Sunday, March 28, 2021

It's Just "You" and "Me"

July 1, 2013 

"In the last 8 months, I’ve had a lot of time to think. I’ve thought long and hard about me and about you. I refuse to think I made a mistake marrying you because I got a very clear confirmation that you were in deed the man I was to marry. But, I know now I did make a HUGE mistake in not developing a relationship with you BEFORE we married. I didn’t give any thought as to what I had to offer as your wife, or what I needed or desired from you as my husband. I jumped right into a marriage with no foundation and worked overtime from the very start to keep from losing something I never really had. It’s now been 27 years with our anniversary passing just a few days ago...but still there is only you and I without a “we” or “us”. And I can’t spend another day pretending.

...I'm stepping back and doing what I should have done before we got married,,,giving a lot of serious thought to what I have to offer and what I need from you, as well as continuing to make changes that will eventually help me to bring my best self to the potential building of a healthy and lasting eternal relationship with you...."

Separation was a difficult experience for me on all levels. I wrestled with feelings of guilt, sadness, anger, loneliness, and impatience with myself and Charles. Admittedly I was prideful in my attitude about the changes I was making, while fuming about his lack of change. He complained a lot of pain, and discouragement, and his inability to focus. So many times in our conversations he was hesitant and his thoughts seemed scattered. Each time we interacted I asked him about his employment, pain meds, Dr appointments, and suicidal thoughts/ideations. And I always got the same message of desperation and inability to cope. I grew weary of his negativity and impatient with what I considered whining. I wanted him to "grow up" and "be a man", to take his responsibilities seriously as I was depending on him financially and we couldn't afford for him to lose his job. He deemed it necessary to work from home and his employer made necessary accommodations, with the understanding that he would get his health issues resolved and return to his regular duties and  responsibilities. 

I eventually decided I wanted out. This was too much. I needed to be cut loose and have a fresh start. So I began praying and having serious discussions with God about what that would look like. And his response caught me completely off guard:

"DO NOT divorce!"

"Wait. What? Really? This has been really hard on me and we aren't getting anywhere. I'm weary. And I hate being dragged down. Please. Don't you understand where I'm coming from? Do you even care?"

"Yes dear, I understand better than you do. You have your agency to choose to do whatever you decide. But I'm asking you to stop, and strongly consider that staying married will be a protection for you." And then he pulled me close, and wiped away my tears. One thing I've learned about him is he hardly ever takes my problems away. But he comes to me and offers comfort and strength when I can't stand on my own. And he stays with me for as long as l need him. God is never too busy to focus all of his attention on a broken soul.


A weak and tiny chick

Stuffed inside a hardened shell;

Struggling for freedom from

The confines he knows well—

Carefully I begin

Administering some aid;

As I peel away the prison

His need to struggle fades.

Finally, as I free him

 I watch for him to stir,

After sparing him the hardship

Of escape he must endure.

But sadly he lies lifeless—

His will to live is gone;

I’ve deprived him of the strength

His life depended on.

In life, God sees me struggle

From prisons of my own,

Though He chooses not to free me

For reasons to me unknown.

I’m tired, stressed and weakening;

It’s more than I can stand.

 Yet, He will not release me,

But He will hold my hand.

 -Karla Claybrook


Sunday, February 28, 2021

A Mind Bending Diagnosis and a Huge Dose of Reality

 I started counseling almost immediately. The meaning of life and marriage and family was suddenly lost to me. There had been turmoil to one degree or another in our home for a long period of time, but always I had carried a sense of hope and faith in my heart. Now the trauma we'd experienced suddenly left me a confused involuntary participant in the clean up of the the huge miasmic wreckage of my family's "ruin".

"Are you familiar with the term codependency?" my therapist asked. We had by that time had several sessions together. "Well, I've heard of it", I said with a little reluctance, not sure where this was headed. There was a brief explanation, but I wasn't really following. "Two people...Why are we ignoring the "elephant in the room"?... "drawn to needy people" This isn't about my behavior..."becomes increasingly needy"...This mess wasn't my doing..."unhealthy"...I was suddenly feeling very defensive and I just had to shut down.

