How I Stumbled Into Six Marriages — And The Shame Of Six Divorces

Photo: PRImageFactory | Getty Images / Kameleon007 | Getty Images Signature
Upset woman

"Always the bride, never the bridesmaid," I muttered to myself. Some girls get all the luck.

I’ve been married so many times, that I’m running out of dress colors to choose so I don’t repeat them from one wedding to another. It’s getting tricky to find great wedding music and be absolutely certain I haven’t used it before. I’ve got bridesmaids on permanent stand-by and a divorce lawyer on retainer. He’s given me an estate home with an ocean view — "A little 'thank you' gift," he said.

Well, okay. Maybe it’s not quite all of that.

While sometimes I find it hard to believe I’ve been married six times, it doesn’t seem weird to me because I understand how it all unfolded.

But then, I guess when you live in the asylum, crazy is normal.

So let me invite you into the asylum and I’ll explain just how crazy my life got — and why:

First, it was never my intention to become a "serial bride." I wanted only one husband forever, that "happily-ever-after" in the storybooks. I wanted kids, the white picket fence, the whole nine yards. I wanted what I never had growing up — a happy home, free of alcoholism, insults, fear, abuse, and violation.

I wanted to be loved.

The problem was, I didn’t know what love looked like. My birth mother was 15 years old. Knowing her mother would force her to have an abortion, she did her best to hide my existence until it was too late to abort the baby she so desperately wanted.

I was sent to live in a home for Naughty Girls, and my birth mother tried — unsuccessfully — to figure out how to keep me, which was just not done in the Dark Ages. Tenderly, she cared for me for the first few weeks of my life before I was snatched away and sent to foster care to await adoption.

I don’t know how many foster homes I was in, but I would have bonded with at least one more mother figure over the next several months. Those bonds, too, would be broken when I was adopted by a woman who never liked me from the moment she laid eyes on me. In the meantime, the abandoned little girl inside me was desperate for this Mommy to please love her, please, please, oh please?

I used to catch glimpses of love from my father now and then, but he was away a lot with his work. When I was nine, he experienced significant career disappointments and turned to the bottle to escape his failures. I got the brunt of his drinking, plus he was nowhere around to protect me from the abuse I endured at the hands of my mother and my older brother.

Desperate for love, I began chasing happily-ever-after like a deranged hamster on an ever-spinning wheel. Apparently, I’d read one too many fairytales because — well, life happened. Or at least, my life. I ended up marrying half of Canada before moving across the planet and beginning to work my way through England, too.

RELATED: The Aftermath Of Growing Up With An Emotionally Abusive Mother

Toxic seeds were planted

"You were so ugly," my mother told me more than once, always laughing. "Fat, ugly, with eczema all over your face. I was so ashamed of you. I begged your dad not to let anyone come and see you until you weren’t so ugly."

She fed me a constant diet of insults and criticisms, an assortment of statements that felt like, "You don’t deserve to breathe."

She was an angry woman. Along with her physical and emotional abuse, she violated me in an awful way until I was about 12.

And if there was something in the oven, she’d say if I made the tiniest noise, the oven would explode, kill my family, and it would be all my fault.

I grew up believing I was responsible for other people’s lives and happiness so I’d better make sure they were never disappointed.

All of this became the foundation for my life, the belief system upon which I would base every single decision for decades.

Let the (wedding) games begin

By the time I reached my teens, I’d had more than enough of my father’s alcoholic rages, my mother’s suffocating anger, and my brother’s abuse and violations. I was ripe for the pickin’ when at 15, I met a 20-year-old man (let’s call him "H1" — Husband #1). We fell hard and fast for one another and within six months, I was wearing an engagement ring.

My parents were less than impressed. Go figure.

At 16, I left home, quit school, and got a job. We fought with my parents to let us get married. I couldn’t figure out why they wanted us to wait till I was 18. However, what I did not — could not — articulate was that as the months passed, something shifted. I felt trapped with H1, suffocated. And unable to do anything about it.

I suppose H1 sensed the shift, too. He began saying that if I left him, he would kill himself. Oh, great. That would be my fault, too.

I was 17 when we thought I was pregnant. We told my parents and a wedding was planned for about 6 minutes later. Two days before the wedding, I got my period. Yay — I wouldn’t have to marry him. Oh, but wait. Yes, I would, or he would kill himself. I choked on my feelings, swearing that somehow I’d make it work, and reluctantly walked down the aisle.

Needless to say, the marriage was doomed. I got pregnant right away and 10 months after the wedding, had my first baby, nearly dying in the process.

