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(29) Who Am I? with Sarah

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Today’s guest will inspire you, for a lot of reasons. “Sarah” (not her real name) tells us a raw and relatable story about losing herself in marriage and motherhood, honoring who she really is, and the sacrifices she made to choose her own happiness. Her story is one of survival, religious extremes, divorce, and taboo. “Sara” talks about what happens when you realize your spouse and religion are incongruent with who you are, the moment that gave her the clarity she needed, and her rebirth back to herself. For those of you who listened to the last episode about divorce and marriage, this is a bit of a different take on things. Neither way is the “right way,” but this episode will have you rooting for a brave mom who broke free and embraced the forbidden for herself and her kids.

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Brandy:                   Hello, Adult Conversation Podcast listeners. Today’s guest is such an inspiration for a lot of reasons. Sarah (not her real name) tells us a relatable and raw story about losing one’s self in marriage and motherhood, wanting to be who we really are, and what sacrifices we sometimes have to make to choose our own happiness. Her story is one of survival, religious extremes, divorce, and taboo. Sarah talks about what happens when you realize your spouse and religion are incongruent with who you are, the moment that gave her the clarity she needed, and her rebirth back to herself. For those of you who listened to the last episode about divorce and marriage, this is a bit of a different take on things; neither way is right (there is no right way), but this episode will have you rooting for a brave mom who broke the mold and embraced the forbidden for herself and her kids.

Brandy:                   Did you know that I have a book coming out in May that’s already available pre-order? I do! It’s called (you guessed it), Adult Conversation: A Novel. It’s a darkly comedic novel about the relentlessness of modern motherhood where the main character seeks an answer to the question, “Is motherhood broken, or am I?” After a series of mom wins and failures, she and her therapist end up on a “Thelma and Louise style” road trip to Vegas where they are tempted and tested while finding lost pieces of themselves that motherhood swallowed up. If you are enjoying the podcast, chances are you’ll love the book too. You can find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and in stores May 5th. You can go to my website,, to find out all about it. And for everyone who has preordered already — THANK YOU! On to the show —

Brandy:                   Today on the podcast, we have a past doula client of mine who I hadn’t seen in about four year. The other morning, we met up for breakfast with another friend, and you proceeded to tell us a story that was honestly riveting. My jaw was on the floor, and I knew immediately I have to interview you because the things you’re talking about are so universal and so brave and important. We’ll absolutely get to that in a second, but welcome to the podcast.

Sarah:                      Thank you.

Brandy:                   You were really eager to come here (and I was eager to have you to come here today to share your story), but part of the agreement is that you would be anonymous. Right?

Sarah:                      Yes.

Brandy:                   We will refer to you as “Sarah,” a name you have always loved. Will you share a little bit about why you wanted to, or needed to, be anonymous?

Sarah:                      I did a lot of changes to my life that made a lot of people around me and in my community really upset. They can’t understand it (especially the older generation, I have to say). I still get harassing emails and messages. I’m still trying to find my normalcy and my normal self and my normal life, which I haven’t yet. I’m hoping one day I can be myself. I actually think about it all the time, and maybe I can have a TED Talk. {laughter}

Brandy:                   Yes!

Sarah:                      Not that I am so special, but the story — I see that so many women are going through it.  I feel like some people need to hear that other people are also going through it who feel like they’re going to be fine, and they can do it too.

Brandy:                   I can totally see that for you, and there’s something specific about your story that I think taps into a group of people that aren’t really talking about this. I think you’re kind of like a trailblazer. Just to give the listeners a little bit of insight, you’re coming out of a marriage with three kids from a religion that had a lot of really strict rules that you’re trying to figure out, “Which rules do I still want to adhere to that are still important to me, and which rules do I feel like aren’t important to me and limit me?” You’re in that place of trying to figure out who you are as your own person.

Sarah:                      Exactly.

Brandy:                   I always ask all of my guests this — What is something that you think the listeners need to know about you?

Sarah:                      Something about me — I want people to know (I guess it also goes into my story) that I’m very energetic, I always smile, and I should’ve paid more attention to this personality of mine when I was getting married. I couldn’t bottle it up. I was like, “It’s fine. Its ok that I’m energetic, but this guy isn’t.” I put a hold on my personality, so I think I have too much energy. {laughter}

Brandy:                   I don’t think so. I think it’s like charisma and charm and a lot of other things.

Sarah:                      Oh, that’s sweet. That’s sweet.

Brandy:                   Can you walk us through your story?

Sarah:                      My story starts with – actually, can I go back a little bit since I’m doing it anonymously? I’d like to say something.

Brandy:                   Yeah, of course!

Sarah:                      It’s a little bit not cool, and you haven’t heard of it. I couldn’t tell you.

Brandy:                   Oh, yes.

Sarah:                      My story starts with my teenage years. It was a little bit hard on me because I was sexually abused by four different men from my family. My dad kind of knew, and he felt like he needed to marry me off to — I don’t know. I never talked to him about this, but the more I grew up and the more I think about it, I feel like he wanted the best for me. He felt really guilty, and he didn’t want me to be in front of him anymore. He married me off to a — he was a very religious man himself. My whole family was very religious, so I had an arranged marriage. He married me off to a very religious man, but wealthy and young (I mean, he was young). He was really nice, and we talked for two days. They did give us the option of talking to each other, but it was only two days. For example, he came on a Monday, and we talked. Then we got married on a Wednesday.

Brandy:                   Wow. Did you grow up knowing that you were going to have an arranged marriage, or was that just sprung on you?

Sarah:                      Kind of. It’s a cultural thing, and you kind of know. We would get proposals from different families that were interested in having my hand for their son’s — stuff like that. I wouldn’t hear about it because they would talk to my dad, and my dad would say “No, we don’t want to marry your family.” He was the second guy that I saw. One of them — I saw him, and my dad was ok with him. I kind of didn’t like him, so it wasn’t like, “You have to marry him.”

Brandy:                   Even though this was happening, you had a final say? If the man that you married — it ended up that you were like, “This guy’s a bozo. I don’t want to be with this guy.” You wouldn’t have been forced to?

