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What does it take to redefine who you are after long-term abuse? Can you co-parent with an abuser? Why should you reach for the freedom of allowing yourself to be truly seen and heard?
In the fifth podcast episode of the How I Got Through It series, Joe Sanok speaks with Cindy Brock about getting through an 11-year marriage of abuse.
In this Podcast:
- Trying to make it work
- Redefining who you are
- Being honest with yourself and with others
- Co-parenting with an abuser
- Cindy’s advice to her past self
Trying to make it work
I thought about leaving and wanted to leave for quite some time but I was stuck in that abusive pattern of “Oh, it’s going to get better” … finally when the abuse ramped up until I was fearful for my life, that’s when I decided to leave. (Cindy Brock)
Cindy wanted the fairytale life and marriage and tried to make everything work for as long as she could.
It was until she feared for her life and her son that she decided to make a change and leave the situation for good.
My son was at the age where I could hide everything from him but I started to fear what the future was going to be for us. (Cindy Brock)
Even though leaving was incredibly difficult for Cindy, she managed to do it, and reached out to people in her circle for support.
Redefining who you are
After consistent and long-term abuse people can lose their sense of self due to the lack of agency and autonomy.
They may get into the habit of giving themselves away entirely to stay safe, but over time, this can lead to them becoming disconnected from who they are, what they want, and how they want to lead their lives.
A lot of it [came from] time that I spent journaling and reflecting. (Cindy Brock)
Cindy spent time journaling and writing letters to her ex-husband that she wouldn’t send, but as an act and tool to help her process. She wrote letters to herself and to God to help her reflect on what she had been through.
Being honest with yourself and with others
As an act of survival and self-protection, people in abusive partnerships will often put on the emotions that will please their abuser to deter any more aggression or violence.
Therefore, it can be scary but powerfully healing for people recovering from abuse to learn how to fully express how they feel and what they think.
Going through years of abuse, I learned to just put on that smile and just keep going and act like everything’s fine. I had to get to that point in [my] healing journey … to say, “I’m not okay, things are not okay, and that can be what it is” … I don’t have to pretend I’m okay. (Cindy Brock)
Co-parenting with an abuser
Due to the situation, Cindy and her son have no contact with his father.
Cindy has had to learn to be a single parent and finds joy and freedom in being honest about its challenges and its joys.
Whatever your family looks like, there are so many blessings, and it’s beautiful in [just] the way that it is … and I’ve learned to empower myself to know that I’ve got this. (Cindy Brock)
Cindy’s advice to her past self
It is not your fault, and you do not have to make everyone happy because that is not on you.
Books mentioned in this episode:
Useful Links mentioned in this episode:
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Meet Joe Sanok
Joe Sanok helps counselors to create thriving practices that are the envy of other counselors. He has helped counselors to grow their businesses by 50-500% and is proud of all the private practice owners that are growing their income, influence, and impact on the world. Click here to explore consulting with Joe.
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Before we start this episode just want to give a trigger warning. Not everything that we cover in today’s episode may be suitable for all ages as well. We talk about abuse and we talk about marriage uncoupling and single parenting. Just wanted to give you that heads up before we start the show.
This is the Practice of the Practice podcast with Joe Sanok, session number 740.
Welcome to the show. I am Joe Sanok, your host, and this summer series that we are doing is all about how I got through it. It’s a little bit different from our typical business podcasts, but I had put out on Facebook that I was thinking about doing this series, more for my own development to learn and grow from people who’ve been through stuff in life. It was amazing the response and already, just being a handful of episodes into this I feel like I’m learning so much and it’s just so nice to join people as they’ve been through some really heavy things. So today I’m so excited that we have Cindy Brock and Cindy is going to talk with us about what she’s been through and how she got through it. Cindy, welcome to the Practice of the Practice podcast.
Thank you, Joe. I’m so excited to be here today.
Yes, me too. I like to just start with letting people introduce themselves and tell us a little bit about the work that you do and what you do outside of work.
Well, I am a therapist and I have a private practice and I see clients with, I specialize in trauma recovery. Outside of work, I have a son who is 12, almost 13, and we enjoy just having all the adventures we can have together. I’m really happy to be here today to just share some of my experiences that I’ve been through, some pretty heavy stuff, but have been able to come through the other side and find some healing. So I’m just open to being able to share about that today.
