It was Hurricane Katrina that brought Jennifer Williams-Field and her family to Memphis. Blown into the Bluff City on a dark August night in 2005, she thought their refuge would be temporary. Her marriage was already floundering; she’d even moved the kids up by herself, her husband unavailable as he so often was with his job in the Navy. But the couple had agreed that they needed to work on their marriage, and framed the move as a chance for renewal. Once they realized their house was a loss, there was no turning back.
She’s attractive and upbeat today, with a broad, easy smile, and I try to imagine Jennifer as the cowed woman she describes during our meeting. We’re at Panera Bread in Cordova, discussing her new book, Creating a Joyful Life: The Lessons I Learned from Yoga and My Mom, one she wrote as she began rebuilding her life following her divorce in March 2013.
Their marriage had started out hopeful. Two college kids from Pennsylvania — she was 20, he 22, embarking on an adventure together as her new husband joined the Navy. Her mother worried that Jennifer was perhaps too young, but she gave her blessing. “My mom made me promise to finish college,” she says. “And to not lose myself.”
Jennifer received a degree in communications and wrote for a local newspaper while living on base in Jacksonville, Florida. Writing was her passion. But as her family grew (her six children are now ages 10 to 20), her writing time diminished. Each promotion meant moving to a new base and finding new schools and doctors. It wasn’t easy, but she remembered a note her mother had placed in her hand years ago. “Bloom where you are planted,” it said. And so she did.
But her husband was on a different path. Instead of coming home for dinner and watching the kids’ play ball, he walled himself off, and partied with his buddies. He began drinking, too, just as his father had, and his drunkenness led to emotional abuse. He belittled Jennifer, criticized her, made her feel worthless. The abuse increased over time, becoming so severe that a counselor diagnosed her with post traumatic stress disorder.
“I always thought it was my fault that he drank because the kids were too noisy or there were too many toys on the floor but the truth was he was an addict. It wasn’t until I learned about alcoholism that I realized alcoholics blame everyone else but themselves.
“When I would threaten to leave,” she continues, “he’d promise to change and things would improve for a little while and then we’d go back to where we were.” Gradually, the young man she remembered ebbed away, lost to his own demons.
Following the birth of her last child, Jennifer stumbled onto a stepping-stone to salvation. The local Y offered free childcare so parents could exercise. At first she just attended classes, then she began teaching, too. As her body became stronger, her self-confidence grew. Later, yoga, along with counseling, would help her do the inner work she needed to reclaim herself.
Then, her mother became stricken with cancer and she turned to blogging in 2010. It became a productive way to manage the grief unleashed by the loss of her mother, her marriage, herself.
What kept her in an abusive marriage?
“Fear,” she says, a lack of empowerment. “I’d ask myself, ‘What will I do? How will I raise my kids financially?’” In the book she writes, “When my husband and I were in the midst of our marital crisis, I didn’t feel safe telling anyone around me what was happening. I was afraid people would no longer love me if they knew my secrets.”
Today, those secrets are gone. Her honest, positive outlook shines through in this self-help book, where she weaves her personal journey with the positive insights she’s gained from practicing yoga and listening to the practical wisdom of her mother. Together, her words provide a blueprint for other women who might feel lost in a volatile marriage and are unable to ask for help. This is a lifesaver.
Read Jennifer online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her book is available at Booksellers at Laurelwood and on Amazon.