Sarah:                      No, no, no, at least not in my family. I know a lot of families that do that, but not in my family. With other guy, I said — I remember I was crying in my room — my mom came in and said, “What’s going on?” I said, “I don’t like him.” Then my mom was like “It’s ok if you don’t like him. You don’t have to marry him.” I was like “Ok, that’s good.” But when this guy came, my dad said, “What do you think?” I said “Well, he looks good on paper.” You know what I mean? {laughter}

Brandy:                   Yeah. {laughter}

Sarah:                      I told my dad exactly this, “I’m not in love with him, but if you think he’s good for me then, sure.” I kind of knew that was going to happen anyways, and he was saying all the right stuff as well. I kept thinking — I’d never wanted to get married — but I kept thinking if one day I want to get married, I want him to be a guy like him. He had all of the check lists going on. I said, “That’s fine,” and my dad was like, “Good.”

Brandy:                   What was that like having a conversation with your to-be-husband, like, “Hi, nice to meet you. I’m going to be marrying you. How are you? What’s your favorite food?”

Sarah:                      So awkward {laughter}. That’s exactly how it went.

Brandy:                   Was it?

Sarah:                      Yes! We were such children. I was still a teenager, and we definitely talked about favorite food and favorite color. That’s so sad {laughter}.

Brandy:                   It makes sense that those are the things that you would talk about, but, like so many of us realize, the things that you choose a person for (for marriage when you’re in your late teens or twenties) are so different than really what you need them for in your thirties and forties and beyond. It’s just so funny. I think about my husband. I met him when I was in my late teens, and I loved him because he liked the same rap music as me, and we laughed together. I had no idea he would be this amazing dad. I always say that I’m always so surprised that more people don’t break up. How do you know that’s going to pan out? I just want to validate that I would have had the same questions and conversation as you.

Sarah:                      That’s exactly how it is. At that age, you don’t know any better. I was the first in my family. I didn’t even have a cousin (or a sister or a brother) who had married before me that would give me some tips. And back then, it was a long time ago, almost twenty years ago, the internet wasn’t as big as it is right now. You couldn’t go search for an article or something like that. There were books, but I never thought about it. Right now, I see my friends that are in their thirties (late thirties even) that are getting married. They go to marriage counseling before getting married to have psychological tests on each other to see if they have matching personalities, and I’m like, “What?”

Brandy:                   When you first met your soon-to-be ex-husband, what was that like? I think we had talked about there being a little bit of excitement because it was this new thing, but i’m curious as to what red flags were there that you didn’t see at the time. As you said before, “I wish I would’ve paid more attention to my own personality and how I had to dim that a little bit.” What was going on there when you met him?

Sarah:                      When I met him, everything was fine until I moved to his city because it was a different city than my parents. When I went there (like after six months), he started telling me that he was so religious, and I saw how religious he was. I knew he was religious, but I never knew how much because he had kind of mellowed it down during that six-month engagement kind of thing that we were in together.  

Brandy:                   You thought you were getting into one sort of life, and then all of a sudden it switched.

Sarah:                      Yes. I knew he was religious. It’s not like he didn’t tell me, but he didn’t tell me the extent of it.

Brandy:                   You didn’t know the rules that were going to be in play.

Sarah:                      Yes.

Sarah:                      Unfortunately, with religion, one of the things that they do is not let you be energetic.  I don’t know why. I feel like with every religion that I look at, they put a damper on it –For it to be for God — I don’t know how to put it.

Brandy:                   You’ve got to be a toned-down version to hold that energy in so that you seem respectful — Or something like that?

Sarah:                      Respectful. Yes. You live for God, right? The very religious people (in every religion) live for God. If you see very religious people (even their leaders), they’re all so calm and put together. You don’t see someone crazy, and say “Oh, they’re religious.” All of the people that I see that are very energetic say they are spiritualists. I feel like I have always been that. I haven’t put the religion aside. I still believe in my God, but I just believe in my God. That’s it. I do believe He has sent some prophets to spread the good and give a good message, but then, people kind of screwed it up with all of these rules and trying to control each other with religion and taking advantage of it.

Brandy:                   What did you notice in your new marriage? What were some of the rules that you were not expecting?

Sarah:                      The clothing that I had to wear was very specific. I thought I could be a little bit more relaxed with my clothing, but I couldn’t.

Brandy:                   Would you put something on, and then your husband would say, “You can’t wear that,” or did you just know not to try?

Sarah:                      No, he totally bought me a whole new wardrobe. He said, “This is what you’re going to wear.” He did not let me listen to music. He knew he couldn’t really control me. He would tell me, “You can’t do it,” and I would do it. I would say, “I’m going to put my earphones on so you can’t hear it, but I’m going to listen to it,” but he would give me guilt. I always listened to it with guilt.

Brandy:                   I still can’t wait until the part where we get to talk about what it felt like to do all the things you wanted to do. We’re not there yet. We’re not at the rebirth yet. {laughter} Anything else?

Sara:                         I couldn’t be myself around men. I feel like right now I am just myself so much, and I keep looking back and thinking, “Oh, I have been controlled so much.” Even with men in the family, I had to be very much taken back, had to sit down quietly, and was told to not laugh to loud.

Brandy:                   But you were allowed to be that way with women?

Sarah:                      Yeah — Around women was fine, but around men you had to be very respectful. I loved some parts of the religion, but it kept going for years and years and years, and they kind of piled up on me. Because at that point, I thought, “I can’t get out of the marriage because he doesn’t listen to music. That’s stupid. My parents are never going to go for it.” They’re going to be like, “Suck it up. It’s just music. Listen to it in private. You want to wear this, not that, and you want to get divorced for it? What are you talking about? Don’t be a child.”

Brandy:                   Right, but those are, as you know, such deeper issues of control.

Sarah:                      It’s just a personality thing, though.  One of the things that I like about him was that he was very adventurous. He did tell me that he likes to travel, biking, and doing this and that. Honestly, we did a lot. Especially, before having kids, we would go camping a lot, and we would go biking a lot. But, still, I felt like I can’t be myself. I wanted to have my music loud and scream {laughter}. You know what I mean? Again, I’m very energetic, and I kept having to push that down. I’d be like, “Oh, we are still going camping — but I feel like it sounds so stupid – what is camping without music around the campfire?” {laughter}

Brandy:                   I mean really, though. It’s not stupid because it is a bigger thing. It’s this idea of something that makes you happy, that is an essence of who you are, in a way that you might want to express yourself and enjoy life. When you think, “I’m going to do this,” you all of a sudden have a leash on you, like, “Nope, I can’t do that.”

