EP 131: How to Prosper After an Abusive Marriage – Interview with Cindy Holbrook, The Compassionate Divorce Coach

“I think me taking control of my own life actually started when I started seeing this coach. She told me, “Cindy, your life is your choice.” And I thought what the hell are you talking about woman, my life is hell and there’s no way on God’s earth that anybody would choose the life that I was living at that period of time….I started to discover that I couldn’t control any of this stuff, but I did have 100% control over my mind, and how I chose to react or respond to all of these other situations.” — Cindy Holbrook

“The legal process is going to take however long it takes. The separation of assets is going to take whatever it takes. It’s so important for women to step back and really think, If I give this up, how is this going to affect my future?” — Cindy Holbrook

Many people feel stuck in an abusive marriage and don’t know how to get out of it. In this powerful interview with Cindy Holbrook, the Compassionate Divorce Coach, we discuss her story of how she gathered the courage and confidence to leave her abusive husband. She shares her words of advice and great tips for women in a similar situation. This is an episode you want to hear!

To learn more about Cindy Holbrook and her coaching services:

Get a free gift from her: https://www.coachingfordivorcedwomen.com/shawn

Check out her website: https://www.coachingfordivorcedwomen.com

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Shawn: Today on the show I have with me Cindy Holbrook, the Compassionate Divorce Coach. Cindy, welcome to the show.

Cindy: Thank you Shawn. It’s my pleasure to be here.

Shawn: So why don’t we start with your story, which is definitely an area that we could spend all day. I’m going to start with some quick questions just before we get into the bigger stories. The first one is for contexts sake. Why don’t you tell us when you got divorced?

Cindy: I left my first husband in 1996. It was after a 20-year marriage.

Shawn: So you were married for over 20 years. Had kids?

Cindy: Yes. I had two children. Actually, I got married at 18, right out of high school.

Shawn: Oh wow.

Cindy: I didn’t know a whole lot better. I came from an abusive home which led me to get married at 18, and I just stayed in the marriage for 20 years believing that it was good.

Shawn: And you had a long history, knowing a little bit about your story. Definitely towards the end of the interview I want to point people to some of your resources and to get your full story. When it came to the abusive relationship, you had a few particular things that stuck out in my mind. I would love for you to tell us a little bit of context around those stories and that marriage. I know you have some of your own that you might want to mention. Why don’t you tell us a story involving bowling with your ex-husband?

Cindy: Before I go there, because I think it sort of goes into context, I was sexually, mentally and physically abused by my father growing up. Then I went into this 20 year mentally abusive marriage. However, I did not believe in mental abuse. I definitely believed in physical abuse or sexual abuse. I thought mental abuse was a bunch of hogwash. So much of my story –after I started dating my current husband, we were sitting in his pickup truck and we had just bought these 32 ounce sodas, and we were drinking these sodas talking, I spilled the soda all over his truck. Mike jumped out of the truck and grabbed a rag and started cleaning it up, and I curled up into a little ball in the passenger’s side and started rocking and chanting “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Mike looked at me and said, “Baby, you have nothing to be sorry about.” And I started sobbing. Mike climbed up in this wet sticky seat and sat there for three hours while I sobbed out so much of the mental abuse that I had endured mostly as a child, and being married. Because up until this point, I really didn’t believe it existed. Something just triggered in me and it was like wow. I had really been mentally abused for all of my life. It took me back to the first story, which is the bowling story.

My ex, Earl, was a very avid bowler. So we bowled at the bowling alley probably 3, 4, 5 times a week. A lot of the people there knew us. After about 2-3 years this gentleman came up to me and me and he said, “Cindy, how are you related to Earl?” I started laughing and said, “Well, he’s my husband.” And the gentleman said, “Well how come you never talk?” I remember sort of being shocked, looking at this guys going, “We talk. We even have kids together.” It was really funny, but the point of that is that Earl was so competitive and so focused on his bowling, I knew better than to talk to him while he was bowling. I went bowling to socialize, to have fun, to talk to everybody. I could care less about my bowling score was. Earl was very focused on bowling and he didn’t want any of the chit chat or anything else. So I knew that if I said anything to him while he was bowling, I would pay hell whenever I got home. So therefore, I just didn’t talk to him while I was bowling. It was really sad that people didn’t realize we were married.

