Free Looks Good on You: Healing the Soul Wounds of Toxic Love
The lingering rays of the afternoon sun shone through my kitchen window accentuating the cobalt blue mosaic tile on the backsplash as I washed Jacob’s sippy cup. I listened as my two sons, five-year-old Garrett and two-year-old Jacob played in the backyard under the limbs of our pecan trees. Their laughter sent tsunami waves of joy through me. Music from twelve-year-old Brittany’s room blared through the house. Pulling my hands from the soapy water, I leaned against the counter, weak with gratitude.
Normal, everyday sounds of a happy family were proof that we’d moved on after the divorce. I no longer had to worry about being threatened with a shotgun or that my kids would find drugs lying around the house after their father shot up or popped a handful of pills. No more abuse and addiction. No more drug-induced manic episodes. No more lying, manipulation and deceit.
We were safe in our new home, making a new start.
I looked around the house my father had helped me buy out of foreclosure. Although small, it was a gingerbread cottage straight out of a fairy tale. It had needed a lot of love, but I’d had plenty to give. A charming cobblestone path wound its way to the original front door from 1948. Underneath old carpet, I’d found hardwood floors, which now gleamed. The house had lots of historical charm with glossy white trim and plenty of built-ins. I loved sipping tea in my Adirondack chair and watching the kids play in the yard. After ten years of living with control, chaos and confusion, I had security at last. My fresh start. My new life.
Moments like this still hit me on a regular basis. The sense of overwhelming gratitude that my kids and I were safe. My ex-husband, Tom, now lived with his parents who provided a safe place for my children to visit their father. They watched over Tom, trying to keep him in line and making sure he didn’t drive unless he was sober. I knew they would lay down their lives for my kids.
The kids loved going to Nanny and Papa’s house. His parents had also been granted custody of his sister’s three children. Nanny and Papa spoiled them all with late nights and no rules. Despite the obvious chaos of six kids and three adults crammed into a two-bedroom home, to the kids, it was an extended slumber party of sheer delight. Great fried food, no set bedtime, and at least one fight with a cousin—the ultimate definition of fun.
“Mommy!” Brittany stepped into the kitchen. “Natasha invited me to spend the weekend with her at her grandmother’s lake house!” Brittany’s blonde locks danced on her shoulders as she bounced up and down. “Can I go? Please?”
“I’m sorry, baby, I can’t let you go. It’s your dad’s weekend and he’ll be here any minute.”
“Just this once? I really want to go!”
“I know, honey, but there’ll be another time.”
Brittany was very compliant for a twelve-year-old, but now she acted like an attorney pleading a case. She refused to give it a rest.
Later, I looked at the clock and realized that Tom was an hour late. Typical. I knew better than to expect a courtesy call. “All right. You can go.”
Grabbing her reprieve like a lifeline, Brittany called Natasha and was gone before I had time for more than a quick hug and kiss. She was smart to get out before her dad arrived.
“Come on boys,” I called a while later. “Daddy’s here.”
Squeals of delight echoed through the house followed by the pitter-patter of little feet racing out the door to see Daddy.
“Have a good time at Nanny’s,” I said as I kissed Garrett good-bye.
“I will, Mommy,” said Garrett.
“I’m going to miss you, baby.” I started to buckle Jake’s seat belt. His pudgy hands pushed mine away.
“I do it, Mommy,” he insisted. “I big boy!”
“You sure are.” I clicked the seat belt into place, letting him help. “Give Mommy a kiss.”
As the truck drove away, the boys and I waved and blew kisses until they were out of sight.
It was Friday evening, the weekend of my Twentieth High School Reunion. I didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t seen most of these people since the ten-year reunion, but Friday evening turned out great. I spent the evening catching up with old friends, and, even though my fiancé, John, didn’t know anyone, he had no trouble mixing with the crowd. The next day promised to be even more fun. A picnic was scheduled for Saturday morning at ten-thirty, and the reunion culminated with a semi-formal dinner that evening.
Saturday morning when the doorbell rang, I glanced at the clock and realized it was already ten. I always was rushing around at the last minute, and John was always early. My sandals slapped the hardwood floor as I ran to answer the door.
John came in for a moment while I finished gathering my things for the picnic. As I grabbed my purse to leave, my feet planted a firm stop just before the door.
“Wait just a sec,” I said whirling around. “I’ve gotta show you something before we leave.”
I grabbed a stack of photos off the coffee table. “I just had these developed. I took this one a few nights ago.”
The kids were all piled on the boy’s top bunk bed just after their bath. Brittany was sandwiched between Jake and Garrett reading their favorite book, Words of Wisdom for Little Folks.
“Apparently, I was taking too long to read the boys a bedtime story, and they got Brittany to read to them,” I joked. “And Jake”—I pointed at the photo again—“is this not the most adorable picture you’ve ever seen of him? There’s just something about his smile. I don’t know. It’s different somehow. He looks happier than I’ve ever seen him.”
“They’re super cute,” John said, “and you’re right about how happy Jake looks.”
After the picnic, John drove me home to relax for a bit before the evening’s activities.