Sarah:                      No, for example, we would go on a five-hour road trip, and I had to listen to religious lectures the whole five hours.

Brandy:                   See, I would’ve been out {laughter}. You’re a better a person than me.

Sarah:                      But I was like, “This is what God wants.”

Brandy:                   “God wants me to sit in a car for five hours and listen to this.” Meanwhile, God’s up there like, “No! I want you to sing, and I want you to listen to music and dance.” Dancing was another piece of this, right?

Sarah:                      Yes, dancing was also forbidden.

Brandy:                   Here you have this energy and this part of your personality, so would you dance behind closed doors?

Sarah:                      Not so much. I felt stupid dancing by myself. I felt really sad. I didn’t have any friends that would say, “Oh, let’s do this together.” It’s funny because right now I hear from so many friends that say, “Oh, my God, you’re so lucky. We are still going through this.” And I’m like, “Why didn’t you tell me, like, five years ago? We could be doing stuff together!” {laughter}

Brandy:                   Right! “We could’ve had a secret dance club! Why didn’t you say anything?” {laughter}
Take me to the point where you are starting to realize, “I don’t think I can hang with this for the long term.” When did you realize that?

Sarah:                      We also had other issues. It wasn’t always religion. We also had his personality of being very introverted, and I was very extroverted like I’ve been saying. It’s funny because when you say, “When did you think…” — The first time that I thought that I couldn’t live with him was because he was an introvert, not because he was religious. I thought, “Well, I’m religious. He’s religious. That’s fine. But I can’t do this anymore – Not having friends, not going out, and not being able to do anything.” He wasn’t very expressive in his emotions, so I kept telling him, “I need you to express your feelings for me.” I’m up all over him, and he’s like, “Get off.” That was the first thing, and that was ten years ago. My first child was two years old. I told him that I didn’t think we could live together. I was in my mid-twenties, and he was like, “What are you talking about?” That’s another thing — Divorce is almost forbidden. It’s very frowned upon.

Brandy:                   This is where my amazement starts. I think, here you are in a situation where nobody else – no other wives are saying this to their husbands, and yet, you spoke those words.

Sarah:                      But I was shut down. I was like, “What was I thinking? Why did I even say it out loud? I shouldn’t have. What kind of Mama am I that I want to do this?”

Brandy:                   He shut it down completely?

Sarah:                      Completely. And I was like, “He’s right. I shouldn’t have. We can work it out. It’s not a big deal.” That’s exactly when I started thinking that I need to have a big family, to start getting myself really occupied, and to get that love and attention from my kids. That’s why our grandparents had ten children {laughter} — Because they needed that. Men were even worse back then.

Brandy:                   When did it come up again? Were you talking to friends about this at all? Did you ever share this with your women friends?

Sarah:                      They were like, “Us too. We totally understand. Oh, my husband is worse.”

Brandy:                   But none of them had ever said anything to their husbands like you had, right?

Sarah:                      No, but you don’t know what happens behind closed doors. I don’t have any friends in my religious community that have been divorced. The few that have been are still religious. Their husbands (or ex’s) have cheated on them and stuff like that. They had bad situations, and they are still in the community. The community has supported them because the men are the “Bad ones.” With my case, it was different because, honestly, he never did anything to me. He never was disrespectful or cheated — Never.

Brandy:                   That’s what I thought was so interesting about your story. On paper, this guy checks these boxes that he’s providing for you. He’s not awful. And, yet, you weren’t able to be your true self. I’m still in awe of the fact that you realized that and said something. How did the next escalation sort of happen?

Sarah:                      About four years ago, that was when I started doing a lot of things in hiding like going to concerts and dancing. I had to lie to him when I was going out. I was telling him that I was just hanging out with some friends and that I’d be back. He wouldn’t question me. He would be ok because he knew how much I needed to go out all of the time. He would totally take care of the kids. That’s one of the other things — Everybody’s like, “But you were out all the time.” I had to work in a way that he had to take care of the kids. For example, at nights at work, and then he works during the day. Everybody knew that he was taking care of the kids, and they kept telling me, “Oh, my God, you’re so lucky! Your husband takes care of the kids.” And I’m like, “He’s not taking care of my sister’s kids. He’s taking care of his own kids. He’s not babysitting so that I will thank him. Does he thank me for the days that I am taking care of the kids? Nobody says to him that he’s so lucky.” That was always something that bothered me a lot because he was so introverted. He was like, “Just let me be at home with the kids. Go do whatever you want. The more friends you have – Great — Just go out, and don’t bother me.”

Brandy:                   He didn’t know what you were doing, though. He didn’t know that you were dancing at concerts. He thought you were in a room with other women being respectful.

Sarah:                      Yeah, I’m just going to coffee shops. I, honestly, never went out with a man. It was always my girlfriends, but it was not ok. I went to with my brother to my first concert. He kept looking at me while I was screaming my lungs out, and he keeps staring at me like, “I never knew you were like that!” I was like, “Yeah! Crazy!” {laughter}

Brandy:                   What concert was that?

Sarah:                      It was traditional, cultural music. It wasn’t an American one.

Brandy:                   At what point did you have the conversation and bring it up again — About you leaving or this not working out?

Sarah:                      When I started doing all of these things in hiding, I knew that I wasn’t going to stay with him forever. I told him, at one point, that I was going to be leaving when the kids were turning eighteen. Of course, at first, he was really upset, and was like, “Why are you doing this? Why are you saying stuff like that? That’s another fifteen years, so why are you thinking so ahead of time?” I was like, “Because I’m done. I’m not feeling it anymore. And I’m just going day by day because of the kids.” At some point, he started saying “Fine” — Because I would say it almost every night — Because that’s how I would fall asleep — Thinking about freedom — Thinking about how I’m going to go do this and do that.

Brandy:                   When these years are up, here is when my life is going to start.

