I Am Learning To Love Myself: Mara’s Story, Part Four
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Mara” is a pseudonym.
I wanted that image to haunt him as long as he lived.
He called the pain clinic and told them what had happened and then left with our only car and all of my personal information. I packed a suitcase and called my best friend to pick me up. I went and hid at her friend’s house for a couple of days. My husband was furious and started saying that he wanted me back and went out driving looking for me all night. He had stopped going to church shortly after we had gotten married, but I had kept them abreast of what had been going on.
On the third day that I was gone, knowing I had to work the next day, I called them up and asked if they could go with me while I went to pick up my work ID. I told him to leave my stuff outside the door. I remember shaking, trembling walking down that pathway to pick it up, afraid he was going to come out the door. My best friend’s mom, who had come with me, went and knocked on the door. He opened it up.
I could smell the cigarettes even from a distance. She came in and we talked and he said he was sorry for doing that but that I shouldn’t have done that. He added that he was going to stop narcotics. She seemed assured and left me there with him. I remember trembling again as she left.
The church only believed in divorce upon the grounds of physical abuse and adultery.
I had a long talk with the men in the church, I know my husband had dabbled in selling a couple of his pills, but had no idea if he was doing it then. They said if I knew for sure he was selling drugs that I not only was allowed to divorce him, but for my safety should. He started using again, and, although I had suspicions, I never could find any concrete proof. He started a new contract job at that point after he decreased his narcotic use, but after a couple of months started complaining about neck pain and got doctors to increase his prescription.
He soon lost his job and his car subsequently broke down. Right after he had gotten a job, I had found a good car at a great price with the help of one of the men at the church. It had a manual transmission which I knew how to drive but that my husband didn’t. My husband’s narcotic use started to spiral downward again after he lost this job.
At the same time, my 24-year-old best friend who was part of the only remaining family in the church, was offered an opportunity for a job raise, college funding, benefits, and a link to her dream job in the corporate office of a Christian company. Her father had had a brain injury when she was 14 years old and most of the girls worked to support the family at a minimum wage job since they were old enough to be hired (her mother stayed at home with the younger kids having more kids). The brother-in-law of her store owner had recently been placed in charge of another store and after being trained by her, wanted to bring her and some of the other managers with him. The caveat — it was in a different state. This manager’s wife was close with my best friend and became her mentor, but neither one had met her family closely. They were both strong in the Christian community, but because they hadn’t met them, my best friend’s parents saw this as her being deceitful.
They told her she was in sin because she wanted to move for a job without knowing of a 1 cor 14 church.
They told her she hadn’t been communicating with them and she hadn’t been open for the past couple of years and they questioned her faith. They would talk about the rebellion in church service without mentioning names. They told her if she couldn’t find a verse that spoke — told her to go — that she must respect her parent’s wishes. If she didn’t want to do that she could bring it up with the other two men at church.
She left anyways.
Her parents cut ties with her and told her siblings she was in rebellion and in sin. They told the kids they couldn’t be with her because of her sinfulness and were not allowed to talk to her. During this time, two of the other sisters left as well. I kept in contact with both her and her parents and still attended the church. Her mother had been like a mother to me, since mine had started swinging crazier and crazier. She had become my spiritual mentor.
I was so confused: my best friend was not doing anything rebellious and she still loved her family despite the circumstances. But here her parents were, talking about her like she was in sin and wasn’t a Christian for merely moving. Any feelings that didn’t agree with her parents were sin.
Her older sister put me in contact with her best friend who I was able to ask a lot of questions to. Every time before, anyone I had told about a 1 Cor church told me that I was wrong and I was wrong because it was cultural. This friend was the first one to gently walk aside me and give me the tools about how I had been told to interpret it. She never told me I was wrong, she merely told me why she didn’t believe that interpretation. She was patient with me as I reviewed what I had learned and researched and studied it and came to the same conclusion she had. I sat down in front of all the men in the church and told them why I didn’t believe that how they interpreted 1 Cor was the only way to practice a service. I told them that I couldn’t have fellowship with them if they were going to call people sinners based on the type of church they attended because the only commandment in that verse is to have an orderly service.
That was my last conversation with the church.
As everything I had learned about faith began to crumble apart, I didn’t know where to begin. I knew God existed. I am an artist and a nurse, both of those require sensitivity to feelings and intuition and faith. I found that if I had a feeling it was usually based in fact.
I had felt God, I had no doubt in my mind that he existed, I just didn’t know who He was anymore. I remembered something my mom had always told me : “Go from what you know to what you don’t know.” I knew God existed and I knew he was love. I decided to walk forward based on those two facts alone. I would use that as my ruler, my measuring tape, my tool to assess truth.
My new friend and her husband walked alongside me patiently, and for the first time, I began to understand love.
As I met more people from their church, I decided to give the church a try, even though I had read that they believed Calvinism. I told myself just because I went to one service didn’t mean I had to attend for the rest of my life. I could always leave if I disagreed. My church had always used the verse about being “of the same mind” to mean that they had to agree as a church on every little thing. But I learned at this new church that some aspects of Christianity are primary — for example, God is love, God died for us. Some are secondary, such as doctrine, or method of worship (protestant) and that we didn’t have to all agree on those secondary things to still be Christians together. I told them that I didn’t believe in Calvinism, and immediately flinched expecting the backlash I had always faced around the Calvinists my dad brought around, but it never happened.
Instead I heard, “Yeah, a lot of us don’t.”
It surprised me that they could love each other without having to agree on every little thing.
It surprised me to see the way the really cared about the community and would go out of the way to help someone in need no matter the religion and without trying to indoctrinate them. Yes, they witnessed to others, but they did it from love and not a need to increase their numbers or be a good Christian. These people were upfront with their struggles. One service they asked anyone who had ever been in jail to stand up, half of our church stood up. There was such a transparency to everyone’s life that attracted me. These weren’t “good Christians” these were real people who chose this life because it was what they truly wanted. I took me almost a year to start going to church regularly, but I am still in awe that the first one I went to was just the one I needed.
At the end of July last year, I told my husband he could stop taking drugs or I was leaving him. He stopped and even started going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings, but he never really worked the steps. He even got a job — a good job. However, he told me toward the end of November that he was mad at me, that I had taken everything that made him happy away from him. I told him I was miserable too and if we were both so miserable why it might be better to just divorce.
After that he was really nice for a while.
Around this same time, I met the wife of one of the men who struggled with addiction at church. She was so refreshingly honest it was beautiful. She talked me into going to Nar-anon (Family support groups for people who are affected by the addiction of another). That is when I truly started learning about addiction and, more importantly, codependency and enabling.
Up until this point, I had viewed birth control as a sin and was taking no measures against getting pregnant. The only reason I hadn’t gotten pregnant after three and a half years of marriage was that my husband didn’t want any and was taking precautions. In December I told him that I wanted to start birth control, he told me that he wanted a family and a baby and he didn’t want me to. Later that month, I started smelling cigarettes on his breath again and asked him if he was smoking. He denied it without blinking an eye. That lie, among 3 years of lies, was it.
I separated from him in January and found out I was pregnant on the same day.