Gallipoli

This morning I had my heart broken a little more again. You’d think I should know by now, expect it even, as it’s not the first time. But I can’t seem to steel myself and each new experience has my eyes well with tears.

These war memorials get me every time.

Today we’ve just left the area of Gallipoli, now more famous as Anzac Cove. All the Australians on my tour knew of this already, it’s one of their culturally defining moments in history, but this particular battle from WWI was missing my from knowledge. It’s funny how I used to just assume that everything I learned in school was pretty much all there was to know about major world events. Now I know so much more, and am just aware of how clueless I still am.

Difficult terrain added to the troops’ problems

Back in the midst of the war, The Allied forces had a plan to take control of the peninsula and waterway, which would allow them to transport goods to Russia. They assumed if they could take Constantinople (Istanbul), the Ottoman Empire would leave the war and it would have the double effect of allowing their safe access to the Black Sea while weakening the German forces. So the Australian and New Zealand armies, newly formed and training in Egypt, came in to reinforce the British. They landed on a cove near Gallipoli on April 25, 1915. This wasn’t the simple success envisioned, though, and the soldiers were stuck in a tragic torture for months. To make a long story short, it was finally in January 1916 that the remaining Allied fighters were able to be removed to safety. Thousands lost their lives.

Graveyard after graveyard, memorials and tributes march across the land as an emotional contrast to the bright scenery. Lest We Forget feeling even more poignant here, where if it were not for the carefully tended markers the landscape would feel cheery under the bright Mediterranean sunshine.

Hushed and reflective, our group read the names of the soldiers. The epitaphs engraved spoke of bravery, of love, faith, honour, and family; this mixture of pride and devastation did me in and I was thankful for my dark sunglasses to hide my liquid eyes.

At the crest of the hill stands a memorial complex for the Turkish army, who also sustained significant loss of life despite ultimately claiming victory in the months-long battle. On the way up there’s a statue of a Turkish soldier carrying a wounded British soldier to safety. It shows simple human kindness and the respect soldiers had for each other even across the battlefield, though I suspect some might also see it as a subtle testament to the locals’ mastery.

The Turks are very proud of the outcome, and while they acknowledge the horror of that time, their course of history was improved by the Battle of Gallipoli because this is what developed Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as a revered leader. Atatürk ultimately brought reform and independence to Turkey, and was the country’s first president.

Paying respects

While at this memorial, I walked through the recreation of the trenches. Whether from some lingering sense in the air or from Hollywood, I could feel the young soldiers as they walked those same footsteps. Again as always when I’m in locations such as this I am so grateful for the peace I’ve grown up with.

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore Rest In Peace. There is no difference to us between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side in this country of ours… You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.”

– Atatürk, 1934

The man I was married to

The man I was married to was a good man.  He was kind, so handsome, talented, and full of a charisma that drew in everyone who met him.  Descriptions of him list like a thesaurus of “good”; admirable, attractive, commendable, estimable, laudable, rare.  He was good to me.

But not good for me.

It’s difficult to draw that distinction properly, in a way that captures all the subtle nuances of an eight-year marriage without minimizing or ‘monsterising’ either one of us.   And I want to be careful, as despite it all, his feelings and pride still matter to me.  I know how much he would hate to be a public topic, but this is my story and I’ve decided it’s important for me to tell even if it makes him uncomfortable.  There could be other people hurting in the same way and may need to see that life can be better even after the broken hearts.

I am a sunny optimist by nature; a bright-eyed, blue skies, glass-almost-full kind of person; and generally it’s been easy for me to dismiss negatives in my life.  Overall I’m thankful for this, but there are some drawbacks with this aptitude.  The man I was married to thought that I was disingenuous and somehow putting on a show with my smiles instead of being honest about how I really felt.  I think early on he may have admired the way I saw the best in any situation, but the years eroded that to a sharp resentment.  He viewed me as falsely sugary and insipid, and every time he snapped at me when I said something silly it stung.  So I would try to be less somehow – I learned he hated it when I would add some comment about the ‘bright side’ of whatever he was talking about as it made him feel like I wasn’t on his side.  In all our years together I was never, ever, able to cheer him up out of a bad mood.  We just had to wait until he’d had enough alone time to work through whatever he was feeling.   Then the next hour /or day/ or week/ or whenever he was ready, he’d give me a kiss and be all smiles and the tension I’d tiptoed around with would melt away.   I believed everything was ok after each time and he believed he was doing what he had to by acting like it was ok.  We were both wrong.