Sarah:                      My first thing was going and falling in love. I was like, “I’m going to fall in love with the right person this time.” {laughter} In arranged marriages, they say that you marry, and then, you fall in love with your husband. I was like, “No, I want to fall in love first. I want to experience that.” I think I did that for a whole year — Being really mad at him (and mad at myself) for not being able to leave. I kept thinking, “Of course I can’t leave home. I’m not going to do that to my kids.” I have a best friend that would call me and say, “That’s it, Sarah, I am going to get divorced tomorrow. That’s it. I’m done.” I would calm her down and say, “You have children. You have to think about them. You know how I am living. Let’s do it for the kids. We can do this.” We had jobs, so I said “Get occupied with your job. Do this and that.” We started college together. We started going to a community college to get ourselves even more occupied with kids and jobs and housework and college, but it was something we wanted to do because she was still going through it. She always tells me, “You are so brave. I can never do that to my kid.” And I’m like, “I know my kids are going through a rough patch right now, but I’m just hoping for that day that they understand.”

Brandy:                   Will you share about the moment that you attended a wedding? There was a moment that you told me about that broke me.

Sarah:                      That was the day that I went to a wedding. The bride was fifty years old, and the groom was around seventy. But they were so in love. I don’t even care about the age difference, but they were so in love. They had kids. The kids were the same age difference as my kids, but they were older. They were in their twenties. All of the children were all over their parents. They were so happy. It was such a picture-perfect family that I always thought, “When I am fifty and my kids are eighteen, I’m going to start a new family – Start a new life for myself.”

Brandy:                   You were seeing this as, “This is what I’m going to be, but I have to wait this amount of years.”

Sarah:                      Exactly. God has put this in front of me, so I see my future. Thank you, God! This is perfect. I’m going to go strong tomorrow with my life. But at the end of the wedding, I went to the car to go home, and it just hit me that I have to wait fifteen years to get there.

Brandy:                   To be happy…

Sarah:                      I was like, “No, I want to be happy now. I want to experience it now. Now that I’m in my thirties, I don’t know what’s going to happen to me when I’m fifty.” I cried all the way home, and that night I was like, “That’s it. I have to go. I can’t stay anymore. I want to be happy.” I was really miserable, though. You have to understand how miserable I was to get to that point to say goodbye to a really nice house, a car, a comfortable life, and kids that were happy. Especially from outside, everyone would see in and say, “Oh, they’re the happiest family on Earth.”

Brandy:                   There’s so much to juggle, mentally, because either way is a sacrifice. We talked about this — That either way, you give up something really important. You stay and give up the essence of who you are (and happiness), or you go and give up the safety net (and the comfort of some of the things that you’ve had and that your kids have had). Either way doesn’t feel good. That moment seemed like it brought you so much clarity — That it was the tipping point of, “I can’t wait fifteen years for my happiness.” When that moment happened – and I’m sure that you thought, “I need to do this, but what about the kids?” – what got you over that hump that made you feel ok-enough to make that choice? Did you think, “My kids are going to be so much better for seeing a mom who’s fulfilled and happy, rather than miserable,” or what was the thing that you justified that your kids would be ok?

Sarah:                      What happened was, I took a trip to Montreal for seven days. I thought, “This is exactly what I need — To get out of this life that I have right now.” This was, like, two weeks before that wedding. I kept thinking sometimes that I’m just so tired of kids and juggling everything by myself.

Brandy:                   Maybe it’s just that? Maybe I need a refresh?

Sarah:                      Exactly! And like I said, he was always great to have the kids, and he would go his mom. His mom would help a lot. He said, “Fine. You can go do your traveling and whatever you have to do.” I went for seven days. I kept thinking that I was going to go back and fall in love with him, and everything was going to be fine. I knew he was too religious for me, but I never thought that religion was the issue. I kept thinking that the past three years I went out of love with him. I was not feeling it anymore. I was like, “That’s it.” I remember the last day in Montreal, I was crying. I was thinking, “I don’t want to go back. I didn’t want to go back!” I felt like a horrible mom. I felt like, “I don’t want to go back to my kids.” At that point, I knew that I messed up. I really need therapy. I went back, but I definitely didn’t feel anything. But then, something happened that helped me afterwards. My kids kept telling me, “Mom, you’re so calm now. You’re so nice. Your trip was really treating you really well.” I kept thinking, “Wow, I feel really refreshed. I might not be in love with my husband, but I do feel like I’m very refreshed.” The kids were happy with me. We had a good relationship until everything started to get back like before. When I decided that I wanted to be happy, and that I had to leave, what got me through was that my kids needed a happy mom. Remember when I came back from Montreal? Remember how happy I was? Remember how calm I was? They need that back. They need that. I’m not a happy mom right now. I’m not that fresh mom. Because I am very energetic, I was the one playing with them. I taught them how to ride a bike. I was the one playing soccer, basketball, or whatever with them, but I was still not at my best. I was like, “I am sure they would rather have a happy mom than a depressed mom.” I was diagnosed with PTSD. I was depressed a lot of times. I knew I was depressed, and I kept thinking, “Oh, I’m just going to go out with my friends, and I’m going to be fine tomorrow.” That is how I kept going and going — Trying to get myself out of depression, but I really needed a change of lifestyle.

Brandy:                   Once you made the break from him, you told me that you had such backlash from family and friends.  Of course, you’d imagine his friends wouldn’t be happy about it, but then, their wives weren’t allowed to associate with you.

Sarah:                      I lost a lot of friends. Their husbands don’t want them to talk to me anymore. After 2-3 months, I started thinking, “Oh, my God, I can do whatever I want now. Nobody can tell me what to do.” I got a life coach because I really was messed up, and I didn’t think therapy was working for me. She asked me a question on the first day that changed a lot of things. I was still in a very religious mindset when I was talking to her, and she asked me, “Who is the real Sarah? Tell me who Sarah is and what she wants.” I was like, “Damn it. I don’t think I’ve ever thought about that simple question before.” I knew I had to come out of that marriage, but who am I? I kept thinking, “Who am I? Who am I? Who did I want to be when I was a teenager? (When I was in my dad’s house that I couldn’t wait to get out of) Oh, my God, this religion is driving me insane! It’s too much!” I still want to be associated with my religion. I don’t want to break free and say that I am an atheist or anything. But I want to go and try stuff out.

