I had always been a calm person. In the home where I grew up, no one yelled. Even when my mother called my brother and me in for dinner, she didn’t scream for us.
When I became an adult, I realized not everyone’s the same, especially during a divorce. My husband, as I learned, was a screamer.
When we first married, it was something I had to get used to. Whether we were standing on opposite sides of the same room or in different parts of the house, the volume was always up.
“Your Dad’s on the phone!”
“We need to leave in 10 minutes!”
It was definitely something to get used to, and I did, although communicating this way was never my preference. Nor did I ever feel at ease having someone, particularly my husband, communicate with me this way. Coming from the quiet home I did, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up whenever he called for me, even if it was just friendly banter typical between a husband and wife.
Fast forward to when things started to deteriorate between us. Sentences like “Your Dad’s on the phone!” were swapped out for, “You crazy #!@&, you’re going to pay for this!” and “You’re never going to get a penny from me, #!@&, ever!” Every time it happened, my body tensed up, and I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me.
My husband and I eventually separated. He moved out of the house, and my home, aside from my then two-year-old making noises typical of a toddler, was quiet. I began to relax.
But as the months and years pressed on, our divorce heated up. Tensions between us escalated, and I started receiving intrusive phone calls. On those calls, my husband would scream at me, even though I could hear him clearly on the other end, and he could hear me.
I don’t know if he thought by speaking louder that I would be more inclined to comply with his requests or back down from mine. It had a different result altogether; I completely shut down.
Not only couldn’t I speak, but I also couldn’t breathe. At first, I didn’t know what was happening. But what I started to understand was that as soon as my husband began to raise his tone, I tensed up to the point where I was holding my breath. My knees would become weak, and all I could do was sit down and absorb the brunt of his rants. On some occasions, I was on the verge of passing out and could barely hold the phone up to my ear.
Back then I didn’t know what to call the response I was having. But it’s obvious to me now I was having a panic attack.
My husband, however, had no idea what was going on on my end of the line. My unresponsiveness only angered him more.
The situation worsened for me, and every time the phone rang, even if it wasn’t my husband calling, I could feel the same sensation come on. It was no way to live, and I knew something had to change. I had to change.
During that time, in the midst of my divorce, I started meditating. It wasn’t a typical, secular meditation; it was a Christ-centered meditation practice in which I practiced calming myself while engaging with God. I would breathe deep during my meditations, in and out. The stillness allowed me to listen to God, to hear His voice, and listen to myself. What I heard was my pain and then, miraculously, my husband’s.
It had never dawned on me before that my husband, too, was suffering. For a long time, I had only been focused on my own pain. Given what was going on in our home, an imminent divorce, our young son suffering as a result of the tension, it should’ve been obvious. It wasn’t, and it took God through my meditation practice to help me see it.
Little did I know, that realization would mean life was about to change for me.
A few days later, the phone rang. I picked it up like I normally did. It was my husband and, like always, he didn’t say hello; he just began to yell. This time, it was about our son and a problem he was having at his school.
I listened quietly, and as I did I focused on my breath as I consciously inhaled and exhaled deeply. He stopped and asked, “Are you there? What are you doing?”
I replied calmly, “I’m listening.”
Unlike previous conversations where I would ask not to be yelled at, this time I was able to take it in and let it pass. I didn’t feel the usual rapid heartbeat and dizziness that would overtake me. I felt the presence of stability.
Again he stopped to ask me, “Are you there?”
That’s when I quietly communicated the following heartfelt words: “Sounds to me like you’re really stressed. I’ll pray for you.”
My husband stopped speaking. For the first time, I could hear his hurt. In the absence of noise, his pain filled the air. It was palpable, and I knew he was also suffering. So I suggested the following:
“Why don’t you call me back when you’re less stressed.”
Quietly, my husband responded, “OK.”
The next time he called, and every time after it, my husband spoke to me at a normal decibel. My breath never left me and, instead, stayed steady and strong. I know now it was a sign of the woman I was becoming.
When I share this story with others, a lot of people immediately respond by saying, “Good for you! You took his power away.”
Yes, that’s partially true. But something bigger happened that day: I found a new power within myself. And I thank God for it every single day.
This article first appeared on Yahlight.com on July 7, 2021.
Tonyah Dee teaches about finding ways to increase inner strength, stability, and confidence through practicing spiritual disciplines and healthy habits daily. Tonyah is a nutritionist, registered dietician (R.D.), and earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Loma Linda University. She has also earned certifications in Christ-centered life coaching, equine therapy, and meditation. Tonyah has studied the Bible and wisdom traditions of the world for the last 30 years. You can find Tonyah on her blog, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.