Listening To My Body*

I walked out of the doctor’s office and ran across the street to the drug store where everyone knew me by name.  I was out of Pepcid.  I had a box in the bathroom, two in the kitchen cupboard, one in the office desk, and one under the car seat, but the box in my purse was empty.

I had made an appointment hoping to discover a name for this thing that caused me to go through antacids the way a nervous first-year college student goes through cigarettes.

The doctor ruled out pregnancy, gall bladder, and Crohn’s.

Last month, I’d asked my OB-Gyn if it was typical to require a prescription in order to stay married.  She said, “Jesse, I think you know the answer.”

Today, in the doctor’s sterile office with the posters advertising the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, I asked, “What now?  Do I live on Pepcid for the rest of my life? Is this normal?”

He said, “Let me guess… you are married to someone who never listens.”

I said, “Aren’t all your patients living with someone who doesn’t listen?  Why – in my case – does it result in a build up of acids from stress?”

“Jesse, you are sensitive. You listen to your body. You know something isn’t right. You are masking symptoms instead of addressing real issues.”


From the outside, my life looked charmed.  I’d been married ten years to the owner of a successful business.  Financial security allowed me to stay home with our two healthy children.  I could work part time and make my kids a priority.

We had a nice home, decent cars and extra money for planting perennials in the spring and skiing in the winter.

We ate dinner together every night and discussed his day.

He never asked of mine.

Newspapers were read.  Emails were answered.  After I tucked in kids, he and I would sit on opposite ends of the couch and watch TV.

The next day would be the same.

And so on.

Weeks piled up like so many empty Pepcid boxes.

I’d take a Pepcid on my way to bed, one in the morning and another before dinner.

If I had been a hoarder, we’d have side-stepped past mountainous piles of empty Pepcid boxes. I’d have constructed mobiles with multicolored embroidery floss and empty Pepcid boxes to hang above my babies’ cribs.


One night I said, “Honey, I feel like taking a trip with the kids.  I know you can’t get away.  We could go see my brother and his family.  I can make the drive by myself.  The kids are old enough.  The kids could play with cousins while I take long walks, clear my head and discover what has me so stressed.”

He said, “You want to know what causes stress? A long car ride with two little kids; staying at your brother’s house; and being away from me and our home – those things cause stress.”

I said, “I need to do this.  I need to get away to sort things out.  It’s only a week.”


The next weekend I packed three backpacks, a DVD player, snacks, and two boxes of Pepcid. We started a twelve hour trip to the West Coast.

As we crossed the Montana/Idaho border I sensed a release.  I felt a warm wave flow from my neck to my toes carrying all the tightness and tension out of my chest and stomach.

Was this real?  Could tension dissolve so quickly?

Shouldn’t I be more stressed while singly driving a car with two young kids for twelve hours?

We finished the drive, and the tension didn’t return.

Each morning, I’d wake and expect to feel the familiar tightness.

I talked to him on the phone only a couple times.  Normally, he was the type to call every night to make sure he was informed of all that we did – his way of controlling from afar.

Not only had I not taken any Pepcid, I’d left the boxes in the car.

I phoned to ask him if we could stay another week.  He wasn’t pleased, but he didn’t demand that we return.

The calls all but stopped.

I didn’t need to take long walks to figure out the cause of the stress.  Once the tightness dissolved, I could clearly see the cause.


On the return trip I told myself, “You are strong.  You don’t have to let him get to you.  You don’t have to get stressed about this.”

I tried desperately to not let the tension come back.

As we crossed the Idaho/Montana border the tension slowly returned.  A core that ran the length of my body began to solidify, starting in my toes.  It reached my chest when we were an hour from home.

As we pulled into the drive, I was gasping for breaths.

He came out to greet us, but something was different – in me.

I knew what I had to do.

Three weeks later the children and I moved out of his home.


That was over five years ago.

Pepcid had masked the symptoms for years, allowing me to deal with the disconnect and loneliness that defined my marriage.

Now, I listen to how I feel and make choices that steer me away from stress.

I still have a box of Pepcid in the kitchen cupboard. It’s a bit dusty from lack of use.  I keep it as a reminder of my old life.


*This post was originally published in the @Stratejoy Essay Contest.

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  1. Jesse,

    I am so glad you are in a healthier and more peaceful place in your life. As I read about your experience and am living my own, I see how it is worth the long struggle to get to the other side of being in such a destructive relationship.

    This post really resonates with me. I remember returning from so many trips when I traveled by myself with the kids, and I literally felt myself putting emotional armor back on to deal with my life after being away from it for any length of time.

    Life is far too short to live in such a way. I am so thankful my kids and I are on to better days!

    Thank you for writing!

    Warm wishes . . .

  2. Lynn,

    I remember thinking, “I can shield myself from this.”