Brandy:                   This is the exciting part — The rebirth. Tell me the things that you did and all of the new stuff that you experienced.

Sarah:                      One of the first things that I did was put my feet in the ocean. I was not allowed to do that. I have a picture of it. I had my friend with me, and I said, “You have to take a picture of this moment.” I went there, and it was a fun picture. I was like, “Ah!”

Brandy:                   What did it feel like?

Sarah:                      I mean it was just water, but it was a bigger thing. It was the sense of freedom. I wanted to go dancing in a club with the clothing that I wanted to wear. One of the first things that I did — I went and bought sandals. I never had sandals. I wasn’t allowed. My friend came with me, and I kept asking her, “What should it feel like? This one is not comfortable. Is this normal? It’s going in between the toes.” She said, “How about trying on all of these sandals to see which one is more comfortable?” I was like a child, saying “How does this shoe need to feel?” {laughter}

Brandy:                   “These are uncomfortable. These are itchy.” (whiny) {laughter}

Sarah:                      We went shopping with my friend for clothing because I wanted to get short sleeves. I didn’t have any. I started feeling cold because I was always so covered up.

Brandy:                   Oh right, you were probably always hot.

Sarah:                      I was like, “Why am I so cold all the time? I’m not used to this.” {laughter}
That was really cool, and I went dancing for the first time with the clothing that I wanted. I used to go dancing, but it was still in the clothing that I had wear. I wanted to wear– Not sexy, but comfortable and showing off.

Brandy:                   You know what’s really interesting about this? I’ve heard people who have talked about (in different religions) different women’s outfits, and a lot of times we think that when women’s bodies aren’t shown that that must be an act of oppression (or something like that). But I’ve actually heard a lot of women say, “No, it can be a feminist thing. It can be empowering.”

Sarah:                      I’m so glad you said that. I am so proud of every single woman that has chosen that path for themselves and are doing it because they really believe in it. I do think it’s a way of modesty. I, honestly, since I have been free with my lifestyle, I have had a lot of attention. I have had a lot of guys hitting on me. I never had that, not even once, because Dad was very modest in the way of what I was wearing. I was very modest. I was not getting any attention, and men knew that I had a boundary because of what I was wearing. I know Catholics have that. I know Jews have that. I know Muslims have that. I know Hindus have that — Wearing things more modestly. I kept reading, and all of them in their religious texts states that men are to not look at the women as an object.

Brandy:                   That’s what I think is so interesting. We immediately think, “Oh, there must be some oppression there.” In a society, where women are objectified as a sexual object, to have a woman be something other than that is an act of feminism and empowerment, but I see the side of dressing modestly as actually being an act of feminism and empowerment. I think the point is that the choice is the empowerment. The choice is the liberation. That’s where I think you are. There’s not one choice, to be dressed modestly or not, that is more feminist than the other one. It’s however you want to express your feminism. An act of feminism for you might be dressing a little more sexy because you never got to do that. That is a female making a choice. I think that is an important thing to distinguish. There is not a right way, and I know we’re both on the same page on this. It’s the choice that the empowerment comes from. I can imagine you wearing what you want for the first time and feeling empowered and that being amazing. I can also imagine a woman who is dressing modestly and feeling empowered. They both can do the same thing. The choice is what is so important.

Sarah:                      Exactly. I’m hoping that I never judge someone that is religious. I think that’s what’s happening right now in this society. People are judging each other. The religious people judge the other ones. Obviously, they think that we all are going to hell.

Brandy:                   Well, there’s a lot of rules, and when the rules aren’t met –

Sarah:                      Especially very religious people — I’m not saying all of them — Non-religious people think, “Oh, they’re oppressed, and they’re not living their full potential.”

Brandy:                   Right, and it can be all these things.

Sarah:                      Don’t judge each other and choose your own lifestyle and life path. Don’t let anyone force you.

Brandy:                   I think what happens is people hear stories about other people who are in a religion who do feel oppressed. Then they think, “Well, all of those people must be oppressed.” Then, vice versa, if you hear from somebody who’s not oppressed, and they’re like, “None of the people are oppressed.” It’s like it’s very nuanced. Everybody has their own feeling about it, and it’s not so obvious. I don’t think we can just make assumptions about people based on what they’re wearing or what we think. Especially, me being a white woman who is not a part of other cultures, why am I going to have an opinion on something I wasn’t brought up in, and I don’t know the intricacies of? (Side bar on that) {laughter}
Let’s get back to you dancing, and all of these new things you were doing. What were some of those things you were doing?

Sarah:                      I went on multiple dates {laughter}.

Brandy:                   That had to be crazy because it sounded like you didn’t really date, ever.

Sarah:                      No. I didn’t.

Brandy:                   What was that like in learning to date as a mother of three kids?

Sarah:                      It was fun! What can I say? It was fun. {laughter} It was like, “Oh, men are crazy.” I never knew that.

Brandy:                   Did you meet others who were more extraverted, and did you get to experience what it was like to be with somebody where you could just be totally this real version of you?

Sarah:                      With my dates? Yeah! I met a lot of guys that I was like, “Oh, my God, I wish I married a version of him.” It’s funny because in this path (dating aside, that was just a fun part), I met a lot of women and new friends that have had such similar paths as me. They either came out of that marriage or out of their religion. They were like, “We totally get it.” I was like, “Oh, my God, I thought I was the only one in the Universe.”

Brandy:                   You were posting stuff on your social media that was really vulnerable. You were talking about all of these things that were happening and these choices that you were making that are pretty taboo in your culture.

Sarah:                      Not as extensive as what we are talking about right now, but because of my work —
That is another funny thing — I have a lot of friends that are all closeted. They have a double life. They are one way in front of their family and friends, and they are the other way (as in more free) with close friends like me.

Brandy:                   These are other women who are married to really religious husbands?

Sarah:                      Yes.

Brandy:                   When you were posting these things, you were getting messages from tons of people – People, whom you didn’t even know, who were saying, “Thank you for talking about this.”

