Friday, January 18, 2019

Healing, Hunting and the Great Outdoors.

You often hear me say that hunting has changed my life, but I haven't gone into any kind of detail as to why, or how it has been such a game changer for me. People who know about my past and know the general details of the journey I have been on, might have a good idea of what I mean, but most folks don't know that story. It was a tough decision for me to write about it in this format, but I really try to keep things as real as possible, because there is nothing I hate more than disingenuous people, whether online, or in person. They are assholes. I am not an asshole (for the most part).

So, I have decided to give you the crash course of how I got to where I currently am, in life, as a hunter, and I suppose in my own head space. It's not pretty, some of you may just stop reading once I open this can of worms, and that's fine, it's not an easy subject. Some of you might even blame me, and say it's my fault, and let me tell you, if I had a dollar for every time I heard that, I'd be putting in for a Montana elk tag, like yesterday!! But it is my hope, that by dredging all of this up, and putting it out there, it could help someone in a very similar situation, make a life changing, and in some cases a life SAVING decision. So, buckle up Buttercup, shit's about to get real.

I was in a relationship with an abusive alcoholic for eleven years, ten of which we were married. Yep, you read that right, ELEVEN years. And this is where the finger pointing usually starts. The strange looks and the obvious question of "why didn't you just leave"? Well, in a nutshell, in the beginning, I thought I could change him. Dude, I was barely twenty-five years old, I could change the world, right? If I loved him enough, and I catered to him enough, he would see that he didn't need to drink so much, and therefore the abuse would subside. No, that's not how it works, I know that now, and really, I learned that about three years in to this mess. He hid the drinking in the beginning, wasn't getting drunk or violent, there's some term for this, but I just call it "the bullshit period". It worked because I fell for it, hook, line and sinker. We had some fun times, and the days he didn't drink always gave me a glimmer of hope. On those days, he was a decent guy, but there just weren't enough of those days. Once I figured out that things were getting ugly, I was about two years in and still trying like hell to make it stop. At the three-year mark, like I mentioned, I knew that I was wasting my time trying to change anything. Then it was just a daily challenge not to get my head knocked off.

When I say abusive, you might wonder what that entails, right? Well, I am not going to recount every scenario, or describe in detail every situation, but I will give you some examples, and then you can take those and put them in a random sequence, and much like the music on your iPhone, just put it on repeat. But for like, ten years.

"Verbal", "Physical", "Sexual", and "Mental" are all words that can describe abuse. I can put a check mark next to each one. The verbal abuse was daily, well, when he was home anyway. He was a firefighter, so he was at work three days a week for twenty-four hours at a time. His shift was a rotating shift, meaning he would work Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 7 am to 7 am, be off work the days in-between, and then after those three work days, he was off four consecutive days, the schedule would repeat the next Wednesday, Friday, Sunday, and so on and so forth. Basically, it left an extraordinary amount of time to be drinking, whether at home, or in a bar. You'll soon realize that that didn't bode well for me, at all. The days he was at the firehouse, were the days I lived for.

Verbal beatings. He would start yelling at me the moment I walked in the door from work, on the days he was home. I was every curse word, every derogatory word, he was extra fond of the "C" word and if the windows were open, everyone within a city block would have heard about it, in detail. I never really knew what set him off from day to day. Some days it was because I didn't laugh at his drunken jokes. Other days it was because I might have to work late, and he was sure I was having an affair. And then other days he would scream and yell about how I didn't appreciate how "good I had it" and that no one would ever treat me as "good as he did". Those days I couldn't help but laugh, but of course, that seemed to make things worse. He would yell so loud and get so mad, the veins on his forehead would pop out, and I was sure he was going to drop dead, right there in front of me. I still have a hard time knowing that if he had, I would have been relieved.

Physical abuse is just as it sounds. I had anything in the house that wasn't nailed down thrown at me, his favorites were his cell phone, the TV remote and his glasses. But the list includes, full beer cans, plates of food, dog toys, books, newspapers, picture frames, and his wedding ring. He never did this quietly, so this was always mixed with screaming and borderline brain hemorrhaging, on his part. I was shoved, grabbed, kicked, and choked. One instance happened about three weeks after I had had shoulder surgery. He was screaming at me and shoving me, and then backed me into the laundry room, up against a door. I fell trying to get away from him and he shoved his foot into my ribs to hold me down so he could finish yelling. After he walked away, I got up and proceeded to make dinner, which we ate in silence, and then he yelled some more, then walked back to his office and passed out in his chair. I finished eating, watched some TV and went to bed, like nothing had happened. A few days later I couldn't figure out where the bruise came from on my side. I couldn't for the LIFE of me think of what I did. It finally dawned on me what had happened a few days prior. Seriously, I was in such a mindset of "just get through this" that I didn't think about how bad it had hurt at the time. I was reminded with some respectable shades of blue and purple down my right side, presumably from a size ten shoe.

