Leslie paced the floor back and forth with the phone on her ear. She couldn’t quite contain her nervous energy. She was having a difficult time accepting the advice coming from the other end.
“But…but…I don’t want to ruin his life. I don’t want this to hurt his clean record.” She protested.
“Leslie, how many times have you called me about this? What incident number is this one?”
“Four. This is the fourth time.” Leslie didn’t want to admit it.
“And how many of those times did you have to call out ‘sick’ from work until your bruises cleared up?”
“Four. I called out four times.” Leslie reluctantly answered as she cleared her throat.
“Correct, which means you lost at least 18 productive days of work or 144 hours. And how many hours of productivity did Rodney lose?
“Well - ”
“How many, Leslie?”
“Well, none. He lost no hours.”
“Leslie, I know this is very difficult for you, and it is a tough decision. The reality is, your husband is an abuser. If you don’t file a Protection From Abuse petition, he will repeat this behavior over and over and over again. Of course, I will support you. I will draft the petition right away.”
Leslie felt slightly comforted by her attorney’s directive. Slowly she hung up the phone and burst into tears. How could and intelligent woman allow herself to be abused by the man who promised to love and honor her all the days of his life? She remembers very clearly the first day it happened. He grabbed her by her neck and slammed her against the wall. She was stunned both by the violence and the speed with which it happened. She thought it was an isolated incident. He was upset. She was upset. She said this. He said that.
Then bam again.
Then bam again and again.
A Protection From Abuse (PFA) was her only recourse to stop her husband’s behavior. The process begins with the filing of a petition with the court. If the judge approves the petition, a temporary order for protection is granted. The Sheriff will serve papers to Leslie’s husband. He will have to vacate the marital home and appear at a hearing to testify. Once a hearing takes place, the judge will determine if there is enough evidence to grant a permanent order for protection. If the judge grants a permanent order, Leslie can expect years of protection from her husband.
Leslie pretended for years that all was well between her and Rodney. She ignored his name-calling, his pushing, and shoving. She made excuses for him to her family and friends. At times, she blamed herself, mainly when he would apologize for his behavior, with tears streaming down his face. Over time, the abuse became, well…the norm until it was disrupted by an innocent comment Leslie’s twelve-year-old daughter said one day, “Mommy, I’m sorry that I make you sad. I hear you crying at night after you say goodnight to me.” Leslie knew at that moment that she had to find a new normal, if only for her daughter’s sake.
Leslie was sitting at her kitchen table when her cell phone rang. The ring startled her out of daydreaming.
“Hey Leslie. It’s Karen.”
Karen is Leslie’s personal development coach. Karen has been coaching Leslie for a year, helping Leslie tap into the power she gave up in her marriage. Karen is that person everyone needs in his or her life – someone you can talk to about anything without being judged or made wrong. Karen is supportive but knows how to cut to the chase and dispense wisdom when it’s most needed.
“What are you up to?” Karen inquired.
"Just sitting here looking out the window…daydreaming, I guess.”
Silence. Then Karen broke it.
“So, how long are you going to avoid the obvious?”
"What’s the obvious?” Leslie inquired.
“Welllll, Leslie, you don’t have to worry about Rodney’s abuse anymore. He is no longer a threat to your safety and you have been protected for over a year now.”
“Yeeeaaah…” Leslie wasn’t sure where Karen was going with this conversation.
“The ‘obvious’ is your unhappiness.”
“Ohhh, that. Well, I just have so many things on my mind. I really don’t have time for happiness, Karen.”
“I’d say that you really don’t have time NOT to be happy, Leslie. Sometimes - ”
“Karen” Leslie interrupted, “I just…I just can’t talk about this right now.”
“Okay. Okay. I get it.”
They were silent on the phone for what seemed like an eternity. Then Leslie broke the silence.
“How can I be happy if he isn’t here with me? How, Karen? Without him, without Rodney, I don’t know how I can ever be happy.”
Karen was silent for a long time, trying to figure out the most appropriate response to Leslie.
“Yeah. I’m still here, Leslie.”
“Like I was saying, how can I be happy when Rodney isn’t here? It’s been a year and I haven’t seen him or even heard from him. How can I be happy?”
Karen was silent even longer. Then she made a statement that took Leslie by surprise.
“Manifest what?” Leslie asked.
Leslie was silent again, trying to make sense of Karen’s statement.
“Manifest Happiness?” Leslie asked incredulously.