Sarah:                      “How are you doing this? We want to do it. How did you do this? How are you handling the family pressure?” I kept telling them, “Please go and do your research. I should not be telling you what to do. You should find it out by yourself.” I don’t want to be an advocate of people coming out of their marriages and religions. I don’t want to be that person. I did a lot of research. I really tried to hold on to a lot of pieces of me that I broke free of. It was just not for me. Maybe it is for some people, but they are being misguided.

Brandy:                   Is there this thing happening in the generation of your friend group where it’s a common thing to say, “We’re waiting until the kids turn eighteen, and then we’re out of here.”

Sarah:                      Oh, yes! Oh, yes! So many. I met a woman three weeks ago, and she is forty. She was like, “I only have two more years left. I’m so proud of you. I look at you, and you’re still young. You can do whatever you want, but I’m in my forties. I have to do it in two years, but I can’t wait.” I’m like, “Oh, my God, I’m so sorry. I never thought that you were going through this.” She was in the community, and she was the opposite. She was very religious, and her husband was not. She wanted to live religiously, and the husband was like, “No, lets go clubbing and dancing and do this and that.” She didn’t want it. That’s the thing. You have to be able to be yourself.

Brandy:                   I’m confused. What is her real personality?

Sarah:                      She said when they got married, she was not religious, and she found religion afterwards. Now she really loves it. She wants to live like that, but the husband doesn’t.

Brandy:                   She wants out because he’s less religious. That’s interesting. 

Sarah:                      Yes, that’s why I told you that I needed to pay attention to my personality. She had that change of lifestyle after marriage, but still a lot of women or men get into marriages where they just have to take a look at themselves to see if that is exactly what they want to do or not.

Brandy:                   Will you tell us a little bit about how your family reacted, and your friends? — Kind of the sacrifice — And there was something you mentioned at breakfast about how somebody in your family had told you, “Everybody’s miserable in marriage. That’s just it. You just suck it up, and you deal.”

Sarah:                      She kept telling me names of the people in the family and saying, “Look at this, look at that. Look how they’re living. We all know they are miserable. Everybody knows it. But they have children, and what’s going to happen to them?” And I was like, “They all need to get divorced, Mom.” It was my mom. She was telling me about her and my dad. She was like, “Do you think we’re happy? Do you think we don’t fight?” I was like, “I’m sorry, but you have to get divorced too. What do you want me to say? If you’re that miserable –?” I don’t want to say that people should go get divorced, though. That sounds so bad.

Brandy:                   No, I know because I’m sitting here grappling with this same thing. There are some people who stay together, and they are miserable. But they stay together, and that was (maybe) the right thing for them. It’s like, (and there’s no answer to this) “How do you know when you should stay, or you should go?” And the sacrifices of that thing too, where either way doesn’t necessarily feel good. Some people stay because they just don’t want to break up the family, and that is more important to them. They’d rather have their kids see them be dead inside and miserable, than have the kids actually go through the break. That’s a totally reasonable choice, and its also a reasonable choice to be like, “I can’t continue to live this fake life.” Either way sucks. It’s just hard. I wish there was more clarity around that.

Sarah:                      There isn’t, and I feel really bad saying it. I do like to say that I tried for ten years (especially the last three years). That was my most miserable time. I tried. I asked him numerous times to go to therapy with me, and he just refused. He was like, “Everything is perfect. Why are you doing this? You have issues, so you go to the doctor.”

Brandy:                   Like you were crazy?

Sarah:                      Yeah. “Are you getting PMS?” {laughter} “Are you PMS’ing again?”

Brandy:                   Oh, my gosh! The visual I have, is of you karate chopping him to the throat.

Sarah:                      That’s one of the things that all men say. I’m not saying that if a man says that then you have to get divorced. {laughter}

Brandy:                   I know, but that’s like when you’re walking on thin ice, you don’t throw that out there.

Sarah:                      But, honestly, it was the hardest — People did not want to support me, including my parents, because he was a great man. He is a great man. He provides. He was very respectful to me. It’s just that our personalities were so different! It was just wrong. We kept going and going and going until at some point it was like, “What am I doing? I only live once, man. I really don’t know what’s going to happen when I die. I’m not going to take any chances. How many more years do I have left? I have no idea.”

Brandy:                   You said something when we saw you at breakfast that was so adorable. I can’t remember exactly what the words were, but something like, “I’ve never felt happiness like this in my life.”

Sarah:                      That’s exactly how I feel. I’ve never been this happy in myself. I love that I am myself right now.

Brandy:                   That’s a daily validation for you that you made the right choice. I know you said that your kids are having a tough time, obviously, because they were brought up in that same religion.

Sarah:                      The kids are having a tough time. I’m still giving them the same thing that their dad is telling them because I was also in that life. I was telling them all of this religious stuff. I don’t want to confuse them. They’re going to be old enough soon to choose, so I don’t want to confuse them right now in thinking, “They come to Mom’s house, and it’s a whole different story than Dad’s house.” I’m trying to have them still go the same way, and they can choose by themselves.

Brandy:                   But everything they’ve learned about what a woman’s role is, or what your role is, you’re now living completely differently than that. They’re having to rectify their love for you (I would imagine their love for you as their mother), but also as, “But, she’s not following the rules that we’ve always followed.” Are there any moments that you’ve had where you’ve seen your kids see past the rules and support you at all?

Sarah:                      I haven’t seen them look past the rules, but we had a talk — Especially because of the way I dress now is different. My son was asking me, “Dad is saying that what you’re doing is not right. What’s going on? Do you want to wear this from now on?” I said, “Yeah, what do you think?” He was like, “Oh, who am I to say what I think? It’s not my life.” I was like, “Baby, you are amazing! I wish more people were thinking like you.” I said, “I’m your Mom, and you are living with me. I want to know how you feel about this.” He said, “I feel like you are free.”

Brandy:                   Aww! Oh, my gosh!

Sarah:                      I was bawling! I was like, “Oh, baby!”

Brandy:                   He said that to you?!

Sarah:                      He said that!

Brandy:                   You didn’t tell me that the other day. That is so powerful because even though he’s brought up with that and still gets – He saw it…

Sarah:                      He said, “It’s your life.” His dad has told him that there are punishments for the things that you disobey (the rules). I said, “Look around you. Look at the beauty that God has created and all of these amazing things that you don’t even have to look for. Look at your hands. Look at the power. Look at what He has created. Do you think He’s going to punish us for stuff like this?”