Another doozey was the day I talked back to him. I was to the point that I had just listened to it enough, and I called him a stupid son-of-a-bitch. He was quite a bit older than me, but I will tell you what, he was spry when he spun around and came after me. He grabbed my throat and slammed my head against the front door, then went on to warn me that I better never call his dead mother a bitch ever again. I couldn't get any words out, but on the inside, I was pleading with him to let go. He did, and not a word was ever said about what had happened.

While I have a hard time saying the "R" word, I was in fact pressured to have sex with him a few different times during his drunken stupors. Basically, without going into detail, he tried, he couldn't, he'd get mad, then he would fall asleep. Usually on top of me, while I laid there and cried. It was tough to push the dead weight off of me, but I always managed. I'd shower, go fix dinner, eat, watch the news and go to bed, just like normal. That's more than I want to talk about, as far as that goes, as I'm sure you understand.

Mentally, he beat me down to almost nothing. Before him, I was a pretty good athlete, I was strong, confident, had a lot of friends, and felt like I knew where I was going in life. During the time with him, I pulled back from any friends I had, I hid what was going on from my parents, my confidence didn't exist anymore, I was afraid of going out in public, I was having anxiety attacks six to eight times a week, and I was scared to leave him. I would feel responsible for getting him home safely from the bars in the middle of the day, when I should have been at work. I protected him from getting pulled over, as I would follow him home as he drove, completely blasted. Then I would go back to work and finish my day. I was so mentally defunct, I was actually looking out for the one person who was destroying me. Don't ask me to explain it, I can't. But believe me, there was no "thanks for the help" on the days I got him home in one piece. By the time I would get home from work, the punishment was tenfold, mainly, he said, for embarrassing him by tracking him down, and telling him it was time to go home, in front of whatever derelict was sitting on the bar stool next to him.

He had sleep apnea. There were nights, while lying in bed next to him, I could hear when he would stop breathing. I knew that if I nudged him, he would move and therefore catch his breath. There were many nights that I just let him lay there, not making a sound, not taking a breath. I waited until my moral compass somehow found its true north, by no conscious effort on my part, and I would nudge him once again. What kind of person does that? Who lays there, thinking that their only option of sanity is for their spouse to lay beside them and suffocate in their sleep? I guess it proves that everyone reaches a point of desperation during the lowest points in their life. I was no different.

Finally, one day he was screaming at me, and I replied. I told him that it was a waste of time talking to a drunk because he wouldn't understand or remember anything I was saying anyway. He chased after me, stuck his finger in my face, and told me that I "didn't know what drunk was, but I would when he killed me". Now, that makes zero sense, obviously, but in that moment, a switch was flipped. I don't know why it took so long, or how it hadn't happened prior to that, but I decided right then and there, that I was leaving. It was over. It took a few months, I waited on my tax check, and I had another check, hidden in my desk, that I had received for compensation for an injury I had at work the year before, and I made a plan. On February 26th, 2011, I moved out while he was at the firehouse. I sobbed for days, not because I didn't want to leave, but because I was scared, I was relieved, I was tired, and I was letting go of a lot of emotion I had bottled up for eleven years. I filed for divorce a month later. He tormented me, he called, he promised me that he would change, and finally, I ignored his every word. The divorce was final on June 10th, 2011. I took nothing but my personal belongings and my dog. For the record, my dog, Scooby, and I, spent a lot of time hiding out in the bathroom together waiting for the idiot in the other room to pass out, that good boy went through everything with me. In hindsight, I wish I would have drained me ex for every penny he had, which wasn't much, but I didn't, because I just wanted it all to be over.

 About six months before I left, I had a yearly physical with my doctor, and my blood pressure was in the 160's over the low 100's. when my doctor, who was also my soon to be ex-husband's doctor asked why, I told him it was work stress. Although I am not certain he bought that excuse, he went with it, gave me suggestions on how to relieve stress, and put me on BP meds to get that under control, and then Paxil and Xanax for anxiety. It wasn't until just last year that I admitted to my nurse that the reason those meds were in my old charts, was because of what was happening at that time in my life, at home. It had been seven years since I left, and yet as soon as I opened my mouth to tell her the truth, the tears came, and they came uncontrollably. I was so embarrassed, much like I was when I told my dad that I was getting divorced, and why. I was off all meds within a year of leaving that marriage. Weird, huh?