Shawn: It sounds like you were conditioned, even from an early age. Conditioned in a way not to interfere, interrupt, or even have a partnership. You were very subservient – if I could pick a word – in the relationship from being beaten down in a multitude of ways, for so long.

Cindy: Correct. That’s a great word. I would agree with you 100%. Definitely very subservient. I had learned from my mother. I want to throw that in because a lot of times when you look at how we are as women, we learn form our mothers and our fathers what a relationship is supposed to be like. So I learned from my mother how to be subservient.

Shawn: You had another story with a TV repair man. Tell us what happened then.

Cindy: I had been married probably a good eight or seven years. I believed that I was in this perfectly happy marriage and everything was great. A lot of houses in Los Angeles don’t have crawl holes, but our house actually had a crawl hole underneath the house. I sold Tupperware at the time. I had just gotten my Tupperware order from a whole bunch of Tupperware parties I did. I had a good 1,500 dollars’ worth of Tupperware strewn all over my living room floor. The telephone repair man, not the TV repairman, came and had to go under our house in the crawl space to fix whatever was wrong with our telephone. Earl happened to stop by in the middle of the day from work, and he took one look at the living room and started screaming at me about what a mess the house was and that I’d better have it clean by the time he had gotten home from work. A little bit later after he left, the telephone repair man came back up and he said, “Who was here?” And I said, “Oh, that was my husband.” He looked at me and he said, “Honey, nobody deserves to be spoken to that way.” I sort of brushed it off and said, “That’s just Earl.”

It was really interesting, especially later on, when I had broken down with Mike with the mental abuse. I was definitely conditioned and I made excuses for Earl. Just every bit as much as an alcoholics wife is going to make an excuse for her husband drinking, I made excuses for Earls behavior and the way that he spoke to me.

Shawn: It sounds like everyone but you in a way, knew what was going on, or at least had an inclination that things weren’t right. So how did you really start realizing yourself that this wasn’t a good situation? This is definitely a position that some people can stay in their entire lives. How did you realize that this wasn’t a good relationship, this isn’t the way it should be, and ultimately start taking control of your own life?

Cindy: That’s a huge story. We could actually talk for days about that. I think that it really took me a lot of time and just circumstances that had happened. I think me taking control of my own life actually started when I started seeing this coach. She told me, “Cindy, your life is your choice.” And I thought what the hell are you talking about woman, my life is hell and there’s no way on God’s earth that anybody would choose the life that I was living at that period of time. Within the previous 3 years; my mother died, my father died, my grandmother died, my brother in law got murdered and my father in law almost died. We had about 6 other deaths in our immediate family. My daughter got involved with gangs. She was 14 years old, she got involved with gangs, and Earl told me he didn’t love me anymore but was going to stay with me for the kids. So I felt orphaned, I felt alone, I felt lost, I was depressed, I was suicidal, and I thought how in the hell is this my life? No way in heaven is this my life. Am I choosing this?

Working with this coach, it really started to dawn on me that I couldn’t control all this stuff that was happening, which was a lot for anybody to bear. I remember taking that stress test that they give you and I think 300 was supposed to be super stressed, and mine was close to 2000. It’s crazy huh? It’s crazy how much stress I was under right? When my coach told me this, I started to discover that I couldn’t control any of this stuff, but I did have 100% control over my mind, and how I chose to react or respond to all of these other situations. So that was actually the beginning of my healing. It was the beginning of me deciding to take control of my life and leaving Earl.

Earl never would have left me. He was having an emotional affair, maybe a sexual affair. Definitely an emotional affair, with this woman. He wouldn’t even touch me, literally. If we were walking down the hallway and our arms would accidentally brush against each other he would shrug away. So I felt like I had the cooties. I felt like I was the ugliest woman alive. But he wasn’t going to leave me because in his mind, because he promised to be married to me forever, he would not have broken that vow. A lot of people ask me if Earl drank. No, he did not drink. He was your classic child of an alcoholic; textbook. If you read anything about them, that’s who he was. You don’t air your dirty laundry, and he wanted people to think that we had this perfect life. Sort of how people do now on Facebook. People he worked with, people I worked with, neighbors, they thought we had the perfect marriage. I was such a good actress when I did leave him. I worked with over 100 people, and almost all of them were like, “God Cindy, I’m so shocked. I thought you had the perfect marriage.”, “I thought you had a good marriage.” Because I knew how to act the part. I knew how to act like the boss’s wife. He definitely just controlled every aspect of what I did, even though I didn’t realize that at the time. It took a lot of healing for me to take my life back and see that I didn’t deserve to be spoken to this way. Even to think that if he talks to me it’s his problem, and not mine. I had to start doing things that I enjoyed, even if to put up with his wrath. So there was a lot of growth there.