 I was still in the mode of trying to talk about all of the ways this trauma had thrown my life completely out of control...and I desperately wanted to regain at least some of what I'd lost. I had come to the conclusion, through therapy, and desperate pleadings to God for a plan, that I would need to prepare to separate from my husband to protect myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I understood the need for emotional and spiritual protection, however, I was perplexed over the need for physical protection. He had never acted violently towards me. I eventually came to realize it was more about physical exhaustion, and complete lack of self-compassion on my part, than about physical harm. I'd considered divorce, but God was very clear with His response "Do NOT divorce".

By the end of May, 7 months after his suicide attempt, I was beginning to form a plan. Details aren't really necessary here except to say God opened the way through a series of miracles, with clear direction moving forward, for that separation to occur. It wasn't easy, but I felt assurance that it was right, and hopeful that in a short amount of time we could get on the same page and begin the healing of our relationship, then return to be together again. When the school year ended in mid June, Rachel and I headed out to spend 3 weeks away with family. We both needed the extra love and support that would be extended to us, but I mostly needed the time to think, and build up my strength physically, emotionally, and spiritually for what was to be one of the most significant and heart wrenching changes I'd chosen to make to that point in my life.

My focus during our time away was mainly on my healing, my needs, details for the plan to move forward, and figuring out this codependency thing. I decided taking down ALL of my defenses would be the best approach if I expected to gain any ground in executing the plan.

It literally took the entire 3 weeks, but I was deeply humbled by my research on codependency. I was certain someone had been a fly on the wall of our home for the past 26 years. I could distinctly identify with all that I was reading. The harsh reality of just how dangerously unhealthy our marriage relationship had become was a bitter pill to swallow. Here are just a few things I could identify with:

  • Codependents feel an uncontrollable urge to help others when they have a problem
  • Codependents often try to hid their own needs and wants
  • Codependents feel sad and frustrated that they give a lot to others but get nothing in return
  • Codependents strongly believe that other people cannot like them or live them for who they are and try hard to prove that they are good enough for other people
  • The seeds of codependence are in childhood, when a child has no choice but to accommodate a parent who is controlling, selfish, depressed, addicted, or abusive
  • Codependents usually do all the giving in relationships
  • Codependents learn in childhood to hyper-focus on needs and moods of a parent
  • A codependent person will not assert a position or take responsibility for a choice
  • Because their boundaries weren't respected as children, codependents don't set boundaries with themselves and others. The word no isn't in their vocabulary
  • Sometimes one person in a relationship appears to be more needy and dependent, however, the other person is also codependent by allowing themselves to be controlled by unreasonable demands
Melody Beattie, author of "Codependent No More", describes a codependent as: "A person who has let someone else's behavior affect him or her and is obsessed with controlling other people's behavior".

As the end of our 3 weeks drew close, the reality of separation struck fear in my heart and mind. I was going to have to be the instigator. What would he say? What would he think? How would he react? What if he chose to divorce? What would our children think? What would they say? Would they shut me out or be supportive? My mind was reeling, and for a brief moment my courage escaped me. But I dug deep and I prayed hard, and God showed up, as He always did, right when I needed him most.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Time Marches On

"You are still responsible for the financial welfare of our family. Figure it out", I said with as much strength as my nervous insecure self could muster. I had called on my courage and God stood right beside me to bolster what little I had. There was not much of a response, so I turned and walked away.

Life became weird. I just can't describe it any other way. We were more like roommates who attempted to exist in spite of each other. I avoided him because I was swimming in a cesspool of emotion I needed time to work through. I was in counseling at the time, and knew I couldn't just push those emotions to the side, but acknowledging and processing them proved to such a daunting task I wasn't sure how to move forward. 

