“…the trying of your faith worketh patience.”

-James 1:3

 

Drake told me about his incredible 29-year marriage to the woman of his dreams, Lindsay. Cancer had taken her life a few months before her 50th birthday. She had been an excellent baker and stayed home with their children. When they were older she worked a little to get out of the house. Drake was an amazing father and husband. His life had been almost exactly the opposite of mine.

 

Journal Entry: “Today, I’m feeling clear about things and so powerless to make them happen. How can I be strong enough to achieve what is best for my family? I am lost and found all at the same time.”

 

We talked about our children and families. We both have five children, and they are all about the same ages. My youngest and his youngest are only 6 weeks apart in age and would soon be Juniors in High School. My second to youngest was preparing to move out within the next month or two. His second to youngest was getting ready to go on a mission for our church in a few months. We were practically empty nesters since they were all gone most of the time. 

Both of us knew no matter what, if any of our children asked us not to date or be married, we would end a relationship. Our families had been through a lot, and our children’s well-being was the top priority.

 

Drake Journal Entry: “I love this gospel and how our Father in Heaven sees fit to help us in all the things.”

 

We talked about our membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and how that was the main focus of our lives. Drake had a strong testimony of the gospel that was unwavering and comforting. We shared faith-building stories from our past. I even told him, “I see dead people,” and laughed. He laughed with me, and we talked about spiritual gifts. “I don’t really see dead people,” I explained, “It’s more like I see and hear spirits through my spirit.” Then I told him a few of my experiences with relatives from the other side of the veil. 

 

Drake Journal Entry: “One thing you must know about Charlotte is that she sees spirits.”

 

We both believe that spiritual gifts are blessings and abilities given by God to help us serve our purpose here on earth. As a matter of fact, while we were having this discussion, I knew Drake was wondering if I could sense Lindsay there with us. I couldn’t, which seemed weird to me.

We talked about our past dating experiences. I told Drake about the men who had told me they were members of our church only to find out they didn’t live the gospel principles. Several of them had angry feelings toward the church, so they didn’t even go. 

He told me about the crazy phone calls he had with a few girls. That’s when I found out this was his very first in-person date in 30 years! 

“Wait… what?!” After my initial shock went away, I reminded myself that it was just one date. “Deep breath and relax!”

My daughter and her friend came by to pick me up, but I gave them some money to get dinner and told them to come back in another hour. We had an excellent conversation, and he had lifted my spirits after a long, hard, emotional day. Why end it so soon? Besides, the milkshakes were fantastic, and we hadn’t finished yet.

Based on what he had told me, he had only heard of lives like mine in the movies; and he didn’t even watch movies like that. Of course, I didn’t tell him details of my past, but I did cover a few of the more difficult things. It was amazing that Drake listened…. really listened, and was incredibly sympathetic. Too bad this was going to be our first and last date. Hopefully, he wouldn’t feel bad about not calling me again…. Once it all sunk in. 

 

Journal Entry: “My life has been hard, but I’m getting stronger every day. It can only get better! Heavenly Father has blessed me greatly and continues to for unknown reasons.”

 

Drake told me about the kind of woman he wanted to marry and that he had every intention of getting married again. “That’s why I’m dating. I’m looking for someone that I can quickly build a relationship with. A woman who has peace in her life and knows how to be happy.” He was also looking for someone who could be okay with the fact that he had been married to Lindsay for 30 years, sealed to her for time and all eternity, and that he would love her forever. 

Yup… I wasn’t what Drake was looking for. Phew! I’ll just help break him into the dating world. I have to admit by this time, though, I was starting to wish I was the kind of woman he would be interested in. If he turned out to be as great as he was leading me to believe.… well.… there was no way he could deal with my life.… I tried to push these thoughts to the very back of my mind as the night went on.

“Remember…. you’re done dating!”

 

* * * * * * * * * *

 

It had taken a long time, but by the time I met Drake, I had found my own voice. No matter what anyone else thought I was the one in charge of my life. My choices were mine, my problems were mine, and my future was mine. No one else. No one to blame or decide for me. It was time to stop worrying about other people’s perceptions of me. Either they liked me for who I was, or they didn’t. Either one was fine. Trying to act like someone else or being what others expected was an awful feeling. 