Shawn: You said something interesting. In the midst of all this, and maybe even a little bit before hand, you said you got a coach. What was this coach and how did you end up making that coach? It doesn’t seem like a natural decision given everything else going on. But it seems like this person was instrumental in terms of helping you get your mindset. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about that person, what they did, and how you even came up with the idea to get a coach?

Cindy: Basically it was through my church. I was just so depressed…I was very depressed. I had gone to a psychologist who helped me to an extent. The psychologist really wasn’t doing much to move me forward. So when I got a new job and I started working, I just really wanted to be my best, more. I didn’t get a coach because “I wanted to get a divorce.” I got a coach more or less to help me deal with the crap going on with my life, to help me deal with my daughter who was involved with the bloods. I could spend another couple days talking about some of the experiences with that. She was very rebellious against my ex. I had so much family trauma going on, I got a coach because I wanted to fix my family, not because I wanted to fix myself. I was depressed and in my head I thought, if Annie would just behave the way she’s supposed to behave, if Earl would just behave the way he’s suppose to behave, I wouldn’t be so depressed. If Earl would stop having this emotional affair, and if Annie would stop hanging out with gangs, I would be okay. So this is why I got the coach. It was a counsellor coach who was very instrumental to helping me. Earl used to threaten me, “I’m just going to leave you and the kids penniless,” whenever he would get in his rampages. One time he was so pissed off he told me, “Call an attorney and tell me how much it’s going to cost me to get out of this mess.” I thought if he wanted to leave then he should call the attorney. He was saying these things out of anger, but still he was so used to me doing everything that that’s just where his mind went. I just really thought if I could fix everybody else I would feel better. She kept asking me, “What would you do if Earl actually left you? Where would you live? How would you pay the bills? What if Earl didn’t give you any money? How would you live?” He was making five times more than me at the time and I was wondering how I could support two teenage children on my salary when they were used to living off five times that, really six times that if you included mine. It was terrifying. She kept asking me these questions that really got me to think about what I wanted and what I would do if the worst happened.

Two things happened that pushed me, or gave me the confidence to leave him. The first thing is, we were remodeling our house. He gave me some measurements for new kitchen cabinets which were wrong. But it was my fault because everything was wrong. He yelled at me so much that Home Depot, they kept asking me “Are you okay? Do you need us to call the cops?” It was really the most uncomfortable phone conversation I’d ever had. The guy felt so bad for me that he gave us the correct size at Home Depot’s cost. He could hear Earl yelling at me. Earl told me –whenever that happened – “I’m so tired of paying for your mistakes. You’re going to pay for this.” So he made me get a second job. The second job boosted my confidence more. I was actually like a telemarketer. I was one of those. I worked for these two gentlemen and I don’t know how I started opening up to them, but they really helped me a lot to figure out all men didn’t treat their wives the way Earl treated me. It also boosted my confidence to think if Earl didn’t give me the money, I could support my kids, I could work two jobs if I had to, to get my kids what they needed. Maybe not completely the lifestyle they were accustomed to but definitely I could support them.

Then, my brother died. When my brother died Earl was bowling with some lady friend. He had this emotional affair for years for the last 7 or 8 years of our marriage. So he was bowling with his lady friend and I called him up and I said, “My brother died.” He said, “I’m sorry to hear that.” He finished bowling, went out to eat with his friends, the woman, and whatever. Got home about 3 o’clock in the morning. My brother died at 5:30 in the evening. I asked him if he would hold me because I’m crying, I’m upset that my brother died, and he said “No. My arm hurts.” Something in me snapped at that moment and I didn’t have a marriage. I had no support, all he did was yell at me, something in me just broke. That’s when I chose to leave. It was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Shawn: When you approached the divorce process, I don’t really want to talk about who got what or that part but how did you navigate the process from a mental perspective and kind of getting your mind right? Also, how would you help other people improve their mindset going into the process so they can move forward and navigate it as successfully as they can?

