[[This is the third in our Running Through It series; today, we hear from #motherrunner Kim Neill and how running helped her leave an emotionally abusive marriage.]]
A few years before I’d actually left my marriage, I was browsing a magazine and stumbled across an article on emotional abuse, a term I wasn’t familiar with even though I’d been living that hell for years—in both my childhood and now in my marriage. Every word of the article resonated true. I started putting the pieces together. The light bulb went off. (This was back in the day when domestic violence was just becoming a public topic.)
My ex-husband was a textbook narcissist: malicious, disrespectful, dangerous. He used all the classic tactics of put-downs, bullying, gaslighting, blaming, sabotage, isolating, controlling, devaluing. He was angry and mean spirited.
He deleted my phone messages so I wouldn’t get them; he was charming and wonderful to everyone but me; he hated my dog and banished him to the outdoors (and was always making the statement about how I loved the dog more than him); he criticized and put down everything important to me; he rarely helped with childcare or household chores but complained endlessly about a mess; he always had an excuse not to help out; he wouldn’t get a job and wanted everyone else to pay his way; he was incapable of being supportive of those closest to him and constantly cut down others to make himself feel good; he was more concerned about his own agenda and convenience than anyone else’s; he would break into a tirade and rage when he didn’t get his way (throwing things at me; slamming doors on my young son and me; yelling.
I was the married “single mother” of a young child and a badly behaving “adult child.”
Running helped me sustained an inner strength. Running allowed me to process my problems, and it gave me hope I’d find solutions. Running was my psychotherapy and meditation. Close running friends provided perspective and options for my situation; they challenged me with the idea of leaving the toxic relationship, and help me breakdown the excuses for staying.
Running help me turn my life around.
During this dysfunctional marriage, my running was also used against me more times than I’d care to say—probably daily, in retrospect. It was the reason the “house was a mess.” It was the reason I was “gone so many hours.” It was the reason he had to “babysit” our son. It was the reason I “got up too early.” It was the reason I “stayed out too late.” It was the reason our marriage failed. (Yes, he actually told people that.)
Not all my runs were blissful, floating miles. There were late night runs down the street to escape the hell. (I had a special wall where I would run to, to sit and cry before returning home.) There were runs where I was so exhausted from the stress that I could barely put one foot in front of another. There were runs cut short due to the guilt I felt leaving my son at home in potential neglect while I was away. There were runs to regain peace of mind so I could return to the nightmare I was living. There were runs that made me “lighter” so I could negotiate walking on eggshells during my non-running hours.
And there were runs that made it clear it was time to make a change.
The “message” to leave became clearer and clearer, even amongst excuses and rationalizations to stay. Any woman who’s been in an abusive situation whether at work, or in their personal life, is familiar with those rationalizations: part hope; part denial; part survival; part inaction.
Once I resolved that it was ok to leave; that I could leave and my child would survive; that I should leave so I could survive and make a better life for myself and my son, there was no stopping me. The combination of risk, desperation, and strength from all the running miles gave me momentum to make a new life.
Just a few months after a milestone running event (100 miler), I mobilized my inner forces. I moved out and retained an attorney to help me with what would be an extremely difficult divorce and child custody battle. To say this time was stressful and took years off my life is an understatement.
Grateful for the support of my close running friends, family members, and daily runs, I survived a year of stalking, filing restraining orders, nasty phone voicemails, invasive photographs by a private investigator hired by my ex…and on and on. (I am so thankful this happened in pre-social media era, so I didn’t have that added dimension of harassment.)
Through this I continued to run. There were days I was too exhausted to move, yet found a way to get outside and go. Actual mileage became insignificant. I knew daily movement on the trails, in nature and was paramount for my emotional health, so I went.
As a logged mile upon mile, I was able to focus on the hard work of emotional rebuilding and accepting love back into my life. And I'm happy to report that running is how I met the supportive and loving man to whom I’m now married.