I also had to consider my 14 year old daughter and the severe trauma she had experienced. Every night as she tried to fall asleep, she was consumed with a rush of emotion that resulted in an intense anxiety, I could feel her uncontrollable shaking as I lay on an air mattress beside her bed. Together we talked, and prayed, and sang late into the night, until exhaustion won out allowing her weary mind and body to finally settle into a fitful rest. She too, was in counseling, however, healing proved to be slow and painful. Sometimes  progress was significant, but much of the time it was 2 steps forward and 3 steps backwards.

From mid October to the end of May we all just did our best to survive. I was angry, and hurt, and that all came to a head for me. I had no patience, and I was tired of non stop talk about his pain in his feet, his back, his neck, his just went on and on. He would do yard work and repairs around the house as needed, but avoided attending church with the family, supporting school events our children were involved in, helping out parenting/discipline issues, etc. His reasoning? If he did anything extra it would cause him to miss a week of work, which in turn could cause him to lose his job...and then what? And the accommodations he "needed" were more than overwhelming. I'd been dealing with all of that since 1996 and I was weary. For 16 years I was cooking special meals, preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner to meet his needs. The covers at the end of the bed were rolled back and folded precisely, with a fan perfectly positioned at the end of the bed year round to keep his feet cool. One night I spent 20 minutes (no exaggeration) trying to adjust it to his liking. He came home pretty much every evening from work straight into the bedroom and watched TV until 11pm or midnight. He became obsessed with different movies that he would watch over and over again, night after night, replaying different scenes and watching ALL of the bonus features. At one point I realized I'd been trying to go to sleep with the movie "Jaws 3" playing in the background for 6 months straight (again no exaggeration). He bought water from a bottled water store and kept a thermos filled with (boiled and cooled) water with  him at all times. He spent an exuberant amount of effort shopping (usually online) for socks with perfect thickness, shoes and sandals (worn with socks to protect his feet) purchased in multiples, and pants with seams and waistband least likely to cause discomfort with his lower back, as well as an assortment of machines, supplements, and gadgets, desperately seeking relief/healing. He went to multiple doctors and specialists spending thousands of dollars for treatments that were not covered by insurance. With our meager income stretched as far as it could possibly stretch, the needs of other family members much of the time going mostly unmet, and emotional health issues of my own, I was drowning. His declaration that he could no longer go to work, and his suicide attempt a few weeks later, ultimately pushed me over the edge. I had come to the conclusion I would never BE enough, nor would I ever be able to DO enough to satisfy him.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Beginning of Now

 God didn't rescue me, but he sat with me, holding me in a comforting hug. I was so smothered by the heavy darkness in my mind that I sank deeply into that hug and melted like butter.

"This is so surreal", I whispered. "I didn't see it coming...a freight train barreling out of nowhere like a stray bullet randomly searching for a target. I feel so much mixed up emotion, and weirdly, at the same time I feel numb. I know that doesn't make sense, but it is what it is. And I don't know what to do with it."

"The anger is bullying my brain and heart. I've never let myself be angry. Since I was a tiny little girl, I worked tirelessly to keep the peace. There was too much risk involved in letting myself feel such a threatening emotion. Now it's boiling inside of me, ready to erupt all over me and everyone around me. Why didn't he talk to me? Why did he wait until I was on a road trip? And that phone call from him after his surgery, to tell me I should know he was the one that called 911 and got help. How does that make him the hero? How could he be so selfish? How could I be so stupid? I feel so cheated and so, so, vulnerable."

"And the fear is oppressive and expanding in every direction...fear of what happened, and the brutal reality of a potentially different outcome, and fear of the unknown...what if he tries again? When? Where? How? Why? Will I be able to stop him? Does he even want me anymore? Am I ever going to be enough for him? How is this going to affect our children? Is he going to lose his job? How am I going to support our family with no college education and zero experience in the workforce for nearly 30 years? How will we handle all of the medical expenses? How am I supposed to trust him now? What if people find out? Should I talk about it openly or keep it bottled up inside to avoid embarrassing our family? And..."

God held me a little closer."Shhh", he said very calmly. "Try to take a deep breath dear". Breathing had become a conscientious effort swaying from the extreme of forcing myself to breathe to trying to avoid hyperventilation. But there was an undeniable peace in having God with me, that I couldn't find anywhere else.