In your application you had said that you’re a survivor-turned-thriver from an 11-year marriage of abuse. Where should we start that story?
Let me start from the beginning. I got married at a very young age. I was 20, almost 21 when I got married and was ready for just fairy tale life as of marriage and family. It turned out to be a very abusive relationship that I was in for all those years and at about 11, almost 12 years of marriage I finally left and was able to get some, some help in that process of leaving that relationship. Then I divorced and then, it’s a long story, but the short part of it was really, I started on this healing journey after leaving that marriage being in my young thirties and that led me to eventually becoming a therapist and working with people who’ve experienced trauma. But that process of coming out of that relationship into that healing process was really intense for me and that’s part of what I would just really love to be able to talk about today, is how what that looks like for me. I think that that’s going to be different for everyone, but I learned a lot in that healing and I’m still in that healing process. I don’t know that it ever ends.
Yes. Now when you were towards the end of the marriage were there things that stood out to you that helped you decide that it was time to leave? Was it a slow burn, small things, or were there larger things that, and you don’t have to share anything you don’t feel like sharing of course, but things that really helped you make that decision to leave that marriage?
Yes, that’s a great question because I had thought about leaving and wanted to leave for quite some time, but I really just was stuck in that abusive pattern of, oh, it’s going to get better. It’s going to get better. Finally, when the abuse really ramped up where I was fearful for my life, that’s when I decided to leave. My son was at the age where I could hide everything from him, but I started to fear of what the future was going to be for us. So I finally left and that was a really hard thing to be able to do. When I did, I reached out to some people to try to help me figure out what to do and I’m so thankful that I was able to get the people that I reached out to really helped me get to the right resources and the right people that could help me with the next steps of what to do. But yes, it was a lot was happening for me to finally make that last leave.
When you were in that, the middle of that last leave what were habits, mindsets, people that were really helpful to just get through that really heavy time?
I initially reached out to my church when I left and just got so much love and support from them. They referred me to some resources within the community that helped me. I joined a support group for women who had been through abuse. I joined a Bible study that was about healing, but I think the key thing that was so amazing and really was, so the key part that was helpful to me was I reached out to some really close friends in my life and the support that they gave me was just amazing. That was, that was really life changing for me, was I had lived 11 years in secrecy of what was happening in my marriage and so to finally come out and say, hey, this is what I’ve been going through and just feeling very broken and unsure of what to do, who am I, just feeling just like in this fog; to be able to reach out to friends and be authentic with them and say, hey, this is what I’ve been going through. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know who I am. I’m in so much pain. And to have them just champion me and say, you are strong, you are brave. You’re going to get through this. We’re going to help you. That was everything to me. And I have family too, that was able to do that too. So that was just so key for me.
Now, early on in that say first year or so as you were uncoupling, we don’t have to go into all the details of all of that, but what were habits or mindsets or things that you did to find yourself again? I think after such a long relationship and so much abuse, I would imagine that maybe who you really were, maybe changed or you had lost or ignored, like, what did you do to redefine who Cindy was post that relationship?
I’m so glad you asked that question, because that is a major thing that I went through, so trying to find myself. A lot of it was time that I spent journaling and just reflecting. So I’m really big into, like, I have to write something on paper and that doesn’t work well with all the technology of today for me, because I don’t want to type it. I want to write it on paper. So I did a lot of journaling. I just filled up journals of just my thought and I would write letters to my ex-husband, not that I sent them, but I would just like write things to him. Then I would write letters to myself and I would write letters to God, just being able to reflect on what I had been through. That was so helpful. There was also some books that I read that were about boundaries and were about healing. I would read sometimes just a few pages and then stop and just think about it and journal about it. It was like, I just had to take all this information in. Another thing was time, —
Before we go, I want to pause there, what books really stood out to you that around boundaries or that helped during that phase?
Oh yes. So one of them is called Love is a Choice. That is an excellent book about codependency boundaries, how we choose our relationships. That was probably the key one for me.
I always like to get the actual book names when people say these books helped me, like, well, I want to know the books names. So Love is a Choice was really helpful. You were going to say something else before I interrupted you there.
I don’t remember, so I don’t know.
That’s okay. We were talking about that first year early on, any habits or mindsets or things that you were saying, journaling, reading, reading a couple pages, and then maybe thinking through it. Any other things that for you just helped you get through that initial phase and transition?