Brandy:                   For wearing a t-shirt?

Sarah:                      For wearing a t-shirt? Yes, exactly. {laughter} For going to the ocean.
And he was like, “No, I don’t think so.” I was like, “Yeah, baby, I don’t think so either. I think He’s great, and He’s amazing and so kind. We can live the way we want.” We kind of left it at that. I know he’s not happy about the whole “divorce thing.”

Brandy:                   Right, and you wouldn’t expect him to be.

Sarah:                      Yes. I keep telling him to talk to me, but we’ll see what happens. I’m hoping that he grows up a little bit more, and that we talk a little bit more in detail.

Brandy:                   I just think you’re such a great teacher for him, even if it’s a silent thing. Even if you’re not telling him, “Here’s why it’s important that I get to live my life how I want –,” but that he’s just seeing you. There’s got to be something in his head that goes (which it sounds like you already said to you), “My mom is doing these things that are against the rules, yet she’s the happiest I’ve ever seen her. That stuff can’t be all bad. Maybe some of this stuff I’ve been told, there’s like a discrepancy with it” It’s like critical thinking.

Sarah:                      Hopefully, yes, they see that when they’re grown up a little bit more — Especially, the younger ones — They cry sometimes, and they want the family back together. They’ll say, “Can you please go back to Dad?” They even asked me to go apologize to him.  It’s funny, the day that my little one asked me to go apologize to Dad, I had bought him some pajamas, and he didn’t like them. He was like, “I’m sorry, Mom, I don’t like it.” I was like, “That’s totally fine. You don’t have to wear it if you don’t like it. I’m going to go give it back.” I said, “Remember, I gave you those pajamas, and you didn’t like it? Did I force you to wear it?” He said, “No.” I was like, “You can’t force people to do stuff they don’t want to. You want me to do something that I don’t want to. Your dad is great. I like him. I want to be friends with him, but I don’t want to live with him, ok? You can’t give me guilt and pressure.” He was like, “Oh, yeah.” And the “pajama thing” — I was so happy that it had happened. {laughter}

Brandy:                   Yeah, to have something to refer to. That’s such an amazing education they’re getting. And, again, it’s that hard thing where it’s like they’re not happy about the family being broken up, but there are some gifts that this is giving them that they wouldn’t have had if you had stayed unhappy and stayed. Not to say that the people that are staying – that that’s not the right choice. But it’s so interesting to see these little things where you think it’s all going to be awful, and then to have these little moments (these little gem moments) happen is really amazing.

Sarah:                      One of the things that I feel like women ask me is, “How do you do it? How did you do it? I can’t do it.” One is because we are taught that moms have to do the sacrificing for the kids. As soon as you have the baby, your life doesn’t matter anymore. Even if the marriage is perfect (let’s not even talk about divorce) — The things that you talk about on your podcast that I love so much — You’re not allowed to have fun anymore. You’re not allowed to take care – not “allowed”– But you just don’t take care of yourself anymore.

Brandy:                   You’re right, and like that question that your life coach asked you about, “Who is this Sarah?” — So many moms haven’t asked that question of themselves since they’ve had kids.

Sarah:                      I have so many friends, if you go out (like to the movies) and at the end I’m like, “Guys, let’s grab some coffee at the end, or let’s grab some ice cream.” They’re like, “Oh no, I feel so guilty. I have to go home. I have left the kids for two hours.” I was like, “Umm — That’s ok. They’re going to be fine.” But this mentality — That you can’t even enjoy that two-hour movie — It just bothers me. They come because I said, “Please, please you need some time off from the kids, and you need some time to yourself.” And they are like, “Yeah, you are so right. I am dying in this house.” They come out, but the whole two hours they have guilt. I’m like, “No, take care of yourselves. Moms need to take care of themselves.” That’s one thing. The other thing is when there are not good marriages, and they want to get out because of financial situations. They’re like, “You are so lucky that you have a job, you are making a living, and you can pay so much rent, and everything.” Of course, I get help from my Dad as well, because he feels guilty. Otherwise, I don’t think he would support me with my whole life decision, but I tell them, “Please, if there is anything you can do, make money out of it. If it’s baking, cooking, making some piece of art — Or if you don’t have anything, go to the community college. Learn something.” Women need to have jobs. I understand we are moms first and the house is important, but how much do you want to clean? {laughter}

Brandy:                   Your shoulders just shrugged, and you’re, like, slumped in that chair over there. {laughter}

Sarah:                      I have friends that their houses are so freaking neat that sometimes I feel bad going to their houses (or inviting them over) because I’m like, “Oh, my God, they’re going to judge me.”

Brandy:                   I can’t have friends that have immaculate houses because then we can’t be friends. {laughter}

Sarah:                      Why do you clean so much?! Stop cleaning!

Brandy:                   Maybe it’s part of the distraction, right? Or rage cleaning? Not that I know anything about that. {laughter}

Sarah:                      This is the day and age that you have to be financially independent.

Brandy:                   I think that the whole financial piece is a whole other part of it, but it’s a part that keeps people trapped. But you know what’s another part of it too? I think it’s a lack of communication. There are so many layers when somebody is in a marriage that doesn’t feel good. It’s like if they wanted to leave, they probably can’t because of finances or whatever. But then, maybe a conversation is a thing that could be helpful because I don’t think it’s this black or white thing — If it’s not good, you just leave the person, or you just stay with them – where is the dialogue? And if you have a spouse who isn’t communicative and who wants to gas-light you and tell you you’re crazy and not listen, you’ve got nothing to work with. That, to me, is pretty clear. If I was in a situation like that, I would know about how long I couldn’t put up with that. But if you have someone that you can talk to, that you can try to work things out, I feel like that’s such a first place to go. I guess I take for granted that that’s where I always go, and maybe that’s a really hard thing for a lot of people to do. I don’t know, but the communication piece seems as though so much of marriage stems from what’s happening in that arena or not happening.