I dropped my keys on the counter and glanced at the answering machine. A wave of panic shot through my body. Five calls displayed on my answering machine. One from EMSA and four from Children’s Memorial Hospital. My shoulders tightened and my body froze. I held my breath for a moment before I pressed play.
“This message is for Christy Ennis. This is Dr. Spencer from Children’s Hospital. It’s urgent that you contact me as soon as possible regarding your sons, Garrett and Jacob Ennis.”
My hands trembled as I dialed the number and waited for the doctor to come to the phone.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news,” she began. “There’s been an accident. Your ex-husband and two sons.”
An instantaneous choking feeling rushed up my neck.
Dr. Spencer hesitated and let out a long sigh. “I’m sorry,” she began, “Garrett is in critical condition at Children’s Hospital and unfortunately, Jacob didn’t make it.”
I froze, unable to comprehend what I’d heard.
Dr. Spencer’s abrupt voice startled me back to reality. “You need to get to Children’s Hospital as soon as possible. Report to the ER. Garrett is in room eleven.”
Her previous words ricocheted through my mind like pinballs in an arcade game: Unfortunately. Jacob. Didn’t. Make it.
I felt like someone had hit me with a stun gun. I rocked my body back and forth as tears dripped on the counter. My baby Jake. Dead. And Garrett—critical condition? Was he going to die, too?
I held my breath and pounded my fist on my leg. “What happened?”
“Their father was driving. He crossed the centerline and hit another truck head on. I’m sorry. Is there someone who can bring you to the hospital? You shouldn’t drive.”
I stared at the linoleum parquet floor. “My fiancé is here. We’re leaving now.”
In slow motion, I slammed the phone on the receiver and collapsed on the counter in disbelief. Jake’s favorite Power Rangers sippy cup was still on his highchair. Gut wrenching sobs of agony exploded like a geyser.
He would never drink from it again.
When we arrived at the hospital, two police officers stood just outside of Garrett’s room.
“Miss Ennis. I’m Officer Harp and this is Officer George. We’re sorry for your loss, but we have a few questions before you see your son.”
Officer George took out his notepad and recorded my contact information.
“A witness saw Mr. Ennis swerving just before he hit the other driver head on. Are you aware of any previous drug use?”
I clasped my hands over my face and shook.
“Yes, but he’s been clean. He seemed fine yesterday when he picked the boys up.”
“When the ambulance crew arrived, he was sitting on the curb dazed with nothing on but his underwear.”
My eyebrows arched in disbelief. “Nothing? But his underwear?”
“Yes, ma’am. He seemed almost comatose. Oblivious that his children were lying in the street.”
John moved forward, his body rigid and his face red. “He didn’t try to help Garrett and Jake?”
“I’m not sure. Witnesses saw him disrobe after he got out of the vehicle.”
John pulled me closer.
“We did a breathalyzer. Came out clean. But OSBI ordered blood to be drawn to complete a tox screen. The man he hit is in bad shape. He and Mr. Ennis were both transported to Midwest City Regional.”
“And my baby? Where’s Jake?”
“His body’s been taken to the coroner’s office.”
“I need…I need to see him!”
“I’m afraid you can’t now. Not until after the autopsy.”
“An autopsy? For a car wreck? Jake is two! Why would they need to do an autopsy?”
“Standard procedure. It’s required for accident victims under the age of three.”
“When will I be able to see him?”
“Probably not for a few days.”
“A few days?” I sobbed into my cupped hands. “I’m his mother!”
“I’m sorry, Miss Ennis. The coroner will be in touch as soon as you can see him. We’ve got a lot more to do to finish this investigation.” He handed me his card.
Sorrow mixed with frenzied rage. I thought once our divorce was final two years ago, I wouldn’t have to deal with Tom’s abuse and addiction any more. And his parents—how could they? I couldn’t believe they let him get behind the wheel with their grandchildren knowing he was under the influence. Toxicology reports later confirmed Tom was driving under the influence of four narcotics—Xanax, Demerol, Valium and Methadone—as well as Benadryl, an over-the-counter medication known to cause drowsiness. His parents would have to have been blind not to have noticed his crazed behavior.
And now, because of his addiction and their horrific neglect, I’d never hold my baby again. How was it even fair? The guilty one lived. Tom should be the one lying in the morgue.
My teeth clenched and my eyes narrowed in hate. As the sound of the officers fading footsteps echoed down the hall, my throat tightened and the familiar sting of bitterness wrapped around my anguish.
I was the good parent. I was the responsible one. And now…because of his reckless selfish choices, my innocent baby was gone, and my five-year-old was clinging to life.
I wanted him dead.
I glanced at Garrett’s room and shook with angry sobs. “I don’t know if I can do this.”
The curtain swished open, and the doctor stepped out.
I raised my head from John’s chest.
“I’m Dr. Mantor,” he said, snapping off his latex glove. “Can we have a word?”
A wave of terror shot through me. A word—what did that mean? Good news or bad news? I hesitated, took a deep breath, and followed the doctor into the room. The sight of Garrett was a shock. His jaw and teeth were covered in blood that had now dried a crusty black. It didn’t look like he had any teeth left. His right eye was swollen shut, and his mouth was so swollen he couldn’t close it. Chocking back my fear, I leaned over and kissed his forehead.
