“It’s difficult to explain what it’s like for me to be here. I naturally want to say “back here”, but that’s not really true. I guess because I grew up on the Anastasis, Mercy Ships’ first floating hospital, it’s very much like coming home. Even though this is a different ship, and the majority of the people are new to me. I think being here is the closest thing to ‘home’ that I have. Most of the time that’s a good thing. A great thing. Occasionally, not so much.
When we arrived at the airport in Conakry, there was a man there, also headed to the Africa Mercy (AFM) who looked JUST like my first husband. Same build. Same hair. Same swagger. Same outgoing personality that won over everyone he met. And even the same first name. Hopefully he didn’t see my shock (and horror) as he came over and introduced himself.
You see, the last time I was in West Africa, with Mercy Ships, I was engaged to be married. Our relationship progressed through each port of call to which the ship sailed. There weren’t many red flags. But, in retrospect, I can clearly see two. Neither were make-or-break issues. But a big one showed up as we were driving away from the wedding, when he coolly stated.
“I’m not going to do any of those things I promised.”
Thinking he meant he didn’t want to be the first up each morning, to make coffee as we’d agreed during our pre-marital counseling, I figured it was no big deal. Little did I know he meant that he would not be living out our VOWS… At all… By ANY stretch of the imagination. Which he did a good job of clarifying for the four years we were married.
The unfaithfulness was not the most painful part. Not even close. Neither was the physical abuse. Neither was the loss of trust in what was supposed to be my best friend. The hardest part was the emotional abuse. The brainwashing. We’re all gifted with plenty of natural ability for self-doubt, without someone else coming in to confirm, and even increase, our belief in those lies. He called me;
“Fat, ugly, bitch.”
And, the sad part is, I answered to it.
And through it all, I smiled. No-one, NO-ONE knew the depths of my pain and confusion and depression. Not even me.
After we separated, some friends of ours invited me to dinner. The husband asked me;
“What did you do to make him leave you?”
You see, this man and everyone else was fooled into believing his lies. Even the girlfriend that called and asked me for his new phone number, had fallen for his lies. And the other new girlfriend whom he took to Europe on my credit card.
People thought of me as a strong person. I had thought of myself as capable. Intuitive. Wise.
That was the hardest part.
I was broken.
And it took me years to rebuild.
But, rebuild I did. And I have to say, that I like the new and improved me even better. And the lessons I learned.
And you know what? My pain was nothing like his, which drove him to such terrible choices. I’m whole. In fact, I’m better for it. (You know the saying, ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’? Well, it’s true). And believe it or not, I would do it all again. The exact same. To be who I am. To be married to Dreamboat and have our three precious kiddo’s. And be spending this amazing year together, living out our dreams.
So, when we arrived in Conakry, Guinea, to begin this adventure of a lifetime, and teach our kids the importance of making our lives count, of aligning our priorities with making a positive impact in other people’s lives, I was also being reminded of a ghost from my past. Multiple times a day. I saw him at coffee break morning and afternoon, during meals, during meetings, ashore, and what feels like, around each corner. And, I’ve realized that that chapter is long closed. The scar is healed over.
And I’m softer, wrapped in the joy and reality of my life now. And, West Africa, which I truly-deeply-madly love, is mine again.