"There's also depression and anxiety", I whispered. "Such a gravitational pull to hide...physically bury my head under the covers of my cold lonely bed, and emotionally bury my heart in the depths of the ocean,"

"I know", he replied with emotion in his voice. "I know dear. Just hang on to me. And if you lose your grip, I'll hang on to you until you can grab ahold of me again. I'm not going anywhere. I'll be right here beside you through this entire journey. As for the future, just look at what's right in front of you and I will guide your steps."

"That's so hard for me!" I spoke harshly as I hurried to jump to my feet. "My anxiety will destroy me if I let things go. I run the household, pay the bills, do the grocery shopping and the laundry, prepare the meals, help the kids with their homework, take out the garbage, make all necessary daily accommodations for my husband, clean up after everyone, run all the errands, take care of my church responsibilities, not to mention squeezing in time for scripture study and prayer, and now I have to go to school full time, and work full time so I can support our family...and it's" I squeaked as I collapsed to the floor. "I don't get how you expect me to do it all..."

"My sweet daughter," he said with such tenderness as he lifted my chin and looked into my eyes, "It is not requisite that you run faster than you have strength. The world isn't going to collapse if you focus on yourself. What's important will be taken care of, and the things that can wait will either take care of themselves or disappear. Your husband is still responsible for the financial welfare of your family. Stand with me, and together we will go give him that reminder. It's not going to be easy; he's going to fight it, and give you  every reason to believe he's not capable. But leave him with me...and I will help him figure it out. Do you trust me?"

Monday, January 18, 2021

What Now? Part 2

Devastated. Angry. Scared. Sympathetic, Betrayed. Distraught. Anxious. My emotions were swirling around like a tornado in my head and heart. And physically I was empty of any desire to function or keep myself in check. I had no appetite and forcing myself to eat was completely out of the question. Sleep completely abandoned me as the physical symptoms manifesting my emotional pain continued to barrage my body in the form of intermittent trembling, severe headaches, and extreme fatigue. My ability to think and concentrate was inhibited by images.

It was while I was traveling with my brother that I received a frantic phone call from my son Mark. "Mom", he said in a loud frantic voice, "Dad tried to kill himself. The police and ambulance are here. I need to go, and you need to come home!" And then only suffocating silence remained as I tried to process what I'd just heard. My body began to shake uncontrollably. My head was screaming insanity and confusion. And my 14 year old daughter was sitting in the backseat.

"Who was that?", my brother asked, and a barely audible squeak was all I could get out. "Breathe", I kept repeating to myself over and over again. "In through your nose and out through your mouth". It was completely the opposite of the hyperventilating that was threatening to render me unconscious. "Who was that? What's going on?" my brother questioned in a tone that only added to my panic. "Just a minute" I screamed in my head...but nothing came out of my mouth. "You're really starting to scare me!", he urged one last time. With tears of hysteria streaming down my grief stricken face, I put my hands out and made a motion of cutting a wrist, in my best attempt to deliver a message I was still desperately trying to deny. Immediately, he turned to my daughter Rachel sitting in the back seat and said "You're dad's going to be okay."

To the best of my recollection, we still had a couple of hours before we were to arrive at my step mom's house, where my daughter Heather was waiting with great anticipation for our arrival. When we arrived, Rachel and I waited in the car while my brother went in to tell them about what had happened. A few minutes later, he came out and escorted us into the house, where we were met with hugs and floods of emotion. While I was grateful for the support, I felt overwhelmed and anxious. I needed to connect with Mark to see how he was holding up.

I pulled away and excused myself to a quiet room where I could try to focus on holding myself together. I dialed Mark's number, not really knowing what information I would be faced with when he answered. I wanted to know, but I didn't want to know. The reality of a suicide attempt of such close emotional proximity, left me feeling shattered into a million pieces...and I had no idea how I would begin to face the mess. I just wanted to bury myself in a deep black hole where I would be protected from the fall out of such incapacitating trauma.

