Collateral damage — learning to live without regret: a story in seven parts

See Also Part II  Part III  Part IV  Part V  Part VI   Part VII

Part I: Introduction

By Daisy . . . I have been wanting to share my story for quite some time, but I could never muster the courage to do so. After keeping it locked inside for an exhausting and difficult 15 years, I finally—and cathartically—confided in a close friend whose empathy is surpassed by that of no one else I have ever met. She ultimately convinced me to share my story with others like me in the hope that my words will act as a source of light and support as they navigate the fallout of a family member’s criminal conviction. It has taken me more than a year to put my feelings into words, but it finally feels like the right time to share it.

What is the secret that I have kept hidden for so long? I am the wife of a man who is a convicted sex offender.

That very statement has defined me as a person for nearly two decades, no matter how hard I tried to not let it do so. I am simply unintended collateral damage of our criminal justice system. I have gone unnoticed. I have drowned in anxiety, depression, and PTSD to the point that I have nearly been destroyed as a human being, while just hanging on by that tenuous thread to the few good things that life has to offer.

If you were to meet me on the street, you would think that I’m a very positive, happy-go-lucky person who has a good life. I laugh a lot. I smile. I joke. I value warmth, empathy, and understanding. I feel the emotion of love very intensely—especially for my husband, whom I love relentlessly and unconditionally. But, on the inside, I am like a building that has been completely leveled by a massive earthquake, which I have painstakingly tried to rebuild brick-by-brick. This has left me feeling hollow and sad with an absolute dearth of confidence. I have become defined by my soul-shaking grief. Even today, I am in mourning. I am grieving the loss of what amounts to freedom—an incontrovertible, necessary freedom that you expect to acquire naturally as you move from childhood to adulthood. My husband has been given an indelible mark, an unremovable label, a scarlet letter—and I feel it vicariously. I cannot help feeling it, and I’m positive that there are others out there who feel the same. I am the result and the consequence of having defenselessly witnessed the process that nearly destroyed my husband’s life and my own.

Family members of convicted sex offenders seem to live their lives just under the radar as we have very few options for emotional and community support. We are simply supposed to “just deal with it” somehow; we are supposed to just live with our shame, embarrassment, and sadness. That can be an exceedingly difficult task. If there are hundreds of thousands of convicted sex offenders on the sex offender registry, then there must be millions of family members standing quietly and powerlessly by as they watch the lives of their loved ones—and possibly their own lives—completely unravel. My personal story focuses on the difficult terrain that those family members must navigate, which is always uphill and always a battle. However, I can tell you that there is a silver lining, no matter how ephemeral and unreachable it might seem to be. I’m now in the 16th year of my journey, and I’m doing my best to see the sunlight through the clouds while attempting to live a meaningful, impactful, and authentic life without (too much) regret.

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