For far too long I had been totally misunderstood and not very well-liked. In an attempt to fit in, I would say what I thought other people expected me to say. Following their lead, listening to how and what they talked about, I would try to participate in the same manner. This was disingenuous to who I was inside, so of course, I failed miserably. 

Cooper didn’t help matters much. He would glare at me if I said anything or even when I stayed quiet. I couldn’t win with him. If he didn’t criticize me right there in front of everyone, he would do it when we got home. That left me even more confused about how to “act.” (Keyword… “act” and I’m a terrible actress!) Always worrying about being considered lazy, uncaring, selfish, or totally egocentric I attempted to be everything for everyone. Thus losing myself in the process.

 

Journal Entry: “I long for feelings of spirituality. I feel like I am drifting through worldly currents.

Today I prayed for humility, and I got it. I prayed for forgiveness and continue to pray for it because I’m so far from where I should be. I pray daily for the ability to think before I speak. To slow down and listen. To keep my mouth shut so nothing comes out that will be offensive or hurtful.”

 

One day I got a letter that basically said something like, “What is wrong with you? Do you pray, and if so, are you listening? You are rude, disrespectful, judgmental, and unaware of what is happening around you. You are not well-liked and never have been. You need to make changes.” Well…. that explains the feelings I remember having while reading the long letter anyway. I didn’t keep it, for obvious reasons. I wouldn’t quote it exactly even if I had anyway. I read it every day for at least a month before realizing the damage it was doing to my soul. 

The letter shocked me. Reading it broke my spirit. Just that morning, I had prayed for humility to be more Christlike. Don’t ever pray for humility! It will come in the form of cruel self-reflection, internal punishment, judgment, physical pain, and whatever else is necessary. At least that’s been my experience. I was trying to do my best, but instead, it was backfiring! Big-time! My head was spinning!

Reading the letter was like degrading myself every day, so I finally stopped. It was time to change! Once again, someone had told me what they thought of me, and however nonconstructive and hurtful, it made me want to adapt. It felt impossible! The continual, harsh self-loathing threw me into a familiar depression, losing myself even more.

 

Journal Entry: “Cooper says I am rude and bossy and that I take over conversations. He said I ‘have diarrhea of the mouth.’ Someone else told me that people don’t like me and never have. They said that I say offensive things.

I’ve been made aware of one situation that I continue to regret. Still, I didn’t realize it was something that was constantly happening. I wish I knew what I said or did to cause this reaction. I wish I knew! I’ve always tried to be, say, and do what everyone expects of me, but I’m failing. I feel so hated. I am sad to know that is how I am perceived, yet I have no idea how to change.

I need to talk less and be careful when speaking, even at home. Instead of blaming others for my actions and problems, I will look inside myself and change. I feel lost.”

 

The next few months were tough as I tried to stay neutral about everything. I even tried to keep quiet and not share my thoughts, including not answering with specific answers. I further attempted to please everyone and specifically not to judge. I still judged myself constantly, as always. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t think clearly. I was so used to my faulty thinking that I didn’t know what to do. I finally learned many years later in counseling that my brain didn’t work right because of trauma. 

Years later, that letter still haunted me. I awoke one morning realizing that I had been sick next to the bed. I went to the bathroom, washed my face, and got a rag to clean up the floor. It was weird that I didn’t even remember being sick the night before. Confusion turned to reality when I saw pills in the sick by the bed! The night before came flooding back to my mind as I heard the door open and my children’s joyful, laughing voices calling, “Mom! We’re Home!” 

The day before, they had all left with their fathers for the night. I was alone in the house, so I went to my room and cried long and hard. I hurt physically, spiritually, and emotionally so severely that I couldn’t rest or stop crying. The pain was so intense I wondered how I was even still alive. How was I going to take care of my children? They already got the worst of me due to my personally being so lost and weak. How could I protect them from the trauma of another divorce? Would I be alone the rest of my life? Who would want someone like me anyway? What had I done to deserve to be left alone and raise my children in a broken home?

Wanting the pain to go away for a little while I sought sleep desperately. Completely drained of everything, I hadn’t slept in months. I took two narcotic pain pills that I had leftover from dental surgery to alleviate the physical pain. Then I also took two sleeping pills to help me sleep. Laying down I waited for oblivion to take away the excruciating pain.