    I just didn’t know how to go about shielding the kids. It’s hard for little people to play and grow in armor.

    I am thrilled for you and yours. There is a bright future for you all. I can see it! ;)


  3. Jesse,

    I have always felt bad for my kids. It has been one of the hardest things for me to deal with that I could not provide a peaceful intact family for them. When we were without my ex-N we could breathe, play, and be ourselves. When he came home we all went into sort of an emotional holding pattern–holding our breath and waiting for the next round of anger to come and sadly it always did.

    I am thankful for space to breathe for all of us now. “Peace” has been my prayer for years.

    Take good care of yourself! : )

  4. Lynn,

    My heart is heavy tonight…

    I know you can relate.

    I am tired. No matter how much we talk about what they can expect from their dad, it doesn’t seem to make the visits easier.

    It comes down to the fact that when someone doesn’t see you – really see who you are and what makes you thrive – it isn’t possible to make those visits real or comfortable.

    And so today… when mine were grousing about going and conjuring up ways to get out of visits, I had to say, “Listen! How bad is it? You have a hangnail compared to another’s broken leg. How bad do you have it if you only have to deal with him 8 hours a week. That’s all it is. 8 out of 168 hours! Buck up! Make the best of it. He doesn’t know you and he never will. That’s how it is, but for 8 hours a week, or 32 hours a month, you spend time with a guy who doesn’t know you. So what.”

    And you know… There’s nothing more painful than spending time with a father who doesn’t see you.

    And to some it might seem like a hangnail, but to mine it is a broken heart.

  5. Bless you Jesse and Will and Jen. It is so painful to crave the attention and love of a father and never have it. My kids deal with this too. It comes out in different ways: depression, anger, anxiety, and fear. My heart breaks for my kids and your kids and all kids who have Ns as parents. It is not fair. It is an abuse that is hard to detect. The scars and wounds are internal and hard to define–less obvious.

    Your kids are in my prayers as I pray for my own. You are too as you love them through these hard times.

    Hugs and peace be with you and yours . . .

  6. I may not be able to understand the full depth of your pain, but thank you again for this post (essay). You’ve shown us that it is not only possible to build a new deserved and desired life. “Tomorrow is a brand new day with no mistakes in it.” …Needless to say but You are OUR essay winner!

  7. Sigh…makes me sad that they are so affected by it. Mine goes along with his dad for the most part ( for now), but he knows. Last night he was crying about a math assignment. He had a perfect score on a packet of several pages except one page where he got most of them wrong. He had put the right answer down and the N insisted that he was wrong and made him change all the answers…against his will. I asked him why he didn’t change the answers back after he got home (because that is really all he could do) and he said he was going to and then forgot. Breaks my heart to see his demolished.

  8. Lynn,

    It amazes me to see my two bounce around our home – teasing, laughing, driving each other crazy, and being normal kids. All the while I know they have these little cracks in their hearts.

    But I suppose all kids do, to some extent.

    They will all be fine – yours, mine, all those kids who have love and nurturing – even if they miss it from one parent.

  9. Christina,

    Thanks, dear.

    It’s funny how charmed and reciprocal the relationships are on this blog…

    As much as you may get from hanging out here, I get so much from your contributions, as well.

    In particular: Today, of all days, I really needed to conceptualize the very real, simple fact that “Today is a new day!”

    And wouldn’t you know… the first thing I see this morning, when I really needed it, was your comment saying that very thing.

    Thank you!!!

  10. Zaira,

    It’s so unfair that these little ones have to learn these hard lessons.

    Yeah, life is unfair, but do they need to deal with that so soon?

    But, testament to the resiliency of kids…

    Mine are bouncing around the house this morning, laughing, whistling and apparently unscathed after last night’s visit.

    I hope – for yours and mine and Lynn’s and all the other kids of Ns out there – that all these lessons learned early make for a well-adjusted, functioning, fulfilled adulthood.

  11. Dear Jesse,

    I love your writing, and I rejoice in the courage and growth you exhibit, and the way you take a stand for your kids. You ROCK!


  12. Susan,

    Nice to see you here, again.

    Thank you SO SO much. ;)

  13. It has taken my dad 57 years to become tolerable of his own existence and 22 years to become almost happy with life. (Starting with the divorce, I think.) It only took his kids about a quarter of that time to forgive him, move forward and build their own happiness.
    Some of us are fast healers.
    I’m glad that your stomach is healing because it means so is the rest of you…I feel like our bodies are the last to catch up…the last to ‘digest’ everything we take in or on.
    I think a Pecid painting would have a lot to say :)

  14. Elizabeth,

    I didn’t listen to my body for a long time. I kept doubting the signs. I think I wanted to prove that I was tough – could handle anything. I thought that was what I was supposed to do.

    Aren’t we all told that marriage is difficult, hard work?

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