By Chaz Sandifer
This essay appears in “Her Path Forward: 21 Stories of Transformation and Inspiration, ” a Publish Her anthology that shares the various perspectives of women navigating change and the path forward.
Trigger Warning: This story contains references to domestic assault and may be triggering to some readers.
Picture this. Caramel-colored hardwood floors, canary yellow walls, empty white rocking chair swaying in the corner of the room, butterflies decorating the ceiling. I am 32 years old, lying on the floor, sweat dripping, back cramping, spit on my face. My husband just body slammed me on our daughter’s bedroom floor. We had an argument about finances, the engagement party I’m headed out of town for, and where the children will stay while we’re both out of town in a week. Finances are tight due to the recent recession, and I am the primary provider.
We’ve been together eight years and he has never put his hands on me in a violent manner. As I lie here in shock, my mind swirls with questions: Why? What caused his temper to escalate so much that he would physically pick up his wife and slam her to the ground? And how could that her be me? I am paralyzed with fear, panic and pain. All I hear now are the echoes of his yelling and the stomping of his feet pacing back and forth on the hard floor.
How am I going to get up and get out? Where is my phone? My head is throbbing. Ten minutes pass, but it feels like hours. He’s in the bathroom when my phone rings. I manage to pick it up and hear a friend say, “Hey girl, what are we doing tonight?” Her voice is a blessing. She is prompting me, through my uncontrollable tears, to explain what happened.
“Grab your keys to your car and run,” she says with clarity and authority.
Is this really happening? Am I really going to run from my own husband and my house? But that’s exactly what I do. I make my way to my car and drive down the street. No shoes, no bra, no coat. After a few minutes, I pull over to catch my breath; my friend stays on the phone and tries to calm me. All I can think now is thank God my babies weren’t home.
In an instant, everything has changed. My trust in men, my faith in this life, my purpose and drive to move forward—it has all left me. I thought I’d been a good wife and mother. Now I didn’t know what I was. I didn’t know who the hell I married. I would never look at him the same. Don’t come by me, don’t look at me. Your apologies, cards and flowers mean nothing. Days passed and I didn’t speak to him. Not once. I boarded a plane and headed to my friend’s engagement party as planned.
When I came back, we fell into our old patterns. He did everything he could to get things back to where they’d been. We took our annual family trip to Wisconsin Dells and had weekly date nights. But deep down, I felt hate for him. Soon the fights started again, but with me as the aggressor and name caller. I wanted him to feel what it was like to be the victim.
Eight months later, I found myself being chased around the dining room table. I ran into the laundry room. As he charged at me, I slipped on a pile of laundry and fell. He slapped my leg so hard it felt like he’d cut me. He balled his fist, pulled it back and stopped. He screamed, “I’m not gonna hit you, you stupid bitch!” Fearing for my life, I grabbed a butcher knife. I looked down and realized what I was about to do. My hand was shaking. I dropped the knife. I grabbed my purse and the kids and headed to my parents’ house. I knew I would never be back.
The next three long and stressful years of separation included restraining orders and court cases. Broken hearts and egos. Lost souls. At 35 years old, I found myself 40 pounds overweight and drinking two bottles of wine a night. It was my rock bottom. I felt like I’d been buried alive and couldn’t get out. I didn’t want to be a mother, a sister or a friend. I didn’t want to exist at all.
Then, one night, I was sitting in the living room of my townhouse while the kids were playing. There was pizza on the table and juice boxes on the floor. I began to cry for no reason and every reason. My son looked at me and came to sit on my lap. He grabbed my cheeks and pulled my face close to his. “Mommy, you’re so pretty,” he said, looking directly into my eyes. “But you’re kind of a fat chunky chunk.”
He wasn’t just referring to my physical appearance; he saw that I was broken. My spirit was broken. Other people had voiced concerns as well. But I couldn’t see where I truly was in life until I saw it through my son’s eyes.
I decided to stop drinking. I vowed to work out every morning for 30 days and lost 15 pounds. I became a bodybuilder so I could be strong on all levels. I went to counseling to work on myself and figure out what I was going to do about my marriage. There was one thing left to do. I called my husband from outside of his work and told him to come out; we needed to talk in person.
“What the eff do you want?” he asked when he walked up to my vehicle.
“I forgive you and I forgive myself,” I said.
“Why?” he asked as tears began to flow from his eyes.
“I have no hate left in my heart for you,” I said.
With those words, I released the pain I’d been holding. I was finally able to move forward. I filed for divorce. He was devastated. But on March 11, 2013, I walked out of the courtroom with my head held high and my dignity back.
I went on to compete in my first bodybuilding figure competition, unconcerned about where I finished. I had already beaten the odds and came out ahead. I became a certified life and wellness coach and a group fitness instructor; bought the Camden Farmers Market, which I’d been managing for five years; and then launched theNEWmpls, a health and wellness company that guides women with a holistic approach.
I’ve learned so many lessons during my journey: Forgive yourself and others who’ve caused you pain. Walk in your light and follow your passion. Prayers and time heal everything. Tell your story so no one else can. But perhaps the biggest: Rock bottom is not the final destination.
Photo credit: Chaz Sandifer
About the Author
Chaz Sandifer is the CEO and founder of theNEWmpls, a Minneapolis, Minnesota-based company dedicated to affordable fitness, wellness and nutrition. Bringing her holistic approach to the community, Chaz breaks generational cycles of poor health by instilling that fitness is fun, quality nutrition is essential, and wellness is key to a healthy future. TheNewMpls.info
About Publish Her
Publish Her is a female-founded publisher dedicated to elevating the words, writing and stories of women. We are passionate about amplifying the voices of women of color, women with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ+ community. We aim to make publishing an attainable, exciting and collaborative process for all. Publish Her specializes in print-on-demand books, workbooks, journals, magazines and more.