Looking at the half dissolved pills by the bed, I realized that taking them could have killed me! I immediately thanked Heavenly Father that my children would find me alive, not seemingly asleep…. yet not breathing…. having left them…. by accidental overdose. Everyone would have assumed I had done it on purpose. My children would not only have a broken home but also no mother to protect and love them. I could have inadvertently caused them even more pain than any divorce would. On that day, comprehension settled in. My heart had stopped beating leaving me feeling “mostly dead” like Wesley in Princess Bride

Later that night, I sat on the couch holding my children as close as I could get them. They watched a movie and I did some deep soul searching. What I saw wasn’t what I had expected. I found emptiness. I had been trying to be what everyone else wanted for so long that I, Charlotte Marie Briar, ceased to exist! 

The shock of this reality created a spark of hope as small…. no….  smaller than a mustard seed. That was all I needed. It was time to find myself and be strong for my children. I was not going to abandon them! I would live for them until I could live for myself. 

 

Journal Entry: “Right now, my life is horrible! My heart is low, and I am confused and feel totally helpless. I have no idea what is going on.”

 

The day I almost took my own life changed something inside me. I started making decisions based on what I wanted, not what everyone else thought was best. However, fear and boundaries were still a daily struggle. I needed light! My own light. It was time to dig deep and build strength, goodness, focus, and clarity from the new hope I felt. An even more significant challenge was loving myself, not to mention loving others and allowing myself to be loved. I simply didn’t feel lovable.

Resolving to make this change I had another realization…. there were few resources available that I was aware of. That’s when I made a promise to myself. “If I get out of this, I will help other women in their struggle.” But I needed to fix myself first!

 

Journal Entry: “I was complaining, as usual lately, to Cooper about the kids yelling all the time. He said, ‘They do what they see. You yell at them, so why wouldn’t they yell at each other.’ That was like a slap in the face! Did I really yell at the kids all the time? If so, that has to stop!”

 

Over time, I was able to restart my heart, repair my holes, and refill my bucket. The tiny bit of hope I started with grew into fearlessness, desire, bravery, and strength. No one would ever take away my heartbeat again. Being me would have to be good enough for everyone in my life from that point on!

Reading through my journals has been an eye-opener. It hurt me deeply to read about the weaknesses I know I have and those pointed out by others. Hurting someone in any way was never my intention. My heart aches as I am reminded of the pain I caused. Seeking redemption through the Atonement, I beg for forgiveness and strive to improve every day. 

Until recently, I didn’t really realize how what I said came across. All it took was one patient and kind person to explain one thing to me which changed my perspective. It helped me recognize how the tone of voice I use and the quickness in my replies have been felt by others. My counselor helped me see that I always feel a need to be right and often act like I know everything. This, he says, comes from trauma and manipulation.  However, it is my fault, and I am glad to finally be aware of what I need to do to change.

We can’t see ourselves from the perspective of others unless they constructively tell us. Criticizing and manipulation is mental abuse and will not get a person to see themselves differently. It’s a great way to hurt their feelings, but it won’t help them change. Putting someone down, making them feel bad, humiliating them, playing mind games, making them feel guilty, or telling them they are crazy is abuse in the form of power and control. (If you need help, contact the National Center of Domestic and Sexual Violence. www.ncdsv.org)

Good communication is essential and needs to be practiced. I’ve learned that I’ve been bad at it my entire life. I’m genuinely grateful for the person who took a few minutes to explain their perspective to me in a way that helped me instead of tearing me down. 

My intention in sharing stories about Cooper is not to hurt him or make a laundry list of things I feel he did to contribute to my complicated life. All of my experiences made me who I am and I wouldn’t change a thing! My hope is that they will help at least one person not feel alone and find hope.

As they say, there are two sides to every story. I’m sure Cooper could also say that he feels I have hurt him. I am aware of this and pray regularly for forgiveness and a change of heart for us both. Since I can’t see myself through his eyes, I’m not sure what he may feel that I have done. After reviewing the last 15 years of my journals, I can imagine what some of them are as I admit I wasn’t always at my best.

Forgiving Cooper has been very freeing! It’s not something I did just once. I’ve had to repeatedly and continually forgive as memories return or new experiences cause anger or pain. At first, it was hard, but as time went by, it became easier. I pray someday Cooper will find it in his heart to forgive me as I have forgiven him. I genuinely have compassion for him and pray he will find joy and happiness in his life.

 

Continue reading…

Start at the beginning of the story

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