Cindy: First of all, my mindset, I was still definitely subservient. I was being bullied, and I let Earl bully me a lot. He had two classic cars, and the first question he asked me when I told him I was leaving was, “Do I get to keep my cars?” I let him keep his cars, I let him keep a lot. I only got about half of what I was entitled to as far as the alimony, child support’s concerned, because I let him bully me. Sadly, I see a lot of women do that. They just want out and they say, “If I just give him what I want I can be over with this faster.” The legal process is going to take however long it takes. The separation of assets is going to take whatever it takes. It’s so important for women to step back and really think, If I give this up, how is this going to affect my future? And second of all, something that I didn’t think of, in the future I thought wow, it’s really not the right mindset to be in. Also, there was a part of me –and a lot of my clients say they have felt this way –that said, “He’s the one that worked for his retirement so I don’t deserve it.” “He’s the one that made all the money in the marriage, so I don’t deserve any of it.” So they sort of feel like this very possessive person because in a lot of toxic marriages, even if the woman takes care of the finances, which I did in our marriage. I took care of the finances so I wasn’t blinded like some people that don’t know what the heck is going on, because I took care of everything. However, it was still very controlled. It was always like it was his money because he earned. My money that I earned was just play money. He was the breadwinner, he earned it, and it’s this possessiveness that a lot of people have.

Also, to be gender fair, because so much has changed now, there’s a lot of women out there making very good money who pay alimony, who have the same sort of feelings that men had in the past. Men used to think, “Why should I pay her?’ And a lot of women have the same thing whenever it comes to alimony. When actually, whenever two people are married and you start intermixing your income, whether one person works or one person makes six times more than the other, it’s still a lifestyle that you came accustomed to. It’s a business contract I like to say. I tell my people to think of it as a business. If he was a silent partner or you did all the work and you went into business, if you opened up a store and I did all the work, and you did all the money, when we sell that store it doesn’t mean you get all the money. So many women don’t see that marriage was a contract, and it was like a business. That’s sort of how you need to think whenever you’re in the mindset of separating your assets.

Shawn: I think that makes a lot of sense. You had and have some very relevant thoughts on forgiveness as a tool to move forward and get through the process. Can you talk a little bit about that please?

Cindy: Sure. It’s what I call ACE forgiveness. It’s really important to forgive so many things whenever you’re going through a divorce. You need to forgive yourself for whatever you did and said, your ex, or anybody else that’s involved. There’s a whole lot of things that need to be forgiven. First of all, you have to accept what happened. You can write down each instance and just accept what happened, because you can’t change the past. If you’re sitting there saying “I should have…” You are trying to rewrite the past which isn’t possible. Or “He should have…” Same thing, you’re trying to rewrite the past. If you’re saying “why did he?” you’re trying to rewrite the past. There are all these things you’re not accepting because you’re trying to change the past or you’re trying to change your present circumstances by changing someone’s thoughts or behaviors of the past. Once you accept it and just say “it is what it is” and you stop having an emotional [*inaudible*] or you choose. The second one is to Choose. Forgiveness is a choice, and it doesn’t mean you don’t have any feelings towards it, but you might have to choose to forgive every second of every day for a week. Every time you start getting these feelings of anger, fear, sadness, whatever emotions are being brought up because of the circumstance you’re in, just say “I choose to forgive. I choose to release him. I choose to forgive him. I choose to forgive myself.” And you just need to keep talking yourself into it, basically. You make the decision that you’re going to forgive, and you talk yourself into it. You keep choosing it.

The most important aspect of the ACE forgiveness is embracing yourself. If you’re busy, focused on what somebody else did or didn’t do, there’s nobody taking care of you, so you really need to embrace yourself. You need to focus on yourself, on your needs. What’s one little tiny thing you can do to make you feel better? I had a client once, she was disabled. She hadn’t left her bedroom in six months after her husband left her. She was like, “Who cares. My sister comes over once a week and brings me my groceries.” And she just was really not in a good place. Once I got her to start, one step at a time by embracing herself, what’s one thing you can do? You get up and you can leave that bedroom and you can go into your living room. You can brush your hair; you can get dressed. There’s always one step you can take. And maybe you’re not that bad.

A lot of people would throw themselves in other activities like work. So if you’re sitting there and working all day, still, you’re trying to get your mind off it. It’s still in your mind. Just because you’re busy doing something else doesn’t mean that things aren’t in your mind. At least you’re doing something. Besides just working, ask yourself, what’s one thing that I could do that would bring me a little bit of joy?

