I sat on the white chair in the front room, the faux leather one with the scratches in the seat from where the dog had tried to make it more comfortable. I was seven months pregnant and eating a stack of golden Oreos. The May afternoon sun was streaming in through the open blinds of the picture window. My husband was on the chaise lounge, but he wasn’t relaxed. We need to talk, he said.
I knew about the anxiety and depression. About the addiction that had gripped him since his teenage years. What I didn’t know was how deep down The Three had dragged him; what they had driven him to do. Revelations of broken vows and fractured trust swirled around the room, cutting through the sun beams and dimming the light. The Oreo in my mouth turned to brick, and I had to spit it out. The other half in my hand felt like a two-ton boulder.
After he was done confessing, he went for a walk. To give me some space, he said. I didn't want space. I didn’t know what to do with it. I just stared at the window as the darkness spilled in and the room got smaller.
For two days I sat on the couch with CSI reruns playing on the TV. I wasn’t really watching, but the noise helped to drown out the frantic din in my mind. What do I do now? Do I stay? Do I go? Do I help him? How do I help? Do I want to help? What about me? Who’s going to help me? While my mind was in a dizzying state of motion, my body had lost all feeling. I saw my face in the mirror and tried to smile, but my paralyzed muscles would not obey.
In the middle of the shock and numbness, the hurt and pain, I begged God for guidance. His answer came late the second night as a blanket of peace fell on me. He is going to fight. I need you to fight with him.
The battle was daily, hourly, and by the minute. Now that he was fighting back, The Three were relentless. During the day I would call and text. Send him quotes and affirmations, Scripture and encouragement. I worried he would give up and take the easy way out. I prayed he would come home.
He kept coming home, even though he knew what was waiting in the night. The Three circled and attacked with unchecked vengeance, like a vulture ripping apart its prey. I held him while his body shook with fear and with the effort it took to fight, and I wished I could take on the pain for him. I repeated, over and over, the truths that his mind kept rejecting. I silently screamed out to God to give him the strength to fight and to let him feel His peace. I waited until the shaking stopped and his breathing evened to escape from under the sheets, wet with sweat and tears, to another room so my sobbing wouldn’t wake him.
I worried. What would a baby do to him? Would he be too overwhelmed? How could he focus on recovery when his world was about to be turned upside down, again? I hurt. How could he have done this to me? To our unborn son? I was resentful. How can I ever trust him again? How can I be excited about becoming a mother now? I should have been deep in the blissful naivete of an almost-first-time mom. Instead I was desperately trying to keep my husband.
On the Fourth of July we walked up the dam of the lake in our neighborhood to get a good view of the fireworks across the city. The air was starting to cool as the sun went down, not uncommon for a Colorado summer evening, and my nine-months-pregnant body was thankful it was no longer 90 degrees. The sky lit up in sparkling, exploding color all around us and smoke hung low between the houses. The booms of the fireworks echoed off the mountains and my war-torn soul. We were two months into the fight and gaining every day, but a new challenge was on the way.
Labor started in the early morning hours of the fifth. I was a week early but more than ready to meet my baby. I rolled back and forth on the exercise ball, watched CSI reruns, and timed the contractions. He got up and made frozen waffles. We knew the day and battle would be long.
I started out strong, my mind clear and focused. My prayer for strength and peace was on replay in my head, my birth plan was submitted, and I reminded myself of all the tips and tricks I had read about birth. But as the hours wore on I started to weaken and a fog rolled in. The contractions intensified beyond anything I was prepared for and the tips and tricks provided only minimal relief, if any at all. I wasn’t sure I could finish. My body and my husband took over as my mind retreated into the haze.
This time he was the one holding me, trying to ease my fears, and with every wave of pain that washed over me, he wished he could take it away. He fought alongside me, and together we brought our son into the world. They placed a baby boy on my chest, and for the first time since May, he kissed me on the lips.
That kiss was the rebirth of our marriage, and our son was a catalyst of healing. As we learned how to be parents, we learned how to make our way back to each other. As we kept our tiny human alive, we started to become alive again ourselves. They say a baby can't save a marriage, but I know our son saved ours. His conception and birth were not random or coincidental. God knew my husband needed something else to fight for, that he needed a physical representation—in the form of an eight-pound baby boy—of the unconditional love that He has for him.
Anxiety, depression, and addiction had tried to destroy a man, a marriage, and a family, but the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost restored them.
The tattoo shop was warm and bright, the owner’s work displayed in multi-color across the walls. I laid back at ease in the chair while the young artist gathered her supplies. She had big, kind eyes and with a soft voice she asked me questions and explained what she was going to do. My husband stood nearby holding our son, a smile on his face and fresh marks on his arm. It was my turn.
The pain was minimal and faded quickly. I had expected it to be worse and was disappointed it wasn’t more comparable to the hurt in my still mending heart, but now it felt a little more whole. Strength and peace had become my battle cry and now those words were permanent on our skin as we marked our eighth anniversary and a year of recovery with ink. It’s an enduring reminder that life and love can be as hard and ugly as they are easy and beautiful, that they will require us to find strength we didn't know we had and cling to the peace we are promised.
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Guest post written by Michelle Windsor. Michelle is a thirtysomething working mama of three years and wife of ten. She grew up in Kansas and lived in Colorado for a decade before trading in the mountains for the ocean in Southwest Florida. Full-time thinker, part-time writer. Lover of strong coffee and cheap red wine. Find her on the beach not relaxing with her toddler or in the kitchen trying to replicate her grandma's chocolate chip cookies. She does most of her writing on Instagram.