"Hi mom." Mark sounded weary. "I'm at the hospital with Dad; he's being prepped for surgery. There's someone here asking a lot of questions I can't answer. I'm going to have them talk to you". I was so numb I didn't really hear who I was speaking with. "Your husband has damaged his jugular vein. He's being prepped for surgery..." Umm jugular vein. That's in your neck, I thought to myself as I laid back on the bed I was sitting on to try and discourage loss of consciousness. I lost the ability to concentrate on the rest of the conversation.

For several hours, I lay there crying and shaking. My emotions flipped erratically from fear and anger, to deep overwhelming sadness and grief. My head was pounding and I was left completely void of any strength to lift any part of my traumatized body from the bed.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

What Now? Part 1

 The news of my husband's suicide attempt I received that day, was both crushing and shocking. I immediately began to shake uncontrollably. While desperate pleas for relief were howling in my head, only hollow breathy attempts to express them escaped my quivering lips. Horror gripped me, and swept my breathing into a rapid pace matched only by my racing heart. I quickly realized it was a blessing that it was my brother, and not me, driving to our desired destination.

"How could this happen?", I asked so quietly only God could hear. "Life as I knew it just blew up in my face, and I'm...devastated. I wasn't there to see or hear, but the disturbing images relentlessly assault my brain, while it works to try and fill in the blanks of the details I don't know." For 7 hours my husband laid in nearly half of the blood that had escaped from his body before he realized he'd failed and he was too weak to succeed at his attempt.

"It's not your fault child," God responded. "It has nothing to do with you. Nothing you could have said or done would have prevented it. This is his journey, and this is not the end".

My mind went into overdrive trying to figure out "what now". He was the sole provider for our family, and we still had 2 children living at home. For 27 years, he'd suffered a lot of pain and distress emotionally, which heightened his anxiety and deepened his desperation and depression. He complained of pain in his feet, his hands, his back, and his neck. He required accommodations to his diet, his morning routine, throughout areas of our home, and in his office space at work. With time, his interactions with family, work peers, and members of our church congregation, became less and less as he sunk deeper into despair. Just 2 months earlier he'd woke up one morning and said "I can't go to work anymore."

"So I'm running the house...paying the bills, taking care of kids, dealing with homework, making sure all school meetings, conferences, events and concerts are attended (because what child doesn't want their parents there to see them shine?), paying the taxes, doing the grocery shopping, washing and folding mountains of get the idea...and now I need to go to school full-time (because I chose marriage and children over an education), and work full-time as well?"

"How is that humanly possible God?!?!?!?"

And he softly and matter-of-factly responded "It isn't dear". That was all he said, But he sat with me for a very, very long time, and held me close, and wiped my tears. And I felt the truth of his message to me.

I didn't have an answer for "what now?", but I knew it didn't include a herculean effort to keep my family afloat.

Monday, August 7, 2017

You Just Are

"I've learned something really important spending all of this time with you," I said to God as He walked quietly at my side. " Actually, I've learned a lot of important things...but one lesson stands far and above the rest in my mind."

"Anything you'd like to share?" His eyes twinkled as He looked over in my direction and smiled.

"I've learned how important I am to you. I used to wonder if you had time for me...if you knew and understood how I feel, what makes me happy, what makes me sad, what kinds of things I struggle with. I imagined you had a lot more important things to handle, what with running the universe and all. But I've discovered I am the center of your universe...along with every other human being. I know you love me, that you cherish me...that I, we, are the very reason you do what you do. That's the reason you always show up when I need you. I never have to beg or just come. And comfort. And support. And encourage. You see everything good and wonderful and amazing in me. You know me. You know all about me...the good, the bad, and the ugly. And you still love me and want to spend time with me. And I'm grateful beyond my ability to adequately express."

God stopped and turned to face me, taking my hands in His. A tear trickled down His cheek as He stood staring deeply into my eyes. "I love everything about you," He whispered. And nothing more needed to be said.