As we embark on our trip to Underberg, a sleepy farming community at the foothills of the Sani Pass that takes you to the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, I can’t help but feel certain excitement. You won’t understand what I’m talking about unless I share a bit of our back story.
Just over 11 years now, Johann, my husband of 9 years and I, made the controversial decision to leave our previous marriages behind, and give our love a chance. It sounds sordid, but our love story began a very long time ago. At the tender of age of just 16 years old, we met for the first time. From the very beginning, we were inextricably drawn to each other. But, there was some major issues. We both came from extremely dysfunctional families. We were both the oldest children of four, and we’d both borne the brunt of our parents’ dysfunctional and abusive relationships. That’s not what I want to focus on today, but I’m giving you some of the history in order ofr you to try to understand that finally allowing ourselves to be together 11 years ago, was not a decision taken lightly.
In our teens, up until the day before Johann’s 21st birthday, we had a tumultuous relationship, but we always knew we loved each other. It was just that our versions of love, were far from healthy. At the age of 21, Johann made the decision to break off the relationship for good, and he entered a relationship that would last 20 years.
The betrayal was immense. I felt stuck and hurt and rejected. My life continued in a downward spiral, where I tried to fill the void with other relationships, always looking for that elusive ‘love’ I’d felt with Johann, but never finding it. I had two relationships that were semi-meaningful and from each of those relationships, I had a child, so at the age of 25, I found myself as a single mom with two daughters. There was much trauma and wounding within me, but I didn’t know it. I was surviving – literally – one day at a time.
There were periods in my life where Johann would reappear and my heart would be an ugly mess for a while after, trying to regain some sort of normality again. Every time I saw him, I would struggle to find balance again. Eventually I married, and my first husband knew all about Johann before we got engaged. He knew my heart belonged to another man (my words to describe why I couldn’t feel the same kind of love for him), and he chose to marry me anyway.
We spent years in conflict. Trust was a huge issue in our lives. After 5 years of marriage, we had a son together, but if the marriage was strained before, having another child, added yet another dimension of discomfiture. Looking back, instead of taking away things that added confusion to my life, I ended up adding layer upon layer of murky uncertainty, with every new and major decision I made. In hindsight, I was adding layers of muddled perplexities to my initial, shaky existence and sense of self.
When my son was 3 years old, I crashed. I hit an all-time low. I was suicidal and my children weren’t enough reason to stay alive. Fortunately for me, at that time, a close friend sensed there was something immensely wrong and she managed to get me medical help. After a series of blood tests, we discovered I was suffering from un-diagnosed and completely missed, post-partum depression. After 3 months on anti-depressants and hormone corrective therapy, I seemed to get to a place where there was light again. After further months on anti-depressants, I began to feel like I was finally, maybe for the first time of my life, beginning to sense I could take some control of my own life.
I knew I wasn’t happy in my marriage, but circumstances in the form of church and being in leadership roles there, prevented us from being completely honest about our situation. Actually, I was prepared for the honest road. I realised that my entire life up until then, had been lived in a fog, and I wanted to claw my way out to the light, one muddy leopard crawl at a time. My husband was having none of it. He was used to a wife who didn’t think for herself, who went along with his delusions. They were mine too for so many years – my whole life in fact. Finally, I felt like I was thinking for myself for the first time ever. I wanted change. I asked him if we could consider marriage counseling. He wouldn’t. For him, the stigma of an imperfect marriage was too much to bear. How could we, who in public, appeared to have it all together, be seen in our pastor’s office with problems. I suggested we fin someone who didn’t know us, a qualified therapist. He still didn’t think there was something wrong. For him, we could pray our way out of this mess.
This new awakened self, began to question many things. I started to question every area of my life. I had nursed for 21 years. I knew I no longer wanted to do that. My son was struggling in the education system. I knew I wanted to make a different choice with him. I seriously questioned the church. I am not saying that church is wrong, but it wasn’t serving me. I was broken and no one knew. To be fair, my husband didn’t ‘allow’ me to share but I felt like they had failed me. And I was deeply questioning my marriage.
For years, Johann had come in and out of my life, but it was always just a quick visit as he was passing through the town I lived in. A coffee here, a phone call there. Never anything that would or could threaten either of our marriages. My husband always knew if Johann and I had had a conversation. Because he knew our history, he was wary of these ‘connections’, and rightfully so. Although we never crossed any lines, (we were just two people who’d known each other, catching up), my heart always engaged. I didn’t know it at the time, but once we got back together, Johann shared he’d felt the same.
At the age of 40, I made some decisions that my husband didn’t like. I made decisions as an individual. I left the church. I left nursing 2 years before to open a small business, which I sold at 40 years old. I took my son out of school, after a long disagreement about what’s best for my son with my husband. Only after presenting many case studies and other people’s personal journeys, did he finally concede this might just be the best option for my son. I was changing before his eyes, and he didn’t know what to do with this new person, this thinking woman, this person who’s opinions differed from his, this person who was growing in a different direction to the path we were on. To him, I was unraveling. All of a sudden, we needed to go to couple’s therapy. But for me, it was too late. Something was happening to me. I couldn’t give it a name, but it was freeing. For the first time in my life, I was becoming an autonomous being…
To anyone who has ever been a co-dependent, and who has done the work to move from that place into a place of wholeness, you will understand what I’m saying. I didn’t know that my whole life had been lived in a fog, but I knew it now. I was very aware that I was emerging from a deep sleep and I felt like I was alive. The couple’s counselor could see that my husband and I were on very different wave lengths. He told us in no uncertain terms, that he felt our marriage was over. My husband fought against everything. It was during this time that Johann and I reconnected, after I’d broken off all communication with him just a little over a year before. Although we’d only seen each other a handful of times since I’d married my first husband, because of the way my heart felt after seeing him, I wanted a clean break. We’d by now, not seen each other for 11 years. Yes, there were the odd annual phone call from him at New Year. Yes, there was an email about every 2 years, but no physical contact. But now, it was me who reached out. It was just a message and this was the first time ever, that any contact had been initiated by me.
We planned to meet. Everything in me felt like it was coming alive in anticipation. I had no idea how he felt. All our emails, phone calls and messages over the past 11 years, were uninspiring and bland. We shared niceties, sharing only about our families and the daily goings on of life. We’d never shared anything personal. And so we met… I was sitting in a coffee shop and he walked through the door. He’d aged far more than I’d expected and he looked so much like his dad had so many years before. My heart leapt in my chest, but I managed to stand up and give him an obligatory hug. My skin was on fire. I never in a million years, expected to feel this way. I often speak to my friend’s about my “God voice”, a soft, inner knowing that I literally feel around my heart. That day, I heard, or rather felt the voice saying, “You will grow old with this man.”
And I guess that’s what we are now doing. There’s so much meat in between then and now, but I just want to share this. Because of the way we found each other again, because of the intense hurt we caused our families, because of our ‘affair’, we put ourselves last in this equation. We sacrificed us, to make sure our children were doing well, to make sure our exes were taken care of. Although no one felt like it, we never prioritised us. And our relationship suffered deeply, but we are acutely aware of that now. So a year ago, we made the decision to sell our home and move to a place where both our hearts are happy. We are in the process of doing all of this now. Our home has sold and we are looking for a property in the mountains.
Follow this blog for more about our new adventures and our new life – finally.