Yes. I did go to my own therapy and that was super helpful to me also to have that outside person, that professional person to meet with me and be able to just talk me through what I was experiencing. Another thing that I had to learn how to do was I had to learn how to be okay with not being okay. So going through years of abuse, I learned to just put on that smile, just keep going, act like everything’s fine. I had to get to the point in that healing journey that first year to be able to say, I’m not okay. Things are not okay. That can be what it is. Like, I don’t have to fix everything right now. I don’t have to pretend I’m okay. I can just be not okay. I hope that makes sense.
Yes, totally. I think too often we want to have the storybook resolution or in the movies that then she becomes an independent woman that takes on the world. It’s like it doesn’t always wrap up in a tight, neat, perfect package. It can be messy and allowing that to unfold. At least for me being the achiever type, it’s hard to have that realization, but it’s also helpful.
Yes. Healing, I don’t know that you ever reach that end point of, okay, I’m healed. I’m done. I’ve walked away from that. I mean, I think that there’s times in your life, when even years later something comes up and you’re like, oh yes, that reminds me, that hurts again. I got another little piece that I need to heal from. And you got to be okay with that, but that’s part of life. That’s part of the journey.
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You may not want to answer this next question or, I mean, you can say no, but I’m interested in what it looks like in regards to having a child with someone that you are in an abusive relationship with. What do boundaries in regards to talking about parenting, in regards to having to co-parent look like, and what works for you in that area?
That’s a great question. So I actually have no, we have no contact with my ex and so I am thankful that it’s just my son and I. Those boundaries have been pretty firmly set up just by the way it is but, so that’s worked out just how that is, but for my son and I, part of it has been learning for me to learn how to be a single parent and that’s been a whole nother journey and process for me in —
Tell me about it. What have you learned there because I feel like I, that’s, I’m an unexpected single parent too. So what what’s been helpful in regards to being a single parent?
Yes, totally. I think as a single parent, there’s often a lot of, I know for me, a lot of shame or a lot of feeling like there’s something wrong with me, like I’ve messed up and now I’m a single parent or, oh, my poor kid just has me. Or now we’re a broken family or all those, just those connotations that come with single parenting. I felt that for a long time and I had to get to the point where I said, no enough. My son is a hundred percent great with just me and I can take care of him. Just getting rid of like that negative frame of mind that there’s something wrong with the family as it is. Being a single parent has, there’s some awesome things about it. Whether, for listeners, whether you’re a single parent, whether you’re co-parenting, whatever your family looks like, there are so many blessings and it’s beautiful in just how it is. So I think being able, I’ve learned to empower myself to know that I’ve got this. I can do a great job at raising my son just me and feeling good about that. Yes, that’s been my process.
I mean, I don’t know how it is with your son, but I know for my daughters to watch their unfolding of how they think about the situation sometimes can be really difficult for me to, even just like know, like I just show up and say, I’m confused as well. I can’t answer those questions on behalf of your mom but this is what I know about myself. How has it been for you in regards to navigating how to be a parent to a child whose other parent isn’t around as much as maybe the child would want them to be around?
It’s a hard thing. It really is because I don’t have all the answers. Like you just said, we don’t have all the answers. We’re not able to give all those great, neat just tied up in a neat bow. Here’s how it is and here’s the answer. So for my son and I, am learning even still to be able to just sit with him in those questions and in that ambiguity of this isn’t always a perfect ending to how things happen and to these questions. To add another layer, my son is also adopted, I adopted my son as a baby. So there’s also that, those other questions for him of birth parents and birth family. So there’s a lot of layers going on for us as we look at family for my son and I.
So what are, now that your father out in all this, what are some habits that you have, or mindsets or things that you do to stay grounded, to keep growing, to just be okay with who you are? Any things when you’re not in the thick of maybe the uncoupling but now that help you feel like you’re living the life you want to live?
One of the most important things to me is my faith, my belief in God and just my relationship with him and bringing things in prayer to him and remembering who he says I am and how he created me to be. Another thing that is helpful for me is when I have those days or those moments, when I start to question myself or question what I’m doing, and I start to feel like that, oh, the pit in my stomach, like, oh, I’m going down this negative path, negative mindset, I think my tendency, and this is probably true of so many people is to just isolate and just sit there and think about it. But what I’m learning to do is force myself to reach out to a friend or a family member, someone that I really trust, who knows me and say, hey, this is what I’m thinking. They can tell me, oh, no, hold up. This is what you need to do. This is the truth. Let’s focus on the truth. That has been a huge for me to be able to have that community of people around me that when I’m starting to go down a negative train of thought, I can reach out and they can help me get back on track.