Shortly after the birth, I was a basket case of anxiety disorders. I had panic attacks, OCD, and anorexia. Clearly, marriage wasn’t a good look for me. I moved into my parent's basement when my daughter was 10 months old. A divorced, single mom at 19, I felt like a complete failure.

Occasionally, I’d meet someone and invite him over. My mother always said, "What would a nice guy like that see in someone like you?" I wondered the same thing. I didn’t deserve a "nice guy." Or anything good at all.

I had another baby a few years later and again, nearly died in childbirth. It's a miracle I'm alive.

Eight years post-H1, I had two children and I met H2. A mere three days later, he proposed. Caught up in the romance? You bet. Did I say yes? You bet. Did I have any working brain cells? Apparently not.

With the wedding three months away, we bought a house and moved in together. I discovered I was pregnant yet again. (In the interests of brevity, I will say that H2 and I were not getting along. Two weeks before the wedding, my children and I went to stay with my parents. The night before the wedding, I told my mom, "I can’t marry him! We’re not even talking to each other!")

"Look, here!" she barked. "You’re pregnant. You’ve got two other kids. I’ve got food in my fridge for 25 people. His mother and brother have spent all that money to fly here. You’re going to marry him!"

H2 and I should have got an award for Most Awkward Wedding Ever. We weren’t even speaking that day, yet I walked down the aisle, looked him in the face for the first time in days, and we got married.

We didn’t stand a chance. When it blew up, I felt like an even bigger failure, the shame and embarrassment of two divorces weighing heavily on me.

The H3 situation was similar, only this time there were 120 guests coming to the wedding and about half of them had flown from all over North America, spending money on flights and hotel rooms.

It was Friday, two days before the wedding. I was out that morning when it hit me. I don’t want to do this. I don’t know why. I don’t have a reason. I just don’t want to marry him.

My mother was screaming in my head, echoes from the last wedding — only this time, the stakes were much higher. "All those people have spent so much money. You’re going to get married!"

And the biggest issue of all: I had vowed, sworn, absolutely promised promised promised my nine-year-old daughter that yes, darling, this will be our forever home, and no, sweetheart, we will not be moving again. No matter how often I said it, she didn’t believe me. Eventually, she would prove to be right.

After three divorces, the shame, humiliation, and feelings of failure were overwhelming. Imagine after six.

RELATED: If You're Ashamed Of Getting Divorced, Here's 11 Reasons You Shouldn't Be

Lather, rinse, repeat

H4 and H6 — same old, same old. As the weddings approached, something didn’t feel right. I wanted out but I didn’t have a "reason." I felt like I had no choice but to honor my word. Heaven forbid I should disappoint them. Their feelings were all that mattered. Mine were irrelevant.

At least I can say that with H5, I most definitely did want to go through with the wedding. He was sweet, patient, and kind — a proper "English gentleman" who loved and accepted me as I was.

Every evening, we would sit in wingback chairs by the fire, drinking wine and making plans for our future. He was steady, solid, and reliable. We got along beautifully — no drama, no violence, no displays of temper. Just a gentle, peaceful, perfect existence and a romantic, idyllic life in a cozy old cottage in the English countryside.

I adored him and we were so happy for a few magical, beautiful years. It seemed too good to be true.

And you know what they say about that.

The first ugly shock was a massive amount of debt that H5 had kept hidden from me. Ultimately, I lost everything I’d worked for throughout my life: the little home I’d managed to acquire as a single parent in Calgary (which had been making it possible for me to travel back and forth frequently to be with my children), my beloved cottage, Ravenswood; the peaceful, idyllic dream-come-true life I couldn’t believe was actually mine … all gone.

And while I was still reeling from that and trying to figure out how on earth I could ever trust H5 again, another much more disturbing secret was revealed, one that cannot be mentioned but made it clear I could no longer be married to this man.

Seventeen years on, I still wish — oh, how I wish — we could go back to Before, back to those wingbacks and wine, to a time when there was hope and joy, and the security of love, and of trust.

When I was first with H6, it was all about fun, passion, and ridiculously mind-blowing intimacy.

A confirmed bachelor, he surprised me with a proposal on the Rialto Bridge in Venice one night.

Down on one knee, the ring, a crowd gathering to see how it would turn out. I wanted to say NO NO NO NO NO! But there was my childhood training again.

In fact, it was the day of my mother’s funeral in Canada but there she was, front and center in my head in Venice. You are responsible for his happiness. If you say no, he will be humiliated with all these people watching. You can’t do that to him. But I don’t want to marry him! Too bad. You have to say yes. 

And so I did.