One thing that I did, because Earl would never do it, I always wanted to learn how to line dance. So I started going to the country line dance bars just to learn to line dance. It’s something that you’re focusing on, something that will bring you a little bit of joy. It doesn’t mean that you’re all better and you’re ready to face the world. But everything you do you start getting momentum, building up on one thing to the next, to the next, as you’re embracing yourself. What’s going to make you happy right this second? Maybe not even happy. What’s going to make you feel a little bit better right this moment? You keep focusing on you. What happens a lot with women –we’re great at it –we never take care of ourselves. We never put on our own oxygen masks first. What’s even worse is I’m giving you my oxygen mask and I’m going [gasping for air] because I don’t feel that I should put on my oxygen mask at all. I notice that a lot of women do this, and especially during divorce. You cannot do this because it’s such a trying time, you need to put on your oxygen mask, and you need to focus on what’s going to make you feel a little bit better. Using mantras, trying to do something, a lot of people will hide out and not go to their parent’s house or different places. You need to accept invitations and go places, and be with your family. A lot of people don’t like to go out because they’re afraid of people saying, “Oh I’m so sorry. What happened?” All you need to say is, “Well what does it matter?” or “What do you need to know for” or if it’s somebody that you really love you can say “Well I prefer not to speak about it right now. I’m doing fine,” or “I’ve got all the support that I need.”

Once you have a couple lines that you can say to people, they’re not going to drag you into the drama and all the crap that’s surrounding your divorce.

Shawn: I think that’s great. Just really quickly before we wrap up. You mentioned Mike a few times. How are things going today? You’ve been married for how long?

Cindy: A long time. We got married in 2003. So we’ve been married for 14 years.

Shawn: That’s great. I remember as part of your story you had mentioned on this show that he treated you well, and that’s one of the first times that a man had actually shown respect for you, and he continues to.

Cindy: Oh definitely. Yes. It’s very interesting and I tell people all the time that I would like to really be able to explain the difference between being in a toxic relationship and a non toxic relationship. Maybe I do a better job than what I think of at times. Until you really live something, a lot of times people are so involved in so many toxic relationships that they can’t even fathom what a good healthy relationship looks like, which is love and respect. So much of it is respect. If the other person is loving and accepting you exactly as you are, and you’re loving and accepting them exactly as they are without trying to change things. Once you’re trying to change somebody else, it’s not a good relationship. Mike and I are still doing great. I think a lot of times even though we started dating in ‘97, even though we got married in 2003, I have been with him for almost 20 years if you take from our first date. It’s honestly every bit of respectful and every bit of committed and every bit of secure as it was in the beginning, which is to me really amazing. I wish that for everybody.

Shawn: That’s great. Cindy, where can people find more about you?

Cindy: If you go to my website; coachingfordivorcedwomen.com I have tons of articles on this website about how to heal from your divorce. There’s also a section called “about Cindy”, which I tell lots of my story. And also for your listeners Shawn, I would like to offer them a gift. If they go to coachingfordivorcedwomen.com/shawn they can get this free gift valued at over a hundred dollars. It’s a three step audio course, and it’s about self love, confidence, and clarity. It will help you love yourself so that you love and accept yourself exactly as you are. Grow your confidence to where you can overcome the grief in as fast as possible, but also the confidence to create the next chapter of your life. The divorce isn’t the end of your life even if you might feel this way. So this helps to give you confidence to move forward, and to not stay stuck.

I talk about my aunt a lot. She stayed angry at my uncle for over 30, 40 years. Her last words to me were “I’m glad I made Joe pay till the day he died.” It’s very sad. She was 90 something odd years old and got divorced in her late 40’s, but she held on to that anger for so long that she robbed herself of peace and joy. I really want women to have the confidence to go on and really create a beautiful next chapter of their lives. Also, the clarity is to eliminate the fear and confusion about your future and discover what you want in your future, and how to get it. So if you want to hop on over there it’s coachingfordivorcedwomen.com/shawn and grab your free gift.

Shawn: Excellent. I will include a link to your website and of course the special listener website in the show notes to this episode. Well Cindy I really enjoyed our time together. I know that we could be speaking for days and days, and still I think we would barely scratch the surface. I really appreciate you coming on the show today.

Cindy: Thank you for having me.

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