Have you ever had to talk yourself through breathing? Legitimately tell yourself, “Take a breath in…. now blow it out… again…” as if you might stop breathing on the spot if you didn’t remind yourself how to do it? Have you ever felt the debilitating pain in your chest as you fought to force your body to continue doing, what is supposed to be an involuntary reflex, but is now something that seems impossibly difficult to do? I have. It’s a desperate feeling.
Things at home were heating up. James and John were having a very difficult time together. John became even more rigid with the kids. James and John would get into physical altercations. James would trash the house… he’d go after Quinn… he’d pull her hair… hit her… kick her. I couldn’t leave the kids alone with John for even two minutes. When John was with the children someone was always yelling. Someone was always crying. Someone was always getting hurt. These things never happened when I was present, so it always resulted in the kids claiming John did something to them and John denying it.
One day I came down from being upstairs and saw that he had put Quinn in the corner facing the bathroom door for dinner. When I asked why she was there he said it was because she wouldn’t stop laughing while she was eating. Even the most mild interactions he had with the children were laced with his need to control and manipulate and make them feel small and insignificant.
James’ behavioral outbursts at school became extreme. He started having large fits that lasted up to an hour. He’d punch his teachers in their private areas, spit at them and trash his classroom. One day, after getting back from a stressful meeting at Family Relations, I received a phone call from the principal. They were about to call emergency services because they couldn’t calm James down. I raced to the school, breaking every traffic law there is, walked into his classroom and gently said “enough”. He fell into my arms and laid there silently as I looked around the classroom and surveyed the damage. All I could think is, my son is crying out for help.
I watched my entire savings leave my bank account to pay for a lawyer. I started to worry about how I was going to pay to take care of the children after the divorce. John was fighting me on every penny. He didn’t want to pay child support. He wanted to keep the house for himself. He wanted me to be frightened and desperate…. and I was. I was also afraid of what would happen after the divorce when I wasn’t there to referee his time with the children. I was terrified he was going to do something extreme.
And all the while, he was terrifying me. He’d make subtle threatening statements. He’d put his face in mine, nose to nose, yelling something at me while I stood as still as I could hoping he’d walk away. As soon as the children were in bed, I’d go back to the bedroom, lock the door and curl up in bed listening…. ready to call for help if I heard him come to the door.
Then … one day at work… right after my students walked out of my classroom… I felt it. Everything crashed down on me. The fake smile that I had plastered on my face faltered. My lungs stopped working. They just stopped. I started hyperventilating. Tears filled my eyes. My head hurt. My heart hurt. “Breathe Sharon. Breathe.” It didn’t work. “Breathe!” I couldn’t do it. Maybe it would be easier not to fight it. Maybe my body just couldn’t take this stress anymore. It’s be so easy to just let go.
And then I looked over at my desk and saw a picture of my daughter wearing a shirt that said “You’ve got this Mom”… and I took a breath. I thought of my son’s smile… and I took another. Slowly I managed to take one labored breath after another until my heartbeat started to slow and the room stopped spinning.
I did not have the luxury of falling to pieces. They needed me. They needed me to get them out of that house. They needed me to get them away from the abuse. These kids were relying on me to get them a better life. Letting the weight of it all disable me would be selfish. So I continued to force the air to fill my lungs.. in and out… until the fake smile returned to my face.
I opened my classroom door to get the next group of students. Not a soul would have known that just a few short minutes ago I could feel everything slipping through my fingers. It was lonely. It was scary. I felt completely desperate inside. But I put one foot in front of the other…. took one breath after another… because James and Quinn needed me to.