Sarah:                      In my marriage, he was kind of hiding behind religion, so I remember when I told him, “That’s it. I’m leaving. This is my ring. This is it. I’m going.” He was like, “I knew you had problems, but I never thought –.” I was like, “You never thought –? Didn’t I tell you that I was leaving when the kids turned eighteen?” He was like, “Well I thought you were just saying that, but I never thought you would leave. What do you want? Do you want a piano? Do you want a dog?” He really thought it was those little things. He was like, “We’re going to get a piano, and you can get a dog” (Because I couldn’t have a pet). I was like, “I don’t think my problems are going to get solved with a piano and a dog. I mean, right now, I do have a piano and a dog, but I mean –.  {laughter}

Brandy:                   That is hilarious. You’re like, “They wouldn’t hurt, but that’s not going to save what’s going on right here. I will be getting those things once I’m happy, by the way.” {laughter}

Sarah:                      He wanted to pretend like, “It’s going to be — Now, I’m going to live the life that I want, and you’re going to pretend? This is not who you are.”

Brandy:                   That’s so thoughtful too. When you find yourself in these situations and looking at it from the point of view that’s like, “This can’t be fun for you either, Spouse. You need to be you, and I don’t want to make you be somebody else to meet me where I’m at. Everybody’s bending zone should be — Not comfortable necessarily — But not so uncomfortable that you aren’t who you are.

Sarah:                      Exactly. I did something for my rebirth. I went and skydived.  I went and came back to Earth again {laughter}. I was like, “I need to come back.” It was an actual rebirth, and that was really cool.

Brandy:                   How long after you left was the skydiving?

Sarah:                      About nine months after I decided that I wanted to leave and one month after I moved out.

Brandy:                   What was that experience like?

Sarah:                      I was so calm. People couldn’t believe how calm I was. I went by myself. I drove two hours to get to that place, and the guy was like, “It’s your first time?” I was like, “Yeah.” He was like, “Are you nervous?” I was like, “No, I’m not. Let’s do it!” I wanted to jump. And I told him – I went on my birthday – I said, “It’s my rebirth. It’s my birthday, and it’s also my coming back to Earth as a different person.”

Brandy:                   I love that you did something to mark that moment. Did you feel different afterwards?

Sarah:                      I did! It was amazing. Like I said, I love God. My God was so different during that marriage, and I was so scared of Him. I was looking at this Earth, and I kept seeing His magnificent creatures and how He’s so amazing. I kept seeing God, and when we were coming down, I felt so free. You’re fine. You’re just floating. It was amazing. I was like, “Now I’m coming back, and I’m a different person.” I’m myself. I mean different in a sense of I’m myself. That was really fun.

Brandy:                   Where do you go from here?

Sarah:                      I’m really focusing on my job right now because I have to be financially independent, so I have to work extra hard. We have 50/50 custody, so that’s a lot of fun — Having some days off. {laughter}

Brandy:                   This is the thing, as I told you, all of my friends who have been divorced, there’s a part of them — I mean, it kind of goes both ways — Some of them talk about having time away from the kids, and it feeling not so great because it’s not their choice so there’s guilt. And then, there’s this other side that’s like, “Yeah, and it’s pretty amazing to have two or three days to myself.” Is that what you’re experiencing?

Sarah:                      Yeah, I’m having fun. I am financially struggling, but it doesn’t compare to not being happy in your heart, so I love that I’m happy. I’m working hard. I have done Uber, I have done a lot of things that were really hard for me to do coming from a very, very easy — and I don’t want to say luxurious — but super comfortable life. I’m going day-by-day, and I’m happy. It’s good.

Brandy:                   Are you becoming more open and talking? I know you’ve done a couple of other interviews. Is being like an advocate for — obviously not for divorce — but for —

Sarah:                      For women to be happy in their marriages.

Brandy:                   Right! Is that something that’s important to you to start speaking out about that?

Sarah:                      Very important! My main thing is to not tell them to get out, but to please do something for yourself. Unfortunately, all of us are going through depression. If anybody tells me that they haven’t, they are lying. I don’t think there is anyone that can say that they have never been through depression. Do something about it. If you are into writing, try to write a book — Try to write an amazing novel — Just do something that you’re passionate about. Maybe it’s because of my culture and my religious background and the religious community that that I came from, but women fall into being a housewife and just a mom. They think that’s what defines them — Which is a great part of me, being a mom and someone that takes care of the house — But that’s not who I am. Can you, please, put that aside and find yourself? That’s what I’m trying to say. Not that I have found myself, I’m still on the path. But I feel like every day is a better day because every day that I wake up I am who I am. Who am I? What am I going to do today? And that is because of Sarah!

Brandy:                   What happens when you find that your religion is incongruent with who you are, and/or your marriage is incongruent with who you really are? That’s what this whole thing is really about. You are such a great example of doing the hard thing that was taboo and had sacrifice and yet, on the other side of it, was happiness and freedom. What your story shows me is that freedom is top priority.

Sarah:                      Yes, freedom of being who you are.

Brandy:                   Sarah, you are amazing.

Sarah:                      Thank you. I love you!

Brandy:                   Yeah, I love you too! Thank you so much for coming and sharing your story.

Sarah:                      It was an absolute pleasure and such an honor, honestly.

Brandy:                   I’m so curious what you all think about this episode in contrast to the last one with Jennifer. Both of these takes, on marriage and divorce, paint a realistic picture of human relationship in all of its complicatedness. I see both points of view around divorce. I see the benefits of staying, and I see the benefits of going. It’s up to each and every one of us to figure out where we are on that. Every situation is different, but I’m just so grateful for these women who came here and so openly shared their stories like Sarah did today so we, as listeners, could pick and choose from each interview what resonated with us. Like my friend Kathie says, “You take what you need, and you leave the rest.” I’m sure there will be a lively discussion on the Adult Conversation Podcast Discussion Group on Facebook about this one, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Brandy:                   If you are enjoying this podcast, please subscribe or leave a rating or review. If you want to show your love in a deeper way and would like to support a mom on her side gig, which sometimes feels more like a main gig (Hi! Me.), go to Thank you to all my beloved Patreon peeps who help keep this podcast alive. As always, thanks for listening.

** As always, thank you to Scott Weigel and his band, Seahorse Moon, for providing me with that jaunty intro and outro music. You guy are awesome. Check ’em out on iTunes.