On gaining back self-confidence…

I just sat there in a work meeting.

The president asked if anyone knew how much money company X had made in Q4. I had the data in front of my face, but I couldn’t say the answer.

“What if I didn’t do this right?”

“What if I get yelled at?”

“I’m too stupid to possibly have the right answer. I’ll just let someone else get this.”

I’ve written before about how my first marriage impacted me (right here).

In the last few months, another layer of that relationship has started to surface: where did my confidence go?

From grade school to graduate school, one thing that I never lacked was self-confidence. If I thought I knew the answer, I would say it. If I wanted to talk, I would speak.

But six years of living with someone who is emotionally abusive will gradually kill your self-confidence.

It didn’t happen overnight, but over time it eroded everything in myself I thought I knew.

Sometimes, I sit in meetings and stare at the people who aren’t afraid to speak. I feel jealous of the folks whose confidence was never crushed.

A few months ago I came across a pile of receipts and a sheet of paper that said “Money.” My ex-husband made me track every penny that was spent. Each month, I was allowed $5 of spending money – despite the fact that I was the only one making any money. Any money that was spent, I had to provide receipts at the end of the month. If I spent $50 on gas, I had to prove that. If I spent $60 on groceries, I had to prove that. If I overspent… well… I just tried not to overspend.

The clothing I wore when we first met? I wasn’t allowed to wear anything that reflected my personal style. Instead of amazing dresses and cool pants, it was khakis and Ralph Lauren t-shirts (vomit). I once bought myself a purple dress, and then hid all proof of the purchase.

My haircut? Picked for me.

My friends? I had a three friends I could hang out with and receive no retribution.

My family? If I contacted my mother or father I was immediately grilled about the conversation. “What did you say? You know your family is terrible.”

Sex? I’m not ready to talk about that.

At one point, I wasn’t allowed to have a car because…?

I wasn’t allowed to bake because it was too expensive.

I wasn’t allowed to go to church because…?

I was once told that if I didn’t lose twenty pounds, he was going to leave me.

I could go on, but you understand. I don’t want pity. This happened, but it is over.

Thanks to my friend Bri and her husband Chris, the camels back finally broke. I was the maid of honor in Bri’s wedding. After Bri and Chris said their vows, they walked down the aisle and Chris started dancing with Bri. It was an amazing moment, because Chris doesn’t love to dance, but he did it for my friend. In that moment, the reality of my situation finally hit me. I realized I did not have someone that would dance with me.

I went home from the wedding and told my ex-husband that if he called me a bitch one more time that I was going to leave him. He told me he understood. A few days later we went to the grocery store. Instead of spending $60, we spent $70. On the drive home he started calling me a stupid bitch, because I spent an extra $10 on food. Soon after, I told him I wanted out. I had reached my breaking point.

Abusive relationships steal. But they don’t just steal and run; it’s a slow drain. Sometimes I wonder how much farther I would be in my life if not for the weight of an abusive ex-husband? How far could I have gone if my confidence hadn’t been crushed? How many hangouts, friendships, birthdays, promotions, and events did I miss?

Most of the time, I’m just grateful I got out. Before I totally lost myself, I left him.

There are times I feel like a failure. I’ll hear people say, “People just get divorced too quickly!” But something tells me those people never endured my ex-husband.

In the last four months, my confidence has started to come back. My husband asked me if I would volunteer to be a part of a ‘Live Show’ he is in charge of at our church. As part of that, he asked if I would be a co-host whose job was to speak on camera. Reluctantly, I did the first show. Then I did the second, and then the third.

After the third show I started to remember the pieces of me that I thought had been crushed. “I use to be really good at this? Didn’t I?” I thought to myself. That confidence has carried over into other areas of life. At work, I’ve started to speak up more. In my personal relationships, I’ve started to use my voice more frequently. It feels really good to feel like I’m allowed to speak without repercussion.

If I can find good in what happened, I can see that I’ve learned to temper my words. Instead of just talking, I’ve learned to be more eloquent when I speak (you know, most of the time).

Del and I are coming up to three years of marriage. Through everything, he has been kind, loving and supportive. Every day, I’m so grateful for Del. He sees the good in me that I cannot see for myself.

It took six years for my confidence to slowly be taken away, but I’m getting it back. Bit-by-bit, it is trickling in. I got out of a bad marriage to a bad person. He took my money, hurt my relationships, and controlled my appearance. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to let him keep my self-confidence. This is mine, and I’m taking it back – one meeting at a time.