have those been happy years?". That seems like a much wiser thing to celebrate, rather than a number.
I was a baby 20-year-old bride, the kind that you would imagine has come from a strict religious background and is taught that it's perfectly acceptable to get engaged to someone you met seven months previously, at the age of 19. As well as being such a tender age, I was dripping in family trauma. My home life was trauma event after trauma event. A sister who was in and out of jail, hospital, rehab, detox. Cutting, drugs, multiple suicide attempts, threatening to hurt me. And fundamental Christian parents who had no idea where to turn except prayer.
So in the very thick of this, when I bring home a good, solid Christian guy who is on the church band and is living and breathing all things God and church, I can feel the exhale from my parents. It felt like - she’s safe. We did OK with this one.
When I came home again, seven short months later and said we were engaged, my Mum was so happy she squealed with delight and threw the muffin that she was eating up in the air so hard it hit the roof. There was still so much turmoil in our lives, and I subconsciously knew I was their little lighthouse. And I was doing my job really well to bring them the happiness I so desperately wanted for them.
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The night before the wedding I had all my girlfriends over who were staying the night with me at my parents' house (I'm 19 remember) as well as my fiancé and some of his friends. My fiancé spilled some drink on the carpet and he was trying to clean it up. He was rubbing it hard on the carpet and I said to him, blot don't rub. I said it so many times and he would look at me but then ignore me and kept rub, rub, rubbing. I vividly remember at that moment wanting to call the whole wedding off. Now, I understand that the carpet incident is a silly little story. The kind that most people in relationships have hundreds of. But for me it was the tip of an iceberg that I couldn't see at that time. Underneath was the vast, heavy part of the berg. It was the feeling of never being heard. The feeling that my opinions meant nothing. The feeling that I must stay on this religious track forever, regardless of how I feel. The feeling of being third in line to him. God, church and then me. It was a feeling of being invisible. It was a feeling of not being safe.
We got married the next day. And those feelings have never left me. You have a lot of growing and changing, exploring and finding out who you are in your 20s and 30s, especially. Being married in the mix to someone who you never had a friendship base with was really tricky for me. As was my religious script, I married a good Christian guy. He nailed that brief and manipulated and emotionally hurt me into staying on that path, even though I screamed (literally) at him that I wanted off. I would tell him I wanted a divorce. No, was all he said. Just no. Sure, in retrospect I could have tried to find myself a lawyer and get that moving. But I was a baby in so many ways, and most importantly I couldn't be divorced. That's not what my people did. What would my parents think? So instead I shut myself down. I internalised everything to be a problem because of me. I just wasn't right. Any sense of individuality and freedom ebbed out of me even further.
Also there is this - I have married a great guy in so many ways. He’s a hard worker, I know he loves me immensely, he’s a great dad, he’s stable. So many wonderful qualities. However, as wonderful as those things are, after really allowing myself to examine my feelings and my life, they don't stand up to the most important and fundamental feelings.
I feel trapped.
I feel unsafe.
What I know is that if my daughter grew up and talked to me about a marriage or relationship that she knew wasn't working for her but she felt she needed to stay for her kids, her parents, her community, I would tell her that she has one wild and precious life and she needs to live it for her. To have the freedom to choose whatever she wants to. Sure, there will be consequences to those decisions, but if at her core she knows she's not being true to herself, I would want her to be brave and think of herself first in that instance. And I would hold her hand tight through it all.
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I can feel a shift in me. I can feel myself asking those questions - because no one else is going to. How have the last 21 years been for me? What do I want for the next 21 years of my life? After knowing what I have allowed myself to examine now, can I live with myself if I don't choose my own happiness first?
I think I know the path I am on already with this.
It already feels hard.
It already feels like the most freedom I have ever had.
I would want that for my daughter, with all of my heart. So I have to hold my own hand really tight through this next part, and I’m the best person for that job.
If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.
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