For a few years after leaving, I struggled with loud noises, I would have an immediate "flight" response if anyone raised their voice around me or joked like they were going to grab me. My anxiety was still pretty intense, and I had no idea what my future looked like. I liked being alone, once I got used to it. I had a boyfriend of the "rebound" variety for a short time, that ended, and I flew solo for a while. Then I met Chance.

How does this have to do with hunting you might ask? Well, let me just tell ya.

After meeting Chance, we started hanging out, then dating, he introduced me to deer hunting. I was still unsure and uneasy most days, but having less anxiety attacks. I was feeling a little more in control of my life, stronger if you will, but not quite ready to take on the world, like I once was. I liked Chance and had a great time with him, so while reluctant at first, I agreed to give the hunting "thing" a whirl. It was then that I realized that this time spent in the woods, no matter how frustrating, or cold, no matter how many failures and disappointments, was the one thing that was going to make me whole again. I had something to focus on. I had something new to learn. I had a challenge. I am competitive to a fault, and I thought that I was going to prove to Chance and everyone else, that I could do this. I went to the woods every single moment I could. I would take days off work, I would leave work early, I would go on the weekends, sit in the evenings, even if it was for thirty minutes, I went. And without really noticing what was happening, I was gaining confidence. It wasn't because I was killing deer, it took a few years before I did that consistently. It was because I was going out there, doing something that not everyone has the will to do, and I was doing it on my own. I was sitting in silence, there was no one belittling me, no one yelling at me, and no one telling me I couldn't do it. I was finding peace, doing something I never would have imagined doing, in my lifetime. I wasn't proving to Chance I could do this, or anyone else for that matter, I was proving it to myself. That mattered more than anything.

As the years have come and gone, I have changed. Granted, that is part of life, we all go through it and sometimes it's for the better, sometimes not. But I have changed in a way that only a select few can relate to. I had to completely build myself back up from the ground, decide how I was going to move forward, figure out if I even COULD move forward, and then just fight like hell to find myself again. I had a pretty good childhood, and good years through my teens, but my twenties and half of my thirties were a disaster. I honestly feel like life started for me, and really started to be worthwhile, when I turned thirty-six. Most people have families and great careers by then, but I was just getting started, or getting my second chance, if you will. Not exactly what you dream of growing up, but I am damn well going to make the best of it now.

Obviously, Chance and Cianni have made my life amazing, and I love them both dearly, but I feel like we all need something specific to focus on at times, that is just for us, just for our personal well-being. I owe Chance everything, for nudging me in a direction I never knew I needed to go, but then I really grabbed on to it, and I have worked hard at it, for that I am proud of myself. Hunting is something that centers me, it gives me the quiet time I need, when life starts to get loud all around me. Being in the woods has taught me to be still, and it has given me a deep appreciation for every single living thing, that is in that woods with me, on any given day. I have a passion for protecting the wild places that I didn't have before, I have a passion for passing on the hunting heritage to others, the young and not so young alike, so that the outdoors can maybe impact their lives, the way it has mine, and they too, will pass it on to others, somewhere down the road.

Is every day a cakewalk? Nope. Do I still struggle at times? Absolutely. Trust will always be tough for me and I rarely feel loved, although I'm sure there are some who love me. The ordeal I went through has made me who I am today, good or bad. Next month, February 2019, marks eight years since I walked away. That seems like a long time, but I think the memories will linger, and the scars on my heart, and in my mind, will last for many years to come. Thankfully, I know where I can go to find some quiet time, the woods always seem to call me back, when I need it the most.

It seems that I am my happiest among nature. The trees, the creeks, the trails made by who knows what, leading to who knows where. The sounds of the squirrels and the birds and bugs who know nothing of me, nor do they care, so they carry on with their business. Tufts of hair left in fences, footprints left in the sand and bark rubbed off trees are of interest to me, but not to those who left them. No judgement by the plants or animals, no expectations or requirements to keep them on pace. It's a world unto itself, it's a shame that everyone isn't as lucky as I am to be so close to it, to listen to it, to appreciate it and to be allowed to feel it in my soul. ~ Cindy Stites, 2016

**If you or someone you know is in a dangerous relationship and need help, please reach out to someone, whether it be a friend, family member or shelter. It is the hardest thing you will ever do, but I believe you will never once regret making that decision. I am always here to listen, whether you know me or not.**

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