“Your son has a fractured jaw and several lacerations on his right leg. We haven’t determined if there are any internal injuries. We need to take X-rays.” Dr. Mantor nodded at Garrett. “But his jaw is so swollen he can’t swallow the contrast dye. We’ll have to insert a tube up his nose and into his stomach. Would you like to stay in the room?”
I clenched my hands together and gritted my teeth. What happened to my peaceful future? What happened to my dreams of sunny days, iced tea, and Adirondack chairs? How would I go on from here?
WHY I’M TELLING YOU MY STORY
Through the pages of this book you’ll hear more—the good, the bad and the ugly. How my own insecurities and naivete drew me to toxic relationships in the first place. How the emptiness inside me craved a man to complete me. How my lack of boundaries made me vulnerable to men who would take advantage of me. How my aloneness ached for a man to adore me, yet blinded me to artificial affection and abuse. But most of all, you’ll hear about my journey. My journey through healing and the hope it’s given me for you to find yours.
It’s also important for me to tell you this: I’m not sharing my story so you can feel sorry for me. I’m telling you so you’ll know I understand bitterness. I’ve been best friends with rage. I’ve experienced the kind of uncontrollable anger that makes you do things you never thought you’d do to escape the agony. I’ve done things I’m ashamed of just to buy a day of synthetic peace. But as hard as it’s been, I’ve also learned how to release the pain. To forgive the unforgettable. To forgive the unforgivable. Not because my ex-husband deserved it. Not so that he could be free. But because I deserve it.
I deserve to be free.
Jake’s precious memory lives in my heart every day. The accident that took his life was over twenty years ago. I’ll never forget it as long as I live, but I have forgiven. I’ve escaped the bitterness that held me captive and confiscated my peace. Today, I like me. I no longer feel depleted and miserable, nor do I feel I need a man to fill the vacuum in my soul. Sorrow and regret are gone. Anxiety and rage have dissolved. Panic no longer rules me. I’m comfortable when I’m alone because the emptiness is gone. Today, I’m free.
And that’s what I want to show you through this book. I want you to be free. I want you to be confident and joyful, unburdened by the sting of past hurts, disappointments and betrayals. You may not have lost a son, but if you’re reading this book, you probably have men you need to forgive. Or, maybe you’ve forgiven him, but there’s a lingering emptiness that won’t go away. You’re desperate for the pain of the past to evaporate and you just want to feel alive again. Whatever the case may be, whatever you’ve dealt with, I want you to be free from the weight of your past. Free from the pain inflicted on you. Free from rejection, betrayal, neglect, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, abandonment, rape, and even murder.
Yes, these wounds are harsh. It may not seem possible now to release the appalling anguish. The memories may be brutal and the pain is real. I’m not going to lie and promise you roses. The road to recovery is not easy. It will take dedication and hard work. But your freedom is worth it.
I speak all over the country sharing my story, but I never tell it so others can feel pity. I share my transgressions and sorrow for one reason: to convince you that your freedom is possible. If I found mine, you can find yours too. You may never hear me speak, but through this book I pray you can hear the cry of my heart. Sister, it’s time to lay down your bitterness, leave the past behind and discover emotional freedom in relationships. Whether the man you’re angry with repents or deserves forgiveness, you deserve to be free. Grab hold of these truths and don’t let go. Your new life is waiting.
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Here’s What You’ll Find in the Rest of the Book
Through the book’s Freedom Blueprint you’ll discover 8 soul-strengthening secrets that will empower you to redefine who you are and be transformed into the strong and fearless woman you were created to be.
You’ll learn how to put a stop to manipulation and control, set effective boundaries so men can’t take advantage of you and invite God’s presence to help you heal.
You’ll also learn:
•what bitterness does to your body
•how to identify mental handicaps that make you vulnerable to toxic relationships
•why you should trust your gut
•how to spot yellow flags in relationships (they always come before red flags)
•how to change the way you talk to yourself
•how to communicate effective boundary statements so he takes you seriously
•how to find God’s strength in the midst of conflict
•how to renew your mind and rewrite your life script
Armed with truth and effective tools to apply God’s word to your life, you’ll be able to lay down your offenses and walk into your future with the intoxicating power of confidence and forgiveness. Whether he deserves it or not, you deserve to be free!
Part One: How Did We Get This Way?
1. When the Pain Won’t Stop
2. What’s Poisoning my Soul?
3. The Roots of Resentment
4. Counterfeit Comforters
5. Father Wounds
6. Defeating a Victim’s Mentality
Part Two: The Freedom Blueprint
7. Looking Back to Look Out
8. Self-Talk Matters
9. Changing My Vision
10. Rewriting My Life Script
11. Setting Boundaries that Stick
12. Spot and Stop Manipulation
13. Where is the Holy Spirit in all of this Chaos?
14. The Leverage of Forgiveness
15. The View From the Watchtower
16. Divine Whispers
17. Safe in the Keep
18. Free at Last