Gradually, our relationship became dark and horribly toxic. He grew increasingly selfish, demanding, and manipulative, doing whatever it took to get his way while not caring about my needs or my feelings. I was beyond suffocated.

I was suffering from unstable angina, having already had a couple of heart attacks brought on by stress and abuse. He didn't believe me; he thought I was making my condition up to get attention, even though I showed him test results. One night, when he was being nasty and hurtful, it started again. Familiar jaw pain, left arm going numb, chest tight. Grabbing for meds to stop the budding heart attack, I begged H6 to stop. Stop. STOP!

But he wouldn’t. He kept hurling offensive comments at me, jacking up my stress level and my symptoms. I told him I was trying not to die. He ignored me.

I managed to get up to my room. He continued shouting and being horrible for some time. Honestly, I don’t know how I didn't die that evening. I was deathly ill. And so was our 11-month-old marriage. I ended it the following day.

I’d had enough. There was absolutely no part of me that wanted anything to do with love or relationships again. The Universe had given me exactly what I needed: an opportunity to see just how bad things could get if I didn’t listen to my inner voice.

How many times did I need to experience the same miserable lesson? As many as it took.

I understood that childhood toxic beliefs had messed me up and I’d had loads of counselling over the years plus done lots of spiritual work. Yet I was still repeating these toxic patterns because I hadn’t fully healed the wounds in my heart and soul.

I had spent much of my adult life chasing a fake dream that would give me the love I’d been so desperately craving since childhood. 

RELATED: 3 Sad Ways A Traumatic Childhood Stops You From Having Healthy Relationships

But after H6 — yes, it took me six divorces to have this realization — it occurred to me that what I needed most was a relationship with myself.

At the time of this writing, I’ve spent 13 years doing just that. I no longer "need" the love of another to create my happily ever after because I'm creating it for myself. I stuck my toe back in the dating pool a few years ago and met a lovely man.

We hit it off immediately; sparks flew, and we talked every day. A few times, I alluded to having had "more marriages than I’d like to admit," but he never pressed for details. 

For three beautiful months, we grew closer. I supported him through family crises. I taught him how to meditate, which we enjoyed doing together. Finally, I felt safe enough to tell him the truth. I’d given him plenty of time to get to know me, and to see that I’m much more than "six divorces."

He was so kind. He listened ever so patiently as I explained my childhood and how those beliefs had impacted my life. I spoke about my healing and the ways in which I’m different now. When I was finished, he reminded me that he was a 10-years-recovering alcoholic.

"I’m in no position to judge," he said. "I’ve done plenty of things I’m not proud of." I was so relieved.

But the next day, he was done with me.

It shattered my confidence and left me feeling even more shame and humiliation than before. Thankfully, in the years since, I’ve reached a point where I couldn’t care less what anyone thinks. Funny how we accept addiction to drugs, gambling, shopping, or alcohol as an expression of people’s emotional wounds. But being married multiple times — an addiction to wanting to be loved — is just another such expression, but instead of compassion and understanding, it brings ridicule, teasing, shame, and judgment.

Peace at last

That last dating experience served to strengthen my relationship with myself. I cannot and will not place my happiness in the hands of another.

I’ve never been single this long before and I love it. I enjoy my life and am perfectly content on my own. I’ve learned how to give myself the love I craved from others. And I know that if I say, "yes" to welcoming someone into my life, it will be because I choose it and not because I believe it is my responsibility to make him happy. And it will be someone who is worthy of me and all I have to offer.

Being a child doesn’t have to hurt.

Every year more than 3 million reports of child abuse are made in the United States. According to the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, 28.3 percent of adults report being physically abused as a child, and 10.6 percent of adults report being emotionally abused as a child.

Physical abuse of a child is when a parent or caregiver causes any non-accidental physical injury to a child, including striking, kicking, burning, biting, hair pulling, choking, throwing, shoving, whipping, or any other action that injures a child. Even if the caregiver didn’t mean to cause injury, when the child is injured it is abuse. When a parent or caregiver harms a child’s mental and social development or causes severe emotional harm, it is considered emotional abuse. While a single incident may be abuse, most often emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior that causes damage over time.

There are many physical and behavioral signs of child abuse in both the child and the parent or caretaker. To learn more about these signs, visit the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline’s website. If you suspect a child you know is being abused physically or emotionally, contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline for more resources at 1-800-4-A-CHILD.

RELATED: How People With Adverse Childhoods Experience Love Very Differently

Liberty Forrest is an award-winning author, a prolific writer on Medium, and a Senior Contributor to SportsEdTV. Her inspirational and self-help articles and columns have appeared in the Huffington Post and in more than 50 publications around the globe. 

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.