A big part of growth involves looking back and reframing the parts of your life that caused you the most pain. I’ve done that with the abuse I suffered at the hands of my uncle and it’s helped a great deal. When it comes to Rehtaeh it’s harder of course, the pain there is at another level all together, but I still try.

One part of my life I rarely try to reframe is my first marriage. For some reason it’s still something I think of because I haven’t quite put that hurt to rest and I’m hoping by writing it out it will help me leave it in the past where it belongs.

I married an abusive para-alcoholic who never drank a drop of booze in her life. Her mother did all the drinking, she just learned all the manipulative methods alcoholics use to deflect and defend themselves with. Unfortunately for me, I had zero skills in dealing with someone like that. Who does at twenty? I’ve read before that certain people will seek out someone they know they can easily manipulate and push boundaries with. It’s sad the shit that happened to me growing up left me a perfect target for someone like her.

You’ve probably heard the term ‘red flag’ before. The term and the expression “to raise the red flag” comes from various usages of real flags throughout history, almost always as a warning. There’s red flags at the beach when the water is dangerous, red flags are flown in forests if a danger from fire is present, and red flags are flown on war ships when ammunition is being loaded or unloaded.

Basically a red flag is something you should pay attention to but they only work if you know that. I didn’t and the first red flag was a doozy. When we were still dating we went to a pub one night and an ex of mine happened to be there. Not a problem, at least not that I noticed, not until we got up to leave anyway.

“When we walk by her table call her a slut,” was what she wanted me to do. What!? Where that came from I had no idea, I was dating a close friend’s sister, a country girl, someone sweet and kind. What the hell?

I didn’t do it, that’s not me at all, and she just lost her shit. We got outside the pub and she was shaking with rage and stared at me with a face of utter hatred before running across the parking lot screaming.

Deep inside me it was there, the gut feeling you get when you know; walk away right now. She was showing herself to me for the first time and I should have believed her. That’s what alcoholics do, create a crisis out of nothing and act like they’ve been victimized all for a sense of power they get from putting someone else in a situation like that.

I used to feel envious of people who wouldn’t put up with emotional abuse like that. I imagine there are lots of people who would have walked out of her life right than and there. I just wasn’t made that way. My life experiences up to that point had me withdraw and wonder what’s wrong with me? I froze and turned in on myself, said nothing, and waited until she calmed down so we could leave.

It’s still a struggle to forgive myself for allowing this to happen to me. If felt like I was my own worst enemy.

The next day there she was, a sweet, kind country girl. She never mentioned it again. That’s what happens to someone who grows up in a home with an abusive alcoholic, the alcoholic may not be there anymore, but they’ve become so comfortable in that chaotic environment they’ll create it on their own, out of nothing.

She framed her life around the idea that to be someone was to be victimized by anything, constantly.

I married her because I fell in love with the girl I met, at least that’s what it felt like. I did what a lot of people do, overlook the flaws and hope for the best. Our marriage lasted five painful years and the aftereffect of it lasted much longer. By the time we separated I was so broken inside I was convinced I was a dysfunctional piece of shit unworthy of anything good.

For years I sabotaged everything – my job, new relationships, and friendships. But it all lead me to where I am today, and I wouldn’t change this place for any other.

Years after our divorce she sent me a message and asked if she could explain and apologize. I hope she found some healing in her life, it must have been hell for her to grow up in the environment she grew up in. If it was for me it was for her. If my childhood had something in it that hurt me deeply she must have too. It’s not an excuse, how we treat others is always a choice, but it is a path to understanding.

Forgiving yourself is hard when someone has convinced you everything wrong is your fault. But, it’s a worthy journey to take so if you’re reading this and you’ve been or are in a similar place I encourage you to keep going and believe in yourself. There are broken people everywhere, sometimes I think all of us are damaged to some degree, so keep room in your heart for forgiveness and understanding.

It’s how people grow. It’s how you grow.