“Yes. Manifest Happiness. Do you WANT to be happy, Leslie?”
Trickles of tears streamed down Leslie’s face before she broke into full-blown tears. Unable to control the emotions she had bottled up, Leslie started sobbing. Karen held the space for her client to feel what she had avoided feeling for years: pain, disappointment, regret.
Finally, Leslie spoke up.
“I do want to be happy. I just don’t know what that looks like. I just don’t.”
“Start small, Leslie. What small happiness do you want?” Karen asked with gentle patience.
“I just don’t know. I don’t know what’s small. I can’t think of anything. It’s been so long, so hard, so sad. I don’t know, Karen.”
Karen wasn’t ready to accept Leslie’s non-answer. She pressed.
“If you could have something right now that would put a smile on your face, what would that something be?”
Leslie thought and thought. A faint smile appeared on her face.
“If I could have something right now that would put a smile on my face, it would be a night without crying.”
Leslie smiled a bit more.
“Okay. Let’s take a night without crying. What does that look like? Walk me through the day that leads to the night where you don’t cry. Describe it as if I were a spirit following you around.” Karen probed.
Leslie thought for a moment.
“A spirit following me around? That sounds spooky.”
“Les, just go with it.”
“Okay. Okay. After work, I get in my car, and instead of going straight home as usual and wait until Meredith returns from practice, I stop by the flower shop.”
“What kind of flowers do you buy?” Karen asked.
“My favorite. Sunflowers.”
“With the Sunflower bouquet in your hand, how do you feel?”
“Inspired. I feel inspired.”
“What happens next?” Karen inquired further.
“As soon as I get home, I place the flowers in a lovely vase I got last year for my birthday. I have never used the vase. Just didn’t feel up to it.”
“Where do you put the vase?”
“On the kitchen counter”
“Why not on your nightstand so you can go to bed looking at it and wake looking at it?” Karen suggested.
“That’s a great idea! Yes, yes. I take the vase off the kitchen counter and place it on my nightstand.”
“How does it look on the nightstand?”
"It looks refreshing. It looks like it is at peace in its new place.”
“Then what happens?”
“Meredith comes home. I show her the sunflower arrangement in my bedroom. She is so excited for me because she knows how much I love sunflowers. She also knows she hasn’t seen sunflowers in the house for a very long time.”
“Good. How does it feel celebrating sunflowers with Meredith?”
“Joyful. It feels joyful. She is joy and the sunflowers are joy.”
“What happens next?”
"We have dinner at the kitchen table. After that, I prepare for the next day.”
"Why not have dinner in your bedroom and place the sunflowers in the middle between you and Meredith so you can have a conversation around the beauty?”
“Eat dinner in my bedroom?”
“Yeah! That’s nothing new. Won’t be the first time you eat in your bedroom, right?”
“That’s true. Okay. I think I like that switch. Okay, so Meredith and I have dinner in my bedroom, on a picnic blanket, with the flowers in the center.”
"How does that feel?”
“Exciting! Meredith loves the switch up and thinks it’s fun and that I’m a cool mom.”
Karen paused to give Leslie time to savor the moment.
“What happens next?”
“Meredith and I clean up our bedroom-picnic fun. I put the flowers back on my nightstand and prepare for work the next day.”
“How do you end the day?”
“I curl up in bed looking at the flowers, smile and fall asleep.”
“How about you curl up in the bed, look at the flowers, smile and as you smile, you give thanks to God that tonight is the first night that you go to be smiling instead of crying.” Karen suggested.
“I LOVE it! That’s exactly what I do!”
Karen paused for a long time. Then she asked with warmth and deep compassion:
“Leslie, how do you feel right now?”
“I feel good…better…lighter. I feel kinda happy!”
“And did any of the things you described happen yet?”
“Then you know what you just did, Leslie?”
“Told a story about my day and buying some flowers?”
“Better than that. You, my Dear, Manifested Happiness”
“Yes, you did. Happiness is an inside job. You can manifest feelings of happiness on demand. Whenever you are feeling down, remember this exercise and repeat it. It’s not complicated. It’s a baby step to becoming a happiness-making-machine.” Karen laughed.
“Karen?” Leslie hesitated
“Will you do this exercise with me until I can become a happiness-making-machine?”
“You bet! That’s what a coach is for.”
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Written by Pamela Elaine Nichols, Relationship & Resilience Coach