The man I was married to seemed like the most social person in any room.  His big laugh would echo and his stories would draw in a crowd.  I loved being by his side when we were out.  For me, being in a group is energizing and I would want to be with friends or meet new people every possible chance, so at first his magnetism worked in my favour.  But it was exhausting for him.  He wasn’t gregarious in a crowd because he loved it; he acted that way as a coping skill to handle his anxiety.  He felt if he were the one always in control of the conversation, then there was less chance for him to be embarrassed or for an awkward situation to catch him off guard.  But I was the wild card for him and my interpretations and way of interacting with others never made sense to him, so I would be quietly shushed.  I know now that he wasn’t trying to be cruel to me, it was more a symptom of his own internal struggle, but despite his intentions this was incredibly damaging to me.  Each time he would shoot me that look to stop talking, each fight in the car home after an outing where he felt I had done some unforgivable social blunder, every time he spoke over me so I couldn’t have my own voice in the crowd, I took to heart.  I would stay quieter and second-guess every comment I would make and be too nervous to add to the conversation.   So you can see how this could be a vicious cycle.  I think that in our later years together this man who was supposed to know me better than anyone genuinely believed that I wasn’t interested in conversation.  He told me I was a snob and that I embarrassed him by being so unfriendly to everyone.

The man I was married to did his best to treat me well.  He always opened every door for me, started my car in the winter, and would often hold my hand or touch my back while we were out together.  I was so encouraged by the tiny little gestures he would do for me and believed they were to show me I was loved.  Maybe they were.  Maybe they were actions born from an intense fear of what people thought of him, so in case anyone was watching he better treat ‘his wife’ in a manner they would approve of.  And that’s the crux of it as I’ve learned after the marriage fell apart.  It was so important to him to “Be A Good Husband” as a personal checklist that it didn’t even matter to him he no longer knew me or loved me.  I was a placeholder rather than a person.  We married young and very fast, before we really had a chance to get to know each other, and for years we then thought that we just needed to make the best of it because it was too late.  I remember saying to friends years ago about how if we had only been dating still in that first year we would have broken up for sure.  Said in a flippant and smiley ‘good thing we’re married so we’re still together and working it out’ kind of way.  Ugh.

Steve and Alison Larsen Wedding
2007

The man I was married to used to tell me that he didn’t want to hear my insecurities.  He would say that he was attracted to me so I shouldn’t tell him when I hated my hair or felt like I didn’t fit into my clothes because then those comments might get in his head and possibly change the way he saw me.  And these were said in our good days, so I believed him and would do my best to hide my self-doubt from my husband.  It takes years to catch and change those patterns but I really worked hard at it.   Over the years he gradually he stopped complimenting me.  I couldn’t post photos that I looked good in because he didn’t like that I might not seem modest.  And then he said to me:  “You are so vain you make me sick.”  He may have regretted the comment because I was so hurt by it, but I know those were words he meant and not just said in anger.   It’s too bad he was so wrong.  Or, along the same lines:  He would tell me at various times how it bugged him that I was not content; why couldn’t I just be happy with life as it was and not always want to be somewhere else?  Or then he’d say he didn’t like my lack of ambition and why couldn’t I just try harder to find something to excel at?   There were a few times in our eight years (3 to be exact) that I was offered an incredible ‘dream job’ and he would start off happy for me and supportive, but then abruptly pull his support and say that my choice would end our marriage if I accepted the job.  I asked him after the fact about those times, and he admitted that he never believed I would actually be hired so he wanted to try to seem supportive, until he couldn’t.

I know that last paragraph seems negative, but I look at it as a symptom of his own struggles.  He wanted so badly to genuinely be good to me and to everyone else but there was more going on in his head than he was able to handle.  And this has all been from my side of the story – I know he has his side.  I didn’t understand him, and likely brought out the worst in him.  I hope that the man I was married to has found the help he needed, in whatever form that may be, and that now he may stop torturing himself with an unnecessary and unobtainable goal of being perfection to everyone else.  I hope he has good people around him who bring out the best in him.

I allowed a hurting man to erase my own self confidence, but I’m lucky that I have people around me now who are helping me to believe that I’m worth talking to.  With each tiny affirmation from family, friends, and even fellow travellers I’ve met, I feel my own personality returning and the confidence to own who I am, flaws and all.   I thank God for healing broken hearts.   I learned a lot from the man I was married to and am starting to be able to see the good I can keep from the memories of him, hopefully it’s made me a more empathetic person.  There’s a new boyfriend now, one who is good FOR me as well as good to me.

If you recognize yourself in any part of this story, please seek out help.  Don’t wait.  Talk to a therapist or find counselling.  If medication is needed for anxiety or any other mental health struggle please know there is no shame in accepting a prescription.  If you are hurting, or being hurt, there are people who can help.  Mental and emotional health are an important part of the equation along with physical…. don’t forget that.

– Ali