Yes. Having those people with that outside perspective is so important. If you were to go back and tell your previous self, you can pick whatever age you would want to talk to something, what would you tell your previous self?
Wow, that’s a great question. I think I would tell my previous self, in those early days of my marriage, I think I would tell myself it’s not your fault and you don’t have to make everyone happy. That’s not on you.
Tell me more about that.
So I think in my younger years, I really wanted to make people happy, that people pleasing side of me. I wanted to just make everyone comfortable and happy and not do anything that ruffled feathers. Then being in a very abusive relationship that just even made that stronger to just smile and pretend everything’s okay. I’m learning now to be, like I said before, to not have to just smile and pretend everything’s okay but I’m also learning that what really matters is what I think about myself, of myself, not what everyone else thinks about for me. I don’t have any control over other people’s opinions, their attitudes, their emotions, but I need to just focus on my own attitude, my own thought patterns and my own behaviors. That is so empowering because that takes all the pressure off. I just need to focus. I just need to take care of myself and not worry about what everyone else is thinking or doing.
I mean, that’s such good advice. As you look forward, what are some things that you are going to help you maintain this trajectory or continue to grow? What are you exploring?
I love to read, and I have stacks of books that I want to read. I love to read books that really help me grow. I could just be in school forever, I would be in school forever because I love to learn and grow. So I have a lot of books I want to read. I’m also looking at doing joining some more consulting type groups where with other business owners and life coaching where people can just help me learn, like, okay, where can I grow? Where can I keep improving and changing and learning new things. I’m also just really looking forward to continuing life with my son. He’s about to be a teenager and just all the fun things that come with that. And the hard things too, like, whew, getting into those teenage years is tough, but so much fun.
I’m just, I have a lot that I’m looking forward to. And just each day, I’m looking for ways to stay grounded and who I am, what my purpose is and what do I want to do? What’s important to me and looking at, okay, what are my core values and making decisions out of what my core values are. What’s most important to me is going to impact how I make those decisions each day. This is a process like, wow, this is not something I’m perfect at, but I’m learning and I’m growing and I’m going to keep working on these things.
Thank you so much for sharing all of this today, Cindy. Are there any other final things that you want to just make sure you articulate that helped you get through the 11 years of a marriage of abuse?
Yes. I think I would like to be able to say to any listeners who are in a situation of abuse to know that there is hope and that you are very strong and brave. You can get through this, you can lead, you can do whatever you need to do to heal and grow, and it is possible. For those who have maybe left an abusive relationship, and they’re in that stage of trying to figure out what they’re going to do and who they are, I want to tell them how brave they are. I just give them a hug and tell them that they’re very brave.
So amazing. Cindy, if people want to follow your work or check out your website, what’s the best place for them to connect with you?
I am on Instagram, Facebook, through my business, Grace Family Counseling, and they can certainly catch up with me there and I’d be happy to respond to anybody too.
Oh, wonderful. Well, Cindy, thank you so much for being on the Practice of the Practice podcast.
Thank you so much, Joe. This has been amazing
What an amazing series. Man, it’s interesting to now have done several of these interviews and to see things that not they’re always going to be universal, but that have helped people or angles of how they’ve looked at things. And for me, just to hear different people who have been through things that are very different than me, but also things that are very similar, how they got through it, what they worked on how, they came out on the other side, it’s amazing to hear these stories and I can’t wait for the rest of them throughout this series.
Today’s podcast is sponsored by Pillars of Practice. You can head on over to pillarsofpractice.com. Pillars of Practice has two amazing e-courses for you. If you’re starting a practice, there’s a free course for you there. If you’re growing an established practice, there’s another one. There are eight-minute expert videos on websites, SEO, bookkeeping, all the basics of private practice, as well as marketing checklists, downloads and so much more. Head on over to pillarsofpractice.com to get access to that. Again, that’s pillarsofpractice.com. Thank you so much for letting me into your ears and into your brain. Have a great day. I’ll talk to you soon.
Special thanks to the band Silence is Sexy for your intro music.
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